CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Terror Suspects Lost; A Laundry List of Scandals; Beckham Kicks Soccer to the Curb

Aired May 16, 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: It's 4:00 p.m. Do you know where your individual's identified as known or suspected terrorists are? The federal government didn't. I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, the story we just broke. Suspected terrorists in the U.S. entered into the witness protection program, they were given new names, but the Justice Department did not tell any other agencies, and at one point, poof, two of them disappeared, another stunning example of government incompetence in a week with no shortage of them.

The politics lead, with the disappearing terror suspects, a politicized IRS, questions about Benghazi and much more, Republicans now think the wind is at their back for the midterms and more. But will they overplay their hand? Former Senator Rick Santorum joins us.

And the pop lead. It's too bad Kerry Washington can't be in the scandals I have to cover. The hit TV show "Scandal" has its season finale and we visit show creator Shonda Rhimes, the undisputed queen of prime-time drama.

Welcome to THE LEAD.

Now the national lead. As we reported first on CNN, two individuals identified as known or suspected terrorists entered the Justice Department's witness protection program. According to the Justice Department inspector general, the U.S. Marshals were at one point unable to locate them. This is all in this interim report obtained by CNN.

But here is the bigger issue than these two individuals. At some point, these two cooperated. They got the full Henry Hill witness relocation treatment, new names, new lives. But amazingly the U.S. Marshals Service was not sharing that information with other agencies before May 2012, information like their new names of these new witnesses. So good luck trying to spot them on the no-fly list. They could just get right on a plane.

And the Justice Department is not disputing this report. They released a statement that reads in part: "The Justice Department agrees with the inspector general's audit report that the WitSec" -- that's Witness Security -- "Program's requirement's for admitting and moderating participants needed to be enhanced for terrorist-linked witnesses."

Now, the Justice Department underlines that these two individuals are not in the United States, they're not wanted, they're no longer a part of the witness protection program. And the Justice Department claims that since the inspector general drew attention to this and other national security issues dealing with the Witness Security Program, those two suspects are now -- quote, unquote -- "accounted for."

Now, what does accounted for mean? Does the Justice Department know exactly where these two individuals identified as known or suspected terrorists are located? Well, Justice Department officials would not say. This controversy so fresh that President Obama apparently didn't have his talking points ready during a press conference earlier today.

Listen closely to this and you can hear our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, ask about it at the end of this press availability.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Can you comment on your witness protection program?

OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you, guys.

YELLIN: No comment on your Justice Department's I.G. report?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He totally ignored that one. Well, that's OK.

So, these known or suspected terrorists are in the wind. We don't know their names, not the real names, not their fake ones, pretty much the point of witness protection, of course. But it does appear that the government tripped over itself once again and made it easier for these individuals to fall off its radar.

I want to bring in CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem.

Juliette, good to see you again. Thanks so much.

Let's start with the fact that there are known terrorists or suspected terrorists in the witness protection program. What's that all about? You're a former homeland security official. Explain that to people.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's because there are big terrorists and what you might call sort of small fish terrorists.

And what happens in these cases is that you want to give protection to people who know what's going on in terrorist organizations or any criminal organization, give them a new identity, protect their family and get information from them that will then get the bigger fish.

And I think it's hard for people to sort of separate between the big and the little terrorists. But the truth is, is that if you can get information about a big terrorist enterprise or any criminal enterprise, that is good. You sort of give up getting the smaller guys for the potential of getting the bigger guys.

And we're seeing this all the time. We're seeing it in the relationship in Boston or what's going on with Dzhokhar, right, is that are we going to go after the death penalty with him or are we going to offer just life so that we can get information for him?

That's a huge debate going on here right now.

TAPPER: But would it be normal? I understand all that, obviously, especially when you're treating terrorism prosecutions within the criminal justice system as opposed to in the military system.

But would it be normal for individuals to then, after they're put in the Witness Security Program to then leave the Witness Security Program? Is that -- would we not keep an eye on them?

KAYYEM: We probably would, and that's what the I.G. -- we should -- and that's what the I.G. report is in the Department of Justice, is that once they are given this new identity, no one else is going to know who they are. And so the fact that they weren't put into the terrorist screening list, this is the big list that sort of feeds other databases, it's just wrong.

The I.G. said it was wrong. The Department of Justice says that it's going to fix it. You need their names,their new names because that's their new passports. That's what they're going to be traveling with. We don't know their old identities anymore. Those identities are gone.

It is not uncommon to get people out of the witness protection program. That happens all the time, because either the case is over and they go on with their lives or they say, as may be in this case, that they have left the country, so that we don't know them anymore. We don't have an obligation to them anymore.

There is a -- there was a clear gaffe. It's an historic gaffe, in some ways, Jake, that the fact that the FBI and DOJ view things as prosecution-related rather than intelligent-related.

TAPPER: Right.

KAYYEM: And the I.G. said this is just -- this is not, right? You need to fix this.

TAPPER: But we -- you and I have talked about this at length, stovepiping, intelligence and national security agencies keeping information to themselves, not sharing it with other law enforcement.

We saw this in Boston with the FBI not telling local Boston law enforcement about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Who knows if that would have had any sort of impact at all. We don't know. But they're supposed to be sharing that information and here we have it again. Why would the Justice Department not share these new identities with the people who make up these terrorist watch lists?

KAYYEM: It's a great question. And how did that -- I have that question, too. If a decision was made at the front end that this information was somehow not relevant to a terrorist screening center, this is the overarching list, with their new names and their new passports, that decision was made for all of them. It wasn't just a particular person. That is a policy decision.

And finding out why that was made and what was the thinking, part of this is that just law enforcement mentality that has clearly, as we have seen, sort of not broken through enough in terms of the intelligence sharing. So, these two guys are important. Apparently, they're found. But the bigger issue is how can those policies be being made at the front end? Once the I.G. identified it, it appears to be fixed.

You are going to want their new names in the system, because even though they may be small fry terrorists, they are involved with criminal elements. These are not good guys. This is not some random victim who saw the culprits. These are people who are engaged with a criminal enterprise.

TAPPER: Exactly.

Julie Kayyem, CNN national security analyst, thank you so much.

KAYYEM: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: In other national news, apparently Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was visited by a muse in addition by police when he was cowering inside that boat in Watertown where he was captured. A law enforcement source tells CNN that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scribbled a confession right on the boat interior.

Now, that matches -- contents of the scribbling confession, it matches a lot of what THE LEAD originally reported from his interviews with authorities, like how the attacks were payback for U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CNN's Suzanne Candiotti is also live in Boston.

Susan, the reporting I just shared, that is from you. What else have you learned?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Well, it's hard to imagine if you try to picture this, Jake, that while this man, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is hiding inside the boat and bleeding, they described him as being weak from his wounds, that he's actually scrawling something on the inside of the boat, not only, in effect, as you said, confessing to what happened, allegedly setting off those bombs with his big brother, but also saying that it didn't matter to him, in effect, that the victims in this bombing were really collateral damage. He had no regard for them, and also, as it turns out, saying that he -- or we're learning as well that he told investigators this very same thing, at his bedside, while they were interrogating him.

Whether he thought he was going to die and he wanted to make sure he got his message out, we're left to wonder that, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Susan, so he wrote this after the attack. Clearly, based on what we have heard and what you have reported about what he wrote, he didn't feel any remorse. Could this impact the case against him that law enforcement authorities are now building?

CANDIOTTI: Well, it's certainly a question that's being asked and debated. He willingly, according to our sources, told the investigators a lot of things, for example, that the bomb was made right there in his older brother's apartment, and that they tried it out and they found bomb residue to match up with what he said.

The question is, is, by apparently showing little feeling for the victims in this case, we talked to our CNN lead analyst to get a feel from him, Jeffrey Toobin, about what could happen as his defense attorneys try to move forward with their defense here. Here is what Jeff Toobin told us.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I'm not sure that we're going to have Toobin bite. But, in any case, paraphrase what Jeff said for us.

(CROSSTALK)

CANDIOTTI: Exactly.

Just to paraphrase, what he said in effect was the callousness and disregard that he showed certainly won't do him any good if this comes before a jury because it shows that he had little feeling.

And so if you're trying to avoid the death penalty in this case, and the lawyer who is representing him is very good at keeping her clients away from getting the death penalty, that would be a tough hurdle for them to cross, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Susan Candiotti in Boston, thanks so much.

Coming up, shelter from the storm, but the president is going to need more than an umbrella after a devastating week soaked in scandal and controversy.

And hell hath no fury like Jon Stewart scorned. "The Daily Show" host has been on an unrelenting slam-fest of President Obama. We will hear from our political panel about all of that when THE LEAD continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the politics lead.

When it rains, it pours, especially at the White House. Fortunately for President Obama, there's always a Marine with an umbrella handy. In the middle of a week where his administration needs all the shelter it can find, is there a more apt visual than this one, the disembodied arm of a U.S. Marine holding an umbrella over the head of our beleaguered commander in chief for him in the middle of a rainstorm?

The president was holding a joint news conference with the Turkish prime minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Before we get started, let me just make sure that I'm a good host.

Mr. Prime Minister, do you want an umbrella? Because we can arrange it if you need it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Yes, bring forth the umbrellas unto me.

The rain really starting coming down -- the rain really started coming down when the president answered a question about the IRS unfairly targeting conservative groups.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is just simply unacceptable for there to even be a hint of partisanship or ideology when it comes to the application of our tax laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Obama appointed Danny Werfel after Steve Miller submitted his resignation. Werfel is currently the controller of the Office of Management and Budget.

Later in the press availability, the president addressed the Justice Department's seizure of phone records at "The Associated Press" for a leak investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. I make no apologies and I don't think the American people would expect me as commander-in-chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Of course, this is what presidents always say whenever they try to suppress the press. It's in the interest of national security. Sometimes it's true. Sometimes the government, on the other hand, doesn't like certain information getting out.

But he's -- here is the court jester who can bring kings and queens to their knees for the last three nights. Jon Stewart has been unflinching roast of President Obama over the scandals he's been stepping in. And here's Stewart's latest dig.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: If these measures from the IRS and Justice were taken at the behest of the White House, that is Nixonian. At best, if you believe the administration only found out about this stuff through news reports, it's still bad. It's just that the president's inner Magoo is being revealed. It's Magoo-vian.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Magoo-vian. Ouch.

Let's bring -- I see Bill Burton shaking his head.

Our political panel right now, Democratic strategist Bill Burton, who, of course, used to be deputy White House press secretary, Republican strategist Kristen Soltis, and Jonathan Martin from "Politico".

So, Bill, go ahead. You're going to say something. I saw you doing one of these with your face when Jon Stewart -- Jon Stewart does not take on President Obama like that very often.

BILL BURTON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I guess President Obama is done. He ought to submit his resignation right now. But I hope he likes Joe Biden, because if he doesn't, we got John Boehner.

I mean, look, the left and the right are different when it comes to who our friends in the media are. You know, you don't see Sean Hannity out there saying he likes or doesn't like this about the Republican Party. Republicans fall in line. On the Democratic side, you've got -- Jon Stewart is a funny guy, but he's a thoughtful guy, and he's got his opinions -- it's fine.

TAPPER: But this stinks. The IRS thing -- it stinks. You can't -- you're not defending it.

BURTON: Well, look, the president is on offense. That's what I think matters here. He saw there was a problem, he got out on offense. But IRS -- the acting IRS commissioner is gone.

And if Republicans felt so strongly about having a strong enforcement mechanism there, they would go ahead and confirm an IRS commissioner. But, you know, they're sitting on the sidelines.

TAPPER: So, Kristen, these scandals, they run deep. There are a lot of them right now. But you don't think that these are necessarily game-changers for the Republican Party, even though we should identify, you are Republican.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right. They are incredibly important. I think they tell some very disturbing things about, you know, the level of competence or transparency with regards to this administration. But, ultimately, I don't know if this changes voter's minds.

This isn't a story that's people's jobs. It's not a story about pocketbook issues. It's about a story that really affects journalists and a story that really affects sort of conservative activists -- two groups of voices that are very loud inside the Beltway but that might not be as resonant when it comes to sort of people -- the things that they decide to vote on.

So, ultimately, I think Republicans are going to need an agenda if they want to really do well in these midterm elections. I don't know that these scandals will have the staying power to make it all the way.

TAPPER: J. Martin, your thoughts.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: It's funny, you're hearing more and more of this on the right, and that is -- don't take your eye off on having an agenda. Don't just get so consume of the scandals or you forget the fact that you have to say proactively.

I think if Republicans don't overreach on this, it could help in two ways, Jake, in the midterms. First, this helps fire up their base in a huge way, because it underscores the worst fears about this president on the right.

I think for independent voters who may be having that so-called six- year itch next year, it's a matter of not, you know, anything that's sort of nefarious, it's more incompetence. And if you're an independent voter and you're sort of souring on the current administration, you sort of see this, or you're reminded of this, it may encourage you to vote for whoever your senator is who is a Republican or your congressman as a Republican.

So, I think it depends upon how the Republicans play it. We know what happened, Jake, in '98, when they actually lost seats.

TAPPER: Lost seats, on the throes (ph) of impeachment. Yes.

MARTIN: Of President Clinton.

So, we'll see if they can sort of manage scandal politics for the next few months.

TAPPER: But, you know, it's interesting, because obviously the story about the two suspected terrorists and the fact that the government lost track of them, that's incompetence or stovepiping. Nobody is alleging anything yet about nefarious.

But on the Benghazi scandal, there is this allegation that there was something nefarious about what the administration did, that it wasn't just incompetence, that the administration was -- behaved in an evil way.

MARTIN: I think, politically, I think you have to separate the IRS story from the Benghazi story. I think the Benghazi story is largely confined to the political right. I think the polling in terms of folks who are independents, there's barely any awareness of what the Benghazi scandal is.

TAPPER: I have a few seconds left. But, Bill and Kristen, I want to give you the last words on these scandals. BURTON: Just on Benghazi, I think two things. One, I think Susan Rice has been shown to be completely in the right here. The talking points were all done in a process that was -- that followed the process as it should go. But I think Jonathan is right. I think for the most part folks aren't paying attention to that, and I think that in large part because of your reporting yesterday, frankly, people see the facts of how this unfolded and it sort of makes sense that it would have unfolded that way.

TAPPER: And Kristen?

ANDERSON: I think that the lingering effect is that it's just going to give people more of a reason to believe the government is not very competent in what they're doing, which sort of feeds the right when they say, why would you trust the federal government to do things?

TAPPER: And that's where this whole Obamacare is going to go next, I suspect.

ANDERSON: Yes.

TAPPER: Thank you so much Kristen, Bill, and Jonathan. Always a pleasure to have you guys here.

Coming up on THE LEAD, these scandals are fictional and resolved in an hour or at least a season. I'm sure the White House would like to leave in that world. It's the hit show everyone is watching.

Coming up, I'll talk to the creator of SCANDAL, which has its season finale tonight.

Plus, he was accidentally paid an extra half a million dollars, accidentally. What did one Major League pitcher do with the money. That's our "Sports Lead" and it's coming up, too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, it's time for "The Sports Lead."

He's an international icon and one of the highest paid athletes in the world, but today, we learned the soccer star made famous for how he can bend it is ready to end it. David Beckham today announced plans to retire at the end of the season. His storied career includes league titles on two different continents and, of course, marrying a Spice Girl.

Beckham spent six years with the L.A. Galaxy before sign being a French club earlier this year. The good news for you lady fans out there and others interested in this kind of ad, he said he would not retire from making commercials like this one. For the sake of those of us who don't look like that, it would be nice if he maybe thought about retiring from those as well.

Rule one, when you see an accounting error in your favor, shot up and buy a round for your friends. But one Major League relief pitcher went the honest route instead. Jeremy Affeldt repaid the San Francisco Giants after he discovered a clerical error that put an extra half a million dollars in his bank account back in 2010.

Major League Baseball, the Giants and, of course, his agent all said he could keep the cash. But Affeldt paid it back, anyway. He still earned $4 million in 2010, along with a nice World Series ring.

He wanted to be president, so how would Rick Santorum handle the slew of problems the White House is facing right now? I'll ask him live.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

"The Pop Lead": It's the finale to a White House scandal that has riveted the nation. We're not talking about today's headlines. We're talking about the TV show that is being called a game changing hit. I'll introduce you to the woman behind it, primetime power player Shonda Rhimes.

"The World Lead": From Colonel Gadhafi to Colonel Sanders, the revolution is complete in Libya, some say, with the arrival of greasy fast food. Anthony Bourdain tells us what Uncle Kentucky's Fried Chicken tastes like in Tripoli.

And "The Money Lead": see it on YouTube, click it to buy it, hang on to your credit cards, because Google just made the impulse buy easier than ever.

(MUSIC)