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Winter Blast; Nelson Mandela's Memorial Service; New NSA Revelations; Air Force Awkward; North Korea Announces Uncle's Ouster

Aired December 9, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Baby, it's cold outside. And, baby, it's only going to get worse.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. From coast to coast, flights are canceled, cars are piling up, millions have been stranded, tears are freezing as they trickle down the faces of field goal kickers -- the latest on the winter blast that is slamming virtually the entire country.

In other national news, they allegedly messed with the wrong guy. The FBI begins arresting L.A. sheriff's deputy officials who say they abused and hid one of their informers -- new details on the investigation in just moments.

They aren't the types of terrorists you see training on those monkey bars, but the latest Edward Snowden leak shows the NSA has infiltrated the world of online gaming to catch America's real-life enemies.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead. And if you're one of the thousands of stranded passengers watching us from an airport thanks to the nasty weather, well, go ahead, you have earned that third slice of Sbarro pizza. A wintry mix of snow and ice is blanketing much of the country from the Southwest to the Northeast.

In Arkansas, one man described the falling sheets of ice as the apocalypse. In places like Missouri and Virginia, messy, frozen roads have made commuting nightmarish, if not altogether impossible. Air travelers have not fared much better.

More than 1,500 flights were canceled today. And with a fresh round of snow in the forecast poised to cause even more delays, some stranded passengers might be getting worried that they're on the verge of a "Lord of the Flies"-esque meltdown if they don't get home soon.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest on which parts of the country are getting socked with snow again, but, first, let's go live to CNN's Rosa Flores, who is in Ridgefield, New Jersey.

Rosa, how is it out there?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the temperatures are dropping, visibility is expected to be low, and the National Weather Service just released an advisory with two to four inches expected.

So you know exactly what that means. If you're going to be out on the roads, that means that you will need those low beams for low visibility, the windshield -- your windshield wipers for all the precipitation and also you are going to have to crank up the heat. I talked to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and they tell me this storm has moved from south to north, which means that all of the snow and ice and sleet they saw earlier in the day in the southern parts of the state has melted.

That's one of the worries, folks, because temperatures are expected to drop below freezing, which means that a lot of those roads are going to have -- are going to be in treacherous conditions. They tell us bridges, overpasses, untreated roads are expected to be very dangerous so they're asking folks to be very careful when they're out and about on the roads.

Now, we have been talking to some of the drivers and one of the drivers says that he made a 180 on the interstate. Take a listen.


WALTER ADLER, TRAVELER: Scary. I spun almost 180 on the highway. I was lucky to be alive, thank God. It's a little nasty out there, the black ice.

FLORES: Was it black ice? I was about to ask you what it was.

ADLER: Yes. I was coming around a turn and I just kind of spun out, whipped 180 degrees.


FLORES: Now, we did talk to the Department of Transportation about their plans and they say they are preparing for the worst. They do have about 2,000 pieces of equipment that can spread salt, sand or plow the interstate.

And they tell us that they used about 800 overnight and, Jake, they are preparing those plans right now to figure out just how much they're going to need of all of those pieces of equipment to make sure that all the roads are safe -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Rosa, thank you so much.


TAPPER: Now some breaking and frankly shocking news out of Los Angeles.

It is the country's largest jail system, but the feds say the inmates were not the only criminals there. Several former and current deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department were just arrested as part of a major sting that targeted everything from corruption to inmate abuse. Among the allegations, deputies and high-ranking officials in the jail went out of their way to try and hide an FBI informant. This informant was apparently providing agents with the names of corrupt deputies and the informant used a cell phone to take pictures of inmate abuse.

The FBI will shed more light on what they uncover during a news conference set to take place within this hour, frankly, any minute.

Joining us from Los Angeles, near where that briefing will take place, is CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam.

Stephanie, this was a two-year investigation. How did it all get started?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's a two-year investigation, Jake, and I can tell you that that press conference has begun there.

We are learning now that they have arrested 12 current and former Los Angeles County sheriff deputies and they all worked in this jail. They are saying that this all began because they started getting tips about the treatment in there. And, quite frankly, what they have found, the FBI has found, is that there are certain members of the sheriff's department who believed they were above the law and that there was a lot of misconduct in relation to that, saying that they actually were -- they're alleging that inmates were beaten and humiliated, and then after all of that was done, that they went ahead and covered up their misconduct.

Nine sheriff officials face charges. Three brothers are charged with criminal complaints. Now, one thing that has come out here, too, is this conduct about the behavior of sheriffs at L.A. County jails. The sheriff, Lee Baca, has come under fire about this over the last few years, saying that there are just certain sheriffs that were not just falling in line. We are expecting to hear from him later on today to see what his take is on all of this.

But we can confirm now that 12 people who have worked in the county jails, either previously or right now, have been arrested -- Jake.

TAPPER: Stephanie, what do we know about this FBI informant?

ELAM: Well, we asked the FBI if they were going to confirm that this informant was a part of this, and that he was basically hidden inside the jail from the FBI by the sheriffs.

They are not confirming that that exactly has happened yet. We are still awaiting word on that. Obviously, all of this is coming out now as this press conference is getting under way right this minute.

TAPPER: And, Stephanie, lastly, I know you said Lee Baca, the sheriff, will address matters later today. Has there been any response at all from the sheriff's department to these very strong allegations from law enforcement investigating them? ELAM: No. No. There has not been a response yet. We did reach out to see if we could get a comment. We have not gotten one yet. We should hear about one about 6:00 your time. And I'm also hearing in my ear now that it's 18 people that have been arrested and charged in relation to this probe now, Jake.

TAPPER: Staggering number of individuals with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office being arrested and charged with crimes, with wrongdoing themselves. Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

Coming up, 19 hours and no exits that don't involve parachutes, President Obama, former President Bush together on a marathon flight to South Africa aboard Air Force One. What could the hang time mean for their personal relationship?

Plus, our own Anderson Cooper caught up with U2 front man Bono as he arrives in South Africa to say goodbye to his friend Nelson Mandela. Stay with us.


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

He was a global icon for peace and nonviolence and his memorial service is obviously tomorrow. And it's on pace to rival anything we have seen in decades, both in terms of size and security presence. Among the throngs of mourners flocking to Johannesburg right now to bid farewell to Nelson Mandela are 91 heads of state, four United States presidents, tens of thousands of South Africans, and celebrities from all over the world.

There will also be elite military troops, snipers and security dogs all there to watch over a stadium meant to hold some 90,000 people. They are coming to pay their respects and, of course, celebrate Mandela's life.

Our Anderson Cooper is on the ground in Johannesburg, where he caught up with U2 front man Bono.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mandela also talked a lot about poverty, which is obviously an issue very close to your heart. I think he said without the eradication of poverty, there can be no true freedom.

BONO, MUSICIAN: Yes. Overcoming poverty is not the gesture of charity. It's an act of justice.

COOPER: That's what he said?

BONO: Yes.

And this -- like slavery, like apartheid, he said, poverty is not natural. It is manmade, and so it can be overcome by the actions of human beings. And he said to some generations falls the chance to be great. You can be that great generation.

And I have been working for this man since I was a teenager, and he has turned my life upside-down, or right-side up, you know, you know, working on this struggle, as a justice struggle.

COOPER: And his leadership was -- was in part his ability not only to get consensus, but also his ability to overcome the natural anger and bitterness and resentment he would have for being in prison for 27 years. He saw the need that he had to overcome that. He had to put that aside.

BONO: Yes.

He refused to hate, not just because he hadn't experienced rage, lived with rage, but that he thought, I think, that love would do a better job of liberation, of -- of emancipation, because, you know, what sort of country would they inherit if people were further embattled against each other? This is the gift of vision, I guess, into the future. Being able to see a future before it exists. That's probably his gift, isn't it?

COOPER: Tonight, when you close your eyes, is there an image of Mandela that you have in your mind's eye? That you always kind of think of? I think of him being released from prison in 1990, leaving the prison gates with his arm up, Winnie Mandela by his side, that extraordinary moment when the world saw him for the first time.

Is there -- I mean, you knew him personally. Is there an image you have in your mind?

BONO: Open fist, open mind, laugh, big long laughter.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can see the rest of Anderson's interview with Bono tonight on "AC360" 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Bono is just one of the dozens of politicians, celebrities, civil rights leaders and others who are arriving in South Africa to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela, but only a select few got to hitch a ride with the president, including one guy who sat in that big chair before. The ex-presidents club has been called the most exclusive one in the world and they have been depicted as a super group of super heroes by "SNL" but what happens in reality when you're stuck on a 19 hour flight with someone who has spent years repudiating everything you stand for?

Well, actually, it can mean beautiful things.


TAPPER (voice-over): The world is quickly preparing for what may be the largest gathering of heads of state since Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965. Representing the U.S. alone will be Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, comprising one of the most prestigious frequent flyer clubs in the world.

Today, Air Force One departed for South Africa, where more than 90 world leaders are planning to attend Nelson Mandela's memorial Tuesday in Johannesburg. Inside Air Force One, the Obamas and George W. and Laura bush along with former First Lady Clinton. The former President Bill and daughter Chelsea are flying from an event in Rio and linking up with the rest of the club tomorrow. President George H.W. Bush who has been in poor health for some time will not be making the trip.

Together, they are set for an almost 20-hour flight, even though there's only one bed on board.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Air Force One is a very intimate setting, so that's the place where you can have quieter conversations. Once you get to one of these massive events, it's very hard to have real conversations.

TAPPER: These long flights, believe it or not, can forge friendships. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan could not attend the funeral of Egypt's Anwar Sadat, so he enlisted Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to attend instead. The flight was said to be initially awkward and very long. But one notable friendship emerged, evident at Ford's funeral more than 25 years later, when Jimmy Carter eulogized his long-time friend.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor.

TAPPER: Fast forward to 1992, Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush were fighting a bitter presidential contest, but seven years later, when they traveled together to attend the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein in 1999, that ice began to thaw and now they're partners in philanthropy all over the world.

Such a gathering of most or all living presidents is typically reserved only for monumental, usually sad events. The journey itself holds the potential for conflict and resolution on a first class scale.

GERGEN: It's going to make a big, big difference in the atmospherics on Air Force One with George W. Bush there with his successor that President Bush has been so reserved in making any negative comments. He's not second-guessing his successor and I think that the Obama people really appreciate that.

TAPPER: This gang has seen more of each other than usual. In April, the group suited up to attend the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas. In August, Clinton, Obama and Carter joined forces to honor the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.

GERGEN: No former president likes to be marginalized. They have always been the center of attention and here, we are going to have three formers and a current president, four centers of attention. That's a lot to juggle. TAPPER: But for all their smiles, a stage shared by leaders can seem rather small at times. So, safe travels to our nation's leaders today. May you get along well with your seat mate.


TAPPER: We're told that Air Force One just made a refueling pit stop in Senegal, which means the presidents are well on their way to South Africa and probably playing Sudoku together by now. One can hope.

Coming up on THE LEAD, we knew he lost his job. Now, we are hearing what Kim Jong-un's uncle did to get the boot. Let's just say some of it would i make even Dennis Rodman blush.

Plus, the NSA's newest breed of Asians is using video games to track terrorists but how do you tell the nerds from the guys who want to harm America when they hide behind an avatar?


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

In other world news, the rumors are true. No, not that Miley Cyrus has been named "TIME" magazine's person of the year. That's later this week.

We are talking about confirmation from North Korea state news agency that Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, has been removed from his powerful post. The story we told you about last week. State television aired a photo of him being hauled away from a meeting.

North Korea says he was removed for, quote, "criminal acts, including corruption, womanizing, abusing drugs and alcohol and mismanaging the economy." He was also accused of dreaming different dreams, whatever that means.

I want to bring in Christopher Hill. He's a former ambassador and assistant secretary of state. He was also the lead U.S. delegate during the six-party talks with North Korea from 2005 to 2009. So, we talked about this last week. You suspected this was true. Now, we have confirmation that the uncle has been pushed out.

Were you surprised by how much detail the North Koreans released?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, you bet. I mean, this isn't the first time they purged leaders, even senior leaders. In fact, Jang Song Thaek has been purged himself a couple of times, but I don't think he's ever done a perp walk before.

This is something new.

TAPPER: And details about all the different charges. Who do you think might replace him?

HILL: Well, good question, if anybody. But I think what we're seeing is Kim Jong-un really wants to say, hey, I'm in charge, and he obviously is in a position to do that. You know, Jang Song Thaek has been out of the picture for several months, so clearly it has his fingerprints on it, that Kim Jong-un really pulled this off himself. So, I don't think he has as much adult supervision today as he may have had before.

TAPPER: So, let's turn to some rare good news out of North Korea. It's rare that I get to do this. But 85-year-old Korean veteran Merrill Newman was released after being detained by North Korea for over a month. He's now back home in California with his family. He just released a statement. I want to read part of it.

Quote, "I have given considerable thought to this and have come to the conclusion that I just didn't understand that for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn't over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you're a foreigner."

What do you make of all this?

HILL: Well, I think it appears that he made some comments to people and the north Koreans kind of went to town on it. I don't think they had any business holding him. I don't think they had any business detaining him for so many weeks. So I'm glad they let him go.

But, you know, these kinds of things happen and that's why people really ought to think very carefully about going to North Korea.

TAPPER: And, you know, having been to the DMZ there, it is very obvious that North Korea is very much -- not just North Korea, South Korea, too, they are still in war in all but action.

HILL: Oh, man, I have walked over that DMZ, I've walked from South Korea into North Korea and from North Korea back to South Korea, and yes, you really get a sense that first of all, there's no demilitarized zone in that place.

TAPPER: It's plenty militarized.

HILL: You got it.

TAPPER: But, meanwhile, another American Ken Bae still being held. How do you view his prospects?

HILL: Well, you know, he should be released immediately. There's no question. I know there have been some efforts to try to get him out and usually, as I mentioned I think last week, the best way to handle this is not to talk too much about it publicly but I'm sure there are big efforts to get this young man out. He did nothing wrong. He ought to be released immediately.

TAPPER: And then lastly, where do you see the future of Kim Jong-un and his actions in the region? Where do you see him going? Where do you see him taking things?

HILL: You know, this is a big transition. When Kim Jong-Il died, the father died, and son took over, that was obviously a big transition. But everyone looked at Jang Song Thaek as the kind of the regent, the guy who would keep this all together. But now, he's gone.

So, in some respects, this is the big transition. And we're really not sure where this is heading. One thing that's clear to me that Kim Jong-un is not a reformer. This is not someone who really has a kind of different view of how North Korea should act. So I think we're into kind of some uncharted waters at this point.

TAPPER: Dennis Rodman said to be heading there in another few weeks, bizarrely enough, one of the best chances for diplomacy that we have.

HILL: Dennis Rodman -- well, I was never a big fan of his basketball and I'm not going to get on the diplomatic band wagon with Dennis Rodman.

TAPPER: All right. Fair enough.

Former Ambassador Chris Hill, thank you so much for your time. Enjoy your flight back to Colorado.

Still ahead in the buried lead, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist challenges the Obama administration's story about Syria's civil war. And which side may have used chemical weapons.

And later in the pop culture lead, it was a great weekend to be in a warm theater munching popcorn, and watching a movie. Could Hollywood take advantage?

Thank you, sir. Nice work --