Return to Transcripts main page


Earthquake in Japan; Spying on Friends; Search for a Motive in Teacher Murder; Ironing Out the Kinks; Sebelius Not Heeding GOP Calls for Resignation

Aired October 25, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, what's a little espionage between friends, or against friends, for that matter? I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Now that dozens of world leaders suspect the NSA is spying on them, the Obama administration turns to the op-ed page for damage control, but how will allies react to essentially being told, hey, everybody does it?

The world lead, panic after a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan rattled the ground beneath the Fukushima power plant, which is still crippled after suffering the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

And also in national news, this young teacher was murdered, and they are tasked with putting a teenaged suspect behind bars for it. The district attorney's office prosecuting the case that shook a Massachusetts town is now talking to CNN.

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

We will begin with the national lead. It is Friday, and you can imagine they're saying TGIF at the White House. Right now, President Obama's speaking at a school in Brooklyn, where perhaps the laughter of children will distract his thoughts from the past week. It has not been a great one for him.

In the last five days, President Obama found himself sheepishly promising the federal Web site for his Affordable Care Act will work eventually. Republicans want his health secretary to take a permanent sick day. The German chancellor called him personally after she learned that U.S. intelligence may have been listening in on her phone. Then "The Guardian" newspaper revealed that the NSA monitored phone conversations of 35 world leaders, citing a document from the president's dear old friend former contractor Edward Snowden.

This week, well, it's been like watching that video of the president air-balling on a continuous loop. Factor in the loss of Jay Cutler from the Chicago Bears' lineup and it's doubtful that this week will get a prime chapter in the Obama memoirs.

Today, the president's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, defended his surveillance policies in a "USA Today" op- ed. Monaco writes that those policies are under review, but she asserts that every intelligence service in the world collects information on allies and she tries to assure the American people that -- quote -- "We are not listening to every phone call or reading every e-mail. Far from it. And though we collect the same sort of intelligence as all nations, our intelligence community has more restrictions and oversight than in any other country in history."

Joining me now for reaction is former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

P.J., thanks for being here. This is just the latest in a string of NSA revelations coming from Edward Snowden. Do you think we have seen the bottom of this or are there more revelations to come?

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: We don't know. Obviously, at some point, you will reach the floor and then you can begin to rebuild what has been damaged and restore what's been lost.

But I'm not sure that we're at that point yet. It's that drip, drip, drip aspect to it is part of the difficulty the administration is having of getting ahead of it.

TAPPER: How devastating are these charges when it comes to spying on our allies? I have heard that, for the French, it's kind of feigned, they're not really outraged, they have a lot of intelligence services too, but the Germans are very offended and obviously what we have heard out of South America, the state dinner being canceled, that's serious, too.

CROWLEY: I think you have to separate these things out.

Obviously, from the string of Snowden revelations, the revelations And compromise OF certain intelligence activities has been damaged. We are talking about Europe. They are our closest friends. We have struggled at times. We have difference of opinion on lots of things, but Europe and the United States look at the world in largely the same way, so we will recover from this, as we have recovered from past periods of time where there have been difficulties, but it will take some time.

There's obviously a loss of comfort and potentially trust at the leadership level and that probably will dog the president for the remainder of his time in office.

TAPPER: You were spokesman at the State Department and worked at the State Department for a long time. How offended -- actually, forget the offended. How surprised would Angela Merkel be that her phone was listened into by U.S. intelligence? Would that be something that wouldn't even occur to her?

CROWLEY: I think, in the abstract, people do understand that nations spy on each other and, actually, for very good reason. Think of it this way. Over the past 30 days, where we were going through a government shutdown and the debate, the debt debate, I'm certain that a number of foreign intelligence services were being asked, what is Obama going to do, what is John Boehner going to do, what happens if the Americans drive over the cliff?

And so I'm sure there was some intelligence activity here to understand how would this develop, where would it end, because their economies are at stake. So there are very good reasons why you want to use your intelligence assets to understand the world. We try to understand what's happening elsewhere that affects us, and they do as well, because what we do affects them.

TAPPER: Even President Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, in her "USA Today" op-ed conceded the disclosures have created significant challenges in our relationships and that the programs are under review.

What does that mean exactly, under review? Is that just a bone to throw to the Germans and others saying, just like President Obama or Jay Carney saying, we do not currently and we will not in the future listen in on Angela Merkel, but not really an acknowledgment that anything happened bad?

CROWLEY: Well, obviously, for Jay Carney to be able to say that, there has been some change and shift in political guidance. OK. We need to do certain things, but this crosses the line, let's pull back from that. So I'm sure there are some adjustments and there will be some adjustments going on.

There's not a bright line here. For us, 12 years after 9/11, we're still trying to figure out where is that line between security and privacy, between secrecy and transparency. And that shifts over time based on technology, and as well as political need, and as well as understanding of the threats that you're facing. So we will make some adjustments from this.

There is some damage. Some of the pique is for political gain or for political purpose, but also, some of this pique is actually a question of trust and that's going to be something that we have to work to restore over time.

TAPPER: All right, P.J. Crowley, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up next, a huge earthquake strikes off the coast of Japan, not far from the site of the devastating quake and tsunami that demolished the Fukushima nuclear site. Are the reactors in danger again? We will go to Japan for a live report next.

Plus, the case against a 14-year-old charged with killing his teacher. Why did he do it? New information from the prosecutor's office coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to the lead. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for the world lead.

A nervous wait-and-see played out in the wee hours of the morning off the coast of Japan not far from where a powerful earthquake hit. Tsunami warnings immediately went into effect for several coastal regions following the 7.1-magnitude quake. That includes the area near the Fukushima plant, the scene of a nuclear disaster two years ago, as I'm sure you all remember.

The site was crippled when a 9.0 magnitude quake triggered a massive tsunami. The tsunami warnings triggered by today's quake were just canceled within the past hour. That's the good news. TEPCO, Tokyo's power company, says so far everything at the plant looks normal. But it's hard to know just how much stock to put into that given the company's misleading statements following the 2011 disaster.

Joining us now by phone is CNN international correspondent Paula Hancocks.

Paula, thanks for joining us.

Have you heard any reports yet of the damage from the quake?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I'm about 300 miles away in Tokyo. This quake was definitely strong enough to wake me up, probably many people here. And we know that there was a small tsunami, and I say it was small. It may be around 30 centimeters in some areas.

As far as we can tell at this point, there has been no damage. You wouldn't expect much damage from a tsunami that small. But remember that this is the exact area that was devastated back in 2011. There was a tsunami advisory all along that northeast coast. It's bringing back some horrifying memories certainly for many people who live along there.

And of course, as you say, the worry was about Fukushima. Now, TEPCO says there were no problems. They say there were a couple of employees actually working outside and as soon as this happened, they were evacuated, brought to the quake-proof main building on higher ground, and at this point, they say there was no damage.

And, of course, the irony is, I'm actually here to cover Tropical Storm Francisco and the worries about the immense amount of rainwater that's going to dump on the Fukushima plant, will that cause another overflow of toxic water, and then you have this earthquake. It really brings home to you just how much Mother Nature throws at this country -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Hancocks, thank you so much. Keep us posted, especially when daybreak comes.

In national news, plenty of questions linger about what motivated a 14-year-old boy described as quiet and friendly to allegedly kill a beloved math teacher on school property earlier this week. But we are learning new information about what happened the day of the murder. Investigators say Colleen Ritzer asked the suspect who has been identified as Philip Chism to stay behind after class when she noticed him doodling.

Hours later, police say the student killed Ritzer with a box cutter in the girls bathroom.

CNN's Don Lemon is live in Danvers, Massachusetts.

Don, you just spoke to someone from the district attorney's office. What can you tell us?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They said, Jake, they're working very hard to try to move this investigation along and that the young suspect now has an attorney, so they have to at least use protocol when it comes to speaking with him and go through the attorney.

But they're trying to move it along quickly. It is their hope that -- their anticipation they say that he will be tried as an adult in superior court. Right now, it's in a district court, and once they get all of their information together, including the videotape that was mentioned in the court documents, in the police report, and other information that they have, they say that they are going to present it to a grand jury, again, as quickly as possible, and then that case, hopefully, the district -- the district case will be dropped and then it will become a superior court case.

And then, in a superior court, he must be tried as an adult, and that is their anticipation. But, Jake, they're also concerned, too, because there are so many media reports out there. Of course, this case has garnered national attention. And not from their department, but they believe that there are leaks and people are talking, and they're not necessarily giving correct information, and they are giving information that might jeopardize the case.

Here's what she said to me moments ago.


CARRIE KIMBALL-MONAHAN, SPOKESWOMAN, ESSEX COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: I know it's very difficult because a lot of people have a lot of questions. There's a lot of information that's out there that's been attributed maybe to a police report or to a police person, that the individuals who has given that information were not authorized to do so.


LEMON: Again, so they said they want to be very careful about it, because in the initial court appearance, not much information was given, not much information was put into record, and so they want to be careful because he is a juvenile, but, again, they are seeking to try him as an adult, Jake.

TAPPER: Don, there is obviously no excuse or rational explanation for this type of crime, but we hear that investigators are looking into a theory that some recent family issues may, may have allegedly set Chism off. What are you hearing about that?

LEMON: Yes, sources close to this investigation tell us there is nothing in this young man's past initially that they know of that would indicate that he is capable of this type of behavior. There is nothing to indicate that there was bad grades or anything like that that could have led to this, nothing to indicate the rumors and some of the reporting out there that he may have had a crush on her and may have been upset, she may have been upset and he became upset that she didn't, you know, by his advances when she did not go along with his advances. They're saying nothing initially for that.

But what they are saying is that they are looking into the possibility because of recent family issues, the mother and the father are separated, the mother and his two siblings moved here recently just a couple months ago from Tennessee, the father did not come with them. They're looking into family tensions as a possible motivation.

But as you said, Jake, I mean, what would cause someone to do this, we may never get an answer to that.

TAPPER: All right. Don Lemon in Danvers, Massachusetts, thank you so much.

Coming up, triage. After more than three weeks of problems, there is now apparently a plan for how to fix the Web site. How long will it take to shake out the bugs?

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now, it's time for the politics lead.

After more than three weeks of glitches, kinks, bugs, snafus, spinning wheels and digital shenanigans, they say they've got a plan now. The White House now thinks they can get the sprawling list of issues with the site under control and have everything operating smoothly by the end of next month. That would give the uninsured about four months to sign up in time for the March 31st deadline and avoid being fined by the IRS. Four months.

Oh, I'm sorry, I kind of expected a CNN countdown clock to spontaneously spring up on the screen when I said that, an immaculately conceived graphic.

Anyway, the group QSSI will be heading up the efforts. The to-do list for the fix includes tackling the problem of site speed and response team, nuking those pesky bugs that prevent the software from working the way it's suppose to, and then, of course, don't forget cleaning up the 834 files, the data that insurance plans are sent when somebody uses to enroll in one of their programs. It should be a busy month.

Coming up on THE LEAD, will he or won't he? Republican Senator Rand Paul says he's considering holding up the president's nominee for the Federal Reserve. Just how much of a problem is that for President Obama? I will ask former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan, next.

Plus, two shoppers say Barney's accused them of stealing expensive items even though they paid. Now, Jay-Z fans want him to do something about it. We'll explain, next.


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

Back to our politics lead now -- to the White House which has a technical plan to fix the Web site or so they say, one that they say will have everything running smoothly by next month. Time will tell.

But what's the political fix going to look like? Right now, it does not look likely to include the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, at least not if she has anything to say about it.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The majority of people calling for me to resign I would say are people who I don't work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place.



Let's bring in our panel: "Washington Post" columnist and senior fellow at the Center for American progress, Matt Miller; co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE," S.E. Cupp; and Emmy Award-winning political analyst and the author of the new book, "If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of John F. Kennedy, An Alternate History", my friend, Jeff Greenfield.

Welcome one and all.

Jeff, I'll start with you. Our friend Peggy Noonan writes about the possible forced resignation of Sebelius. She writes, quote, "Yes, a firing would be good democratic form and would acknowledge the idea of accountability, someone or some persons failed on a historic level and were removed, it would take some heat off the White House -- look, we're doing something. So, it's surprising they haven't done it and odd that Republicans are clamoring for it."

Jeff, do you think the White House needs a sacrificial lamb for this or are we in a place in politics where that's not necessary anymore?

JEFF GREENFIELD, AUTHOR, "IF KENNEDY LIVED": You know, I think we're almost at the point where even casual political observers understand the essentially phony nature of so much which passes for indignation in Washington. The last time I can recall, one of the only times I can recall a cabinet member removed for policy failure was when George Bush cashiered Donald Rumsfeld. Most of the time, this is a contest between mutual indignation.

And I guess the question you would want to ask is do we think that if Kathleen Sebelius is forced to resign, that's going to make any difference in how quickly if at all this Web site and structural problems are fixed. And if the issue is accountability -- which is a perfectly reasonable way to get rid of cabinet officers say in other countries -- how often do cabinet officers get sacked for accountability and how often is this the occasion for whichever party's not in power in the White House to drag a cabinet member or some other poor official up to the congressional committee and ask a series of questions that they have no real interest in having answered because what they want is the political power of blaming somebody?

TAPPER: S.E., there is a certain kabuki to this all. Something happens, people who don't even support the law working to begin with. And certainly, there are lots of states run by governors, Republican governors, who have not cooperated with Obamacare and its implementation, saying, oh, this is so horrible that this isn't working.

Do you think that there actually is a legitimate reason for Sebelius to go?

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, to the accountability point, sure. But where Peggy is right is that Republicans should want her to stick around.

Republicans don't need to make Kathleen Sebelius the enemy. The program is the enemy. Inefficient government is the enemy. The Web site's not even the enemy. So, that's what they need to be talking about.

Where she's wrong, though, is I'm not sure it's all that surprising that they haven't fired her or asked for her resignation. Obama can't replace her. He can't get anyone else confirmed. So there's no -- I mean, it's not even a practical consideration for President Obama's point of view. She's staying.

TAPPER: Matt, you've said the Republicans are crying crocodile tears. You wrote, "what conservative officials, pundits and advocates are screaming is closer to the following: How dare you totally screw up something that we think shouldn't exist."

Do you think they really want Sebelius to resign?

MATT MILLER, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I think they want to do anything they can to make political hay out of this to see if they can't make a dent in Obama before the program actually gets its act together and gets implemented.

You know, when S.E. says the program is the enemy -- sorry, S.E., that's spoken like a very well-insured person. When you've got 50 million people, most of them workers, poor workers who can't get health coverage, this program is essential for them.

CUPP: Absolutely. It will cost a lot more than they think because they're not going to get --


MILLER: Let me finish. There's no question that once the wrinkles in this are worked out and if it takes a month or two, that's fine.

CUPP: Wrinkles. OK.

MILLER: Let's talk in six months. Just chill out. If you've got millions of people getting health coverage for the first time, that protects them against financial ruin, Republicans won't have a leg to stand on unless they come forward, which they never do, with an actual alternative that would ensure people against financial ruin from illness.