Return to Transcripts main page


NFL Prospect Comes Out; Time to Kill?; Top NFL Prospect Reveals He's Gay; Sage Speaks

Aired February 10, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: To kill or not to kill? I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. He's described as a member of al Qaeda, planning attacks on Americans, and the only thing keeping him from becoming a smoldering hole in the ground may be the fact that he was born in the country he's accused of plotting against. Will the Obama administration decide to take him out with a drone anyway?

The politics lead. Hillary Clinton, why don't you tell us what you really think? Documents revealing what the potential 2016 candidate reportedly said in private about Monica Lewinsky and her husband's infidelities.

And the sports lead. He's the American who won the first gold medal in the Sochi Winter Olympics in a new so hair-raising even Shaun White said no thanks. How this snowboarder pulled it off with a trick he had never even had tried before.

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

We will begin with the world lead. The public doesn't yet know his name nor the country in which he's hiding, but the U.S. government seems to. A senior U.S. official tells CNN that the Obama administration is struggling over whether to kill a man suspected of being a member of al Qaeda, one who has planned attacks against Americans.

If this was happening just a year ago, the drone might already be in the air and we'd only hear about it after the fact, if ever. But this suspect is in America, not that the U.S. would not kill an American with a drone. It's certainly happened before. But the administration tightened its own rules on drone strikes last May, its hand perhaps forced by such factors as a "New York Times" report about President Obama's secret kill list and Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster on drones last March.

Under the new White House policy, American terror suspects can only be killed by the military, not the CIA, which has yet to hand over control of the drone program to the Pentagon. But in the same May speech, when the president announced changes to the drone program, he provided a justification for killing a suspected American terrorist abroad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen with a drone or with a shotgun without due process.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.


TAPPER: Now, the president was not just speaking abstractly. In that same speech, he admitted for the first time publicly in his own words that he approved the 2011 drone killing of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the suspected face of al Qaeda in Yemen.

Now, Awlaki is one of four Americans that the White House has admitted to killing with drones. If you look at Awlaki, you say, who cares? He was a terrorist. Well, then, what about his 16-year-old son? Also American-born, also killed by a separate 2011 drone strike in Yemen. He was, by all accounts, innocent. Was it OK then?

And joining us now to discuss the use of drones to kill Americans overseas, Americans suspected of terror activity, is Jeremy Scahill, who has launched the new publication The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. They have extensively covered Edward Snowden and the NSA. And Jeremy, of course, as viewers know, has extensively covered drones as well.

Jeremy, good to see you.

What are some possible countries, do you think, where this American could be, countries that would not allow U.S. military operations?

JEREMY SCAHILL, CO-FOUNDER, THE INTERCEPT: Well, he may actually -- or she -- this individual may actually be in a country that does in fact allow some degree of U.S. military or paramilitary activities.

It could be Pakistan, where the U.S. has a very sort of two-sided relationship with the intelligence services there. It could also be Yemen. It could be Iraq. It also could be a country a little bit off the map like Mali or Somalia. One name that really comes to mind here -- and, again, I don't have any inside information -- is an al Qaeda propagandist by the name of Adam Gadahn, who often appears in videos.

But, again, we don't have all of the information right now. But it really could be almost any of these countries where we have seen the U.S. conducting drone strikes over the past decade-plus.

TAPPER: I know that you have issues with the use of drones. President Obama has said in the past that he doesn't support killing Americans with drones theoretically , but Americans should not use their citizenship as a shield if they go abroad and take up arms against the United States and its interests.

If this American is a threat, and if this is theoretically the only way to neutralize the threat, for want of a better term, shouldn't our policy-makers at least consider this?

SCAHILL: Well, the president himself -- and the Justice Department has said this is the standard -- has laid that the threat should be imminent, that capture is not feasible, and that the individual is known to be participating in active terrorist threats against the United States.

And in some of the cases where we have seen American citizens killed, it's unclear that that standard was met. A lot of times, when these Americans go abroad and take up residency with a jihadist group, they are basically used for propaganda purposes. And so the real question here is, have these individuals taken up arms against the United States, are they engaged in an imminent threat, and is their capture actually impossible?

My sense from covering this on the ground, Jake, in Yemen and other countries is that the U.S. does not go far enough in trying to apprehend these individuals. In some cases, they don't even charge them with a crime before they're effectively sentenced to death. To me, it's not a question of whether the U.S. has a right to defend itself as a nation. Of course it does. The question is, how serious are these threats that we're facing and is it more that we're going after people because of their propaganda value or the potential threat that they pose to the United States, rather than the actual?

TAPPER: Do you have more of an issue with the use of drones when it's an American citizen, as it is with Anwar al-Awlaki or his son, who were both killed by drones?

SCAHILL: I don't believe that American lives are worth a penny more than non-American lives.

But for me and the reason why in the film I made "Dirty Wars," the book I wrote by the same name, I cover that case of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son extensively is because how a nation treats its own citizens is a good indicator of how it will treat citizens of other nations. And for me, there are in fact issues raised about the constitutionality of denying an American citizen their ability to respond to allegations against them.

How do you respond to a drone or how do you hand yourself in, how do you surrender to a drone when you haven't in fact been charged with a crime? And to me, that's a question that should be relevant to all Americans and certainly to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And there's not been nearly enough debate.

Ironically, most of the opposition from this has come from Senator Rand Paul and other Republicans, rather than the Democrats whose own party now holds the White House.

TAPPER: Speaking of drones, you and Glenn Greenwald have a piece up on your new venture, The Intercept, about the NSA's use of surveillance to get targets for drone strikes. You talked to a former drone operator about the use of a SIM card or a cell phone handset to track a terrorist. What are the issues with that?


This is effectively what amounts to death by metadata. We're living in an era of pre-crime, where we're using analysis of signals intercepts of the activity that is registered on behalf of a SIM card or a telephone handset. We don't necessarily have evidence that the individuals holding that SIM card or that mobile phone handset are in fact the individuals that we're targeting.

And so what is effectively happening is that instead of confirming that target X is in fact this individual that the U.S. is trying to kill, they are effectively killing the cell phones. And this is a system that is rife with error.

And what we see is that the U.S. has basically outsourced its human intelligence capacity, so-called HUMINT capacity, and is now relying in some cases 90 percent or more on the use of signals intelligence or imagery intelligence. And that leaves the door area for killing of phones, not targeting of individuals. And so I think that's part of the reason we're seeing so many cases of civilian deaths, like the case of this wedding party that was killed a month or so ago in Yemen.

It very well could turn out to be that they had bad signals intelligence.

TAPPER: Jeremy Scahill, thank you so much. Good luck with The Intercept. And I know you're en route to an Oscar luncheon, because the film you mentioned, "Dirty Wars," has been nominated for best documentary. So, congratulations to you and best of luck with that as well.

SCAHILL: Thank you, Jake. It's a little surreal.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: A star NFL player, an hopeful comes out. And while he's getting support from the first lady and other players, some are questioning his timing. Will it affect his professional career?

Plus, she stood by her man and now we know why, what Hillary Clinton really thought of Bill's relationship with Monica Lewinsky coming up.


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

We have a great sports lead for you today. He's a college football star who has not even been drafted by a team, and yet he's already poised to make history in the NFL. Michael Sam, an All American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, revealed to the world the truth that he has known for years.


MICHAEL SAM, NFL PROSPECT: I came to tell the world that I'm an openly, proud gay man.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: In an interview with ESPN, Sam explained why he decided to go public with his sexuality, saying he wanted to control how his story was told, instead of having it leaked to someone in the media.

The SEC defensive player of the year is expected to get drafted by an NFL team, which would make him the first openly gay player in the league. Sam says he understands his revelation may not sit well with everyone, but he was encouraged by the reaction he got when he revealed the news to his teammates at Mizzou a year ago.


SAM: I told my teammates this past August that -- I came out to my teammates. And they took it great.

They rallied around me, they supported me, and I couldn't have asked for better teammates.

Hopefully, players will see that they don't judge me by -- because I'm gay. They see, hey, this person works hard. Can he win us games? Can he win us a championship? Well, I can.


TAPPER: Following the interview, Sam got a lot of support from some high-profile people both in and outside of the sports world. First lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden called him an inspiration in tweets. And some current players downplayed whether Sam's sexuality should be an issue.

Joining me now with more on Michael Sam is NFL Network host Rich Eisen.

Rich, good to see you, my friend.

Publicly, Sam is getting a lot of support. But behind close doors, a few unnamed league executives are saying they don't think the league is ready for an openly gay player. And, according to the CBS Sports draft prospect board, he dropped 70 spots overnight alone.

Could there be fallout? Could it be bad for him for coming out?

RICH EISEN, HOST, NFL NETWORK: I don't know what the fallout would actually be, to be honest with you, Jake. I don't know what metrics I guess the Web site that you're referring to used to drop him down any spots. I would -- I would hope that this is not an issue in the National Football League where professional football players care about winning and losing and whether a teammate can help them win or not regardless of what they do or who they are or what their sexuality is.

And for anybody who questions that, I know that there are some unnamed scouts or personnel department individuals who think it may not work. All you have to do is look at a bunch of 18 to 23-year-olds at the University of Missouri who knew fully what Michael Sam said, that he is a gay player, an openly gay proud man and they went 12-2, they were the fifth ranked team in the nation and created an environment in which Michael Sam could be the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year, which is no slouch of an honor.

So, if it can work at the collegiate level, I have no doubt it can work and work well at the professional level in the National Football League.

TAPPER: One would think. But, of course, as you know, there's been a lot written about this in the last 12 to 24 hours and there are anonymous quotes you refer to and some people talking about how teams might not want to deal with the media circus that could come with having Sam on the roster.

You've talked to a lot of people, obviously, in the NFL, players, coaches, executives. You must hear some of that.

EISEN: Well, I mean, Jake, in terms of the media -- I mean, we are the media talking about the media right now. And the bottom line is, you take a look at the news cycles, if you will. He'll be available maybe at a mini camp, maybe at a training camp depending on where he's drafted, where he might play in the National Football League. I proffer to say that a team can actually protect him from whatever media onslaught is suspected to come his way.

And it's really much to do about nothing. The question that I see on my twitter timeline, there are, of course, some people out there who have an issue with this, based on what they believe and clearly believe is a moral or a religious issue. But the bottom line is, most people want to know, can this guy play football? And if he can't, then why are we talking about him? And if a team drafts him, how will he fair for this team?

I think that is essentially the bottom line issue that most fans in 2014 care about. And it is just we in the media who are talking about something that is a first of its kind and will hopefully speed up the process where this is not a news story. TAPPER: I agree with you. I mean, the reaction was more shut up about it, who cares, as opposed to it's a sin, although there were some of those tweets.

Lastly, Rich, obviously, he's not the only gay person in the NFL. Why -- this is a brave and courageous thing. I don't want to take that away from him.

EISEN: Sure.

TAPPER: Why is it so tough for gay players to come out?

EISEN: Well, I'm not -- I'm not making pleas by saying that it's much ado about noting. I'm not saying that about his decision to do this --

TAPPER: Right. No, of course not.

EISEN: -- because, again, we understand what society is right now in 2014 and what this decision means in a sports world for sure. But to me, like I said, most players that I have spoken to and speak to, they want to know if he comes on this team, one thing, can he help us win? And, two, is that what he's all going to be about? And that's what he has clearly expressed so far in the media availabilities that he has had.

And I know for sure when NFL Network broadcasts our combine coverage, which we're going to see Michael Sam on a Monday of the combine, with the rest of the defensive line group -- clearly, I don't think people are tuning in to hear my thoughts or Mike Mayock's thoughts on diversity or our thoughts on freedom of expression or sexuality at all. They want to know, can this guy play the linebacker position or the defensive line position and where will he be drafted? And I think that that is really going to be the predominant sense within whatever locker room that Michael Sam winds up in.

TAPPER: A sign of the times, Rich Eisen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

EISEN: You bet.

TAPPER: When we come back, a guy's day at Monticello as the French's president arrive solo for his visit to the U.S. So, who will his dance partner be at tomorrow's state dinner.

And later, it's one way to avoid a traffic jam. Just take the helicopter. New details on the investigation into the bridge-gate scandal and just what Governor Chris Christie may have known, ahead.


TAPPER: Our other sports lead today, the Olympics. It's hard to imagine anybody is having more fun in Sochi than the high-flying gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson. The American snowboarders dominated the men's and women's slopestyle competitions, each one earning top spot on the Olympic podium for their gravity- defying performances yesterday. Kotsenburg says he just winged it when he landed a totally 6-1620 (ph) Japan air to win it all for those uninitiated and dude speak that may sound like a dire problem on an airliner than an Olympic fate.

But our Rachel Nichols of CNN's "UNGUARDED", just sat down with Kotsenburg, without the aid of a broad English-English to broad dictionary.


SAGE KOTSENBURG, OLYMPIC SNOWBOARDER: There was a ton of people, like U.S., everything, like go America. I just looked at them and I'm like, what? I felt like we were family. I was like, you guys are here? I don't even know you but thanks.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: You were the first person to win a gold medal at this entire Olympics, but you're not the hardcore athlete- type that we're used to seeing. I mean, your routine the night before your biggest day of competition, you didn't go work out or visualize your run or anything. What did do you? KOTSENBURG: I was eating snacks watching the ceremony --

NICHOLS: Snacks, huh?

KOTSENBURG: -- eating a bunch of chocolate, onion rings and chips and stuff.

Yes. I mean, that's the beauty of snowboarding. You don't have to be some mega athlete, like work out all the time.

NICHOLS: I do have to stop you about onion rings as well, because you made one of my most favorite photos, which was the Olympic ring out of onion rings --


NICHOLS: -- the night before your big day.

KOTSENBURG: It just made sense. It just made sense.

NICHOLS: And you've had great Twitter photos, this entire run. They had you in the Bolshevik hat. That was pretty good.


NICHOLS: And the language you've been dropping on Twitter, most people what gnarly means, they know what shredding means.


NICHOLS: I knew, right? But I need some more of the Sage dictionary.

KOTSENBURG: Yes. So we got -- first and foremost, we have spice.

NICHOLS: OK. And what does that mean?

KOTSENBURG: It pretty much means anything you want it to mean.

You can just be like, oh, you're spice or, you know, that trick was spicy, man.

NICHOLS: Between the vocabulary and the hair, you get a lot of Jeff Spicoli comparisons going on.

KOTSENBURG: I've got a lot of them. It's been pretty funny to see.

NICHOLS: You dig that?

KOTSENBURG: I'm down. I'm fully down. I do know the movie and I think it's pretty funny that people are comparing. "Fast Times at Sochi," you know?

NICHOLS: Why is it important for you to march to your own beat?

KOTSENBURG: It's just -- I mean, it's how I was raised. You know. Like I was never on a team really or had the coaches growing up. It's just me and my brother and my friends snowboarding and we just did whatever we wanted to. And that's how we learned, like all the tricks that we do now. I mean, that's just where I came from, just marching to my own tune.

NICHOLS: And you approached your event in a uniquely you way. You were saying, hey, maybe I'll just try this trick I've never tried before ever.

This is the Olympics. Were you worried that you weren't going to be able to land it? Did you think about that?

KOTSENBURG: I -- honestly I didn't think about landing it or even throwing it really.

NICHOLS: Most people plan what they're going to do in the Olympics.

KOTSENBURG: Yes. That's the beauty of slopestyle and snowboarding. You don't really have to have a set-out run, you know, you can really just go and be creative with your whole run and you can still take home a gold medal.

NICHOLS: All right. You want to show off the medal?

KOTSENBURG: Yes. I would love to.


NICHOLS: How does it taste?

KOTSENBURG: It doesn't taste that good actually. News flash.


TAPPER: Pretty sweet. And here's what "The L.A. Times" says about the conversation between Sage and his brother, Blaze, before he decided to try that insane trick. "Dude, you're at the Olympics, what do you have to lose," Blaze told his bro. "Why not?"

"OK, I'm down with it." Sage said. "Sick," Blaze said. Righteous.

When we come back, breaking news on Obamacare.

Plus, Bill Clinton called her that woman and now we know that she was also called narcissist looney-tune. Hillary's personal thoughts on her husband's affair.