Return to Transcripts main page


So Long, Fannie And Goodbye, Freddie?; Jeff Bezos Buys "Washington Post"; George W. Bush Gets Heart Stent; U.S. Files First Charges In Benghazi Attack

Aired August 6, 2013 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The Money Lead now. What would happen if mortgage monoliths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ceased to be? Well, that's exactly what President Obama just proposed. But what would that mean for the check you have to write every month.

The Politics Lead. Who lost their lunch while Clint Eastwood berated an empty chair? Who said that his job description included "punching Republicans in the face"? The real dirt behind the bitter battle for the White House.

And the Pop Culture Lead. Is there a band both the right and the left want to see in the Hall Of Fame? Yes. Is there a better way political strategists could be spending their time? Yes. What band are we talking about? Yes.

Welcome back to THE LEAD. It's time for the Money Lead. If the president gets his way, it will be so long Fannie, goodbye, Freddie. Right now in Phoenix, President Obama just walked off the stage. He outlined his plan to shutter Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage behemoths that the government bailed out on the taxpayers' dime in 2008 after the market crashed.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For too long, these companies were allowed to make huge profits buying mortgages, knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be holding the bag. It was heads we win, tails you lose. And it was wrong.


TAPPER: The idea is part of the White House's new strategy to try to insulate taxpayers from another housing meltdown, if one were to hit again. So, what would this plan mean for you?

For analysis, I want to bring in Jim Tankersley, economic policy correspondent for "The Washington Post." And in New York, CNN economic global analyst, Rana Foroohar. Rana, I'm going to start with you. The first thing people are asking themselves when they hear this proposal from the president is what does this mean to me? What does this mean for my mortgage?

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN ECONOMIC GLOBAL ANALYST: Well, it depends on what legislation comes out of Congress. Right now, the federal government and state governments together implicitly or explicitly back about 80 to 90 percent of all mortgage in this country. So, if you think about a healthy housing market as being something that doesn't require government support, we're a long way from there.

So, the idea of slowing moving the mortgage market away from being underpinned by the government is smart idea. But you still need banks to lend, and that's been the problem. Throughout the crisis and recovery, banks haven't been making enough loans to real people. So far, a lot of the housing recovery has been investor-led. It's been led by people that have cash on hand and can put down cash for mortgages. People that actually need a 30-year mortgage have had a tough time getting one.

And what the president wants to do is ensure whatever legislation is passed gets the government out of the housing market while still making enough provisions that people can get those 30-year mortgages that they need.

TAPPER: And Jim, do you think that these steps for getting the government out of the housing market -- not entirely but to a large degree -- will help insulate taxpayers, help protect us?

JIM TANKERSLEY, ECONOMIC POLICY CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, this is the big question because what it leaves is still a lot of liability for the government if there's an enormous housing crash like the one we saw last time. Because basically what the government would do is ensure, like the FDIC does with bank deposits -- it would ensure that your mortgage is going to be okay. So, if there's a big crash, you could have big liabilities again for taxpayers. But the idea, the hope is that that won't happen, and that the cost of the insurance will cover any future liabilities.

TAPPER: Rana, let's talk about the timing of this. Do you think the president's making this move too soon?

FOROOHAR: Well, I think that he's within a few months of where he should have been. I probably would have liked to have seen another two or three months of strong housing data. The last couple months have shown we are starting to get a little more credit flowing into the system.

But one thing we should remember, we have this idea in this country that you need a housing recovery in order to get a healthy economy. Actually, you need a healthy economy. You are need people to have jobs in order to get mortgages. So, really, the underlying recovery has to keep continuing in order for unemployment to come down and ultimately wages to go up, which will help people improve their balance sheets. And that's what's going to give them better credit picture and get them those mortgages.

TAPPER: And Jim, for a first-time home buyer out there, somebody who's shopping around, what does this mean? TANKERSLEY: Well, the first thing is it's a bit harder to get a mortgage if you are a first-time buyer with not great credit. And the idea here might be that the opening up of the private market will allow more people with maybe a little less of a good credit score to get their first loan.

The other thing they should be watching, potential first-time home buyers, is interest rates, which have gone up a bit recently and are probably go up again because of some Federal Reserve decisions coming down the pike.

TAPPER: All right, fantastic. Rana Foroohar and Jim Tankersley, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up in our Lead Read, behind the perfect hair, there were plenty of flyaway moments in Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency. There was even some puking. We've got the behind-the-scenes details.

And sometimes it feels Democrats and Republicans will never agree on anything, but they're finally finding some common ground on the deeply important topic of classic rock. Stay with us.


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

Now it's time for our Politics Lead. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is back in the political spotlight, attending a New Hampshire reception to raise money for the GOP. It's a rare, rare public appears for the 2012 runner-up and a reminder that when you lose a presidential campaign, fundraisers are now very special occasions. Like date night.

Dan Balz, a veteran political reporter for "The Washington Post" has just released a book on the race. It's called "Collison 2012: Obama vs. Romney And The Future of Elections In America." And boy, does he mean collision.


TAPPER (voice-over): It's got Mike Tyson, an anecdote about vomit, and at least one guy who has had alleged inappropriate relations with women. But it's not the movie "The Hangover." It's the story behind America's 2012 presidential campaign that esteemed political reporter Dan Balz could not have made up if he tried.

In his new book "Collision 2012," "The Washington Post" chief correspondent delves into the two-year, multi-character plot, twist- filled contest to be the leader of free world.

And the behind-the-scenes details do not disappoint. This is Jim Messina, President Obama's former campaign manager, who told Balz his job on the campaign was to, quote, "punch the Republicans in the face," a metaphorical play on Mike Tyson's famous line "Everyone has a plan until they get punched."

But to read Balz's account, the Republicans needed no help beating themselves up.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Was this an affair?


BLITZER: There was no sex?



TAPPER: More than a punch, Governor Rick Perry's adviser told Balz, this moment like an earthquake.


RICK PERRY, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: What's the third one there? Let's see.


TAPPER: One that just kept going.


PERRY: Oops.


TAPPER: And then there was this moment.


CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: What do you mean shut up?



TAPPER: Vomit. No, I'm not saying anything against Clint Eastwood's Republican convention appearance. I'm just telling you the literal reaction that Romney adviser top advisor Stu Stevens had to this memorable speech.

Ann Romney was a bit kinder during her CBS appearance the next morning.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: We appreciated Clint's support, and he's a unique guy and he did a unique thing last night.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Balz writes that even some of the best-reviewed convention speeches of the presidential race were worrisome. Former president Bill Clinton walked out to thunderous Democratic Conventiona applause at approximately 10:40 p.m. on September 5. Backstage and throughout the day, President Obama had been asking repeatedly to see a draft of Clinton's comments. The planned 25-minute speech by the former president was continually interrupted by applause, and the future second-term president grew more anxious. Fifty minutes later, Clinton exited the stage, leaving the commander-in-chief smiling his way through the changing plan.


TAPEPR: President Clinton always cuts it close on deadlines, which can make those coordinated conventions even more nerve-racking.

But joining me now for the Lead Read is the author of "Collision 2012," Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz. Dan, thanks for joining us.

You interviewed Mitt Romney for this book in January, and I have to say, reading what he said about the response to the question about the 47 percent of the American people as he characterized them, I don't really know if he understands yet why people took offense at that comment. There seems to be a bit of denial there. What was your take?

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I had the same reaction, Jake. I thought that -- he believes he said something different, and the literal words obviously are the ones that people remember when he said there's 47 percent of the country, these are people who won't take control of their own lives. And he continues to say, I didn't really say that. And he went and got his iPad and started to read through some of what he had said and the question that he was asked.

He knows it was a damaging moment. He believes it was damaging because there was the perception what he said. He still had trouble processing that it was the actual words.

TAPPER: You also got the sense in your book from both Romney and his son, Tagg, that throughout the buildup to his announcement that he was going to run, he was looking for reasons not to run. Do you think that lack of fire in the belly in some ways, do you think that might have contributed to why he lost?

BALZ: You know, it may be, although I think once he was into it, he's a competitive person. He was a competitive businessman, and I think he was a competitive running mate. But he had two reservations. One early on was was he the best person in the party who might be able to defeat President Obama. He said to me if some other people ran, and he mentioned specifically Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. He said if someone like that had gotten into the race, he might not have.

The other question he had was whether he was actually a very good fit for a Republican Party that is more conservative than he is, that's Southern based, he's a northerner, that's evangelical, he's Mormon. He said Stu Stevens, his chief strategist, always said to him this could be a tough fight. And so, he had some questions. But as the field developed, Jake, the actual field he was going to have to compete against, he decided he was the best of that group in order to go against the president.

TAPPER: The book, speaking of the president, the book discusses the president's lack of a real second-term agenda. It discusses some questions he faced throughout the first term about how strong a leader he was. How do you see those critiques from the 2012 campaign playing out now?

BALZ: Well, we continue to see some of that. The question about what he would do in a second term was one that they wanted to address in only the vaguest of ways. He did not have a big new economic program, as you know, to roll out during the campaign. And so he wanted to make the fight not about exactly what ideas he had or the current state of the economy, he wanted to make it about the question of which of these two candidates would be better for the middle class well into the future. And they were pretty effective at doing that.

But it begged the question. And you know, it was after Labor Day they finally put out a document about a second-term agenda. But it was -- it was late, it was not that well developed and he didn't talk that much about it except in generalities. We've seen he has an agenda for the second term, but it's been interrupted constantly by the battles on the Hill. He has had to return to the middle class theme only recently at a time when a lot of Americans are still wondering what the administration has in mind for them in order to really get this economy moving.

TAPPER: Dan, before you go, you are a 35-year veteran of "The Washington Post" and obviously yesterday big news, Amazon's Jeff Bezos bought "The Washington Post." What's the feeling inside the newsroom and what's it like for you, who has worked there for so long?

BALZ: Well, I never thought I would see this day. I always thought that the Graham family would keep the newspaper. It was a combination of shock yesterday and a certain amount of sadness. They've been terrific owners. Ben Bradley always said the key to being a great editor is you start with a great owner and that's what the Grahams have been. So there's sadness about departure of the Grahams and their stewardship of the paper.

On the other hand, there's some hopefulness that Mr. Bezos will be able to chart a future that will put us on a more secure footing economically. I mean, we're all struggling. It doesn't matter whether it's the "Washington Post" or many other news organizations are trying to figure out how we become more economically viable, how we reach more people, how we generate more revenues. He's been innovative in the new world and we're hopeful he'll be able to bring some ideas and some innovation to what we do.

TAPPER: All right, Dan Balz, author of "Collision 2012," a LEAD read, thank you so much for your time. I'll see you on the campaign trail, my friend.

BALZ: Thank you, Jake. I appreciate it.

TAPPER: He'd wait until it hit 100 degrees to go run for his -- in the morning in Texas. That's a real threat for his Secret Service agents, but even a guy as seemingly healthy as President George W. Bush could not escape the threat of heart disease. Doctors say the former president successfully had a stent placed into a heart artery this morning to open a blockage that was found during his yearly physical. President Bush is now 67 years old. He is expected to be out of the hospital tomorrow.

Still to come, the breaking news in Benghazi, nearly a year after the deadly attack, the U.S. finally seeks justice with a complaint under seal. We'll have more about CNN's special report about the attack and the aftermath.

And the author of the girl with the dragon tattoo died nearly nine years ago, but Stig Larson is still managing to put out a new crime story coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Back to our "World Lead," you heard it first on THE LEAD. The U.S. has finally filed the first charges for the Benghazi attacks against Ahmed Khattalah, a leader of the Libyan militia. Actually finding him and making him answer for the charges is a different story. Last week we told you about an exclusive new information in the wake of those attacks.

A source telling CNN's Drew Griffin that since January that some CIA operatives involved in the agency's missions in Libya have been subjected to frequent polygraph examinations as often as once a month to find out if anyone is talking to the media or to Congress. That rate of polygraphing is extremely rare according to experts we talked.

The CIA declined our request for an on-camera interview, but sent us a statement for the story saying, quote, "CIA employees are always free to speak to Congress if they want and that the CIA enabled all officers involved in Benghazi the opportunity to meet with Congress.

Now, after our story aired, the CIA said they had proof, that proof turns out to be this letter, sent seven months after the attacks to CIA officers who were on the ground then, quote, "To let them know of the committee's interest in hearing firsthand accounts," unquote.

The letter goes on to say members of Congress, quote, "wanted to make clear that you are under no compulsions to engage in such discussions, your participation is completely voluntary, both from the perspectives of the committees and the CIA," unquote. The CIA never mentioned the existence of the letter to CNN until after our story aired. In fact, they just declassified it.

I want to bring in our own Erin Burnett. She is host of CNN's "OUTFRONT." She has a special, "The Truth About Benghazi" airing tonight on CNN at 10 p.m. Eastern. Erin, thanks so much for being here. This Libyan militia leader that's been charge, your team found him and interviewed him for the special. What do you make of the fact that there are now criminal charges under seal filed against him?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "OUTFRONT": Well, it seems from what we know right now, Jake, that there's absolutely no coincidence about that. This is -- you know, as we reported, there were dozens of armed militants who stormed that embassy. It was incredibly overwhelming odd against the Americans that night.

At this point, no one has been brought to justice. Jake, there's been one person detained for questioning and that person was released. Now we have this news today about Ahmad Abu Khattalah, that's his name, who is now being charged, under seal. This is the name that has been out there in the public just as we have been promoting our documentary because our Arwa Damon was in Benghazi in May and able to speak with him.

He has been public. He has been willing to speak to journalists. He told her yes he was there that night. He said he was directing traffic, but he was talking about some of the weapons that were there and the FBI had not spoken to him and now there are these charges. I think the real question, Jake, is going to be, are they going to really and truly bring people to justice.

You know, I had a chance to speak to the family members and you see the personal side of this and the pain and agony that these people have gone through. At the very least they deserve answers. And certainly from what we see going on around the region right now, this country deserves answers. And just saying it don't matter, it's all in the past, we're going to do it differently now. That's the point listing to say when you don't know exactly what went wrong because that means you're not going to be able to prevent it from happening again.

TAPPER: Erin, what else are we going to learn from your documentary tonight?

BURNETT: Well, you know, we have a lot in there, Jake. You know, one of the people that you're going to hear from is from one of the key members of the team that briefed Ambassador Stevens on the security situation in Libya and in Benghazi specifically. His name is Jeff Porter.

When I asked him why there was not enough manpower, because as you'll hear tonight, Ambassador Stevens had requested multiple times to have teams in Benghazi, to have more security and there was some money put into new guard gates but that was pretty much it. According to Geoff Porter, he thinks that the United States simply didn't even understand the scale of the problem. Here's a little clip of what you'll hear from him.


BURNETT: Why was manpower so lacking in Benghazi?

GEOFF PORTER, BRIEFED AMBASSADOR STEVENS: What we're essentially talking about is a CIA mission in Benghazi, whose purpose was to collect information, to collect weapons potentially and they may have deliberately wanted to keep a low security profile.

BURNETT: So because they didn't understand, they just underestimated the threat?

PORTER: That's right. But I think one of the problems in Benghazi at the time is that there were so many different violent non-state actors, armed groups, that the U.S. couldn't identify the threat. They couldn't distinguish which was a group threatening the United States' interest and which was simply a violent non-state actor pursuing its own agenda. So there was a real deficit of understanding, a real lack of situational awareness.


BURNETT: Real deficit of understanding and real lack of situational awareness, Jake, and all of this could have been prevented. Of course, it was part of a broader narrative at the time, right, that the core of al Qaeda has been destroyed so these smaller splinter groups aren't anybody to be truly afraid of. Obviously the U.S. learned that lesson the hard way, that it wasn't the case.

TAPPER: Erin Burnett, thanks so much. We'll be watching and you can watch "The Truth About Benghazi," a CNN special tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Still to come, from gridlock to art rock, politicians across the aisle in a roundabout way to get a legendary band into the rock hall of fame.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In the "Pop Culture Lead," Democrats have accused the GOP of being the party of no. It seems like neither party can agree to say, yes, to anything except maybe, Yes, the band, being in the rock 'n' roll hall of fame. A group of bipartisan political consultants are now using their campaign know how to drum up votes for the rock legends. The group includes former senior members of John Kerry's 2004 campaign and Rick Santorum's bid last time around. They all claim to be fans of Yes and 70s Concept albums.

Hash tag, you're it. We asked you earlier to come up with a campaign slogan for Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, should he run for office? Tom Crowe tweeted, "Respecting privacy settings since yesterday." At Mom MN sent in, "We know more about you than the NSA."

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jake, thanks very much.