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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Black Friday Madness; Japan-China Tensions; Website Deadline Looms for the White House; With Ways to Go, Christie Out in Front

Aired November 29, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: What's a few missing teeth if you can get an iPad Mini for under $200?

I'm Jim Acosta. And this is THE LEAD.

The world lead, tensions ratcheting up between China and Japan, China seizing a bigger airspace and Japan making it clear that it won't respect that, the U.S. forced to pick a side.

The politics lead, brand-new polls giving us a snapshot of 2016. You may not be shocked to learn who's in the lead, but the runners-up, that is where it gets interesting.

And the buried lead. It's been nearly 50 years since J.D. Salinger last published anything, but now three stories that the famously non- prolific author kept locked away are suddenly out there for all to read.

Welcome to the lead. I'm Jim Acosta, filling in for Jake Tapper.

We begin with the world lead. It's a turf war high above the East China Sea. China has just sent its first patrol of fighter jets over a new air defense zone the country is claiming above a disputed set of islands, islands that Japan say belongs to it. The friction has tempers flaring around the globe.

I want to bring in Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, the U.S. is not sitting on the sidelines in this standoff. They have already sent two unarmed B-52 bombers through this disputed air zone. What does this latest power grab, if you want to call it that, by China mean for American security?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. is taking sides and has now sent a second group of airplanes through that zone, U.S. official confirming that American planes, reconnaissance planes, went through there and also several Japanese planes.

The Chinese say they tracked two American planes and 10 Japanese planes. This is now the U.S. siding with Japan, Korea, the allies out in that region. They want to make sure that China doesn't get too aggressive, too assertive in this whole situation, but they also don't want to spark any kind of confrontation. U.S. officials are saying this is routine. U.S. planes, reconnaissance flights go through this region all the time. It's international airspace. They won't obey the new Chinese rules. They will fly through there, but that nobody should consider it anything unusual. This is what the U.S. military does all the time. Be that as it may, Jim, it remains to be seen how Beijing takes all of this over the long run.

ACOSTA: And, Barbara, Vice President Biden will be in the region next week and senior administration officials say this issue will be a topic of conversation between the vice president and Chinese leaders. What can he hope to achieve out there?

STARR: Well, what Biden wants to know, we are told by White House -- by senior administration officials is, he wants to know, what are the Chinese intentions? What are they really planning to do here?

One of the very interesting questions now is, have the Chinese overplayed their hand? They don't really have the military capability to keep up constant patrols over the ocean like the United States does. So, if the U.S. and Japan keep sending planes into this region, will China be able to keep up these patrols to keep watch on them, or, if they can't, are the Chinese going to get so upset, so agitated that something else might happen?

That's what nobody wants to see. Nobody's talking about any kind of military confrontation. The concern is with all these planes in this same airspace, could there be some sort of miscalculation, some sort of accident waiting to happen?

ACOSTA: But, Barbara, we have seen things get touchy between the U.S. and Chinese. It happened in the early George W. Bush administration. But, as we know, it didn't really get that serious in the long run. It was walked back. How do they walk back the tensions in this episode?

STARR: Well, I think that's really the challenge right now. I will tell you that military officials at the Pentagon, even on this holiday weekend, are very aggressively saying let's not have things get out of control. We want everybody to know, very routine U.S. reconnaissance flights, unarmed, nothing unusual, status quo. We're not trying to poke China in the eye.

That's the message from the Pentagon. But Biden's message, make no mistake, will be to the Chinese, OK, what are you really up to here, what are you trying to achieve? Let's not have this get out of control, let's not have a confrontation over the East China Sea.

ACOSTA: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

In other world news, the U.S. military doesn't always admit when it carries out drone attacks, especially when civilians become part of the collateral damage, but this time, it's different. The military not only admits to accidentally killing civilians yesterday in a drone strike in Afghanistan. It's also apologizing. But the mea culpa comes after Afghan President Hamid Karzai laid down a stern ultimatum to the U.S.

I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. Busy day over at the Pentagon. Chris, this apology comes from high up in the chain of command. Tell us about it.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim.

This is coming from the commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford. Officials are telling us that basically this four-star general quickly called President Hamid Karzai to apologize for this drone strike and the potential civilian casualties and promised a very quick investigation into what took place.

But Hamid Karzai is driving a very hard line on this, and it's a hard line that could affect thousands of American troops for years to come.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): A young Afghan child is dead, two women wounded after U.S. officials admit a drone strike in Helmand Province missed its target. The second airstrike did take out a Taliban commander.

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Shows respect to the Afghan people.

LAWRENCE: But that did nothing to pacify Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who lashed out at U.S. officials and said, "For as long as such arbitrary acts and oppression of foreign forces continue, the security agreement with the United States will not be signed."

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He sees this as something we want, which is true, but he should want it even more.

LAWRENCE: Analyst Michael O'Hanlon says Karzai's refusal to sign the deal is a bad call, but not a complete surprise.

O'HANLON: My belief all along has been that he would draw this out for the fundamental reason that he wants leverage.

LAWRENCE: The deal allows U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan another 10 years to help Afghan forces and target suspected terrorists.

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The negotiation is done, but now the question is whether the president is prepared to sign.

LAWRENCE: National Security Adviser Susan Rice issued that ultimatum to Karzai face-to-face. U.S. officials insist this deal get done by the end of December.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Approved and signed by the end of this year, so that preparations can start being made to plan for the post-2014 presence that the United States may have in Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: But some say that's just a mix of posturing and pressure. O'HANLON: We can wait if we need to. There's no doubt that it makes life harder. It makes life harder on military planners. It makes life harder on diplomats.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: And, Really, for that matter, the Afghan people as well because they would have to live with the uncertainty for that amount of time.

But Karzai is out next year and most of the candidates that are running for president to replace him, they support keeping the U.S. troops there. The Afghan tribal leaders also support the deal across a wide part of Afghanistan, and if you look at previous drawdowns by President Obama, it's very likely that they can make a call on, say, that last 8,000 to 10,000 troops some time in the fall and still be able to get them out by the end of the year if they had to, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon, or on the Pentagon beat, thank you very much, Chris. We appreciate it.

I want to get deeper into this now with these two gentlemen.

William Cohen served as secretary of defense under President Clinton and retired General Spider Marks, our CNN military analyst.

And, Secretary Cohen, let me start with you.

It was striking that the U.S. decided to come out and take the responsibility for this drone attack and apologize for it. What does it say about this -- because we were talking about this a little bit during Chris' piece. We're at this very fragile point with Hamid Karzai, this bilateral security agreement that the U.S. wants the Afghan president to sign on to that would basically take the U.S. presence in Afghanistan for potentially 10 years, perhaps, after 2014, when we are going to draw down most of our forces there.

What does what happened yesterday doing to that dynamic there?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, the United States has indicated we are through negotiating, no more conditions that can be imposed or should be imposed by President Karzai.

He has insisted, on the other hand, that these drone strikes have to stop so it puts us in a rather difficult position, having said no negotiations, and he's now trying to keep them at least open until he signs out as president.

So, I think, nonetheless, the United States will hold tough here. There will be no negotiations, no further conditions agreed to. And so I think the apology came forward. It's unusual, but we have to remember that any time there's a military operation, whether it's by drones, aircraft, on the ground, innocent civilians are going to die.

And that's -- we try to avoid that. We plan very carefully every strike. It has to be as good intelligence as we can get, and then carry it out with as much discreetness as we can. Nonetheless, innocents die during war. That's the unfortunate part about it.

ACOSTA: And, General Marks, what is the likelihood the U.S. would stop carrying out drone attacks in Afghanistan on these targets?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There's no likelihood that the United States would take that very capable system that they have and put it away and mothball it.

They will continue to use that. And they will use it, as the secretary indicated, under very strict rules of engagement and collateral damage estimates. There isn't any military operation I was a part of and, sir, when you were the secretary, had to get approval with the CDE, the collateral damage estimates, on a particular operation, and it had to be approved at the very highest levels. They had to be within accepted norms.

ACOSTA: And you don't want to diminish -- obviously, the loss of civilian life is tragic and especially in cases such as this where a drone attack was supposed to target a militant or a terrorist and it didn't work out that way.

But Hamid Karzai has been driving a pretty hard bargain lately, and we saw some of that tension reflected between his conversation with Susan Rice, the national security adviser, but there's a lot of Americans out there who are saying, you know, Hamid Karzai, what more do you want from the American -- you should just be glad you are going to have a security presence post-2014, if you have one.

I mean, what do you say? How does the administration deal with that, this feeling out there in the public that they just want this to be over?

COHEN: Well, that's incumbent upon the president of the United States to show why we have a long-term interest in security in Afghanistan and not to let it go back to what it was after the Soviets left or even prior to that time.

So we have an obligation to persuade the American people. The American people are pretty fed up, frankly. They tend not to see long-term interests in the region and want to pull out. Many of them do, from Republican leaders who are emerging, as well as Democrats who would like to see more invested in the United States.

I think he's misreading the American public. And so the president's going, that's why this deal should be signed while we can sign it and while the political atmosphere doesn't change next year for us, and that the president has even less authority to make these kinds of agreements.

ACOSTA: And let me switch back to these tensions between China and the U.S. and Japan. I mean, it sort of came out of nowhere. How serious is this? Should the American people, General Marks, be concerned that all of a sudden we're in this state of a tense atmosphere with China?

MARKS: Well, the American public is educated. They understand the level of the tensions that exist there.

So there is cause for worry. But this is essentially what we have been doing for years. The fact that the Chinese drew this new air defense identification zone that infringes and completely overlays with the Japanese accepted air defense identification zone causes concern.

But the Japanese, the United States are partners in that region. The South Koreans have flown and used this area before. So the procedures are in place. What's new was this unilateral action by the Chinese, which really is -- doesn't make a lot of sense right now.

ACOSTA: And is this going anywhere, Secretary, or is this just China flexing its muscles?

COHEN: I think this is the shape of things to come, unfortunately. I was in Singapore at a security conference this past June. And at that time, one of the top officials showed me a map that had been circulating showing that the so-called nine-dash line which is over the disputed areas, the sea, that had been dashes on the map.

Now they're filled in as a solid line, and they wanted to know, what does this mean? Is this first step toward China asserting a much more aggressive posture? And they wanted to know what the response of the United States was. We had remained silent at that point, so I think this is the shape of things to come. China...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: We should get used to this, is where you're going?

COHEN: I think President Hu Jintao, in his final message, we are going to be a sea power, a regional sea power and maybe beyond.

I think China is going to continue to assert as much aggressiveness as it can, and we have to resist it as much as we can, still seeking a diplomatic solution to it.

ACOSTA: OK. Former Secretary William Cohen and James "Spider" Marks, General Marks, thank you very much for your time as well. Happy holidays to both of you as well. Thank you, gentlemen.

Coming up on THE LEAD: My next guest was one of the loudest critics of the Obamacare Web rollout, but the White House invited him over to discuss ways to fix it anyway. So, what does he think now?

Plus, before some Wal-Mart shoppers could push and shove their way through the stores for Black Friday deals, they had to get through protesters outside. How is Wal-Mart reacting?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Acosta, in today for Jake Tapper.

Our national lead: the holiday is over, especially at the White House, where a self-imposed deadline is looming large over the Oval Office right now. The promise? To have the Healthcare.gov Web site 80 percent functional by the end of tomorrow night. And after two months of digital debacles, that is no short order.

My next guest is a tech expert who initially called the rollout of the Affordable Care Act Web site, and I quote, "One of the most spectacular public failures of any website ever." Ouch.

So what does the administration's chances look like of hitting this new target date of tomorrow?

John Engates is chief technology officer at Rackspace Hosting joins me from San Antonio.

John, you attended this meeting on Monday in the White House situation room to talk about what to do with this launch, and the aftermath and fixing it and getting it going again. Do you think that this Web site is fixable? You sound pretty confident after meeting with people in the administration and actually visiting the sort of web repair shop out in Maryland where they're fixing this Web site.

JOHN ENGATES, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, RACKSPACE: Ye s. I think it is fixable. We did see behind the scenes in terms of what they're doing and what kind of efforts they've had under way for the last couple -- I guess it's been almost two months since they got the Web site up and running and then they had this thing they called the tech surge where they brought in some outsiders and some more technologist to sort of put more effort into it.

And they really wanted to show what they've worked on up until now and what they plan to do sort leading into this weekend, to get it really ready for that final push.

ACOSTA: What did it look like inside this place in Maryland? QSSI I believe is the name of the place where they are leading the tech surge on the Web site. What did it look like in there? I suppose they were pretty hard at work and what are the potential hiccups that the site could still face as they're moving forward here?

ENGATES: Right. Well, QSSI is one of the contractors behind the Web site and they have an office in Maryland where they have set up what they call the exchange operation center or XOC. In that room, you can sort of imagine it looking like a scaled-down control center for some sort of, you know, launch of a rocket or something like that.

It is kind of smaller than you'd imagine that NASA control center, but it's much the same design. It's got those desks and everybody's got a phone and a couple computers on the desk and they've got big screens on the wall where they're monitoring the health and uptime of that Web site and paying very close attention to how well it's performing.

So, I think they've got a lot of eyes on it. They've got all of the attention from all of the contractors that are behind it and they are making constant changes and upgrades to this site to get ready for what they have promised is, you know, sort of a working Web site by the end of this month. Now, obviously, having said all that, there are still uncertainties, things that could go wrong. There is the actual load that comes on Monday morning when everybody decides to go try it out again and see if they can get signed up for health care insurance, and you know, who knows? It could be great or it could have problems or it could be back to the situation we had earlier this month.

ACOSTA: And do you think, you're saying they could be back to a situation where they might have a potential crash of the site, or it goes down, is that what you're saying? Or --

ENGATES: I think that only happens if they have way too many users, way more than they expect or way more than they're ready for. I think under the conditions that they're planning for, which I assume that they've made calculations and done their homework on that, the conditions that they are planning for, it should work. They have plans to make it work for that level of capacity.

But the trouble is, I don't think anyone can predict with 100 percent certainty what that traffic is going to look like. It's very hard to predict, especially given the publicity that's going on right now. You know, people like you and I talking about this leads people back to the Web site and they want to go check it out, and I think that has the potential --

ACOSTA: Because people just want to know is it going to work. That's the thing. Just yes or no, we have to thank you and say good-bye, but, yes or no, you think it's going to work?

ENGATES: I think it's going to work. I think it's likely -- it's very likely to work.

ACOSTA: All right. Very good.

All right. John Engates, thanks for coming in. We appreciate it from down there in Texas.

ENGATES: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And thanks for your time on THE LEAD. We appreciate it.

All right. Let's check in on our political panel in the green room.

Jackie Kucinich, check out this eye-popping tweet from Josh Romney. I'm sure you saw this. We all saw this today. The son of the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney was first on scene to big accident. See pic of car and house. "I lifted four people out to safety, all OK. Thankful."

This is what he says in this tweet. What did you make of that? That just seemed kind of incredible.

JACKIE KUCINICH, HOST, IN PLAY AT THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, say what you will about the picture and the tweet but at least he got the order right. He saved the people, then took the picture.

ACOSTA: Good point. Yes. Ron Brownstein, any thoughts on that? I guess --

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree. He got the sequence right.

ACOSTA: Romney likes to be able to rescue people, might be the way to put it.

All right. Thanks, guys.

Stick around for the politics lead. That is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The politics lead. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Republican front- runner. Sort of.

Now, OK, we know what you're saying. Jim, you had way too much turkey, we're still three years away from the 2016 race for the White House. All of that is true. No one has even officially thrown their hat into the ring yet, but that's not going to stop us.

In the age of nonstop campaigning, what was once a horse race has become a marathon and according to CNN's latest numbers, here they are, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is way out in front of the pack, should he decide to run, that is.

OK, let's bring in our panel for analysis of this.

Host of the "Washington Post" "In Play", Jackie Kucinich, and CNN senior political analyst and editorial director of "The National Journal", Ron Brownstein.

Jackie and Ron, thanks for joining us on this Black Friday.

No savings when it comes to politics here. Our cup runneth over.

BROWNSTEIN: Only what, 750 more shopping days to Iowa.

ACOSTA: Exactly right. Yes, to the state fair.

BROWNSTEIN: It will take a few yes.

Chris Christie, we should not be that surprised by all of this, but the rest of the field was interesting. What was your take on that?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, I think, you know, to some extent what you see this far out is name identification. Chris Christie has been in the news. He had a big re-election.

But I think there is something telling in this poll, in particular if you look at the income divide, where Chris Christie is running much better among Republicans over $50,000 than under $50,000. That was the fundamental divide in the 2012 race. Mitt Romney was the candidate, really, of the managerial class of the Republican Party, college educated, more affluent.

ACOSTA: Is Christie that guy now?

BROWNSTEIN: Christie is the front-runner I think to be that candidate. And the big question will be as it was in 2012, who is the horse for the other half of the party, which is more blue collar, more populist, more anti-Washington. We saw that really kind of oscillate a lot in 2012 before it settled --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Everybody got a turn in 2012.

KUCINICH: Well, and the interesting thing when you look back at this time in the 2012 election, Mike Huckabee was in front of everybody, and then it was Mitt Romney. Huckabee didn't up running. And we all know what happened with Romney.

So, it seems like that side of the party, the more populist side of the party was kind of leading things back then, now maybe a little more of the establishment striking back --

ACOSTA: A little bit. But Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, it is sort of --

BROWNSTEIN: By the way, if you look at your polling from 2012, the great divide was Tea Party supporter or not. Romney was almost always ahead among the not. There were like seven different people ahead over the course of the cycle among those who describe themselves as Tea Party supporters. And I think you'll see some of that.

Again, you have Ted Cruz and Rand Paul who are obviously contestants for that lane. Paul Ryan is kind of interesting, if he runs, which most people don't think he will. It's not clear where he fits in. Marco Rubio, the immigration reform which is probably necessary for the party in the long run in the general election, it's really hurt him in the primary.

So, I think the real issue is going to be if Christie runs, he does have -- he fills that lane pretty effectively for the upscale half of the party. Who emerges as that challenger for the other half that is going to be quite dubious of him.

KUCINICH: You have the Rand Paul side of it. He's taken a pragmatic stance on several different issues, things like marijuana, things like gay marriage, even. He's a little more moderate than some of these other guys. He takes another section of the party.

So, Iowa is going to be interesting.

ACOSTA: It is.

And I still think there's a chance Chris Christie will have a Rudy Giuliani problem. How do you get through Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire when you're Christie.

But let's switch to the Democrats because we want to talk about Hillary Clinton a little. She obviously way out in front on the Democratic side. When you take Hillary Clinton out of the mix, Joe Biden is of course the establishment front-runner. That should be of no surprise.

I just want to ask, how real is this handwringing over Elizabeth Warren? Is this -- I mean, is she really potentially a threat to Hillary Clinton? Is this something the Clinton folks and potentially Biden folks should worry about, Jackie?

KUCINICH: I don't think she's a threat necessarily because I don't think Elizabeth Warren will run if Hillary does. I don't see that --

ACOSTA: She clears the field in.

KUCINICH: I think she clears the field. But I think among progressives they are looking for someone to really push their message. Right now, Elizabeth Warren is that messenger.

ACOSTA: You know, the lane -- to some extent in presidential politics we talk about the lane finds the candidate as much as the candidate finds the lane. And there is a segment of the Democratic Party that will view Hillary Clinton as too corporatist, too close to Wall Street, too much of a return to the centrism of Bill Clinton.