Return to Transcripts main page


Olympic Terror Threat; More Christie Controversy; Christie: "I Will Learn Things From This"; School Shooting Red Flags Ignored?

Aired January 20, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can't call it a manhunt because the suspect whom Russian authorities believe may be planning to attack the Winter Olympics, well, she isn't a man.

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is THE LEAD.

The world lead, she's being called a black widow. And the Russians reportedly think she may be part of a plan to attack the Winter Games. With reports like these, is it any wonder the U.S. now has a plan to protect Team USA if the Russians cannot?

The politics lead. The bridge? That was at least two controversies ago for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Now his administration stands accused of playing political games with hurricane relief funds for the city of Hoboken. This is how his second term will begin?

And the buried. Every year, fisherman corral and trap hundreds of dolphins in an infamous cove and pull out their knives. It's happening right now. Can anything save them?

Welcome to THE LEAD.

You're now looking at live images from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial here in Washington, D.C. We hope you're having a meaningful Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We begin with the world lead. Russian media has dubbed her a black widow and reports say she may be part of a planned attack at the Sochi Olympics in Russia. And CNN has confirmed that police are handing out her photograph to area hotels and asking staffers to watch out for her, be on the lookout. Time is drawing near. The Games begin in less than three weeks.

I'm going to get straight to our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, who is this woman and what is she suspected of doing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is really one of the most insidious threats, these so-called black widows.

They're the widows of militants killed by Russian security forces and they are recruited in to carry out their own suicide attacks. So, this woman that they're now distributing the picture across Sochi, a 22-year-old woman named Ruzana Ibragimov, a widow of a militant from the Caucasus, which is nearby Sochi, which is one of the reasons it's so dangerous, right?

You're next to this hotbed of militants. And they are even putting out details like she has a scar on her face, she's lame in one leg. And their fear is that she's already inside this ring of security that Russian officials have built around Sochi, so that all that they have doing in the weeks and months ahead would be for naught, right, because she would already be inside and kind of a sleeper cell in one woman planning an attack.

TAPPER: One would presume, also, that she wouldn't look the way she is in those images, that she would be wearing some sort of disguise.

Are there more of these black widows out there?

SCIUTTO: There's been speculation that there may be three others. CNN has not confirmed that.

But we do know U.S. authorities are aware of this particular threat. They know the Russians are putting a lookout for her, but they are also concerned about the broader threat there and they have expressed to me that there are clearly sensitivities in the relationship between U.S. and Russia.

I think the U.S. authorities would like to do more intelligence cooperation. They would like to help out more. Russians don't necessarily want that. Perhaps you could understand it. If we had an Olympics in Atlanta or Los Angeles, would we really be inviting the Russians in to help us out? Maybe not. But it looks like this is a case where the Russians might need help. And that's the concern.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Despite Russia's assurances that it has the Olympic security situation handled, it's not alleviating the worry among many in the U.S. government. Several lawmakers are expressing their anxiety very clearly ahead of the Games.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I would not go. And I don't think I would send my family.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We don't seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the game.


TAPPER: Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, there.

What will the U.S. government do if things go sideways in Sochi? CNN has learned of a contingency plan that involves putting as many as two warships and several large transport aircraft on standby. If the worst happens, those ships that will be used to evacuate the thousands of American athletes, coaches, and officials in Sochi.

The plan calls for the warships to enter the Black Sea in the next few days.

Let's bring in Carl Herron. He's a former FBI crisis response agent. He was at the London Games in 2012 and in Turin, Italy, for the 2006 Games.

Mr. Herron, thanks for joining us.

Reports of this black widow and before that a video surfaced believed to be bombers in those two suicide attacks in Volgograd. For Americans going to Sochi, can they be confident the Games will be safe after hearing and seeing all of these threats?

CARL HERRON, FORMER FBI AGENT: I can't comment on the planning process with the U.S. government with any Olympics. Major Games like this, the planning process starts way out, years ahead of the event.

So the different agencies have different roles and responsibilities. The U.S. government will work together in coming up with plans to protect or, depending on what the host country will allow, to protect the athletes and any dignitaries. And then they have to also work closely with the host country.

TAPPER: So U.S. warships and transport aircraft will be in the region. Are they close enough to be a factor, do you think?

HERRON: I'm not in the details on that. I'm sure if that is the case, that they have worked it out logistically where that would be something like they could make happen.

TAPPER: What about American spectators? Is there any plan, would there theoretically be any plan, based upon your experiences, to help protect them, help get them out of Sochi if all hell breaks loose?

HERRON: There would be from the State Department different warnings for U.S. citizens, and they could receive those warnings and then make the appropriate actions for visiting the Games.

TAPPER: Mr. Herron, the comments by lawmakers are very unsettling. The contingency plans with the U.S. ships also I think to some people might be kind of upsetting, to think that that's actually being planned and considered as an option.

Is the U.S. government, do you think, confident that Russia can handle this?

HERRON: I think, as far as the planning process, the U.S. government is confident in what its plans are that it can do.

And you have to keep in mind, all of those plans are depending on what the host country will allow the different countries to do. And the host country will do everything it can to protect the different athletes from countries, because this is their Olympics. They don't want anything bad to happen. So in saying that they do provide -- in the London Olympics, there were briefings that were provided in the planning stages before and all during the Olympics. So I'm sure those things are taking place right now.

TAPPER: So you were there for the London Olympics in 2012. You were in Italy in 2006. Do you think that the U.S. government has the same type of cooperation that it -- now with Russia that it received from those two countries?

HERRON: I would say that it varies. It depends on the country.

You know, you have to look at the dynamics of each country, the relationship. And I'm not privy enough to comment on the relationship and how much cooperation with the Russians, but I do believe that there is communication between the two in providing protection for our athletes and dignitaries.

TAPPER: What was the most difficult part when you were doing your job and on the ground for the London Olympics and the Olympics in 2006 in Italy? What was the most difficult task you faced?

HERRON: It's the planning with the host country.

And when I say, that is to make sure that the U.S. government is planning, that it coincides with whatever the host country security plans are. And sometimes they might conflict, and sometimes they fit hand in glove. So, there are the type of difficult things that you have to work through, because, as I said earlier, there are a lot of different federal agencies that are involved in providing security for the U.S. citizens, the athletes, and dignitaries.

TAPPER: Carl Herron, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD: new accusations against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, as one mayor claims Sandy relief funds may have been withheld as payback. How is the governor responding this time?

Plus, he had the biggest play of the day yesterday, but it was his interview after the game that has everyone talking today.


RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the results you're going to get!



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the politics lead, regrets? He may have a few. What would Frank Sinatra say if he heard what New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is accused of doing the Sinatra's hometown of Hoboken? Tomorrow, Christie will be sworn in for his second term. You heard that right, the Bridgegate scandal, the audit, on whether Christie misused Hurricane Sandy relief money on TV ads, his hero, Bruce Springsteen, making fun of him on late night, all of those career lowlights in the last few weeks.

That's been part of his first term. Today, as Christie's prepares to take the oath of office once again, the specter of Hurricane Sandy is coming back to haunt him. Sandy, that's the disaster that devastated parts of his state, and initially sent his approval rating skyrocketing for the way he handled it, but now Christie's actions in the wake of Sandy are under new scrutiny.


TAPPER (voice-over): New allegations this weekend of bullying, if not corruption, made against top officials in Governor Chris Christie's administration. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, claims top Christie officials threaten to withhold Sandy relief funds unless she went along with a lucrative development project.

This morning, the state's lieutenant governor, named as one of the two alleged intimidators, hit back hard.

LT. GOV. KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false, but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined.

TAPPER: With 80 percent of her city underwater after superstorm Sandy, Zimmer was desperate for relief funds and, in the midst of statewide cleanup efforts, Governor Christie visited Hoboken, promising aid.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I spoke to the mayor this morning and told her that Hoboken is in the front of my mind, and, whenever there's any assistance needed here, we will be here to help.

TAPPER: Hoboken is perched along the Hudson River facing Manhattan, where developers have the potential to make huge profits, developers such as the Rockefeller Group, whose plan to develop an area in Northern Hoboken was stalled by the local planning board, and that's when Mayor Zimmer says the lieutenant governor stepped in to deliver a message from Christie at a political event last May.

DAWN ZIMMER (D), MAYOR OF HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: The lieutenant governor pulled me aside and she the -- essentially, you have got to move forward with the Rockefeller project. This project is really important to the governor. And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor.

TAPPER: Zimmer also charges New Jersey Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable told her at a panel discussion -- quote -- "The money will flow" if she approved the development plan.

Zimmer tells CNN she met with the U.S. attorney for two hours on Sunday, showing him what she says are diary entries from the day she says she was pressured by Christie's lieutenant governor. "I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral. I thought he was something very different," she wrote. "I am disappointed. It literally brings tears to my eyes."

Christie's camp says the whole thing is just abjectly false.

GUADAGNO: I deny any suggestion made by Mayor Zimmer that there was ever any condition on the release of Sandy funds by me.

TAPPER: Zimmer alleges the governor's office followed through on their threats, giving Hoboken just a fraction of the $100 million in requested hazard mitigation funds.

But Christie's office says, in total, Zimmer had requested one-third of the total $300 million the state could spend from those funds. They could not come close to meeting her demands, they say, since they only had enough to meet 2 percent of state requests.

In total, Hoboken is in line to get $70 million from the total pot of relief funds the Chris Christie administration says.

After the bridge scandal broke, Zimmer told CNN she did not think political retaliation played a part in her struggles to get relief aid for Hoboken. And throughout last year, she sent out tweets praising the governor and his storm efforts.

But that all changed over the weekend. She now says she was intimidated.

Defenders and accusers are largely breaking down along partisan lines.

Here's New Jersey Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: The Christie administration does bullying, does threats. I mean, you know, I hear it all the time. And I just think that what we're seeing is this culture that comes from the top.

TAPPER: And former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, on NBC Sunday.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It clearly is a partisan witch hunt. My goodness.

TAPPER: Today, Zimmer reiterated she's willing to swear to all of this under oath. But those she's accusing say, bring it on.

LT. GOV. KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: I look forward to the inquiries. I am sure, absolutely sure of the facts will come out.


TAPPER: Marc Ferzan, of the governor's Office of Recovery and Rebuilding held a phone briefing with reporters just a few hours ago on how the Sandy money was allocated and he called the reporting of how much money the Hoboken mayor requested versus what she received as a, quote, "mischaracterization."

Governor Christie told Yahoo! News in a new interview, quote, "I will learn things from this. I know I will. I don't know exactly what it is yet. But I will learn from it. But when I get the whole story and really try to understand what's going on here, I know I'm going to learn things."

He was addressing the larger bridgegate scandal.

And this just in to CNN, new polling from Pew Research shows that unfavorable ratings have doubled over the past year.

Joining me now to discuss all this: Matt Arco, he's political reporter for "PolitickerNJ." And Dan Balz, chief correspondent for "The Washington Post." I think we've got your images there differently. Dan is the wise one and Matt is the young upstart.

Gentlemen, let's start with you -- Dan, how deep is the damage here?

DAN BALZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it's serious. I mean, the allegations are serious, the bridge scandal was a significant problem and now it's -- you know, it's gone farther because of allegations from the Hoboken mayor. He's now facing state investigation with the committees and the legislature and a potential federal criminal investigation perhaps. We don't know where that is. We don't quite know what the U.S. attorney is doing but he talked to the mayor yesterday, according to her.

So, he's got a lot of problems and this thing continues to kind of morph and go in a direction that nobody had anticipated.

TAPPER: Matt, the few poll also says that 58 percent of people polled, this is a national poll, not a New Jersey poll, 58 percent, do not believe that the government didn't know anything about the bridge controversy, as he said. Now, more than half -- 58 percent and 32 percent believe him. This is obviously a big hit for his credibility at a time that he's really introducing himself on the national stage.

How concerned are the governor and his staff about this?

MATT ARCO, STATE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICKERNJ: You know, it's hard to say exactly how concerned they are. I have to imagine that they are very concerned because this is a big time, as you mentioned. Just as things were quieting down a little bit with the bridge controversy, you know, you had this revelation over the weekend and this is coming right on the heels of his inaugural -- the inaugural tomorrow.

So, right behind the statehouse, less than 24 hours, he'll be sworn into office for a second term with the lieutenant governor and then later on at night he'll be on Ellis Island for his inaugural party. You know, and this is certainly something that I can't imagine that they are going to want to address this time. I mean, it has to have marred it to a certain degree.

Obviously, Republicans I've spoken to today say that it hasn't and they are still upbeat about everything, but some Democratic lawmakers that I've spoke with told me that they are stunned about the allegations.

So, you know, at this moment, it's a lot of he said/she said possibly, but to be clear, it's probably the last thing that they want to be dealing with at this time.

TAPPER: Dan, Governor Christie says he hopes to learn a lesson from this. He told that to Yahoo! News, to our friend Matt Bai. What lesson should he learn from this? Let's assume that the only -- let's take the Hoboken off the table, because that's potentially criminal behavior. But just the bridgegate --

BALZ: Well, I mean, it's what we've said before, Jake. It is the question of whether we see him now or he sees himself as somebody who plays hardball politics but within the lines or somebody who has engaged in a kind of climate of retribution that goes beyond what people think is acceptable in politics. We're going to learn a lot more about the governor's operation through the subpoenas that have been ironed by the state legislators, and out of that, we'll get a fuller picture of how that office ran and that's one of the things he's got to be looking at.

He should be -- he's obviously looking at that now. He's going to come to some conclusion of that by the end of the day.

TAPPER: We're in a town where there is plenty of political retribution. It's interesting, when I heard the allegation from the mayor of Jersey City about he didn't endorse Governor Christie and then some meetings were canceled -- I don't want to make light of that but that probably happens every day in Washington, D.C. if somebody does -- it probably happens every day at CNN and all of our competitors and ABC -- I mean -- and "The Washington Post." If you do --

BALZ: Never at "The Washington Post."

TAPPER: Never at "The Washington Post."

If you do something to displease somebody, they might not help you.

BALZ: Right. I mean, I think that is. But as I say, the question is, is there a pattern or practice to this that goes beyond what people think is the norm or acceptable? And we don't know the answer to that yet. We don't know enough about what happened.

But bridges don't get closed down very often. Meetings may be canceled but bridges don't get closed down.

TAPPER: So, Matt --

ARCO: That's a fair point to the extent of it.

TAPPER: Yes, go ahead, Matt. Go ahead.

ARCO: Well, I -- you know, I say that's a very fair point. The bridge thing is a lot -- the bridge controversy, people can look at that as going way too far, depending on how that shakes out. But I'll tell you, the idea that a lot of what folks are saying, the Democratic lawmakers are really coming down on Christie on this, they're saying that he's fostered this bullying environment.

You know, and that's a tough claim to make in New Jersey, considering that a lot of this, Jake, that you alluded to is maybe possibly out of the norm. So, it's kind of a little disingenuous for them to say that he, you know, created this bully environment, and kind of -- it was borne out of him because I don't think that's the case of New Jersey politics, that Chris Christie was really the one that brought this all to light. Maybe brought it to light but he certainly didn't create it. Let's say that.

TAPPER: Right. Dan, one of the things that this really hurts in the new poll were his disapproval rating among independents and Democrats has doubled over the last year is that's Christie's argument for why he should be the Republican nominee, that he can win over those independents and moderate or open-minded Democrats that Republicans have not been able to win over in the last few elections.

BALZ: It is, Jake. And this -- over the weekend, this became a much more partisan battle because of what happened with the mayor of Hoboken. If you think of his state of the state and tomorrow's inaugural, two months ago we would have said these are moments in which he's going to get a look nationally by people who are going to see him in the light of a potential presidential candidate. Now, he is a scandal-ridden governor having to go through this with the spotlight on him.

So, it makes it more difficult for him. We're a long way from knowing, obviously, what the conclusions are out of this, but he's clearly taken a hit and he faces a longer period now with these investigations in which he can't quite get out of that. TAPPER: And, Matt, quickly, if you would, what are Democrats who have worked well with Christie, what are they telling you on background or off the record? Do they believe Mayor Dawn Zimmer's charge? Do they believe her contemporaneous diary accounts? What do they say to you?

ARCO: I tell you, like I said, some Democrats told me today that they were stunned, but I think what will interesting -- and this will be a big moment tomorrow -- four years ago, when Christie was first sworn into office, Democrats took the stage with him and he said, you know, we're going to work in a bipartisan fashion. And it will be interesting to see tomorrow if those same Democrats, if Christie invites them to come on the stage with them or if they would, because what we know is from the top state leadership, the Senate president has been kind of distancing himself from Christie a little bit which, in the lead up to this certain statewide election, that was certainly not the case at all.

TAPPER: No. They are close. The state senator there.

Matt Arco, Dan Balz, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

When we come back, it's a question always asked after a school shooting. Could this have been prevented in any way? Now, a security guard at a school where one student was recently says, in this case, yes.

Plus, hearts melted everywhere when Batkid faced evil after the Make- A-Wish Foundation helped his dream come true. Now, the city is being saved once again.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the national lead, as if losing your child in a senseless school shooting isn't devastating enough, imagine how difficult it must be as a parent to hear there's a chance it could have been prevented. A security guard at Arapahoe High School in Colorado has come forward, blaming the school district for ignoring several red flags leading up to last month's shooting.

Police say Karl Pierson opened fire on the school in Centennial, Colorado, before turning the gun on himself. Seventeen-year-old Claire Davis was killed in the rampage. We've learned that Pierson may have been targeting a school librarian as revenge for being disciplined. In an interview with CNN affiliate KUSA, school security guard Cameron Rust revealed that Pearson had been on the school's radar long before the shooting for threatening a teacher and even looking up guns on his computer. Rust says school administrators were warned about his behavior but they did not act.


CAMERON RUST, ARAPAHOE HIGH SCHOOL SECURITY GUARD: One afternoon in the lunch room, Karl was looking up guns on his computer and after we noticed that, he quickly closed his computer and we immediately told our supervisor what we saw and we were told he would bring it up in their administration meeting. And then that following Monday, after the administration meeting, we were told there was nothing they could do about that. And it was his personal computer and that he can look up what he wanted.

This is another red flag, in our minds, and why is it not in the minds of the administration?

It's kind of shocking. It's just that question of why are we not doing more and what's stopping us from doing more to help and prevent this?


TAPPER: CNN reached out to the Littleton Public School District for comment, we have not heard back. But in an e-mail to parents, the district alluded to Rust's claims, saying, quote, "Much of the conversation is based on inaccurate information, rumor, innuendo. I would encourage all Warriors," that's a school mascot, "to wait for the sheriff's investigation to come to a close before drawing conclusions," unquote. Arapahoe County sheriff Grayson Robison told CNN in a statement that they've interviewed Rust and they plan to re-interview him in the future.

The governor of West Virginia legislation is proposing new legislation to try to prevent another chemical leak that plagued much of the state's drinking water for a week and a half, a regulation would regulate above ground storage tanks, requiring them to meet safety standards and for written plans to be in place in case of emergencies.