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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Manhunt for Man Behind Deadly Bomb Attack in Thailand; Interview With New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez on Iran Nuke Deal; O'Donnell Asks For Help Finding Missing Teen; Russian Police Bust Alleged Cheese Ring Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired August 18, 2015 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Topping the world lead today, an international manhunt for this person, the guy in the yellow shirt and glasses. Officials believe he may be behind yesterday's deadly bomb attack in the heart of Thailand's capital, Bangkok.
He is seen on surveillance video. You can take a look at the video. He's there right there sitting down with the backpack. He appears to leave the backpack behind at the shrine moments before the explosion that killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 100.
This comes as a second blast rocked the city early this morning and Thai authorities believe these twin attacks used similar devices.
CNN's Andrew Stevens has the latest for us in Bangkok.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another bomb goes off in Bangkok.
This surveillance video shows water shooting into the air, the bomb exploding on the Taksin pier only a few miles away from Monday night's bomb that ripped through Central Bangkok. Thai officials are on the hunt for this man seen here on this surveillance video putting a backpack underneath a bench and then walking away.
Newly released cell phone video captures the chaotic scene during evening rush hour on Monday. Unsuspecting tourists and locals walk along a popular footbridge before the sudden explosion below.
Theerasak Kulthama was hit by shrapnel in the explosion.
"I turned back to look where the sound came from and saw people scattered on the streets everywhere. I decided to abandon my motorbike and run off," he says. "I have never been through anything like this before. I am still scared."
People waiting in traffic captured the bomb going off right in front of them. Smoke and embers filled the air. Surveillance video capturing the unprecedented large and deadly blast lighting up the night sky.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw about five different ambulances screaming away from the scene. I saw there were one hundreds of medics, police, fire brigade.
STEVENS: The bomb claiming more than 20 lives and injuring over 100. Local police believe this was a -- quote -- "deliberate act of terror" targeting a Hindu shrine, a major tourist attraction in Thailand, also near a large shopping mall.
STEVENS: So, John, clearly, the government and the police now have a suspect they say very sure he is the bomber. They know the target because it was a tourist spot. But what they still don't have is a motive. Why did they do this, John?
BERMAN: I am sure it will be another nervous morning in Bangkok.
Andrew Stevens live there for us, thank you so much.
In other world news, another high-ranking Democrat delivering a blow to President Obama's nuclear deal and taking some direct shots at the president in the process, saying hope is not a national security strategy. That's next.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.
Making headlines in our world lead today, the White House losing a couple of votes in the controversial nuclear deal with Iran. Two high-ranking influential lawmakers have come out against the proposed pact, Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and just a short time ago, the former chairman, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
This coming as the 30-day countdown until the up-or-down vote begins.
I'm going to straight away to CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta on Martha's Vineyard with the president.
Jim, how closely are they following these votes?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Very closely, John.
And the White House says President Obama remains engaged on the Iran deal even while he's vacationing here on Martha's Vineyard. And despite the bipartisan opposition that's building up on Capitol Hill, aides to the president are confident this agreement will survive.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The list of Democrats coming out against the Iran nuclear deal is growing. This time, it's the Senate Foreign Relations Committee former chairman, Bob Menendez.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: But if Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it.
ACOSTA: But Menendez, whose announcement was expected, is hardly the biggest setback of the week. That distinction goes to Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who likely ended White House hopes for any bipartisan support for the deal.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: The president and the administration is saying that it does not tie our hands, but the plain text of the agreement seems to do so.
ACOSTA: But the president, who was out at the beach today on Martha's Vineyard, is not throwing in the towel just yet.
A White House official said the president is engaged on the issue, adding, "We remain confident that ultimately a majority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate will support the deal."
That's critical, as Republicans face an uphill battle, needing 11 more Democratic senators to defy the president, vote to block the agreement and then join GOP efforts to override any presidential vetoes, which explains why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted by reporters in Kentucky as saying "The president has a great likelihood of success."
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: New deal. New deal.
ACOSTA: But Republicans in the race for the White House vow they will have the final say and tear up the deal once they enter the Oval Office.
FIORINA: Until you open every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime/anywhere inspections, the United States of America, without anyone else's permission or collaboration, will make it as difficult as possible for you to move money around the global financial system.
ACOSTA: The deal's critics say Iran is still dangerous, noting this tweet saying from the ayatollah saying Tehran will take all possible means to support anyone who fights Israel.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It guarantees that Iran, run by a radical Shia cleric with an apocalyptic vision of the future, will possess a nuclear weapon and a long-range missile capable of hitting the United States.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: But White House officials argue support for the Iran deal will start growing as more Democrats announce they're backing the agreement -- in fact, two senators came out and did just that earlier today -- and that the bottom line for the Iran deal has not changed, according to White House officials.
They say the numbers in both the Senate and the House are still in the favor. John, they need -- the Republicans need enough votes to override vetoes in both the House and the Senate and the White House is confident the Republicans just don't have the votes to do that, John.
BERMAN: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks so much.
Joining me to discuss his just-announced opposition to the Iran deal is Democratic Senator and former Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez.
Senator, thanks so much for being with us.
I know you wrote the speech yourself, a very detailed argument against this deal.
Let me give you another argument. The Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan group here in Washington, today announced their support for the deal, saying they see -- quote -- "no realistic prospect for a better nuclear agreement," adding, "the deal would make it very likely that any future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly, providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
Now, there's a lot there. I won't ask you to react to all of it, but let me ask you to react to the first part. They say no realistic prospect for a better nuclear agreement.
MENENDEZ: Totally disagree with them.
And I think the ultimate leverage is now. Look, the reason that Iran came to the negotiating table is because President Rouhani, looking at the audit he conducted after he became president, made it very clear to the ayatollah that we can't sustain the regime if these sanctions continue to bite at the Iranian economy. And only a negotiated agreement will ultimately give us the relief we want.
It's difficult to understand how the world's greatest powers, the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany and China, and the European Union, on one side of the table and Iran on the other side, reeling from sanctions and plummeting oil prices, can get some elements of critical dismantlement -- on some of the critical elements that would give us proven, you know, aspects of not worrying about a pathway towards nuclear weapons.
The statement that you read to me is -- I respect the individuals, but it's aspirational. And one of the things about the agreement that I think everybody glosses over is that of course it depends upon performance. And when I look at an agreement, I don't only look at it with the hope that it will be fully performed. I look at it with the possibility, particularly in Iran's case, that has violated for the better part of 20 years its obligations to the Security Council and to the world order, that in fact it may violate.
What position does that put us then in? In that respect, I think the agreement is very weak.
BERMAN: You used the word aspirational. Let me put that back at you.
Isn't it aspirational at this point that you could continue any kind of sanctions regime like the one that has been in place? The E.U. and the U.N. have basically already started backing away from the sanctions they had in place. So, isn't it aspirational to think you could keep it as tough as it's been?
[16:45:00] MENENDEZ: I think not. It will take work as it's always taken, but you know, you have to remember that the E.U. and our partners are very much concerned about Iran crossing the nuclear threshold and achieving nuclear weapons.
They are not going to stop worrying about that. And so if you're going to look at Iran with a 460 some odd billion dollar economy or the United States with a $17 trillion economy and your greatest ally and the one that you're trying to negotiate a transatlantic partnership with is moving in a different direction.
I think that they're likely to join us understanding that we can achieve a better result. Now it will take American leadership to do that and the fact of the secondary nature of our sanctions and the fact that hard diplomacy will be necessarily are all realities of the decision making that they will ultimately take.
I know that their position know is that it's this deal or no deal, but you know, the Congress has had on many times rejected multilateral agreements and the world has not come to an end.
BERMAN: Do you think you have enough votes, though, to actually reject it this time and then override the potential or the probable veto?
MENENDEZ: Well, look, I came to my own conclusions after very considerable judgments of spending countless hours of hearings and intelligence briefings and briefings with experts in the field.
I do think that there's a universe of members that have a very serious concern about the agreement as it stands and what happens if Iran violates what's the position then. I think that we need to believe that we will snap back to the sanctions in a way that will be a real deterrent.
And if Iran violates a few years down the road, we'll get notice, but we will not have much to do other than accept Iran as a nuclear arm state or a military option. Either one is not desirable and so that's why the leverage we have now so that we can dismantle some critical elements not even all of it, some critical elements that lead them to the ability to have a pathway to a nuclear weapon was our stated goal and should be our results and it's difficult to believe that the greatest world power on one side of the table can achieve it.
BERMAN: Senator Robert Menendez now a very public and vocal no vote on the Iran deal. Thanks so much.
When we come back, a plea for help, Rosie O'Donnell turning to social medial to find her missing daughter who has not been seen in a week. What police are now saying about the case, that's next.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. A family emergency for Rosie O'Donnell, that is today on our Pop Lead. She is definitely searching for her daughter, Chelsea. No one has seen the 17-year-old since last Tuesday.
Rosie's long time publicist says the teen lives with mental. She has no phone, no money. Let's go straight to CNN Alexandra Field. Alexandra, you know, O'Donnell went to the police, what did she say?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are now (inaudible) she is a missing person, but they say that she may very well be a run away and that they don't believe that she is in any form of danger. That said, Rosie O'Donnell did go on her web site today and making the public declaration that her daughter was missing and that she was searching for the 17-year-old.
She wrote, "Chelsea was last seen Tuesday, August 11th. She left home with her 6-month-old therapy dog named Bear. Chelsea stopped taking her medicine and is in need of medical attention."
Now Rosie O'Donnell's publicist followed up with her own statement essentially saying that Chelsea lives with mental illness and the family just wants her back safely.
But we spoke to police and we asked them if Chelsea went missing on Tuesday or if she was reported missing on Sunday? Police say that when they spoke to the family on Sunday, they understood that she has been in contact with her family using an unknown cell phone at some point over the course of the week.
But they do say she is now without her own cell phone and without her own computer -- John.
BERMAN: Why are we just hearing about this now if she's been missing for a week?
FIELD: Because Rosie O'Donnell has decided to shine the spotlight on this. She has been active on Twitter all week. Today, she posted that statement on her web site and she also tweeted a couple of times about this.
In one tweet, she seemed to be asking the public for help and showing a picture of Chelsea and the dog that was missing and in another tweet she showed a picture of Chelsea holding a baby and essentially implored her to reach out to her family.
So it seems that Rosie has really taken whatever platforms at her disposal to try and connect with her daughter or anyone who has seen her. Again, underscoring this point that she believes that her daughter needs this medication -- John.
BERMAN: Our thoughts are with that family. Alexandra Field, thank you so much.
In our World Lead, a sea explorer to his robust resume, Russian President Vladimir Putin taking a spin on a mini submarine. What did he find on the ocean floor? That's next.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now for the Money Lead, Vladimir Putin's latest strategic move in this dangerous chess game with the west, cutting the cheese. Russian authorities have reportedly busted a global ring involved in the production of what Russia says is contraband cheese.
And not just a little cheese, $30 million worth of cheese. According to the "Associated Press," police have arrested six people for importing an illegal cheese product that was sold in the Moscow supermarkets.
The bust comes as the Russian government tries to step up efforts to ban agricultural imports coming from the west retaliation for sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and other western powers.
More news about Putin, Vladimir Putin, the sometimes international man of mystery with very little love for the United States excluding Steven Segall is proven that he is strong, but now shaking and stirring the sea scape by taking a Russian minisub for a spin.
Look at this. Vladimir Putin plunged 83 meters into the Black Sea to inspect an ancient ship wreck. The specter of Putin's large in this particular quadrant, and it took place off the coast of Crimea.
That's it for THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. I now turnover you to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."