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Senate Investigates NSA Leak; Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Window Washers Trapped on NYC Skyscraper; 10-Year-Old Undergoing Lung Transplant; Real-Life "Departed" Story

Aired June 12, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sure, critics say his agency invaded your privacy, but he says it saved American lives.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, the head of the National Security Agency going before Congress right now and defending agency programs that spy on your information. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky wants to take his gripes with this program to the Supreme Court, and he joins us in moments.

The national lead, trapped 500 feet above the New York City pavement, a pair of window washers stranded when their scaffolding breaks, the hair-raising effort under way.

And also in national news, he allegedly ran the criminal underworld of South Boston while he was in bed with the FBI. Today, the case begins against James "Whitey" Bulger for murder and mayhem. But how many crooked FBI agents are being brought to justice?

Hi, everybody. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with national lead and breaking news out of New York City. Two window washers are trapped nearly 46 stories above the ground at the Hearst Tower in Midtown Manhattan. Their scaffolding collapsed, buckling in the middle, leaving both men stranded hundreds of feet in the air. Rescue crews are already on the way to the scene. As you can see, the men are wearing harnesses. They appear to be OK. In fact, we saw one of the them on his cell phone a few minutes ago. We will keep checking in on the rescue efforts throughout the show.

Now we turn to the world lead. You probably don't know his name, but he might know yours. He might know a lot of stuff about you. The director of the National Security Agency, Army General Keith Alexander, is right now facing questions from a Senate committee. The appearance was scheduled before NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a trove of information about the agency's domestic spying programs, collecting millions of phone records and gaining access to e-mails.

But the leak was today's elephant in the room. Alexander argued that American lives have been saved because of NSA snooping.


GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: It's dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: DNI Clapper said that Section 702 collection was critical to the discovery and disruption of the plot to bomb the New York City subway system, the Zazi case. Is that correct?

ALEXANDER: That is correct, in fact, not just critical. It was the one that developed the lead on it.


TAPPER: Meanwhile, presumably on the other side of the world, another revelation from Edward Snowden.

Speaking to "The South China Morning Post," for the first time since breaking his cover to "The Guardian" newspaper, Snowden says the U.S. has been hacking into computers in mainland China in Hong Kong since 2009, according to documents he showed the newspaper, though the paper could not verify them.

We're hearing this just days after President Obama was planning on taking China's president to task over Chinese hacks to the U.S. grid. Snowden's face is on every TV screen, news Web site and front page in the world, but while his exact location is not known, he doesn't seem intent to leaving Hong Kong. He says -- quote -- "I'm not here to hide from justice. I'm here to reveal criminality. My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."

Snowden tells "The Morning Post" that he believes the U.S. government is -- quote -- "trying to bully Hong Kong into extraditing him."

Regarding the debate he's touched off here in the United States, Snowden says -- quote -- "I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American."

The loudest voice in Congress crying foul over the NSA's once-secret program is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. And he's doing it largely without the backing of his fellow Republicans. While some of his congressional colleagues are going so far as to call the Edward Snowden's leak an act of treason, Paul says it's an act of civil disobedience.

And Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky joins me now.

Senator, thanks for being here.

I want you to listen to what the head of the National Security Agency just told Congress minutes about -- minutes ago about how important this type of surveillance is in stopping terrorist attacks, specifically in the 2009 attempted attack by Najibullah Zazi.

Take a listen.


ALEXANDER: The phone numbers on Zazi were the things that then allowed us to use the business records FISA, to go and find out connections from Zazi to other players throughout communities, specifically in New York City.


TAPPER: So, Senator Paul, we've heard this claim -- and there it is, the director of the NSA saying it on the record, if it weren't for this type of surveillance, who knows how many thousands of New Yorkers would have died.

What's your response?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You know, I think there's a little bit of a credibility gap with the intelligence agencies in our country. They, frankly, lied to us in open testimony in committee and said they weren't collecting any data, when, in fact, not only were they collecting data -- billions of bits of it.

So I don't know what to believe.

I have read news reports, though, that Zazi was connected to a guy named Abid Naseer, who was captured and interrogated several months before.

My question, if they would answer, would be, did they get Zazi's name from Naseer?

Did they get it from looking at phone calls that Naseer was making?

I'm not opposed to searching the phone records of people we think are terrorists. You go to a judge. It's not that difficult of a bar. You get phone records from Naseer. If Naseer is calling Zazi, you get Zazi. Then if Zazi is calling other people, you get warrants for those people.

But that does not require the phone records of everybody who makes a phone call in this country. That, I think, is a generalized warrant and unconstitutional.

TAPPER: Well, I think the argument from the National Security Agency, just to play devil's advocate here, would be a lot of these calls and relationships are in the past tense. And by storing up this data as they get it, they can then go back and look at it once they know where to look.

Your response to that?

RAND PAUL: If they want to release all the phone calls that Naseer made to Zazi and let us know and prove to the American public that none of those were from going forward and it couldn't have been gotten with a warrant, I suspect that they love these programs so much that sometimes the truth may be stretched. I don't know, because most of this is classified information.

But I would also tell you that even though we're trolling through a billion phone calls a day, we're still having attacks because of poor police work. The Boston Marathon bomber went back to Chechnya.

How come we didn't know that?

The underwear bomber that came from Nigeria, his dad reported him and he still got on a plane and came here.

So I would say that good old-fashioned police work needs to be a little more thorough and that those who argue, well, we can catch people I was just do this, if we put a microchip in every baby born, we could follow everybody better. Or if we said, well, crime is committed by people who live in apartments, why don't we put cameras in everyone's apartment?

You could go for zero tolerance of any kind of crime, but you'd be giving up your freedom. Our founding fathers said warrants have to be specific to the person in place. Generalized warrants, I think, are unconstitutional.

TAPPER: Your father, retired Congressman Ron Paul, said this on FOX Business News.


RON PAUL (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I'm worried about somebody in our government might kill them with a -- with a cruise missile or a drone missile. I mean, we live in a bad time, where American citizens don't even have rights and that they can be killed.

But the gentleman is trying to tell the truth about what's going on.


TAPPER: That's your father talking, obviously, about Edward Snowden, who leaked all this information.

Are you concerned that Snowden might be killed by a drone attack?

Are you concerned about his safety?

RAND PAUL: You know, I -- I have not heard of anything, other than there were some reports of people overhearing conversations about eliminating him in an airport. I don't want to make of all of that.

I do know that committing civil disobedience is a -- is a big step forward and history has treated people in various fashions. Some people who commit civil disobedience have been treated heroes, some have not.

I think it's an interesting parallel to see, will we treat the head of intelligence who lied in open committee?

How will history treat him and how will history treat the person who was trying to defend the Fourth Amendment?

I think that's still open to be said. I think there do need to be rules, that being said, about people not revealing secrets. And I think the divulging of all kinds of secrets that endanger lives is wrong. But in this case, I think he was divulging a program that I think clearly, there are constitutional questions about and for which the director of Intelligence frankly lied to the U.S. Senate and said, we're not collecting any data on any Americans, when, in fact, they're doing a billion pieces of data every day.

TAPPER: There's talk that you want to take legal action against the United States surveillance programs.

What exactly are you going to do?

RAND PAUL: There's 86 different privacy groups that are interested in the Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment and due process, frankly. There was a time in our country when a black man could have been strung from the nearest tree, when a Japanese-American could have been taken. This is what happens when you don't have due process. We're very concerned about due process.

We're going to bring a challenge in court that says that generalized warrants, that warrants on everybody don't and are not essentially consistent with the Fourth Amendment. We'll be having a press conference tomorrow on Capitol Hill with a lot of these different privacy groups that want to defend your civil liberties.

TAPPER: And lastly, sir, I know immigration reform is a big issue that you've been involved in, the gang of eight pushing this reform bill has not won you over yet. You have introduced a bill that would have border security and allow Congress to assess how border security is going before allowing there to be any sort of citizenship or progress made on that front.

What do you say to your critics on the right who say you are caving on this issue because you are still allowing a process to proceed before the border is absolutely secured?

RAND PAUL: I would say that my position is, actually, I won't let it proceed until the border is secure. I let the bill proceed, but I'm not for passing a bill unless border security is primary and foremost.

What I would say, though, to critics on the right is if we do nothing, 10 million people came over the last 15 years. There will be 10 million more people who come illegally.

I want people to be part of the system. I also want to treat these people with respect and dignity. And if you want to work in our country, I think we can find a place for you.

But it has to be part of a bill that they make acceptable to people like me, who are conservatives. So far, they haven't come to me and said we'll make the bill stronger.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, thanks so much for coming and sharing your views.

RAND PAUL: Thank you. TAPPER: One programming note: I will be filling in for Wolf Blitzer in the 6:00 hour of "THE SITUATION ROOM" this evening, and I will talk to someone with a very different view of NSA surveillance, former NSA Director General Michael Hayden. That's coming up at 6:00.

If there's one person who has the moral authority to lecture the U.S. on surveillance abuses, it's probably not Vladimir Putin, but the Russian president took exception when President Obama said -- quote -- "You can't have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy" -- unquote.

Not true, Putin told Russia's RT TV. He said it's possible and -- I will try to say this with a straight face -- if it's all done within the law. This is Putin, of course, the man who rose to power through the KGB, who runs a government that journalists have a mysterious habit of dying while covering.

A spokesman for Putin says Russia will consider political asylum for Edward Snowden if he asks for it, which he has not, as far as we now know.

Coming up on THE LEAD: She was given less than five weeks to live. So, her parents turned to the courts to challenge a national law. And right now, 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan in surgery getting her lung transplant. We will have the latest on this heart-wrenching story.

And they always made smoking look so cool and glamorous, or at least that's what people tell me. It's been over 40 years since big tobacco companies were allowed to advertise on television, but guess what? Now they're back.


TAPPER: We want to go back to that breaking news, a dramatic scene unfolding in New York City.

Right now, two window washers stranded near the top of a 46-story New York City skyscraper on buckled scaffolding, with firefighters trying to get to them right now.

Joining us on the phone is William Seelig. He's the assistant chief of the New York City Fire Department.

Assistant Chief Seelig, thanks for joining us.

What exactly are firefighters doing to rescue these two men right now?

WILLIAM SEELIG, ASST. CHIEF, FDNY (via telephone): At this point we just put a firefighter out on the scaffold. We determine that the easiest way of removal would be to remove glass on the 45th floor, rather than putting a firefighter over the side on a rope. So, that process has been ongoing for a while. It was double-paned glass, we had to cut the glass and removed it. Just in the last several minutes, we put a firefighter out on the scaffold to assist the workers in through the glass that was removed. TAPPER: And did the firefighter go through the window himself? Or did he get there by rappelling down? How did he get to the scaffolding?

SEELIG: No, no, he went in from the inside of the building. You know, the initial determination was that it was a safer and faster removal to remove the glass as opposed to put a firefighters over the side. There was no immediate medical incidents that required them to go over the top.

So, they've been working for the last half hour or so to do the glass removal. That's been accomplished, and the firefighter is out on the scaffold and assist them. The first worker in, and after that he's going to make his way to the other side of the scaffold and assist the second worker down and through the removed window.

TAPPER: How much longer until both firefighters do you think are off the scaffolding? Then, how much longer to get rid of the scaffolding so it doesn't fall down on anyone?

SEELIG: I think the two workers should be brought inside the building momentarily. That shouldn't take long at all now that the glass has been taken. And we put a firefighter out there to assist them.

The other question is harder to answer. You know, it's probably going to involve -- our people have determined, the firefighter members, to ensure that the scaffold is secure and not in danger of falling right now. But as far as removal, that would probably be up to the building personnel to get an engineering crew in and determine the best method of removal, probably require the scaffolding to be repaired or lowered, or possibly remove by the crane. But I again, that would be up to building personnel and engineers to determine after we leave the scene.

TAPPER: All right. Assistant chief William Seelig of the Fire Department of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

SEELIG: OK, thank you.

TAPPER: We'll continue to monitor that story.

But we're going to turn right now to some other national news. Four little words summed up: the culmination of an emotional battle to save the life of a 10-year-old little girl. Sarah got the call. The parents of 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan revealed a few hours ago that their daughter is right now in surgery getting a new set of lungs.

Sarah's battle with cystic fibrosis made national headlines when her parents challenged an organ transplant policy. The rule keeps children under 12 from getting priority on the adult lung transplant list no matter how sick they are.

When Sarah's health started deteriorating, her parents started their campaign to get the ruled changed. Their campaign got the attention of the media and key members of Congress. And eventually, a federal judge weighed in and ordered the rule to be waived in Sarah's case. Because of that ruling, Sarah got top priority when an adult lung became available.

This morning, her mom Janet posted this update. "God is great. He moved the mountain. Sarah got the call. Please pray for her donor, her hero, who has given her the gift of life."

Let's bring in CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, what are Sarah's chances of survival, assuming -- and we all are hoping this is the case -- that she makes it through the surgery OK?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it if you take all lung transplants across the board, I mean, about five years after the transplant, survival is around 50/50. So, it's not -- it's better than some transplants, Jake, but not as good as I think a lot of people would expect.

The added complication here are twofold. One is that this is an adult lung, we're learning, that has come -- that is the donor, and that lung is going to be large in size just mechanically, so it may either need to be trimmed in order for this operation to be done successfully or just portions or lobes of the lung would be transplanted. Neither one of those are ideal. You prefer to have a perfectly sort of fit size lung. That doesn't sound like that's the case here.

But also, Jake, you know, she has cystic fibrosis. That's a genetic disease. Both of her lungs will be transplanted, but the gene that's defective here still remains. You're not treating that particular cause of the problem here, and might she develop further problems.

She's going to be in amino suppressing drugs. Cystic fibrosis, people are already at risk of infections. So, it sort of compounds things.

There's not a lot of good data here, Jake. There's not a lot of types of transplant that's been done. So, it's hard to say survival overall, but those are some of the considerations, Jake.

TAPPER: Sanjay, obviously everyone watching, and you and I both were all praying for the best for Sarah. But I do wonder, have you spoken to any medical ethicists about how this process was changed? Are there any concerns in the medical community about what happened here?

GUPTA: I have. I mean, as you might imagine, it's been a big topic of discussion among both the medical community and ethicists within the medical community. Yes, I think one of the prevailing notions was is this sort of decision-making because of the media attention, politicians sort of weighing in and how does that sort of intersect with the medical decision-making.

You know, an ideal situation when you're considering transplants, especially a very tough transplant like lung transplants, scarce resources, you want to pick someone who's obviously in great need of those organs. But you also want to pick somebody who is going to tremendously benefit, meaning that they have a very high likelihood of living many, many years after the transplant. And again, it's hard. You have kids, I have kids, you want to do everything for your kids, but it is at real collision of that emotional sort of appeal and medical science here. I don't know there's an absolute right answer. We see what has happened in this particular case but it has generated a lot of discussion, Jake.

TAPPER: A lot of discussion. We'll continue to talk about it.

Thank you, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, so much.

GUPTA: You got it.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, he couldn't possibly be a snitch. He's Irish. James "Whitey" Bulger's attorneys lay out their defense as the trial of one of the most notorious mobsters gets started. But what about all those alleged murders?

Plus, he's the Steve Jobs of Internet, downtown, culture and fashion -- at least according to himself. Just when you thought Kanye West ego could not get bigger -- well, stay tuned.


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

In other national news, Bostonians, especially southeast, are more than well-acquainted with James "Whitey" Bulger and his alleged criminal reign from the '70s, through the '90s. He was the man who shared the FBI's most wanted list with Osama bin Laden, accused of killing 19 people.

And he feared once Bin Laden was gone, his time on the run was short. And he was right. Bulger was caught in 2011 after 16 years on the run and today his long-awaited trial began in Boston.

The prosecution described him in opening statements as, quote, "a hands-on killer". To hear that description of Whitey Bulger, you might be reminded of Jack Nicholson's character in 2006's "The Departed", which was partially based on Bulger.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better get organized, quick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, last time I checked, I tipped you off and you're not in jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm getting the feeling we've got a cop in my crew.


TAPPER: But the defense says the pictures the prosecution has painted of Whitey is all wrong. The witnesses, many of whom are former henchmen of Bulger, are unreliable, they say, and they say he was never an FBI informant. But that's going to be hard to believe when you look at the story painted by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy in their book "Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice".

I spoke to Kevin Cullen earlier to learn more about the infamous gangster and how he seemed to have the FBI under his thumb.


TAPPER: Kevin, you and your co-author set out to make this the definitive book on Whitey Bulger. I want to read something from your book, an explanation of how he viewed himself.

Quote, "Nothing he had learned contradicted what he had long thought of himself, that he was smarter than most hoods, more cunning and careful, and completely at ease in the use of violence as a tool in his chosen trade."

Where does Whitey Bulger stack up when it comes to criminals?

KEVIN CULLEN, BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST: I think he's unique in the sense when you throw him around with some of the great names, like John Dillinger and Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel and guys like that, I think the difference, Jake, about Whitey is that he was obviously a cunning and charismatic killer.

But he had the FBI in his pocket. I think he corrupted law enforcement, specifically the FBI, to an extent that no other gangster in American history did, and that's why the story is unique.

TAPPER: And something else that's so fascinating about the Whitey Bulger case is his brother. Explain to our viewers, who was his brother and how awkward was the relationship.

CULLEN: His brother, Bill Bulger, actually became the president of the Massachusetts State Senate, and held that job for 18 years, longer than anybody in the history of the state. He was arguably the most powerful politician in Massachusetts because of his longevity and his patronage and all those things.

TAPPER: And did they acknowledge each other during this period?

CULLEN: Oh, yes, they were very close. I mean, that's the interesting thing. When I went into this book project, I thought I knew a lot about it.

One thing I did come away with it, the brothers were actually closer than I thought. That Whitey did not keep -- it wasn't like this -- they didn't do anything publicly together, but Whitey was always welcome at Bill's house. He always a guests during, you know, important dates, whether Christmas or Easter, or the kids -- he was the godfather of one of Bill's kids. One of Bill's kids has his name. It's James.

TAPPER: And as you talk about, he controlled so many people in the FBI, but what's really astounding is that he was also a major FBI informant. He provided a service. And I want to read something else from the book, quote, "Whitey's problem was never with the FBI who had no intention of going after him. It was with a group of honest local cops, state police officers, and Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS agents who had tried for years to make a case against him."

So, the FBI not even a thought in his head. He had that place wired. They gave him what they needed. They returned the favor, but there were some honest law enforcement officers.

CULLEN: Absolutely, and honest cops brought him down in the end, but they were thwarted every -- one of the most shocking things in the book is not the extent that the FBI thwarted, you know, local law enforcement. You can chalk that up to intra-fraternal rivalry, but they actually thwarted FBI agents from Oklahoma who were investigating a murder that Whitey was involved in. They actually lied to their own colleagues out in Oklahoma.

This stuff is unbelievable, the extent of the corruption. And yet only one agent has ever been held responsible about it, because the FBI and the Justice Department from day one, this was about damage limitation. You know, John Durham was the special prosecutor in the case of Prosecutor Connolly (ph). He promised, oh, I will give you a record that identifies every FBI agent and supervisor who engaged in malfeasance or misconduct or criminal activity. Well, Jake, hat was 11 years ago and we're still waiting for it. And I'm not holding my breath.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Well, it's incredible and you'll have a great sequel to write after the trial this summer. You're going to stay very busy.

CULLEN: Yes, the paperback will be -- the epilogue here will be the last chapter and the epilogue in the paperback will be the trial.

TAPPER: Well, I'm sure I recommend it to all the viewers, and good luck covering the trial. Thanks for coming in.

CULLEN: Thanks, Jake.