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Hillary Clinton's Numbers Dropping; Interview with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin; Smoking Gun, or Fuzzy Math?; "Particularly Dangerous Situation" Developing

Aired May 31, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: An asteroid will be buzzing relatively close to the Earth this very hour. Where's Bruce Willis when you need him?

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

The national lead. The skies might not look too bad right now, but do not be fooled, a new tornado threat to Oklahoma after an EF-5 destroyed a town there. The governor joins us moments from now.

The politics lead. She left office with approval ratings her boss could only see with binoculars, but now Hillary Clinton's numbers are dropping significantly. Will Benghazi sink her?

And the world lead. NASA calls it a potential city killer, an asteroid so big it's pulling its own moon. Start the countdown. It's flying past in this hour.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead. Our eyes once again are on the skies over the Oklahoma City area, where destruction from above is becoming a very real possibility this hour. It might not look all that bad at this moment. But they are coming, potentially explosive storms. The National Weather Service says a particularly dangerous situation, or PDS, tornado watch, will be issued for central Oklahoma within the hour, a PDS.

Particularly dangerous situation means there is an enhanced risk of severe and life-threatening weather due to a major tornado outbreak.

Let's bring in CNN's severe weather expert, Chad Myers. He's in Oklahoma City.

Chad, tell us what you're seeing.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we're seeing very warm air, Jake. It's like 96 degrees where we are. It's even hotter out to the west. And that's unusual. That is different than we have had the past couple of days.

We have had storms fire at about 76 to 80 the past couple of days. That makes a big difference. Now we have all of this heat and all of this humidity down at the surface that's ready to go straight up into the atmosphere 50,000 or 60,000 feet high. That means that as soon as these storms fire, they are going to be severe quickly. There is going to be hail within 15 minutes of when they fire and there will probably be tornadoes within 25 minutes after that.

So this is going to be one of those days where you have to pay attention. There is literally nothing on radar right now. It's not happening, but it will happen. We know it's there. We call it the loaded gun. It's ready to go when the storms pop through what is cap. There is kind of a cap in the atmosphere. It's warm up there.

When that cap is broken and one storm goes through, the rest are going to go through as well and this is going to be a severe weather day for sure. That's why we're here. We're covering it, trying to keep the people of Oklahoma safe.

TAPPER: And, Chad, people in that region, they know why clear skies might actually be bad news. But explain to the viewers who don't live in that section of the country, how come when things seem calmest it actually might be the worst time?

MYERS: When you see sunshine and you have temperatures like we have here in Oklahoma City, it's like adding more fuel or hot air to a hot air balloon.

What's going to happen when you pull the trigger and you put a hot air balloon with more fuel in it, more gas, more hot air? It's going to go higher. So, you have the heat down here. That's (AUDIO GAP) go higher. Higher storms get more hail. They also can spin because the jet stream is stronger up there. A hotter day makes a more severe weather day. Of the three or four days we have had the past -- this week so far, this will be the most severe for Oklahoma.

The first day we were out here, tornadoes were in Texas and then Arkansas. Today, these storms are going to be right here. The tornadoes are going to be on the ground in Oklahoma. Make sure your NOAA weather radio is on today. You will need it.

TAPPER: All right, Chad Myers, we will check back with you as we stay on top of these storms.

I'm joined now on the phone by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin.

Governor, we unfortunately seem to be checking in with you a lot lately because of the severe weather in your state. Tell us where you are and what's going on where you are.

GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I'm in Oklahoma City right now. And I have been at the Capitol.

And we have our emergency operations center already up and running. We like to prepare ahead of time. And we have all of our first- responders, all of our state agencies, state, local, FEMA people, on standby. Usually in our operations center, we may have 40 or 50 people who are coordinating, who are talking, who are ready to pounce if something should happen.

As you said, the atmosphere is extremely unstable. There's a possibility of hail, strong winds, and possibly some tornadoes. Conditions are ripe. And, of course, we still have people that are on the ground cleaning up debris. But from what I have been told by my staff right now, we have FEMA and our Office of Emergency Operations cleanup on the Moore site just because we need all hands on deck to watch what's going on around the state.

TAPPER: And once again, Governor, the Oklahoma City area is under watch. What are you doing for those who have already lost their homes and might not have shelter?

FALLIN: Well, we have been able to get people into temporary housing and to different locations. I know our -- several of our universities have taken families in that are staying there. There are people that have gotten rental homes.

We had very little people in temporary shelters, which were churches and community centers last week. And so we have done a really good job of being able to locate places for people to stay. But, basically, we're really good on our news networks, on our local radio networks to tell people to stay very weather-aware. Figure out ahead of time where you might need to go, if you need to go somewhere.

And I got a little notice on my e-mail a minute ago from a local store that says because of the weather, they were closing their store at 4:00, which I thought was just kind of interesting. So there are sometimes businesses will allow their employees to go home early if they think that the weather is going to be extremely bad.

I actually let the state employees of the Capitol go one day last year around 3:00, go home early, because we knew a major storm was going to hit at 5:00. And sure enough right at 4:45, it hit Oklahoma City. And it is a good thing I let everybody go home and get to wherever they needed to be.

TAPPER: All right, Governor Mary Fallin, we will check back in with you. We hope that there is no news out of Oklahoma today.

FALLIN: Well, we hope so, too. We're going to keep our prayers going here.

TAPPER: All right. We will have them for you, too.

FALLIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: In other national news, a U.S. congressman traveling in Russia says Russian intelligence officials told him that the Boston Marathon bombing could have been prevented if their American counterparts, the FBI and CIA, had acted on their warnings in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was planning on traveling abroad to join an underground Islamic terrorist group.

U.S. officials have said that the information the Russians shared was vague, but the office of Congressman Bill Keating, Democrat of Massachusetts, tells us that the congressman was today shown detailed intelligence by the Russian FSB, the successor to the KGB, details, names, cell phone numbers, addresses, social media information, intelligence indicating that Tsarnaev originally had planned to get involved with Palestinian insurgents, but that fell through because he had trouble learning Arabic.

Keating first told this to "The Boston Globe." The FBI and CIA did not today respond to CNN's request for comment. You may recall Congressman Keating told us that one of his staffers traveled to Russia after the bombing and learned that Tsarnaev while in the Caucasus in 2012 made contact with two insurgents there, William Plotnikov and Mahmoud Nidal. The terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon was 46 days ago and there remains so much we still do not know.


TAPPER (voice-over): This new footage shows the now infamous Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, focusing on fitness just 72 hours before they gained America's attention with these devastating explosions. We visited their gym just after the bombings.

(on camera): This is the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts gymnasium here in Allston, Massachusetts, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev would work out. And in fact, after Tsarnaev and his brother were fingered as the suspects in the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, law enforcement came and took the surveillance cameras from here to help their investigation.

(voice-over): And in those tapes shown for the first time on CNN, the elder Tsarnaev seems relaxed and eager to begin his routine. He adeptly skips rope, showing off his years of training, while his younger brother takes a rest on the ropes, also evident in the tapes, a stubborn, argumentative side of Tamerlan.

In the video, the brothers are asked to remove their shoes before entering the gym. Dzhokhar complies and unsurprisingly to some Tamerlan pushes back. When I spoke to Tamerlan's former boxing coach last month, he told me behavior like this was not unexpected.

EDDIE BISHOP, FORMER TSARNAEV COACH: He had a really big punch. He knocked a lot of people out. But he lacked -- he lacked that fighter's heart. If he couldn't get you out of there, he quit.

TAPPER: Today, the boxing-champ-turned-bomber is buried in an unmarked grave far from home in Caroline County, Virginia, one of the few sites that would accept his remains.

FLOYD THOMAS, CAROLINE COUNTY, VIRGINIA, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: If you want to know how we feel, we're very angry over the bombing. But, again, we have no legal control if everything was done legally.

TAPPER: His recently released death certificate shows the body he strived to keep fit was riddled with gunshots and blunt-force trauma sustained during a shoot-out with Massachusetts police.

Just this week, his younger brother seen here jumping rope reportedly regained the ability to walk, something many of the bombing's victims may never be able to do again; 19-year-old Dzhokhar is currently held in a medical prison and charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.

This week, the Boston Marathon terrorist attack was painfully characterized as an absolute success in the newest edition of "Inspire" magazine. The online publication backed by al Qaeda praises the bombings and the Tsarnaev brothers. The pressure cooker bombs they allegedly used to kill three and injure hundreds more last month are strikingly similar to those the magazine taught readers to make in a previous article.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: The message they're putting out to followers in the West is, don't come and join us here in Yemen. Stay home. Launch attacks there. And we will give you the how-to advice in magazines like "Inspire," bomb-making recipes so that you can do that.

TAPPER: This week, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly called his mother from jail. Zubeidat Tsarnaev told Bloomberg news that their first conversation since the bombings lasted only six mints. During that time, she says he seemed normal, telling her: "My wounds are healing. Everything's in God's hands. Be patient. Everything will be fine."

It's a statement eerily close to what hundreds of innocent victims in Boston have been telling their families since that fateful day at the finish line.


TAPPER: The manager of the gym where those new images of the suspects came from tells CNN that he noticed Tamerlan Tsarnaev had shaved his beard, but he did not ask him about it because he did not want to get an earful over it.

How big is the asteroid that is about to whip past our planet? Big enough that it's got its own moon. That almost sounds like a "yo mama" joke. But this is no joke. The countdown is on. This thing will pass closest to Earth this hour.

Plus, Hillary Clinton just took a big hit in the polls. Are rumored presidential candidates less popular than secretaries of state. We will talk about it in our politics lead. Stick around.


TAPPER: Welcome back to the lead, breaking news.

We're watching storms brewing over the Midwest, specifically Oklahoma. Some residents are still reeling there from a devastating tornado in Moore a week-and-a-half ago. The National Weather Service says this is a particularly dangerous situation, PDS. We're monitoring the weather there and we will bring you the latest.

In the meantime, let us now do on THE LEAD the politics lead. Is it a smoking gun or a manipulated fact? Douglas Shulman, former head of the IRS, visited the White House 157 times, according to the public visitor records released by the White House. It's a number conservatives are squeezing in the ongoing scandal. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR")

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: What the heck was Mr. Shulman doing at the White House with that kind of frequency? In his testimony before Congress, Shulman was a wise guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would be some of the reasons you might be at the White House?

DOUGLAS SHULMAN, FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER: The Easter egg roll, with my kids.


TAPPER: The Easter egg roll with his kids, of course, that's just one visit.

But let's bring in our political panel to talk about it. CNN contributor and Republican strategist, Kevin Madden; CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, Stephanie Cutter; and CNN senior political analyst and editorial director for "National Journal", Ron Brownstein.

So, Kevin, Democrats say there is fuzzy math going on here. That Shulman and his 157 visits, he didn't always meet with the president. That it wasn't always in the White House itself. It could have been in the old executive office building, the Treasury.


TAPPER: What do you think about the way the White House is handling this crisis and is this part of the crisis?

MADDEN: Look, we've been dealing with this now with people asking more questions about it for about a week because when the IRS commissioner was first asked about it during the testimony, he did infuriate I think a lot of members of Congress with his answer. You know, that's one visit, right, out of 157 where they're on the public log. And then I think he raised a lot of red flags with the media.

And here we are a week later where we're finding out all this new information when the IRS commissioner had a chance to answer it right then and there and end any speculation and talk about what the meetings were, what he was doing, why -- and he didn't. I think that has been one of the big problems here with this scandal and some of the others is this lack of command and control over some of the information that the White House needs in order to push back.

TAPPER: But Shulman did say he can't remember ever talking about the political group --

MADDEN: If someone asked me if I was somewhere 157 times and I wasn't, I would have known the answer and I would have given that answer, or I would have at least elaborated on it during that time. And here we are, a week later, and we're still getting -- arguing about it.

TAPPER: And let's -- Stephanie, I know you have something to say about this. The White House pushing back very hard today --


TAPPER: -- on this 157 number.

CUTTER: Yes. Well, a couple facts here which I think are important for us to stick by. Number one, the only reason we know about these visits is because the president makes everything public. Number two, what we're really --


CUTTER: -- what we're looking at, some of these visits --

TAPPER: The visitor logs are public. Go on.

CUTTER: Yes, the only president in history to do that.

TAPPER: OK, fair enough.

CUTTER: What we're looking at are the number of times Mr. Shulman was cleared into the White House. It doesn't necessarily mean he went to a meeting.

Number three, many of those meetings were for health care implementation. I was in them with him. So there is nothing nefarious going on.

I will say it's a missed opportunity by him at his hearing to just shut it down. He should have and he shouldn't have made light of it. It's actually an important piece of information for people to have.

But this is a fabricated debate. Just because Bill O'Reilly is raising questions about it, it doesn't mean that there's actually anything going on here.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The nature of congressional investigations is to produce almost an endless series of these factoids. The bright, sharp line I think is still the same. What takes this from where it is now to something bigger is if there is clear evidence that someone beyond the IRS ordered them to have this kind of differential enforcement. Until we have that I think you have a challenge that is containable for the administration.

I think we're going to have, Jake, I think we're going to have a lot of examples of, you know, information that kind of raises more questions. But until you find something that crosses that very clear line, I think this is still a containable story.

TAPPER: So, you agree with Stephanie on -- you agree with Stephanie, no evidence of that. And you'd also agree with Kevin that the White House could be handling this better.

BROWNSTEIN: No, look, I think it is going to keep happening. I mean, this is going to keep happening. You know, the nature of investigations are there going to be -- there are going to be suggested facts and situations that come out. But I think the clear question in the mind of the public is going to be, was this kind of differential treatment ordered --

TAPPER: Ordered by the White House.

BROWNSTEIN: -- by anyone beyond the IRS?

CUTTER: And the only evidence we have right now is an inspector general report that says, no. There was no outside --


TAPPER: I want to move to the next topic which is in the next -- most recent Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings have taken a hit. It was 61 percent which is huge, very, very strong. Now, it's 52 percent. The big question I guess is, why?

Kevin, is this --

MADDEN: The wonderful confines of having an apolitical job in a very political city. And now once you step outside of those safe confines and you're then again put into the scrutiny of the political machine, whether it's on the media, opponents, and just the nature of politics itself, it takes a hit. And it's inevitable.

TAPPER: Do polls matter this early? We don't even know if she is going to run for president. But do they matter this early?

CUTTER: No, they don't. They don't really reflect ultimately how people are going to vote in primaries or, you know, general elections. It is an eternity between now and 2016.

BROWNSTEIN: Having said that, I mean, that is obviously true. But what this does show you is the natural kind of resting point in American politics right now is pretty close to 50/50.

TAPPER: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, we are very closely divided. Slight demographic advantage for Democrats in the presidential race but 61 percent, reality and gravity are setting in.


MADDEN: You heard this from me and Stephanie before on campaigns, we'd always say, polling is just a snap shot because they change.


MADDEN: That's when it's good and bad.

TAPPER: Well, congratulations on joining our family here at CNN. Great to have you guys on. Always good to see you.

Stephanie Cutter, Kevin Madden, Ron Brownstein, thanks. Coming up, it's change you can cash in on. Former White House insiders this week made some big bucks by visiting a repressive country with serious human rights issues. Nice work if you can get it. We'll tell you more, next.

Also in world, tear gas, water canons, screaming protesters -- we'll take you inside the rage in Istanbul. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're watching this particularly dangerous situation, PDS, developing in Oklahoma.

George Howell is in Moore, Oklahoma.

George, tell us about the weather there.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we're seeing the skies change, thick clouds coming overhead. Though we're watching the radars right now, no major thunderstorms, no major storms in this area. A few popping up to the north in Oklahoma.

But you were out here, Jake, and you remember what it was like. This cleanup, this recovery continues.

But I want you to look over here. Just take a look. There's nobody out here. It's empty. And that's because a lot of people have already left.

This is really one of the first signs as people get ready for the storm to come in. Certainly, you wouldn't want to be in this area when things get bad. We won't be here in this area because there's a lot of debris flying around in case the winds pick up.

But again, everybody is paying very close attention to the weather. People have those NOAA weather radios. These conditions are changing, Jake. It's warmer out here. The sun has been out a lot today.

The meteorologists tell me that as it gets warmer, as it continues to get warmer, it makes this a very unstable day. So, that's what we're seeing.

TAPPER: And, George, there must be concern about not only debris created by any new storm but the old debris that's all behind you.

HOWELL: Absolutely. And that is the main reason. You see people who were here who were, you know, going through all of the debris trying to pull out belongings and really start over. They are not here right now. They are out of the way of the storm. You see people driving out of the neighborhood.

As things get bad, you know, that's what people do and that's what we will do and get to a safer place to continue to cover the story. But this is certainly a telling sign, Jake, you know, that people are not in these areas where they had been, you know, trying to start over and recover.

TAPPER: All right. George Howell in Moore, Oklahoma, we'll stay on top of these storms. And thank you so much.

We will be right back. We've got -- we've got half an hour before an asteroid the size of the Golden Gate Bridge buzzes by Earth. The White House of course says don't panic. But we are keeping an eye on it.