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White House Wants New Gun Rules For Mentally Ill; Blackout Averted: Packers Sell Out!; A Bloody Year In Iraq; Downton Abbey Is Back!

Aired January 3, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In other political news, one year after the post-Newtown push on gun control began, the White House has announced two proposed rule changes to improve the federal background check system to keep guns out of the hands of those who are deemed mentally ill. The Department of Justice will work to clarify rules involving forcible commitments to mental institutions. They want to add both in-patient and out-patient forcible commitments to the system that already prohibit felon from legally owning a gun.

Also, the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a new regulation to try and overcome hurdles and privacy laws with what health care providers can disclose to the background checks system. HHS says simply seeking health for mental health problems and getting care does not prohibit someone from getting a gun.

An independent review panel has urged President Obama to stop letting the NSA collect Americans' phone records in a massive data base. How did the government respond? By getting the secret FISA court to renew the NSA's authority today. At least they're telling us about it now. The director of National Intelligence has declassified the FISA court's ruling.

Last month, one federal court judge ruled that bulk collection probably violates the constitution, but another federal judge ruled that it doesn't, so there's a chance that the Supreme Court will ultimately get involved.

Coming up on THE LEAD, if the Packers win a playoff game, and no one is there to see it, does it still count? The tricks the NFL is pulling to make it seem like their stadiums are selling out, that's in our Sports Lead.

In our Pop Culture Lead, I hope your DVR is well rested from the holidays because it's about to be overloaded with all the shows coming back in January. We will tell you what to keep and what to delete in our Culture Lead, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now time for the Sports Lead. Let the cheeseheads have their pigskin just in the nick of time this afternoon, the Green Bay Packers announced they have indeed sold out Sunday's playoff game against the 49ers with a little help from corporate sponsors who scooped up some remaining seats. The team was facing a deadline of 4:00 p.m. Central Time, little more than half an hour from now, to sell out before the game was blacked out in the Green Bay and Milwaukee markets, which would have meant fans, probably, wouldn't be able to watch the game in their own living rooms.

Thankfully for them it's not going to happen, but it is a troubling trend for the NFL. One that is now even hit the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field and the league's most storied franchise. As of this morning there were still plenty of seats available in Cincinnati, too, where players even recorded an ad urging fans to show up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The road to the Super Bowl starts here in the jungle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we want you with us. It's the playoffs. It's our time. We need you here with us.


TAPPER: I'm sorry. Due respect to Cincinnati but that's sad. ESPN reports that the Indianapolis Colts, who play in a brand new dome, finally sold out their game this morning, but only after a sponsor purchased the final 1,200 seats and donated them to military families.

Joining me now to try to figure this all out is "The Washington Post" sports columnist Mike Wise. As Sanjay said earlier in the show, it is going to be very, very cold in Green Bay, maybe even negative 30. Is that the reason they had trouble selling out?

MIKE WISE, "WASHINGTON POST" SPORTS COLUMNIST: Clearly, Dr. Sanjay Gupta does not work for the NFL. You're telling people to stay home.

TAPPER: Not sponsored by the NFL.

WISE: if I listened to him I would stop eating deep-fried Twinkies. I'm not going to do that. It does bring up a larger question. How much fool proof is the NFL as a commodity? If freezing temperatures, if maybe not the greatest stars in the world are playing this weekend, Peyton Manning's not playing this weekend, what does it say about your product long term?

I think it says simply this. Football ticket sales, sponsorship, viewership's not going to go away. But the game viewing experience at home is so good now, I don't know if you have -- I know you're a big Eagles fan. You ever been to Cowboys Stadium, the new one?


WISE: You watch the scoreboard, Jerry Jones' scoreboard, more than you do the game on the field when you're at the game. And I think the viewing experience, the comfort of your own home, the food, everything, the angles, the announcers, if they're not annoying. That experience is now trumping in-person games for a lot of people. TAPPER: I will admit, I was teasing some Packers fans on Twitter today and they responded with good humor for the most part, but here were the reasons I was given for the fact they had not yet sold out at that point, one, too cold. Although in Indianapolis, they had trouble selling out and that's an indoor stadium.

WISE: Yes. Anybody who was at almost the Ice Bowl II, the Giants NFC championship game a few years ago, there wasn't a seat to be had at Lambeau Field and there were more freezing temperatures then than there have been in 30 years in the NFL.

TAPPER: So the other thing, too expensive, they said. The tickets are too expensive. Are the owners pricing their fans out of the market?

WISE: That's a very fair point. The fact that they had to put party decks in at FedEx Field says everything about Washington. Washington was a fool proof fan base for a long time. It can't get the numbers that it does and it's because it's priced some fans out. You got the luxury box and the corporate set that will pay anyway, but there are people that won't sit, if they don't get a lower bowl seat that's right if not the 30 to 50 yard line, why would you pay upwards of $100 to sit way upstairs?

I completely agree with anybody that wants to shake their fist at the NFL and say enough, already, we know your product's good, we know it's part of American culture, we're not going to pay these prices.

TAPPER: There was a third reason I didn't had to do with playoff tickets being on sale when the team was 5-6. I don't want to go into that. What can NFL owners do, if anything, to put butts back in the seats so we don't have, I'm sorry, but that Cincinnati ad, it was sad? It was sad.

WISE: It was. My wife's from Cincinnati and that city is not -- when they've hosted a playoff game, they haven't done very well. People should be enthralled that their team is in the playoffs and they should show up. The only thing owners can do, tell you what, unless the Super Bowl turns into one of the great games of all time, I'm wondering what the fan experience will be like in New York during cold weather times. I'm not saying everybody should build a dome. I'm not saying that cold weather cities should not be cold weather cities.

But bottom line is, there's too many entertainment dollars that you can spend elsewhere in sports now to say that the NFL is going to be king no matter what, irrespective of temperature, of how much it costs to park somewhere. At some point, you got to lower some prices.

TAPPER: If you owned a team, if you were that rich, you would have an indoor stadium? It sounds like it to me.

WISE: Yes. I can't ask people, even people that grew up in the cold -- Green Bay is one of the greatest -- the fact that Lambeau Field had trouble selling out seats. Green Bay is one of the greatest places to ever see a game in your life. They have ramblers of people who put up signs saying $10 to park here and use the bathroom. These are the people of Green Bay. They should be at their game.

TAPPER: They are some of the most loyal fans in the United States, as I learned first-hand on Twitter today. I did it on purpose to get them to watch. Mike Wise, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD is al Qaeda in the middle of a comeback? Osama Bin Laden is gone, but the terrorist group still had a very good 2013. That's our World Lead.

Later, Broadway says goodbye to one of its most overhyped shows. That's saying a lot.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for our World Lead, remember when al Qaeda was supposedly on the path to defeat? President Obama probably does. He mentioned it a few times in the 2012 campaign.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Al Qaeda's on the path to defeat -- al Qaeda's on the path to defeat -- path to defeat -- path to defeat.


TAPPER: Now in 2013, the president tried to clarify those many, many, many remarks, saying he was talking about al Qaeda's core leadership. But now we may be seeing a resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq, a country that was supposed to be stable enough for the U.S. to leave on December 18th, 2011, when the last U.S. combat troops pulled out. The "New York Times" is reporting the radical Sunni militants with links to al Qaeda are threatening to overtake Fallujah and Ra Madi, two key Iraqi cities where many, many American troops lost their lives during the Iraq war.

Just today, at least 80 people were killed in clashes in Anwar Province though a senior interior ministry official says most of the 80 were al Qaeda members. The U.N. reports that in 2013, nearly 8,000 civilians and more than 1,000 members of Iraqi security forces were killed in Iraq. The highest death toll there in five years.

Let's talk about this with the Daveed Gartenstein Ross, the director at the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization. You wrote an article for "Politico" a few days ago called "Al Qaeda's Big Year" and are we talking about the core leadership of al Qaeda, talking about these affiliates, even more loosely affiliated groups? What do you mean by al Qaeda's big year?

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN ROSS, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF TERRORIST RADICALIZATION: When I say they had a big year I'm talking about affiliates that are recognized affiliates. That is, they took an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda, one that was accepted by the central leadership. Frankly, the status of the central leadership is something about, which there's a lot of debate, but not a lot of visibility.

We know that there has been a great deal of attrition within the core, but the bigger question is what does it mean? That is, can you kill your way to victory as the Obama administration seems to think or is it instead a much more resilient organization than we often estimate?

TAPPER: These affiliates, you say, you suggest, had a great 2013. Obviously we were not happy about that but explain. How did they have a good 2013?

ROSS: I think any way you measure it, it's a movement that's both growing and also one that's inflicting a lot of carnage in areas of the world where it's active ranging from Iraq, where as you said, almost 8,000 people were killed, the highest death toll since the height of the civil war back in '06 to '07.

To Syria, where you have a growing civil war, Al Qaeda affiliated organizations are playing a bigger role and even controlling cities in the north. Then going down to Somalia, where last year, the al Qaeda affiliate there, Shabaab, was announced as being defeated, but this year carried out a devastating strike at the mall in Nairobi after carrying out smaller attacks.

TAPPER: So many Americans died fighting for Fallujah and Ramadi. How is it that al Qaeda in Iraq has been able to establish beachheads there and overtake those towns, or almost overtake those towns?

ROSS: Well, they have been steadily growing over the past few years since the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. But in this case, there was a series of Sunni protest camps that got cleared out by the Iraqi military. First reports are often unreliable, but what I'm gathering from my sources and also from the regional media is that the local affiliate, the Islamic state of Iraq, had planned an offensive in advance.

And when the Iraqi military went in to push people out of these protest camps, which were not al Qaeda camps, the local affiliate used the opportunity to undertake a major offensive into both Fallujah and also Ramadi simultaneously.

TAPPER: You talked about branches in Syria, there's also Yemen, Mali, Kenya. How coordinated are all these groups?

ROSS: This is a point of a great deal of debate among analysts. Some people adhere to the idea that it's basically just a brand. There isn't a great deal of coordination between the central leadership and the affiliates. Others think --

TAPPER: They swear the oath and kind of go off and do their dastardly deeds?

ROSS: Precisely. The competing view is that there is decentralization of action, but centralization of strategy. I tend to fall into that camp, but I should say this is an area, where not enough information has been released to allow for really good open source analysis. I think that one thing analysts should be pushing for is a release of more documents that were captured because that will give us a much better idea about how these organizations actually function together.

TAPPER: we were told, I guess maybe like 2011-2012, the big threat was al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was mainly in Yemen. There have been a number of drone strikes there. How strong are they?

ROSS: There have been a number of drone strikes, but one thing they have been able to do is carry out basically an assassination campaign against high level Yemeni officers. This has created a great deal of attrition within the Yemeni military. Again, you have questions just like you do in Pakistan. We know there's attrition, but the question is what does the attrition mean?

One thing I should point to, studies that looked at this question show for organizations that are structured this particular way where they are clandestine and built up in a cellular manner so destroying one node doesn't bleed over into others necessarily. It's very difficult to win be purely attrition-based strategy, which is what we have right now.

TAPPER: Terrifying and of course, AQAP, the ones in Yemen. They are the ones who keep plotting to send individuals here to this country to do damage and to wreak havoc. Thank you. We appreciate it.

They are a force for good in a world that can be very bad at times. Today, we are hearing that five workers from doctors without borders have been detained by the Syrian government for quote, "questioning." They were grabbed from a home last night and have not been heard from since.

The aid organization is not giving out any information on their nationalities at this point or any other details to protect their safety. Last year, a Syrian surgeon working for the group was killed.

If you're looking for the latest vacation hot spot in this freezing weather, skip the beach, hit the Vatican. Apparently that's what nearly seven million people did last year, 6.6 million attended Vatican events led by Pope Francis in 2013. That's three times as many as visited in 2012. Don't take it personally, Pope Benedict. Sure, Pope Francis is drawing in bigger crowds than you and was named "Times" Person of the Year even though he wouldn't be pope if you had not decided to retire. You were the first to leave the papacy by helicopter. That's still pretty cool.

Coming up in our Pop Lead, the British are coming. The British TV shows are coming. What to expect when we return to "Downton Abbey" this Sunday.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for the Pop Culture Lead, put on your finest attire and brace yourself for the witty comebacks of the dowager countess. The dames and butlers are back. The U.K.'s smash hit "Downton Abbey" returns for its fourth season this Sunday on PBS. Twenty four million viewers tuned in last season and there's no indication that Americans have lost their appetite for the upstairs/downstairs drama.

But what other shows should we be looking at for this year? Let's bring in our friend Brian Lowry, TV critic for "Variety." All right, give us your honest assessment. Is the show past its prime?

BRIAN LOWRY, TV CRITIC, "VARIETY": I don't necessarily think so. I think it had -- it did have some major changes in the third season. It had a couple of very significant characters who left the show feet first. And it comes back and it takes a little while in this new season to recover from that, but it very quickly adds a fairly meaty plot that really drives the narrative through most of the season, and I think the people who are hooked on the show and the number of characters it juggles will be hooked all over again.

TAPPER: A lot of other shows coming back this month. What should we be looking for?

LOWRY: Well, there's a real crush of new and returning shows, but I think among the new shows, the real standout in the bunch is "True Detective," which is an HBO drama starring Matthew McConaughey, whose film career has taken off at this point. The timing could hardly be better. It's beyond the casting. It's a triple-layered mystery, which is really engrossing.

Then after that, there are a number of other new shows, some of which are fun and mildly promising. CBS has a show called "Intelligence." HBO has a new show about gay men in San Francisco called "Looking." There's just a tremendous breadth of TV on right now and this month is just going to add to that.

TAPPER: What about the ones coming back, not the new shows but returning shows? What should we be looking out for? What's in good shape or bad shape? Go ahead and unleash.

Well, I think "Girls" returns on HBO and I think that's a show that's been overrated and over appreciated kind of from the beginning, and it feels very much that way with the third season in that it feels like a lot more of the same. Then Fox's "The Following," which was a show that I really liked the first three or four episodes, then I thought creatively just went off the rails by the end of the season, comes back for a second season, and I've seen the first couple and it looks like it's just sort of picking up unfortunately where it left off.

TAPPER: With Netflix and Amazon Prime, more cable networks, do you think TV is getting better or was the heyday maybe a few years ago and now it's kind of sliding down or coasting?

LOWRY: I think we're really at a point right now. We have lost some major shows recently. "Breaking Bad" ended its run pretty spectacularly just a few months ago. But we're in a real heyday of television dramas, certainly and we've seen some strides in comedy as well. It's tougher I think for the comedy to make that kind of noise. But as you said, with channels or really not even channels, like Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu all trying to brand themselves by adding these prestigious shows. We are seeing a tremendous glut of things that are worth watching. When I was trying to put a year-end list together of ten best, I couldn't cap it at ten. I really had a couple of dozen who I could make an argument for being on there one way or another. That's a pretty deep bench of good shows.

TAPPER: I know you weren't even including news shows in your top ten list because of course, of course, I can think of one that might have made the list. Brian Lowry, thank you so much. We always appreciate it.

It's a Broadway show that literally stumbled out of the gate with actors getting injured and cost overruns that would make Washington say wow. It rebounded for a 1,200 performance run but now they are turning the lights off on "Spiderman." The show's final performance takes place tomorrow before production moves to Las Vegas.

It will go down as the most expensive Broadway production in history and one of the most buzz-worthy for its dangerous stunts and special effects, and for songs written by Bono and the Edge. The show is also being immortalized by the Smithsonian, which will induct the Spiderman's costume into the Museum of American History.

If you have seen "Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix or just the previews, you know that flood pants are the clothes of the near future or future, really hard to tell what year this movie is set in. You can be the latest trendsetter. The clothing company outdoor ceremony has created a "Her" collection inspired by the movie. Not only can you get the pants, but you can also get shirts and coats, although I'm of course still waiting for the clothing collection inspired by the film "Space Balls."

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and check out our show page at That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Happy Friday. Happy New Year. I now turn you over to Jim Acosta, who is filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Jim.