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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; Trump Debate Demands; U.S. Drawdown in Afghanistan Delayed; Trump, Carson Threaten to Boycott Next GOP Debate; GOP Rep.: Benghazi Panel Meant to Hurt Clinton; Bush Camp Raises $13.4 Million. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 15, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's official. The war in Afghanistan will now be handed off to a third U.S. president.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, America's longest war just got longer. President Obama announcing a major reversal, today saying that he's backing off a plan to bring almost all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan as that nation's forces ably demonstrate their ineptitude and threats from al Qaeda and ISIS grow.

The politics lead. A hit job? A second Republican now saying the Benghazi committee is not only out to get Hillary Clinton; it was designed to get her, instead of get the facts for the families of victims of that terrorist attack.

And in pop culture, witnesses say Lamar Odom did cocaine and binged on sexual enhancement supplements before the NBA champ with Kardashian family ties was found unconscious in a brothel. Today, the 911 call and the latest on his battle to pull through.

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

We're going to begin today with our world lead and a major change in course in America's longest war, President Obama today flanked by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announcing from the Roosevelt Room that despite his previous pledges at all but complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of his presidency, he has changed his mind; 9,800 service members will be in theater through the end of 2016; 5,500 will be there when the next president takes office.

All of this represents a stunning admission that the security situation on the ground in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating due to the resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda and now the ever-growing presence of ISIS.

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

Barbara, the president called the security situation on the ground -- quote -- "fragile." Will the role of U.S. forces in Afghanistan change at all? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Perhaps not, Jake.

As with Afghanistan always, it's all about preserving security and security is always the problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): As the Taliban show their biggest win in years, briefly taking over a city in northern Afghanistan, and an ISIS and al Qaeda continue expanding their ranks across Afghanistan, President Obama says the situation is still too dangerous to cut the size of U.S. forces still fighting in the country's longest war.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bottom line is in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile. And in some places, there's risk of deterioration.

STARR: The administration had sought to end U.S. involvement in the 14-year war that began less than one month after the 9/11 attacks. The plan had been to cut dramatically the number of troops next year. Now the 9,800 troops will remain through most or all of 2016, dropping to 5,500 in 2017.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Afghan security forces' uneven performance in this fighting season also underscores that their shortfalls will persist well beyond this year.

STARR: The country remains fragile. The Taliban in a surprise attack last month seized Kunduz, a major city in Afghanistan. In the fight to push the Taliban back, a U.S. airstrike hit a hospital, killing doctors and patients.

And just last weekend, U.S. forces participated in a huge raid on an al Qaeda training site, while touted as a success, it shows extremists are still operating there. The four-star commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan had made clear he was not ready for a quick drawdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In your professional military judgment, conditions on the ground at the present time would require some revision of the withdrawal plan to a Kabul-centric 1,000 personnel by the end of 2016; is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will stop my foot, sir.

STARR: Some Republican presidential candidates want more troops, President Obama's decision not the final word.

OBAMA: I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president. And as conditions improve, we will be in position to make further adjustments.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So the nation's longest war not over yet, Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you. And joining me right now to discuss this is Republican Senator and

presidential candidate Lindsey Graham. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. He also served as an Air Force Reservist with Task Force 435 dealing with detainee operations in Afghanistan.

Senator Graham, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, thanks for having me.

TAPPER: So, Senator, the next president, whomever that is, will come into office and there will be roughly 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

[16:05:02]

If you are that commander in chief, what would you do, send in even more?

GRAHAM: Yes, because no commander's recommending 5,500; 13,600 is what General Allen recommended; 9,800 is the bare minimum. The 5,500 is a political choice by the president.

I'm glad he's allowing 9,800 to stay through 2016. But if we go to 5,500, we're going to jeopardize everything we fought for in Afghanistan. I would definitely go back up to 9,800.

TAPPER: In a statement today, you said this is a decision by the president that will -- quote -- "require our men and women in uniform to accept an incredibly high risk with little support simply because Obama's the president who promised to end wars" -- unquote.

So you're suggesting President Obama is ignoring his generals and the security situation on the ground for his legacy?

GRAHAM: I'm telling you he's picked a number that's not militarily sound.

He intentionally ignored all military advice to keep a residual force in Iraq. We paid a price. And this 5,500 number is not a militarily sound number. I think he is conflicted here. He understands the security environment's deteriorating. He also is trying to keep a campaign promise of ending wars. And he split the baby, so to speak, and it's the worst possible outcome.

You're putting our soldiers at risk. You don't have enough people at 5,500 to do a counterterrorism mission that protects our homeland and have the reach you need in Afghanistan. I think it's the worst of all decisions.

TAPPER: This has already, of course, been the longest war in American history. How long should the U.S. be in Afghanistan?

GRAHAM: We should leave when it's safe to leave.

Look at Afghanistan as an insurance policy. If we had had troops in Afghanistan, there never would have been a 9/11. The counterterrorism mission is a pretty robust mission all of its own to deal with the rise of ISIL in Afghanistan, to police the Afghan-Pakistan border.

It is in our national security interest to get Afghanistan right. We won't be judged by when we left, but by what we left behind. The good news is about 10,000 will hold the country together. And look at it as an insurance policy against another 9/11. And we have eyes and ears on the most dangerous place in the world. It would be foolhardy to leave Afghanistan right now with the world on fire in terms of international terrorism.

TAPPER: If you became president, what would the goal of the U.S. in Afghanistan be? What would these brave men and women risking and giving their lives for, what would it be for?

GRAHAM: Right. To create a line of defense for the American homeland, to make sure that no terrorist organization could take hold inside of Afghanistan along the Pakistan-Afghan border to launch a strike against the United States like the first 9/11, to ensure that the Afghan people over time can chart their own destiny,they're not taken over by radical Islamists, that all the gains we fought for, everything we fought and died for is preserved, that over time Afghan becomes a stable, secure ally of the United States, an antidote to terrorism, that the launching pad where 9/11 really started is transformed.

In the last 15 years, we have done a lot of good, children in school, economic progress, infant mortality rate down by half, life expectancy up. So in the last 15 years, we have made a lot of progress, but there's yet more to do.

TAPPER: Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks so much.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

TAPPER: Some news breaking in politics today. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert allegedly paid $3.5 million to get someone to shut up and then lied to the FBI about the hush money. Today, we learned that the man once second in line to succeed the president could go where he won't be heard from for quite a while, prison.

Lawyers for the Illinois politician told a judge this morning their client plans to plead guilty to lying to federal investigators. The move means that Hastert will not face a trial and will not face questions from prosecutors about just why he paid all that money to cover up something.

Two sources told CNN in June that that money went to a former student of Hastert's to keep him quiet about allegations. Hastert, a former high school wrestling coach, allegedly sexually abused that student years before. Hastert is slated to formally enter his plea later this month.

In our politics lead, Donald Trump threatening to pull out of the next Republican debate if the rules are not changed. What are his specific demands? That story next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:45]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We have some breaking news in our politics lead. Donald Trump just might not show up. That's what he says today about the next Republican debate. Trump is giving the business to all his GOP rivals. Just take a look at our latest CNN/ORC polls from Nevada and South Carolina. It's not really even close.

Being the front-runner has Trump feeling his oats, because he's now threatening to pack up saddlebags and leave the CNBC debate high and dry.

Let's bring in CNN national political reporter Sara Murray.

Sara, everything is a negotiation to Donald Trump, I'm sure, including debates. What exactly does he want?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you are absolutely right. And it's not just Trump this time. It's Ben Carson too.

They're going to CNBC and they're saying, look, unless you agree to limit this debate to two hours and unless you agree to give us opening and closing statements, then maybe we just won't participate. And in particular, the length of debates has been a big complaint for Donald Trump. He goes out on the stump, he talks about how long the CNN debate was, he talks about how the extra hour was just to sell ads.

And he says he doesn't want to see a repeat of this. Now, I think the big question here, what we're all wondering is whether someone like Donald Trump is really going to give away a potential audience of 20 million viewers -- those are the kinds of numbers we're seeing for the Republican debates -- and really not show up.

These negotiations are still ongoing.

[16:15:02] I'm sure CNBC would love to see him on stage and the RNC, of course, wants to see all their candidates there. So, we'll just have to stay tuned to see how this negotiation plays out, Jake.

TAPPER: As the moderator of the last debate, I should point out, one of the reasons it was so long is the fact that there were 11 candidates on stage.

MURRAY: Absolutely. It's not like the Democratic debates, which is what Trump is talking about, where you just have a couple candidates on stage. And when you do opening and closing statements, you're talking about adding -- you know, you're talking about adding a big chunk of time. I think that's why CNBC is trying to make these changes.

TAPPER: One thing I want to ask you about, I heard Carly Fiorina on the stump today in Iowa faced a rather bigoted question from a voter. What happened? How did she handle it?

MURRAY: Yes, you know, this was a question very similar to one that Donald Trump recently got about Muslims in the U.S. I think we have a little bit of sound. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Especially the Muslims are really raising heck right now. They want us to change our whole country to suit them. If they don't like the United States, get out of here, take your camel and beat it.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, people are so frustrated and angry with the immigration situation. Let me say that one of the most important things about this nation is that we judge people as individuals. So I'm not willing to condemn any group of people. I'm willing to judge each individual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: You see there Carly Fiorina handling this question much more adeptly than Donald Trump did where he just kind of pretended like this wasn't an insult toward an entire population of people saying, look, we need to judge people individually. And, yes, there's an issue with our immigration system and we will deal with that, but you can't paint an entire group of people negatively like that.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Democrats insisted there was fire after Kevin McCarthy sent up shall we say some very thick smoke signals. The Republican majority leader tied the formation of the House Benghazi Committee to the goal of tanking Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. Then, of course, we broke the story right here on CNN about how an investigator for the committee told me he was given the boot for among other reasons wanting to focus his efforts on officials other than Clinton and her aides. The committee denied that of course.

Now, another Republican congressman is fueling the fire.

Let's get right to CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it's almost as if the Clinton campaign doesn't mind talking about Benghazi anymore. You know, Hillary Clinton was trying to keep her post-debate momentum going today, courting Latino voters and talking about Donald Trump's hair. Meanwhile, her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, he was busting a move on the daytime TV dance floor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Feeling some post-debate confidence, Hillary Clinton looked like she was test driving running mates, snagging the endorsement of rising Democratic star and possible vice presidential pick, Housing Secretary Julian Castro. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love being La Hillary.

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Clinton accused Republicans of parroting Donald Trump on a crucial issue for Latino voters -- immigration.

CLINTON: They all to a degree or so sound like him, they just don't have the pizzazz and the hair.

ACOSTA: Her campaign is also hammering the GOP over comments made by Republican Congressman Richard Hanna, two weeks after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to suggest that the committee investigating Benghazi was designed to damage Clinton.

REP. RICHARD HANNA (R), NEW YORK: This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.

ACOSTA: The Clinton campaign fired back, saying the Benghazi inquiry has zero credibility left.

Aiming for a different kind of credibility, Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders showed off his dance moves on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show".

ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST: Have you ever been in handcuffs?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. I don't know exactly what you mean by that.

DEGENERES: All right. That's all right. Leave it.

ACOSTA: Joe Biden was doing some tap dancing of his own avoiding questions once again about whether he will run for president.

REPORTER: Are you running for president?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll answer in Korean.

REPORTER: Have you made your decision yet?

BIDEN: I can't hear you.

REPORTER: Have you made your decision yet? Is there still an opening for you in the race, sir?

BIDEN: I'm here to greet President Park. I'll talk to you all about that later.

ACOSTA: Heeding the conventional wisdom in Washington, the vice president's window of opportunity is closing.

DOUG BRINKLEY, RICE UNIVERSITY: The Las Vegas debate CNN moderated is a historic moment for Hillary Clinton. It reminded people why she is good and formidable. And I think it lessens the chances that Biden could enter.

BIDEN: Hey, how are you?

ACOSTA: But Biden supporters argue there is still space for the vice president to join the race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a stature he would bring to the race, the minute he got in the race, the entire narrative would change and we start talking about the first debate in Iowa in November.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, Biden backers suspect the vice president may now wait to see how Hillary Clinton handles her appearance before the Benghazi committee next week.

[16:20:02] Her long time aide Huma Abedin will meet with that panel tomorrow.

And Biden's office still says he has yet to make an announcement on whether he was running -- or a decision on whether he is running, but he was using that old Ronald Reagan tactic today. What's that? I can't hear you. He could clearly hear the questions that were being asked today.

TAPPER: But talk about the decision, I mean, tick tock.

ACOSTA: He's running out of time. We agree, it's got to be soon.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Tomorrow right here on THE LEAD, I will be in New Hampshire where I will be interviewing the Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton. Don't miss that tomorrow 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, he's come up short in recent polls, so how much money does Jeb Bush have to fuel his campaign? Some new numbers just in next in our politics lead.

And, the U.S. is about to get involved -- will anything put an end to a wave of terror attacks across Israel? We'll talk to Israel's U.S. ambassador next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:15] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's stay with our politics lead now. Donald Trump is building a campaign army he says. The poll leader in New Hampshire now claims he now has 1,000 foot soldiers and activists ready to organize in the Granite State for his presidential bid. That's the headline on the front page of the "New Hampshire Union Leader" today.

Some in the Republican establishment, of course, are punching holes through walls, sobbing, asking themselves, is Donald Trump really going to win the Republican presidential nomination? Let's talk about everything 2016 with CNN political commentator Amanda

Carpenter, and former White House press secretary for president, Ben LaBolt.

Good to see both of you. Thanks for being here.

Amanda, let me start with you very quickly. Can Trump win the nomination? And if he does, can he beat Hillary Clinton?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say yes. In this environment, anything can happen.

I've spent, you know, like you all, a lot of time thinking about Donald Trump, why is it working? If you take away all the character and all the bluster, you have a Republican with a pretty solid jobs and growth message, which is in the conservative wheelhouse. Add on top of that, his strong stance against illegal immigration when everyone is so upset about that issue right now. Against a Hillary Clinton who on the debate stage was promising taxpayer-funded Obamacare for illegal aliens, that's a matchup where I think Trump could actually win.

TAPPER: Democrats seem to think if Trump gets the nomination Hillary will clobber him. Do you -- are you as confident? I'm not sure that I think that's the case.

BEN LABOLT, FORMER OBAMA 2012 PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I'm confident that she'll get through it. And I think Republicans have to take this very seriously. Look, Trump has been out front the entire campaign.

In 2012, there was a Republican flavor of the month, but Trump has been out front with Carson slightly behind him throughout the campaign. I think there's a clear anti-establishment fervor on the Republican side that you didn't see on the Democratic side in the debate the other night or in any of the polls.

So, I think, you know, the country's fairly divided. Structurally, Democrats are favored in White House elections. I think that's a big asset for Hillary going into that.

And Trump is prone to errors, they keep oncoming.

TAPPER: They helped him in the nomination fight, though.

CARPENTER: They keep coming but they're not sticking necessarily in ways --

TAPPER: Not with Republican voters.

CARPENTER: -- I don't think Hillary Clinton is going to be nearly as tested as any Republican judging from the debate. She had a strong performance because no Democrat was willing to challenge her. And she's not going to have that environment against a Republican on the debate stage where people will go after her on all the issues.

TAPPER: I think that's true. I do think they've been going after her already anyway.

But let me ask a question about Jeb Bush. He was on the trail today in New Hampshire. Donors have been publicly worrying about his fundraising operation as he's been doing some belt tightening, and not just because of that paleo diet that's causing him to lose all that weight. We finally got a look at his fundraising, $13.4 million raised in the third quarter.

Do you think that's enough to calm folks?

CARPENTER: It's a good haul but he had all the money in the world from the beginning. Money was never an issue for Jeb Bush. The question is what is his message and why is he getting no traction among primary voters? That still remains to be seen.

TAPPER: What did you think of Bernie Sanders today's performance? As long as I have you here and we haven't talked since then. I thought it was fairly strong and his supporters are saying he clearly won the debate, he raised $2 million that night.

LABOLT: He's got a big intensity of support among the activist base. Big crowds are coming to his events. But, look, I worked for Howard Dean in 2004. You know, on caucus night organization matters. And the supporters from Boston and Seattle ultimately didn't show up on that cold Iowa night.

He's got a very strong message about the hollowing out of the middle class. I didn't think he was as strong on other issues. I thought it was bizarre to campaign as the consensus candidate on gun violence when he's sort of been shouting into the wilderness and Congress in many issues and passed very little.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton got good reviews coming out of the debate, but Republicans are bashing her for one comment -- for many comments, but for one in particular. She was asked to name enemies. She named insurance companies and other groups. But she also said Republicans when asked to name enemies.

Here's what Governor John Kasich in the midst of campaigning had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She bragged that she made enemies out of Republicans?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yep. That's exactly what she said.

KASICH: Hey, is that where this country's going? The leading candidate for the Democrat nomination is bragging about the fact that Republicans don't like her and she's proud of that? I got to tell you, that's a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Does she need to do some clean up there, you think? LABOLT: You know, maybe to put it in a broader context. But I think

one of the contrast points during this campaign, you know, President Obama reached out to Republicans time and time again during this administration. But Mitch McConnell on the eve of the first inauguration said that defeating the president was their top priority. And Republicans wouldn't come to the table.

TAPPER: But she didn't say Republican officials. She didn't say Republican leaders. She said Republicans. And that's, you know, half the country or 40 percent of it.

LABOLT: Look, I think these are one of these moments that's quickly explained within the course of the news cycle. I'm sure that the Clinton campaign is doing that.