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Interview With U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes; What Will Hillary Candidacy Look Like?; Selling the Iran Deal; Manhunt Underway for Mastermind of Kenyan Campus Terror Attack; Hundreds Killed in Developing Civil War; Jury Has Case in Boston Bombing Trial. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 6, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:30] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Obama doing the hard sell on his Iran plan framework, Israel trying to stop it.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, aspiring to Don Draper-esque salesmanship, President Obama pitching the Obama doctrine, laying out his approach to the world and his view of his choice to take a once-in-a-lifetime chance to cut off Iran's path to a nuclear bomb, in his view. But he's doing little to quiet Republicans or Democrats or even Israel, all shouting, Iran cannot be trusted.

The politics lead, Hillary Clinton's team has already ducked and dodged controversy, so now as she gets ready to make it official, what will a Clinton candidacy actually look like?

And the buried lead. This is your captain speaking. Sit back and prepare for takeoff just as soon as the co-pilot finishes handing me a beating. A report says preflight procedures reportedly led to a full- on fistfight inside a plane's cockpit.

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

We begin today with our world lead, President Obama playing pitch man for his administration's tentative deal with Iran, but it's already showing to be an extremely hard sell to deeply skeptical would-be buyers in Congress and in capitals around the world.

In an interview with "The New York Times"' Tom Friedman, the president essentially saying, you only get one shot at peace and this deal is that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the president's doctrine of engagement and his insistence that he's not being duped by the Iranians seems to be doing little to calm what some might say is borderline panic in Congress and in Israel.

Today, Israel's intelligence chief outlining a list of things the Israeli government says need to change in this deal to close dangerous loopholes.

I want to get right to our own senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is live at the White House. Jim, the president said this deal gives up very little, lays out a

heavy price, should Tehran break its word and restart a path towards a nuclear weapon. But it seems like a lot of people in Congress, even some key Democrats, are not buying it.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, the president says this nuclear deal with Iran fits right into the Obama doctrine, but his critics say that is the problem. And, by the way, there is a key part of this agreement that's in limbo.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The full-court press has begun, as the president sells a nuclear deal that will define the Obama doctrine. He told "The New York Times" in an interview that the negotiations with Iran are proof that diplomacy even with longtime adversaries can pay dividends.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This goes back to the early point that you asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is, we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.

ACOSTA: Especially, the president said, when engagement is backed by the threat of military action.

OBAMA: The truth of the matter is, Iran's defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us.

ACOSTA: But the president's critics say he's undercut that position of strength by allowing Iran to keep too much of its nuclear program.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, my view is probably the best deal that Barack Obama could get with the Iranians, because the Iranians don't fear or do they respect him and our allies in the region don't trust the president.

ACOSTA: It's a message Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all but repeated on CNN when he declined to say he trusts the president.

(on camera): Do you trust the president, Mr. Prime Minister?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I trust that the president is doing what he thinks is good for the United States. But I think that we can have a legitimate difference of opinion on this, because I think Iran has shown to be completely distrustful.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president revealed he takes that criticism to heart.

OBAMA: It has been personally difficult for me to hear the sort of expressions that somehow we don't have -- this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel's interests.

ACOSTA: Part of the reason there is so much skepticism is the fact that a big portion of the framework agreement touted in the Rose Garden last week is hardly settled.

The White House conceded the U.S. and Iran have yet to agree on just when economic sanctions on Tehran will be lifted.

(on camera): Does that mean there was no framework agreement last week?


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jim, there's a four-page document.

[16:05:00] ACOSTA: That's a pretty key pillar, it would seem, of this framework agreement.

EARNEST: Well, Jim, I think we have been very clear about the fact that there are still important details that need to be locked down.


ACOSTA: And a confrontation between the White House and Congress is becoming even more of a possibility, as Republicans say they are gathering up Democratic support to give Congress a final say on this nuclear deal with Iran. The White House is saying they will veto that measure, but Republicans are becoming even more confident, Jake, that they may have the votes to override that veto -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss this all is President Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes.

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

The president says that he's disturbed, concerned, personally upset by the fact that people are saying that he doesn't necessarily have Israel's security at heart, but the White House has said very clearly that they are reassessing the relationship with Israel. There seems to be a contradiction there.


When it comes to Israel's security, our military and intelligence cooperation, that's off limits. That's protected. That's sacrosanct. What we said is, on the very specific issue of the Palestinians and how do we pursue a two-state solution, we are reviewing options as it relates to the Palestinian issue.

That's entirely separate and apart from our ongoing security cooperation with Israel, which, as you know, has been unprecedented under this administration. And, frankly, again, the president's view of this Iran deal is this is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, which is in the interests of the United States and the entire world, including Israel. TAPPER: So the Israelis have put out this list of things that they

think should be in the final deal with Iran, including allowing inspectors to go anywhere any time. That seems perfectly reasonable, no?

RHODES: Well, Jake, first of all, under this deal, you will have anywhere, any time 24/7 access as it relates to the nuclear facilities that Iran has. You will also have access to...


TAPPER: What about the military facilities?

RHODES: What we will have under this deal, Jake, is the strongest inspections regime that any country faces in the world. And what that means is if we see a site that we need to inspect on a military facility, we can get access to that site and inspect it.

So if it's a suspicious site that we believe is related to its nuclear efforts, we can get access and inspect that site through the IAEA.

TAPPER: Ben, the president argues that there are three options -- this is just him talking, not me.

He says, it's this deal, the status quo, or war. A lot of the president's critics, the Israeli intelligence chiefs, say that is a false list. There's another option, including tougher sanctions, more credible threat of military action to get the deal that President Obama promised to American voters, ending Iran's nuclear program completely.

RHODES: Well, wait a second, Jake.

What the president has always said about the Iranian nuclear program is they should have the ability to access peaceful nuclear energy. We have to end their ability to obtain a nuclear weapon. That's what this deal does. The options the president laid out are, number one, we can have this deal, which is a good deal. Number two, we can take military action, which would only set the Iranian program back by a fraction of what this deal does.

Number three, if you were to test the proposition that we walk away from the table and impose more sanctions or try to impose more sanctions on Iran, first of all, every time we have done that, the Iranians have advanced their program. They have a two- to three-month breakout period right now. That would collapse very quickly. And then I would also take notion with the notion that the rest of the world would automatically rally behind those additional sanctions.

The world rallied behind those sanctions to get this deal. Now that we have a deal, if we walk away from it, I'm not sure that we would be able to hold that sanctions coalition together because, again, it's based on a deal that the whole international community, through the P5-plus-one, has now agreed to with the Iranians.

TAPPER: Well, Ben, take a listen to President Obama at a debate in 2012 and how he described the deal with the Iranians that he would want.


OBAMA: The deal we will accept is they end their nuclear program. It's very straightforward.


TAPPER: End their nuclear program.


OBAMA: ... an underground fortified facility like Fordow. They don't need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess.


TAPPER: So that's the president in 2012 and then in 2013 at a forum talking about other things that need to be in this deal, an underground facility needs to be closed, advanced centrifuges need to be closed. And then you heard in the 2012 clip the president saying end their nuclear program. It's pretty straightforward.

Ben, this deal doesn't meet any of that.

RHODES: Well, I take issue with that, Jake.

First of all, you have been with the president since 2009. We have always said that if Iran can demonstrate that its program is peaceful because of strict verifiable limitations, that is our objective.

With respect to Fordow, we are converting that facility under this deal. They will not be enriching uranium at Fordow under this agreement. And that's an important accomplishment of the framework.

[16:10:03] Their advanced centrifuges will be taken out, so the only centrifuges that they will be using to enrich uranium for the duration of this agreement are their IR-1 first generation centrifuges. They will be removing their IR-2 advanced centrifuges and they will not be installing and enriching uranium with their advanced centrifuges.

So on Fordow and on advanced centrifuges, we feel very confident in what the framework lays out and what the final deal is that we are pursuing.

TAPPER: But Fordow still exists and the advanced centrifuges, there's an end date to that, 15 years.

But, Ben, before you go, I do want to ask you a question about this pending meeting in the Caribbean, a senior White House official telling CNN that the president will have an interaction with Cuban leader Raul Castro this week. That was the term used, an interaction.

We saw them together briefly at Nelson Mandela's funeral. Should we expect an unofficial visit either to Cuba or from Cuba's leadership to the U.S. any time soon? RHODES: Well, again, he will certainly be at the Summit of the

Americas with Cuba. It is the first time Cuba will join that summit.

He will interact with Raul Castro, as he is going to be interacting with all those leaders. I think as we look out towards a potential visit to Cuba, we will want to assess what type of progress we are making in the normalization process.

There have been some positive signs, some release of political prisoners, some Cuban commitments to increase access to Internet on the island. At the same time, we still have significant concerns about the political environment in Cuba. We will want to take stock of how things are moving forward to make a determination.

We haven't ruled out whether or not the president would take that kind of visit, but we are going to measure that against the progress that we make in the coming months here.

TAPPER: All right. Ben Rhodes, thank you so much.

And I think this is the first time you have been on since you had your baby girl. Congratulations on her.

RHODES: Thanks, Jake. Well, that's a...


TAPPER: In other world news -- yes, in other world news, consider it payback, new airstrikes on suspected terrorist targets just days after nearly 150 people, mostly students, were savagely murdered, this as an intense manhunt is under way for the mastermind behind the attack. Do police have any new leads after a massive reward has been offered?

That's next.


[16:16:28] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

There is some breaking world news in Africa this afternoon. Fresh air strikes today against al Shabaab, a terror group with ties to al Qaeda that committed a massacre on a college campus in Kenya and says it wants to do the same at malls in this country, the United States. An urgent manhunt is under way for a senior leader of al Shabaab, the man identified as the mastermind behind last week's horrific attack that killed close to 150 innocent people, many of them Christians.

This as allegations surface that Kenya's rapid response team was delayed getting to the scene for several hours because they were stuck waiting for transportation in the country's capital of Nairobi. By the time they arrived, politicians and journalists were already at the scene.

Let's get right to CNN's David McKenzie. He joins us now live from Nairobi, Kenya.

David, what's the latest on the manhunt?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, well, Jake, the latest is that they put out a bounty for Mohamed Mohamud. This man is in charge of the southern Somali operations of the al Shabaab, the al Qaeda-linked group. He is also in charge of incursions, it seems, into Kenya. There has been several attacks in recent months, recent years in that border region of Kenya and Somalia, but because he has been in charge of those attacks and hasn't been caught yet, they might face an uphill battle catching him now -- Jake.

TAPPER: David, has the Kenyan government responded to these charges that the government was not only warned about this possible attack against the university but that the law enforcement response was just way too slow?

MCKENZIE: Well, they have responded. I put it to the government spokesman. He said they quote, "got the job done," but I pushed him on that matter because really, you had this elite squad here in the capital which was sitting there waiting, wanting transportation. They were ready to go. They were U.S. trained. They know their job. And yet they were sitting here while a politician toured the scene, journalists made the 200 something miles to the scene by car, they all got there first and then when the elite squad eventually made it there, they put it out in 30 minutes or so.

So, really serious questions being asked and criticism that this wasn't done effectively -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. David McKenzie in Nairobi, Kenya, thank you so much.

Let's turn to Yemen now, where the country's all-out civil war has claimed the life of an American businessman, 45-year-old Jamal al- Labani who was planning to bring his pregnant daughter and wife back to the United States when he was killed by a mortar strike while walking home from a mosque, according to his family. Hundreds have died over just the last few days in the intense fighting between Iran- backed Shia rebels and the forces loyal to Yemen's Sunni president, who is currently holed up in Saudi Arabia.

Let's get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, who is live in Washington with the latest.

Jim, the U.S. has closed its embassy and evacuated personnel. I imagine that's a tremendous hurdle to the Obama administration trying to figure out what's going on there.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. The big question is what's to be done about the many Americans who are still there. The short answer is it's up to them to get out on their own. The State Department says it's been warning Americans for some time. This is not a place they should go and the U.S. frankly has limited ability to get them out. The airport closed, for instance.

So, the advice they are giving now is the simple one, shelter in safe locations. And when you see the violence on the ground as we are about to here, Jake, you understand why that goes without saying.


[16:20:02] SCIUTTO (voice-over): This is Yemen in collapse. Running gun battles on the streets of the key port city of Aden and now, desperate attempts to escape.

CNN's Nima Elbagir flew into the capital Sana'a on a rare commercial flight, witnessing residents run for their lives. The flight crews nervous to get off the ground within minutes of landing.

Caught in the crossfire today, American Jamal al-Labani, killed by mortar fire as he tried to evacuate his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter to their home in California. Countries from India to China and Russia have now evacuated their citizens but the U.S. has not. The U.S. embassy closed and special forces no longer on the ground. U.S. citizens looking to leave the country are seemingly on their own.

MARIE HARF, ACTING STATE DEPT SPOKESPERSON: We are very clear with American citizens that this is not a place they should go, that we have limited ability, particularly now.

SCIUTTO: The departure of all U.S. forces, diplomats and many intelligence gathering resources leaves a one time counterterrorist success story in utter disarray. A U.S. counterterror official calls the situation, quote, "dire", and warns the terror group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stands to gain greater ability to carry out terror attacks as U.S. counterterror pressure has weakened.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: Very concerning to have the U.S. operating blindly in Yemen. One of the organizations that has been most interested and capable of conducting strikes in the U.S. homeland, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has increased its control of territory.

SCIUTTO: Also standing to gain, Iran. Houthi rebels who have U.S. allied government forces on the run are backed by Tehran. The U.S. is now monitoring whether Iran is sending arms to them, even in the midst of progress on sensitive nuclear negotiations.


SCIUTTO: The dynamic here, intervention by neighboring Saudi Arabia. I spoke to a U.S. counterterror official just now who says the Saudi- led air campaign is causing damage to those Iranian backed Houthi rebels but it has not deterred them. The question now is whether the Saudis launch a ground campaign. That has not happened. There is no evidence yet, at least, Jake, of a Houthi incursion across the border into Saudi territory but even the prospect shows just how quickly this conflict in Yemen can easily spill and become a regional issue. It's a real concern.

TAPPER: Indeed. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Coming up next, some breaking news from Boston. Closing arguments in the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It's just ended. The jurors will begin deliberating his fate first thing in the morning. What will they decide? We have correspondents inside the courtroom and will go live to Boston next.

Plus, she's making the rounds of daytime television but on the fifth anniversary of the Let's Move Campaign, has Michelle Obama's $4.5 billion program made a difference?


[16:27:07] TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are back with some breaking news in our national lead today. A Boston jury now deciding the case of the Boston marathon bombings. They were given the case just minutes ago and will begin deliberations in the morning. Once their verdict is in, the case moves to the death penalty phase.

Prosecutors argue that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's actions killed 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, 23-year-old Lingzi Lu, 8-year-old Martin Richard, and MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, not to mention more than 260 others he and his brother mutilated. And for that, prosecutors want Tsarnaev to pay with his life.

The defense argued Tsarnaev was impressionable and influenced by his more radicalized older brother Tamerlan. Prosecutors have called more than 90 witnesses to help make their case. The defense, just four.

CNN's Alexandra Field sat in on closing arguments today. She joins me now live from Boston.

Alexandra, the jury has a lot to consider here.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The case has gone to the jury now. They will begin deliberations tomorrow morning. The courtroom today absolutely packed with survivors, family members of victims, some of them becoming tearful as they listened to the closing arguments from both sides. The prosecution re-conjuring some of the most graphic images and details we have heard over the course of this trial before asking the jury to return a verdict of guilty on all 30 charges.


FIELD (voice-over): Dzhokhar Tsarnaev minutes before the marathon blasts, entirely untroubled by what he is about to do, convinced, prosecutors say, by the terrorist literature and songs he had been listening to and reading for over a year. Living, quote, "A double life. To the outside world, he showed one face, inside he harbored another. He was careful like 'Inspire' magazine taught him to be."

The motive spilled out, they say, in Dzhokhar's note written in the bloodstained bullet-riddled boat where he's found hiding. "We Muslims are one body. You hurt one, you hurt us all."

Prosecutors repeatedly described Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan as partners in each of a series of crimes, both planning and together carrying out the marathon bombings, the murder of MIT Officer Sean Collier, a carjacking, a robbery, a firefight with Watertown police, a pointed argument against the case the defense makes that Tamerlan led and Dzhokhar followed.

Images of Dzhokhar outside the Forum Restaurant shown again to jurors. The children lined up on the barricade. The government arguing he can't help but see them and a haunting retelling of the painstaking details -- 8-year-old Martin Richard, his entire body shattered, broken, eviscerated, burned; the blast injuries that killed Lingzi Lu who didn't plan to be there that day; Krystle Campbell, dead from blood loss in less than one minute; Officer Sean Collier shot between the eyes, twice more in the head.