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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Obama And Iran's New President Speak By Phone; Romney On Iran: "You Have To Be Skeptical"

Aired September 27, 2013 - 16:30   ET

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


MARK LEVIN, HOST, "THE MARK LEVIN SHOW": I am concerned about that. I'm not the font of all knowledge. I proposed 11 reform amendments and if God willing we do get to this convention of the states to propose amendments to the rest of the states, this is something that really ought to be taken up as well. We have a permanent ruling class, they go in one direction. You could see it in the debate with the attacks on Ted Cruz. It's not just the Democrats. It's the Republicans, too.

It's not just Obama. It was Bush before him, too, massive debts. The president says I have cut the deficits, greater than 60 years since World War II he says today. He starts at $1.4 trillion and he gets it down to $700 billion, $700 billion yearly deficit? That's the biggest deficit that has ever existed prior to the Obama presidency and he's bragging about it. That $700 billion is added to the $17 trillion in overall fiscal operating debt.

TAPPER: Mark Levin, the book is "The Liberty Amendments" a very successful popular conservative talk radio host. Thanks so much for coming on. We hope you'll come on again.

LEVIN: I will. God bless, Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, you as well.

Let's go back to our panel here, Gloria Borger, Candy Crowley and Jim Sciutto. Obviously a lot of strong views for Mr. Levin here, well, let's go back to what President Obama was talking about, specifically with Hassan Rouhani. Jim, the tweets he was sending, here's -- this is three I'm going to read very quickly.

Obama tells Rouhani, according to Rouhani, I express my respect for you and the people of Iran. I'm convinced that relations between Iran and the U.S. will greatly affect region if we can make progress on nuclear and other issues such as Syria, it will certainly be positively affected. I wish you a safe and pleasant journey and apologize if you're experiencing the horrendous traffic in New York City. That's what president Obama says.

You have to give Mr. Levin his due. He's right. The Iranian government is in the middle of some horrific actions right now, and I haven't heard Rouhani, although he is certainly a much more palatable spokesman than Ahmadinejad for an American audience. I haven't heard him say anything that deviates from we want to have a nuclear power program. We don't have a nuclear weapons program and I don't understand what the big problem is, which was Ahmadinejad's message, although slightly a little bit more antagonistic.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I mean, the great irony of course, here's the Iranian president tweeting but in Iran, you cannot access Twitter or Facebook.

TAPPER: There's no internet.

SCIUTTO: Well, there's internet. There's intranet. Still, they don't have nearly the same freedom he's exercising here as we get this incredible window --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Who is tweeting, anyway?

SCIUTTO: Probably the same way the White House would send out its tweets. He was describing what the president said to him and also sent out tweets saying what he said to the president in regards to the nuclear issue with political will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter. But you're right. Iran still has one of the greatest numbers of political prisoners in the world. They released 80 last Monday, but the real challengers to the government are still sitting behind bars. They still support terrorism around the world.

TAPPER: Literal terrorism. Not the kind Obama and the White House talk about when they talk about House Republicans.

SCIUTTO: He was asked about it today at his press conference. President Rouhani was. It was someone from the Arab press who used the term resistance, but we were talking about terrorism. We were talking about Hezbollah. He said something, I can't quote him, but he said something like this is not mutually exclusive with the kind of outreach we're doing. So in effect, he's not backing off the support for Hezbollah.

BORGER: In other words, we're talking to Obama and the president today, you know, to be fair to the president. He said it's got to be meaningful, transparent and verifiable. That's what he says about the United Nations' agreement. That's what he says about Syria. So the question is how can it be transparent and verifiable? Because there's not much in Iran or Syria that's transparent as far as I can tell.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's remember that Reza Sayah also reported that nothing has changed about their nuclear program. It's exactly the same as when Ahmadinejad was in power. So this is a new package and no one knows what's inside it.

SCIUTTO: Although it is an old position of the Iranian government that their program has been for peaceful purposes. We don't believe them. You're right, it hasn't changed. The proof will be in what they prove. That's going to be the real test.

TAPPER: We have to take a quick break. Some say certain Republicans are living in an alternative universe where Mitt Romney is president. I sat down with Mitt Romney today and asked what he would do about Iran and whose side he's on in the shutdown showdown. My exclusive interview with Mitt Romney is coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We heard President Obama talk about the latest from Iran, he and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani talking about possibly trying to reach a comprehensive agreement when it comes to the nuclear program in Iran.

I want to get some reaction right now. I have on the phone Congressman Ed Royce, Republican of California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, what's your reaction to the president's announcement?

REPRESENTATIVE ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA (via telephone): Well, Jake, I think that the history of our diplomacy with North Korea might be a key indicator of how this plays out. I see what the president wants to do here, but with North Korea, we thought we were buying peace, but instead, the regime there only played us for time and just kept advancing its nuclear weapons program.

I think that's the concern here, that Iran is reading North Korea's diplomatic playbook and intends to do exactly what it did with the Europeans. What Rouhani has already taken credit for, same as he did with the Europeans, right?

TAPPER: Rouhani says that all Iran wants is nuclear power, not a nuclear weapons program. Is there a way that they could negotiate an agreement with the international community where they have nuclear power, but they are not able to turn it into a weaponized way of delivering nuclear material, that there's no nuclear weapons program?

ROYCE: Well, certainly. All he would have to do is stop the centrifuges from spinning and work out an arrangement perhaps where the Russians would provide him the wherewithal to have the nuclear civilian power that he would use, that they would use for electric generation, but that's not the intent. The intent of Iran goes back many, many years, and this is the individual who was their chief negotiator in the past. He is the one who took direct credit for deceiving the international community, and took some pleasure in it.

In his speeches he said while we were talking with the Europeans, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility and by creating this calm environment, we were able to complete our work, complete the centrifuges. So it is not -- it is not a question mark over whether or not the ayatollah and the regime want to have nuclear weapons. I say that because they're working right now on one of the largest and most advanced ballistic missile inventories in the Middle East.

They are developing three stage ICBMs, space launch vehicles for that. It is very, very clear that they're also working on miniaturization of a nuclear weapon in order to put it atop a warhead. So the IAEA, I had their chief in here not long ago who told me there were over 20 sites, nuclear weapons sites, in Iran. We want the inspectors in there.

So here's the way an agreement could be worked out. Open those up to the IAEA inspectors, go in there, authenticate what's going on, and stop the centrifuges from spinning. Yes, we could work out a deal, but my guess is that's not what they're going to do. My guess is they're just going to draw this out.

TAPPER: Congressman Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thank you so much. Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down with former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. We spoke about Iran. It was before the announcement of the president's phone call. Romney seemed very cautious about trusting President Rouhani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's talk about Iran because that's also a situation going on right now. Do you think that Rouhani, the new president of Iran, could be legitimately ushering in a new era? He came out very openly said we don't want nuclear weapons, we only want nuclear power, and that's all we've ever wanted?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, you have to be skeptical when people say we're just looking for nuclear power when their nation is on a lake of oil. So that's part one. Part two, he really doesn't set the nuclear policy of his nation. That's done by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and so he doesn't actually have the capacity to call those shots, but is he a moderate voice? Perhaps.

But let's pursue this course as aggressively as we can, but recognize again that there's a great deal of skepticism with regards to Iran's intentions in part because of their energy wealth and the likelihood that what they're trying to do is become the superpower of the middle east with dire consequences for other nations in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Governor Romney and I also spoke at length about the stare-down between the aisles in Congress over Obamacare and the possibility of a government shutdown on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMNEY: We'd like to see Obamacare go away. Now the question is what's the best tactic? What's the best vehicle to try and make that happen? So my tactic would be different. But that doesn't mean I don't respect and honor the fact that other Republicans are choosing other tactics that they think are effective because we agree on the objective. The objective is to stop Obamacare, because it is going to hurt the American people. That's the message that Ted Cruz got out with his quasi-filibuster.

TAPPER: It's helping millions of Americans who didn't have insurance and now do. The Medicaid rolls have been expanded.

ROMNEY: Let's look through. First of all, a lot of people who don't have insurance still have health care because they go to the emergency room to get health care. They're not denied health care. We had that in my state before --

TAPPER: You know that's lousy. That means I end up paying for their health care.

ROMNEY: Now you raise the question of who pays for it. So I think there are better ways than having you pay for someone else's health care. Getting back to the question of Obamacare, the issue that Ted Cruz got out and that I think virtually all Republicans, elected Republicans agree on, is that Obamacare is going to be hurtful to a lot of families.

It's going to raise their premiums, in many cases they are going to lose the insurance that they wanted to have and they will get a new plan they don't particularly like, and you see a number of folks losing a 40-hour a week job to getting a 29-1/2 hour a week job so companies won't have to abide by the mandate. This is going to hurt a lot of American families and Republicans are saying hey, we've got to stop this. We've got to help the American people.

TAPPER: How is it different from what you did here, though? This is a state a lot of people consider to be a model for Obamacare because of the law you passed. How is what's going on here different?

ROMNEY: Well, there are some wonderful differences. First of all, we don't have in my state people losing jobs, 40 hour a week jobs, going down to 29-1/2 hour a week jobs as a result of the bill that we passed. We didn't have to raise new taxes on providers and device manufacturers, which the president's does. We didn't have the kind of increase that you're seeing in premiums that many families are facing.

TAPPER: You brought up Ted Cruz. There are Republicans in the establishment in Washington who look at Ted Cruz, look at the House Republicans, who are part of the Tea Party caucus, who are perceived as forcing Speaker Boehner's hand and some people call them the suicide caucus. Are you concerned about this forceful group of Republicans in Washington?

ROMNEY: Well, again, we're all fighting for the same thing, which is finding a way to repeal or replace or repair, slow down Obamacare.

TAPPER: Those are all many different things, though.

ROMNEY: So we don't like Obamacare and would like to see a different course taken. There are differences of opinion as to which tactics will be most effective. I look at Senator Cruz and say look, you give him credit for standing up and speaking for 20 plus hours, you give him credit for bringing attention to a very important issue.

I have a harder time seeing where a shutdown leads because I don't know that you're going to get a Democrat Senate and Democrat president to say OK, fine, we'll get rid of Obamacare. I think there's a better way of getting rid of Obamacare, my own view, and that is one, delaying it by at least a year. The other would be potentially working hard to get Republicans elected to the House and Senate and being able to do it in a traditional way. So that's the approach I would take, but look, we're all on the same page as to where we want to get. I'm not going to get too animated about the tactics of one Republican versus another. Time will tell who's been the most effective in trying to get this very unfortunate piece of legislation stopped in its tracks.

TAPPER: The debt ceiling debate is going to be even bigger, probably, than the government shutdown debate. You're somebody who invests money and has built a very successful career doing that. You know what the debt ceiling really means. It's not just a tactic. It's something that could harm the economy, did last time when our bond rating went down and we have ended up, the United States has ended up having to pay higher rates because of what happened.

ROMNEY: Well, the reason the United States had a credit rating downgrade, and interest rates were affected, was not because of that issue. The reason was, of course, that Congress and the president continued to spend massively more than we take in and we're printing money like crazy to try and get this economy going.

TAPPER: I think it was both. Didn't they say that it was -- one of the reasons was because of the political dysfunction, they didn't think there would be a solution?

ROMNEY: There's no question but the political dysfunction is the cause of many of the problems of the country, and leadership is what is able to break through the kind of dysfunction you're seeing. Unfortunately, we haven't seen the kind of leadership in the White House. The president spends his time attacking the opposition party and ascribing malevolent intent to their values and their purposes. That's my opinion, an enormous mistake on his part. You've got to reach across the aisle.

TAPPER: The 2016 Republican presidential nominee comes to you and says what's the biggest mistake you made that I can learn from? What do you tell him or her?

ROMNEY: Well, I think our biggest strategic error, I made a lot of personal errors that any human being is going to make but the largest strategic error was not investing sufficiently, particularly in Hispanic TV and Hispanic outreach, to help Hispanic voters understand that ours is the party of opportunity.

That ours is the party that will help them have a brighter future, better jobs, better future for their kids. We didn't do that as well as we could have. And we didn't counter some of the very effective, you know, attack ads that came through Hispanic TV. They ran more effective ads and made a bigger effort with the Hispanic voters than we did. We need to fix that.

TAPPER: On the Latino vote, wasn't one of the problems, Republicans and you were seen as against immigration reform, against a bipartisan comprehensive effort, and they understood the policy, they disagreed with that? ROMNEY: Well, I think our position was mischaracterized by the opposition. Look, I want to see immigration reform. I said that during the campaign. I have thoughts about how to do that. I think Republicans and Democrats have to come together in Washington with presidential leadership to say, with the president pushing his own party, not just pushing on Republicans and saying oh, you're the bad guys. No, pushing his own party to say look, we've got to come together here, because people in both parties want to see immigration reform and the people of America deserve to have it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Governor Romney and I went much further into foreign policy issues and you can see that part of the interview in the 6:00 p.m. hour right here on CNN.

Right now, I want to go back to Gloria Borger and Candy Crowley to react to the Romney interview. Very interesting, President Obama, according to Romney, he says, spends his time attacking the opposition party, ascribing malevolent intent instead of leading. That's a pretty harsh criticism from the unsuccessful presidential candidate.

BORGER: Right. You know, his point has always been that he was the governor of a state in which he had a Democratic legislature, they managed to work together because he reached across the aisle and he knew how to do that because of his circumstances, he got a lot done including, I would add, health care reform.

Now, Republicans, his fellow Republicans would argue that he was the wrong messenger for that reason during the presidential campaign because of Romneycare, that he couldn't argue against Obamacare successfully and that that's why they're in the pickle that they're in right now. So they're blaming him.

TAPPER: Candy, Senator John McCain this week said look, to his fellow Republicans, who are opposed to Obamacare, Obama are was on the ballot in 2012, I went all over the country speaking against it. The American people re-elected President Obama anyway. I asked Mitt Romney about that. We'll have more about that later.

There are those Republicans who make the point that Gloria did, which is he was not the right spokesman to be against Obamacare, Mitt Romney, because of Romneycare. He still, as you can tell, he talks about little differences between the bills, but there's no major philosophical difference.

CROWLEY: There isn't, and it's not just on Romneycare. There were other issues that we watched that Governor Romney walked back on as he left the governorship and began to get into the race even early on. So the fact is that Romney is a Republican more along the McCain lines. He even used a McCain line in here, at least I think it was John McCain who said elections have consequences and what did Romney say?

My idea of fighting Obamacare was -- would be to elect more Republicans. So I think he is not -- he still is not the Republican that Tea Party conservatives would like to see head the ticket because they say no, we're going to use what we can now to stop this thing. That's still who he is.

BORGER: He said go the more traditional route, i.e., legislation.

CROWLEY: There's an idea. It can't pass.

TAPPER: I have to say, I'm reminded of what so many reporters say when they meet Mitt Romney, which is if the guy that you met could be the guy on TV, he would have done a lot better.

BORGER: He was one of those candidates who always censored himself. I think it's because he grew up in a political family, not unlike Al Gore, who also was a candidate who censored himself because they know the dangerous consequences of actually being candid and Romney still ended up hanging himself with his own words on occasion.

TAPPER: Thanks, Candy and Gloria. Up next, our "Buried Lead," the urge to Facebook stalk an ex comes with almost every bad breakup. You won't believe how far some government workers went to spy on their loved ones. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Buried Lead. That's what we call stories we think should be getting more attention. Workers at the NSA have access to the nation's biggest security secrets and they're tasked with keeping our country safe. It appears some of them have the self-control of a 15-year-old.

The National Security Agency released details on a dozen incidents in which analysts used their spying power to snoop on a significant other or even just random people they just wanted to dig up dirt on. At least one case, an employee assigned overseas listened to phone conversations involving foreign women over a five-year span from '98 to 2003.

In another instance, back in 2004, a civilian employee looked into a foreign number she found on her husband's cell phone because she suspected him of cheating. One guy even did a search of e-mail addresses belonging to his former girlfriend. But he says he didn't intend to read the e-mails, he was just practicing on the system.

Most of the workers found abusing NSA policies either quit before they could be fired and none of them were charged with any crimes at least for now. Six of the incidents have been referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

Now it's time for our Sports Lead. For the first time since that fateful Thanksgiving night in 2009 when the bird in the oven wasn't the only goose getting cooked, Tiger Woods is once again the PGA tour player of the year. It's the 11th time the golf star has received the honor. Woods earned it with five big wins and by reclaiming his ranking as the number one golfer in the world. None of his wins in the past year came at a major, but he did get eight top ten finishes and he never, never missed a cut.

When's the last time you heard this call at a basketball game? Technical foul, unnecessary kissing, during last night's WNBA matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and the Phoenix Mercury, things got heated between two players who have a long history on the court, but when they braced up to each other instead of turning it into a fight, one player kissed the other on the cheek. Apparently the PDA was too much for the ref. He called a double technical.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. You can see more of my interview with Mitt Romney in the 6:00 p.m. Eastern Hour. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thank you.

Happening now, breaking news, a surprise announcement, a potentially watershed conversation, President Obama details his phone call to the president of Iran. We're covering all angles of this major historic development, including reaction from Tehran. We'll go live to the Iranian capital this hour.

Plus, the looming government shutdown, the ball is now back in the House of Representatives' court, with only three days remaining.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.