Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Senator John McCain; Pope Asks for New Focus from the Church

Aired September 19, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Putin, tear down your ego, says our first guest, Senator John McCain.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The world lead. So you think Americans aren't so special, President Putin? Well, Senator John McCain would like a word with you, 800 words, in fact, about what an iron-fisted tyrant he thinks you are. The senator talks to us about his scathing op-ed to the Russian people on the Pravda Web site.

The national lead. They say they were minding their own business in an airport when a strange man subjected them to a paranoid outburst. To their shock, they now believe they had a brush with the Navy Yard killer.

And also in world news, the Catholic Church spends way too much time obsessing over gays, abortion and birth control. Calm down. It's not me saying that. It's the pope.

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

We will begin with breaking news in our world lead. The Syrian regime has until Saturday to provide a full listing of all its chemical weapons under the deal reached by the U.S. and the Russians, but by the time that deadline arrives, those weapons could be in completely different locations than the ones the Syrians may be disclosing.

I want to get right to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what have you learned?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, CNN has learned that the U.S. intelligence community at this hour has new information indicating the regime is moving its chemical weapons stockpiles around, that this has been going on since the day the Kerry/Lavrov agreement was signed.

They trying to figure out right now what the Syrians are up to, what is the motivation. Are they moving them around to consolidate them for security, to report them to the international community, or are they moving them around to hide them from international inspectors? Multiple U.S. agencies tell me this is going on. The motivation, as one official said, call me skeptical.

There is growing worry today at this hour at the Pentagon and in the U.S. intelligence community diplomacy may be playing out on the TV screen. Behind the screens, no one is really sure what the regime is up to with those stockpiles -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

The deal reached between the U.S. and Russia to strip Syria of chemical weapons hangs in a delicate balance before the U.N. Security Council. Now with the Americans and Russians sniping over the details, Russian President Vladimir Putin can't help poking rather than wrestling the bear. Here at a forum today, Putin once again said that military intervention by the West, as the U.S. is threatening in Syria, has not worked out so well in the past.

He also would not say whether Russia would back strikes if Syria ends up not complying. It's been eight days since Putin trolled the American people in an op-ed for "The New York Times," a lecture over Syria that included a dig at the idea of American exceptionalism.

Quote: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional," Putin wrote, "whatever the motivation."

Americans haven't been this angry at a Russian since Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed.

Our next guest, Senator John McCain, took major offense to Putin's words. A week ago on this very show, the senator said he would like a chance to respond in a Russian publication, and today, he has done just that.

On the English Russian news Web site, the senator writes to the Russian people -- quote -- "President Putin doesn't believe in you. He doesn't believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies, or at least he doesn't believe Russians can, so he rules by using those weaknesses by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you" -- unquote.

Putin's response? well, he said he hasn't read it yet. Then he appeared to rip Senator McCain for choosing


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I don't know about that, about the senator. The senator has his opinion about things he wants to publish in such a publication which it says carries great authority and is very widespread. Its publication shows a lack of information.


TAPPER: Joining me from the Capitol is Senator John McCain.

Senator, your piece was published on the Web site Pravda, not in the century-old communist newspaper "Pravda."

Why not?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Because we submitted it to both.

The old-line communist newspaper said that unless I took the pro- communist line about Syria, then they couldn't publish it. So, we -- obviously, we sent it to both, got it published in one, but Mr. Putin has made comments about me in the past which I am flattered by.

TAPPER: So, Senator, the news that Barbara Starr just broke at the top of the show, these reports that U.S. intelligence agencies say the Syrians are moving around the chemical weapons stockpiles, we have heard rumors of this for a few days.

What's your reaction? Have you heard this as well, and do you think that this ruins any agreement between Kerry and Lavrov about what to do with these Syrian chemical weapons?

MCCAIN: Well, we had that information several days ago. It was on the front page of "The Wall Street Journal," and who should be surprised?

And, by the way, our friend Vladimir -- and I call him Vladimir.

TAPPER: That's sweet. That's nice, because you're friends.

MCCAIN: ... says -- said -- quote -- "that the rebels launched the chemical attack." This is the one that killed 1,400 people and 400 children, that the rebels launched the chemical attack as -- quote -- "a sly provocation."

Now, does that give you a lot of credibility about Mr. Putin's word for things, when he still maintains, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he's claiming still that the Free Syrian Army launched these chemical attacks? I think that should give us some indication of his sincerity.

Look, I hope all this works. I pray that all this works. But to really see this whole scenario unfold is really beyond the imagination, so I'm not surprised.

TAPPER: And that's the question, Senator, because you suggest in your op-ed and for years that Putin represents corruption, he represses the human spirit, and yet we as a nation are sitting here trusting him now for this Syria deal. And, as you say, you support that.

Are you -- I mean, I know you're skeptical that this is going to come through, but is it possible that we are actually weakening our own hand in our showdown with Assad by even going along with this, do you think?

MCCAIN: Well, this whole comedy of errors has weakened us dramatically. It's given Putin an entry into the Middle East that the Russians haven't had since 1973. It's made our allies very unsure. Remember, the president of the United States said that we were going to launch a strike. Then he said he had to go to Congress to get permission to do so.

We all know it was an offhand remark by Secretary Kerry that triggered this whole thing, when a sly old guy like Lavrov took advantage of it, and now we are seeing evidence that they are moving these around. And, already, there are rumors that they will not meet their deadline of this Saturday.

So, of course, I'm very skeptical, but I'm also worried about the impression that the United States of America has given the world, as far away as Pyongyang, as to what our conviction and our strength and our power is, which is usually the most influential way to get things accomplished.

TAPPER: So, Senator, I want to switch to a couple other topics while I have you here.

Senator Ted Cruz, your colleague in the Senate, today suggested that he might filibuster if defunding Obamacare is not tied to funding the government. What's your response?

MCCAIN: I think Senator Cruz is free to do whatever he wants to with the rules of the Senate. I will again state unequivocally that this is not something that we can succeed in, and that's defunding Obamacare, because we don't have 67 Republican votes in the Senate, which would be required to override a presidential veto.

TAPPER: So why is Cruz doing it, and why are the House Republicans doing this? If it's obvious that they don't have the votes to do it, why continue?

MCCAIN: Well, I do note with some interest that most of the people who are doing this are new and did not have the experience that we had when the American people, who don't like government, but don't want it to be shut down, reacted in a very negative fashion towards Congress for doing so.

So I am absolutely sure that there are ways that we can force votes on Obamacare from time to time, and the American people are not in support of it. No one fought harder against it than I did, but to somehow think we are going to defund is simply not going to happen at this time, and it will, in my opinion, as it did before, harm the American people's view of the Republican Party.

TAPPER: So why is Boehner doing it? Is he just terrified for his job? What's the reason? If you know it can't succeed, he knows it can't succeed, your party will ultimately probably be held responsible for it, why is John Boehner going ahead?

MCCAIN: You know, you will have to have John Boehner on the program.

TAPPER: Well, you could give me some informed speculation. I think that...

MCCAIN: Jake, I don't know, except that I think it's pretty obvious that he has great difficulties within his own conference.

But I can't second-guess John Boehner. He's a friend and I think a great leader. So, I really can't second-guess him. But I can tell you, in the United States Senate, we will not repeal or defund Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational.

TAPPER: All right, Senator John McCain, thanks so much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: Who were the voices inside his head? A brother and sister believe they might have been the target of the Navy Yard killer's paranoia in the days before the shooting. And they will join me next.

And, later, the biggest opening day ever, and it's not even at the box office. How did "Grand Theft Auto" pull in almost $1 billion -- with a B. -- in 24 hours?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our national lead, new details in the gruesome shooting at the Washington Navy Yard earlier this week that left 12 people dead, plus the gunman. FBI Director James Comey says they now believe Aaron Alexis began shooting randomly immediately after he emerged from the bathroom with his sawed-off shotgun. He wasn't aiming for specific targets, they say, as he moved to the third floor and the lobby of Building 197.

This new information comes as we are beginning to learn even more about the final weeks of Aaron Alexis' life. He told Rhode Island police last month that he was hearing voices and was being followed by three people who were sending microwave vibrations through his body to keep him awake. He said the three had been sent by someone he had argued with at an airport.

And I spoke to a family who thinks he may have been talking about them. Brother and sister Michael and Glynda Boyd were waiting for their flight at a very airport last month when they encountered the man they now believe to be the Navy Yard shooter. I asked them earlier today how their unsettling encounter went down.


GLYNDA BOYD, CLAIMS SHE MET AARON ALEXIS: My family and I were at Norfolk Airport, returning to Birmingham from a lovely weekend, and we were sitting there waiting to depart.

And this young man approached us from behind, sat next -- stood next to -- stood next to us and just puzzled, with his hand on his head, just standing there. And he wanted to know, was this lady laughing at him? That lady was my aunt, Rosalind Baugh.

And I said: "She's not laughing at you. She's just laughing."

He stood there for a moment, he left, he come back about five minutes later, and he walked around in front. Sitting there was my sister-in-law Vivian Boyd, myself and my brother, Michael Boyd. He stood about two feet from us and he said, "That lady, she laughing at me, she keeps looking at me, what's she laughing at, you know?" And I said, "She's just laughing, you know. She doesn't even see you."

And he wasn't satisfied with that statement. So he started, you know, getting a little belligerent and started using profanity and going off, and he kept reaching towards his midriff, his waist, like he was reaching for something, maybe a weapon. And he never did get any, you know, retrieve anything, but he just kept reaching and he just got louder and louder and cursing and more and more.

And my brother commented, he stepped in.

TAPPER: Michael, what did you do at that point? Were you worried that he was going to do something?

MICHAEL BOYD, CLAIMS HE HAD AIRPORT INCIDENT WITH AARON ALEXIS: I was kind of like startled. I was like this guy here, that's pretty strange for him to come and confront us like that. And my aunt didn't even want to look over near him and he was paranoid. This guy must be paranoid.

I told him, I said, "My aunt wasn't even thinking about you," I said, "you need to go back over there and sit down." That's when he just started saying all kind of curse words and he just went off on us. I got up and walked over to the lady who was taking the boarding passes and told her she needed to get security. I guess about three or four minutes later, security came up and we told him he was sitting over behind us and they walked over there and calmed him down, I guess.

TAPPER: But they let him stay in the airport?

MICHAEL BOYD: Yes, they let him stay there.

GLYNDA BOYD: They actually was telling him that if he didn't -- if he was to approach us again, that they wouldn't allow him to fly.


GLYNDA BOYD: So he stayed in his gate area. He didn't say anything else.

Michael walked further down the airport and stood by -- at a sports bar and just stood there and watched television until it was time for us to depart, to stay out of his vision. And when it was time to depart, we left. But he never come back around us, you know?

TAPPER: And what's really strange about this -- go ahead, I'm sorry. MICHAEL BOYD: He just went back over to his seat and sat down and just -- was just looking strange at us, you know. It was just like -- it was like weird, you know.


MICHAEL BOYD: That never happened to us before like that. We had just come off a great vacation.

TAPPER: And what's especially strange about this is a few days later, he was in Rhode Island and according to the police report, he had told police that three individuals that he met in the airport in Virginia, he thought were following him and laughing at him, and he was still acting in a way that can be described as paranoid and deluded, and you believe that maybe he was talking about you?


GLYNDA BOYD: Yes. I really think that was targeted towards our family. And that's what really strikes me as strange, because I thought it was over, it happened, we moved on, but to think that it really affected him like that, when I read that he had vibrations from the laughter in his body, that was really striking to me, and to know that we were still on his mind, you know, in such a way.

TAPPER: How soon after the --


TAPPER: -- how soon after the attack on Monday and the release of the killer's mug shot, how soon after that did you realize this was the same man that you had encountered more than a month ago in the airport in Virginia?

GLYNDA BOYD: For me, the same day.

MICHAEL BOYD: I knew immediately Tuesday morning when I woke up, that's the first thing I saw was him. I was like -- man, that's the guy.

TAPPER: Really?

MICHAEL BOYD: That's the guy I had the confrontation with. Yes.


MICHAEL BOYD: It freaked me out, man.

GLYNDA BOYD: My sister-in-law called me Monday when it was released and said, "Glenda, turn on the television." She was so nervous, she was like, "Turn on the television." I was like, "What, what, Vivian, what?" I turned on the television and I tell you, I started screaming, literally started screaming. I was oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God, that is the guy. Oh, my God, that is that guy.

And you know, I just feel like we were so fortunate, fortunate and blessed --

MICHAEL BOYD: To make it through that.

GLYNDA BOYD: I'm telling you, we were covered.

TAPPER: Last question for you, too. Has anybody from law enforcement talked to you about this encounter?



TAPPER: All right. I have a suspicion they will be.

Michael and Glynda Boyd, thank you both so much for your time. And we're glad you're safe.

MICHAEL BOYD: OK. Thank you very much.

GLYNDA BOYD: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: Pope Francis, some might say he sounds very un-pope-like in a new interview. I will ask one Catholic bishop whether he agrees, next.

And later, are politicians turning to cult classics for ideas now? We'll tell you what the Big Lebowski has to do with the debt ceiling. That's in our politics lead.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In more world news, he drives a used '84 Ford. He takes selfies with packs of teenagers and he uses Twitter not to post humble brags but to stress the need for real humility.

Today, Pope Francis continued to shatter modern perceptions, giving a candid interview talking about being open to gays and lesbians and embracing prominent roles for women in the church. Pope Francis also suggested that the church has become obsessed with issues of abortion, gay marriage and contraception and needs a quote, "new balance," to deliver its message.

Joining me now to talk about it all is Bishop David O'Connell of Trenton, New Jersey, the former president of Catholic University of America.

Thank you so much for being here, sir.

Do you think these statements could lead to more people showing up in the pews this Sunday? Or how do you think the public -- the Catholic public will react? Do you think perhaps his words will be met with resistance? BISHOP DAVID O'CONNELL, BISHOP OF TRENTON, N.J.: Well, no one can doubt that Pope Francis has certainly taken the world by storm and grabbed the world's attention and it does seem that almost every day when he speaks, he says something that focuses people's attention in a slightly different way on the message of the gospel and the message of the church. His interview today probably will surprise a lot of people, maybe even disappoint some. But I think what he said today is very much reflective of his thoughts and his feelings.

TAPPER: Pope Benedict, his predecessor, is still around. Certainly had a reputation for having different positions on some of these issues. How do you imagine he might be reacting to these statements?

O'CONNELL: Well, Pope Benedict was a scholar, a teacher, and that was the background that he brought to the papacy.

Pope Francis was an archbishop, also a scholar, also a teacher, but has had more opportunities to serve people in a pastoral way as a priest and as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

In his comments today, he said that the church needs to be a place of healing, a place to warm hearts and it's very important for us to be near to the people. And the message is similar to the message of other popes but it just seems that Pope Francis has the opportunity more often than not to put that into a very concrete visible practice.

TAPPER: I want to read a bit of this interview for you and get your response. Quote, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. I have not spoken much about these things and I was reprimanded for that. It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

Now, Pope John Paul II, he rejected the use of condoms to control the spread of AIDS. How much of a departure do you see this for Pope Francis from his predecessors?

O'CONNELL: I think it is a slight departure.

TAPPER: Just slight?

O'CONNELL: You know, a lot -- yes, I do. I don't think it's a great departure. I think it's a slight departure. What he's saying, I think we have to be very careful as we read, this was an interview. This was not an instance of papal pronouncement or papal teaching.

This pope is accustomed to speak off the cuff and to speak in a very common way with people, and I think that's what you saw in this interview that he gave today. He really was just sharing some of his thoughts and reflections. And I think what he is saying is when the media presents the Catholic Church, the media presents the Catholic Church almost in terms of these singular issues. The Catholic Church is much bigger, much broader, much more extensive and has a lot to offer, in addition to its focus on some of the specific moral teachings. And I think that's really what the pope was trying to say. Let's look at the church more broadly. The pope constantly talks about forgiveness. He constantly talks about concern for the poor. He constantly talks about mercy.

And I think what he's trying to do is saying, hey, folks, the church has a lot more to offer than just stringent Catholic teaching on certain subjects. I think that's all that he was saying.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, the pope says he was asked by someone if he approves of homosexuality. He replied, quote, "I replied with another question, tell me when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person."

How do you view a comment like that? Is that him reaching out to the gay community? Is it really just a new way of saying hate the sin, love the sinner?

O'CONNELL: I think what the pope is talking about really is a fundamental love and respect for people of all kinds, all persuasions, all races, all orientations, that we really are obliged to love everyone. That's what the Lord -- that's what the Lord Jesus has asked us to do. And I think the Holy Father wants to emphasize that. You know, in the teaching of the church and the cataclysm in the church and the teachings of recent popes, the church has always put forward that we should not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. I think this pope is just raising that up to people's consciousness, that we are obliged first and foremost, always and everywhere, to show love and respect for other people.

TAPPER: All right, Bishop David O'Connell, thank you so much.