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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Father of Newtown Shooter Speaks Out In "New Yorker" Article; Stolen Passports Add To Missing Flight Fears; Would Snowden Do It All Over Again?; Kerry Not Heading To Moscow For Now

Aired March 10, 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. The National Lead now. It's been a little bit more than a year since the horrifying massacre of 26 innocent children and teachers at school in Newtown, Connecticut. The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, also killed his mother and took his own life, making it that much harder to find an answer to the question that still haunts so many of us: why?

But now for the first time, we're getting some insight into the Newtown shooter's deteriorating mental state and the warning signs that led up to that terrible day through one of the few people who knew the intimate details of Adam's struggles, his father, Peter Lanza. Peter Lanza breaks his silence in an interview featured in this week's "New Yorker," also available at NewYorker.com.

Joining me now is Andrew Solomon, the man who interviewed Peter Lanza. He's also the author of the book "Far From The Tree." Thanks so much for joining us, Andrew. We appreciate it.

We've known very little about this family firsthand up until now. What made Peter Lanza decide to finally speak out and why to you?

ANDREW SOLOMON, "THE NEW YORKER": What made him finally speak out was that he felt having been hounded for his story that perhaps telling it could be helpful to the families who lost children at Sandy Hook. He also thought, I think, that perhaps telling it would cause the FBI to have a better sense of how to avoid events like this in the future. So, he told the story to be helpful.

In my last book, I interviewed the family of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre. And he felt that the writing was fair and just, and he felt that I would give him a fair and just hearing. And so he called me in September and he said, everyone wants my story. I'm finally ready to tell it and I'm ready to tell it to you.

TAPPER: So, Peter Lanza does not deny knowing that his son was unstable. He told you that when Adam got to middle school, quote, "it was crystal clear something was wrong. The social awkwardness, the uncomfortable anxiety, unable to sleep, stress, unable to concentrate, having a hard time learning, the awkward walk, reduced eye contact. You could see the changes occurring." He does also say, however, that experts say that they didn't see anything violent in Adam. From what you could tell, do you think that Peter Lanza felt that he had done enough, as much as he could, to deal with Adam's deteriorating condition?

SOLOMON: I think he did as much as he felt able to do, and in retrospect, I think he wishes he had done things otherwise. He said to me, "I wish I'd had a different relationship with him because no outcome could be worse or more evil than the one we had. So anything better had to be better."

Having said that, I think he said, "I can't see it coming, even in retrospect and even with hindsight, I can't see it coming. There was no evidence. There was nothing to point me in that direction."

TAPPER: Do you think that's true? Do you think that's fair?

SOLOMON: Adam saw a number of highly qualified psychiatrists, all of whom thought he was a very disturbed young man, none of whom thought he would injure anybody else or be violent or harmful to others. The question was his internal disturbance and the isolated and perhaps unhappy life that it would give him.

And I think that's what his parents saw, too. They were terribly worried about him, they trying to figure out what to do. But it never occurred to them that he was dangerous.

TAPPER: Although there is this part in the interview with the father, Peter Lanza, expresses concern before Adam turns 18 because at that point he's afraid Adam -- they will lose control of him. He will be of age and he'll be 18. And he's worried that he will become homeless or join the army. Why was he worried that Adam might join the army?

SOLOMON: He was worried about what Adam's experience would be in the army. Adam was very odd and how was he going to work himself into a situation in which conformity is as highly valued as it is in the military?

TAPPER: All right. So it wasn't about access to weapons? Because that's what my antenna went up when it said that.

SOLOMON: No, not about weapons. He was worried about whether Adam would be able to cope with the difficulties of being a soldier.

TAPPER: Peter Lanza, the father, also portrays Nancy, the mother of Adam Lanza, as being almost too willing to coddle her son's needs. He told you, quote, "She never confided to her sister or best friend about being afraid of him. She slept with her bedroom door unlocked. She kept guns in the house, which she would not have done if she were frightened."

He also said, "It bothers me that she was telling me he doesn't use e- mail at the same time she was emailing him" - meaning Adam Lanza. "She wanted everyone to think everything was okay." Do you get the sense that Peter Lanza in any way blames Nancy for Adam's spiral?

SOLOMON: He doesn't blame Nancy. He very specifically said she was doing her best. He said "I was doing my best, and she was doing way more." He thinks that the decisions she made may in the end have not been the best decisions. That seems obvious at this point, but he really felt she was trying hard. He said no mother was ever more devoted to her children than Nancy was to Adam and his brother, Ryan.

TAPPER: Also a very striking comment in this interview. Peter told you he wished Adam had not been born, saying quote, "That's not a natural thing when you're thinking about your kid. That's fairly recent, too, but that's totally where I am."

As you know better than I, a lot of fathers and mothers of people who go on to commit horrific acts never actually get to the point where they wished the child had not been born. They condemn the act, but they still have such love for their child. Did Peter explain how he got there emotionally?

SOLOMON: Well, Peter still does have love for Adam. I don't think there can be any question about that. But he sees a balance in which his love for Adam is put in a scale against the horror of what Adam did. And of course Adam's crime was particularly, singularly horrific. The murder of small children really is the worst thing that there is that anybody can do.

So I think his feeling is that though he still has affection for Adam, that he really - he would love to be able to erase that part of history. But he also said that he thought that Adam as a child was had been this apparently sweet little boy, the one who was in the photo that you've just shown. I said to him, "Don't you miss that sweet little boy?" And he said there cannot be no remembering of that sweet little boy outside the context of who he became. I can't pretend that that sweet little boy was going to grow up and be fine. He said, so the whole relationship, the whole history is poisoned by its ending.

TAPPER: Andrew, lastly, you and I have talked about this before when I've you had on the show to share your expertise. There are a lot of people like me -- I'm angry at Peter Lanza. I'm angry at Nancy Lanza. Is that not fair?

SOLOMON: I think we're all very angry at Adam Lanza, and I think we'd like to be able to blame his parents for what went wrong. And in retrospect, should his parents have insisted that he have more therapy? Perhaps. Should he have been on different medication? Perhaps.

But I think the decisions they made, the relative mix of laissez-faire indulgence is a mix that has often worked well for people who have the kind of mild autism that Adam had. It's difficult while you're in that situation to understand what will come next. I said in the story that I think Nancy Lanza's primary mistake was that she was always trying to make sure that Adam had a good day, and she think enough about how to make sure Adam had a good life. She valued the day over the years. And yet I think she was doing her very, very best and trying as hard as she could.

You know, we used to blame parents because their children were gay, because they had overbearing fathers and passive mothers or their children were autistic because they had refrigerator mothers or all of these other parental-blame scenarios. We'd like to blame the parents here. And we'd like to blame them in part because if we blame Nancy and Peter Lanza, what we're saying this can't happen to me because I'm a better parent than they are. And Peter Lanza said very powerfully, "I want everybody who reads this to be aware that this could happen to them." And it's that universality, that terrifying universality that I feel is at the heart of his discussion.

TAPPER: Well, it's a chilling and important story. An interview -- it's available at NewYorker.com. Andrew Solomon, thank you so much.

SOLOMON: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the mystery passengers aboard Flight 370. Two men using stolen passports raising questions for investigators. How this missing plane is revealing a major hole in security procedures at airports around the world.

Plus, he's living in exile and he acknowledges he might never return to the United States. So would Edward Snowden do it all over again? His message to the techies whom he says could save the Internet, coming up.

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TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our world lead, the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In a case marked by mystery, the one thing we know for certain, two men boarded the flight with stolen passports. The question remains, how were they able to get through security checkpoints and how often is this happening?

Joining us now is Rafi Ron, the former director of security for the Tel Aviv airport in Israel. He's now the president of New Age Security Solutions. This seems like a major security flaw. Would this have happened in the U.S.? Could somebody get on the plane with a stolen passport?

RAFI RON, PRESIDENT, NEW AGE SECURITY SOLUTIONS: Not so easily because the U.S. has adopted a system that checks names of passengers against a variety of lists and whenever there is information about a name that appears on stolen documents, it is supposed to be on those lists. So they practically -- I think that travelers in America can feel much safer than travelers in other parts of the world.

TAPPER: These few stolen passports were reported to Interpol?

RON: Correct.

TAPPER: Interpol says the stolen database was not checked before tickets were issued for this flight. I think probably a lot of people are sitting at home and saying, why wouldn't Malaysia Airlines check against this Interpol list? It's Interpol, for the whole world?

RON: Well, the first thing we need to know is that Malaysia Airlines is not the only ones that don't check. Actually, a very large number of countries and airlines don't do this simple check.

TAPPER: Why?

RON: That one reason that you get is money. A lot of it is at the end of the day involved with spending more money on this check, having more as a result of having more checkers, setting an infrastructure, but at the end of the day, when we see the costs of the searches now, not to mention the cost of human life, and if it was a terrorist attack, then being on the losing side in the world of terrorism, all of this is not really calculated into the formula by those people that take the decision not to do this check.

TAPPER: And it's not as if Malaysia doesn't have terrorists. They do in that country.

RON: Yes. Not only that they do in that country, but keeping in mind that this flight was designated to go to Beijing and realizing the fact that the -- for the last couple of years, maybe a little more, the government -- the Chinese government has been fighting against acts of terrorism by a minority -- a radical Muslim minority in northwest of China. And that also has to do with Malaysia because it turns out that a group of Chinese wiggers as they are being called --

TAPPER: Wiggers, right.

RON: -- ended up in Malaysia and they arrived there by use of stolen passports.

TAPPER: Is that right? Walk us through what should have been done. I mean, first of all, two men purchase one-way tickets from Thailand. That is immediately a red flag.

RON: Yes, it is. Obviously, there have been a lot of red flags here. First of all, as you have just mentioned, the way these tickets were purchased is very, very suspicious and for many years it has been a common criteria that paying in cash, buying the tickets at the last moment are the kind of tactics that are used by people who simply don't want to be detected prior to taking the flight.

TAPPER: Right. They don't want all of the research and background checks to go into it so they do it close to the flight and in cash.

RON: Exactly. No time to do the check and not leaving any traces behind by paying cash and in this case by also using a middle man, as it turns out, that also puts them a little bit further out as far as the investigation is concerned.

TAPPER: Rafi, you've been doing this a long time. Obviously, we don't know what happened. This could have been pilot error. This could have been mechanical failure. We don't have the evidence yet. But as somebody who has looked into this type of thing, does your gut point you one way or the other?

RON: Well, I'll put it this way. It doesn't smell well at this time. I think that there's a good reason for not feeling comfortable with the findings that we have until now. But it is not yet to provide proof that this is a terrorist attack.

TAPPER: So you're suspicious, but you don't know yet?

RON: Yes.

TAPPER: All right, Rafi Ron, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Turning to our buried lead now, forget the actors premiering movies or the bands who want to be discovered, Edward Snowden, it turns out is today's real star at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas even if he couldn't have come within about 5,000 miles of it.

The NSA leak source spoke at the Hipster Mecca today via a web video hookup given the secrets that Snowden has spilled, the angry reaction from a government that considers him a traitor and the effects on his loves ones, one questioner wanted to know, would Snowden do it all over again?

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EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAK SOURCE: In a more secure place, we have more secure communications and we're going to have a better sort of civic reaction as a result of understanding what is being done in a name and what's being done in business. So when it comes to would I do this again? The answer is absolutely yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You'll have to forgive the max head room quality of that video. Snowden was presumably speaking from an undisclosed location in Russia where he has been granted temporary asylum.

Coming up, forgotten children. While all eyes are on Ukraine, is the world turning a blind eye to the one place that needs help the most?

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK): Welcome back to THE LEAD. In other world news, the pro-Russian and Crimean parliament has announced it is forming it is own army separate from the Ukrainian military. Crimea's prime minister said 100 men have already joined and that number is expected to rise to 1,500 by the end of the week.

This would be a great dinner conversation for Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. It's too bad Secretary Kerry is not heading over there, at least not right now. Lavrov says Kerry was supposed to travel to Moscow today, but he pulled out over the weekend.

The State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, explained that before her boss gets in his plane, he wants to make sure Russia is taking the negotiations seriously.

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JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: All of you have traveled with the secretary quite a bit. He never shies away from hopping on a plane or having an in-person meeting, but we want to ensure that that is undertaken with seriousness on the other end as well.

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TAPPER: Joining me now is Richard Haass. He is president of the council on foreign relations. Richard, always good to see you. Thanks for coming in. The Russians have invited Secretary of State John Kerry to come to Moscow, but the State Department was insistent that they are not just running to Russia.

They are waiting for information to see how seriously they are willing to engage with Ukraine and how much they actually want her to be some sort of process to resolve this diplomatically. Does that sound like a step forward or backwards when it comes to finding their way out of this mess?

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I take it as a good sign in principle that the Russians have apparently extended some type of an offer. I'm not sure the principle dynamic necessarily needs to be between Russia and Kiev. It could also be between Russia, the United States, Germany, and others. It's also useful in these things for the United States not to appear to be against diplomacy, but I would emphasize simply having some lower level envoy meet with his Russian counterpart and try to prepare the way.

TAPPER: The Ukrainian prime minister is coming to the U.S. The U.S. will meet with President Obama on Wednesday. I just wonder though at this point, it seems like Crimea is lost. Putin is not going to withdraw Russian troops from there. So is the end game now just trying to contain Russia in the Crimea Peninsula or do people still have hopes that they can get Putin out of the peninsula?

HAASS: I think it's a little bit too negative to say that Crimea is lost. I think that we've got to give it a little bit more time. For all we know, the Russians are going to feel the effects of the sanctions of some of their diplomatic isolation and depending on what kind of deal you could concoct in terms of their participation in Ukraine's political and economic future, what kind of protections you can provide for Ethnic Russians, access to the port would be obviously continued.

If Putin wanted to declare victory with that kind of a package, he could. That said, I'm not fighting your basic point. I do think there's got to be a lot of emphasis, if you will, on plan B, which is as problematic as the situation is, to try to prevent the situation from deteriorating, which essentially would mean discouraging the Russians from any way extending their position inside the country.

TAPPER: Of course, t's not just me. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said over the weekend that he thought Crimea was lost. But moving on, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned what he called lawlessness in the Eastern Ukraine and accused the west of being silent over what is happening to Russian citizens there. Does that sound to you like another pretext for Russia to try grab more land in Ukraine?

HAASS: That's ominous. Because again, this kind of manufactured, as you call it correctly pretext, we've already seen it once. One could imagine it being used again and that would, in a sense, take this from a serious problem to a full-fledged crisis. I think that would be a serious escalation.

Whenever else you think about what the Russians did in Crimea and I don't think much of it in the sense that I believe it was totally unwarranted, Jake. There is still a different Russian claim or involvement historically and ethnically in Crimea than there is in the rest of even Eastern Ukraine. So any movement beyond would multiply significantly. The stakes and the seriousness here.

TAPPER: I want to turn to Syria for one second. The children's advocacy group that showed that several thousands of children have died in this conflict because of basic medical care lacking. The group released a video that has more than 21 million views. It depicts what it would look like if this happen to children in a place like the U.K. Do you think the U.S. and the rest of the west are doing enough to stop this horror?

HAASS: We're not doing much of anything right now. Diplomacy, I believe, is virtually no chance of succeeding at this point. The United States is not doing a lot to arm any of the groups that we would find either supportable or at least less objectionable. Essentially, the situation in Syria is drifting and it continues to take an ever larger strategic and, as you've just pointed out, humanitarian toll.

TAPPER: Richard Haass, thank you so much for your time.

HAASS: Thank you.

TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. I now turn you over now to Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.