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Report: U.S. Government Tracking Verizon Calls; Interview With Mitt Romney and Ann Romney

Aired June 6, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you have Verizon, you're in a file at the National Security Agency.

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

The national lead, our government snooping on its own citizens on a monumental scale. The NSA is watching who you're calling. We will have the very first TV interview with the reporter who broke the story.

The world lead. If China's first lady has been awaiting a visit with our first lady, she will have to keep waiting. Mrs. Obama is sitting this one out as China's leader comes for a visit. Will the Chinese view this as a snub?

The politics lead, an exclusive interview with Mitt and Ann Romney. This time this year, they were locked in the most bitter, exhausting campaign of that you are lives. Their sons now say they could follow in those political footsteps. What does their mom think of that?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our national lead, that phone in your pocket right now might be a government spying device, according to a stunning article from "The Guardian" newspaper in the U.K.

The story says a top-secret court order is forcing Verizon to turn over all phone records for calls made in the U.S. to the National Security Agency, and not just calls made to overseas numbers. When you call grandma in Nebraska, the NSA knows.

This is a wide, indiscriminate net. They're not even looking for someone specific. When a call is made, Verizon turns over this information, the phone number, phone serial numbers, the location the call comes from, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and all the same information for the person on the other end of the phone, even if they're not a Verizon customer.

And if you move from one tower range to another, you can be tracked. Pretty much everything about the call, except what's actually being said, is turned over under the order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court.

Given that, it would not take much to figure out who you are. Without exactly confirming or denying the FISA order, Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the idea behind it today. The information of the sort described in the article has been a critical tool, he said, in protecting the nation from terror threats.

This order reportedly extends from April 25 to July 19, but it seems to be just a continuation of a court order that's been going on for seven years, one Congress has known all about.

The Republican chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence today called a vital tool.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a program -- excuse me -- stop a terrorist attack in the United States. We know that. It's important.

It fills in a little seam that we have. And it's used to make sure that there is not an international nexus to any terrorism event that they may believe is ongoing in the United States. So, in that regard, it's a very valuable thing.


TAPPER: And, in all likelihood, this court order to Verizon is just the only one we know about.

You know who would be really angry about this government snooping? A bright-eyed senator from Illinois I remember who was upset when a similar story about the NSA grabbing phone data from millions of Americans was reported during the Bush years. He said this in 2007.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will provide our intersection and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.

That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens, no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime, no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war.


TAPPER: So, instead, let's track every citizen?

One member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who has been briefed on these practices and clearly upset, although today we were not really sure what he was upset about because he not tell us, is Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon.

On March 12, about a month-and-a-half before this current order was signed, Wyden seemed to be trying to get the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to admit that this kind of NSA operation was going on. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?


WYDEN: It does not?

CLAPPER: Not wittingly.


TAPPER: If the order uncovered by "The Guardian" is merely a renewal, as the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee today indicated, then shouldn't Clapper's answers have been yes and quite wittingly?

Clapper's office today did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier, I had the chance to conduct the first TV interview with the reporter who broke this story wide open, Glenn Greenwald of "The Guardian."


TAPPER: Congratulations on the scoop.

Explain for our viewers why this is important.

GLENN GREENWALD, "THE GUARDIAN": It's important because people have understood that the law that this was done under, which is the Patriot Act enacted in the wake of 9/11, was a law that allowed the government very broad powers to get records about people with a lower level of suspicion than probable cause, the traditional standard.

So, it's always been assumed that under the Patriot Act, if the government had even any suspicion that you were involved in a crime or terrorism, they could get a lot of information about you.

What this court order does that makes it so striking is that it's not directed at any individuals who they believe or have suspicion are committing crimes or are part of a terrorist organization. It's collecting the phone records of every single customer of Verizon Business and finding out every single call that they have made internationally and locally.

So, it's indiscriminate and it's sweeping. It's a government program designed to collect information about all Americans, not just people where they believe there's reason to think they have done anything wrong.

TAPPER: And based on my conversations with government officials today, it seems that this is basically just a continuation of what has been going on since the Bush administration introduced it in 2006, that even though the order runs from April 25 through July 19 of this specific court document that you obtained, that it's not specific to any particular crime or terrorist investigation. It is just a widespread continuation for this particular telecommunications organization.

Is that your understanding as well?

GREENWALD: When it was discovered that the Bush administration was collecting millions of telephone records of innocent Americans, it was in a massive controversy.

And I think there was an assumption, at least among a lot of people, that the Obama administration was not continuing these programs. These were programs instituted and justified by the 9/11 attacks. And so this is the first evidence that more than a decade later the government is still engaged in what until 10 years ago was considered unthinkable types of surveillance, a massive surveillance net over all people.

And the problem is, is that this is all kept so completely secret. Why was this court order that we obtained marked top secret and closely guarded? It doesn't harm national security for us know to about it. We should have this debate in the open. Let the Obama administration talk about why they're collecting these records, whether it's part of a larger program. And then let's debate whether we as a society want to live with a government that knows everything that we're doing, regardless of whether we have done anything wrong.

TAPPER: Here's what a senior administration official said in response to your scoop.

They wouldn't specifically confirm the court order, but they said -- quote -- "Information of the sort described in the 'Guardian' article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States."

What's your response?

GREENWALD: Any time that you report on anything that the government does in secret and they get caught doing things that Americans would be stunned to learn they're doing, it's almost like you just wind them up and they just yell the word terrorism and hope that if they say the word terrorist enough times, it will scare people into accepting what it is that they have done.

That's what that statement is. If what they're really doing is what they claim they're doing in that statement, which is targeting actual terrorists or people they suspect of terrorist activity, why aren't they going to the court and specifically naming those people and giving information to the court to let the court know that they're actually engaged in wrongdoing or there's reason to believe and monitoring them? Why is it instead they are sweeping up everybody's phone records, millions and millions of people, that allow the government any time access to those databases, to -- if they have political enemies, if there are people that the government dislikes for whatever reason, to have all kinds of leverage and power over them by knowing what it is they have done?

If this were really a program directed at terrorists, we would have a much different conversation. But that is not what this is. That is indiscriminate and aimed at all Americans, not just ones who they call terrorists.

TAPPER: And as your article points out, Glenn, this is not the administration doing it on its own. Congress is briefed on it. There's a FISA court that is involved in it.

In fact, you suggest in your article that Senator Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, these Democratic senator, have been warning the public perhaps about this. They wrote in a letter to the attorney general back in March 2012 that -- they were specifically referring to documents sent to Congress in relation to the Patriot Act -- quote -- "These documents are so highly classified that most members of Congress do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. As a result, we can state with confidence that most of our colleagues in the House and Senate are unfamiliar with these documents and that many of them would be surprised and angry to learn how the Patriot Act has been interrupted in secret."

Do you think that they think that the members of Congress who are briefed on this stuff, on this classified material, do you think they think there is sufficient congressional oversight over programs like this one?

GREENWALD: Absolutely not.

And the example of these two senators is really remarkable and answers your question so perfectly. These are Democratic Party senators who are loyal to President Obama and to their party who have spent years now saying, please listen to us. What the Obama administration is doing in interpreting the Patriot Act is so what warped and distorted, and it vests themselves with such extremist surveillance powers over the United States and American citizens, that Americans, in their words, would be stunned to learn what the Obama administration is doing.

So, you can have this procedure where you tell members of Congress or a certain number of them what it is that you're doing. But when you hamstring them and make it a crime for them to do anything about it, to talk about it in public, to introduce legislation about it, which is what has happened, to show their staffs what it is that is being done, you make this "oversight" -- quote, unquote -- "completely impotent."

And you essentially annex these institutions. So, you say, well, we have told them. They're involved. But you prevent them from doing anything about it. It's symbolic oversight only and it's completely meaningless.

TAPPER: All right, Glenn Greenwald, columnist for "The Guardian," congratulations on your scoop. And thanks for joining us.

GREENWALD: Thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: Verizon is not commenting, but the company did send an e-mail to employees underlining that the alleged order forced the company to comply.

Also in national news, tragically, it crumbled like a house of cards, killing six people. Now Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says he's launching a wide-ranging investigation to find out what caused a four- story building on major Philly thoroughfare, Market Street, to collapse Wednesday morning onto a thrift store next door. The building was reportedly in the process of being demolished when it collapsed.

A witness says a crane bumped the building before it fell. Rescue workers have searched about 75 percent of the site and are still looking for survivors. At least 14 people were injured, according to authorities. But there was a moment of triumph in this tragedy when shortly before midnight last night, 61-year-old Myra Plekam was pulled out of the rubble.

She was finally freed more than 13 hours after the walls came down around her.

Coming up on THE LEAD, a rather unprecedented move by the president as he prepares to fly across the country for a state visit with the Chinese president and his wife, sans Mrs. Obama. Is the Chinese first lady being snubbed?

Plus, it was baffling, yet one of the most memorable moments of the 2012 campaign, Clint Eastwood's rants to an empty chair. What did Mitt Romney really think of that little performance? He tells us next.


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

Now, time for "The Politics Lead." Imagine this, everything you say is being monitored and recorded. Now, I'm not talking about the NSA tracking cell phone calls. I'm talking about the scrutiny that president candidates come under with every word they utter on the campaign trail.

And in an exclusive interview with our Gloria Borger, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney admits there are things he wishes he never said and he wished he could do over and things he wants to see his party do differently in the future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I have to ask you this first, are you over it?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Yes. I mean, Ann and I went through an extraordinary process to become president and her first lady, and that didn't happen. We were extraordinarily disappointed. Let a lot of people down, let ourselves down.

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: I am over it. It's still hard to watch things and watch the news and feel like you wish you were there, but you move on.

BORGER: You were in the public eye every single day for, what, almost two years?


BORGER: So, how do you go from that --

ANN ROMNEY: To going 100 miles an hour to zero?

BORGER: Yes, yes.

ANN ROMNEY: It's what it's like when you're like in this bubble of secret service and automobiles and planes and private, you know, jets, the 737s and entire press corps following you, and then, bang, you're done. It's -- I mean, for anyone that would be a difficult adjustment. Mitt's father used to say this and I loved it. He said, "Politics is the fastest way to go from who's who, to who's that."

BORGER (voice-over): Especially when you lose. The trappings of power may go away, but the post-game analysis lives on.

(on camera): Some people say that the problem is the party. Some people say the problem with your campaign was the Romney campaign and the candidate. Have you sort of done a lot of searching about that, about where that balance was?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, I feel pretty good about the fact that the team, the party, the people who worked in the campaign, Ann and myself, our sons, we left it all on the field.

But lessons learned, clearly, we can do a better job as a Republican Party in registering Republicans and getting people out to vote. And as a campaign and as a campaigner, the next person who is our nominee has to do a better job than I did in connecting with minority voters, getting more support from minority families, and with families that are hoping to make it into the middle class.


MITT ROMNEY: The 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims --


BORGER: Deal it back on that and say that that hurt the party?

MITT ROMNEY: Oh, I don't know that any particular remark hurts a party, but in terms of prospects --

BORGER: OK, hurt you?

MITT ROMNEY: -- in terms of prospects, for the election, I said that that was a statement that was -- of course, not that statement, if you will. It was taken off the record. But nonetheless, it did not reflect my views. I said it didn't come out the way I wanted it to, but surely, that didn't help me and there were things that didn't help my campaign either. Obviously, a hurricane with a week to go before the election stalled our campaign, but, you know, you don't.

BORGER: Do you blame Chris Christie as much as some other people in your --

MITT ROMNEY: No, no. I wish the hurricane hadn't happen when it did because it gave the president a chance to be presidential and be out showing sympathy for folks. That's one of the advantages of incumbency. But, you know, you don't look back and worry about each little thing and how could that have been different. You look forward.

BORGER (voice-over): There was that post-election meeting at the White House with a vague promise to keep in touch.

(on camera): Have you heard from them?

MITT ROMNEY: I haven't heard from the White House since our meeting. And, you know, that was a gracious thing. The president and I had a very cordial meeting, shared lunch together, and I spoke about presidential legacies.

BORGER (voice-over): And speaking of legacies --

(on camera): The president has been dealing with a lot of problems in Washington these days and one of them is the IRS controversy. Do you believe that there was an attempt to hide the IRS targeting in the middle of your presidential race?

MITT ROMNEY: I believe the IRS individuals conducted a series of acts which were -- which were a breach of trust.

BORGER: But do you think it had to do with hiding it because they were in the middle of a presidential campaign?

MITT ROMNEY: I think they certainly hid the activities of targeting conservative groups. Otherwise there would have been a hue and outcry about it.

BORGER: Would it have changed the outcome of the campaign if you have known about it?

MITT ROMNEY: You know, the election was close enough in the outcome, what, 4 percent difference between the two campaigns that a number of things could have changed the outcome. But again, you don't look back and say, oh, couldn't we have just changed this? You say, OK, where do we go now? The president won, I congratulate his campaign team on having won. That's the nature of politics is winning. They won, nice work and let's get on with it.

BORGER (voice-over): Romney has picked up the debate right where he left off, sounding tougher on Benghazi than he did during the campaign.

MITT ROMNEY: Why, for instance, special forces told they could -- had the capacity to fly from Tripoli to come into Benghazi, to provide rescue support for our personnel there -- were told to stand down? Who told them that? Why? Where did it come from?

Why was there no rescue effort? What was the mistake made and who made that? And how can we make sure that never happens again?

Was the White House informed? Why not if they were not? Why was the president not informed of an attack going on in our embassy and in the Situation Room? This is, if you will, an attack on America.

BORGER (voice-over): Romney sits on sidelines now, hoping to mentor the next batch of Republican presidential hopefuls and offers some playful advice.

MITT ROMNEY: Don't make any mistakes. Be perfect. Be perfect.


MITT ROMNEY: And the funny thing is, everyone says, you know, be spontaneous, you know, don't act like you're being crafted. Well, today, everything you say is being captured by video or, you know, hand-held camera and so forth. And so, jokes, for instance, will get you in trouble. Any time you're trying to be funny, you're likely to get in trouble.

BORGER: It happened to you. Yes.

MITT ROMNEY: Yes. I mean, it's just -- you've just got to be very, very careful.

BORGER: I have to ask you about Clint Eastwood. That was your idea, right?

MITT ROMNEY: Oh, I love Clint Eastwood.

ANN ROMNEY: It wasn't -- it was Clint's idea. You mean with the chair?

BORGER: Well, I mean, having -- and then the chair.

MITT ROMNEY: Clint was the chair. It was my idea to have Clint. He's an extraordinarily --

BORGER: Do you regret that?

MITT ROMNEY: No. I love Clint and he has his own way of saying things. He did it in a very memorable way.

BORGER: Do you regret that?

ANN ROMNEY: No. He's unique.

BORGER: So no?

ANN ROMNEY: No, no regrets.

MITT ROMNEY: Clint didn't hurt my campaign. I hurt my campaign a couple of times. Clint didn't.

BORGER: Would you have any of your sons run for public office? Because Tagg, you know there was talk about Tagg may be running for the Senate?

ANN ROMNEY: I would say --

MITT ROMNEY: Running as a Republican in Massachusetts, which Tagg would have to do --

BORGER: That's happened before.


ANN ROMNEY: Yes, I'd say, don't do it.

MITT ROMNEY: Depends on the circumstance. If you -- if one of our boys or our daughters in law finds themselves in a position where they could make a real contribution and they're needed, school board, mayor, Congress, whatever, I would expect them to stand up and volunteer if they're life was in a setting that allowed that to happen.

BORGER: Sounds like you're a yes and you're a no.

ANN ROMNEY: Ambivalent about it, really hard, because I'm thinking of what the family has to go through.


TAPPER: And Gloria Borger joins me now.

Gloria, so much to chew from -- I'm sitting here furiously taking notes. First of all, Ann Romney. Should their sons run for office -- don't do it. No.

BORGER: No, she pulled a Barbara Bush on me, right? She's -- it's very clear in talking to both of these people that there was a long process which they're still going through of getting over this campaign. You know, I was in Park City, Utah, with them. He's now tipping his toe back into public life by having this big conference with Democrats, Republicans to talk about ideas.

And I think that this was such a tough race for Ann Romney. And she said to me, you know what, it's harder as a mother to go through it, at least when you're the wife, you're there with your husband. If you were to watch your child take what she called the abuse you take running for campaign -- she clearly wants no part of it and doesn't want her children to go through it.

TAPPER: Another thing, he clearly -- when you were asking about the IRS scandal, he clearly seemed to be suggesting that that IRS scandal or any number of things would have changed the outcome of the election. He believes that any -- if the IRS scandal had come out, et cetera, he might be president.

BORGER: You know, he's a numbers guy. He's looked through all of these numbers. And it's clear to me that he still believes with a tweak here and a tweak there, he could have you won. He understands the problem that Republicans have had with young voters, with minorities. But on the IRS in particularly, when I asked him, would it have changed the outcome of the election if you knew, he said, you know, it was tight.

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: So, it seems to me if he had gotten ahold of it and raised it during the election, I think there's a part of him that believes it would have changed the outcome.

TAPPER: And, finally, I can't let this go by. He said in the interview, I said things that didn't come out right during the election. There's a list of them. But during this interview, he said about the hurricane, and we all know what he meant.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: We all know what he meant. But he said, "I wish the hurricane hadn't happened when it did."

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: As opposed to: I wish it hadn't happened, period, and all those people hadn't died --

BORGER: Exactly. What Mitt Romney was saying --

TAPPER: We know what he meant.

BORGER: It was out of his control, right?

TAPPER: That's my point. What Mitt Romney was saying was, that was the task of his press secretary and it was -- he still sometimes has that issue, as we see in the interview. You're not going to say anything, I know, because --

BORGER: I think you heard him there, in the sort of on the deck there talking about how hard it is to be a candidate. And there are different people who run for president, right? There's the kind of looser one and one who is buttoned up and can't make a mistake.

TAPPER: Right. BORGER: Cannot make a mistake. And he's so aware of that that he makes mistakes.

TAPPER: Yes. No.

Excellent interview, I look forward to watching more of it on the Wolf Blitzer show, "THE SITUATION ROOM" right after this.

Gloria, of course, will have more from the Romneys, to give a play-by- play account of what happened on election night. That's coming up, as I said, in "THE SITUATION ROOM," beginning at 5:00 Eastern.

Thanks again, Gloria.

Coming up in "The Money Lead": just days after fighting a recall on some Jeeps for an issue that has allegedly resulted in dozens of deaths, Chrysler does announce a recall but it's for jeeps for something that hasn't caused a single injury. What? What's behind that decision?

And he's back on the market, ladies, and he's strong like a bear. Vladimir Putin and his wife announce their separation. What led to the split?