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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Oklahoma Tornadoes; Violence in Turkey; The IRS Scandal Gets Ugly; Whistleblower on Trial

Aired June 3, 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 HOST: They're still counting the dead from the latest Oklahoma tornado.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is "The Lead."

The national lead, another rash of killer storms so powerful and unpredictable, even expert storm chasers are caught off guard. While the rest of us seek shelter, these men and women run right into danger. Three were killed just this last weekend. We will ask a friend and fellow storm chaser, why do you do it?

The world lead. It started small, and it erupted into this, thousands injured in anti-government protests in Turkey, authorities cracking down with force. Remind anyone of the Arab spring? What the unrest in key U.S. ally Turkey means to you.

The politics lead. Lying is practically a language of its own here in the nation's capital, but it's rare to actually hear political enemies accuse one another of it. A top Republican accused the White House's answer man of being a paid liar, and the Obama team hit back, bringing up a Republican congressman's arrest in 1972.

We will begin with the national lead and the search becoming more desperate by the hour for six people still missing after an outbreak of tornadoes in Oklahoma. Within just the last few moments, the death toll in that state alone has risen to 17 from the rash of violent storms this weekend. This has been a punishing stretch of bad weather for Oklahoma.

Just two weeks ago, an EF-5 tornado practically wiped the town of Moore off the map. This time, a seasoned team of storm chasers is among the dead. They made their living driving toward some of the most terrifying sights imaginable, but their considerable experience could not save them from the destruction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tornado five miles southwest of El Reno.

TAPPER (voice-over): This is the reason it's called Tornado Alley, an outbreak of twisters scraping across the Midwest over the weekend, touching down in Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma, where the force was strong enough to do this.

The Oklahoma City area still reeling from the EF-5 tornado that destroyed the town of Moore two weeks ago once again caught the worst of it. The storms hit during Friday rush hour, and with memories of Moore still fresh, many tried to flee on the roads. And for some, it would be a deadly choice.

CHRIS WEST, CANADIAN COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, UNDERSHERIFF: Most of those victims, if not all, came out of vehicles.

TAPPER: The tornado that ripped through El Reno, Oklahoma, proved especially unpredictable. It made an unexpected left-hand turn, suddenly traveling north. It caught even experienced storm chasers completely by surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That thing is rotating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is rotating?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

Storm chaser Tim Samaras, seen here on Discovery Channel's storm chasers show, was killed, along with his son Paul Samaras and colleague Carl Young. They were chasing the tornado in El Reno, their mangled white truck twisted almost beyond recognition.

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: Something must have gone wrong, horribly wrong.

TAPPER: Storm chaser Reed Timmer, who knew Samaras well, said it all seems like a nightmare.

TIMMER: They're the best, most experienced group of storm chasers I know at getting close to tornadoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the instrument I have been working on for the last month.

TAPPER: Samaras was more than just a storm chaser. He was a scientist at his core, founding a company called Twistex that used equipment that is seen here on the Discovery Channel to gather research about tornadoes and advance warning time.

TYLER COSTANTINI, STORM CHASER: They weren't out there doing any kind of haphazard adrenaline junkie kind of thing. They were doing real scientific research.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if a supercell and tornado formed out there and we missed it? That would be absolutely disastrous, so we have to give it a try. We just have to give it a try.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: We're all glued to the TV watching these storm chasers film life-or-death moments in the middle of a tornado. And for those of us who cover these storms as they happen, their work is irreplaceable. But is the data and the footage storm chasers collect for us, is it worth the danger to them? Let's talk to someone who does it for a living. Ed Grubb is a storm tracker who was part of Tim Samaras' crew since 2009. He was not with Samaras on this trip. And Lanny Dean has been a storm chaser for over 20 years and he was a chasing the storms in Oklahoma. He had worked with Tim Samaras and was also a close friend. He knew him for over 20 years.

Lanny, I want to start with you. You knew him for more than 20 years. What was he like?

LANNY DEAN, STORM CHASER: I have got to tell you Tim was a very passionate individual, probably one much the most passionate individuals that I had ever met personally.

He was certainly very scientific, and probably more importantly Tim had a care about other people that I had never met in my life. I had never seen that type of a caring individual. He was truly, truly caring more about other people than he did himself.

TAPPER: And, Ed, I want to play a clip from Friday. It was an interview that Tim did about the storm.

ED GRUBB, STORM CHASER: You bet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM SAMARAS, STORM CHASER: We are looking for the very special type of storm called a supercell. A supercell is a very violent storm that is very capable of large hail and pretty destructive tornadoes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pretty destructive tornadoes.

Ed, explain to us, what is the data that you all get when you go on these missions? Why is it so important?

GRUBB: Well, from our standpoint, it's extremely important because we can utilize the data collected and figure out why one particular supercell thunderstorm, which Tim was referring to in your clip, why one particular supercell thunderstorm will produce a tornado and why one will not.

And if we can find that common denominator as to why it does put down a tornado, if we see that little denominator in a storm sooner than later, we can increase the warning times a lot sooner -- or a lot later, so that people in harm's way can get out of the way much, much quicker.

TAPPER: And ,Lanny, you were going to go over some of this data over the weekend with Tim. What exactly were you going to go over with him?

DEAN: Well, I will tell you, Tim and I -- as you mentioned earlier, Tim and I had been friends for many, many years. And as Ed had mentioned, we -- Tim was certainly a scientist first and foremost. So the data that we were working together on was regarding -- excuse me -- regarding acoustics, infrasonics in and around tornadoes. As some people may or may not know, supercell thunderstorms, much like Tim was referring to and Ed, they generate an infrasonic sound.

Our atmosphere around us generates infrasonic sounds. So most particularly, we were -- Tim and I were going to kind of look at and research some of the possible infrasonic sounds in and around tornadoes. Our end of it was truly around tornado genesis, right before the tornado actually happened. What kind of noise, what kind of signature could we pick up just prior to tornado genesis?

Fortunately for us, myself and my crew, we had gained some data already prior to Tim and I -- and this weekend, Tim and I were -- this weekend, Tim and I were planning on going over the data. I'm sorry.

TAPPER: No, it's OK. We understand.

Lanny, I just want to ask you, when you think of -- because we want our viewers to understand who this man was beyond what he did on television and beyond his heroism in tracking storms. What will you remember most about him when you think of Tim?

DEAN: Certainly, I will remember -- certainly, I'm going to remember his dedication and his passion.

But I think, of course, the scientific level -- I mean, Tim was a very smart individual, probably one of the smartest people that I know. But, ultimately, I will remember his caring attitude. I mean, this is a man that I -- very hard to describe to you.

You would almost have to meet him. He truly did care more about other people than himself. And that certainly showed any time you spoke with him. You could be a novice chaser or what have you or just somebody off the street, and Tim would take time to visit with you.

And I think that caring attitude and that -- just that awe -- aura about him really I'm going to miss dearly. And that's what I'm going to remember. I'm going to hold on to those -- I'm going to hold on to those memories.

TAPPER: And, Ed, lastly, what will you remember most about Tim, having been a member of his team?

GRUBB: Well, just the knowledge that he was willing to impart on those around him.

Even when he wasn't storm chasing, sort of echoing what Lanny just said, in the off-season, he enjoyed going to schools, he enjoyed talking to children, trying to educate them, trying to get them involved in science. From my standpoint, he believed in integrating that scientific knowledge in the younger kids, so that as they got older, there would be a new generation being able to carry on some of the programs and studies that he had envisioned in his dream.

TAPPER: All right, Lanny Dean and Ed Grubb, thank you so much. Our deepest condolences on your loss.

GRUBB: Thank you so much.

DEAN: Thank you, guys, very much.

TAPPER: The politics lead, the end of an era on Capitol Hill today that we learned that the very last World War II veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate died. New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg passed away early this morning at the age of 89, succumbing to complications from viral pneumonia.

First elected in 1982, Lautenberg served five terms with only a two- year gap tucked in there. He cast more than 9,000 votes in his time and some of his legislative crusades forever changed how we Americans live. In April, Lautenberg made one of his last Senate appearances to vote for expanding background checks on gun sales, though that was defeated.

Lautenberg's now-vacant seat is a major problem for Democrats. New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie can appoint a temporary replacement to serve until a special election can be held.

Today, Christie remembered Lautenberg fondly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think the best way to describe Frank Lautenberg and the way he would probably want to be described to all of you today is as a fighter. Senator Lautenberg fought for the things he believed in. Sometimes, he just fought because he liked to. Today is a sad day for the people of New Jersey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I want to bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, on Capitol Hill.

Dana, let's talk about the legacy that Lautenberg leaves behind. What will he most be remembered for?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of legislative accomplishments, like you said, Jake, that actually affect people's lives.

We talk a lot about inaction here. Well, he was somebody who did act. Let me just give our viewers some examples. When you get on a plane now and there's no smoke, it is because of legislation that Frank Lautenberg helped push. He's the reason why there's no smoking on airplanes.

With regard to tobacco, he was a fierce opponent of tobacco from early on, even when it was incredibly unpopular. He helped to again make sure that there was no smoking. And alcohol as well, he was mainly responsible for helping to curb drunk driving by having a national standard blood alcohol level of 0.08. And also he helped make sure that the drinking age was 21. So those are just some parts of the law that he really helped push that, as I said, really do affect people's lives. With regard to how he is being remembered here today, Jake, as is tradition, they have put a black drape over his desk in the Senate and flowers as well. There's a condolence book in his office.

Look, he is somebody who lived a very long and a very robust life, but he also is somebody who stuck out here -- and I can say this as a point of personal privilege -- and you did, too, walking around the halls here in Congress -- he was always polite. He always had good humor, even when he clearly was not feeling well in recent months, and even when he -- we were talking about political issues that really got under his skin, like, for example, the idea that the Newark mayor, Cory Booker, fellow Democrat, announced that he was going to run against him, which eventually helped Lautenberg decide that he was going to retire.

TAPPER: And, briefly, Dana, Democrats have a very narrow majority in the Senate, to turn to crass politics. They just lost a seat. It will probably be replaced -- the senator will probably replaced by a Republican.

Walk us through the options that Governor Chris Christie has right now. It's pretty complicated.

BASH: It is complicated and some things we don't really know because there are disputes in the law.

But what we do know is that he as a Republican does have the ability to appoint somebody who is Republican. So at least in the near term, it means that that Democratic seat will go Republican. The open question is when or if there has to be a special election. Because Senator Lautenberg's term is already up in 2014, it is possible that Chris Christie could argue that there doesn't have to be an election until then. That would not be what Democrats would prefer, because that would probably keep a Republican in the seat for a year-and-a- half.

But also Democrats are probably going to say there must be a special election before that. So that is still in dispute. As you said, it is quite complicated.

TAPPER: Very interesting to see who Chris Christie appoints in that -- appoints to that seat. Thank you so much, Dana Bash.

Coming up on THE LEAD, sure, they made some missteps but wait until you see their dance steps. Add wasteful spending and stupid line dancing video to the widening IRS scandal.

Meanwhile, the politicians are wasting no time attacking each other.

And it happens every time. Just when you fall in love with a TV character, bam, they fall victim to a violent plot twist. So how do TV show producers decide who will die next? Stay with us for the pop lead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In politics, the White House responded today to a charge made on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," when one of the president's chief adversaries, House Oversight Committee chairman, Congressman Darrell Issa, said this about the IRS scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT CMTE.: Their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind, he's still making up things about what happens and calling this local rogue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Issa suggesting White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was lying about those IRS officials who targeted conservative groups being rogue, though Issa did not offer any proof.

Today, Jay Carney laughed off the accusation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Darrell Issa over the weekend called you a paid liar for the administration. I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to that.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I had heard that. That's amazing.

I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth with Chairman Issa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Someone else did not show such restraint. David Plouffe, the unofficial adviser to President Obama, tweeted this about Mr. Issa, "Strong words from Mr. Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler." Plouffe was referring to an incident in 1972 when Issa was 19, charges against Issa for allegedly stealing a car were later dropped. The arsonist thing refers to an incident in 1982 when Issa's factor burned down under suspicious circumstances. No one was ever charged with anything and Issa did collect insurance money.

1972, 1982, why are we even talking about this? Plouffe told me, quote, "The credibility and motivations of accusers are valid here."

Let's bring in our political panel to talk about, Kevin Madden, CNN contributor and former senior adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign, Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post," and Glenn Thrush from "Politico".

Kevin, conservatives say Democrats bring up these other issues just to change the subject. They called them squirrels because we in the media are so stupid that we just chase after them -- (LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: -- like dumb dogs looking for, look at that, that's a squirrel.

Why is David Plouffe going after Darrell Issa?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he is trying to offer a distraction. I mean, this is -- they've done this before. If you remember during the campaign, they actually insinuated -- the president's campaign did insinuate that Mitt Romney was a felon. Whenever they have a problem with the facts, what they do is demonize and go after the character of their opponent.

I think it's a mistake. I think it's a bigger distraction from the issues and I would hope now that Chairman Issa and other House Republicans don't get -- you know, they don't chase those distractions, they don't be the squirrels after that nut. Instead, keep the focus back on the White House and asking the tough questions because that's what the American people want. They don't want this name-calling.

TAPPER: Ruth, does David Plouffe have a point that the credibility of the accusers is relevant?

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: No. But more to the -- but more to the point, it's a stupid tactic. I thought Chairman Issa who had been doing a pretty good job of holding himself in check and presenting some reasonable hearings totally crossed the line when he described Jay Carney as a paid liar. And the person who responded correctly to that was Jay Carney, by laughing it off and not getting himself down in the gutter with Darrell Issa. The Plouffe response just really dredged up old news and just covered everybody with dirt, and that was not a smart thing to do.

I don't think -- but I think it was a not smart thing to do that was done out of anger and heat, and lack of control, and I could keep going on those things. But not --

TAPPER: The problem with Twitter, right?

MARCUS: Yes, that's exactly the problem with Twitter. That's why your mother told you to count to 10. But it wasn't -- I don't try to count, but I don't think it was done in an effort to change the subject. They would have been much better off if we only had been talking about Darrell Issa attacking Jay Carney rather on the one hand than the other.

TAPPER: What do you think, Glenn?

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: Well, who hasn't boosted cars when they were 19, Jake?

MARCUS: Who among --

TAPPER: They dropped the charges. THRUSH: Youthful, what's the word, youthful and --

TAPPER: The charges were dropped. But I was 3 years old when that happened. Why even bring it up?

THRUSH: Well, look -- I think, first of all, what's the line about you never pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel? Well, it's not all that wise to pick a fight with somebody who has subpoena power. You know, David Plouffe was senior adviser in the White House when a lot of these things went down. I don't understand why the White House or why some of these former Obama advisers are looking to pick all these fights with Issa. They had him where they wanted him on Sunday. He really stepped in it. I thought that went way over the line. And this really puts them back on par and loses the advantage that they had over the weekend.

TAPPER: You could argue that we have just all -- especially me -- have played into what Plouffe wanted because we haven't spent a great deal of time talking about the IRS scandal that we have previous days. And we will in future days, but today, we haven't, Kevin.

MADDEN: We have and it's I think to the detriment of what people up on Capitol Hill, particularly Republicans, think are pretty valid investigations, pretty valid oversight duties that they have, that we're talking -- that this is sort of regressed into this debate over who called what, who called who what first, like we're on a playground.

And I think the American people believe that the tougher questions about what happened with this IRS scandal. They need to be asked and answered before we continue with the name-calling.

TAPPER: And, in fact, the acting IRS director in congressional hearing just a few minutes ago said that the IRS failed the American people by targeting conservative groups the way they did.

Ruth Marcus, Kevin Madden, Glenn Thrush, thank you so much for your time. We'll have you all back again shortly.

"The Buried Lead": Is he an enemy of the state or a hero whistle- blower? The soldier accused of the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history finally faces trial today.

And after a whole day at Disney World, your feet will hurt and so will your wallet. The price of admission to the happiest place on earth just got even more painful.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Now, it's time for "The Buried Lead". That's the story we think isn't getting enough attention.

He could end up spending the rest of his life behind bars for spilling the government's secrets. The court-martial trial begins today for Private First Class Bradley Manning, the American soldier who has already admitted to helping make public more than 700,000 war-related and classified U.S. documents through the secret sharing Web site WikiLeaks.

Manning is accused of aiding the enemy. Prosecutors today said the government will provide evidence indicating that materials al Qaeda operators delivered to bin Laden can be traced to Manning's elicit downloading and transmission to WikiLeaks.

But Manning still has a lot of supporters who see him as a victim of an overly secretive government. They argue, were it not for Manning, the public would not know the truth about when this U.S. Apache gunship killed "Reuters" reporters and civilians in Iraq in this helicopter strike in 2007. Manning has also found what some might consider an ally in the new documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks."

Filmmaker Alex Gibney joins me now from New York.

Alex, thanks so much for being here. Your documentary centers both on Manning's Life and on the exploits of Julian Assange, creator of WikiLeaks.

Let's take a quick look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, THEN-SECRETARY OF STATE: Disclosures like these tear at the fabric of responsible government.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're looking at all of the things that we can do to stem the flow of this information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the biggest leak in the history of this particular planet.

JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS: My name is Julian Assange. I'm the editor of WikiLeaks.

We help you get the truth out. If you get this material, give it to us, no questions asked, and you will help change history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was this kid who had reached out in confidence and said, hey, I'm leaking secrets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's a compelling and controversial documentary. It casts Manning as a sympathetic character, Alex. He uses his security clearance to make public some moments in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he believes were unconscionable, particularly the deaths of innocents and civilians.

But what do you think about the charge that his actions put the lives of other innocents at risk, including Iraqis and Afghans with whom the U.S. work? ALEX GIBNEY, FILMMAKER, "WE STEAL SECRETS": Well, are you talking about the charge aiding the enemy that the government is charging him with in the trial?

TAPPER: I mean, just putting out in the public, names of individuals in Afghanistan and Iraq that the U.S. was working with that maybe would not have been known to the Taliban or to Iraqi insurgents beforehand.

GIBNEY: Well, I think it may have been somewhat naive of Private Manning to have leaked documents without knowing precisely how they might be handled by WikiLeaks. And some of those documents were not properly redacted. But let's also say that nobody was actually hurt by their release.

So, I think, you know, it's fair to say that he was a little bit naive about the use to which they would be put. But I also think that he actually -- this was not a data dump. He actually scrutinized these documents and had some sense of the fact that they would not hurt anybody in an operational sense and furthermore would shed some light not only on the damage which had been done in Iraq and Afghanistan but also on some rather good things that had been done by American diplomats around the world. TAPPER: Some of the fans of Julian Assange take issue with your documentary and the portrayal of Assange. How do you view him?

GIBNEY: Well, I think Julian Assange actually is admirable in many ways. I think the WikiLeaks platform as a publisher and also anonymous leaking site where you could send documents anonymously, I think that was an important precedent to be set. I think the problem with Assange was that he ended up bungling his own operation in part conflating his own personal misdeeds with the transparency agenda. And that's where I lost some sympathy with him.

TAPPER: The film also talks about how Private Manning was kept in it a cell, a 6 x 8 cell, for nine months.

Do you think the U.S. government has been cruel to Private Manning?

GIBNEY: Yes. I think what the U.S. government has done to Private Manning has been outrageous. Absolutely outrageous. And I think it's particularly outrageous that it happened during the Obama administration that pledged to be on the side of whistleblowers and indeed that pledged to be on the side of human rights.

So his treatment, both in Kuwait as you mentioned, and also being kept in solitary confinement, having his clothes removed, having his glasses removed, being forced to stand naked before guards, these are -- and the lights on all the time, these were techniques that were not unlike what was done to try to muscle information out of people in Guantanamo, for example. So, I think what was done to Bradley Manning was absolutely cruel and unusual punishment.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Gibney, thank you so much. The film is "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks." Check it out. We'll have you back again sometime, Alex. As for Bradley Manning, his trial is ongoing. We'll cover all angles of the story as it progresses, hearing from many different voices.