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President Obama in Germany; Modern-Day Slavery; IRS Scandal Investigation; TWA 800 Disaster Report a Whitewash?; Off with His Band!

Aired June 19, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Obama still enjoying Hasselhoff levels of love over in Germany? I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

Our politics lead, President Obama trying to ease German fears of the NSA spying program, while back at home the Tea Party regroups over another controversy he left behind, the IRS seeming to target conservatives.

The buried lead, Secretary of State John Kerry revealing today the dirty secrets of modern-day slavery around the world. But you might be shocked to learn that it's also going on in Kerry's backyard among diplomats, the world's power players right here in Washington, D.C.

In national news, a fuel tank explosion brought down TWA Flight 800 back in 1996, or at least that's what the government told us. A new documentary claims solid proof that this was no accident.

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

The politics lead. Things have changed since President Obama was last back in Germany back in 2008. For starters, he was merely candidate Obama back then and a cheering crowd of 200,000 was there to greet him. Today, a smaller, invitation-only crowd of a few thousand was on hand for his speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

This time around, the enthusiasm was dampened a bit by revelations that the National Security Agency here in the U.S. used its boundless informant program to spy on Germany more than any other country in the European Union.

Looking kind of like a David Blaine stunt, the president spoke behind bulletproof glass and stuck to a lot of the same applause lines he hit back in 2008. Check it out.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The walls between allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand.

We're going to have to work harder together to bring those walls of division down.

We must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons.

We must come together to save this planet.

Refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet.


TAPPER: President Obama also announced plans to cut America's nuclear stockpile by as much as a third and to negotiate more cuts with the Russians.

He also defended NSA surveillance to the Germans, who have known a thing or two about government spying on their own people.


OBAMA: Our current programs are bound by the rule of law, and they're focused on threats to our security, not the communications of ordinary persons. They help confront real dangers.


TAPPER: Could somebody get the president a Gatorade or something? That's horrible staff work. You could see his undershirt sweating through there.

Then again, he did once pledge to have the most transparent administration in history.

Also in politics, after the Tea Party's blunted impact on the 2012 elections, many critics were eager to write the movement off altogether and then the IRS came along and confirmed all of the Tea Party's worst fears about big government.

Today, the Tea Party Patriots rallied at the Capitol for what organizers billed as the largest Tea Party organization since the heyday in 2010.

Our own Erin McPike was there.

Erin, this drew some of the Tea Party's biggest darlings.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it was. It was a who's-who of the conservative movement and this is really the first time they had to respond as a group to the IRS controversy that was tailored specifically to them.



MCPIKE (voice-over): Remember these guys and gals? The Tea Party was out in force railing against the IRS.

MIKE NEEDHAM, HERITAGE ACTION: There are some people who want to write the obituary for the Tea Party, but if you look at this crowd on a Wednesday afternoon, the Tea Party is alive and well. And we're going to write the obituary for big government.


MCPIKE: The Tea Party of course came to prominence before the 2010 elections, when its small-government ethos energized the GOP, leading to massive victories at the polls. But after that, the Tea Party seemed to be on a slower boil.

BOB MASON, TEA PARTY MEMBER: The Tea Party never went away. We changed our focus. We quit treading up to Washington here. We paid more attention to home. We strengthened. We organized. We're stronger, we're more resolute, and we have more resources. And now that we get our tax exemptions, we will have more resources.

MCPIKE: Recent controversies stemming from the Obama administration, like the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, have breathed new life into the conservative-fueled movement.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Anybody want to fire some IRS agents?


DOMINIK HOFFMAN, TEA PARTY MEMBER: This is not a flash-in-the-pan kind of protest either. This is going to go on until there is redress. We have been violated as Tea Party members, as conservatives.

MCPIKE: Their ire is largely directed at the Obama administration. But on Tuesday, Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee that is investigating the controversy, released a full transcript of an interview with an IRS agent.

Democrats say that absolved the White House of responsibility in targeting Tea Party groups' tax-exempt status. The blame, Cummings says, rests almost entirely with the agents in the Cincinnati office, but that hasn't diminished the Tea Party's fervor.

Lorraine Land got involved with the Tea Party just a month ago.

LORRAINE LAND, TEA PARTY MEMBER: How dare the government snoop in on our phone calls and our e-mails? Just because you disagree with what I believe or what I say gives you no right.

MCPIKE: And although President Obama won't be on any more ballots, the Tea Party sees ways to further weaken him with the news this week that his poll numbers are dropping.


MCPIKE: Now, let's talk implications, shall we?

Mike Lee of Utah, a young conservative darling, said also today at that podium this movement by 2014 will make 2010, the midterms then, look like a Sunday picnic for the Democrats. Lunch. TAPPER: Interesting. Well, we shall see. Erin McPike, thank you very much.

Let's face it. Nobody really likes the IRS, and both Republicans and Democrats agree that conservative organizations seem to be the victims in this case overwhelmingly. And even in a rare instance where almost everyone is on the same page, however, we are at a standstill.

On May 15, Attorney General Eric Holder promised a criminal investigation into why these groups were given a harder time in the run-up to the 2012 election.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is now a federal criminal investigation?

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: That's correct. As I said, as of Friday of last week, I ordered that an investigation, criminal investigation be begun.


TAPPER: But more than a month after that promise, the best we can tell is that the Department of Justice has not contacted a single Tea Party group about the probe. A law firm representing 25 Tea Party groups in a lawsuit tells us that they have not heard from a single federal agency in the investigation.

Today, FBI Director Mueller defended the pace of the investigation and said over a dozen agents have been assigned to the case. We asked the Department of Justice ourselves about the progress of the investigation. Their response? No comment. They said the investigation is still ongoing.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, joins me now.

Thank you very much for joining me.

You say your group got the runaround when you applied for tax-exempt status. Have you heard from anybody from the Department of Justice or the FBI investigating this matter?


And, in fact, we have talked to several hundred groups around the country in the past five or six days about this specifically. None of them have heard from it, not a single one from around the country that we have talked to.

TAPPER: All right. I want to play a transcript excerpt -- or read a transcript excerpt that Congressman Elijah Cummings released with a front-line IRS manager in the Cincinnati office.

He's been identified as John Shafer by some committee aides. Shafer describes himself as a conservative Republican and he testified that the scrutiny of the Tea Party groups started as normal business in an attempt to consolidate these groups that were applying. Asked if he thought it was motivated by a desire to target the president's political enemies, he said -- quote -- "I don't believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issue that needed to have further development."

Asked if the White House was involved, he said, "I have no reason to believe that."

Does that satisfy you that the White House wasn't involved and that this was as innocent as he makes it seem?

MARTIN: For me, this isn't about just whether the White House has been involved or not.

The IRS -- the agents who work there took this agency and used it as a political weapon against citizens around this country. And they did it and they singled us out for our political beliefs. They were not doing it to progressive organizations. They didn't do it to the Barack H. Obama Foundation. They haven't done it to Obama --

They are doing it to our groups, Tea Party groups.

TAPPER: But there were progressive and liberal groups that did have some of -- I don't know if they were -- they weren't grouped in with patriots in the same grouping.

MARTIN: No, they weren't targeted.



MARTIN: They weren't targeted. They weren't discriminated. Barack H. Obama Foundation was approved in 30 days by Lois Lerner.

Lois Lerner sent us a letter. We still don't have our final status from the IRS. They are stringing us along to this day, since December of 2010.

TAPPER: Let me ask you just the broader question. Some people say that even if the IRS unfairly singled out your group -- and it seems that there almost is consensus in Washington that conservative groups were unfairly and inappropriately targeted.

MARTIN: Well, even Lois Lerner said that she did.

TAPPER: Right.

So, but let's talk about the broader issue of this tax-exempt status. Your organization seems to be a political organization. Why should political organizations -- well, you would dispute that, I suppose. But why should any of these organizations that purport to not be political, purport to be education or be social welfare organizations, but seem to really be involved in political issues, whether it's environmental or Tea Party, why should any of them have tax-exempt status?

MARTIN: Well, if you want to change the tax code, we can talk about it. There are 73,000 pages in the tax code.

But this isn't about changing the tax code. This is about the existing rules and regulations that exist inside those 73,000 pages. They were not applied equally and fairly. We were targeted because of our beliefs. They asked for the content of prayer from some groups.

They asked for book reports from a 60-year-old lady, book reports. My 10-year-old twins, they do book reports in schools. I don't expect that, the government asking adults that. It's unacceptable and it cannot continue.

TAPPER: All right. Well, congratulations on the rally today. It seemed very well-attended. And good luck to you. Thanks for being here.

MARTIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We appreciate it, Jenny Beth Martin.

Coming up in the national lead, on the day when we mark the end of slavery in the United States, the anniversary of it, and the day that a new State Department report on human trafficking is being issued, we will take a look at Washington, D.C.'s ugly little secret, foreign diplomats here who have slaves, here, just blocks from the White House. And I will talk to an alleged victim.

And it was the tragedy that gave birth to Internet conspiracy theorists, the crash of TWA Flight 800 17 years again. But now even some investigators are saying it wasn't an accident.


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

Now it's time for the buried lead. That's what we call stories we think have not gotten enough attention.

On this day in history in 1862, slavery was outlawed in U.S. territory. Despite that nod to humanity, of course, we know that slavery persists today and not just abroad, right here in the United States.

Just a few minutes ago, Secretary of State John Kerry released the department's annual report on trafficking, modern slavery, throughout the world, including here at home.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's no understatement to say that we are working to tackle an issue that millions of people assumed had been dealt with a long time ago. But the problem, unfortunately, persists and I hate to say in some places can grow, and the challenge continues. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, when you think of slavery here in the United States, the images that might come to your mind could be underground forced prostitution rings, or factories, or farms in way-out corners of the nation. You probably don't think about this slavery taking place in some -- in the homes of some of the fanciest and most powerful people here in Washington, D.C. and the embassies and residences of foreign diplomats.

But shockingly, this is a serious problem. Slavery right here in the U.S., diplomats, the kind who have close relationships with the business, political and media elite and it's one that the State Department is now trying to stop.


TAPPER (voice-over): Behind the ornate doors of the most exclusive embassies in Washington, D.C. lurks a dark secret: foreign diplomats abusing workers in their home, domestic servants forced into lives of indentured servitude, even slavery. And they often get away with it, invoking diplomatic immunity when accused, which prevents them from being prosecuted in a foreign country.

AMBASSADOR LUIS CDEBACA, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: It happens miles from the White House in Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: Ambassador Luis CdeBaca directs the State Department's office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons.

CDEBACA: We hear way too many stories from around the world of diplomats who think they have carte blanche to treat their servants badly.

ROSEMARY MARTELL, ALLEGED HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIM (through translator): I thought about dying.

TAPPER: One alleged victim, Rosemary Martell from Peru, whose nightmare begun in 2008 when she was hired to work for a Peruvian diplomat to work for him while stationed in the U.S. She was told she would be working at this house in which the diplomat no longer lives, that she would work 40 hours a week at $1,500 a month.

(on camera): How much did they pay you?

MARTELL: Three hundred dollars a month.

TAPPER: Three hundred dollars a month?


TAPPER (voice-over): But the paltry wages were the least of it. The treatment, she alleges, was abusive.

(on camera): Do you think they basically treated you like a slave? MARTELL: Yes, because I worked from 5:30 a.m. when I woke up until 11:30 or midnight every single day. They asked me to give them massages every day to both of them. Even foot massages. He would touch my legs and ask to see me in a bikini.

TAPPER (voice-over): She said the diplomat confiscated her passport. Rosemary thought she was trapped.

(on camera): You were afraid that you had to do everything that they told you to do?

MARTELL: They threatened with hurting my family if I left. They also threatened to call immigration to get me deported.

TAPPER (voice-over): Rosemary's story is quite common. The Government Accountability Office looked into the issue in 2008 and found that in recent years, 42 domestic workers officially alleged they were abused by their foreign diplomat employers and they said the actual numbers of victims are likely higher.

Just last month in McLean, Virginia, the Department of Homeland Security rescued two women from the Philippines from a multi-million dollar house owned by the Saudi embassy. They were working for a Saudi diplomat who U.S. officials say held their passports and forced them into lives of indentures servitude. An investigation is under way.

Attorney Martina Vandenberg represents a victim who was just awarded $1 million after being abused by a Tanzanian diplomat here.

MARTINA VANDENBERG, ATTORNY SPECIALIZING IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING: The common threat among all of those cases is that the diplomats have total immunity which means you cannot investigate them appropriately. You cannot arrest them. You cannot question them. It's almost impossible to do an investigation that would lead to a waiver of immunity to actually prosecute them in the United States.

TAPPER: In this case, with the help of the group Casa de Maryland, Rosemary Martell was able to flee and she later pressed charges against the Peruvian diplomat who claims that she's making everything up. He, however, also claimed diplomatic immunity, and the case has therefore gone nowhere.

Their hands tied in many ways, the State Department took a number of measures. The newest unit in the Diplomatic Security Services looks at human trafficking in the U.S. And the State Department has just started briefing domestic workers brought here by foreign diplomats, giving them pamphlets with important information.

CDEBACA: It just tells them, you've got rights in the United States, even if they could take your passport and lock it up back home, even if they could take your money back home, they shouldn't. But in the United States if they do it, they're committing a crime.

TAPPER: After two years of what she describes as slavery, Rosemary Martell says she has recovered and is building a family and a life for herself here in the United States.

MARTELL: Now, I'm happy. I have my six-month-old baby. She's my happiness. I'm happy because I'm working with a group of women to let others know their rights so that the same things that happened to me don't happen to them.


TAPPER: We should note the problem is not confined to foreign diplomats. The State Department says some American diplomats abroad occasionally take to this horrific custom. In 2006, State Department employee Harold Countryman and his wife Kim were accused of keeping a domestic slave from Cambodia here in the Washington, D.C. area, in Virginia. According to the Justice Department, the two pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting visa fraud. And according to the plea agreement Kim Countryman, quote, "admitted to using the fraudulent visa to further the forced labor of a Cambodian woman in their employ," and, quote, "acknowledged that she withheld a portion of pay, took possession of the woman's passport and physically assaulted the woman," unquote.

"The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous," the words of Frederick Douglass, a man who was born a slave, words that some of our diplomat friends may want to ponder that as they walk by a statue of him that now graces Emancipation Hall inside the U.S. Capitol. On this Juneteenth, lawmakers helped dedicate the statue of the great abolitionist who advised Abraham Lincoln. It will stand next to likenesses of other great black Americans like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Coming up next, got to be the shoes or got to be the headband. LeBron James loses his headband and then loses his mind, helping the Miami Heat and his dreams of a dynasty to stay live. "The Sports Lead" is next.

And in pop, same characters, plot, same jokes, just change the country, the audience will never know. Why are so many mediocre movies getting sequels now?


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

Now, it's time for "The Sports Lead". It's decision time for LeBron James again. This time, of course, it's not about where he'll take his talents but whether he'll shoot for another NBA title without his trademark headband. It absorbs sweat. It also may be help cover up some baldness.

If you watched game six of the finals matchup between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, you probably noticed the moment when LeBron James lost the headband and found his mojo. It happened with 8:59 left in the fourth. The Heat were down five, desperately trying to keep the hopes alive.

And for the king of the court, it was off with his headband. James didn't bother hustling to put it back on and some fans say thank goodness, because from them on, LeBron and his exposed hairline were unstoppable. He went on a 16-point tear, nearly matching the number of points he scored in the first three quarters combined.

Twitter could not get enough of the phenomenon. "Sports Illustrated" tweeted, so it was the headband that was holding him back all series.

After the game, Heat team Sean Battier said despite all the hype, fans shouldn't treat LeBron's headbands like the feather that made Dumbo think he could fly. But it seems not even James agrees with that sentiment. He told CNN's Rachel Nichols that he's too attached to the headband not to wear it in game seven, but he admits he might yank it off if things are not going his way.

And if you want to hear what else King James is doing to get ready for the final game of the NBA series, tune in to CNN's new morning show "NEW DAY" tomorrow. You will not want to miss an interview with the league MVP. That's right, tomorrow morning, right here on CNN.

Coming up, it was an unspeakable tragedy. Now, a new documentary is opening an old wound and claiming that the government investigation got it wrong on the crash of TWA Flight 800. I'll talk to the man who led the FBI criminal probe and he'll try to set the story straight.

And it's coming down to the wire for immigration reform. And now, some on the conservative side are calling it amnesty and trying to derail the bill. I'll ask Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro whether he thinks the bill is sunk.