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Internal Army Review Disqualifies Nearly 600 Service Members From "Trust" Positions; Interview With Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Pope Benedict Breaks His Silence

Aired February 26, 2014 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In other national news, nearly 600 service members have been disqualified from jobs that are considered positions of trust like recruiters, sexual assault counselors and drill sergeants. That's because an internal Army review found them to be involved in violations like sexual assault and child abuse and drunk driving.

Meanwhile, a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing earlier today listening to heartbreaking testimony from victims who were sexually assaulted while serving their country in the military.


LANCE CORPORAL JEREMIAH J. ARBOGAST, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): I joined the Marines in order to serve my country as an honorable man. Instead, I was thrown away like a piece of garbage.

JESSICA KENYON, PORMER PRIVATE FIRST CLASS, U.S. ARMY: During the initial training, none of us received any training in what to do regarding -- in a real sexual assault situation. The truth was at that point, I had to Google what to do when it happened to me.



TAPPER: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand chaired that subcommittee hearing earlier today and she joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

So you argue that the military commanders should not have control over whether to move forward in these kinds of cases, because you believe that reporting and punishments will both improve for the victims if it's taken out of the chain of command.

But there is this independent panel, as you know, chaired by a woman with a mostly female composition, that did not find evidence it would increase reporting. So is there evidence you have that taking it out of the chain of command will protect the victim, increase reporting, or increase punishments?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: I have the evidence of most of the victims who have actually filled out a DOD survey about why they didn't report. The number one reason given was they didn't think the chain of command would do anything. And the second reason given was they either feared or they had witnessed retaliation.

So we know of the one out of 10 souls that did report, 62 percent were retaliated against.

So if you listen to the survivors of these sexual traumas and sexual assaults, they will tell you what needs to be done is the decision- making has to be taken out of the chain of command in order to create transparency and accountability and have that decision-maker be objective.

In fact, we have also heard from victims that this is the kind of reform that would create more victims coming forward and more convictions and more consequences.

So I think that's what you really have to listen to, the people who lived it.

We also have a growing chorus of support from veterans organizations. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have supported this legislation, as have Vietnam veterans, as has women veterans groups and advocacy groups for sexual trauma, along with a slew of generals and high-ranking officers who are now retired who are free to speak their mind and say what they believe should be done.

TAPPER: As you know, your chief rival, probably -- I think that's fair to say -- in this is fellow Democratic woman, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She disagrees with you. She has competing legislation.

Let me read part of a statement she said. Quote, "It hasn't worked where it's been tried," McCaskill says. "Supporters of this alternative cite a number of American allies that have moved to similar systems, but not one of these countries has seen the increase in reporting that proponents promise."

Now, as you know, Senator McCaskill has a rival -- competing legislation.

Why is she wrong?

GILLIBRAND: Well, I support Senator McCaskill's additional reforms. They're great. They'll continue to help victims who do report.

But the reason why she's wrong is our allies didn't have a problem with military sexual assault and a lack of reporting. They changed their systems for civil liberties reasons, to say the scales of justice have to be blind. You can't tip it for victims, you can't tip it for perpetrators.

And, in fact, when the U.K. changed its system, it was because of a murder trial. And someone there said, I can't get a fair trial because my commander has already decided the case. Israel made their change in 1955. So obviously, their issue wasn't military sexual assault.

But what every single one of these other jurisdictions have told us is their military didn't fall apart the day it removed the decision from commanders about whether to go to trial, because the only thing the Department of Defense has said as the reason they can't do this is they've said it would undermine good order and discipline. U.K., Australia, Germany, Israel, all of them have said, when they made this decision, it did not undermine good order and discipline in any way.

TAPPER: I believe you have 55 public supporters in the Senate for your legislation.

But is it complicated at all for your cause, the fact that your chief rival in this is a -- is a fellow Democratic woman senator?

GILLIBRAND: I don't think so. I mean, obviously, women are not a monolith. We don't agree on everything. But in our Senate chamber, we have 17 out of 20 of the women supporting this legislation. And in terms of women's voices, we also have the support of the one panel handpicked by the DOD to advise on the status of women in the military. And they overwhelmingly support the aspects of this legislation.

And they've been empanelled for well over 25 years to opine on these things. And in their judgment, having seen this issue for decades, they believe taking this decision point out of the chain of command is the right thing to do. And even Secretary Hagel has said he places a great premium on their views.

TAPPER: I don't want to make light of a very serious issue, but your cause got attention in a very buzzy TV series, "House of Cards," as you may or may not know.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Civilian oversight is not the answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband is a civilian who oversees the military. Are you suggesting that civilians can offer no guidance in matters like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forgive me, Mrs. Walker. I didn't mean to suggest that at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then maybe you should listen to the civilians sitting across from you.


TAPPER: Does it help your cause to have a story line? This is -- I don't want to -- no spoilers. I don't want to ruin this for you. But -- but this is a major plot point throughout the second season.

Does it help it to bring attention in a way like this or does it trivialize it, do you think?

GILLIBRAND: No, it's another vehicle for victims' stories to be heard.

And so what we're talking about is many women have been walking the halls of Congress for almost a year now, and frankly, they deserve a vote. And to have more people talking about it both in the media and in a popular TV series is important.

TAPPER: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.


TAPPER: When we come back, Pope Benedict sets the record straight after rumors swirl he stepped down over corruption in the Vatican. What he's saying now about his relationship with Pope Francis and the real reason he resigned.

Plus, even if Sandra Bullock doesn't win an Oscar this weekend, she's still going to clean up. The astronomical amount she's reportedly bringing in for her role in "Gravity," coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In other World News, Pope Benedict breaks his silence to call a recent rumor about him absurd after allegations surfaced in an Italian paper that Benedict had been forced to quit. The pope emeritus denied it in a letter to the website "Vatican Insider," writing quote, "The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculation regarding its validity is simply absurd." Dan Brown, you taking notes here?

Meanwhile, in Pope Francis news, he met his mini-me, a very unhappy little boy dressed as him.

But let's go back to that first story and get some perspective from the Reverend James Barton, editor-at-large of "America Magazine" and author of the forthcoming book, "Jesus: A Pilgrimage." Reverend, thanks for being here.

I think some might argue that it's a little beneath a pope, even a pope emeritus, to respond to rumors. Why write this letter? Why dignify the chitchat?

REV. JAMES BARTON, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "AMERICA MAGAZINE": Well, in a sense he's trying to help Pope Francis, I think, by putting to rest the rumors that he was forced to resign. The pope had actually talked about this a few years before with some of his assistants, and he felt he was too old to continue so, you know, why not put those rumors to rest and help the pope?

TAPPER: Is that your understanding of why he stepped down, because he was too old?

BARTON: Yes. And, you know, he had even been talking about Pope John Paul when he was ill, the possibility of Pope John Paul stepping down. I know for a fact speaking to some high-level clerics that he was talking about this awhile before some of these scandals broke. So he's very free man. I thought it was a very humble thing for him to do.

TAPPER: And explain to us why he felt the necessity to address the way he dresses.

BARTON: Well, there was a little confusion because people thought why should he dress in white, he's no longer the pope. But his point was when I became pope, I got rid of all of my old clothes and this is really the only thing he said that he had left in his closet. So it was for practical purposes, he said.

TAPPER: Tell us about the relationship between Pope Francis and Benedict. Are they close at all?

BARTON: They are close. And I also know that they see each other fairly frequently. Pope Francis has very warm affection for Pope Benedict, and this is not just PR. I know this from friends who are in Rome. There you see a picture of them embracing.

Sometimes Pope Francis will go and visit Pope Benedict in his residence, and I know for a fact also they say the rosary together quite frequently. So it's a very warm relationship. And who else can Pope Francis look to for experience?

TAPPER: This was a rare public announcement by Pope Benedict since stepping down. Do you think this is just a sign of what's to come? He's going to continue to write things, continue to address rumors or talk about issues in the news?

BARTON: No, I don't think so. I think he's going to stay with his original promise to withdraw. He's really been out of the public limelight. He will probably show up at the canonization on April 27th of Pope John Paul and Blessed John XXIII. But for the most part he is leading a life of prayer and reading and quiet, which befits an 86- year-old man.

TAPPER: And we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis, how would you sum up his year? I feel like this is such a lighthouse because it was obviously just an astounding year for him, but what do you make of it?

MARTIN: Well, I think astounding is a good word. I think change would be the word that I would come up with. He has changed so much, not in terms of doctrine, of course, but just in the church's stance and the church's openness and even in simple things like moving out of the Apostolic Palace into a simple room, speaking more in an inviting way to people.

And I think he has the common touch and I think people just love him for it and I'm one of them.

TAPPER: Reverend Martin, thank you so much. Good to see you as always.

MARTIN: My pleasure.

TAPPER: Also in world news, President Obama for the first time declared publicly that he is instructing the Pentagon to prepare for the so-called zero option. No U.S. troops in Afghanistan, no small counterterrorism unit, no trainers, no advisers.

Now in this in the past has not been the president's preference, but senior White House sources tell me that this will be what the U.S. does if Afghan President Karzai or his successor do not sign off on the agreement that would, among other things, allow U.S. troops to remain in country with immunity from local prosecution.

A senior Pakistani government official told CNN that U.S. withdrawal would cause a civil war in Afghanistan potentially undoing much of the work U.S. troops have established in the past 13-plus years. So we wondered what do U.S. troops think about that.


TAPPER (voice-over): The possible consequences of a complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan are right now theoretical. But they are not theoretical for those Americans who served in Iraq. Especially those soldiers and Marines who fought in Fallujah and Ramadi.

Iraqi towns where much American blood and treasure was spent and which extremists recaptured in recent months.

Retired Army Captain Perfecto Sanchez from Queens, New York, served two tours in Iraq and fought in the 2006 battle for Ramadi, which "TIME" magazine then called the most dangerous place in Iraq, and where the Pentagon says at least 59 U.S. service members were killed.

CAPT. PERFECTO SANCHEZ, IRAQ VETERAN: It was a very important time in the Iraqi war. It was a very dangerous city.

TAPPER: Sanchez is one of the veterans whose war stories are told in the new show "Against the Odds," which debuts Monday night on the American Heroes Channel, formerly known as the Military Channel.

SANCHEZ: As I'm coming from the east, I hit an IED. And it was a complex attack. As soon as the dismounts came out, we started taking small arms fire. My radio was disabled. My gunner and my driver both had concussions. I got out of the vehicle, and now I'm on the ground evacuating the casualties out of the vehicle, and trying to take command and control of what was now middle of a firefight. And Sergeant Lanz was killed.

TAPPER: Sergeant Lanz -- Army Staff Sergeant Jose Lanzarin of Lubbock, Texas -- was just 28 years old when he paid the ultimate price, leaving behind a wife and grieving family.

Six men in Sanchez's company would fall in the battle, two from his own platoon.

For Sanchez, the ability of the Iraqi government to fight extremists in Ramadi today is what he and his army brothers fought for.

SANCHEZ: We fought to give the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people the freedom to be who they want to be so now their future is in their hands, and to me that is I think the reality of life. There's nothing I can take away from the service that, you know, my platoon did or any servicemen did back in 2006.

TAPPER: But do you worry at all about Afghanistan facing some of the same challenges that Iran faced after the U.S. left?

SANCHEZ: The truth is that they will. I mean, Afghanistan will have to figure out what type of country they want to be.


TAPPER: You can see more of Captain Perfecto Sanchez's story on the new series "Against the Odds" on the American Heroes Channel, formerly the Military Channel, Monday night starting this Monday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Wolf Blitzer is now here with a preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Wolf, Governor Chris Christie held another town hall today. He says he's on the back nine of his career but he still has plenty critics. And you're going to be talking to one of them.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: He said he's done with politics and then his aides say well, that means in New Jersey, not necessarily nationally. I'm going to speak to Barbara Buono who lost in the -- by a wide margin last November. She's got some strong views on what he's doing right now, the whole bridge scandal, why Democrats didn't come to her aid in the final weeks leading up to the election including the top Democratic leadership.

It's going to be a strong interview. Also Michele Bachmann, she's going to be joining us as well.

TAPPER: I saw that. You tweeted that.

BLITZER: I tweeted that.

TAPPER: Michele Bachmann.

BLITZER: She's -- I'm going to ask her to explain why she believes there's no pent-up desire right now for a woman to be president of the United States.

TAPPER: Yes. Controversial remarks she made to Cal Thomas, I think, saying that there was guilt and that's factored into why Obama was elected but there isn't guilt for a woman. BLITZER: Yes. And so we'll go and ask her what she means by that.

TAPPER: Sounds like a great show. Looking forward to it.

Thanks, Wolf.

Coming up next, Batman and the Green Hornet showing up on Capitol Hill. But these two A-list celebrities, well, they're not there to talk comic books. We'll tell you what Ben Affleck and Seth Rogen had to say to the country's lawmakers today. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It's now time for the "Pop Culture Lead."

Ben Affleck and Seth Rogen have more in common that movie audiences' wariness at seeing either of them portray superheroes. The A-list actors are both bringing Hollywood to the Hill. They testified separately before members of Congress today, with Affleck pushing to raise awareness about problems in Congo, and Rogen appearing on an Alzheimer's prevention panel.

And while they seemed to be following a certain star-powered playbook to promote their causes, the jury is still out on whether high-profile appearance like these actually work.


TAPPER (voice-over): They may wear suits just like everyone else who approaches those tables, papers in hand and a cause for which to advocate, but let's be clear, folks like these are not giving your average constitutional testimonies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's wonderful.

TAPPER: From the ridiculous to the impassioned.


TAPPER: To the downright distracting.

NICOLE KIDMAN, ACTRESS: I became UNIFEM's goodwill ambassador.

TAPPER: When celebrities come to Washington, the media and the politicians take notice. But does the spectacle of the star outshine or shed light on the cause they've come to promote?

EMILY HEIL, THE WASHINGTON POST: Often hearings in Congress are not about members of Congress learning something that they don't already know. It's performance art. If they wanted to really learn about issues they can get it from a briefing book.

TAPPER: Today Oscar winner Ben Affleck arrived in Washington to speak about the crisis in the Congo. BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: Finally it's just a pleasure to be here in State Department after -- the real State Department. I had to fake it for "Argo." I get to see the real thing here.

TAPPER: The "Argo" director has brought his cause to the table time and time again.

AFFLECK: My name is Ben Affleck. Congolese soil. I'm working with and for the people of eastern Congo.

TAPPER: And today just a few marble pillars away actor Seth Rogen testified about the effects of Alzheimer's, which his mother-in-law suffers from.

Now sure, these appearances bring some buzz. But ultimately does anyone remember why Stephen Colbert testified before Congress? Or Bob Barker? Or Elton John? Or do they just remember that they did with the cause lost in the flash of camera lights?

Truth is that is up to the celebrity's commitment to the cause and the journalists covering them. To be completely candid, Congo and Alzheimer's would not be mentioned on my show today without Affleck and Rogen telling some stories without obvious news events is tough to do. Water shortages and developing nations got our attention last year in part because of Matt Damon's involvement.

(On camera): You attaching yourself to this means I will be sitting here interviewing you, talking about an issue I probably wouldn't and people at home, viewers, will be paying attention to an issue that they wouldn't otherwise pay attention to.

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: Yes, that's the hope.

TAPPER (voice-over): Affleck's close friend co-founded And their pal George Clooney is a longtime advocate for peace in Sudan, even getting arrested outside the embassy in 2012.

DAMON: I think we all individually felt that if cameras were going to follow us around, why not -- why not make something good out of that?

HEIL: Celebrities bring attention to an issue, and especially if that issue is not the sexiest issue, if you get Ben Affleck involved, all of a sudden it's a little more interesting.

TAPPER: Something politicians have known for a while.


TAPPER: One group that does not seem to be too impressed by this latest celebrity photo-op. House Republicans, according to "Foreign Policy" magazine, they reportedly turned down Ben Affleck's offer to set up a similar appearance.

The "National Enquirer" is known for salacious headlines, misleading photographs and generally cringe-worthy front covers. One thing the tabloid is not known for -- saying I'm sorry. But this week the "Enquirer" issued an apology for posting a story claiming actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was in a gay relationship with his friend, David Katz at the time of his death.

Katz sued the tabloid and reached a settlement requiring the "Enquirer" to take out a full-page ad retracting the story. The tabloid will also fund an award for unpublished playwrights in Hoffman's memory. The Oscar-winning actor was found dead in his New York apartment earlier this month of an apparent drug overdose.

The average salary for an astronaut is about $80,000 a year. Not a bad haul, but actress Sandra Bullock could make $70 million by just pretending to be one. According to the "Hollywood Reporter" Bullock raked in a grand total of $70 million for her role in the movie "Gravity," that's once you factor in all the global ticket sales and DVD rentals.

Bullock was guaranteed $21 million up front regardless of how the movie did at the box office. It's now on pace to surpass the $750 million mark.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper. That's all one word. And also @TheleadCNN, and check out our show page at for video, blogs, and extras.

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