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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.S. To Mexico: Hand Over Drug Kingpin; A Legacy Of Laughter

Aired February 24, 2014 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for the politics lead.

As President Bill Clinton once said, Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall in love. But if you believe "The New York Time's" Jonathan Martin, suddenly the logic is changing and now the Democrats are playing the part of the royalists seeking a smooth succession. Hillary Clinton is certainly being trumpeted by some in her party as the next line for in throne with an overwhelming lead on the other rumored candidates in the field. The former secretary of state is enjoying what many consider a sort of inevitability.

But it's not the first time that Hillary Clinton has looked like a shoe-in for the nomination. And the groundswell of Democratic excitement is not without its detractors. Our national political reporter Peter Hamby was just in South Carolina, where one prominent Democrat is comparing the "ready for Hillary" movement to a cult.

Peter, what's going on here?

PETER HAMBY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: This is actually a Biden supporter, Dick Harpootlian, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, who's wonderful to quote. We should all call him as much as possible.

He's a Biden supporter. There's actually plenty of Biden supporters in South Carolina, surprisingly. He doesn't get the "ready for Hillary" movement. He says, "Who's ready for Hillary? Hillary has to be ready for Hillary." Like a lot of activists, they aren't quite sure what this group is supposed to be doing. They say they are just drumming up, trying to get her in place. To others, it smacks of them trying to drum up an air of inevitability. But yeah, he called it a cult and he said he doesn't get the point.

TAPPER: So you quote South Carolina congressman James Clyburn, a member of Democratic leadership, in the House. He's saying quote, "I love Hillary Clinton. She's made a tremendous contribution to the political order in this country. I have three daughters, and two of my grandchildren are girls. So I am very partial to women who run for office."

But things weren't always so warm between the Clintons and Congressman Clyburn. HAMBY: No. And Clyburn, again, the highest ranking Democrat in South Carolina, prominent African-American leader, has a new memoir out where he recalls Bill Clinton calling him after the South Carolina primary in 2008. Barack Obama won by 28 points, largely on the backs of African-American voters. Bill Clinton called him in the middle of the night and said, "If you bastards want to fight, we're going to give it to you." And he accused Clyburn of violating his professed neutrality in that primary and said you've been secretly working for Obama this whole time.

So relations were a little bit frosty. Clyburn says in the book he did end up voting for Obama. But as I quote him in the piece, he, says that he's partial to Hillary at this point. He too, like Harpootlian, though, is critical of Ready for Hillary because he thinks this is a group trying to drum up energy for 2016 when they should be focusing on the midterms in 2014. He's not the only Democrat who's said that.

TAPPER: Let's talk about that. I want to bring in Matea Gold, political reporter for "The Washington Post" and Olivier Knox, White House correspondent for Yahoo! News. There is some, Matea, criticisms of Democrats by other Democrats for focusing too much on Hillary and not much on the midterms, which are important.

MATEA GOLD, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Sure. And I think we saw that today with Priorities USA which was a Democratic super PAC that backed President Obama in 2012, making it very clear they are encouraging their donors to give to the congressional Democratic super PACs. And they are not even going to begin actively fundraising for 2016 until after the midterm elections. Really trying to answer some of those concerns in the party that they are going to cannibalize some of the money out there. And when you have groups on the right like Americans for Prosperity that have already dumped tens of millions into the midterms, there's a real anxiety among Democrats that are not going to have the money to compete in this cycle.

TAPPER: I'm sure. There's a big fear among Democrats they're going to lose control of the Senate.

But let's turn to that other party. Today Florida former governor Jeb Bush spoke to the Long Island Association, the island's largest business association. And he told a story about why back in 2007, a voter told him he was voting for Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: He looked at me and goes, we had a Bush, then we had a Clinton, then we had a Bush, then we're going to have a Cliton? And then he turns to me and goes, and then we're going to have a Bush?

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: So I get the point. I get the point. And it's something that I'd have to -- if I was to run, I'd have to overcome that. And so will Hillary, by the way. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So will Hillary by the way. That was nice. Our own John King is reporting that Republican fundraisers have gotten phone calls from Jeb Bush who may now be giving 2016 a very serious look. A recent Washington Post poll put Bush at number two in potential GOP candidates for the nomination.

Olivier, with Chris Christie on the ropes to a degree, do you think Jeb is on the rise?

OLIVIER KNOX, YAHOO! NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think with Chris Christie on the ropes, as you put it, I think everyone else is getting a second and a third and a fourth look. So we're getting some reporting about, say, Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana. We're seeing some stuff about Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush though has been running around saying we have to do immigration reform, climate change is a real problem. Doesn't necessarily sound like someone who is completely in touch with the party's activist base, and that could be - more than the coronation issue - that could be a bigger problem for him.

HAMBY: I think that's absolutely the case with him. The last time he ran for office was 2002. The Republican Party looked a lot different then.

TAPPER: Florida does not look like Iowa.

HAMBY: No. And Jeb Bush is a real affable guy, but he really does genuinely care about governing and policy. Maybe not as much of a deep thinker as he should be about politics. I mean we've all seen him speak to Republican events over the last couple of years where he seems kind of hot and cold and not necessarily in tune just tonally with the base of the Republican Party.

GOLD: And the fact that he even formulated that challenge of the Clinton/Bush and Bush/Clinton dynamic, it just shows he doesn't have an answer for that yet, right? I mean, why would he do it again? Why are we going to put the country through another Clinton/Bush candidacy showdown?

HAMBY: Even with the floating hypothetical, though, it seems to me that he's leaning in just a little bit more than he has. He usually gives the sort of standard, we'll wait and figure that out later. But he seemed to be engaging with it a little more.

But I think he's doing right now, talking to donors. Just sort of due diligence. Because he had a father who ran for president, abrother who ran for president, he knows more than anyone else in the Republican Party how hard it is to run for president. He just wants to kind of feel it out at this point, I think.

TAPPER: Let's take a look at 2014 because I have to say, I've been following all of the Senate races and one of the most interesting things I've seen in the last two days has to do with the Senate race, the Republican primary in Kansas. Milton Wolf is radiologist, a Republican, Tea Party Republican. He's challenging Senator Pat Roberts in the primary there. He issued a statement Sunday admitting that he made insensitive comments after posting some gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page, including an image of a person decapitated by gunfire.

The "Topeka Capital Journal" reported that Wolf wrote that one x-ray resembled "a wounded alien in a Terminator movie." Here's Tim Carpenter of the "Topeka Capital Journal" asking Wolf about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM CARPENTER, REPORTER, "TOPEKA CAPTIAL JOURNAL": Do you still post images of dead people on the Internet?

MILTON WOLF, REPUBLICAN CHALLENGING SEN. PAT ROBERTS: That is not an image of a dead person.

CARPENTER: What is it? What is this?

WOLF: These are x-rays.

CARPENTER: X-rays of dead people. Do you still post images that reflect anything like this on the Internet?

WOLF: You know, it's so easy to try to -- to try to put some kind of blame on me, on anybody and anything that you like to do. I'm telling you right now, these are real consequences that you see of real activities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In a statement, Wolf now says, quote, "Several years ago I made some comments about these images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the images revealed. Soon thereafter, I removed those images and comments, again, several years ago."

Matea, is there any right answer? I think it's fair to say that that was -- first of all, it's just great, interesting reporting. He had like a Colombo quality, the reporter, there. But what would you advise a candidate to say in a situation like that?

GOLD: I think what it shows, clearly, is that he was not prepared for this kind of question or even perhaps more questions that might come in. If you're participating in that kind of behavior, you don't anticipate that that's going to be a question, that in itself is striking. And I think it's going to immediately - if it hasn't already -- set off even more fingerpointing within the party between the establishment wing and the conservative groups that are backing Wolf and folks saying, look, we don't want another Murdoch situation. We don't want a situation where we lose a Senate seat because someone is not electionable in the general election.

KNOX: I think every reporter who covers politics should watch that reporter's performance in that interview. I thought it was excellent. In terms of the candidate, though, it was like he was rummaging around in the big bag of bad answers. Uh, doctoring is important.

TAPPER: Gotcha games.

You know what's interesting though? Roberts, who is the incumbent senator, is being accused of being too willing to compromise. He doesn't have a permanent residence in the state. This shows me that the Republican Party, the establishment that the Tea Party is running against, they're now doing their homework and they want to pick off these Tea Party guys with opposition research as early as possible. They don't, as you say, want to have another Akin, they don't want to have another situation like they had in Indiana or other states.

HAMBY: I think that's right. And it's manna from heaven that he consented to do this interview for some reason on camera, which is amazing.

TAPPER: Or on iPhone. Whatever it was. Peter Hamby, Matea Gold, Olivier Knox, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Merci, Mousieur Knox.

Coming up, a billionaire fugitive camped out in a cheap beachside condo. Unbelievable details on the capture of the most wanted druglord in the world. And why the U.S. wanted him just as much as the country in which he was hiding.

Plus, he knew how to make us laugh with that one great line or the character you'll never forget. We'll look back at the hilarious and insanely successful career of Harold Raimus, who died this morning. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In other national news, thanks for the legwork, Mexico, we'll take it from here. The U.S. is seeking extradition of the biggest alleged drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman whose 13 years on the lamb came to an inglorious shirtless end over the weekend.

Mexican authorities using information from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency finally caught him in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan. El Chapo, which means shorty in Spanish, a reflection of his 5'6" build is suspected of running the Sinaloa cartel, the most powerful cartel in the world with annual revenues that may top $3 billion.

Guzman is suspected of being the main antagonist in the Mexican drug war, which has claimed nearly 80,000 lives in the last seven years. Just last week, police raided one of his compounds while he was inside, but he slipped away through a secret door underneath a bathtub into a network of tunnels connected to his six other homes.

He was not so lucky on Saturday. A number of recent arrests of Sinaloa associates apparently yielded a treasure trove of intelligence on the cartel, which allowed U.S. agencies to take out and monitor a number of wire taps. In the end, it was just one of those wire taps that brought men with assault rifles to El Chapo's room, number 401 at the somewhat less than luxurious condo. During his time allegedly running the cartel, Guzman is believed to have trafficked more than 100,000 tons, tons of cocaine into the U.S. He's been indicted in New York, Illinois, Texas, California, hence the extradition requests. And there is at least one more reason that U.S. authorities would like to have him in America rather than Mexican hands.

El Chapo pulled a Hodini in 2001 escaping from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart reportedly with the help of guards through bribes to local state and federal Mexican authorities. He remained free until Saturday.

Let's bring in Patrick Radden Keefe. He is a writer for "The New Yorker," and he spent six months researching and writing about El Chapo. Patrick, thanks for joining us. It's taken 13 years. Are you surprised that authorities finally got him?

PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": I was pretty stunned. I mean, here is guy who had been captured in the past and essentially walked out of prison because he paid so many bribes that he's been able to rely on corruption to have a pretty free hand in Mexico.

And a big part of his lore, his mythology, was precisely that he was this uncatchable guy. There are hundreds of songs written about him and it's all about this guy who ran this kind of multinational drug conglomerate but managed always to be two steps ahead of the authorities.

TAPPER: Remind us just how dangerous this man is and what he is accused of doing.

KEEFE: Well, El Chapo's known primarily as proprietor of drugs and he is responsible for as much as 30, 40, 50 percent of the illegal narcotics that have come across the border in the United States.

But in order to survive for as long as he has and to thrive in a criminal organization like that, you also need to show that you're the baddest organization out there. So this is a guy who directly or indirectly is responsible for tens and thousands of deaths in Mexico.

And, you know, in many instances, these were pretty grisly deaths. There were people who were dismembered, often killed in a very public way in order to strike fear in the communities in which he operated.

TAPPER: Do you think this is actually going to put a dent in Mexico's drug trade, the amount of illegal flow of drugs into the U.S.?

KEEFE: I don't. I think this is an enormously important symbolic victory for Mexico and for the U.S. It's not good to have guys out there at large like Chapo Guzman and this image of impunity, the idea that you can get away with doing this stuff. But in terms of the actual apparatus of drug smuggling, these guys have been in business for 25, 30 years.

The roots that they are using are in place. There are a lot of other people in the organization and they have probably thought through, as you would in any other multibillion businesses, a succession plan and what is going to happen if the top guy gets pinched.

TAPPER: And of course, El Chapo's arrest doesn't do anything about American demand for the drugs. El Chapo is a Mexican national. Do you think Mexico will consent to the U.S. extradition requests and, if not, can the U.S. trust Mexico to actually put him away forever?

KEEFE: I think this is going to be a big, tense political issue between the two countries in the coming weeks. On the one hand, the Mexicans have a point, which is essentially that the overwhelming majority of the guy's victims are in Mexico. They also captured him in Mexico.

On the other hand, you can see people in Washington saying with some understandable concern, guys, he was in your maximum security prison last time and managed to walk right out. This is a guy who has paid hundreds and millions of dollars of bribes to people at all levels of the Mexican government.

So I think there are some really -- real understandable concerns here in the U.S. that he may not ultimately face justice if he stays in Mexico.

TAPPER: And of course, there is already some tension, the relatively new president of Mexico has not allowed U.S. officials the kind of broad access to Mexico that his predecessors did. Do you think this arrest is actually going to exacerbate the tensions or could it potentially bring people together between the U.S. and Mexico?

KEEFE: It was surprising because it looked like the U.S. worked pretty closely with Mexico on this. There had been concerns when Pena Nieto came into office he would not want the U.S. so hand in glove, but they appear to have worked so closely together on this. That could be a good sign for U.S./Mexican relations in cooperation on this.

But I do think the extradition issue is going to be a really tough one. So you could actually see after this moment in which they've worked fairly closely together you could actually see them split apart over this question of whether El Chappo Guzman will ultimately face justice.

TAPPER: Patrick Radden Keefe, thank you so much. He spent six months working on the story about "El chappo" and we're going to post that story, a link to that story on the blog at CNN.com/thelead later in the day. Thank you so much, Patrick. We appreciate it.

Look who is here, Wolf Blitzer with a preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf, I know you covered in your 1:00 hour on the TV show called "WOLF," the potential defense cuts that are going to happen, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel pushing for them. Who is your guests today?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": We have the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. We had another retired NATO supreme allied commander. I like those supreme allied commanders. So what is going on?

They are going to cut a bunch of troops, eliminate some pretty sophisticated weapons systems. There's a whole new thought going on that Chuck Hagel will announce and we'll take a closer look at what is going on with the DOD.

TAPPER: It sounds great, supreme allied anchor, Wolf Blitzer -- I'm trying to give you a new title. You're resisting it.

Coming up next, you recognize him from "Ghostbusters" and "Stripes," but some of his best work happened behind the camera. We're looking back at the amazing career of actor, writer, and director, Harold Ramis who died this morning. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Pop Culture Lead now, if you have laughed at the movies at any time in the last 35 or so years, the odds are that Harold Ramis had something to do with it. The filmmaker and actor died this morning after an extraordinary career with a laudable life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): He got his start on Second City TV.

An offshoot of the Chicago comedy troop famous for launching careers and for Ramis it did. He co-wrote "Animal House" and "Caddy Shack." He wrote and starred in "Stripes."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was a kid, my father said never hit anyone in anger unless you're absolutely sure you can get away with it.

TAPPER: And "Ghostbusters." Ramis directed "National Lampoon's Vacation" and co-wrote and directed "Groundhog Day," perhaps his finest and most meaningful film.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you only had one day to live, what would you do with it?

TAPPER: Ramis' own life was a continuous repeat of humor and characters that solidified this place as one of the most successful comedic filmmakers in generations. In a 2009 interview with the American Film Institute, Ramis explained some of the more difficult decisions he made such as selling the idea in romantic comedies that another person will complete you.

HAROLD RAMIS: It's something you want to give the audience. And you want to tell your kids, you want to paint a picture of the world as better than it really is just so we can live with some hope.

TAPPER: Ramis brought that hope to audiences for more than 40 years. He died early this morning in Chicago surrounded by family from complications of a rare disease that affected his blood vessels.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: While Ramis was known for being a clever and successful filmmaker, one of the most remarkable things about him those close to him say may have been how grounded and how kind he was, a real mech to the end of his days. Ramis was 69 years old.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.