Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Amtrak To Install Cameras To Watch Engineers; Anderson Cooper Relives Hurricane Katrina; B.B. King's Daughters Claim He Was Murdered. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired May 26, 2015 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:30:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Our world lead today, Iraqi forces say they have launched a coordinated offensive to retake major ISIS strongholds and cut off supply forces across Anbar province. Troops have surrounded Ramadi, Iraqi troops, which fell into ISIS' hands one week ago. From different directions, they have surrounded.
This comes after the U.S. secretary of defense, Ash Carter, criticized the Iraqi forces and their will to fight in an exclusive interview on CNN.
Let's go right to Barbara Starr, who conducted that interview and who joins us now live from the Pentagon.
Barbara, the Iraqi prime minister says the liberation of Anbar province is -- quote -- "imminent." What does the Pentagon say is the reality on the ground?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to tell you, Jake, here at the Pentagon, officials are not backing off one bit of what the secretary of defense had to say. And when they look at the ground in Iraq, they're asking a lot of questions.
STARR (voice-over): As sandstorms rolled in, Iraq said it's launched a major military operation to take back Ramadi.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We were pleased to see today that the Iraqi government announced the beginning of the mission to retake Ramadi and to drive ISIL out of Anbar province. I think that is a clear indication of the will of the Iraqi security forces to fight.
STARR: Far different from Defense Secretary Ash Carter when he spoke to CNN.
ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is very concerning that they showed that failure of a will to fight.
STARR: After watching the chaotic final moments before Ramadi fell, top Pentagon officials remain skeptical. U.S. military officials say, so far, the Iraqi units are just conducting probing attacks against ISIS.
ISIS, for its part, is improving its battlefield tacking, calling in fighters from Syria, using snipers and suicide bombs in new ways, digging tunnels to get into Ramadi and blow up Iraqi fortifications.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're scouting the Iraqi security forces and gaining intelligence from reconnaissance. They're understanding the capability of the Iraqi security forces, to include coalition airpower. And they are adjusting their tactics to counter that.
STARR: Moving in small groups, making it harder for U.S. warplanes to find them, and staying off social media.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have seen that there can be operational consequences to essentially live-tweeting or live-posting regarding their operations.
STARR: If the Iraqis are going to win, they will need help. These Shia militias, some under Iranian control, already beginning to move into position, but Carter hinting it is the Sunni tribes of Anbar that the Pentagon is quietly focusing on, looking for ways to provide them with more weapons.
CARTER: They're the ones who have to get in the fight and win the fight.
STARR: Now, look, you know, the White House language may be a bit more diplomatic than the secretary of defense's was, but we now know he has good reason for saying everything he said to CNN.
Throughout last week, Carter received classified briefings about just how bad the situation had become in Ramadi -- Jake.
TAPPER: Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon, thanks so much.
Let's talk now about the war on ISIS. And we will do so with CNN national commentator and former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers. We're also joined by Admiral James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO.
Gentlemen, thanks to both of you for being here.
Admiral, let me start with you.
Do you think that Iraq's security forces are up to the task of retaking Anbar province in Ramadi?
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Not by themselves.
I think it's going to take, Jake, first of all, getting the Peshmerga in the game, pressing on ISIS from the north. Secondly, we have got to get on the ground with them, not with 100,000 or 150,000 troops, but what we have there now, 2,000 to 3,000, is not going to get it. We are going to need to add, I would argue, another 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 troops to be advisers and mentors.
What the Iraqi troops are lacking is not so much will, as it is courage. And courage comes with having leadership on the battlefield. That's where we can step in and be the most helpful, I think.
TAPPER: Congressman, what do you think of Secretary Carter's comments. Do you think he was trying to prod the Iraqis into some sort of action? That's a pretty harsh statement to say about an ally's army, they don't have the will to fight.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he was more honest than prodding.
And I think you saw a little frustration from the secretary, who is going to get ever bad briefing that comes across his desk on what happened leading up to Ramadi, during Ramadi and afterward. And the admiral is right. There's been no command and control, no command leadership on the ground.
You had special forces units in Ramadi, Iraqi special forces units, fighting alongside with what would be poorly trained police officers trying to hold areas of the city. And you add on top of that the sectarian problem with the notion that we're going into a city like Ramadi with Iranian-backed Shia militias, is a huge problem.
That doesn't give confidence to the Sunni soldiers in Iraq. That whole -- that whole stew, if you will, is leading to very, very poor performance on the battlefield.
TAPPER: Admiral, Iraq's interior minister fired back, saying that there isn't enough U.S. support to defeat ISIS and that their military is ill-equipped. They need more equipment from the U.S.
Does the U.S. need to do more? You said that up to 7,000 more U.S. troops. Is there even more that the U.S. needs to do, in your view?
STAVRIDIS: I think we need more advisers, mentors and trainers to up- gun the courage factor in the Iraqi forces.
I think on the airpower side, we're probably going to have to be a little more aggressive and less cautionary about collateral damage. We're going to have to step it up. We need special forces on the ground to help us do that, so our smart bombs can land where they need to.
So, yes, we need to do more. But, at the end of the day, this is a battle that the Iraqis are going to have to take and win. And in Ramadi, it's going to be that famous urban three-block war. That's tough fighting when you get into that kind of urban setting.
TAPPER: Congressman, I asked Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar to both Bush and Clinton, what he thought about the calls for more U.S. troops in Iraq. We're hearing a lot of them from Republicans on the Hill, especially those running for president.
And he said, we tried that already. It didn't work out so well. What would you say to a skeptic who says, you know, we have tried -- we sent 150,000 U.S. troops into Iraq; that's not our problem to solve?
Well, again, I would argue the premise of the question may be not exactly right. Did the pullout have an impact? Were the troops ready and trained before we pulled out with no residual force to give that command, that control, that training, that direction? All that went away in a hurry. That created a problem that we have today.
I do believe special capability forces -- and the admiral referenced that kind of an operation -- need to be on the ground. What we have found in any engagement -- I don't care if it's Afghanistan, Iraq, or other places, Somalia, Yemen -- if U.S. special capability soldiers and forces are on the ground, they get all the logistics that go with that, including medevac, those soldiers will stay and fight. They will be in the fight to the bitter end.
They have lost that part. And without regaining that command and control on the battlefield, you won't get effective fighting on the battlefield. You don't need 100,000. You don't need 150,000. You do need to supplant these forces. Otherwise, you're going to get into a sectarian battle between Iran, Shia militias in Iraq, Sunni tribe members, and ISIS. That is a loser for both the Middle East and U.S. long-term policy.
TAPPER: Admiral, ISIS showed tremendous tactical capability in capturing Ramadi. The details that we're hearing now about the way that they captured that city, even though Iraqi forces outnumbered them 10-1, are remarkable and chilling. Do you think there's a real chance of Baghdad falling to ISIS?
STAVRIDIS: I do not, I think principally because of the Shia militias, who are very ingrained in the Baghdad area, secondly because, despite what we saw the failures of Ramadi and a couple of other engagements prior to that, there are still probably 20,000 to 40,000 Iraqi troops in and around Baghdad who can fight quite capably.
I think what you saw in Ramadi was that the enemy gets a vote. They're clever, they respond, they adjust their tactics. We need to continue to put them under three-front pressure, Peshmerga from the north, the bombing campaign in the west, and get these Iraqi security forces in the game coming up from the south. Put them under three- axis pressure. We will see they're not 10-feet tall.
TAPPER: Admiral, as long as I have you here, I do want to ask you about Russian President Vladimir Putin, being that you're a former supreme allied commander of NATO.
There's this "military exercise" -- quote, unquote -- with 12,000 Russian troops, deployed along with numerous aircrafts, weapon systems to the northwest part of the country. Again, Putin is calling it a military exercise. As the former supreme allied commander of NATO, what do you read into this?
STAVRIDIS: I think the really concerning aspect is that these are so- called snap exercises.
In other words, they're done without any warning. They're instantaneous. Whenever NATO does a comparable exercise, we let everybody in the neighborhood know. We actually invite the Russians to come observe. We do that to make sure we keep tension down.
The Russians undertaking these kind of snap exercises raises tensions. And we ought to remember, Jake, that it was a snap exercise in the southwest that was the prelude to the taking of Crimea. So, these snap exercises are very concerning. They're not the right way for Putin to be acting if he's, as he says, trying to reduce tensions.
TAPPER: Right. Well, he's obviously not.
Admiral James Stavridis and former Congressman Mike Rogers, thank you so much. Good to have both of you here.
Following the Philadelphia derailment that killed eight people, Amtrak now says they're taking a big step to try to improve passenger safety. But will train engineers object to the plan?
Plus, a surprising twist in the death of blues great B.B. King. Two of his daughters say he was poisoned, and the coroner in Las Vegas is taking the claim seriously -- that story next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In our Money Lead today, just two weeks after the massive derailment outside Philadelphia killing eight people and injuring more than 200, Amtrak announced today inward facing cameras and they will be installed in locomotives to better monitor the engineers.
But first, it will be aboard the regional trains that service the heavily traffic north east corridor, which includes Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, although there are already outward facing cameras on locomotives, the company CEO said these new cams will help improve safety and serve as a valuable investigative tool.
And now to a 35th anniversary, no, I'm not referring to the invention of Pac-man although that did also make its debut in 1980. But more important, that same year Cable News Network, CNN, launched and tonight you'll get a chance to take a look back with us and see the biggest stories CNN has ever covered told through personal accounts of those who covered them.
It's the focus of our special report "Breaking News, 35 Years Of CNN" airing tonight. Here's a sneak peek. This one is our Anderson Cooper on the misery and sadness of covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A powerful hurricane appears to be setting its sights on the central gulf coast.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": This may be the easy side of the storm, but it does not feel easy right here on the banks of the Mississippi River. I just want to show you --
It's a very strange feeling covering a hurricane, particularly one that was this size.
I was in a Walmart earlier in the day and people just come up to you in the Walmart and they're like, have you heard about my town.
A woman at the Walmart said to me, you should go to gulf coast, Mississippi because we haven't been in touch with our relatives in Waveland and no one is reporting from there. When I got to Waveland that was unlike anything I had seen before.
I want to show you a few shots around me, just the complete devastation.
I went out with a FEMA body recovery team. We went to the house of a family, their last name was Bane. Once you stepped on their porch, you could smell them. Everything was ripped apart, and things were on the floor, it was very chaotic and then they found them. This four people, a man and a wife and two children have died in this home.
[16:50:03] They had drowned in their living room, a husband and a wife and two of their kids were special needs kids. But there was really nothing they could do. They marked an x on the door and they put the number four for the number of bodies on the door that were inside and then they closed the door and they left.
TAPPER: Wolf Blitzer joins me now. Wolf, "THE SITUATION ROOM" had just launched right around the time of Hurricane Katrina, that must have been a challenge to cover the story. I remember covering it for ABC News. It was horrific.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": It was so poignant and Anderson did an amazing job. Sanjay Gupta was there. Our whole team were watching what was going on. You were there. It's hard to believe it's been ten years since that occurred.
It's one of the many stories we're going to feature on tonight in our 35th anniversary special report. For all of the news junkies who are out there watching us right now, they'll want to watch tonight, because it will bring back a lot of powerful memories, some of the biggest stories we've all covered.
TAPPER: And you've been there for 25 of those?
BLITZER: Twenty five of the 35 years. TAPPER: What was your first day like?
BLITZER: I sat at the assignment desk and then Washington bureau chief said to me, watch veto, see what he does to get a little feeling of what television news was all about. I went to the Pentagon, became the Pentagon correspondent. That was on May 8th, 1990 and August 1st, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and then "Operation Desert Shield" and "Operation Desert Storm" and then all of the sudden CNN came of age.
TAPPER: Is there any story of all the ones you've covered here for CNN, is there any one that has really stuck with you?
BLITZER: All of them have really been powerful, but obviously 9/11. You know when we saw has was going on. And I remember vividly that morning, I saw on television what was going on, I got in my car immediately started driving downtown to get to the bureau.
And people were driving away from Washington. They were trying to get at as the plane landed at the Pentagon. It was hard getting there. When I heard about the Pentagon, I had been the Pentagon correspondent. I knew exactly where the plane landed.
I knew what was going on. I knew this was an act of terror and I said to myself, this is going the change all of us forever.
TAPPER: Yes, nothing was the same. Thank you so much, Mr. Wolf Blitzer whose show starts in 8 minutes. Make sure to tune in tonight for our special report "Breaking News, 35 Years Of CNN."
Was blues legend, B.B. King murdered? The Clark County coroner has opened an investigation into the guitar great's death after his daughters claimed that they are sure he was poisoned. That story next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The Pop Culture Lead now, fans of blues guitar legend, B.B. King, may be just now coming to peace with his passing. But two of his children are stirring up some serious questions and allegations about how he may have died. They claim he was murdered.
Poisoned by his closest business associates and the coroner's office in Nevada, well, it's taking the claim seriously and they're conducting an autopsy this weekend.
Kyung Lah in Los Angeles has more. Kyung, what is the current stated cause of death?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the current one as it is listed right now essentially natural causes nothing to do with foul play. B.B. King, 89 years old, has struggled with diabetes for many decades and he died from complications of them, but this is now being reexamined after the allegations by the daughters.
LAH (voice-over): Just days after B.B. King's death, a stunning allegation, two of his daughters now say their father was murdered. The women, Karen Williams and Patty King claim that King's long time business agent, Laverne Tony and personal assistant, Myron Johnson, administered foreign substances to induce his premature death that the indisputable king of blues was poisoned.
LARISSA DROHOBYEZER, ATTORNEY FOR B.B. KING DAUGHTERS: They didn't see their father die. They didn't see him for a week before he died. They want to know and be at peace.
LAH: The legal action prompted Nevada's Clark County coroner to conduct an autopsy on King's body on Sunday opening and pledging a thorough investigation. The coroner adds so far there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations.
Earlier this year, a judge tossed out another case brought by the daughters with another sister. They accused the business agent of elder abuse and neglect. The judge said the women lacked evidence to back their claims.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want him to know that we are not going to stop this. Today was not the final chapter in the B.B. King story.
LAH: It is an ugly post-script seen too often in celebrity deaths. Michael Jackson's death spurred multiple, years' long, legal cases from his family including one from his mother.
Family members publicly battled over the conservatorship of radio legend, Casey Kasem largely viewed as a fight for his millions in assets.
James Brown, the godfather of soul, left his tens of millions of dollars for scholarship to needy children, those children and partner still battling over the money.
Attorneys say the B.B. King case follows a familiar pattern.
PAGE PATE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There's this estate, a pot of money that these folks are going to be fighting over. This is their attempt to fire a shot across the bow saying we're aggressive and we're going to accuse you of this and we want a place at the table.
LAH: Attorney for B.B. King's business agent calls these claims, quote, "absolutely ridiculous." And Jake, they say it comes down to one thing, money.
TAPPER: Kyung Lah, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'm turning you now to Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.