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First Legal Blow To NSA's Surveillance Program Handed Down From Federal Court; "John Just Got His Irish Up"; What's Next For Ryan?; Shooter's Parents Ask For Privacy; "Bow Down" To Beyonce

Aired December 16, 2013 - 16:30   ET




In national news, new developments to report today on those controversial NSA surveillance programs. Sources tell CNN that President Obama is inviting some of the country's most prominent tech gurus to the White House tomorrow for their input as well as discussions about Invitees including Tim Cook of Apple, Eric Schmidt of Google, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook as well as many, many others. Many of them have expressed serious concerns about the scope of these programs.

But what was so interesting in the aftermath of those U.S. intelligence leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is that in the months since they began, nothing really changed. Snowden revealed a massive web that collects data on citizens throughout the world, and the response from President Obama, many prominent lawmakers on both sides and-- it must be said -- many of the Americans in the public was a shrug.

But today, we may have seen the first real blow to the NSA's massive reach. A federal judge ruled that the program that collects information on calls, to, from or inside the U.S. probably -- probably violates the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches. That doesn't mean the program stops today. The judge also put a hold on the decision to allow for a government appeal. And in the long run, the ruling may apply only to the plaintiffs who originally brought the case.

Still, I want to get into this with CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Ben Weisner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.

Jeff, I will start with you. The judge has ruled the plaintiff is likely to succeed in raising a constitutional challenge to the NSA methods of collecting phone records. What exactly does that mean? Would that stop what the NSA is doing anytime soon?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No. This is a narrow ruling. It applies only to the two people who actually brought the case. The judge's opinion says one, stop collecting data on these two people, and two, I'm going to put this whole issue on hold until an appeals court decides it. So nothing changes today, except the legal landscape does really look different because now, for the first time, someone has said what the NSA is doing is illegal. And that's both politically and legally significant.

TAPPER: Ben, I want to read part of the judge's opinion. Frankly, it reads like it could have been written by you to a degree. "The government wants it both ways. Virtually all the government's briefs and arguments to this court explain how the government acted in good faith to create a comprehensive meta database that serves as a potentially valuable tool in combating terrorism. Yet the government asks me to find the plaintiffs lack standing based on the theoretical possibility that the NSA has collected a universe of meta data so incomplete that the program could not possibly serve its punitive function. Candor of this type defies common sense and does not exactly inspire confidence!" Unquote.

So -- by the way, that's his exclamation point, not ours. This is a judge George W. Bush appointed. Were you surprised at all by this ruling, Ben?

BEN WEISNER, DIRECTOR, ACLU'S SPEECH, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY PROJECT: No, not at all. This is what happens when important legal issues are decided in open courts where both sides get to make legal arguments rather than in secret courts where the government alone gets to present arguments to a court.

This is, I think, a good day for Edward Snowden. This is what he had in mind. He saw programs, he doubted their legality, he saw that the oversight mechanisms had failed, that secret courts had become a rubber stamp, that congressional committees had been enabling rather than actually exercising oversight. And so he brought the information to the public, to journalists and he brought it to the lawyers who brought this case.

And today is a real vindication. Look, it may be a narrow ruling today, but it's a watershed moment because what this judge is saying, this conservative federal judge, is saying that the main program that the NSA is defending, the first revelation of Snowden's likely violates the Fourth Amendment because the NSA is collecting information in case someone does something wrong rather than determining that someone does something wrong before collecting information. This is a big deal.

TAPPER: A violation of illegal search and seizure.

Jeff, in July, a U.S. official told CNN that Snowden did not access the quote, "crown jewels of the NSA's programs." But on "60 Minutes" last night, an NSA official claimed that Snowden took "the keys to the kingdom." So which is it?

TOOBIN: Well, I think the only clear answer is we don't know for sure. Because of Snowden's deviousness and the NSA's incompetence, to this day, I don't think anyone knows for sure what Snowden took. And certainly, we don't know what the Chinese and the Russians have gotten out of this since that's where he was, in Hong Kong and now in Russia. That's what makes this situation so difficult to remedy, because it's not clear what's out there. But certainly, as tomorrow's meeting illustrates, the president may be interested in making some changes both for legal and political reasons that the status quo is not working.

TAPPER: Ben, you know all these tech executives we reported just a few minutes ago are meeting with President Obama to talk about, but also to talk about NSA. A lot of these tech groups very, very upset with the government, very upset with what the government has been making them do.

What do you anticipate might come out of the meeting tomorrow, having spoken to a lot of these tech groups, the ACLU speaking with these firms?

WEISNER: Sure. Well, I think this is important, and this follows an open letter that the major technology companies took out in the biggest U.S. newspapers last week saying that the NSA's dragnet surveillance practices -- they are collected all now, hope that the authority follows and maybe it will be relevant some day practices -- are not just bad for civil liberties but are actually bad for their business, are jeopardizing their global businesses and hurting our economy.

Look, I think that adding their voices to the chorus of groups and individuals calling for reform could be critical and might even be decisive. I want to say, just to respond quickly to Jeff, today he's calling Snowden devious. Before, he denied that he was a whistleblower because he said he hadn't exposed any illegality. Today a federal judge disagreed. I think it's premature for people to say months ago that Snowden had not exposed illegal programs when until today, we hadn't had a real court with a real adversarial process weigh in on whether that was the case.

TAPPER: All right, Ben, we will let you have the last word. And Jeffrey, I know we'll have you back soon. Perhaps with Mr. Weisman where we can debate this issue. Edward Snowden's not going anywhere anytime soon. Thanks so much to both of you.

Coming up in politics, this time of year in Washington, even the most minuscule amount of bipartisanship gets talked about as if it's a Christmas miracle. But is there enough good cheer to pass this bipartisan budget deal?

And in Money, no ramp-up, no promotions, no advertising, and still Beyonce is blowing up download records with the release of her secret album. Stay with us.


TAPPER: The Politics Lead. The holidays could mean family drama for everybody, including Republicans. Six Senate Republicans are saying they will break ranks to vote for the budget compromise tomorrow.

But what exactly does that mean? Conservative groups are still angry. Here's House speaker John Boehner.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Are you kidding me?!

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I think John just kind of got his Irish up. He was frustrated that these groups came out in opposition to our budget agreement before we reached a budget agreement. I was frustrated, too, but I think these are very important elements of our conservative family.


TAPPER: Let's bring in our political panel, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Hillary Rosen, national editor for the "Cook Political Report," Amy Walters. You're bringing up your Scottish, and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Kevin Madden, pure Irish, 100 percent.


TAPPER: So are conservative groups, is there going to be a price to pay for Republicans who vote for this?

MADDEN: Well, I think that they made it pretty clear that they are not behind this agreement. I think the bigger question is whether or not conservatives out across the country are going to seek revenge against any of these elected officials. That's the thing we have to remember that's different. The Tea Party is not an organization that is invested in spokesmen who elect themselves leaders or voices of the party.

Instead, it's the voices of many conservatives around the country who are argued around they want smaller deficits, less government. So I think those voters I think going to find a lot to like in this in the sense that we finally moved -- they got a lot that conservatives wanted. They wanted to see deficit reduction and they didn't want any taxes. And we have a focus now on Obamacare. That could help a much smarter fight in 2014.

TAPPER: How do you view John Boehner's Irish up, two days in a row, I should say. It wasn't one Irish.


TAPPER: Are these groups losing hold of their influence in Congress?

WALTER: No. I think the reality is the Senate vote is the place where those groups still show that they have influence. You are going to get every senator who has a Tea Party challenger to vote against this budget bill because they can.

TAPPER: Mitch McConnell.

WALTER: Right. All those folks who are looking at serious threat or maybe like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, thinking about running for president in 2016 so this is a bigger, broader battle. This is a one skirmish in the bigger broader battle that Boehner won, but there are plenty more to come. The idea that immigration is going to be the next issue, that would be one where you would see outside groups coming in and fighting back against Boehner, and Boehner going to not have the same pull that he did on this budget bill.

Look, this was to get Republicans out of the hole that they did dug themselves. No more government shutdowns. Why would you want to go make a vote or make Republicans take a vote on an issue that's only going to help Democrats change the topic away from Obamacare, number one, and number two, change it on immigration reform, and change it to a topic that won't help them.

TAPPER: Hilary, there are Democrats on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats who are upset with this. It doesn't include unemployment insurance extensions. There are other parts of it they don't like. A lot of them are upset their vote is being taken for granted.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and they lost some liberal Democrats in the House. So they can't really afford to lose Democrats in the Senate on this. But so much of the politics around this in the Senate are because Rand Paul and Marco Rubio weren't strong enough in trying to shut down the government the way Ted Cruz was, so they are sort of playing catch-up against a proposal that's really very modest and as Kevin said, has things in it for conservatives to like. So much of this is much more about 2016 than it is about this budget.

TAPPER: Let's talk about 2016, because in the "Des Moines Register" poll, Paul Ryan is doing gangbusters, 73 percent favorability in this all-important state, Christie, unfavorability at 30 percent. Is Paul Ryan all of a sudden the heir apparent?

WALTER: My God, no! I just want to take that poll and punch it in the face.

TAPPER: Clearly influenced by the Mike Tyson interview.

WALTER: Very much. He was a vice presidential nominee. People know who he was. They know who he is. What we know about Chris Christie is the same thing that we know about any candidate trying to run in Iowa as a Republican. If you're seen as a moderate, which right now he is, you are going to have a hard time winning in the state of Iowa.

ROSEN: Perfect example, look at Ted Cruz again, who is supposed to be the conservative super hero over here, high unfavorables, very low favorability when you have Ryan and Mike Huckabee and also Rand coming in way ahead of him. I think there's this misnomer about where Republicans are going to end up being.

TAPPER: All right, Hilary Rosen, Amy Walter, Kevin Madden, I got to cut it off there. We have some breaking news. Thank you so much. Great job.

This just in, earlier in the show we had a discussion about what responsibility if any the parents of the Arapahoe High School shooter and other shooters bear. A short time ago, the Piersons released a statement to our affiliate, KDVR and I want to read some parts of it now.

Quote, "Our thoughts and prayers are with Claire Davis and her family. As parents we loved our son, Carl, dearly and we are devastated by what happened Friday. We cannot begin to understand why Carl did what he did. We ask for privacy during this unthinkably difficult time and hope that you going to respect our need for time to grieve," unquote. Police say their son took his own life after he opened fire inside the school on Friday.

Up next on THE LEAD, it's the anti-publicity stunt of all publicity stunts and it's paying off in a major way for Beyonce. How her surprise album is not breaking tradition but breaking records.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time for the Money Lead, she may be the first artist whose most successful marketing gimmick was none at all. Beyonce's surprise fifth studio album, which dropped on Friday is expected to debut at number one and is setting records. The self-titled album broke the iTunes record for the largest sales weekend, and this comes after zero pre-release promotion.

No. No groping teddy bears onstage or bizarre public stunts to drum up buzz months in advance. She just relied on her talent and international star power to sell records and fans flocked. Imagine that. Going to the success of Beyonce's album usher in a new era of promotion-free album promotion?

Joining me live is Christopher John Farley, editor of "Wall Street Journal's" entertainment blog, "The Speakeasy." Christopher, always good to see you. Could this huge success be due to the fact that Beyonce's no promotion approach amounted to huge promotion once the album was released, in a meta way. My God, did you hear what she did?

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY, EDITOR, WSJ ENTERTAINMENT BLOG, "THE SPEAKEASY": That's exactly right. What she's doing is not removing all promotion. It's really making the promotion transparent. Within an hour of -- hour or so of this album being released, I had in my in- box a message from her publicist saying Beyonce is taking her album straight to the people. She was reaching out to media, but doing it in a different way because right now, the one thing that viewers and listeners hate the most about the media and about entertainment is hype.

Hype drives people crazy because the build-up is so nuts that by the time a big release comes out, you can't really appreciate it. It doesn't seem as good as all the type that came before it. So the way Beyonce released this by focusing on hype, making it transparent, allowing people to enjoy it without thinking they have already been so marketed to, there's no way it could live up to the advance word.

TAPPER: Of course, also there is savvy stuff going on in terms of no reviews of the album. You just have to download it. You can only buy it on iTunes and you have to buy it in its entirety. You can't buy individual tracks. How do those facts play into the album's success?

FARLEY: That's very key. You hit the nail on the head with the fact you have to buy the whole album at once. Beyonce in her promotion for this, the promotional video she put out, said she really was thinking back to "Thriller" how that was a full album, a visual experience. We all know the videos associated with that. She wanted people to accept her album as a package, too, and see the 17 videos and 14 tracks associated with it all at once.

It also forces you to buy all at once. They won't release it a la carte until December 20th. Then you can buy the individual tracks. You have to buy the whole thing, deal with her as an artist and we all know that in the music industry, true artists release whole albums, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley.

But right now with iTunes usually it's track by track and it's hard to be a fully realized artist track by track. Beyonce is forcing people to accept her as an album artist and also forcing them to buy her whole album at once as well.

TAPPER: Check out this interactive map that shows how news of Beyonce's album release spread like wildfire on social media. It's just amazing.

FARLEY: I'm right there, the red-hot center is probably tweeting it out to my friends.

TAPPER: I see you right there. Could this be a sign that music fans are actually sick of the hype, or does this really just say much more about Beyonce as an established powerful brand, very quickly if you could?

FARLEY: It says something about Beyonce. Not many artists could pull this off. Maybe Eminem could pull this off or Taylor Swift. You really have to have an established name. You have to be someone who can sell albums like this to sell albums like the way Beyonce sold it with her seemingly hype-free promotion. You really have to be an artist who has been hyped for years to sell albums like this.

TAPPER: Very quickly, Christopher, is it good? Is it a good album?

FARLEY: It is a good album. It doesn't break new ground for Beyonce, but there are a lot of really good songs on here. I think we going to be hearing it on radio, seeing it on the web for months to come.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. I got to cut you off there. We appreciate it. Christopher John Farley, thanks so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll be back in two hours substitute anchoring on Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.