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Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Trial Of Nidal Hasan Begins; Facebook CEO Gets Political

Aired August 6, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: They attacked our diplomatic posts, killed our ambassador and three other Americans. And for 11 months, no one has been charged for the terrorist attack at Benghazi until now.

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

Breaking news in our world lead, a huge development in a major terrorism investigation. It's a story only CNN has, and you will see it here first on THE LEAD in just moments.

The national lead. He's given psychiatrists a worse name than Hannibal Lecter. The trial of Major Nidal Hasan began today for the shooting spree at Fort Hood -- why and how he could personally force his alleged victims to relive it all.

And the money lead. They were like a cinder block tied to our angles during the housing crisis. And minutes from now, President Obama will propose phasing out mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie, but they back half the mortgages in this country, so what does it mean for the value of your home?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We begin our world lead with this breaking news on a major terrorism investigation. For nearly a year, the families of the four Americans killed at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi have waited for the attackers to face justice. Last week, CNN's Arwa Damon brought you an exclusive interview with the lead suspect, Ahmed Khattala. He's the leader of a Libyan militia. He's not in custody. Arwa was able to meet with him. She found him and here's what he told her.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (through translator): Did anyone from the American or Libyan government get in touch with you?

AHMED ABU KHATTALA, SUSPECT (through translator): Never.

DAMON (through translator): Never?

KHATTALA (through translator): Never.

DAMON (through translator): No American official or Libyan official tried to contact you?

KHATTALA (through translator): Even the investigative team did not try to contact me.


TAPPER: The investigative team did not even try to contact him, he says. Now there is some major news about this suspect in the Benghazi attacks.

I want to welcome CNN's new justice reporter, Evan Perez, to THE LEAD.

Evan, what you have learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The first criminal charges have been filed, we have been told, and they have been filed in New York under seal.

Ahmed Khattala, the gentleman you just saw being interviewed by Arwa, is the person who is being charged and the investigation is continuing and they're still working on perhaps bringing charges against other individuals but this is a major development in the case.

TAPPER: And who is Ahmed Khattala? What do we know about him?

PEREZ: He is leader of Ansar al-Sharia, which is one of the many militias that are active in Libya. This is one of the many militias that the government is dependent upon essentially to help manage Libya because the government doesn't fully control every part of their territory.

There are some members that U.S. believes are Islamists and perhaps affiliated with al Qaeda or other groups. So, they're a problem for Libya and for the United States.

TAPPER: President Obama promised that justice would be served, and this was almost a year ago that these attacks occurred. What has been the holdup and why do we not have him if this criminal complaint has been filed under seal?

PEREZ: I think the biggest problem is that under normal circumstances you have a host government that can help the FBI get ahold of witnesses, get ahold suspects. They don't have that in Libya.

Libya is not necessarily like any other country right now. They're still struggling to try to get control of their cities. So it is one of the biggest issues. The FBI had trouble getting security. But they say that they have gone in there and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and they have sent dozens of FBI agents from New York and Washington over there and they say they're making progress.

TAPPER: And the next step is to get the Libyan government involved to try to arrest him.

PEREZ: That's right.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, excellent work. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Let's bring in Congressman Adam Schiff. He's a Democrat from California and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, I know you cannot comment on a sealed document, a sealed criminal charge, but what is your response to the news CNN just broke in general terms? Are you under the impression that the investigation is proceeding rapidly and that the Libyan government is being cooperative? What can you tell us?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I wouldn't describe it as rapidly.

We have had multiple briefings on the Intelligence Committee about the progress of the investigation. It's been frustrating for many of us that it hasn't moved faster, but it is a very difficult working environment for our agents. Their security is of paramount concern. Gathering evidence in Libya, you might imagine, very difficult, finding, interviewing witnesses, extremely difficult. I was a prosecutor for six years and I can only imagine the challenge of trying to put together a case against any of those responsible.

But they are making progress. And the investigation is a joint intelligence and law enforcement -- investigation is moving forward. We have identified many of the parties involved. We're still trying to identify what the command-and-control structure would be. A lot of missing pieces still, but we are finally making progress.

TAPPER: We will have much more on Benghazi later in the hour with Erin Burnett, who will be previewing her hour-long special on what happened in Benghazi.

But, Congressman, if you would, let's turn to the worldwide terror alert. What we, the public, know right now through media reports, through leaks is that communication between al-Zawahri in Pakistan, the head of al Qaeda, and the head of al Qaeda in Yemen was intercepted and that intercept gave orders to attack.

CBS has also reported that a terrorist team is supposedly in place. But that's pretty much all we know. Is there much more than that to what you have been briefed upon?

SCHIFF: Well, I can't confirm what you have just reported, but I can tell you that, yes, we have a lot of information that we have been briefed on that goes into quite specific detail.

The threat is very real. There's a lot of corroboration and multiple sources in terms of the intelligence. We have a fairly high degree of confidence that there is an active plot afoot that's of grave danger to our personnel. And for that reason, I think members on both sides of the aisle view the steps taken by the administration in closing these embassies as very prudent steps.

I can tell you, having been to Sanaa, this is a very hostile environment, very dangerous for our personnel. I don't think problem is going to go away any time soon. Plainly, the bad guys are following the reporting on this. They're going to adjust their timing perhaps or maybe their targets. But there is not going to be I think a day any time soon where we're going to see the threat significantly mitigated in Yemen. It may be in other locations and may not be necessary for all of those locations to stay closed for very long. But we are going to have a persistent threat from AQAP in Yemen. That's going to be very difficult for us to deal with.

And, as you know, Jake, they have got one of the most prolific and dangerous and sophisticated bomb makers in Yemen. And that's a grave threat to us in the homeland as well.

TAPPER: I just want to ask you one last question, Congressman. That is I think a lot of people were probably surprised by this worldwide threat because of what President Obama said from the campaign trail last year.

He talked about al Qaeda being on the run, on their heels. Do you think that the amount, the degree to which the U.S. had vanquished al Qaeda was overstated by the president and his campaign last year?

SCHIFF: I don't think so.

What the president has said is that the core of al Qaeda, the central leadership that we saw in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been pretty well decimated. And it's true. Probably two-thirds or more of those central leaders have been taken off the battlefield permanently.

But he has pointed out that the franchises have grown and proliferated. They're still very dangerous, but I think we need to put this in perspective. Even though we have shut down a lot of our embassies, and it's a worldwide threat, nonetheless, their capability of mounting the kind of attack we had on 9/11 is very remote.

It's very unlikely that they can mount that kind of sophisticated overseas attack. Yes, our facilities are vulnerable, but they're vulnerable, as we saw in Benghazi, to very conventional weapons. This is something we are going to have to deal with quite indefinitely. The threat to our aircraft, this has been a threat for decades, not by al Qaeda always, but by a variety of terrorists over time.

So, yes, I think we have seriously degraded the core of al Qaeda, the danger of these massive attacks. The affiliates though are still dangerous. They can still harm us, but it's not the same threat as it was on 9/11.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for you time.

Coming up, he could personally be cross-examining the very people he tried to kill, a bizarre twist in the trial of the Fort Hood shooter. That trial started today.

And in pop culture, hey, good news. Democrats and Republicans finally agree on something. No, it's not health care or immigration reform. It's a Prague rock band your dad listens to when he is mowing the lawn. But can Washington get the band Yes into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Stay with us.


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

Now it's time for the national lead. Here's a direct quote: "The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter" -- unquote.

That's from the mouth of Major Nidal Hasan, giving his own opening statement as his trial for the Fort Hood shooting spree gets under way in Texas. Hasan is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 others on that horrible day.

Since he's defending himself, Hasan could very well end up cross- examining the very people he's accused of trying to kill. Hasan is a psychiatrist, a man trained to get into people's heads. On November 5, 2009, prosecutors say he walked into a waiting room at the Army base with a semiautomatic pistol and just started firing.

For many, it was already too late to react.


SPC. LOGAN BURNETTE, WOUNDED DURING SHOOTING: Very, very quick reloader on that weapon. He was very swift, very tactical with what he was doing.

PVT. GEORGE STRATTON, WOUNDED DURING SHOOTING: He'd squeeze off one round and it came through my shoulder and that it actually -- it hit one of my -- hit my bone right here.

KRISTOPHER CRAIG, BROTHER OF VICTIM: Attacking another soldier, it's just ridiculous. I don't understand it.


TAPPER: It did not stop until a civilian police officer, Sergeant Kimberly Munley, arrived on the scene and shot Hasan, suffering three gunshot herself.

Major Hasan is now in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. his trial was supposed to have begun 18 months ago, but a series of legal fights delayed it, over everything from Hasan's representation to whether he was allowed to keep his beard for religious reasons. Hasan freely admits carrying out the rampage, but he was not allowed to enter a guilty plea under military law, because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The FBI has released e-mails between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who was who a purported force behind al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Awlaki was taken out in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

The very first e-mail shows Hasan asking him whether Islamic law would permit the killing of American soldiers. And yet, even with that out there, the Pentagon is not officially calling this a terror attack, preferring the term workplace violence, which makes a serious difference in benefits for survivors and victims' families.

I want to bring in former Army Sergeant Howard Ray. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his actions that day at Fort Hood. He was credited for saving the lives of six soldiers and three civilians.

Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for your service and thank you for your heroics that day, sir.

First of all, can you walk us through what you went through that day when you first saw Major Hasan?

SGT. HOWARD RAY (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, at the point that I saw Major Hasan or the shooter at this point, I had gotten a woman out of the building that I was in and we were hiding down behind a car.

Someone had yelled at me to look out because he was coming around the corner of the building. And I actually had civilian clothes on that day. And I instinctually swept my shirt back to grab my pistol, only to find that I had left my pistol at home, because it was against the rules to have a concealed weapon on post.

And as a result of that, I had to make a quick decision to decide to run to the back side of the parking lot where there was cover. And we ran across the parking lot only to be engaged by the shooter, at a point about halfway between the middle of the parking lot and the rear of the parking lot. And just to be engaged, shot at on a military installation is obviously something you don't go to work to experience but it certainly was a shock. And the thing that was devastating the most for me is that, you know, I had a very clean shot on the individual but was unable to take it

TAPPER: And you think, sir -- you think the Army missed warning signs that could have possibly prevented this attack?

RAY: Well, absolutely. All the preliminary information, even up to two, three weeks out from the shooting itself nearly four years ago, we -- I mean, there were so many signs, OER is a report that officers are given for their evaluations were totally missed. I mean, he was subpar, calling out for such things as jihad and that he was a soldier of Allah and things of that nature, and yet what happened is the problem was transferred from the Northeastern United States down here to Texas and unfortunately on November 5th, 2009, that was the day that over 40 people encountered that mistake being sent down here to us instead of getting rid of the threat to begin with.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the shooting being classified as workplace violence because I know that's an issue that bothers a lot of survivors of the attack. It, of course, seems bizarre on its face that the pentagon would not label this an act of terrorism, but the way that it's been explained to me from the Pentagon is if they were to call it an act of terrorism and award Purple Hearts and so on, they would be handing Hasan a way to claim that there's no way he could get a fair trial because the Pentagon, in a different way, had already decided he was guilty of having committed a terrorist act.

Doesn't that make some sense? RAY: Well, it does make a little sense but at the end of the day, it doesn't remove the fact that the shooter at this point has said over and over and over again his intent was to destroy as many people as he could, civilians and U.S. Army personnel and at that point, and indeed, through contacts of terrorist organizations and individuals across the seas, that it was indeed a terrorist attack.

We can play semantics and, you know, calling it one thing or not the other, the bottom line is it is terrorism. I don't think it would inhibit him from getting a fair trial. In fact, he's not asking -- I mean, he's already pled guilty or wanting to plead guilty to the charges that have been attached to him. And the fact is that he can't.

So I think there's some oversight and things that need to be looked at because it's victims like myself and others, we deserve answers and we deserve closure to this event. We've had national stories where individuals have been killed and that's, you know, resolved within a year, year and a half.

So, here we are struggling nearly almost four years coming on really, it will be but a year and it will be five years and we're just barely starting this process. So, the victims deserve answers and they deserve compensation and other things like that from the government.

TAPPER: Sir, I have to go now but before I do, you talked about closure. Just very quickly if you would, if he is found quickly, do you think he deserves the death penalty? Do you want him to face that ultimate punishment?

RAY: Absolutely. You know, a lot of people will say the death penalty doesn't do anything to deter crime and there's certainly statistics that support that. But the bottom line is that the death penalty is reserved for those who do the most heinous of crimes and they need to pay for their crimes if they do what this individual did by killing 13 men and women.

And so, I think that punishment should be reserved for him.

TAPPER: All right. Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Howard Ray, thank you so much for your time and, again, thank you for your service, sir.

RAY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, the new battlefield of politics is social media and now, the CEO of Facebook is taking sides in the immigration debate. Will his billions sway Washington?

Plus, who literally threw up over Clint Eastwood's duet with an empty chair at the Republican Convention?

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Time now for the buried lead, those are stories we think should be getting more attention.

Let's just say opponents of the immigration reform bill who are on Facebook aren't going to like this news very much. Last night, 29- year-old tech titan and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg waded into the political and lunged himself into the immigration battle.

Our Erin McPike is here with more.

Erin, what's this all about?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, he is a bazillionaire, but he's still just in his 20s. But this is the first time that Mark Zuckerberg is making a big push to advocate for a political issue. So, now, of course, the pressure is on because everybody is watching to see just how effective he can be.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please give a warm welcome to Mark Zuckerberg.

MCPIKE (voice-over): This 29-year-old multi-billionaire has made his mark in Silicon Valley.

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK CEO: This is amazing to see so many people from so many different parts of our community.

MCPIKE: But is the founder of Facebook the new face of politics?

In San Francisco Monday night, he called for comprehensive immigration reform in opening remarks at the premiere of "Documented." It's a film by his journalist friend, Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant.

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, JOURNALIS: I think, at that point, I kind of realized we were living in two different worlds.

ZUCKERBERG: People often talk about two different parts of the issues, high skill, H1Bs, the issues that tech companies have, and full comprehensive immigration reform, as if they're two completely separate issues. But anyone who knows a Dreamer knows that they're not.

MCPIKE: After mentoring students who wondered whether they could go to college in America because of their immigration status, Zuckerberg decided to get involved.

ZUCKERBERG: So, I went home and I talked to some of my friends who run tech companies and we decided that we're going to try to do our best in helping out and creating this organization that would hopefully push to get comprehensive immigration reform done.

MCPIKE: The result was, a political organization that has in a few short months run $5 million in TV advertising, mobilized grassroots support in a number of states and retained Washington lobbying firms on both sides of the aisle to push its cause.

Senate aides say the group's efforts were instrumental in getting the bill passed in the upper chamber but a real test will come this fall when legislation is up for debate in the House.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: There's no way legislation will pass in the house now. And, clearly, there are a number of Republicans in the House who would like to pass a separate H1B visa bill, grab the support of Zuckerberg and others, pass the border security stuff, get those things enacted and then take the pressure off a comprehensive bill.

MCPIKE: While this is Zuckerberg's first attempt at political advocacy, he's started to make some moves as a political player, hosting a town hall meeting for President Obama and a fundraiser for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The bipartisan billionaire says he also plans to raise cash for Democratic Senate contender Cory Booker, also of New Jersey.

But for Zuckerberg, immigration reform is as much about good business as it is good politics.

ZUCKERBERG: So, that's why we're here today, on the stage representing, because this is something that we believe is really important for the future of our country and for to us do what's right.



MCPIKE: Zuckerberg also plans to get involved in comprehensive education reform with a focus on math and science and also into scientific research funding, but he's obviously got a long time ahead of him, Jake.

TAPPER: Indeed. Erin McPike, thank you so much.

So, with all those billions, the question, of course, what if Mark Zuckerberg were to take the plunge and run for office? What would his campaign slogan be? And that's our #tag you're it today. Change you can like is one possible slogan.

Hit us up @TheLeadCNN, use #zuckslogan. Come up with your own slogan for Zuckerberg to run for office.

Coming up, normally, he'll lead you eating dusts on the mountain biking trails of Texas. But this physically former president just had a major health scare.

And President Obama is speaking right now in Phoenix announcing a new plan that could affect your mortgage. Details when we come back.