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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Does The Military Support Strikes In Syria?; Can Obama Ignore Congress?; Selling Action In Syria; Drunk Driving Confession Goes Viral; A Call Out Of Left Field

Aired September 6, 2013 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: But, Pete, you support limited strikes. Tell us why.

PETE HEGSETH, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERAN: Well, Jake, he's certainly going to cross the red line again if we do nothing. I am as reluctant and conflicted as can you be about this. The president has made a completely incoherent, as the general said, amateur approach to this and frankly his foreign policy throughout the Middle East. And that's why we have such bad options all of which frankly project weakness.

But for me, our credibility as a nation is our president's credibility. President Obama drew a red line and said if they use chemical weapons, we will act. If we fail to act, the signal that sends to the international community or whatever the international community is, the Assad regime, the Iranians who are centrifuges are spinning right now for nuclear weapons.

So I think I wouldn't support regime change, I don't want al Qaeda in charge of Syria and I don't like Assad, but a very limited -- the president called it a limited but decisive action. What the heck is that? You can't have a limited and decisive action. It's not possible. So there is no coherence in my support is purely because I believe our country when we say we're going to do something, it has to mean something.

TAPPER: I want to play something that Secretary Kerry said this week when he advocated for military action while disagreeing with whether or not it should be called war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: You've got three people who have been to war. You got John McCain who has been to war, not one of us doesn't understand what going to war means and we don't want to go to war. I just don't consider that going to war in the classic sense of coming to Congress and asking for a declaration of war and training troops and sending people abroad and putting young Americans in harm's way. That's not what the president is asking for here. General, do you want to speak at all to that?

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: No, not really, Secretary. Thank you for offering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pete and Jon, Pete, I'll start with you. They are -- the Obama administration is very clearly making veterans the face of this policy. Obviously the secretary of defense and secretary of state should be the face of something like this anyway. You see Kerry and Hagel and Dempsey out there a lot more than anyone else in this administration. Do you feel comfortable with that as a veteran?

HEGSETH: I feel comfortable because it's the secretary of the defense and the secretary of state. Frankly, but veterans are very conflicting. Our organization has not taken a formal stance on this. We said whatever position you take believe we should do is yours and yours only. Our position is that weak foreign policy is what invites these particular challenges. I do think this administration is right to separate an action in Syria from what happened in Libya where we tried to tip the balance against Gadhafi or certainly Iraq.

They're not talking about boots on the ground, although John is right when he says that the minute you fire a missile, you inch your way toward more intervention, more activity and some of the resolutions we see are fairly broad, and I would not support a broad resolution. We should not get sucked into this and side with al Qaeda-affiliated rebels who would oppose a tyrant who is not a friend of ours, but certainly has not been threatening us or our interesting directly.

JON SOLTZ, UNITED STATES ARMY OFFICER, IRAQ WAR: The resolution to the Senate is very broad based. Once the weapons go to the insurgents we have no idea where they go. When you put a resolution in front of the Senate that was approved a couple days ago that says there can be ground troops in the operations, but they can't conduct combat operations.

Let me explain to everybody what that means. I served in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in my first tour and in "Operation New Dawn" in my second tour. Once we hit on September 2010 in Iraq, the 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq were technically not conducting combat operations. So you can literally drive a truck through this Senate bill.

And it completely gives the president authority into Syria. That will conduct operations where like in "Operation New Dawn," over 6,500 U.S. troops were killed. This legislation being proposed by the Senate right now is very broad based and it gives the president essentially a blank check to get us completely involved in a Syrian civil war that has nothing to do with Americans.

HEGSETH: I don't think that's his intention.

SOLTZ: And both sides in the Syrian civil war, our enemy of our enemy here is still our enemy.

HEGSETH: I don't disagree. I'm very conflicted myself, but at the end of the day, if we draw red lines, our credibility is at stake and we better keep it very, very narrow. Broad resolutions are not helpful. This should be a strike to say chemical weapons are not acceptable, but we will not tip the balance in favor of al Qaeda. The people Jon and I and our generation have been fighting for a decade and we certainly enabling them.

SOLTZ: You can't be effective if you don't tip the balance.

HEGSETH: I agree. The president's position is so incoherent, it's impossible to defend.

SOLTZ: You don't hit his operational center of gravity --

HEGSETH: You're not going to be decisive. I grant you that, Jon.

SOLTZ: Then why do we want to get sucked into another inside the Middle East -- a million dollars.

HEGSETH: I'm saying shot against a bow, which is stupid.

SOLTZ: We are halfway there.

TAPPER: All right, Jon Soltz and Pete Hegseth, two veterans who served your country honorably. Thank you for your views. Thank you for your service and thanks for coming on today.

Coming up next, apparently he's not telling. President Obama gets asked again and again if he'll go it alone. Can he ignore Congress after making such a big deal about asking them?

And Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes in a game and still can't get out of John Elway's shadow in Denver, one newspaper's hilarious headline in the Sports Lead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In politics, it was a simple question asked by four different reporters and it still did not get a direct answer from the president. Will he launch strikes against Syria, even if Congress votes against the authorization to do so? Our Brianna Keilar set off the echo chamber, take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If the full Congress doesn't pass this, would you go ahead with a strike?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You know, Brianna, I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to follow up on Brianna's question because it seems these members of Congress are simply responding to their constituents.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I do consider it part of my job to help make the case and explain to the American people exactly why I think this is the right thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still haven't heard a direct response to Brianna's question.

PRESIDENT: And you're not getting a direct response. Brianna asked the question very well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But your deputy national security adviser said it's not your intention to attack if Congress doesn't approve it. Is he right?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think that's exactly what he said, but I think I've answered the question.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Let's bring in our panel, contributing editor for the "Daily Beast," David Frum, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and former national security spokesman for the Obama administration, Tommy Vietor.

Tommy, so why can't the president just give us a yes or no? The president's deputy national security seemed to suggest on NPR this morning no, that the president wants Congress on board and if he doesn't get them on board, he suggested that probably something would not happen.

TOMMY VIETOR, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: I think Tony's comment was legally speaking the president has the authority, we're going to wait and see what the vote is.

TAPPER: There was a little bit more to it than that.

VIETOR: I know what Tony meant.

TAPPER: This is what he said. Let me read it, "It's neither his desire nor intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him." That's the actual quote, which says to me he doesn't want to act if Congress isn't behind him.

VIETOR: I think what it really means is let's let these guys vote. I don't think the president can answer this question and tell Congress, you know, I actually don't really care what think. Here is what I'm going to do anyway. So it's a fair question. It's a reasonable one. I think it's also reasonable not to answer that directly.

TAPPER: David, what is the president have to do? He is giving an address on Tuesday. Obviously he's got a lot of minds to change on Capitol Hill and throughout the country, what does he have to say?

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look first look at the incentive structure he has just created for Congress. Supposing you're an un-heroic member of Congress --

TAPPER: I can't imagine any, right, exactly un-heroic member of Congress.

FRUM: But who also would like to see people not be gassed in Syria. What the president has just said is you can vote not and avoid the political risks and I might still to do the thing that you wouldn't disapprove of anyway. So the prudent quote today at the presser he made the rational prudent vote for every member of Congress with any doubt in his or her constituency, which is to say all the members. So on Tuesday he has to find a way to alter the perverse incentives he just created today.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think what the president has to do is make his case in a left, ambivalent, more convincing way. What we heard at this press conference today was a very thoughtful president, wondering through all of his sort of internal thoughts about why he would understand, why the public might not think this wasn't in their imminent national security interest versus why it really in our general national security interest and of course, I understand why you are against war.

I'm against war. I didn't get elected to go to war. And I think what he has to do when he talks to the American public is say this is what I want to do, this is why I want to do it and this is why it's the moral imperative of this country to get this done. No ambivalence.

TAPPER: And Tommy, the president has firmed up his rhetoric and his thought process as he has come to make this decision, but we've seen the evolution over the past couple of weeks on the day that Secretary Kerry was giving him that very forceful speech. President Obama was talking about everybody wants to something to happen, but nobody wants to be the one to make it happen. He sounded ambivalent. It was before he had made his decision.

VIETOR: I think one of the reason people like this president is he talks to them like they're adults, and he will, you know, make clear that there is two sides to every story. These are complicated issues. I don't think he sounded morally ambivalent when talked about 400 kids in bed getting indiscriminately gassed.

So I think he sounded ambivalent when he was talking about trying to prevent the chemical weapons convention and keeping WMD out of the hands of dictators from unraveling and so, you know, I think he has made a forceful case for this. It has gotten stronger over time as the intel has strengthened up and they've been able to give members classified briefings. That will continue. Dennis McDonough, the chief of staff will be on five Sunday shows this weekend. The president will speak Tuesday. There is time and space to continue messaging --

BORGER: I just want to make it clear. I don't believe he was morally -- I believe he was politically ambivalent.

FRUM: When you said he has to make a forceful case for this, the problem is not the forceful case. The problem is this. I think what is gelling opposition opinion in Congress is the sense, look, even on its own terms, this is a plan that not going to work. The plan is to do a certain amount of strikes remotely using automatic systems from the air and then hope like heck the Syrians don't embarrass the president immediately afterwards forcing an escalation that the president and the secretary of state have said they don't want. So because the plan is so dubious on its face, it's very hard to rally people to support something that even the supporters have to question.

BORGER: But that's another thing he has to do, which is to explain what the plan is, why it will work, and why it will deter Assad and why it will degrade his capacity to use chemical weapons.

TAPPER: Tommy, very quickly, I want to give you the last word.

VIETOR: I think he will literally degrade his capacity by destroying command and control assets, helicopters, some fix ling assets, some military infrastructures. That will literally degrade that capability. I also think you will send a message to Assad that if you do this again --

TAPPER: Much more will happen. All right, Gloria Borger, David Frum and Tommy Vietor, thank you so much.

When we come back, he hasn't been charged for a crime, but that has not stopped him from confessing to one. Why one man is telling the world that he killed a man?

And just ahead in our Sports Lead, why is one Major League baseball player making personal phone calls to fans?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now the National Lead, YouTube is where you go to see sneezing pandas or anchor bloopers or maybe the latest stage to look totally accidental viral video, but it's generally not where you'd expect someone to reveal their deepest, darkest secret, one that could send them to prison for a very long time, but that is just what happened and it stunned even law enforcement officers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CORDLE, ADMITTED DRUNKEN DRIVER: My name is Matthew Cordle. On June 22nd, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession. When I get charged, I will plead guilty and take full responsibility for everything I've done to Vincent and his family. If I take a different route, maybe I would get a reduced sentence and maybe I would get off. But I won't dishonor Vincent's memory by lying about what happened.

By releasing this video, I know exactly what it means. I'm giving the prosecution everything they need to put me away for a very long time, but I'm willing to take that sentence for just one reason. That reason is so I can pass this message on to you. I beg you, and I say the word "beg" specifically, I'm begging you, please don't drink and drive.

Don't make the same excuses that I did. Don't say it's only a few miles or you've only had a few beers or you do it all the time. It will never happen to you because it happened to me. All those are just excuses to make yourself feel better about a decision that you know is wrong and could cost lives. I can't bring Mr. Canzani back and I can't erase what I've done. But you can still be saved. Your victims can still be saved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Stunning video, Matt Cordle's drunk driving confession, has been viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube. He has not been charged, but prosecutors in Franklin County, Ohio say they hope to indict him for aggravated vehicular homicide. Cordle says his lawyers told him there was a way to avoid jail time, but said he released the video anyway in the hopes of preventing others from driving drunk.

I want to bring CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, this is obviously highly unusual, but is there any way that releasing this video could end up helping Cordle in the eyes of the court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: There is a way. I don't want to view this too cynically. I mean, this does seem to be a genuine effort of contrition on his part. But one thing judges take into consideration in sentencing, they should take into consideration is acceptance of responsibility, acknowledgement of what you've than and he has in a very public and dramatic way, it's certainly the first confession I've ever heard that has music in it.

But it's -- so he could get a lesser sentence than he might have otherwise gotten, but he also might have avoided prosecution in some way and he's obviously not trying to do that. So I think we should take it at face value as an attempt to do the right thing.

TAPPER: Jeffrey, aggravated vehicular homicide. How much jail time could he potentially face?

TOOBIN: It's 10 years, 15 years. Again, there's a certain amount of discretion on how it's charged and what the judge does. But this is a very serious crime, ever since mothers against drunk driving really raised the nation's consciousness about this back in the 1970s, every state has raised penalties on drunk driving, especially those that end in a death. So he is looking at very serious time in prison.

TAPPER: There are of course those who would say, cynically perhaps that, if Cordle gets leniency from the court, it could inspire copycat stunts in the future on YouTube as a ploy for lighter sentences, any thoughts?

TOOBIN: You know, I like to think of myself as cynical as any reporter or lawyer. I am not really bracing myself for a parade of people confessing to crimes that they haven't even been charge with yet because of this video. I just think this is a moment where we should take what this young man says at face value, let the judge consider it with all the circumstances in the case and I'm not worried that this is going to set a bad precedent. If anything, I think this is a good precedent for people who feel guilty and want to do the right thing.

TAPPER: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks for joining us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now the Sports Lead, the NFL regular season opened with an exclamation point from Peyton Manning. The Broncos quarterback threw for seven touchdowns in Denver's 49 to 27 win over the Ravens. That's one fewer touchdown pass than Kansas City's chief's quarterback had all last season. It tied the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a game, last done in 1969, 44 years ago.

You'd have to forgive people who woke up in Central Ohio this morning and woke up and thought it was 1987. The "Columbus Dispatch" mistakenly reported it was John Elway who threw seven touchdown passes last night. Of course, Elway is the legendary Broncos quarterback and he is now Manning's boss and even he never threw seven touchdowns in a game. In related news, 1987 news, "Moon Struck" and "Fatal Attraction" struck it big at the Box Office.

Ryan Braun has a lot of free time these days, given his 65-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs enough time apparently to call individual fans and tell them he's sorry. He started dialing yesterday, truly a call out of left field from the left fielder. Team officials say he's working his way down a list of season ticket holders and single ticket buyers. Braun admitted he took a banned substance when he was recovering from an injury back in 2011 when he was the national league MVP.

The Pop Culture Lead, with Australia on the verge of historic election, only one anchorman can break down to the people the gravity of the decision they face at the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Australia, while the battle of the Titans has come to an end, we will never forget the mental fisticuffs in which Kevin and Julia were engaged. We laughed, cried, became distracted by Tony as banana hammock, I certainly did, and forgot a labor party ever existed. Good times Australia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was our old friend Ryan Burgundy also known as Wolf Ferrell weighing in on the eve of Australia's election for a new prime minister. It's also a cleverly crafted promo for the upcoming "Anchorman 2" movie which opens in theatres this December. In the ads Burgundy doesn't give us any hint for what candidate he supports. That may be because he's in a glass case of emotion.

And the Pop Lead, the reviews are in on the new movie about Princess Diana's life and something tells me the words squirmingly embarrassing are not exactly what they were going for. The British media is not holding back when it comes to summing up their thoughts on the biopic "Diana." It's been described as everything from "50 Shades of Grey" with the S&M sex taken out to "slow and terribly dull." I'm quoting "Wesley Snipes in a blond wig would be more convincing."

That's all the time we have. Now it's time for "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Jessica Yellin.