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Newtown 911 Tapes Released; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Cold Snap Creeping Across the West; Biden Relays Concerns to Chinese President; Interview with Jon Huntsman

Aired December 4, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: New insight into the horrors of Newtown and, with it, a fuller understanding of what really happened inside Sandy Hook Elementary.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead: Until now, we have relied on police reports and eyewitness accounts to piece together the 11 minutes that changed Newtown, Connecticut, and maybe some of us forever. But, today, after the courts decided it's in the public interest, the 911 calls from that terrible day have been released.

Also in national news, from eight degrees to 80, Colorado and Texas might as well be in separate hemispheres, but enjoy the springlike temperatures now, Dallas, because this is on the way.

And in world news, Vice President Joe Biden sticks his foot in his mouth in Japan, but pulls it out in time to reportedly tell off the Chinese.

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

We will begin with the world lead. In 10 years, it will be a solid year since a gunman open fired inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children all ages 6 and 7, plus six educators.

It's a tragedy that will be forever difficult to fathom in its scope and its horror. A short time ago, 911 calls from inside the school to Newtown police were released. The state prosecutor who led the investigation had fought to keep them sealed, but ultimately lost the court battle.

Some of the victims' parents do not want these tapes made public. Their concerns are absolutely valid. CNN will broadcast a portion of the released audio once they have been completely reviewed and can be placed in the proper context.

In the meantime, our own Deborah Feyerick has been poring over the tapes. She joins us now.

Deb, you have heard these tapes. We're not going to air them this hour. What struck you about these 911 calls? DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was fascinating to hear exactly what was going on in the school at the time that this happened, the first call was from a woman who appears to have been in the main office, the office where the gunman was able to break through a glass right next to it.

She describes seeing the gunman and she describes him walking down the hall, carrying his weapon, and also describing that he was shooting. You can hear the fear in her voice as she describes it and begs the dispatcher to send help, essentially, saying, Sandy Hook Elementary, Sandy Hook Elementary.

The second call is from a woman was shot in the foot. She was able to get inside of a classroom. And when the dispatcher says, are you in lockdown right now, she says, no, no we're not in lockdown. And although there were two adults also in the classroom, it appears that they were sheltering some of the children who were inside that room.

One of the key people who really emerges in all of this is the custodian who was there. He became the eyes and the ears for the principal dispatcher there, telling him what he was hearing, where he was hearing, when there was gunfire, when there was violence. At one point, he even confronts responding officers, identifies himself as a custodian.

And the responding officer says, tell them to call Connecticut State Police, at which point the custodian relays information from the dispatcher that in fact those police are also on their way, the scope of this horror and this tragedy becoming very quickly apparent to those who were there on scene, Jake.

TAPPER: Deborah, how many 911 calls were released today?

FEYERICK: There was a total of six 911 calls that were released. It takes about 25 minutes to listen to them all.

But when you -- I listened to them a number of times and each time there are details that begin to emerge. You can even at one point hear in several of the calls what sounds like gunshots. But you hear also the police dispatchers who remain very calm through this ordeal, immediately notifying a supervisor, immediately calling Connecticut State Police, immediately determining that the school was on lockdown, so really assessing the situation that was going on inside the school so they would know exactly how to respond.

But it is chilling. You can hear the fear, you can hear the urgency, and you hear the calmness of professionals responding to what became an unspeakable tragedy, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Deb Feyerick, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, for his reaction to the tragedy one year later.

Senator, we're not airing the tapes. I know you have very strong feelings, as do a lot of the Sandy Hook parents, about these tapes being released to the public. Why should they not have been released?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, the law required that they be released.

We have in Connecticut, as many states do, a very strong Freedom of Information Act. And the judge really had no choice but to order their release. And the prosecutor had no real choice but to yield to this process. And he decided not to appeal that ruling.

But, of course, my heart went to the families, because they are now reliving the unspeakable tragedy of that day. I went to the school and to the Sandy Hook firehouse that day, and I will never forget the sights and sounds of parents emerging knowing that their children would not be coming home that day.

And I think the tapes bring back those memories, force the entire community and indeed the state, all of us involved on that one day, to relive the horrific grief. And of course the speed that all of this occurred is also another takeaway from those tapes. It is not only the scope and the horror and the courage of those educators who were on the calls, but also the speed of everything that happened.

TAPPER: I remember I went with President Obama to Newtown for the memorial service there later, and the grief was tangible. It was a physical thing you could feel. It was a physical thing you could feel, all these mourning parents. It was -- it is difficult to talk about even right now.

In the last few weeks, there has been an investigation released that revealed haunting -- there's really no other word for it -- haunting details about the shooter, Adam Lanza, who was clearly a young man suffering from significant mental health issues. And yet his mother, Nancy Lanza, kept weapons in the house, took her son to the shooting range, where they bonded over target practice. She even planned to buy him a gun for Christmas last year.

Michele Gay, whose daughter Josephine was killed at the school, she says -- quote -- "You would want treatment for someone like that. The problem here is that he was completely isolated from anyone but his mother, and the mother did have the ability of understanding -- or understanding to help her son."

Now, I know it is a sensitive topic to talk about the mother since she was the first one Adam Lanza killed that day, but is that mother correct? Should Nancy Lanza have stepped up more?

BLUMENTHAL: Nancy Lanza probably needed help herself.

And, certainly, as a parent of four children, I can speak personally about the challenges of parenting, not in this kind of situation, but easy to say in hindsight what she should have done. The point is, what society should have done was to reach out to Adam Lanza and provide the kind of diagnosis and treatment that we would hope a civilized country would provide.

And that is directly, I think, relevant to these tapes, as well as the investigative report that a mental health initiative ought to be common ground, that the nation has to do more to provide mental health outreach and treatment to young people, people of all ages.

And I'm glad that the mental health parity regulations finally, four years late, have been released by the administration, but the need for Adam Lanza to have received help, so that like him, other dangerous people may be helped before they commit these atrocious crimes.

TAPPER: Last January, Senator, just a few weeks after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, support for stricter gun control was at 55 percent.

Now, according to a poll released today by CNN, that number has dropped to 49 percent. Back in December of 1993, just days after the Brady Bill was signed into law, 70 percent of Americans supported stricter regulations on gun ownership.

What's going on? Your side of this debate is losing the public opinion war.

BLUMENTHAL: I'm not so sure that my side of the debate, which is in favor of sensible, commonsense measures to control gun violence, is losing the debate.

We need to prevent gun violence. I think the vast majority of American people -- the polls show 80, 90 percent believe that background checks are appropriate. Mental health initiatives are really common ground. They unite both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, gun owners are in favor of sensible mental health initiatives.

And I have helped to lead this effort with Republican and Democratic colleagues like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Begich of Alaska. And we also need to be mindful of the lessons of that tape, those tapes that have been released.

The speed of this massacre was enabled by the use of an assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine or a series of magazines that enabled the shooter to kill 20 beautiful children, six great educators in a matter of minutes. And that speed comes across on the tape as well.

To your point about the grief, the community is still healing on this one-year anniversary. I spent some time just today with some of the police who responded on that day, and they still feel the horrific, unimaginable tragedy of that unbelievable day. And I think that brief will last for awhile. And I hope that the polls, that American public opinion will reflect or reflect on the lessons that we need to take away.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, thank you again.

CNN will broadcast, I should note, a portion of the released audio once the tapes have been completely reviewed and can be placed in their proper context. We just won't be doing it on this show.

Coming up next on THE LEAD: snow, sleet, frigid temperatures all making a huge mess out West. It's likely headed your way, no matter where you live.

Plus, the former vice president once again asked about his daughters' public spat. And Dick Cheney admits this fight surprised him.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In national news, a tale of two time zones. In Boulder, Colorado, it is snowing relentlessly; 800 miles away in Dallas, it's a "Let's have class outside" kind of day, temperatures reaching above 80 degrees in the Dallas area. And it will be nothing but a sweet memory by this time tomorrow, when high temperatures could drop 40 degrees between now and then.

Ana Cabrera is -- if you look right there, you see her teeth chattering.

Has it managed to creep into the double digits there?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is still so cold, yes. Thirteen degrees, the high here in Boulder, Colorado, today. And you can still see the snow falling. It's really a wintry wonderland, so to speak.

But we're talking about dangerously cold temperatures as we now head into the evening hours, Jake. We're hearing it's supposed to get down into negative nine degrees tonight.

And to put that into some perspective, on this day in history, the lowest temperature recorded was back in 2009. It was negative one on December 4. So, right around that record setting territory here, it's not usually this cold at this time of year, and particularly for how long we're expecting it to be cold.

In fact, we aren't expecting to see temperatures above freezing for the next several days. Really we're talking about teens and single digits for the next few days and you can see all the snow that's piled up. Of course, this is going to melt, and underneath all the snow is a lot of ice.

And so, people have been feverishly working here to try to clear that snow and ice before it dips under zero tonight. We have avalanche danger happening right now up in the high country. Treacherous road conditions that shut down a couple main roads through the mountain passes, and even Beaver Creek Ski Resort had to cancel the world cup downhill ski training today. It was not good enough conditions for the world class skiers to get out and be able to practice in the snow.

So, we've been watching all the latest conditions as it continues to snow and the temperatures continue to get colder and colder as this storm system kind of just sits other Colorado right now, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Ana, just in human terms, give us an idea of how cold that is. Is it so cold, it feels like your fears are going to fall off? That your face is numb? What does it feel like to be here? CABRERA: To give you -- to give you a better sense. Let me take off my glove. I have four layers of jackets on, and I'm just warm enough to stand out there and be out here for about 10 minutes at a time.

TAPPER: Well, we appreciate the live shot. And get indoors, for God's sake.

Ana Cabrera, in Boulder, Colorado, thank you so much.

I want to bring in our meteorologist Chad Myers from the CNN severe weather center.

Chad, a lot of our viewers were watching that report from Ana and wondering, is that frigid weather coming for me?

So, where is this cold front heading right now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the answer to most of you, except for the East Coast, I-95 corridor is yes, that cold air is sinking South and East. It doesn't get to Colorado and Western Colorado into California, but it all points east from there.

Minneapolis, it's snowing. The snow that actually came out of Colorado and Wyoming did move Minnesota, and they had 20 inches in Duluth.

Let me show you a live shot right now from Minnesota. That's how much you can see of Minneapolis, from KARE, our affiliate there, really from St. Cloud looking over to Minneapolis. What a mess.

Yellowstone, Montana, right now, Jake, is three below zero. Denver is nine. Barrow, Alaska, is 16. And Anchorage, Alaska, is 20. And then down South to where our Ed Lavandera is, it's 80 degrees.

This is what western Colorado looks like. I-70 at Georgetown, at least it's moving because yesterday at this time I-70 was completely shut down. There was not a car moving east or west there, right at the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Nine in Denver. Go to Oklahoma, now. Guymon, Oklahoma, 27. Oklahoma City, 45. The other side of Oklahoma, 77. The same state, 27 to 77. And Denver from nine, Dallas down to 80.

It's going to be colder tomorrow, farther south to the east. And this is the battle zone, Jake. We're going to see the battle zone right here on this blue line. We're going to see snow on that side, ice right through here, and it's going to rain all day, all night through the south southeastern coast, and even D.C. and New York. It's going to be rain. That's the big story.

But we're going to have this big swathe of ice, not really a snowstorm this time. It's an ice storm. The ice is going to begin in Dallas. The ice is going to move over toward in Talimena, and Little Rock, and Jonesboro, and then on up toward Paducah and Evansville, eventually to Memphis. And by the time is gets cold enough to make ice in New York, the moisture is going to be gone. So, at least that's some good news, it will just be a cold front that rolls by. There'll be some snow on the Poconos, but by the time we get to New York City, it's essentially over.

TAPPER: It's a crazy map, Chad. It's like a -- I'm expecting Dennis Quaid to come running out with the big parka warning about the end of the earth.

Appreciate it. Chad Myers, thank you so much.

MYERS: You're welcome, buddy.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: Vice President Biden trying to smooth things over with China. But what is everyone talking is this awkward exchange he had with some women in Japan.

Plus, Billy Joel gets the Celine Dion treatment, East Coast style. But will the piano man be able to fill the seats month after month?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The world lead now: chaos appears to be paving the way for jihadist in the Middle East as clans and sectarian groups fight each other in Syria. There's concern that terrorists with ties to al Qaeda maybe seizing the opportunity to set up shop.

U.S. counterterrorism officials are worried that these groups could eventually pose a threat to Israel and to Europe. It might force the Obama administration to play a bigger role in Syria, by taking on these groups directly, including some of the same people fighting Syrian President Bashar al Assad, you know, the same ones the administration pledged to support earlier this year.

Needless to say, it will be a tall order to expect any immediate action from the White House. But General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there are already strategies in place to evaluate the rise of Islamic militant groups in the region and how to stop them.

The NSA says, of course, it's not spying on the cell phones of American citizens. But if your phone just happens to be one of the five billion tracked every day around the world -- well, that pledge doesn't apply to you. Top secret documents provided to the Washington by leaker/whistleblower Edward Snowden say that the National Security Agency gathers those billions of records from across the road. They supposedly help the agency track the movements of certain people and uncover what may be dangerous relationships. NSA leaders and the Obama administration have insisted that the agency surveillance program is not targeting Americans.

But the NSA admits that it does incidentally obtain location information on certain domestic phones. One NSA manager told "The Post" that the agency gathers information from tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their phones every year. Well, that's reassuring.

In other world news, Vice President Joe Biden continues his excellent adventure arriving in China overnight. He met with President Xi Jinping for more than five hours, between meetings and dinner.

According to senior administration officials, Biden told the Chinese leader that the U.S. does not recognize their newly declared air defense zone over the East China Sea, but appeared to make no immediate progress on the issue. They also talked about North Korea's nuclear issue. No word if Biden was able to confirm if Kim Jong-un sacked his uncle.

Earlier, I spoke with Obama's former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. He left that post, of course, to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. I asked Huntsman what he made of Biden's diplomatic efforts.


TAPPER: So, Vice President Biden's language specifically chosen, "deeply concerned". Is that strong enough?

JON HUNTSMAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Yes, that's appropriate terminology. It was spoken in Tokyo, where coordinating a lot of what goes on with our ally Japan and also with Korea to some extent is absolutely critical at this point.

And the language used, I think, was appropriate given the circumstances. Now, it will play out in Beijing. As he meets with Xi Jinping, the new leader of China, who he got to know on a personal level when they were both vice presidents together. Xi served as vice president before becoming president of China.

So, they have a pre-existing relationship. It's quite unusual for the head of China to accord this amount of time to the vice president of the United States. So he is giving him a private dinner, he spent two hours with him in a bilateral meeting.

So, all of that presumably is taking us in a direction that defines some parameters around the drama that's playing out in the East China Sea, which is to say, how do you get Japan and China talking? How do you build confidence and greater trust between the players and protagonists in the region? How do you come up with a protocol for diffusing tension?

It's difficult and the only way to make it better is by the United States having the conversation with China that no one else can have.

TAPPER: The U.S. has agreed to comply with China's air identification zone after it flew unarmed B-52s last week. Some people say that's the wrong message to send and it conveys weakness to the Chinese.

What do you think? HUNTSMAN: The administration started out by doing the right thing. They sent a couple B-52s on a free of navigation mission, which is exactly what we should be doing in the aftermath at this kind of announcement. That happened immediately. That was the right thing to do.

I think there was a miscue for how we handle commercial aviation because it was at odds with what Japan then was doing with their own commercial aviation sector.


TAPPER: And you can see more of my interview with former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, tonight, on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT". That's tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

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

Ana Navarro, it's been more than four decades since Bill Clinton's halcyon days as a carefree student in London. But yesterday, he was asked once again about that time. He didn't inhale, his answer was still hazy. But aren't we past this as a nation?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, Jake, I think it still needs to be a high priority for us. And, you know, it all depends on what your definition of inhale is.

TAPPER: All right. The politics lead and Clinton's explanation, next.