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Judge Overturns Texas Same-Sex Marriage Ban; Three-Parent IVF Sparks "Designer Baby" Fears; Hidden Clinton Papers

Aired February 26, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a red state, quite a red state, but did Texas just open the door to same-sex marriage?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Did you ever think you would see the day that same-sex couples married in the Lone Star State? The state ban on same-sex marriage was just ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, but maybe grooms should hold off on ordering those matching Stetsons, at least for now.

Also, in national news, it's literally the choice of a new generation, the government deciding whether three parents can pitch in DNA to create the perfect bundle of disease-free joy. Will you soon be able to customize a baby like you customize a new car?

And the world lead. No ex-pope has had to justify leaving the Vatican in centuries. Frankly, that's because there hasn't been another ex- pope since the 1400s. But now former Pope Benedict is answering all the questions you wanted to ask about his historic exit.

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

We're going to begin with the national lead. It's kind of a breaking story right now. It's probably landing well in Austin, that liberal refuge in the middle of Texas. As for the rest of the Lone Star State, well, that remains to be seen. A federal judge a short time ago struck down Texas' ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that it has no -- quote -- "rational relation to a legitimate government purpose."

But that does not mean same-sex couples should start flocking to city halls in Dallas or Houston or San Antonio or anywhere in Texas just yet. The judge has stayed enforcement of his decision for now, pending an appeal, and appeal it, Texas will.

State officials are expected to take their case to a federal appeals court in New Orleans. The Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, released a statement that reads in part -- quote -- "Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our constitution. And it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens."

The Southwest is something of a crucible for the latest battle over gay rights. Arizona, of course, is in the middle of a heated debate over a bill that opponents are framing as a license to discriminate against those in the LGBT community. Supporters are saying it's just about religious freedom.

Let's bring in our CNN legal analyst Paul Callan to talk about this development in Texas.

Paul, good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

This was supposed to be a states rights issue, but it seems in a way that the dominoes are falling.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. The dominoes are falling quickly. Of course, those who oppose what they call judge-made laws are saying this is horrible because this is really against democracy because the voters of Texas actually by referendum adopted this constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

However, we saw the beginning of this in California. We saw it in another federal circuit court in New York. And the holding was this. The 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which overrides all local constitutions, says if you are going to single out certain people and treat them differently, you better have a really good reason for doing that.

And the lawyers call it compelling state interest or strict scrutiny. In the end, it means you better have a real good reason. And this federal judge said, you know something, there's no good reason to treat gay people differently with respect to marriage. And he's held it unconstitutional. So this is a conservative court normally, a conservative jurisdiction, so this is a very, very important decision.

TAPPER: And Greg Abbott, the attorney general, who is also running for governor, issued a statement saying that Texas would appeal this decision and that ultimately he believed that this was going to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has, of course, weighed in on same-sex marriage, but they haven't weighed in full-throatedly.

Do you think this is going to end up at the Supreme Court?

CALLAN: Yes, I think it will, because ultimately the federal courts in other areas will weigh in with different decisions. This is such an important national question that I think ultimately it will wend its way to the Supreme Court for final resolution.

TAPPER: If the federal law is becoming more inclusive and the state laws are being struck down, what sort of legal options does that leave opponents of same-sex marriage? Are laws like what's being proposed in Arizona something of a work-around?

CALLAN: Well, yes, that Arizona law I think is a blueprint to try to ban, you know, gay marriage and to permit discrimination against gay people.

And it's being done under the guise of a local ordinance. It reminds me, Jake, of what happened in the United States when segregation was outlawed back in the early 1950s, and it wasn't really until the civil rights law of 1964 under Lyndon Johnson that -- a bunch of court decisions that had said black people should be treated equally. It was only when Congress acted for the whole country that things started to settle down.

And we're going through that period now, and I think you will see a lot of attempts to fight this concept. People are uncomfortable with it. There are religious reasons that people have. So it's going to be a tough fight.

TAPPER: And, of course, we're waiting for a decision from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on that controversial bill, the right to refuse service law.

Paul Callan, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

CALLAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Turning to the world lead now, as anyone who's ever seen a picture of a shirtless Vladimir Putin will tell you, the Russian president loves a good muscle flex.

While neighboring Ukraine is in chaos with protesters killed in the streets, police taken hostage and Ukraine's president hiding from what's left of the government, with all that going on, Vladimir Putin is saying, what better time than now to hold war games right by the border, surprise military drills involving 150,000 Russian troops, a show of muscle by Russia, the very country whose influence many of those Ukrainian protesters wish to escape?

What is Russia up to here?

Let's bring in Peter Brookes. He's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and currently a senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

Peter, thanks so much for being here.

So, Russia denies these surprise war games have anything to do with the unrest in Ukraine.


TAPPER: Do you believe that?

BROOKES: No. This is a Groucho Marx routine. Who you going believe, me or your own eyes?

TAPPER: Right.

BROOKES: They're saying this was preplanned months ago. I don't believe it. It's a show of strength. It's signaling to everybody that this isn't over yet, and Russia I think is telling people if that things go bad in Ukraine, there could be other things coming.

TAPPER: And of course it's a big fear of the White House, of the U.S., and the European Union...


TAPPER: ... and NATO that Russia will send troops in, if not just to the eastern part of the country, but as far as west Kiev as well.

The White House issued a statement today or delivered a statement saying -- quote -- "We urge outside actors in the region to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and end provocative rhetoric."

Outside actors?


BROOKES: I guess they wanted to be fair, right?

TAPPER: Whoever could they be talking about?

BROOKES: You never know. Poland, right, could invade Ukraine.

TAPPER: Right.

BROOKES: This is -- they're trying to be fair here. They're saying we're talking to Russia, we're talking to anybody else, but they're really talking to Russia as diplomatic happy talk.

TAPPER: What do you think could turn these Russian drills into the real thing? Is there any provocation from Ukraine or from that region that could send Russian troops across the border?

BROOKES: Unfortunately, yes. Yes, I'm a little worried.

I don't want to go out on a limb and I don't think Russian tanks will necessarily roll into Ukraine, but there are ethnic Russians in the eastern part of the country. Ukraine, Crimea, there are ethnic Russians in Crimea. I also think about Georgia in 2008 where there were exercises between the Russians went into Abkhazia and Ossetia.

So Russia has a lot of interest there. And if there's violence perhaps against ethnic Russians in Ukraine, I wouldn't rule it out.

TAPPER: Now, interestingly, the Polish foreign minister just told CNN's Christiane Amanpour today that the thing that got Ukraine President Yanukovych in his view to step down was a phone call from Vladimir Putin.

Why would Putin want Yanukovych to step down? It seemed like Yanukovych was doing what he wanted. Was it just like this guy has no support, I need to find another...

BROOKES: Move on.


BROOKES: That could be it. We don't really know.

I don't know. We don't really what sort of support that Yanukovych had of the Ukrainian military, because that was probably the next step. And Putin may have said, look, this isn't going well for you, it's time to move on. And he probably has other people he feels he can turn to in Ukraine in the future for influence.

TAPPER: But do you think having a rudderless, leaderless Ukraine is more in Russia's interest even in the short-term than Yanukovych? I guess the protesters went away for the most part.

BROOKES: Well, Yanukovych was without support anywhere, so it was probably best to move on.

I agree with you. I see your point. But Putin must have made a calculus somewhere along the line and said, it's time for you to go. And Yanukovych did that. I think Yanukovych is going to show up in Russia. I think he will come out of the Crimea and he's going to end up in Russia at some point. That's when he surfaces again.

TAPPER: Well, we will see.

BROOKES: That's right. We will see.

TAPPER: Peter Brookes, thank you so much.

BROOKES: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Next on THE LEAD: Scientists can do it, but should they? The federal government joins the debate over using three parents' DNA to create a perfect baby free of potential genetic defects. But could the procedure lead to so-called designer babies?

Plus, Congress with a little extra star power -- why actors Ben Affleck and Seth Rogen made their way to Capitol Hill today coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In other national news today, imagine a world where babies were born with dad's eyes and mom's nose and other mom's smile. That's right, other mom, as in a third genetic parent. Some fear this could eventually happen if the FDA approves a controversial procedure that would create embryos with three genetic parents.

The technique is the focus of a two-day panel, debate being held by the Food and Drug Administration today. Researchers who support it say it would help prevent DNA mutations from being passed down to babies by replacing certain defective cells in a woman's egg with healthy cells from another woman.

We're talking about cells that can lead to serious if not fatal genetic diseases. Right now, the technology is only being tested in monkeys, but critics fear we could be on a slippery slope to an era of designer babies, where parents can pick and choose their child's genetic features.

Joining me now to discuss this controversial three-parent IVF procedure is medical ethicist Art Caplan.

Professor Caplan, thanks for joining us.

You say the research has convinced you that this technique should be pursued. What do you think about the concerns that this technology amounts to playing God or could eventually lead to so-called designer babies?

DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, MEDICAL ETHICS DIRECTOR, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: Well, the technique itself, Jake, is pretty simple. It's replacing damaged batteries in cells by taking them from another egg and putting them into a woman who's got a history of genetic diseases, those batteries that give energy to cells to work right. That in itself is not the road to eugenics and picking the traits of our children.

What it is, however, is breaking a rule. That rule was we wouldn't make changes that would be passed on generation to generation. That is happening, because these changes in the embryo that results from all this transfer of stuff be will go on and on to future generations.

So, I support the technique trying to fix genetic diseases in kids by doing genetic engineering seems to me not only ethical but noble. Got to be sure it's safe. Got to be sure you've done it enough in animals to make sure that you have a reasonable chance that it will work.

Do I worry about getting to a future where we get smarter, stronger, taller babies? I do. But I wouldn't hold these kids hostage to worries about that future.

TAPPER: Now, to step back a little, a different technique that also combined DNA three parents was used in 2001 and it was at the time considered a success. There were several children, several dozen who were born using that process. It was later banned over ethical concerns.

Did the fact that it was shown to work at least in the short term with these kids who are now 13, 14 years old help to shape your views on --

CAPLAN: It did.

TAPPER: Yes. Explain.

CAPLAN: It did, because the evidence was that at least you could do it and you seemed to get healthy babies. I have to confess those kids haven't been tracked since their birth to make sure they don't have big problems. But it looked good at the time.

We have had animal work done now on this technique we're talking about, not a lot, but enough to sort of say, you know, it's probably time to try it in humans. I think the safety is, you know, good. It's never perfect when you're pioneering something.

But to repair those diseases, which are awful, those kids who have mitochondrial diseases die, and really take a shot as transplanting a few number of genes to let that repair go through, that seems reasonable to me.

TAPPER: Right now, of course, parents who are doing IVF are able to screen for cystic fibrosis, but they're also able to do gender selection. Does that concern you at all?

CAPLAN: It does. And, in fact, you know, it's part of the reason you have to worry we aren't in a march down the road using genetics toward designing our descendants. We are seeing families who are fertile go to the IVF clinic and say, you know, I'm worried about breast cancer risk, I'm going to make embryos, test them and sort them out. That already happens.

If you went to any kindergarten private school in the United States and saw how much money parents spend to try and get a perfect kid, tennis camps when they have the means to do it or, you know, fancy language lessons, we're a society that values success. We're not anti-perfection. If we're going to stop that, then let's make a rule that says fixing diseases, yes, cosmetic stuff, no.

But I wouldn't hold this experiment hostage to that worry.

TAPPER: All right. Professor Caplan, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

CAPLAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, thousands of papers from Bill Clinton's presidency that have been kept hidden from view for more than a decade, they soon could be made public. But will the Clintons fight their release?

TAPPER: Plus, he fought for his life surviving an IED and sniper fire while watching his army brothers die, but as the Pentagon slashes its budget, could the battle be lost?


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

The politics lead now. With all the talk of 2016 and the controversy swirling around Governor Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor made a golf metaphor today at a town hall meeting, an almost wistful one, one that's turning a lot of heads.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm not worried about politics anymore, anybody. This is it. I'm on the back nine. And when you're on the back nine and you don't have to worry about playing another front nine, your only obligation is to tell people the truth.



Christie's folks insisted he was only referring to his second term in the governor's office, not ruling anything else out. But if he sounded a little down, maybe it's because he saw this, a new poll from CBS News and "The New York Times" shows that 41 percent of Republicans do not want to see Governor Christie run for the White House.

Last night on "Late Night," Seth Meyers referenced another potentially troubling number for the governor.


SETH MEYERS, LATE NIGHT: A new poll shows that half of New Jersey residents believe Chris Christie was involved in the Bridgegate scandal, half of them. While the other half know how to keep their frigging mouths shut.


TAPPER: Speaking of 2016, it could be a paper tiger or political land mine for Hillary Clinton. More than 30,000 pages of Clinton White House documents are still being kept out of public sight despite a law that says they should have been released last year as historical records. Now, some but not all of those documents could soon see the light of day and potentially cause more trouble for the former secretary of state if she decides to run for president.

Our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar is in Florida where Hillary Clinton is speaking this afternoon.

Brianna, what kind of documents are we specifically talking about here? And what's the hole-up?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, some of these documents would relate to federal appointments. But more interestingly, some of these documents have been held because they are confidential communications to and from the president or between advisers so you can imagine that may involve Hillary Clinton. Of course, she spearheaded President Clinton's effort pass health care reform during his administration. It's unclear, is the bottom line, why these have been withheld. They should have come to light about a year ago in January of 2013, a 12-year hold by law expired.

So, it's unclear, but the National Archives tells CNN that there is this batch of 33,000 that I just described what they are that will be released by the end of March. Of course, there's still other documents that are -- that will not be released, Jake, that will continue to raise questions, as you said.

TAPPER: Of course, there's a political calculation here. By law, the papers can be withheld for up to 12 years after a president leaves office, but potentially what do you think is more damaging, opening up the vault, letting the chips fall where they may or a possible legal fight to keep them under lock and key?

KEILAR: Well, it's really sort of the choice of what's I guess not so bad, because both are not great options when it comes to Hillary Clinton, who is obviously weighing whether or not she's going to throw her hat in the ring for 2016. But talking to those today, Jake, who are in her camp, they say the best thing is just to get these documents out. They're not just these 33,000 documents but other ones that remain. They say without doing that it looks like there's a transparency problem and that's going to hinder Hillary Clinton as it has in the past.

They say they don't think that there's some smoking gun. When people are in the White House, they generally know that all of their documents are going to be sort of scrubbed in the way that these are being, and so they don't think that that's really going to be a huge problem. They do admit, though, that there will be something in these that will allow Republicans to pounce and look back to the '90s in a way that certainly isn't going to flatter Bill Clinton, isn't going to flatter Hillary Clinton, but a choice between the two of these things, the folks I've spoken to say that they need to be released even though it may hurt initially.

TAPPER: More episodes of "I love the '90s", no doubt.

KEILAR: Exactly.

TAPPER: Brianna Keilar in Florida, covering Hillary Clinton, thank you so much.

Coming up next, going to head to head over sexual assault laws. Two senators, both Democrats, both women, two different opinions. One of them, Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York, joins me next and she tells me why her Senate colleague from Missouri is wrong.

Plus, Pope Benedict takes aim at those spreading rumors about him in a candid letter. How he's explaining his resignation and his wardrobe, coming up.