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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

D.C. Murder Mystery; ISIS Advancing?; Growing Fear that ISIS Will Destroy Ancient Ruins; Police: Mansion Murders Suspect Believed in Brooklyn. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama insisting today that the U.S. is not losing the war against ISIS. Well, what does the map say?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead: the commander in chief defending his strategy, as ISIS grabs more territory and, of course, as national security experts begin to say that the terrorist group may have already succeeded in creating an Islamic caliphate.

The national lead, a suspect finally named and on the loose, right now, a manhunt for the person police say was responsible for torturing and murdering a family in Washington, D.C., and it leads to New York, and you won't believe the clue he allegedly left behind.

The sports lead. We all saw it, Ray Rice caught on tape in video put out by TMZ punching out his future wife. But, today, the NFL star learned he's no longer facing domestic violence charges. So, is he getting special treatment?

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

Some horrifying news in our world lead today. They are everywhere, an eyewitness in Syria pleads, saying innocents cannot escape ISIS.

Undeterred in its bloody quest to take over Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group is conquering more cities adding to its ever-growing list of territory it controls. Today, it was Palmyra in Syria, a crossroads of ancient civilization.

The latest conquest means ISIS now has more than half of Syria in its brutal grip, according to a Syrian human rights group. Monday, it was Ramadi in Iraq just 70 miles from Baghdad. And the assessment coming from the Pentagon about that defeat shows an Iraqi army in absolute disarray.

Senior U.S. military officials telling CNN that Iraqi forces in Ramadi had the advantage 10-1, were not under any direct fire, but, regardless, they tucked tail and ran. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey, telling reporters the Iraqis weren't driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi. Today, President Obama echoing his commanders in the military,

downplaying what Ramadi means to the coalition campaign. He termed this loss a tactical setback, the commander in chief fervent that the U.S. is not losing this war, but on Capitol Hill today alarm bells louder and louder, as battlefield observers acknowledged that ISIS' goal of establishing a so-called Islamic caliphate may already be the horrific reality.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): The Syrian city of Palmyra is the latest to fall to ISIS. The terrorist group now controls half of Syria. And it has seized Ramadi in Iraq, according to military officials.

GEN. JACK KEANE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: The fall of Ramadi has exposed the weakness of the current Iraq strategy.

TAPPER: This morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard the hard truth.

FRED KAGAN, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: This is a group of unfathomable evil, and, unfortunately, they are extremely effective.

TAPPER: Expert voices in the national security community say it's time to stop saying ISIS wants to establish an Islamic caliphate and time to acknowledge that it already has.

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER U.S. COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: ISIS is very professional, very organized, has created successfully an Islamic state. Let's admit it. They run three or four cities. They probably have two million people under their control.

TAPPER: Former Clinton, Bush and Reagan White House terrorism advisers Richard Clarke tells CNN that the terror group has surpassed al Qaeda in the grisly race to govern.

CLARKE: I think they both wanted to build a caliphate ultimately, but ISIS or Da'esh, as the Arabs call it, just went straight to it and did it.

TAPPER: The Pentagon this week has tried to downplay the gains of ISIS, the former head of the Pentagon, Bush and Obama Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, seems to have a different take.

ROBERT GATES, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A lot of American blood was shed over Ramadi. And to have it in the hands of ISIS is hard to characterize as other than a major setback.

TAPPER: Though President Obama is trying to do just that, calling the victory a mere tactical setback in an interview with "The Atlantic"'s Jeffrey Goldberg today.

Beyond the spin are the facts. In just over a year, ISIS has planted its infamous black flag across ever-expanding territory, in Iraq, Fallujah, Mosul, the nation's second largest city and this week Ramadi, a key staging ground to take Baghdad, which is fewer than 70 miles away. In Syria, Raqqa, al-Bab and now Palmyra have all fallen.

This map from the Institute of the Study of War shows the group's controlled territory in black and area of support in brown. It represents millions of civilians at risk, as well as important strategic resources. New video released today showing ISIS fighters at al-Hail gas field, about 50 kilometers northeast of Palmyra.

[16:05:00]

The Obama White House this week said it has no plans to change anything in its war against ISIS.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There have been areas of setback, too. That doesn't mean that the strategy needs to be discarded.

TAPPER: Obama's former defense secretary says he ought to reconsider.

GATES: I think that they do need to at least revisit the rules of engagement for our troops.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who was deputy director for operations in the Iraq and also served in the Bush administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, among other positions.

Sir, thanks so much for being here.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY: Sure.

TAPPER: So, let's talk about this region. Do you agree with those who are saying we need to acknowledge the fact that ISIS has established something of a caliphate, it controls so much territory, so many millions of people?

KIMMITT: Yes, I think we have got to establish that they are trying to set up a state. They're putting in functioning tax systems, parking meters, cops on the streets, but they really haven't solidified into a true state yet.

And, frankly, in the long run, it is going to push back on them, because the people don't want to be controlled by ISIS.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the city of Palmyra, if we could, if you want to go to the next thing. So, here is Palmyra. The focus -- a lot of the focus has been on the historical antiquities as well as the people in the area.

What about the battlefield consequences of controlling this city?

KIMMITT: Well, it's a very important point, because Palmyra is in the center of the old silk road between Homs and Deir el-Zour. Right now, the forces inside both Syria and Iraq are being supported by a supply line that go from Raqqa down to Ramadi. But when you now add this supply line that goes in, that's just more support between the Raqqa route and the Homs route, so that the fighters both in Iraq and in Syria can be resupplied, and frankly the Assad regime right now is cut off at Damascus.

TAPPER: So, you heard the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, said, that the Iraqis were not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi.

General, if Iraqis won't fight this war, can it be won?

KIMMITT: I think it can, and I believe that the comments made by Secretary Gates were exactly right. We need to look at the rules of engagement.

Right now, our advisers are down at brigade level and not below. At the front-line elements, they don't have American advisers standing side-by-side with the Iraqi forces. In some cases, they have Iranian advisers. I think we need to investigate a policy change that would get our people to stand next to those Iraqi soldiers, so, quite frankly, a small number of American soldiers can hold the line along with battalions worth of Iraqis.

It's proven its merit in other countries. I think it could prove its merit here.

TAPPER: Right now, CNN reporting indicates that U.S. officials believe Iraqi forces outnumbered ISIS forces in Ramadi 10-1 and the Iraqi forces were not under fire when they fled. Is there any battlefield rationale that could explain their leaving Ramadi, the Iraqi forces?

KIMMITT: It's leadership and will to fight. We saw that with the French in 1940. When they ran, outnumbered the Germans 10-1, and the Germans got through their lines very, very quickly.

And that's the whole idea of putting advisers side-by-side, combat- hardened American captains, not many of them, but that will keep them, when in the middle of the fight things look so desperate, that young captain can say, Colonel, don't worry. We're going to get through this. We need to hold the line. We're going to win.

TAPPER: Bottom line, do the continuing losses on the battlefield signal to you that the strategy needs to change vs. ISIS?

KIMMITT: I think the fundamental strategy is right, by, with and through the Iraqis. They have got to want it more than we do. They have got to do the fighting, but small numbers of American advisers working side-by-side, additional intelligence enablers, more firepower, in the long run, that's going to be the secret to the success of the strategy, and I believe it can work, if given time to work.

TAPPER: And what's your take on Iraqi government officials asking for help from Shia forces led by Iranian commanders? That's something that the U.S. government is not excited about, but maybe hasn't protested as much as one would think they would.

KIMMITT: Frankly, I think that's the flaw in the current approach. When you add Shia militias into Anbar province, you have now inserted a sectarian element in this fight that wasn't there before.

ISF against ISIL, that was a fight for Iraq. When you start putting Shia militia fighting against Sunni tribesmen and al Qaeda and Da'esh, that brings on a completely different tenor to the fight than we have seen so far. I would rather wait, take the time, accept the battlefield losses in the short term, but recognize that in the long run the Iraqi forces are larger, stronger, and when they get combat- seasoned, they will be much better and they can push ISIL out of the country.

TAPPER: All right, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time.

Terrified residents saying ISIS fighters are -- quote -- "everywhere," as one of Syria's ancient cities described as standing at the crossroads of several civilizations is overtaken by the terrorist group.

[16:10:07]

Why the fear now is not just for the people who live there, but also for the irreplaceable artifacts, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Continuing with our world lead, ISIS terrorists in full control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, going door to door hunting any possible opposition for execution. The terrorist group has now captured more than half of Syria and large swathes of Iraq.

Let's get right to CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who joins us live from Beirut, Lebanon.

Nick, what is the latest on the ground in Palmyra? What are you hearing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're seeing social media video that has emerged showing pretty deserted streets to some degree, but also people gathering in one city center, bewildered, it seems, by the new ISIS fighters who have come in, and chanting "Islamic State" among some of them.

[16:15:11] This is obviously the beginning of ISIS' presence inside that city. According to eyewitnesses they're going door to door looking for soldiers and being relatively nice to the residents of the town. That is a common tactic, where they start soft and get more brutal with the regime that want in place as time goes by.

But all eyes end the ruins on the outskirts of the city, Jake. I mean, this is something that dates back to first century and it's where roman traders used to mingle with members of the Persian Empire there. I mean, quite stunning beauty now risks potentially being under the sledge hammers and gun powder of ISIS, if they do the kind of year zero activity that they normally espoused and done on other antiquities around Iraq, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick, as you know, in addition to the human toll, there is an alarm sounded by the U.N. and other groups about Palmyra's precious antiquities and historical sites saying they could be looted and destroyed. Is anyone guarding them at all?

WALSH: The video we saw shows very little presence at all of regime. Obviously, they fled, but anything else really seemed limited, too. So, I imagine most people are going to have free reign over the antiquities. Now, we know that some were evacuated potentially in the previous state, it must be a limited job, frankly, the regime could pull off given other concerns they clearly had in terms of simply defending their own lives.

So, yes, it is open territory for them. Unlikely, they will sell them or hoard them, given past history. They prefer the shock value of simply destroying them, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut, Lebanon -- thank you so much.

Just what does ISIS hope to accomplish wiping historical treasures off the map?

Joining me is archeologist Katharyn Hanson who specializes in protection of cultural heritage.

Katharyn, thanks so much for joining us.

So far, no evidence yet of ISIS destroying anything in Palmyra when it comes to the antiquities or historical sites but we've seen ISIS in the past take sledge hammers to other places, including the Mosul museum in Iraq. They've looted archaeological sites. Why? What do they stand to gain doing this?

KATHARYN HANSON, ARCHAEOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: There's a couple reasons why they're damaging sites. One of them is the obvious publicity example that you cited for the Mosul museum. For instance, or some of the other sites in northern Iraq where they're demonstrating their ability to terrorize a local community.

And there's several audiences for this. There is the Western -- like the Western media, and that market, but there's also a local market and that's show terror and power over sites that lots of local folks would love to see protected and preserved, and many local cultural heritage experts who have tried to preserve the sites in the face of this really incredible danger.

TAPPER: Hmm. Interesting.

We've seen video of them destroying artifacts in museums, but also heard that they sell some of them as well. HANSON: So, I don't know if ISIS is doing the direct sales, but I can

tell you that they control areas of archaeological sites that have been very heavily damaged. So, we're talking about sites like Dura- Europos which are basically Swiss cheese now and they're just pocked marks with looters pits. Some of the most famous sites in what we consider the cradle of civilization have been looted under ISIS control and ISIS is given the monetary benefit from those sales.

TAPPER: Let's -- I need to understand, though, I think a lot of viewers have probably never heard of Palmyra. What's the importance? What are the antiquities and the historical sites? What are we talking about?

HANSON: So, Palmyra is one of six archaeological sites that is a world heritage site in Syria, but there are thousands and thousands of cultural heritage sites throughout Syria, and many of those have been damaged. What we're looking at in Palmyra in particular is crossroads that was strategically important in the past, just as it is now, it is the crossroads of the east meets the west, it's where the Romans set up camp. Lots of the sites getting damaged by ISIS today are sites that we could learn so much about the ancient past from.

TAPPER: And you've been to both Iraq and Syria, right, on archaeological missions. What more can be done to protect the sites separate from what's going on with ISIS right now?

HANSON: It's really hard from a distance to watch this, knowing how little we actually can do, but there's two things I would bring up with this and encourage viewers to think about, and one is that we need import restrictions in the U.S. to make sure that no one is accidentally buying stolen Syrian artifacts or Iraqi artifacts that will then profit ISIS. The other one, we need to make sure there's no accidental damage to cultural sites when ISIS is being targeted by U.S. air strikes.

TAPPER: All right. Kathryn Hanson, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

HANSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up: we've learned the Baltimore states attorney Marilyn Mosby will be giving an update on the Freddie Gray case.

[16:20:05] That's set to start in just a few minutes. We'll bring it to you live.

Plus, a manhunt expanding at least two states as police identify a suspect in the quadruple murder in a mansion in Washington, D.C. The suspect's girlfriend has spoken with law enforcement. What is she saying about his travels?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIEF CATHY LANIER, D.C. PEOPLE: If anyone sees this person, to assume he may be armed and dangerous and to contact local police.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Welcome back.

Breaking now: a manhunt in our national lead. Scrambling to find who police believe is behind that gruesome murder inside an upscale D.C. home.

Police in New York are now questioning a woman linked to this man on your screen, Daron Dylon Wint. He's the person detectives believe tortured a wealth business man, his wife, their 10-year-old son, and their housekeeper for hours overnight and then killed the victim, set the house on fire, torched the family's Porsche presumably to cover his tracks.

The police say he left behind a critical clue, DNA on a pizza crust. Wint is suspected to be hiding out in Brooklyn, we're told.

[16:25:01] CNN's Pamela Brown joins me now live at the house where the bodies were discovered.

Pamela, what are you hearing about Wint and his connections to the Savapoulos family?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned today from D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, Jake, that Wint actually worked for the Savapoulos family company, American Iron Works, sometime in the past. Police were not say what his role there was, and when he left, why he left. But we have learned that he has had multiple run-ins with police over the last several years. He's considered armed and dangerous as this manhunt for him continues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): D.C. police say 34-year-old Daron Wint is a suspect in the brutal killings of the prominent D.C. couple, Savvas and Amy Savapoulos and their son and their housekeeper inside this charred multimillion dollar mansion. Wint's girlfriend told police he fled to New York on a bus Wednesday night, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

LANIER: Just about every law enforcement officer across the country are looking for him. I think even his family has made pleas for him to turn himself in.

BROWN: Wint served briefly with the marines, but left before completing basic training. And more recently worked at American Iron Works, a construction company where Savvas Savapoulos was the CEO.

LANIER: This does not appear that this was just a random crime, but there is connection through the business of the suspect and the Savapoulos family business. BROWN: A major break in the case came Wednesday when ATF forensic

specialists recovered Wints DNA on a pizza crust, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. A nearby Domino's says it delivered pizza that night and left the food at the door unaware the family was bound with duct tape inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police will preserve anything they think is meaningful evidence that the subject may have touched and that would include not just pizza crust, but the box that he may have touched. Napkins he may have used and discarded.

BROWN: Investigators say Savapoulos' assistant dropped off around $40,000 in cash at the family house, but the assistant was apparently told not to come inside. This as we learned more grisly details about the murders.

Philip Savapoulos had stab wounds and was killed before he was burned beyond recognition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly, it was a sadistic killer. The son might have been used as the tool to make sure the parents were compliant.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And police say that Wint is wanted for first-degree felony murder while armed, and also today, Jake, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said she cannot rule out there could be more suspects connected to the brutal killings -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

There's a $100,000 reward for information leading to Wint's arrest and conviction.

Let's bring in Mary Ellen O'Toole. She was a senior FBI profiler and special agent. Also joining me, retired NYPD detective and CNN law enforcement analyst, Harry Houck.

Mary, let me start with you. Does it say anything to you in the middle of committing this horrific crime, the suspect allegedly ordered pizza?

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER SENIOR FBI PROFILER: It does. It's very significant behavior that says that the offender or offenders are very detached from, emotionally what's going on in the crime scene. So, in other words, the family is, under great distress. They're scared, worried. They're worried. They may be crying. They may be throwing up.

TAPPER: They're being tortured.

O'TOOLE: Yes, there's fear in their eyes. And then an offender in a home he doesn't own, not supposed to be doing those things and then orders a pizza. Anybody else inside somebody's home where they shouldn't be, committing a violent crime, would be having a physical reaction -- throwing up, even diarrhea, any number of things.

What do they do? They order a pizza. It's significant because they view these people s objects, not as human beings. They're very detached.

TAPPER: Hmm. That's really horrific.

Harry, Wint's girlfriend has apparently told police that he took a bus from Washington, D.C. to New York and spent the night with her in Brooklyn. What are your sources in the NYPD where you used to work, what are they telling you how soon it might be until they catch Wint.

HARRY HOUCK, RETIRED NYPD DETECTIVE: That depends. Right now, I think exactly what they're doing, checking locations where he might be showing up. All right? I really don't want to say too much about it in case he's watching the show. All right?

But I can tell you right now that the NYPD's got all sources out there. Every detective, every cop in Brooklyn is dying to make this arrest, because it's personal now for what this guy did to that little kid.

TAPPER: All right. Well, I had a question about tactics, but you're right. He's out there. He might be watching. Let me pass on that question about tactics.

Mary Ellen, let me ask you. If all true, that it was Wint, a suspect, he hasn't been charged specifically with anything or convicted with anything, if it's true, Wint had to overpower three adults in that home, then there's the cover-up setting the house on fire, driving the car away, the Porsche was set out on fire, how likely is it that he had accomplices?

O'TOOLE: In my opinion, it's likely that he did have accomplices. Not only would he have to do it all by himself, but he would have maintained that for 10, 12 hours. So, that's really quite a bit. So, I think it's likely he would have accomplices to something like this.

TAPPER: Harry --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Go ahead.

HOUCK: Jake, you know, the thing is he ordered two pizzas.