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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Congressman Peter King; Interview with Senator John McCain; Chemical Weapons in Syria?; Cab Driver Remembers Tsarnaevs; Hail to the Chiefs; Interview with Andrew Card, Former White House Chief of Staff

Aired April 25, 2013 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Chemical weapons are said to have been used in Syria, so what now?

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is THE LEAD.

Sarin gas, it has the power to wipe out thousands in a single day. Now U.S. intelligence claims it may have been used on a small scale in Syria. Has the red line drawn by President Obama been crossed?

A second target. New York's mayor says the surviving Boston terrorist suspect is spilling details about plans to kill more people in the heart of Manhattan.

And this hour, President Obama will be consoling a small Texas town devastated by a massive explosion. And we will bring you his remarks, live.

Before we bring you the latest here in Boston, we have some developing news on the war in Syria. Has the game-changing moment for the U.S. arrived? Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Abu Dhabi during a trip to the Middle East and he decided to break some news to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin. The president has made clear that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of such weapons to terrorist groups would be unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Evidence of sarin used by the Syrian regime. Is that enough evidence to escalate the U.S. involvement in Syria? After all, listen to what President Obama said back in August.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A whole bunch of chemical weapons being utilized or moved around. That's what he said. A whole bunch of chemical weapons being utilized or moved around.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a statement in response to today's news, saying -- quote -- "It is clear that red lines have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger scale use."

So everyone's on the same page, right? Red line crossed? Action must be taken? Not so fast, says the White House. A White House official on background told reporters this afternoon that because the Obama administration takes the red line so seriously, they need to gather more evidence to make a determination that the Assad regime crossed that red line before they could decide their next move.

The official also said they have been keeping Congress in the loop on all things Syria.

So let's talk to a member of Congress right now.

Republican Senator John McCain joins me now live from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

What do you make of the White House's response that they need to gather more evidence before they make a determination and consult with our allies and the Syrian opposition on the next move?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I make a disappointment, but not surprise.

The president has not wanted to engage in Syria in any way, any meaningful way, for a couple years, while 70,000 to 80,000 people have been slaughtered, millions of refugees, et cetera, so I'm not too surprised. But the fact is the British and the French and the Israeli intelligence agencies have all concluded that Bashar Assad used these chemical weapons.

And so I'm disappointed. We need to give them a safe zone. We need to supply them with weapons going to the right people. And we need to be prepared to secure these caches of chemical weapons in the event that Bashar uses them or after he falls that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

TAPPER: President Obama is at the Bush Library today paying homage to President Bush, but there is in his White House staffers suggesting that it is lessons learned, unfortunately, from President Bush's presidency, in other words, the false intelligence, the erroneous intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that is informing this decision to be more cautious.

Is it not wise, is it not prudent to make sure, absolutely sure, since the intelligence does vary? We heard Secretary of State John Kerry say he had spoken to Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, who could not yet confirm the use of chemical weapons. Is this not just prudence?

MCCAIN: Well, we should have intervened long ago, whether Bashar Assad was using them or not. He slaughtered 80,000 people while we have sat by and watched.

It's been one of the most shameful chapters in American history. There is physical evidence. In fact, the British stated that there is physical evidence that proves it. The French also agree. The Israeli intelligence people absolutely are certain.

So it's different from an allegation without evidence of a -- weapons of mass destruction, as was the case in Iraq. And now there is physical evidence of it. And, Jake, no one should be surprised that he would do such a thing. We all know he will do whatever is necessary to hang on to power.

And why should, frankly, chemical weapons be a red line when he is slaughtering and massacring and mass-raping and torturing his own people, destabilizing the region? And, meanwhile, while we do nothing jihadists flood in from all over the Arab world and the Western world so that the situation is complicated dramatically after he, Bashar Assad, goes.

And, by the way, our intelligence people say that at least the next three to six months are, guess what, stalemate.

TAPPER: All right. Senator John McCain, we will have you back to talk more about Syria. Thank you so much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: And now it seems Boston may not have been the only target for the marathon bombing suspects. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg a short time ago revealing that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev claims they planned to attack New York City as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We were informed by the FBI that the surviving attacker revealed that New York City was next on their list of targets. He told the FBI apparently that he and his brother had intended to drive to New York and detonate additional explosives in Times Square.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We believe this photograph we're showing you shows the younger suspect in Times Square about a year ago. New York police Commissioner Ray Kelly also says the brothers decided -- quote -- "spontaneously" -- unquote -- to hit New York City while they were in the SUV they had carjacked last Thursday night, but it all unraveled when the car ran out of gas. This differs sharply from what Kelly said yesterday when he indicated the suspects may have been planning to go to New York just to unwind after a long, hard week of killing innocent people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAYMOND KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: They may have been intent on coming to New York, but not to continue what they were doing. You know, information that we received said something about a party, having a party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Bloomberg's new details today and Kelly's information yesterday both reportedly came from interviews with the surviving suspect. So who knows what you can believe out of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? He remains in fair condition at this hour at the same hospital with eight of the victims he is accused of trying to kill. And 33 victims in total remain hospitalized. Of course, there are the victims who died in the bombings last week.

And let's remember them, 8-year-old Martin Richard. His family is planning a public memorial in the coming weeks; 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, she was cheering on a friend at the marathon. And 23-year- old Lingzi Lu, she was a Boston University grad student from China. Of course, there's also 26-year-old Sean Collier, the MIT police officer allegedly gunned down by the suspects three days after the bombings.

Congressman Peter King of New York, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, joins me now from Washington.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

Commissioner Ray Kelly says that Tsarnaev's alleged plan to go to New York was a spontaneous decision, but they reportedly had six more bombs with them. What's the latest? What are you hearing?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: My understanding is the FBI -- I heard this several days ago during the interrogation -- and I just wish they had notified the city immediately rather than waiting until last night.

And I don't even know if it was the FBI that notified them or a member of the Boston Police Department who is on the joint terrorism task force, because, again, even though this may or may not have been spontaneous, for all we know, there could be other conspirators out there and the city should have been alerted so it could go into its defensive mode, because no one does it better than the NYPD, but I think they should have been told earlier.

As to whether or not the attack was going to happen, New York is always the number one terrorist target. What happened in Boston was tragic. I can tell you there's been 16 plots against New York that have been stopped. And every analysis I have seen no matter who puts it together, unfortunately, New York and Long Island and northern New Jersey are the number one terrorist targets in the country.

TAPPER: Based on the intelligence that you have been briefed on in the last day or so, do you believe this was just a two-man operation or do you think that they were part of a larger terrorist group one way or the other?

KING: Well, just based on my own observation, I believe that we are going to find out there could well have been others involved domestically.

I just find it very hard to believe that two individuals such as this could have obtained the weapons, the explosives, put it all together, arranged this on their own. I think there was -- I believe that there were other people involved domestically, either as active conspirators or as facilitators who knew what was going on and said nothing and looked the other way.

I also believe that we will find that there -- again, I have no evidence on this, not trying to suggest anything -- but from people I have spoken to familiar with overseas training, they believe that there must have been some overseas training for the older brother when he went there.

TAPPER: Do you believe the threat, this current threat, this specific one of whomever was part of the Tsarnaevs' planning, if there was anyone else, do you believe it's over?

KING: I don't think we can say that, no.

I think that because the interrogation was stopped short when the magistrate arrived with the assistant U.S. attorney, that interrogation was stopped probably one-third of the way through, there's a lot of questions that were not answered. Still, we don't know who all was involved. We don't know what the full plot encompassed.

And we don't know if there are other explosives that are still around. All of that I think may have been -- may well have been found out if the interrogation had gone forward, instead of being cut so short, so prematurely short.

TAPPER: Lastly, Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent six months out of the country. Russian officials have told the FBI that he was an extremist. In 2011, they issued that warning. Why do you think he slipped through the cracks?

KING: I just think that the investigation was not as thorough as it should have been.

My understanding is that when he left the country, certainly when he returned to the country, the Department of Homeland Security had a record of that. The FBI would have had to have been notified about that. And I don't think the FBI has been able to determine yet what it did with that information, if anything. The FBI obviously should have acted on it and they didn't. So, that is the question, not so much that he slipped between the cracks, but that when the Department of Homeland Security or Customs and Border Protection gave the information to the FBI that he was leaving and coming back from Russia that nothing was done about it by the FBI.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Peter king of New York, thank you so much.

KING: Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, the two Boston terror suspects were in his cab he says just hours before the bombing. He told his story to local law enforcement and he will tell you about his situation and how he believes Tamerlan Tsarnaev reacted when he tried to help with their backpacks.

Plus, one FBI agent spent 18 months online pretending to be a Chechen teenager living in California. We will have the chilling details of what he learned in private chat rooms about making bombs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Boston.

One of the many challenges for law enforcement as they try to retrace the steps of the Tsarnaev brothers is to assess all of the witness accounts that have been coming out of the woodwork.

One of the stories comes from a local cab driver Jim Duggan of Malden, Massachusetts. Duggan claims he picked the brothers up at the local train station in Malden and drove them to Cambridge one day before the attack. Duggan shared his information with Malden police officers who filed a report and immediately gave it to federal authorities.

Here is what he told police and what he is now telling us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM DUGGAN, BOSTON CAB DRIVER: I was here at the train station. It was a Sunday and it was kind of a slow day.

TAPPER: Two Sundays ago?

DUGGAN: The Sunday before the marathon. It was probably between 10:00 or 11:30. I was the only cab here. I was going to go pull away and get a cup of coffee when I saw two guys in my mirror.

So, I get out and they said, can you take us to Cambridge? So, I said, no problem. I opened the trunk. They had two backpacks. I reached out to help them put them in the trunk and they wanted to put it in themselves.

TAPPER: Did they seem heavy?

DUGGAN: I didn't touch them at that point. TAPPER: The way they were carrying them, though?

DUGGAN: Not really sure. They put it in the trunk themselves. They were adamant about me not picking them up. One of the first questions I asked is if they were from Saudi Arabia. They said, no, from Chechnya.

TAPPER: What other memories are coming back?

DUGGAN: We talked about a lot of different things. We get to the Kendall Square area close to where I was going to drop them off I said, hey, guys, I don't know if you've heard of the Boston marathon because it's tomorrow. Like right over the bridge, right? If you've never seen it might be a good experience, right? Something for you to see.

And the littler brother said, "Oh, Boston marathon?" And then the older brother got real aggressive. Little brother said to me at the time, nothing to worry about. It's between me and my brother. Just pull over here and let us out. They get out. They paid me.

And honestly, I put the car in drive and went to drive away and I hear them screaming and banging on the trunk and I'm like -- oh, I forgot.

TAPPER: The stuff in the trunk.

DUGGAN: Right. So, I get out and they were angry. It was like, man, you know what? I'm sorry. I forgot. Innocent mistake. People make mistakes. So I pop the trunk. The little brother grabbed his bag. And then I remember reaching in and grabbing another bag.

TAPPER: Was it heavy?

DUGGAN: Oh, it was heavy. You would assume like a purse or something, right, you assume what something should weigh --

TAPPER: It was heavier than you thought.

DUGGAN: It was heavier than it should have been.

TAPPER: The FBI released the photographs of the suspects a week ago at about 5:15 p.m. When did you realize oh, my God, I think he was in my cab?

DUGGAN: The news first came out and they had the picture of the kid with the white hat. I remember distinctly that kid with the white and curly hair coming out.

TAPPER: Was he wearing it backward?

DUGGAN: No, he was wearing it forward, just like mine.

TAPPER: Was the other one wearing the black hat?

DUGGAN: He was wearing that other cap too. Oh my mother (INAUDIBLE), those kids were in my cab. TAPPER: When did you call Homeland Security? When did that happen?

DUGGAN: I called the FBI either Friday or Saturday night I think. At that time I told them, you know what? My memory isn't super clear but this is what I remember. And they told me that over time, right, certain triggers may come to you and you'll remember more. And I did.

TAPPER: You were face to face with evil.

DUGGAN: The thought that I had that kind of evil in my car, I don't know, 28, 30 hours. The thought that I actually picked up what could have been that bag is terrifying.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Federal authorities would not comment on Duggan's comments to CNN, saying they don't comment on such things during an ongoing investigation, but that gives you an idea of the kind of story that they are hearing time and time again as they pursue leads and try to figure out what exactly happened.

Coming up, President Obama mourns with Texas families shattered by a massive explosion. You're looking at live pictures and we'll go live to the president as he speaks at the memorial.

And it was a moment of solidarity along with some tears and laughs for a few hours today all living U.S. presidents gathered together and there was no mention of politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures. We're waiting for President Obama to speak at a memorial in Waco, Texas, for the victims of that horrible explosion last week and we will bring President Obama's remarks to you live when that happens.

But in the meantime, from hanging chad to tax cuts to the image of him with a megaphone in Ground Zero after 9/11, and Afghanistan, Iraq, hurricane Katrina, Americans are looking back at the George W. Bush administration on dedication day for his presidential library.

President Obama was there along with all of the living former presidents and first ladies, a rare gathering of the most exclusive club in the world. And there were laughs, cheers, and tears. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It reminds me of my favorite cartoon in "New Yorker" magazine. This little boy is looking up at his father. He says, "Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a former president."

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming, and to all of those who have made this marvelous museum possible, we thank you especially.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: People began to joke that I was getting so close to the Bush family I had become the black sheep son. My mother told me not to talk too long today. Barbara, I will not let you down.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. President, for your service, for your courage, for your sense of humor -- most of all, for your love of country, thank you very much. From all of the citizens of the United States of America, God bless you and God bless these United States.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It was an honor to lead a country as brave and as noble as the United States. Whatever challenges come before us, I will always believe our nation's best days lie ahead. God bless.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

TAPPER: Brianna Keilar was one of the first reporters to get a live look inside the library. She joins us now live from Dallas.

Brianna, take us inside the museum. What struck you the most?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it was that his presidency was defined so much by 9/11, Jake, and that really factors large when you go inside the museum.

One of the exhibits that so many people have talked about and is incredibly moving is a beam from the south tower of the World Trade Center that you're allowed, actually encouraged to reach out and touch. It is from we're told the point of impact where one of those hijacked jetliners hit that tower. A few feet away is the bull horn that he used a few days later at Ground Zero as he spoke to workers who were there. And there is also a gun that Saddam Hussein was found with when he was captured in 2003.

There are a few things as well, Jake, on the lighter side that I thought were kind of cute. Barney, the Bush Scottish terrier, one of them, he gets quite a lot of square footage there in the museum. There is a statue of him and another of the dogs, Ms. Beasley, and he even has his own little interactive video game for the kiddies.

TAPPER: All right. Brianna, thank you so much.

President George W. Bush is also aware that this library is just -- is more than just an opportunity to fish for compliments. It's about setting the tone for his legacy long after he's gone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. W. BUSH: When future generations come to this library and study this administration, they're going to find out that we stay true to our convictions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Joining me now from the library in Dallas to talk about that legacy is former Bush White House chief of staff, Andy Card.

Andy, thank you so much for joining us. Of course, I'm in your hometown which I will report to you seems to be doing really well. You must be very proud as a Bostonian.

ANDREW CARD, FORMER G.W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I am. Boston is strong and the people make it strong.

TAPPER: So, do you worry that there is going to be a disconnect between what President Bush wants to be his legacy and what he will be most remembered for?

CARD: I think what's amazing is President Bush really just wants people to realize what he did as president. He's not looking to change anyone's opinion. He is looking at them to understand the burdens that he carried.

So, this museum is less a tribute to him and more a tribute to the presidency and a recognition of what it's like to be president. So, if you walk through the museum, you end up in a theater called Decision Points Theater. And you get kind of brought back to the context of some of the tough decisions that President Bush had to make.

You get to feel the emotions or the challenges and you get to listen to the advice that had been given to the president. And then you get to vote on what decision you would make. And then the president comes on and tells you what decision he made. So it's not like he is trying to get people to agree with the decision he made. He's trying to get them to feel some empathy for the decisions that he did make.

And it's amazing how that experience really does invite people to kind of be a president and realize that the decisions are brutally difficult. They're not easy. The advice from very smart people, from very different points of view, after all, the White House staff, itself, does not present monolithic counsel to the president. There are lots of different recommendations made to the president, impossibly difficult decisions that the president has to make, but he does have to make a decision.

And that's what Decision Points Theater and this museum are all about. So, it's less about George Bush trying to mold what you think of him as a president into his legacy. Instead, he is saying, understand the nature of the presidency and reflect with me on what it means to be president and how tough those decisions are.

And let the record speak for itself. The documents here tell the story of the presidency. There are a lot of myths out there about George W. Bush that are just not true.

First of all, he was probably the most fiscally disciplined president we've had in modern times. He kept spending at 20 percent of GDP something only one other president had done in the last 40 years and that was Bill Clinton, only for a very short time. George W. Bush did it within four years.

So he brought fiscal discipline to the reality of governing which was hard to do. He brought bipartisan change to education and bipartisan change to trade policy and a lot of other issues. And people tend to gloss over that.