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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

McCain Demands Action In Syria; "Something That We've Got To Take A Look At"; Head Injury Film Sacked; Ben's Batman Backlash; Four New SNL Cast Members?; Soldiers Save Crash Victim's Life

Aired August 23, 2013 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of what is in our long- term national interest. You know, sometimes what we have seen is -- that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well. It gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in -- us being drawn in to -- to very expensive, difficult costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": The red line comment that you made --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes.

CUOMO: About a year ago this week.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: We know since then there are thing that qualify for crossing the red line.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Chris, I have got to say this. When we take action, let's just take the example of Syria. There are rules of international law. And you know if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented then there are questions in terms of -- whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and -- you know, those are considerations that we had to take into account.

CUOMO: Do you believe it was enough?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this latest event is something that we have got to take a look at.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: So the president calls this something we have to take a look at.

And for a closer look, I'm joined by Barry Pavel, former senior director of President Obama's National Security Council.

He's been critical of how the Obama administration has handled this crisis. And, of course you're with the Atlantic Council.

Barry, the first mention of the red line in Syria, that was a year ago this week, you said the White House, quote, "has painted itself into a corner."

You obviously were not with the administration anymore.

Explain the situation there and now, given that red line a year ago.

BARRY PAVEL, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR, BRENT SCOWCROFT CENTER NATIONAL SECURITY, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Well, I think it's a little bit of a worse situation now, because we put the credibility of the United States on the line on a very specific issue, chemical weapons use, which is very hard to get at directly. That is, if we try to use air power to get at the chemical weapons, the bombing would spread it and probably result in more casualties. And if we tried to use ground power, well, no one wants to own the Syrian conflict by putting U.S. ground forces in there.

So it's a very difficult situation.

There are some things we can do, but at this point, the Obama administration has not shown the -- the motivation to do those things.

TAPPER: I've read accounts of President Obama making that remark, with people in his -- in the White House saying that it was off the cuff, not planned.

Is that your belief?

PAVEL: I read that same account, too. But this is the president of the United States making an official statement that is watched not just by those parties to the Syrian conflict, but it's watched by our allies all over the world, because we have security commitments, treaties, with other countries. It's watched by competitors, like China and Russia. And it's also watched by potential adversaries, like Iran.

And if these countries see that the United States makes a statement and then doesn't back it up or that it backs it up in a very lawyerly way, this can lead to very damaging consequences for the United States' national interests.

TAPPER: You did a war game recently in which you played the president. Tell us about that, because I thought it was interesting.

PAVEL: Well, it was a small scale war game. But my -- I was playing the president and I had joint chiefs as advisers. And they recommended not getting involved in the Syrian conflict.

And I said, so, does that mean that you think that time is on our side, that things are getting better as time goes on, absent our involvement, or worse?

And they actually agreed, boy, you're right, things are actually getting worse. So I said, so doesn't that mean that we need to do something so that our interests are not further damaged (INAUDIBLE)...

TAPPER: And lastly, very briefly, what is that something?

What should we be doing?

PAVEL: So I think there are limited uses of military power that could be -- that could help to achieve the desired effects. And those uses would be launching cruise missile and air strikes to take away Assad's use of the air so that further humanitarian suffering is limited.

We could also launch strikes against Assad's military and make it very clear that these strikes are in direct response to his massive use of chemical weapons and additional strikes would be forthcoming if additional chemical weapons are used.

Third, I think we can do more to aid vetted rebel groups and help change the balance of power in the conflict.

We can do those three things.

TAPPER: We have about 20 seconds left.

Are you disappointed with President Obama?

PAVEL: I'm disappointed that we make a statement, even if it wasn't sort of staffed and fully planned, and then we don't back it up with something serious, because I do think that has damage to -- that damages our interests on a global scale.

TAPPER: All right, thank you very much.

We'll definitely have you back as this plays out.

Hopefully, it won't get any worse, but I can't say with any confidence that that will be the case.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, professional football is a tough sport, but it may be a tougher business. Did the league pressure ESPN into bailing out of a hard-hitting documentary.

Plus, they were out on a run. They began racing time after a bus hit a jogger. Tell you about soldiers whose heroism is hardly limited to the battlefield.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Time for our Sports Lead, is the NFL putting the squeeze on ESPN. The Sports Channel has pulled out of a planned documentary working on with PBS "Frontline," which will investigate head injuries in pro football. League of denial comes out in October. But "Frontline" released a preview of the special earlier this month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These players come down with dementia and then Alzheimers and then they're gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Frontline" investigates what the NFL knew and when they knew it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't go against the NFL they'll squash you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You can't go against the NFL, they'll squash you. According to reporting from James Andrew Miller of the "New York Times," executives from the NFL, NFL Network and ESPN met last week. The NFL expressed their displeasure with the documentary and then poof, PBS announced ESPN was pulling out. Writing, ESPN released their own statement, that said, because ESPN is neither producing nor exercising editorial control over the "Frontline" documentaries there will be no co-branding involving ESPN on the documentaries or their marketing materials. The use of ESPN's marks could incorrectly imply that we have editorial control. As we have in the past we will cover the concussion story through our own reporting.

An NFL spokesman tells CNN, quote, "It is not true that we pressured ESPN, the lunch was requested several weeks ago by ESPN. We meet with our business partners on a regular basis and this was not unusual." Let's bring in James Andrew Miller. He is author of "Those Guys Have All The Fun Inside The World Of ESPN" and author of the story in "The New York Times."

So, first of all, Jim, I have to say, the idea that ESPN would cooperate with "Frontline" on a documentary about the NFL and head injuries doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me because ESPN relies upon the NFL for everything. Of course, the NFL is going to squash them.

JAMES ANDREW MILLER, BROKE STORY ON NFL PRESSURING ESPN: I think that's true. Starting in 1987, ESPN began to construct a serious journalistic enterprise and one wonders why, 15 months ago they decide they'd needed "Frontline." The statement they released yesterday sound like the statement they could have released 15 months ago explaining why they didn't decide to get in business with "Frontline." The whole idea who would have control and co-branding. ESPN created a big problem 15 months ago when they decided to do this.

TAPPER: Are there indications the "Frontline" documentary will be tougher than the reporting ESPN has done on head injuries and the NFL?

MILLER: It seem that one of the key value propositions to this documentary is to create a narrative to, which is to take a lot of the reporting that's been done by many news organizations over the years, and put it together in a very compelling picture. I'm not sure I haven't seen the documentary. Not sure what is actually new. I know there is some new material. But when you take all of these elements and put it together in a powerful narrative that has much more impact. Now given what happened over the past, 24, 48 hours. A lot more eyeballs are going to be watching as a result. TAPPER: One of the spokesman of the NFL Players' Association told us, quote, "given the media landscape we are in, player access is as valuable as access to the games. We will have to make a longer term decision if we don't feel our broadcast partners are willing to tell the truth."

So, that's the players' association. They obviously I would think want there to be attention to the well-being of their players. Could ESPN lose accessing to players because they backed out of the documentary?

MILLER: I doubt it. I doubt it. ESPN at this point is -- you know, oxygen for the players and for the league. It's very, very important. It is a worldwide brand. Over 8,000 hours a year, a lot dedicated to the NFL. That would surprise me.

TAPPER: James Andrew Miller, great reporting. Thanks for coming on.

MILLER: Thanks.

TAPPER: Like they have Niedermayer from "Animal House" enforcing the dress code in the NFL. The league fined Robert Griffin III $10,000 for wearing a shirt that says "Operation Patience" on the sidelines during practice. "The Washington Post" says he was fined for wearing unauthorized apparel. They wonder why people call the NFL the no fun league. The shirt a not so subtle reference to RG3's come back from a knee injury. Griffin and his coach have different opinions on when he should return.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, no issue can divide a nation of the important one of who should play the latest Batman. Warner Brothers choice has people scratching their heads, but wondering did they see daredevil?

Plus they could become the next Will Farrell or follow in the footsteps of Sherri O'Terry. Who is joining the cast of "Saturday Night Live."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Pop Culture Lead. For some comic book nerds, it was the sum of all fears, a violation of their dog, a casting Armageddon if you will, Ben Affleck, the caped crusader when Batman and Superman join forces in the upcoming "Man of Steel" sequel. The internet dazed and confused after the casting was revealed. There are some supportive of the next big step in the Oscar winner's comeback bid. Others wasted no time, why they're not all that into Ben.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you! Thank you.

TAPPER (voice-over): Late last night on the interwebs, New Jersey Senate candidate Cory Booker was confronted with a divisive question, the most pointed in his campaign thus far. If elected, he was asked, will you stop Ben Affleck from playing Batman? Twitter demanded an answer. And Booker, well, he did not hesitate. Sorry, he tweeted, I'm pro-Ben. Forget Mets/Yankees, Democrats/Republicans, the masses are divided over news that broke late Thursday night. Ben Affleck will play Batman.

Warner Brothers put out the signal. In a flash the internet was abuzz. A 2015 sequel to this summer's "Man of Steel" will cast the 41-year-old Oscar winner opposite Henry Cavel, the first both D.C. comic icons will share the silver screen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Batman. Batman. Batman cookie jar. Wait, what? No!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get struck by lightning, stabbed 1,000 times. Ben Affleck playing Batman, why couldn't it be lightning?

TAPPER: Through Twitter, Vine, news headlines, people are choosing sides from "The New York Times."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A handsome wealthy man with a male companion, can Ben Affleck play that?

TAPPER: To the mean makers on Tumblr who came up with images like these it's clear Bat-fleck is taking over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The original team is not attached. Zach Snyder directing. It kind of, stirred up emotions with all of the nerd everywhere.

TAPPER: Can this guy really fill the cape once worn by George Clooney, Christian Bale, Michael Keaton. Affleck showed chops in dazed and confused as the villainous obanion. But the debate about whether he is fit for Gotham City.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN: He is not bad enough to be Batman. He's Ben Affleck.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN: Give him a shot.

TAPPER: Part of the issue, Affleck played a superhero, not a well received one. You remember "Daredevil" right?

IVAN WATSON, CNN: That's a character from the Marvel Universe. Batman is a character from the DC universe. You will create all kind of problems in the comic book space-time continuum.

TAPPER: It was regarded as a Box Office flop. But on the other hand, Affleck is behind the recent smashing success of "Argo."

ROBIN MEADE, CNN: He looked pretty hot if you ask me, "Argo" I dig the hairy look. Let's have a hairy Batman.

TAPPER: On the other hand there is Gigli. So how will he suit up as Batman?

WHITNEY JEFFERSON, CELEBRITY EDITOR, BUZZFEED: When you become a trending topic it will do something for your brand. In this case the movie. The movie is not out until 2015. Already everybody is talking about it. It's great free promotion.

TAPPER: Stay tuned. Same Bat time. Same Bat channel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: For the record, if John Hamm wasn't going to get the role, I'm pretty cool with Affleck. There is a petition on change.org asking for, begging, pleasing, with Warner Brothers to boot Ben from "Batman." Last count, nearly 12,000 signatures. Break out your flannel shirts and bugle boy jeans and crank up the Lisa Lobe. The 90s are coming back in the remake of the angst ridden cult classic "Reality Bites."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't understand why things just can't go back to normal at the end of the half-hour like on "The Brady Bunch" or something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Don't worry, pretty soon they will. Ben Stiller is reportedly behind a half-hour comedy series based on the 1994 movie. Stiller directed and starred in the original. The TV version will be set in the 90s and center on an aspiring film maker and slacker friend looking to find themselves after college.

My guess, the target demo is self-centered, Jen Xors who look to entertain themselves by making pop culture references. I don't know any one look that. Live from New York it's four new cast members on "Saturday Night Live." According to Deadline, the show is adding fresh blood to fill gaps left behind when feature players called it quits last season.

The top candidates are rumored, Beck Bennett, John Millheiser, and you think Bennett looks familiar you may have seen him playing moderator among a panel of kids on an AT&T ad. One look this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: The thing I can dupe is wave my head and wave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's amazing. I have never seen anything like that. Hold on I'm watching this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The big question -- will they go on to become comedic superstars like Will Farrell or Eddie Murphy or end up with name recognition as Gary Kroger. If you wonder who Gary Kroger is, he was in the Donnie and Marie skit.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, they served their country on the battlefield and saved a life on the home front. Stay with us and meet these amazing men.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for the Buried Lead, stories we think are not getting sufficient attention. Four soldiers trained to save lives on the battlefield probably never expected to have their skills put to the test during a morning jog on Capitol Hill. That's what happened when the men found themselves playing witness to a gruesome accident. What they did next proves the heart of a hero doesn't change with the scenery.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Bonded by their uniforms, these four soldiers spend their mornings together pounding miles of pavement on their runs around the nation's capital. Yesterday that routine took a dramatic turn.

FIRST LT. QUENTEN VEREEN, U.S. ARMY: I turned my attention to the intersection. As the bus went by, I've seen an individual on the ground, lying in the fetal position.

TAPPER: A fellow jogger, civilian had been hit by a bus in this intersection and was bleeding heavily in the street.

VEREEN: We all just went for a dead sprint.

TAPPER: Their battlefield experiences immediately kicked in.

SGT. FIRST CLASS JOHN RUSSELL, U.S. ARMY: First thing I saw was he had arterial spurt, compound leg fracturing. He was losing blood fast.

TAPPER: Where was blood coming from?

RUSSELL: Left leg. Lower left leg.

TAPPER: How bad was it?

RUSSELL: Pretty bad. Lack I said arterial spurt. Every time his heart pumped it was shooting blood out of his leg.

TAPPER: These soldiers are not medics, but their training and combat experience propelled them into action. Sgt. Russell immediately thought back to the moment in Afghanistan when his colleagues were attacked.

RUSSELL: Colonel sustained a head wound. Army sergeant shot through the neck. Army specialist shot through the ankle. So we treated them, got them out of the kill zone, got them on the helicopters, and then tried to do the best we could to end the fight.

TAPPER: This time, their only enemy was the ticking clock.

(on camera): Lieutenant, tell me what is going through your mind at this point? Is it all just instinct, are you reacting the same way you would if you were in Baghdad? Is that what is going on? Are you just focused on, troops, here is a wounded soldier, let's do it?

VEREEN: Definitely. Pretty much everyone here, has been through some type of combat, life saving training. Pretty much everything was just instinct. We knew exactly what was going on. We knew exactly what to do.

TAPPER (voice-over): They used what was at their disposal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Asked me to help him out.

TAPPER: Somebody took off the t-shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, gave us the t-shirt. We got next to the individual. We were applying the shirt above his knee to apply the tourniquet. Sir, what is your name. Found out his name was Tim. Only information we got from him, continued to give him casual conversation. Brace yourself. This may hurt.

TAPPER: The victim hasn't had a chance yet to thank them. Other than his first name, the soldiers don't know anything about him. So you saved his life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's speculation. I can't say that, sir.

TAPPER: You may have saved his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May have.

VEREEN: Think he would have lost a great deal of blood. If they didn't attend to the individual as they did he could have lost a lot of blood, sir.

TAPPER: Heroic work.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: The soldiers say that after the man was taken to the hospital they finished up their run. Of course, they did. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Jessica Yellin in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Jessica.