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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Another Violent Day in Syria; Time to Arm Syrian Rebels?; Benghazi Review Gets Review; Forgotten Hero of Bin Laden Hunt; 70,000 People Come to "Stand and Fight"; Comic Books: From Campy to Cool;

Aired May 3, 2013 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The "National Lead," it's like banoru for gun lovers. Tens of thousands attending the NRA Convention in Texas, savouring their recent victory against gun control efforts in the Senate.

The "World Lead," Syria, where it's hard to know the good guys from the bad guys. Now the U.S. rethinking its opposition to sending arms into country. What could go wrong?

And the "Pop Culture Lead," "Ironman 3," it's obviously going to dominate the Box Office this weekend. Comic fans are going nuts. This weekend, they may be looking forward to something else even more.

In our "World Lead," another day, another violent event in Syria, the state-run Syrian Arab news agency reports that a fire broke out at Damascus International Airport after rebels fired mortars that hit a kerosene tank and a parked plane and at least 32 people died today due to Syrian violence.

That number comes from the opposition. The "Global Post" says that it has a, quote, "very high degree of confidence" that missing journalist James Foley is in the custody of the Syrian government. Foley's brother confirmed to CNN that sources told him the same thing. Foley has been missing since late November. All of these events beg the question, is international intervention coming?

TAPPER: Joining me now is Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining me.

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: Secretary of Defense Hagel said yesterday the administration is considering, considering among other options, arming the rebels in Syria. As you know, that is a varied group. Some of them are affiliated with al Qaeda. Some of them are not. Does Israel support arming the rebels?

OREN: Israel is not making any policy recommendations to the Obama administration, Jake. The situation is immensely complex. We're not pressing. We're not pressuring. All we are saying, very simple, if the United States does decide to provide lethal weaponry to rebel groups that those rebel groups be very carefully vetted. We had some bad experiences in the past with Gadhafi fell in Libya. There were missiles that traveled very fast to our backyard from Libya. We ask that they be vetted in Syria.

TAPPER: How sure is Israel that Assad has used chemical weapons? There are conflicting reports. The head of Israel's military intelligence said they were sure, that Israel was sure, but then Secretary of State John Kerry he talked to Netanyahu and Netanyahu said he wasn't 100 percent. How certain is the Israeli government that chemical weapons were used?

OREN: Well, this was a military assessment by the Israel Defense Forces intelligence and like all intelligence assessments. There are various degrees of probability. There is no absolute certitude. Our assessment was confirmed by British, French and American sources. But it's true that the usage of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime or anybody in Syria is being monitored by our intelligence agency and continues to be discussed at the highest levels between the U.S. and Israeli governments.

TAPPER: So you're not sure. It's not 100 percent as what intelligence --

OREN: In that world, 100 percent is almost like an -- it's almost an oxymoron. But we are sharing our intelligence assessments and they're still being discussed.

TAPPER: Lastly, I want to get your reaction to reporting by the "Daily Beast," Eli Lake that multiple U.S. officials told him that the U.S. has lost track of where some of these chemical weapon stockpiles are in Syria. Your government has said obviously a red line, the transfer of these weapons to Hezbollah, possible military action recently about that. Does the Israeli government know where these chemical stockpiles are?

OREN: What I can tell you is that we have very good intelligence about Syria, and that we shared this intelligence on an ongoing and very senior level with the United States. And we're watching it very carefully.

TAPPER: So whatever holes the U.S. might have in its intelligence, the Israelis are there?

OREN: We share. We complement one another. You're talking about an intensely close intelligence relationship and again, we are monitoring this on a minute by minute basis, and we feel we have good intelligence.

TAPPER: All right, Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, thanks for joining us.

OREN: It's always good to be here.

TAPPER: It's been seven months since the September 11th attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. We still do not have the killers and the bureaucracy surrounding what happened is getting dizzying. Now a special panel put together to investigate the Benghazi attack is under review itself by the State Department's own inspector general.

The attack, of course, killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans. With the aftermath posing serious questions about why the State Department ignored months of requests for added security, whether anything more could have been done to help those being attacked, and why the Obama administration seems so eager to blame it all on an anti-Muslim video as opposed to acknowledging its own mistakes.

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered a review of the attack last year, one that reviewed blames systemic failures and leadership issues, but it largely cleared her and other senior officials. Four State Department officials were disciplined immediately after the report came out.

But now there are questions about the independent review board process, as well. As questions about whether any individual who wants to testify is being given the legal ability to do so. A House committee will hold a hearing on Benghazi next week and we will cover this story more next week.

It's now been more than two years since the death of Osama Bin Laden and the deadly Navy SEAL raid that made a very awkward alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan even more awkward and more tensed. And the hero doctor who helped America find its most wanted enemy is still literally wasting away in a Pakistani jail.

Dr. Shakil Afridi is now on a hunger strike. His appeal on a treason conviction was just delayed until next month. In an interview with the conservative web site, breitbart.com, Afridi's brother said it's time for the U.S. to return a favor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIL AFRIDI, BROTHER OF DR. SHAKIL AFRIDI (via telephone): I appeal to Obama and the American government to release my brother and help us. Without American involvement and without American presser, the Pakistani government can't release my brother.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Dr. Afridi was accused of helping the CIA get DNA samples from Bin Laden through a fake vaccination campaign and sentenced to 33 years in prison. The State Department has called for Dr. Afridi to be released.

In national news, Texas, a state that never met a firearm it didn't like, site of this year's gigantic convention for the National Rifle Association, the president of the NRA will join me from there, next.

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TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Seventy thousand people and seven acres of rifles, pistols and bullets, sounds like our politics lead. The NRA says their annual meeting in Houston this weekend is on track to be their largest ever. Besides big numbers, the event boasts some big GOP political star power, Palin, Perry, Santorum, Cruz, all of them set to speak. The theme this year, stand and fight.

David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, joins me now from the convention itself. David, thanks for joining us. As members of the NRA were on their way to this meeting, a man fired a gun inside Houston's largest airport then shot himself when he was confronted by law enforcement officials.

He left behind a suicide note saying he had a monster within him and wanted police to stop him before he hurt others. Obviously, we don't know enough details about this to say there's any law that could have prevented this one way or the other. But generally speaking, given this incident, how do you think we can do a better job of keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally unstable?

DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: That, Jake, is one of the really serious questions that we ought to be asking and that the Congress ought to be asking because all of the shootings that we've had, the so-called mass shootings, have been perpetrated not by traditional criminals, but by people who are seriously mentally ill.

As you know, since the 1950s, 1960s, our mental health care system in this country has basically been torn apart, it doesn't exist. Today those who are severely mentally ill are either not treated, not diagnosed. They're on the streets as the homeless or they are in prisons.

And invariably, these are the kinds of people that we have to keep an eye on. We have, since the mid 1990s, urged Congress and the states to make certain that those who have been adjudicated to be potentially violently mentally ill be included in the background searches through the national instant checks system. It's not firearms, it's how do we deal with the severely mentally ill. That's one of the problems this country has.

TAPPER: But shouldn't we also be able to put people who have problems that should prevent them from being able to get weapons, not adjudicated as violently mentally ill, but even maybe on a lesser level letting people in gun stores know that there might be concerns about an individual expressed by a doctor or hospital or an ex-wife? Shouldn't that be part of this discussion, as well?

KEENE: Well, Jake, I do think that policymakers and medical experts and psychiatric experts ought to be looking at this. It's interesting that you mentioned gun stores and ranges, because in a couple cases like the Aurora shooting, the only people that really tried to do something were gun range owners and firearms retailers who looked at this guy and said there's something wrong with him and wouldn't or wouldn't let him come to the range. But in today's world, they're rarely treated, rarely caught and very little is done to do anything to help them.

TAPPER: Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire was at a town hall meeting and as you know, her ratings, her approval ratings have gone down significantly and a lot of political observers suggest it's because of her vote on the background check bill, which you opposed and she voted against. Erica Lafferty, whose mother was killed at the Newtown shooting, spoke at this town hall meeting and I want to play a little bit of that sound and get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERICA LAFFERTY: I'm just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of elementary school isn't as important --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What is your response to her?

KEENE: Well, obviously any tragedy, any murder, any homicide, any death, regardless of the reasons and regardless of what cause it is, it's something that saddens everybody. On the other hand, and she has every right to her view as to what might solve this problem. But the bottom line question, with all of these proposals that were before the Senate was, if that proposal, if that legislation had been adopted a year ago, would it have prevented the Newtown tragedy?

In every instance, the answer was no. We're as concerned and gun owners are as concerned as anybody with making sure our children is safe and our schools and streets are safe. We do disagree on the policies that some people are proposing, because we don't think they will work. We're in favor of policies that will work.

The NRA was a major supporter of the establishment of the national check system, which checks a person's background when he buys from a retailer. But it's never worked very well. A lot of the people that should be in the system aren't. A lot of the people that are in the system shouldn't be.

There are very few ever prosecuted for trying to buy a firearm when they shouldn't. We have argued during this session in congress, we had a proposal to put funds in to improve and fix the existing system. If you take this system and expand it without fixing it, you're going to have a disaster. It's going to break down.

You're not going to improve public safety. What you are going to do is create a minefield of restrictions and harassment of legitimate Americans who have every right to purchase and use a firearm. So our position has been let's take what we started and fix it and make it work before we start talking about adding on to it and making it completely unworkable.

TAPPER: David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, thanks so much. Good luck.

California firefighters battling a 10,000 acre inferno say they're at the mercy of Mother Nature. High winds and dry conditions are fuelling the fire. It's burning out of control and taking aim at thousands of homes and about 300 businesses. No one has been hurt, but smoke and ash prompted warnings for people to avoid spending too much time outdoors. Up next, one of the weird perks about this gig is I get stacks and stacks of comic books sent to me. It's kind of fun. And guess what? Tomorrow, happy free comic book day for everyone, not just for me. We'll tell you where you can get your super hero fix, coming up next.

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TAPPER: Hi. Welcome back to THE LEAD. In the pop culture lead, there was once a time when the term "comic book enthusiast" conjured up images of some guy living in his mom's basement. But the cult following for comics got bigger and edgier, which might explain why millions of people across the country have tomorrow's date circled on their calendars.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): We know their superpowers and we think we know their fans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got it, got it, got it, got it. Need it.

TAPPER: But comic book heroes are not just for little kids and "big bang theory" nerds anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smell that? That's the smell of new comic books.

TAPPER: Just ask George Clooney, Ryan Reynolds or Halle Barry also known as Batman, Green Lantern and Storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I'm an X-Men finally, for real.

TAPPER: Jib Jab even got President Obama involved. Nearly 20 movies based on comic book characters are set to be released in the U.S. just this year. With their powers combined, you can rest assured they'll conquer the box office. But it's not just movies. Last year, San Diego's annual comic-con gathering reached record attendance, 130,000. That's up just from 145 attendees in 1970.

TOM BREVOORT, SVP AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR, MARVEL COMICS: I think some of it has to do with just the fact that the characters and stories have been around so long, so the generations who grew up reading our comics as kids are now in positions of authority at movie studios and television studios. They understand what it is we do and the kind of stories that comics have to offer.

TAPPER (on camera): If you've never finished a super hero saga by turning the page as opposed to watching it on the big screen, you're missing out. But don't worry, tomorrow you can go to your neighborhood comic bookstore and see where the movie stars get their script ideas.

(voice-over): Why Saturday? Just ask Wolverine.

HUGH JACKMAN, ACTOR: Stop by your local comic bookstore this Saturday, May 4, because it is free comic book day.

TAPPER (on camera): What is it all about?

DAVE KUROKAWA, MANAGER, FANTOM COMICS: It's a day to promote all different types of comic books to all the people that wouldn't necessarily be exposed to them and get people started reading them.

TAPPER (voice-over): It's a big weekend for flying crime fighters and their fans. After all, "Iron Man 3" hits theatres today. But there are many more masked adventurers waiting in the wings.

KUROKAWA: This is from Anthony Bourdain, a sushi chef that takes on big chefs.

TAPPER: And of course, the hope for retailers, come for the free comic books and spend a lot of money on the ones that aren't.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: About 27 million free comic becomes will expected to be given away tomorrow in 60 countries all over the world. And it's not just Aquaman that's free.

We'll look at the end of an era for your old favorite e-mail address, coming up next.

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TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time for the buried lead. Turns out North Korea might not be all talk after all, according to a new Pentagon report. The country could be capable of soon launching a nuclear weapon that would reach the U.S. U.S. military officials say that if the missile testing continues, the country will be able to make good on a missile strike on the U.S. mainland.

Sometimes when we say buried, we really mean buried literally, the ancient relic known as Hotmail. The e-mail service has been imported to outlook.com. Those with Hotmail accounts won't see a change, but the layout will be different when they log in. We ask that you Hotmail users to tweet us about your e-mail experience, but odds are, you're still on MySpace.

We asked you to tweet us horse names for the Kentucky derby. Not glue yet. Pony stark and Teabiscuit. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper, I now turn you over into the able the hand of Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."