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Interview With Michigan Governor Rick Snyder; Dennis Rodman in Hot Water Over Gifts; Christie Scandals; How Safe is Sochi?; More Trouble for Dennis Rodman; Key Decision on Contraception Mandate

Aired January 24, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Kim Jong-un? This is Dennis Rodman. If it's not too much trouble, can I have that fur coat I gave you back? Otherwise, I might have to go to prison.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead. One of their governors is counting subpoenas against his office. One of their former governors is charged with illegally taking gifts. Can the GOP put all this behind them at an all-important meeting and focus on winning?

The world lead. He came bearing gifts like he was shopping for the sharper image for dictators catalogue. Now Dennis Rodman may pay a serious price for trying to impress his buddy Kim Jong-un with lavish gifts.

And the money lead, listen all, you all, this is sabotage, say Uber's competitors. The high-tech on-demand taxi service accused of using cutthroat tactics to keep you from riding with its rivals.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with some breaking news in the money lead. Yes, the temperature outside has dropped painfully low for many of us this week, but it's got nothing on the Dow Jones industrial average. Every single day this week has been a loser on Wall Street and it saved the worst for last.


TAPPER: Let's hope next week is better.

This just in to the politics lead. It should have been a week to remember for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Instead, it stretched into one he'd probably like to leave on the side of the Jersey Turnpike.

Tuesday's snowstorm ruined the party he had planned for his second inauguration on Ellis Island after he took his oath and gave a speech that ignored all of the turmoil currently swirling around his office. There's the claim that his lieutenant governor threatened to withhold Sandy relief funds from Hoboken if the mayor there didn't do as told. There's the audit into his office's use of Sandy funds and a commercial starring himself. And just yesterday, federal subpoenas came rolling in to his reelection committee as part of the investigation into the so-called Bridgegate scandal.

Let's bring in CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.

Evan, have federal investigators yet found anything close to a smoking gun in any of this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's still early. So far, they have found no sign of a federal crime yet. This obvious has just begun. This might take several months before they can interview everybody that they want to interview to try to determine whether they even want to open a full investigation.

Right now, it's still a preliminary inquiry. And right now they haven't found anything that indicates that they need to go to that next stage.

TAPPER: The U.S. attorney has issued subpoenas. We know that the FBI has also interviewed some of the aides of the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, to whom she supposedly gave contemporaneous accounts about what had happened to her, what she thought happened to her.

Do the feds want to get involved in this? Are they eager to find wrongdoing?

PEREZ: Well, you know, the political overtones of this case, it has been investigated by the state Democratic Assembly, the local legislature there.

There's a lot of political overtones on this. And prosecutors want to make sure that they look -- they appear and that they are impartial, that people don't have any sense that they are doing things for political reasons. There was a lot of wariness about this, mostly because you open up a can of worms is what someone told me today. It's one of those things that I think you bring in, you start an investigation like this, you don't know what you're going to find.

And I think what prosecutors like to do before they do -- they have to try to figure out whether there is something that they are going after, something that they are looking for before they begin something like this.

TAPPER: So it's early yet, but so far nothing linking Governor Christie to any malfeasance as of yet.

PEREZ: That's right.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

The National Republican -- I'm sorry -- the Republican National Committee is wrapping up its annual winter meeting, this year's theme, enchantment under the sea. No, I'm just joking. It's building to victory. And that means practical moves, like approving a rule change today to condense primary season, to shorten the knife fights candidates go through for the nomination. The RNC also moved up the Republican National Convention to June 2016, which will be the earliest convention for either party since 1948.

It will also likely come with 100 percent less Clint Eastwood yelling at empty chair. But this annual meeting is also an attempt by Republicans to control their own messaging.


REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: As we look to grow the ranks of our party, we must all be very conscious of tone and choice of words when we communicate those policies effectively. We should set the standard.



TAPPER: Keep in mind that the RNC chairman, Priebus, said that a day after former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took to the podium at the meeting and said this.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without uncle sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.


TAPPER: Huckabee tried to rebrand the so-called war on women label the Democrats so often apply to his party as instead a war for women, but progressives suggested Huckabee was all but adding chastity belts to the GOP platform.

Huckabee joins the list of Republican governors and former governors who have dominated the headlines this week as the party tries to focus on the 2014 interims and 2016 beyond that. Besides Christie, of course, there's former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Once a rising star in the GOP, McDonnell and his wife pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges this morning. They're accused of illegally accepting gifts and loans, like a silver Rolex watch engraved to -- quote -- "the 71st governor of Virginia," for example."

Now, I guess McDonnell could always try to claim that was for a different 71st governor of Virginia.

A rough week for the GOP, but the party is trying to move forward with eyes on 2016. The problem is, who is the face leading the charge?

Joining me now is the Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder.

Governor Snyder, one tough nerd, as you're called back in your home state, as you call yourself, I should say.


GOV. RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: No, I'm proud of that. Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: I don't want anybody, yes, writing letters, like I'm insulting you.

I want to start with the Republican who is going to deliver the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, she posted this to Facebook a little while ago: "I have got my GOP #SOTU remarks in one hand and 2- year-old" -- I'm sorry -- "2-month old baby Brynn in another. It really doesn't get much better than this!"

There's an attempt here to show the public, show women voters, who are key, who are crucial, that this is a party that is friendly to women, this after the RNC chairman told our Dana Bash that the GOP is -- quote -- "getting punched in the face on a bogus war on women."

How serious a problem is this gender gap when it comes to voting?

SNYDER: Well, it's something to be taken seriously.

In terms of working with women, there's a lot of great opportunities. Back in Michigan, I hear it from a number of women's groups. We're trying to focus in on things that are important, entrepreneurial activities, helping them start new businesses.

There's so many talented women that want to go out and create something. The other one is, is helping women getting into STEM more, science, technology, engineering, and math. One of the great things that happened was the new CEO at General Motors, Mary Barra.

So, think about breaking through that glass ceiling in that respect. That's very exciting. And so one of the programs I'm excited about that we are really doing is first robotics, about creating these robotics programs in high schools, because what we have found is quite often someone will major in engineering.

The national average is about 6 percent. But if they get in one of these robotics programs as an after-school program, it goes up to over 40 percent. You create opportunities for women and students to get in these fields.

TAPPER: And that's great and it's a strong message. You want to make sure young girls and women feel empowered. But then when you have comments like the ones from Governor Huckabee, does that bother you? Does that distract from the message, talking about birth control, talking about birth control in the context of women's libidos? SNYDER: Yes, what I would like to focus in on are things that people really want to hear about, are opportunities for, you know, continued economic growth.


TAPPER: As somebody who has this economic message and you were elected in Michigan, a state that Barack Obama won handily twice, and you were able to get...


TAPPER: Well, that's what I'm saying. I'm saying, you were able to win there, too, even though it's largely regarded as a Democratic state.

But you're not talking about birth control. So when you see something like Governor Huckabee talking about that, and not just birth control in the context of should the government pay for it or not, but birth control in the context of libidos, what's your response as a Republican who...

SNYDER: Well, the response is, we should be listening to our customers, the citizens.

And when I talk to the citizens of Michigan, the primary things they are still focused in are more and better jobs. What are the economic opportunities? And the other one is, is, how do we keep our kids excited to stay in Michigan and to stay and grow their families? And those are the things I stay laser-focused on, because the rest of the stuff is not what is primarily on their mind.

And we want to create a great environment for success. And we're doing that in Michigan. You can successfully create a great platform to get people excited, but it has to address -- there are so many parts of the broken political culture nationally and in Washington. Ignore those. Let's do things the right way. And the states are a good place to look.

TAPPER: And speaking of the broken political culture, House Speaker John Boehner was on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" last night. I wanted to play a clip from that.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Now, this GOP infighting, is this the worst you have ever seen it?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Oh, no. Well, maybe it is.

LENO: Yes. Yes.

BOEHNER: It's bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: How bad is the GOP infighting right now for controlling the message of the party?

SNYDER: Well, there's a lot of back and forth.

What I say is, one of my philosophies is, I don't fight with anyone. I have never fought with anyone. And I have taken on some really tough issues, because that's a waste of energy, because, again, the citizens are getting fed up with all this fighting, whether it be Republicans or Democrats or between the two groups.

They want results. So, the way I view it is, I call it relentless positive action. No blame. No credit. Let's focus on the program and let's deliver results. That's what the citizens are really asking all of us to do. That's the job we are hired to do.

TAPPER: And I know a lot of people generally feel that governors make the best presidential candidates. They have served in an executive role.

Is there anybody, if you look at the sea of governors, your colleagues -- let's just narrow it to Republicans -- who you think would make a particularly good president?

SNYDER: Well, what I would say is, I think that's an accurate observation that governors are the place to look, because it's that chief executive experience.

TAPPER: Well, give me a name.

SNYDER: Well, again, I think there's more than one out there. That's the good part. And I think there will be choices in 2016. Right now, many of us are just focused on 2014, one hurdle at a time.

TAPPER: All right. Well, just before I let you go, Chris Christie, is he going to be able to get beyond this, do you think?

SNYDER: Well, Chris has done a lot of good things.

The way I view it, though is, is, I'm in Michigan. He's in New Jersey. I'm standing in my lane in Michigan. And New Jersey will work through their issues.

TAPPER: That doesn't sound like the ringing endorsement of a fellow Republican governor, though.

SNYDER: Well, again, it's not in that context at all.

Again, this is too much of politics where people are getting into other people's sandboxes and doing other things. The people of Michigan hired me to do great things in Michigan. I'm working to do my job the best I can. And I anything I spend on outside of Michigan, that doesn't add value.

TAPPER: Governor Rick Snyder, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it. SNYDER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up: more chatter on jihadi Web sites, as U.S. athletes are warned against wearing their uniforms in public. We will go live to Sochi, Russia, next with new details on the Olympic security threat.

Plus, how did Dennis Rodman say happy birthday to his dictator pal Kim Jong-un? With some fancy whiskey, a nice suit, and a fur coat, of course. And now Rodman is facing a federal investigation for it.


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

The world lead now. They have trained their entire lives to proudly represent our country on the world stage. But now, American athletes are being warned to lay off the red, white, and blue gear outside of the Olympic Village out of fear for their safety. The warning comes at the same time as more chatter about a possible attack is heating up on jihadi Web sites.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel moments told reporters that they're in communications with the Russian government and are prepared to pull Americans out of Sochi if a threat materializes.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this.


TAPPER: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Sochi with the latest.

Nick, less than two weeks to go until the games. What would an extraction like that look like?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Chuck Hagel must be referring to the two warships in the Black Sea. Not far from where I'm standing now, I think obviously that would involve taking people by road, by land to the coast and taking them out that way, even issues obviously airspace rides here.

Are Americans particularly in danger? The State Department warned tourists coming to the games to be careful more generally, said that Americans aren't specifically a target. Islamic militants don't particularly loathe the U.S. They consider them indifferent in the broader fight against the Russian state, the Russian state in Kremlin are their main target. But it was that warming you mentioned earlier from the State Department to athletes, not to wear too many U.S. logos explained by Marie Harf, spokesperson, earlier on today.

When they leave this kind of ring of steel here, and venture out into a broader area. The broader concern, I think, the U.S., Pentagon, State Department, has is once you leave this protected cordon, the 37,000 security official here providing security, you become a soft targets maybe across the broader, volatile north Caucuses. There's been an insurgency now, volatility for more than a decade -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nick, how serious are security officials taking the chatter on jihadi Web sites about a possible attack?

WALSH: I think it's getting a lot of attention in the U.S. because people are deeply concerned about the safety of American athletes when they come here, but the kind of things that we've been seeing in the past are pretty common, frankly, in Russian social media. There are a lot of fundamentalists, a lot of would-be jihadists who put their statements out there, one today quoting bin Laden in 2010, saying, if you didn't listen to our words, that's why we had to send planes -- a reference to 9/11, but an implicit threats towards the games here, posted in one jihadi forum, and other videos in the past week or so.

That's really not where the threat is, Jake. It's not to your inbox. It's to the number of small cells working across the north Caucuses who have plans hard to detect by the security services, who have known to penetrate much the toughest security, the Russians can really lay on. That's what is going to be keeping the Kremlin up at night, that's what the Pentagon, State is going to be most concerned about and that's what people really are worried about in the weeks ahead, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Sochi, thank you so much.

In other world news, what do you get the ruthless dictator in your life who has everything?

Well, ask Dennis Rodman. When the eccentric former NBA star visited his pal Kim Jong-un in North Korea this month for the iron-fisted tyrant's 31st birthday bash, Rodman came bearing gifts, including Irish whiskey, European crystal, an Italian suit, a fur coat, even a pricey handbag for the wife, presumably just so nobody would feel left out. Rodman also offered up several bottles of his own brand of booze, Bad Ass Vodka. I guess Rodman thinks torturing and starving your own people qualifies you as being pretty bad ass.

After all that drinking, Rodman returned stateside and checked into an undisclosed rehab center in New Jersey but not before giving an incoherent interview to CNN's "NEW DAY", of course, implying that Kenneth Bae, an American prisoner in North Korea, was somehow responsible for his own imprisonment.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I'm saying to you, look at these guys. Look at them.

Do you understand what Kenneth Bae did? Do you understand what he did --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. What did he do? You tell me.

RODMAN: -- in this country. CUOMO: You tell me. What did he do?

RODMAN: And -- no, no, no, you tell me. You tell me.


TAPPER: Dennis Rodman with our own Chris Cuomo.

Rodman has since apologized to the Bae family for the gross and ignorant insult. But now, according to "The Daily Beast", the Treasury Department is launching an investigation into whether bringing all of those gifts into North Korea was a violation of the law.

And joining me now is Josh Rogin, senior correspondent for national security and politics for "The Daily Beast", who broke this story.

Did Rodman truly violate the law by bringing all these gifts?

JOSH ROGIN, THE DAILY BEAST: That's exactly what the Treasury Department is looking into. There have been several reports about the gift. Some say that Rodman brought them. Some say that some were brought by Paddy Powers, which is this Irish gambling site that apparently sponsored a couple of his trips there. So, it's not clear exactly first gave the gifts, how they got there.

But any gifts given to North Korea are clear violations of not only the U.N. Security Council's resolution, but also U.S. law. They can face up to $1 million fine, 20 years in prison. If it turns out it was the Irish company, they could be put on a sanctions list. They can have their U.S. assets frozen.

TAPPER: How much money are we talking? How much did it cost, all of these gifts?

ROGIN: According to Dennis Halpin, who used to be U.S. consul in Busan, we're looking at $10,000 worth of gifts roughly. The Paddy Powers people dispute that. It doesn't matter, if you bring $1 of gifts that are on the sanctions list, you've committed a crime and that could be sanctionable.

TAPPER: Now, I know that the U.S. government is not happy with Rodman doing this. They feel -- many officials feel that it distracts from the brutality of the regime.

Is this a possible opportunity for the Obama administration to stop this circus?

ROGIN: Sure. Well, the investigation wasn't public. We revealed it. So, it wasn't meant to send a chilling effect but it is true that the State Department was very unhappy with Rodman's trip. They didn't feel that he was doing anything that could help the U.S. understanding of this guy, Kim Jong-un, and in the end, despite their discouraging him not to go, he continued to go.

And they want to set an example, for sure, that U.S. citizens shouldn't give the North Korean regime a propaganda victory that allows them to distract people from their nuclear brinksmanship and human rights abuses.

TAPPER: And let's be clear did about -- I mean, there is theoretically an opportunity here. Rodman could go, he could observe, he could get close to Kim Jong-un and then come back and share with the U.S. government observations about this guy we know little about.

ROGIN: Right.

TAPPER: Why is that not happening?

ROGIN: Kim Jong-un is this hugely mysterious figure, western intelligence agencies know little about him. They were all waiting to see what Rodman came up with. Unfortunately, apparently he was too drunk and two distracted to collect any valuable information. All that we've learned is that Kim Jong-un likes top-shelf liquor and partying on yachts and surrounding himself with psychopaths while he pretends to play master of the universe with the Worm. And that's basically all we got.

TAPPER: We pretty much knew that already. So, too drunk to be of any operational human intelligence on the ground.

ROGIN: Exactly.

TAPPER: Thank you very much, Josh Rogin of "The Daily Beast", we appreciate it.

When we come back, Republican Governor Rick Perry speaks out in favor of reduced sentences for marijuana smokers. Will that help change Republican minds on pot?

Plus, big city taxi battles taken to a new level. The dirty tricks one company is accused of using to get a leg up on the competition.


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

Some breaking national news now. The Supreme Court has come down with a decision about one of most controversial aspects of the affordable health care law, aka, Obamacare -- the contraception mandate. You may recall that Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, granted a temporary stay on that mandate just before the New Year to a Catholic affiliated group, the Little Sisters of the Poor home for the aged. That means the Little Sisters have not had to pay for birth control for their employees or authorized a third party to handle since the mandate went into effect on January 1st.

Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns.

Joe, you've been flipping through this decision. What does it say? What's the ruling?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this appears to be a victory for the moment, for the religious organization that has been battling the government over a question of contraceptive coverage. This was a long awaited answer and what the court essentially said was that all of the religious organization involved in this dispute over contraception has to do is notify the government and writing that they are a nonprofit religious organization and for the moment, the government can't compel them to do any more.

The question for the court today was whether it would block enforcement of the requirement to provide birth control because of religious or moral objections raised by some church-affiliated groups until the tenth circuit hears appeal on this case, which is pending. So, what this really comes down to is the meaning of two pieces of paper, Jake.

TAPPER: That's because, Joe, the Obama administration's answer to this objection was, look, they signed a form saying we're a religious organization. We don't want to have to pay for this. They send that to the insurance company and then the insurance company has to pay for it.

JOHNS: Right.

TAPPER: Why is that not good enough in the court's reason?

JOHNS: Right. What you're talking about is a self-certification form and the question really is whether that's the end of the story because this form is supposedly being used by the organization to exempt the organizations from paying for contraceptive services because of their religious objections. The government says once you sign that form, it's the end of the story. The religious organizations can wash their hands of it.

But the question and pivotal issue of substance that still has to be decided by the appeals court is whether third parties connected to the Sisters of the Poor, for example, their pharmaceutical provider might still be required to pay for things such as, the morning after pill, or the IUDs. In this case, the pharmaceutical provider is a company called Express Scripts, Express Scripts is not a religious organization, could conceivably be required or even compelled to provide meds even though Sisters of the Poor doesn't want that to happen.

TAPPER: Right. The bottom line is, they don't want to sign that form because they say that starts a process in which they would be paying for it or somebody would be paying for something that they object to. They don't want to have anything to do with it and Supreme Court giving a defeat to the Obama administration.

Joe Johns, thank you so much.

In our national lead, a newfound tolerance for pot seems to be spreading across the country, even in that bastion of conservatism, the Lone Star State. Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry made a surprising proclamation yesterday saying he favors decriminalizing marijuana use, advocating drug courts over locking up offenders.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Allowed young people, whose lives would be destroyed forever if they went into the prison system, an opportunity to expunge their records and after a period of time to walk back into society or actually to stay in society.


TAPPER: Perry also said he supports the efforts in states, like Colorado and Washington, to experiment with legalization, saying that the decision belongs with the states, not the federal government.