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US Airstrike Blamed for Deaths at an Afghan Hospital; Hillary Clinton and the NRA; Clinton: We Need "Sensible Restraints" On Guns; Polls: Trump's Lead Shrinks In Iowa, New Hampshire; The State Of The Bush Campaign. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 5, 2015 - 16:30   ET




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

A distressing story in our world lead today, the United States standing accused of a war crime in Afghanistan after an American airstrike killed at least 22 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital Saturday in the city of Kunduz in Afghanistan. Twelve staffers and 10 patients, including children, are among the dead.

The Pentagon claims Afghan troops taking fire from Taliban nearby requested U.S. air support and are promising a full transparent accounting of what happened. Doctors Without Borders says the United States is simply trying to deflect responsibility. And the respected humanitarian group is demanding an independent international inquiry.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, how was this apparent error, at least according to the Pentagon, made?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is what is not known yet. Now, some investigators may have some preliminary answers, but it may be several days before more is heard, before some explanations are offered.


STARR (voice-over): International outrage after a hospital in Northern Afghanistan was struck from the air by the U.S. The U.S. is investigating its role in the attack that left 12 medical staff and 10 patients, three of them children, killed, another 37 wounded.

The hospital is run by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, a global charity that works in war zones. They call the attack a war crime.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, again, I wouldn't use a label like that, because this is something that continues to be under investigation.

[16:35:04] STARR: Survivors describe the horror to the BBC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There were flames all around me. I saw patients and doctors burn to death."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There was no place to hide.

STARR: The damage massive. An AC-130 gunship like this struck the hospital with its onboard guns.

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, U.S. ARMY: Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces. An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck.

STARR: Doctors Without Borders says it gave the military the exact location of the hospital weeks ago, furious with the Pentagon, saying: "Their description of the attack keeps changing, from collateral damage to a tragic incident to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government. The reality is, the U.S. dropped those bombs."

Defense Secretary Ash Carter trying to reassure the group.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have been in touch with them to assure them that a full and transparent investigation will be held.

STARR: Doctors Without Borders' general director says the Taliban were not at the hospital.

CHRISTOPHER STOKES, GENERAL DIRECTOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: If there was a major military operation ongoing there, our staff would have noticed. And that wasn't the case actually when the strikes occurred.

STARR: Contrary to first reports, U.S. forces were not under attack, just Afghan forces. But, nonetheless, a senior U.S. official says all strikes the Afghans ask for have strict approval procedures. Not all are approved.


STARR: And, Jake, as you know, being to so many war zones, mosques, hospitals and schools are no-go zones for U.S. airstrikes. They are off the table, so a big question about what happened here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

In our politics lead today, Hillary Clinton says the Republican Party is putting the NRA ahead of Americans' families. But what issue got her really fired up this morning in New Hampshire? That story ahead.

Plus, has Vice President Biden made up his mind yet about getting in the race? New details about his thinking coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Our politics lead now. If you listen to just her rhetoric, you might think that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton is enemy number one of gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association. Now, with Clinton releasing her proposals for what she calls sensible restraints on gun purchases, she's now openly slamming the gun group for standing in the way, in her view, of saving American lives.

Take a listen to her this morning.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If anything else were killing 33,000 of our people, we would all come together and say, hey, what are we going to do about this?


TAPPER: That 33,000 figure includes murders, accidents and suicides, we should note.

Clinton is focusing on the gun violence issue to differentiate herself from her strongest challenger, Bernie Sanders. But what does her record as first lady and in the Senate show about her willingness to take on the NRA?

I want to get right to CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar -- Brianna.


Well, back in 2000, when Hillary Clinton was first running for office for the Senate, she was an advocate of a national gun registry. In 2008, when she was running for president she was running to the right of then-Senator Barack Obama. And she moderated her tone on guns a little bit. She talked about how her father had taught her to shoot as a young girl.

Well, today, here in New Hampshire, she was really tacking to the left, taking on the NRA on the same day that she takes on Republicans for looking into Benghazi.


KEILAR (voice-over): Two weeks from testifying before the House Benghazi committee, Hillary Clinton is slamming the Republican-led effort as a partisan exercise.

CLINTON: This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans.

KEILAR: She's seizing on these comments from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?

KEILAR: New polls show Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Iowa by five points, 11 if Vice President Biden decides not to run. But in New Hampshire, Sanders is beating Clinton by 14 points, a lead that shrinks, but only to nine, without Biden in the race.

CLINTON: I have got work to do in New Hampshire. I'm very excited to be leading everywhere else.

KEILAR: Clinton told NBC she's expecting a primary fight and pointed out what she sees as Sanders' appeal to New Hampshirites.

CLINTON: Bernie is a neighbor here. He represents Vermont.

KEILAR: But Sanders is generating enthusiasm that Clinton is not. In Massachusetts this weekend, he drew a crowd of more than 20,000.



KEILAR: In the wake of the shooting at an Oregon community college last week, Clinton laid out proposals to combat gun violence.

CLINTON: It's time for us to say, wait a minute, we're better than this. Our country is better than this.

KEILAR: Clinton railed against the National Rifle Association.

CLINTON: Ideally, what I would love to see is gun owners, responsible gun owners, hunters, form a different organization and take back the Second Amendment from these extremists.


KEILAR: She's trying to draw distinction between herself and Sanders, who has more moderate views on guns that reflect his rural state. While Clinton's voting record on guns has been pretty liberal, her tone hasn't always been so sharp. In 2008, she made this appeal to gun-owning Democrats.

CLINTON: It's part of a culture. It's part of a way of life.

KEILAR: Clinton is also trying to show a lighter side, laughing at herself on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: This has been so nice. You are really easy to talk to, Val.

CLINTON: Well, thanks. You know, that's the first time I have ever heard that.




KEILAR: But back to the issue of combating gun violence, Jake, because Bernie Sanders just put out a statement -- his campaign put out a statement about some of his proposals, closing the gun show loophole, making -- banning assault weapons, implementing an instant background check, and really investing in mental health treatment.

It's very clear that this is a Bernie Sanders we don't often see him on the defensive, Jake. But certainly there is concern that his more moderate stance on guns could hurt him. And right now here in New Hampshire he's enjoying a double-digit lead that he would like to maintain -- Jake.

TAPPER: Brianna Keilar, thank you so much. Let's bring in CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. Gloria, we've all been trying to read the tea leaves about Vice President Biden's possible run for the White House. What are your sources telling you?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: My sources are telling me and our colleague, Jeff Zeleny. We have spoken to people who have spoken directly with the vice president. And they say lately he sounds more like somebody who is really leaning towards a run.

That he's more interested in the mechanics of a race. That he's telling people you'd be surprised at the number of people who I'm hearing from and that, Jake, he really doesn't seem to be concerned about losing, which was surprising to me.

That he told one of our sources that, look, if I lose, so what. I've lost before. And I'll pick myself up and I'll just go on with the rest of my life.

So they are saying no decision has been officially made, but the Joe Biden they're talking to now is very different from the Joe Biden they were talking to say a month ago.

TAPPER: Interesting. Gloria Borger, thank you so much.

This programming note, you can watch the first Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN. It's next Tuesday, October 13th. That's a week from tomorrow. Coverage starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. Anderson Cooper will be the moderator.

Donald Trump taking on Marco Rubio again telling him to go back to his milk and cookies and step aside for a real man to do the job. That story next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Staying with our Politics Lead, if you ask Donald Trump, without him the Republican Party would be heading for a disaster of biblical proportions. Trump saying his absence would render the GOP race boring.

TV ratings would plummet because no matter how many Republican fish in the sea, it would be so empty without him. Well, the latest polls indicate Mr. Trump will not have to follow through on any promise to consider dropping out should his numbers tank in the near future at least.

CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash is here. Dana, we got a new snapshot of the race, new polls out of Iowa and New Hampshire. What do they show?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It shows two Floridians, former Governor Jeb Bush and the Senator Marco Rubio are doing a bit better in the first two contest states. But in Iowa and New Hampshire the top two spots are still candidates who have never held elected office.


BASH (voice-over): Donald Trump is still on top, but his grip as frontrunner not as firm.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not a masochist. And if I was dropping in the polls where I saw that I wasn't going to win, why would I continue? I'm a realist. I'm doing great in the polls right now.

BASH: In New Hampshire though Trump's 16-point lead last month has narrowed to five points according to a new NBC News/Marist poll, which puts him at 21 percent in the granite state. Hot on his heels, Carly Fiorina in second at 16 percent and campaigning today in New Hampshire the old fashioned way at a rotary club.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here in New Hampshire we are all revealed and that's because this is a place where campaigning is intimate.

BASH: There is nothing intimate about Donald Trump's campaign style, a lot of interviews and social media. Then there was this, a "Saturday Night Live" impersonator leading the season premiere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very simple. I get in there, taxes go down. Everybody gets a job. Salaries go way up, we build a wall, it's huge over in China they're going to say, now that's a wall.

BASH: The real Donald Trump is going after Marco Rubio "SNL" sketch style taking to Twitter to re-tweet a boyhood picture of the 44-year- old senator that also refers to him as little rube and says he doesn't have the swagger to run the country. But Rubio is on the rise from 3 percent to 10 percent in New Hampshire. No response to Trump, but he is defending himself against criticism from his former mentor Jeb Bush who told us Rubio's inexperience as a first-term senator was reminiscent of President Obama.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, we've had a president who came in and said the same kind of thing, new and improved, hope and change.

BASH: Today Rubio pushed back saying it's about ideas, not experience.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he had been in the Senate for 50 years, I think he still would have met some of the failers he's meeting because his ideas don't work.


BASH: These new polls are bad news for Ohio Governor John Kasich especially in New Hampshire where Kasich is playing hard. He had a bump after doing well in the first Republican debate, but now Kasich is down to 6 percent. Jake, he's lost half of his support in New Hampshire in just one month.

TAPPER: Wow. Dana bash, thank you so much. Let's bring in CNN political commentator, Patti Solis Doyle. She managed Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, and also Stuart Stevens, campaign strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid. He is also author of a great book "The Last Season: A Father, Son and Lifetime of College Football." It's a very moving book and congratulations on it.

So let me put the Republican race in college football terms. There are powerhouses such as Alabama. There are upstarts such as Boise state. What's Donald Trump?

STUART STEVENS, FORMER ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I would say he's division three with a really trash talking coach. Who says he's going to take on and win the national championship even though they're division three but hasn't won a game yet.

[16:55:01] TAPPER: That would suggest that you don't think he's going to make it to --

STEVENS: I don't think he's going to be on the ballot by February 1.

TAPPER: Really?

STEVENS: No. I think he said it tonight, the greatest sin in his value system is to be a loser and most people who run for president lose. I don't think he'll risk it.

TAPPER: Wow. That's quite a prediction. Let me ask you a question. You work for the, quote/unquote, "establishment candidate" in 2012, Mitt Romney. Jeb Bush, the establishment candidate, is having not a great race so far. Mitt Romney was always basically second or third in the polls even as the flavors of the month.

STEVENS: Yes, second.

TAPPER: Second. OK, but that's not happening with Jeb. Is he the same in the same position --

STEVENS: There are more people running.


STEVENS: And I think that the key here is the calendar, which is very different now. We have February 1st is Iowa, as opposed to coming the last two cycles right after the first of the year. That gives you a natural period of January.

I think the race is going to be make or break January 2nd to February 1st. I think there will be a lot of movement. But I don't think the voters have really focused on who they want to be the nominee yet.

TAPPER: Do you agree with that, Patti?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yes, I do. I think in the Republican field especially there's a primary within a primary. I think, you know, there's the anti-establishment race and then there's the establishment race.

I think as people get more serious and focus on the issues and they head into Thanksgiving, they're really going to try and figure out whether they're so angry at D.C. that they're going to vote for the person who has never held public office before.

Or whether they're going to hold their nose, so to speak, and go ahead and try and vote for somebody with actual experience, with actual policy, and frankly with a better chance of winning a general election.

TAPPER: You obviously want a Democrat to win the general election. I'm guessing probably Hillary Clinton. Who scares you the most on their side? Who do you not want to face?

DOYLE: On the Republican side?

TAPPER: On the Republican side.

DOYLE: You know, actually Stuart and I were just talking in the green room. I think a Rubio/Kasich or a Kasich/Rubio ticket is a pretty scary ticket.

TAPPER: Do you think he could peel away Rubio theoretically could peel away Latino notes in enough number that he could win the White House?

DOYLE: I think he has a good chance at it. I think he's young. I think he is inspirational. You know, like I said, scary ticket.

TAPPER: What about Joe Biden? What do you make of him? STEVENS: Listen, I don't understand why in the world he wouldn't run. I mean, I think if he ran he'd be one of two or three people that might be president of the United States. Those aren't bad odds. Hillary Clinton clearly there's a reluctance of voters to come support her.

TAPPER: But is there a path for him, do you think?

STEVENS: Sure. I think there's a path to win.


STEWART: I mean, Hillary Clinton is losing to an obscure socialist from a tiny state.

TAPPER: In one poll in one state.

STEVENS: Well, but you know she's consistently going down.

TAPPER: Right.

STEVENS: And I think that she can do better. And I think she's becoming a better candidate as she gets tested. But Joe Biden has a clear path to win. I think he would just say, look, to democratic voters, you love the president, which most of them do. I love the president. This isn't complicated. He picked me. I'll support the president's agenda. Vote for me.

TAPPER: Do you think that Biden can actually beat Hillary Clinton? Is she beatable in the primary?

DOYLE: Look, I think there's not a lot of daylight between Biden and Hillary when it comes to the issues. I think he is beloved in the Democratic Party. I think he's beloved nationally. I think it will be a very competitive race if he gets in.

TAPPER: Do you think between Hillary and Biden it could get competitive?

DOYLE: The recent polls show if Biden is in the race he takes away from Hillary's votes, not so much Sanders' votes. So I think the entrance of a Biden in this Democratic field could make it a very competitive race all the way around for Bernie, for Hillary, for Biden.

TAPPER: Stuart, do you think Mitt Romney is sitting somewhere wishing he would run?

STEVENS: I don't think his mind works that way. I think he's very forward looking. He's fundamentally a happy, positive person. I don't think he rethinks these things.

TAPPER: What about you as somebody who admires him?

STEVENS: I would love if Mitt Romney was running. I think he'd be winning and I think that he'd be saying a lot of things that Republicans would respond to. I think he'd dominate on the debate stage.

TAPPER: All right, Stuart Stevens, Patti Solis Doyle, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Great to see you, guys.

A quick programming note, tonight Anderson Cooper investigating exactly what teens are doing on social media. It's a CNN special report "Being Thirteen, Inside the Secret World of Teens." That airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific. It sounds terrifying for anybody who has teenagers, seriously.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer next door in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.