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Today's Troubles, Tomorrow's Campaign Ads; Chris Christie Responds to Bridgegate Scandal; Playing Nelson Mandela; Soap Star Slain; Plane Crash Sole Survivors Wrestle With Guilt

Aired January 8, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's check in with our political panel, Glenn Thrush of "Politico" as we covered at the top of the show.

Chris Christie under a little fire today.

Is Bridgegate just a traffic jam or as some liberal pundits are saying could this effectively crash any 2016 ambitions?

GLENN THRUSH, SENIOR WRITER, POLITICO: I think he will not get an easy pass out of this one, Jake.

TAPPER: Very nice. Well played, sir.

THRUSH: Thank you.

TAPPER: Where's your chapeau? I would doff the chapeau if you -- if you had it on.

THRUSH: I can't talk.

TAPPER: Much more with our political panel coming up when THE LEAD returns.


TAPPER: Breaking news, we began today's show with a report on e-mails and texts that CNN obtained which appeared to link the office of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to lane closures on the George Washington bridge which caused enormous traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey, for a political vendetta.

Now Fort Lee is a city with a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Christie's re-election bid.

And now we have received a statement from the governor's office, from Governor Christie, saying, quote, "What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I'm outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff of this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear, this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way and people will be held responsible for their actions." That is from Governor Christie. Now let's move on to some other political news because Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden woke up this morning, picked up their copies of "The New York Times" and probably started to hyperventilate.

In his new book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," former Defense Department chief Bob Gates who served with both Clinton and Biden, well, he laid a few punches to the early 2016 favorites.

But what's likely causing a headache in their respective households today will be -- opposition researcher gold come primary season. We at THE LEAD, we took the liberty of cutting two faux attack ads based on Gates' book.


TAPPER: Joe Biden fancies himself a leader on foreign policy and national security.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: We're committed to strengthening the security in Iraq.

TAPPER: But what did Bob Gates say about Biden in his book? "I think he's been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades," he said.

Go with the one who gets it right. Go with Hillary Clinton.


TAPPER: And now of course here's what Hillary can expect to hear from the Biden camp come 2016.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It will take a commander in chief with the strength and knowledge to end the war in Iraq.

Hillary Clinton claims she's above the fray, but what did Bob Gates say about Hillary in his book?

"Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary."

Isn't it time to go with someone who says whatever's on his mind even if it isn't politic?

Stay the course. Vote for Vice President Joe Biden.


TAPPER: OK. That's -- those were a little ridiculous.

Here to talk about the fallout from Gates' book, co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE" S.E. Cupp and Stephanie Cutter, and Politico's Glenn Thrush. Thanks one and all for being here and for sitting through my horrible voiceover works.

So, Stephanie, you worked in the Obama administration, helped run President Obama's campaigns. How damaging is this for President Obama and for Clinton and Biden to have these very, very direct criticisms from Secretary Gates?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: Well, for President Obama, first of all, nice job on the ads.

TAPPER: You like that?

CUTTER: Yes. Stick with THE LEAD.


TAPPER: Stick with the show. OK. I'm sorry.

CUTTER: The -- for President Obama, Secretary Gates, he served the president well. And he was part of a larger team. A larger team that put very successful policies in place, policies that Secretary Gates himself said that the president was right on. Iraq, Afghanistan. The most courageous act he's ever seen, killing Osama bin Laden.

So, I think for the president, you know, I mean, put this just back in the book pile, all the books that have come out of people trying to, you know, set their story straight before the larger story this administration has written. I think that's what he's trying to do. Doesn't mean that it's historically accurate. His version of details. We get to hear from him specifically on Monday. And I look forward to hearing that.

TAPPER: What do you think?

S.E. CUPP, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: First, I think your voiceover is a cross between "Anchorman" and Dr. Evil. And --

TAPPER: Which, by the way, so am I.

CUPP: I adore them.

TAPPER: So it works out perfect.

CUPP: I adored it.


Look, it's very clear from the excerpts that I've read that Bob Gates was not happy in Washington and Washington was not the Washington that he remembered. He felt as if he was undervalued in the administration. But aside from Bob Gates' hurt feeling, I thought there were some revelations in the book that could be potentially damaging.

You showed one, that revelation that both Hillary Clinton and President Obama discussed in front of him their nakedly political positions on Iraq. I think people are going to make something of that and they have every right to.

There was also a lot of talk from Bob Gates about how insular the White House was and how President Obama chose to rely more on an inner circle of friends than experts in various defense capacities and that could become something, too.

TAPPER: Glenn, you tweeted something interesting this morning because -- the White House did seem to be caught flat-footed, but you reported months ago that they were worried about the Gates book.

THRUSH: Yes, I reported it in our magazine last November that they were deeply concerned about this. But what was interesting about it is they thought he was going to come down pretty hard on the president and particularly on the National Security team, people like Ben Rhodes and Denis McDonough for being a bunch of control freaks. Tom Donilon gets a pretty rough going-over.

But I think the person that is hurt by this in terms of durable damage is Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden and Gates were at each other's throats as been reported by Bob Woodward. The president comes off sort of light on this, we know about a lot of these disagreements. But I think Hillary is now put in the position if she runs in 2016 of having to address a well respected fellow Cabinet member and essentially say that he's lying.

TAPPER: Although he does praise her quite a bit in the book as well, we should say.

Let's turn to Christie, since that is news of the day and the news of the moment. What did you make of his response just now? Is that enough?

THRUSH: I think it's enough but it's also -- I mean, as a reporter, and you know from looking at this, there is a whole bunch of things that you would look into, a whole bunch of questions that need to be answered. You showed some of the transcripts from those e-mails and texts. There's a ton of redactions. Who are these people?

I think to a certain extent drawing a line in the sand, and who really expected Christie to do anything different? Creates this entire feeding frenzy that's going to go on for quite a period of time.

TAPPER: What do you make of this?

CUTTER: I think that he was smart to put out the statement but I do think that this is the tip of the iceberg. Let's face it. This is what we all thought. And this is -- you know, he's known for --

TAPPER: You thought that -- it was an -- a top aide but not him.

CUTTER: He was -- there was definitely a link to Christie's administration. But what we -- he's known for his authenticity. That's one of the things that people like about him. But he also is known for political retribution, for cheap -- political scoring. And he has a temper. So this I think was an indication, whether he was involved or not, and we're going to find out.

I don't think that this story is over. If he wasn't involved, then that attitude definitely spilled down to his staff. And his staff was undertaking it.


CUTTER: Probably thinking that he was OK with it.

TAPPER: Now just to be clear, I mean, the statement does not say that he's sorry. The statement blames it all on being misled.

CUTTER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Is that enough?

CUPP: I hope -- I hope that's true. I hope, because I like Chris Christie, I hope that he wasn't involved. But if he was, and if he knows that he was, and this will come out later, let me lay out a scenario. If I were giving him advice that I know he won't take -- resign now. And I'll tell you what will happen. People -- his supporters both in New Jersey and across the nation will come out, he will be a martyr and a hero.

And over the next two years he'll quietly go about plotting a presidential campaign. And by the time the campaign rolls around this will be done. He'll say, what do you want from me? I resigned, I did what's best for New Jersey, I made a mistake, I took responsibility for it, and now I want to be your president.

TAPPER: But your -- just to be precise here.

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: I want to get ahead of media -- just to be precise.


Just to be precise.

CUPP: Thank you.

TAPPER: You are -- and Politico, and, you're saying he should resign if he was directly involved.

CUPP: Correct.


TAPPER: And if this statement is not true. OK.

CUPP: We talked about the Pr sort of -- you know, the way to go about this. If you know it's going to come out, get ahead of it. Now he's saying he wasn't involved. I hope that's true. If he knows that he was and he knows that this could come out, then there's a different way to do this. And I think the answer would be resigning. THRUSH: This is clown car stuff to begin with. Even if he was running an administration where he's got deputy chiefs of staff doing this kind of thing, it speaks to a management culture that was really out of control.

If you're running for president, as we know from looking at the rollout of Obamacare, for instance, management is the key. And this does not exactly point to a guy who's got control of his own peers.

CUTTER: Yes --

CUPP: Burn the presidency, you've got to cut it off now.

CUTTER: There are many stories that are going to come out on the way he runs his administration, the way his personality has spread to others in his administration, and the way that they operate.

TAPPER: I think we all can agree --

CUTTER: This is his biggest vulnerability.

TAPPER: We can all agree this statement is not enough. We need to hear more, we need explanations. As you say, there's a lot more.

CUTTER: Go to the person that's been redacted from those text messages.

TAPPER: And I think it also -- just -- the person who misled him, I think -- I assumed it's the deputy chief of staff, but we don't know that yet so.

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: In any case, Glenn, Stephanie, S.E., thank you so much. And we'll watch you guys later on "CROSSFIRE."

Coming up on THE LEAD, he's been an infamous drug lord and the ultimate freedom fighter. Golden Globe nominee Indris Elba. Does he prefer playing good or evil? I'll ask him.

Plus they have survived terrific plane crashes that left every other person on board dead. What it's like to live every day as a sole survivor. That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for our Pop Culture Lead. It is awards season, of course, time for fancy outfits, swag bags and one acceptance speech that turns kind of awkward. Tonight it's the People's Choice Awards and today is the deadline for both Oscar nominations and final ballots for the Golden Globes.

So it's a safe assumption many members of the Hollywood in crowd spent today watching the film "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom." The anti- apartheid leader is played by British actor and Golden Globe nominee, Idris Elba. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have been away a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does that mean? Does that mean now you can terrorize people? That has to stop, Winnie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you realize there's a war out there. The people are angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are all angry! I am angry!


TAPPER: Idris Elba joining me now from Los Angeles. Welcome. So good to have you on the show.

IDRIS ELBA, ACTOR, "MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM": Thank you for having me on the show. It feels good.

TAPPER: So the Golden Globes this Sunday, you're nominated not only for the BBC TV series "Luther," which is one of my favorites, but also of course best actor for "Mandela." You were at the movie premier in London with Prince William and Kate when you found out that Mandela died, that must have been a surreal moment.

ELBA: Yes. You couldn't write that, you know. It was beyond anyone's imagination. It was very surreal. The audience, some of them knew -- this news had passed and some of them didn't. So at the end, the producer and I stepped on stage to read out President Zuma's official statement and the audience were obviously very excited to see me and wanted to applaud and sort of celebrate this performance and this man, but then we had to break the news to them and it was just a room full of mixed emotions.

TAPPER: I'm sure. So nominated for two best acting golden globes for Sunday, I don't know how one prepares for such a thing. Are you going in with two different speeches weather one speech? Are you going to just wing it? How does one go into an event like that?

ELBA: I'm in the wing-it category. You know, I'm not sure what's going to happen. I'm privileged to be someone that's nominated twice for, you know, two very different pieces of work. I'm not sure what to say. But I'm in good spirits. You know, I've been sort of hit very badly by Mr. Mandela's death. I went to the memorial. And, you know, now we're in a New Year post-Christmas, I feel good, so I'm excited for the awards season. I'm excited to sort of celebrate the film a little bit.

TAPPER: When preparing for the role of Mandela, I was astounded to learn you spent a night in a jail cell at Robben Island in South Africa where Mandela spent 18 years of his life. Why did you do that and what was it like?

ELBA: I did that because I wanted to have some context, you know. I wanted to understand what it was like to have your freedom taken away from you even though you haven't done anything wrong. I wanted to understand the logistics, the feeling, the characteristics of Robben Island. You can go there, you know. It's a museum. But, you know, that doesn't really tell the story of what Mandela had to do, which is stay there and not leave.

So it gave me some perspective to sort of work with because we spent a little bit of that time in the film -- a lot of time in the film on Robben Island. But it was definitely very tough. You know, I won't lie to you. It's a cold, damp, haunted place, lots of bad memories there, and let's just put it this way. I won't be doing it again anytime soon.

TAPPER: I'm sure not. So in this country you may be best known for playing Stringer Bell in "The Wire," a bad guy, although one with some complexities to his role. Which is more fun to play as an actor, a hero or an anti-hero?

ELBA: I think most fun to play is the anti-hero because, you know, it's really more interesting to layer someone who's an anti-hero with personality traits that are likable. And interesting sort of split there, and that's what I enjoy doing the most. But then of course the hero's harder to play because it's sometimes hard to play because, you know, not everybody can recognize a hero. Some heroes are just, you know, sort of thankless. You never even see them. So, you know, I don't mind playing either if I'm honest.

TAPPER: Last question for you, sir. There is a movement online and abroad and I have to admit here in my studio among my crew to have you play the next James Bond. Now, I know you've been asked about this before and you said there's no truth to you having been asked, but you would take it if asked, right?

ELBA: I mean, it would be such an honor. You know, what do we have to do here? We have to wear beautiful suits, drive nice cars, chase bad guys, and date beautiful women? I don't know. It sounds good to me.

TAPPER: Not a bad gig. Daniel Craig's not getting any younger, I might add.

ELBA: Daniel Craig's amazing and doing a good job. I don't see him stepping aside anytime soon. But I have to say such a massive privilege to sort of be sort of, you know, talked about as a character like James Bond. That's just a big compliment.

TAPPER: Idris Elba, we're all big fans here on THE LEAD, best of luck on Sunday at the Golden Globes. Thank you so much.

ELBA: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: When we come back, a beauty queen shot dead while waiting for help in her broken-down car. Was it a robbery gone wrong or was she targeted? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The World Lead, one person is killed roughly every 21 minutes in Venezuela, and now that includes one of the country's most beautiful women. Monica Spear and her husband were gunned down along vacation on Monday. Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004 and went on to a successful career in soap operas.

Investigators say the couple's car broke down on a country road and armed robbers attacked them, opening fire and killing them both. Their 5-year-old daughter survived. She suffered a bullet wound in the leg. Authorities say they are detaining and interrogating five people in connection with this all-too-common crime.

The Buried Lead, why me? It's the one question many people who survive horrific events ask themselves every day of their lives and a question many are never able to answer. It's even worse when you're the sole survivor out of dozens of innocent people. Along with the memories of the experience, they're also dealing with the emotional burden and pain from simply still being here while so many around them died. That's the topic of a stunning CNN film. Rene Marsh has more.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From this wreckage, one survivor. George Lamson Jr. was in row six of Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 when it took off from Reno in January 1985.

GEORGE LAMSON JR., SOLE SURVIVOR, GALAXY FLIGHT 203: We started falling down from the sky. The pilot told us we were going to crash.

MARSH: Seventy people died. An open small access door caused the vibration. The pilots were distracted trying to identify the problem, they ignored their speed and altitude.

CECELIA CICHAN, SOLE SURVIVOR, NORTHWEST FLIGHT 255: I remember feeling angry and survivor's guilt, why didn't my brother survive, why didn't anybody -- you know, why me?

MARSH: Cecelia Cichan is the sole survivor of Northwest Flight 255. August 1987 the plane struggled into the air with 155 people on board. Within seconds it hit a light pole, a building, and disintegrated as it slid onto a road.

JOHN TIBEDE, FIREFIGHTER: I pick up the chair and underneath it was little Cecelia, the survivor.

MARSH: Investigators say the pilots didn't set the plane's wing flaps and slats to give it lift. An alarm should have gone off, but it didn't. Fast forward 22 years and another young girl, 14-year-old Bahia Bakari survives this watery crash.

BAHIA BAKARI, SOLE SURVIVOR, YEMENIA FLIGHT 526 (through translator): I remember the plane started to descend and they told us to fasten our seat belts because we were crashing.

MARSH: The Yemenia Airlines plane plunged into the ocean ten miles from the airport near the Kamaros Island.

BAKARI: I saw fragments and decided to swim and hang on.

MARSH: French investigators say the pilots were distracted, didn't follow procedure, and stalled the plane. And in 2006, Comair Flight 5191 crashed after take-off in Lexington, Kentucky. The sole survivor, one of the pilots flying the plane.

JAMES POLEHINKE, SOLE SURVIVOR, COMAIR FLIGHT 5191: I've cried harder than any man has ever cried.

MARSH: NTSB investigators say the crew made a wrong turn and took off from the wrong runway, which was far too short, 49 people died.

POLEHINKE: I'm not doing something and I'm not involved with an activity, my mind goes back to August 27th, 2006, because there are a lot of questions that are not answered.

MARSH: A constant struggle with haunting unanswered questions. It's the consequence of being a sole survivor. Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: For more incredible stories about sole survivors trying to overcome the trauma of large plane crashes, don't miss the CNN Film "Sole Survivor" tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadCNN. And check out our show page at for video, blogs, extras. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer who is next door from me right this very moment. He is residing in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thank very much. Happening now, breaking news.