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Susan Rice Named as National Security Adviser; Chrysler Refuses Recall; Interview With Texas Congressman Michael McCaul; Chrysler Won't Recall Vehicles; Major Steroid Crackdown Coming?

Aired June 5, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Republican furor over the Benghazi talking points played a role in keeping her from becoming secretary of state, but Susan Rice today had a pretty decent consolation prize.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, two powerful women with interventionist positions moving up the ladder in the Obama administration, a move that could have serious implications for conflicts abroad, perhaps even the one in Syria.

The money lead. The government says gas tanks on nearly three million Jeep SUVs have an unfortunate tendency to catch fire and possibly kill people. But when the feds asked Chrysler for a recall, the company said no. Are they allowed to refuse?

The politics lead. President Obama shuts down more hecklers than Louis C.K., but his wife is not as used to it and she seemed quite peeved when someone in the crowd interrupted one of her speeches last night. We have got the exclusive video.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, please don't leave.



TAPPER: Hello, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the national lead, a major power shuffle in the Obama administration today, one that could have huge implications for U.S. foreign policy. The announcement came just a short time ago in the White House Rose Garden.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I am extraordinarily proud to announce my new national security adviser, our outstanding ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, as well as my nominee to replace Susan in New York, Samantha Power.


SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER DESIGNEE: I look forward to continuing to serve on your national security team to keep our nation strong and safe.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS NOMINEE: It would be the honor of a lifetime to fight for American values and interests at the United Nations.


TAPPER: Dr. Susan Rice is replacing to Tom Donilon as the president's national security adviser. Recall that Rice, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, represented the Obama administration on all the Sunday shows five days after the attack at the U.S. post in Benghazi, Libya, last September.


TAPPER: We're hearing that the Libyans have arrested people. There might even be al Qaeda ties.

RICE: But our current best assessment based on the information that we have at present is that in fact what this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.


TAPPER: As we now know, none of that about the Benghazi attack turned out to be true. And, in fact, diplomats and intelligence officials on the ground at the time believed from the get-go that the attacks were terrorist in nature, not the result of a spontaneous demonstration.

We also now know that Rice did not play any kind sort of lead role in crafting these inaccurate talking points, nor, for the matter, was she the one who in the months before the attack denied the Americans on the ground in Libya the security they requested.

Still, because she went on those Sunday shows, she became the face of the Obama administration during a tragedy for which the White House and the Obama administration for months refused responsibility and any blame.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There was overwhelming evidence that it was completely false, and she should have known.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, how could she say five days later, definitively, there is no evidence of a coordinated al Qaeda attack?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: She has disqualified herself as secretary of state.


TAPPER: After Hillary Clinton announced she was stepping down, Senate Republicans vowed to block Rice if she was nominated for secretary of state, and the president decided to go in a different direction, nominating Senator John Kerry instead.

But national security adviser? Well, that position does not require Senate confirmation. The woman nominated to take Rice's place is Samantha Power. Power started out as a journalist covering the Bosnian war in the 1990s. She was a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama's first run for president until 2008, until after then Senator Hillary Clinton beat then Senator Obama in Ohio primary in 2008, Power called Clinton a monster in a newspaper interview, prompting her to quit the campaign.

But she came back later to serve as a special assistant to President Obama and she and Clinton ended up working together. More important than that kerfuffle is Power's point of view. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 book "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."

It was highly critical of the U.S. for not intervening in some of the most egregious acts of slaughter in the 20th century. Looking at the failure of the Clinton administration to try to stop the genocide in Rwanda, in fact, Power interviewed Rice, who had then served on the National Security County under Clinton.

Rice told her -- quote -- "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required" -- unquote.

Now both of these women could be in positions to advise the president to do everything he can to stop such tragedies. What does that mean? Now, Rice has not pushed intervening in Syria, but she was one of the leading voices in favor of U.S. intervention in Libya.

I want to bring in Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

You signed a letter to the president in November accusing Rice of willfully or incompetently misleading the American public. You opposed the idea of her as secretary of state. So, what is your reaction today to her appointment as national security adviser?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: I think many on the Hill are really astounded by this pick.

It appears that he's rewarding something who showed an amazingly poor judgment and misled the American people and failed to call Benghazi what it was, and that was an act of terrorism, which we have seen so many times in recent past.

I don't question her qualifications. What I question is her judgment, and her ability to lead as a top national security adviser to the president of the United States when she got this one so wrong. Now, I agree with you, Jake. She may not have developed the talking points, but you have got to have enough good judgment and experience to question things.

It was so clear, this thing happening on 9/11, after all the threat warnings they received prior to the 9/11 attack that Secretary Clinton got and turned down and the fact that consulate's office was hit already by the brigades of the blind sheik. And then to on 9/11 say, oh, this had nothing to do with a terrorist attack, it was a video in Florida, I don't know. I really question this pick.

And I think a lot of members of Congress are going to do that.

TAPPER: Well, I wonder -- you have seen the e-mails, the e-mail traffic, and there obviously was a big division within the administration, and a big division within the CIA as to whether this was spontaneous or a terrorist attack.

From hindsight -- and you and I know that in the week after the attack, there were a lot of government officials -- not particularly at the podium at the White House, but there were a lot of government officials talking about this being a terrorist attack. What should she have done differently? She was being guided by the administration with then CIA Director Petraeus and others weighing in. What would you have done had you been her?

MCCAUL: Well, you know, Petraeus was basically vetoed.

I mean, General Petraeus wanted Ansar al-Sharia, al Qaeda group, put in there. He wanted to be put it was a terrorist attack. He was overridden by possibly some those in the White House and some political advisers. I don't know what extent Ms. Rice had knowledge of that, but I it was so self-evident what happened that day, I would have to question again her judgment.

What I'm more concerned about as well is the president loves the book, Lincoln's books "Team of Rivals," right? And it seems to me what he's doing is rewarding her and he's putting in a team of loyalists. Right? She can't get Senate confirmation, so he's going to surround himself with loyalists. He has so many problems on his plate right now to deal with. Why would he create another problem?

And this will be a big problem, not just with Ms. Rice, but I think the confirmation of Ms. Powers as U.N. ambassador is going to raise a lot of questions in the Senate.

TAPPER: Do you think -- this is my last question for you, sir, because we're running out of time, but do you think that Samantha Power will become kind of a proxy battle about Susan Rice or are there opposition -- is there a reason to oppose Power in and of herself that you're hearing from your fellow Republicans in the Senate?

MCCAUL: Well, I think we will be talking about both of them, but I think Mrs. Power, the opposition will stand on its own in terms of her -- you know, you want an U.N. ambassador that's going to advocate for the United States, not apologize for the United States.

She's compared our recent American foreign policy to that -- those of the Nazis. This is a horrible rhetoric. And it's not the kind of messenger I want to be sent to the United Nations to speak on behalf of the United States. So we have some serious problems with this nomination.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Michael McCaul, thanks so much for joining us, as always.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: We're also following breaking news, a terrifying site in my home town of Philadelphia right now. At least one person is dead and 14 others have been pulled from a rubble. A dozen of them hurt after this vacant building collapsed onto a Salvation Army thrift store, 22nd and Market Street. I know that neighborhood well. The structure was in the process of being demolished when it suddenly became unstable and crumbled into an avalanche of concrete.

Witnesses on the street say they could hear the screams from inside the thrift store. Rescue crews are on the scene with search dogs still looking for survivors. It could take all night. We will stay on top of this story.

Next on THE LEAD, an issue so serious, the federal government stepped in. Cars turned into fireballs after serious crashes, but the carmaker is refusing to issue a recall. What should you do if your car is affected?

Plus, it's one thing to interrupt the president, but the first lady? Well, she's not having it. An exclusive look at the video of Michelle Obama's heckler smackdown.


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

In our money lead, who knew you could fight an auto recall? Well, apparently, Chrysler did because they already did it in 1996. Back then, it was over seat belts. Now it's over rear fuel tanks and some Jeeps that might catch fire when the vehicle is rear-ended.

The National Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, sent a letter to Chrysler this week requesting that they recall Jeep Grand Cherokees that were made between 1993 and 2004 and Jeep Libertys made between 2002 and 2007. That's an estimated 2.7 million vehicles.

The government agency concluded that there were 44 deaths involving rear-impact fire crashes with Jeep Grand Cherokees and seven with Jeep Libertys.

But Chrysler says it has no plans to issue a recall, saying that the group's analysis is inaccurate.

Now, who is right? And if you drive one of these vehicles, are you safe?

Joining me now is Clarence Ditlow. He's the executive director for the Center for Auto Safety. He wrote a letter to the NHTSA notifying them of the problems with the Jeeps.

Clarence, thanks so much for joining us.

You seem very concerned about this issue. How serious is it?

CLARENCE DITLOW, CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY: This is the most serious fire defect since the old Ford Pinto.

TAPPER: Since the Pinto, it's the most serious one?

DITLOW: That's right, and -- but it's the same problem. The gas tank behind the rear axle and in a rear impact, that gas tank can rapture.

But the big difference is, this is a family vehicle. There are kids in the back seat of these Jeeps and the kids are being burned to death in child seats. This is a horrible defect.

TAPPER: I want to read part of Chrysler's statement responding to this request for a recall.

They say -- quote -- "Our analysis shows the incidents which are the focus of this request occurred less than once for every million years of vehicle operation. This rate is similar to comparable vehicles produced and sold during the time in question."

Is that not true? Is it not a relevant fact?

DITLOW: No, it's not true.

The Jeeps are much worse than comparable vehicles. The Grand Cherokee alone is 20 times more likely alone to be involved in a fatal rear impact than the Ford Explorer. And that's according to data submitted by Chrysler to the government.

TAPPER: But if you look at -- OK. So, there's 2.7 million of them. Some of them have been out there for 10 years, 11 years, and we have -- I don't mean to sound callous about this, but this is data, right -- 44 deaths.

Statistically, is that more significant than that same number of vehicles for any other kind?

DITLOW: Yes, it is. It's much more significant for the Jeep than it is for other vehicles, but here's the thing. If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time in a Jeep, a low-speed impact, as low as 40 miles per hour in the rear could rupture the tank and it goes up in fire.

TAPPER: You say because of the auto bailout of Chrysler a few years ago, Chrysler owes the American public a recall.

DITLOW: Chrysler is defending this on the grounds it costs too much. It will cost $300 million for the recall, but Chrysler got $10 billion from the federal government in the bailout. So $10 billion is a lot more than $300 million, and we feel Chrysler owes the government and the public a recall.

TAPPER: So, walk us through what happens next. They're refusing the recall, which is not unprecedented, but it is rare. What's the next step?

DITLOW: The next step is for the government to hold a public hearing, make a final determination of defect and then take Chrysler to court if they still refuse.

TAPPER: All right. Clarence Ditlow, thank you so much. Interesting, and we'll have you back as this progresses. Much appreciate it.

And if you have questions for Chrysler about this recall, you can call the company at 1-877-426-5337.

Coming up on our "Politics Lead" -- I don't know anyone at the White House who would dare to take on the first lady. The president, sure, but first lady? No way.

But last night, a protester heckled Michelle Obama. How did she react? We'll show you the exclusive video.

And it's hard to feel bad for major leaguers being benched after allegedly using drugs, especially when their paychecks are signed by the Yankees. The potential drug suspensions, that's coming up in the "Sports Lead". And that's next.


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

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

The hammer may be coming down in by far the biggest crackdown yet on steroids in Major League Baseball. According to ESPN, the league is looking at handing down 100-game suspensions to as many as 20 players connected to a Miami anti-aging clinic. The biggest names on the list, former MVP Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Alex Rodriguez, who is in the middle of the richest contract in baseball history. Ten years, $275 million handed to him by the Yankees back in 2007 in hopes he would have a clean and very lucrative pursuit of the all-time home run record.

Right around the time, he said this to our friend Katie Couric.


KATIE COURIC: For the record, have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone, or any other performance enhancing substance?


COURIC: Have you ever been tempted to use any of those things?



TAPPER: Since that interview, of course, he has admitted past use of performance enhancing drugs and now this.

Our Rachel Nichols is live in Miami, just a few miles away from where this clinic used to be.

Rachel, they have no positive drug tests. How can MLB hand down such serious penalties without that?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: Well, this is why watts happened this week is so important. You have this clinic that has already been proven to be handing out steroids to baseball players and now, the founder of the clinic has said that he is willing to come in to Major League Baseball fully cooperate and start naming names, and baseball certainly hopes he will also bring with him some physical evidence because just a he said/he said isn't going to cut it here.

These players will of course appeal these suspensions, so they're going to need phone records, things that prove that guys who said, hey, I never knew this clinic, I never had contact, if there are text messages, phone records, plane tickets, things that link them, then certainly, baseball will have a good case on its hands. So this is a great development there them, even though there are no positive tests.

And it's so important, not just for baseball fans who don't want to feel that once again, this game is being rigged at the highest levels, but really, just for sports fans everywhere and parents. I mean, people who are dragging their kids around all week to soccer practice and swim meets, they don't want to feel when they're dropping their children off at little league that -- you saw the Lance Armstrong scandal and then you see this. And your kids feel, all of a sudden, if they want a college scholarship, if they want to compete in the pros, I have to start doing drugs that are going to harm their bodies. People are sick of this, whether they're baseball fans or not.

TAPPER: Rachel, we've already been hearing a lot of grumbling about Alex Rodriguez for a while. Could this theoretically --

NICHOLS: Largely on this show, really.

TAPPER: Well, that's just an anti-Yankee bias, I have to say. But could this theoretically be the end of A-Rod in Yankee pin stripes if there is evidence, if these charges are credible?

NICHOLS: Well, here's the catch. Penalties for drug use and PED suspensions, those are collectively bargained. So, a team cannot put in a contract, hey, ifs you use performance enhancing drugs, we can cut you, we can void the contract, because this is a collectively bargain between the players' association and the league. And the penalties are penalties, 50 games, 100 games, three strikes and you're out.

So, they can't do anything more than the collective bargaining agreement says. So, he could serve his 50, 100 games. If MLB is able to prove his case and come right back and his Yankee contract is completely valid.

The only loophole here is hey, maybe if he does have this great embarrassment and is suspended for 100 games, he's having hit problems, maybe the Yankees come to him and say, hey, let's all cut our losses here and you say you're retiring because of your health. We try to collect the insurance. But they can't get him on drugs because this is a collective bargaining issue.

TAPPER: All right. Rachel Nichols, thank you so much. You keep getting these assignments in Miami, for some reason.

NICHOLS: I don't know why.

TAPPER: Coming up, just after the break, you'll see the first lady shouting down her heckler. Lesson learned: do not mess with Michelle Obama.

Let's check in on our political panel where a little shouting is actually encouraged. Bill Burton, I want to ask you this question. You're friend, Dr. Susan Rice, you felt for a while now, she's gotten a bad rep. She's having a pretty good day today. You feel good?

BILL BURTON: I feel great. She's having a great day. Huge appointment for the president.

TAPPER: And also, of course, and I don't want you to interrupt me the way the heckler interrupted Michelle Obama. I know I'm nowhere near as intimidated.

BURTON: Just imagine what she would have done to you in the briefing room.

TAPPER: I can't even imagine. I don't like to.

Stick around, THE LEAD continues.


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

"The Politics Lead": exclusive video of Michelle Obama getting heckled at a fund-raiser by an LGBT activist. Sparks flew, you will want to see this.

"The World Lead": as the president rearranges his national security team, fresh questions about what this means for the conflict in Syria. Are Americans too compassion fatigues to support an intervention?

And "The Pop Lead": they sued restaurants, nightclubs, even strip joints. But now, giant music licensing companies want some of that sweet, sweet jukebox money, too. (MUSIC)

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

Now, it's time for "The Politics Lead." A gay rights activist at a private DNC fund-raising event trying to seize the day or YOLO, as the kids call it. But it didn't go over so well with First Lady Michelle Obama.

The activist interrupted Mrs. Obama in the middle of her speech, prompting the first lady to not only call out the heckler but to issue an ultimatum.

THE LEAD's Erin McPike is here with exclusive video of the incident -- Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we have heard for the last few years over and over again, the president saying what a tough cookie Michelle Obama is.


MCPIKE: But we never actually see it. But in this video that we got today, you can really see it.