Return to Transcripts main page


Flint Water Scandal Examined; Terror Attack in Pakistan; Robert Gates Talks About His Book; Palin: I'm "Ready To Stump For Trump"; Major Snowfall Could Reach All-Time High; Crews Brace For Heavy Snow To Blanket Roads. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 20, 2016 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN: It's horrifying, though, because we're talking about months and months and months. People knew that there was a problem...

WEAVER: And no one said anything.

TAPPER: ... people in Michigan with Governor Snyder, people in the EPA, on the federal government, and they let kids keep drinking this water.

WEAVER: Exactly.

And one of the things we did talk about even this morning with EPA was they need to be much more aggressive in what's going on with Flint.

TAPPER: Well, Madam Mayor, stay in touch with us.

WEAVER: I will.

TAPPER: Let us know what's going on. Stay in touch with my staff. And when you're not getting the response you need from Governor Snyder or from President Obama, you let us know. You come on TV, and we will shame them. I'm sorry that it took us so long to get on this story.

WEAVER: Thank you. I appreciate it.

TAPPER: Mayor Karen Weaver, thank you so much.

In our world lead, terror at school: Armed gunmen storm a university, slaughtering at least 19 people in Pakistan. Now one group is claiming responsibility -- that story next.


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

Topping our world lead today: terrorists storming a major university, killing at least 19 students and faculty in Pakistan, four terrorists killed in a gun battle with security.

[16:35:05] It happened in Peshawar near the border with Afghanistan, the attack

timed to coincide with a ceremony at the school, ensuring maximum carnage.

Let's right to CNN's senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He is live in Beirut, Lebanon.

Nick, has anyone claimed responsibility for this horrific attack?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, but, also, interestingly, a group have said they didn't do it. That's the Pakistani Taliban, who've released an official statement, saying this was not their doing and they don't consider the attack against innocent civilians here, just students at a school, to be -- quote -- "according to Sharia Islamic law."

Now, a separate part of the Pakistani Taliban, a kind of rogue, more radical leader known as Omar Mansour, he stepped forward and said, yes, he is behind this, named the four attackers, said it was revenge for Pakistani military operations against his what he called friends in that area and vengeance for the hanging of 332 of his friends by the Pakistani government.

Now, the attack itself was pretty well planned, it seems. These four attackers used grenades and low visibility in dense fog to get inside the university. It does appear, though, to have been some sort of intelligence warning the university this could happen. There was more security there, and they were able to keep the attackers in a certain part of the university, keeping that death toll, bad as it is at 19, could have been a lot worse. There are thousands of students there -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nick, how concerned is the Pakistani government about the resurgence of the Taliban in that country?

WALSH: Well, since the same man, Omar Mansour, attacked a school in Peshawar in December 2013, killing over 130 very young students, some of them, there's been a real sense of loathing reignited in Pakistan's public against the Taliban.

That has enabled some pretty serious military in areas where the military hadn't gone before, all the criticism from the U.S. as well that Pakistan wasn't cracking down enough on the Taliban, who were of course aiding the insurgency in Afghanistan.

One of the knock-on effects of that crackdown in Pakistan has been to kick the Taliban across the border into Afghanistan, where the Afghan army is a lot weaker than the U.S. and NATO told everybody they were going to be and having a very tough time holding territory, the capital, Kabul, itself increasingly penetrated by the Taliban there. So, Pakistan doing better, but Afghanistan suffering as a result -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much.

Joining me now is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He's served eight U.S. presidents, including most recently as secretary of defense for both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Secretary Gates is currently president of the Boy Scouts of America.

Secretary Gates is out with a new book, "A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service."

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.


TAPPER: So, I want to get to your book in a second, but first I want to get your thoughts on this breaking news.

Obviously, this attack in Pakistan very troubling, and the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan seems to be regaining control and power in both Pakistan and in major portions of Afghanistan. Now, Army General John Campbell says the U.S. should keep the current force level, 9,800 U.S. troops there, and delay that reduction -- there's a reduction scheduled, to 5,500, scheduled for a year from now -- as long as possible.

How many troops do you think the U.S. should have in Afghanistan?

GATES: Well, I would defer to the military's judgment on that.

I think that the numbers that General Campbell is talking about, 9,000 to 10,000, gives you a critical mass in terms of being able to provide training and advising to the Afghan security forces, some opportunities for our own special operations forces, and IT also gives you enough people to have helicopter capabilities and be able to play an effective counterterrorism role.

So I applauded the president's decision not to terminate our military presence at the end of this year in Afghanistan. And I hope that he will show some flexibility in terms of General Campbell's recommendation to keep the numbers about where they are.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the fight against ISIS.

Senator Ted Cruz talks about carpet-bombing the terrorist group. Donald Trump says we should -- quote -- "bomb the hell out of them." Now, you write in your book that a leader is -- quote -- "someone who guides, one who shows the way."

Are you hearing the kind of leadership you respect from the campaign trail?

GATES: No, because I think people are not -- I think some of the candidates are not being honest with the American people in offering simplistic solutions to what are difficult and complex problems.

The reality is, the fight against ISIS is going to be hard. It's going to take quite a while. Carpet-bombing or large-scale bombing of any kind is -- first of all, it's not the way Americans fight wars. And it would not accomplish the objective of liberating these areas that ISIS has taken control of.


So, I think a leader is honest with people in terms of identifying problems that need to be dealt with and realistic approaches to how to deal with them and if sacrifice is going to be involved, warning of that as well. There are no cheap and easy solutions to most of these problems that we have.

TAPPER: One of the interesting things in your book, you talked about all the different kinds of leadership roles you have had, as well as the individuals you have served, under including President Obama. You have a lot of nice things to say about President Obama.

But you're also a bit critical because you say that he didn't delegate enough, and he centralized leadership in his administration too much in the White House. What results did you see of that kind of leadership style that didn't serve him well?

GATES: Well, I think when you centralize operational execution of decisions that a leader has made, you do need to choose your lieutenants carefully, your subordinates. You need to empower them and then you need to hold them accountable. But you can't try and do the job for them. You can't micromanage them.

And I think it's had some consequences in foreign policy. I think centralizing these things in the White House has, for example, had an affect on problems associated with rolling out the Obamacare, Affordable Care Act Web site.

I think the White House has been much too involved in sort of operational day-to-day planning of specific military activities that has reduced their effectiveness.

TAPPER: The book is called "A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service." It's a great read.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, thanks so much for being here.

GATES: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Fifty million people in the eye of the storm. More than two feet of snow could pummel the East Coast, not to mention 50-mile-per- hour winds, the latest forecast ahead.

Plus, Donald Trump gladly accepting Sarah Palin's endorsement, saying -- quote -- "She knows how to pick winners." Does she? We will take a look at her endorsement track record coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. After Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump yesterday in addition to some establishment and media sneering, we heard several prominent conservatives say that endorsements don't really matter.

But would any of the other Republican presidential candidates have jumped at the chance of getting Palin's support which could sway some Evangelicals and conservatives in Iowa? You bet you.


SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I love that Donald Trump does go rogue.

TAPPER (voice-over): She's always been supportive.

PALIN: I'm on Trump's side.

TAPPER: But now Sarah Palin has made it official.

PALIN: Our next president of the United States Donald J. Trump.

TAPPER: Last fall I asked the former Alaska governor about a potential cabinet position with Trump, who had praised her.

(on camera): Is there a particular area you think would line up best with your strengths, a position you'd want to serve in?

PALIN: That's a great question. I think a lot about the Department of Energy because energy is my baby, oil and gas and minerals, those things God has dumped on this part of the earth for mankind's use. I think a lot about Department of Energy and if I were head of that, I'd get rid of it.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to give them hell.

TAPPER: But the bigger question now is whether Palin's endorsement will make a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got the endorsement of Sarah Palin, yes. Yes. When he heard, John McCain said, well, then you're all set.

TAPPER: Conan O'Brien aside for those candidates running against Trump. Palin's support during their congressional campaigns was no joke.

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sarah Palin jumped in early and supported Rand Paul. She supported Marco Rubio. Let me tell you something, I would not be in the U.S. Senate today if it were not for Governor Sarah Palin.

TAPPER: Congress is full of Palin beneficiaries including Arizona's Jeff Flake and Iowa's Joni Ernst. According to data from Open Secrets, of the Congressional candidates who received the most money from Sarah Palin's PAC since 2010 about two-thirds have won their seats.

ERIC TRUMP, SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It is a major endorsement. She's kind of the anti-establishment candidate. TAPPER: But can this famous friend of the underdog really boost the current top dog?

KATIE PACKER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Palin-type voters are already with Donald Trump and it's not going to mean a lot of momentum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably hurts Cruz more than it helps Trump.

TAPPER: In a conversation that we had with Sarah Palin last month, it seemed clear that she identifies with Trump in the way that the Republican establishment sneers at him.

PALIN: If we want to restore what's great about America, we have to win this thing. So shame on the GOP establishment if they essentially boot a top tier candidate out.


TAPPER: And stay right here. CNN is just moments away from releasing brand new poll numbers about the state of the Republican primary race in first in the nation primary state New Hampshire.

But first, six years ago, Washington shut down for a week after two major winter storms dropped more than two feet of snow. And the blizzard expected this weekend, well, we're told it could be even worse.



TAPPER: Welcome back. Today's Money Lead, many car companies already promising self-driving cars within the next four years, but now one company is upping the ante guaranteeing its cars will be death proof.

Volvo is pledging that by 2020 no one will ever be killed in one of its cars ever again. The company credits itself with being a league leader in safety basing that bold promise on new and evolving autonomous driving and crash prevention technology.

In the National Lead today, what could be the worst winter storm to hit parts of the east coast if the models hold true, the D.C. area will be in the bulls eye, Philly, New York, and Boston could also get buried.

Snowfall in a 24-hour period could top the so-called Knickerbocker storm that's D.C.'s worst on record in 1922 named after a theater where a roof collapsed killing 100 people inside.

In more recent memory, there was snowpocalypse and snowmageddon in 2010, both storms just days apart, crippled the north east.

CNN meteorologist, Tom Sater is tracking what's to come in the Severe Weather Center. Tom, how confident are you that this is going to be one for the history books? TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Jake, here's a word of advice. I know you've got shows the rest of the weekend and your show on Sunday, pack more than a weekend bag. The Knickerbocker storm dropped 28 inches and this could be more.

I spent ten years in D.C. and usually Washington's on that rain/snow line, but we have a blizzard watch from Leesburg to Frederick Berg over to Mechanics Ville to Annapolis, Baltimore, up north to Aberdeen, it's going to come down.

[16:55:07]But it's more than just a blizzard watch. All of the watches in blue here, winter storm watch will change to warnings. Several states are involved in this, some getting severe weather, tornadoes in the south. Significant icing starts tomorrow.

Now, there's a little batch of some light snow that's just a precursor just to remind you buy the loaves of bread now. If you want to go out and get that shovel, but for some it's going to take much more than that.

The storm is moving out of Colorado and here it comes. It comes down to Colorado, tomorrow the icing starts to take shape in parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Significant icing around Memphis.

Then it's the commonwealth of Kentucky, ice. A third of an inch, maybe half inch in parts of the Carolinas. Then the snow picks up. This is mainly Friday night into around midday Saturday.

But as the energy kicks off the coast, Jake, it's the winds, 35-mile- per-hour sustained winds to get a blizzard. But we're talking 50, 55, 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts, full moon Saturday, high tide Saturday, coastal erosion, coastal flooding, the storm moves up.

Now, there's going to be a dramatic cutoff on this snow around New York City. So even if it's just a 10, 15, 20 miles north compared to south of New York, we're going to find out what we're talking about as far as the snow.

The computer models have been in great agreement this week and I've never seen any of them really quite consistent. This bull's-eye you see here is almost 36 inches. Here's the Knickerbocker storm of 28.

Let me show you this, Jake, come out here. What our computer models are talking about when you look at the American model in Washington, D.C., 32 inches, New York by Sunday 10, and Boston 2 degrees, staggering if this holds true.

TAPPER: OK, so let me ask you this, if the models change, is it possible D.C. won't be the bull's-eye?

SATER: Right now, the consistency has been so great that we still think that the bull's eye will be areas of central and northern Virginia, the whole Delmarva area.

The one issue that we may see change is how much snow New York City gets because 50 miles to the north, nothing. A little bit more to the south and a lot, lot more. So, again, get ready, Jake. This one will be one for the record books.

TAPPER: My kids are excited. I am not. Tom Sater, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's go outside now to CNN's Rene Marsh live in D.C. where crews are loading up the salt trucks. Rene, this storm could bring the northeast to a standstill, we're told.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely can, Jake. I mean, it's January 20th. We've gotten away with it until now And now we're about to possibly get that harsh reality check.

And they're all setting up for that. You've got the trucks they're lining up getting ready for action. And then on the left side of me this is where they have all of the salt there stored.

That is going to make sure that the roads aren't slippery, there are no ice on the roads. Of course, Jake, it's not just going to be driving that could be problematic if this storm comes through, it's also going to be air travel.


MARSH (voice-over): Fifty million people in the bull's-eye of a potentially monstrous snowstorm. Cities up and down the east coast have equipment on standby ready for what could be the season's first massive dig-out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Insulation for prevent frozen pipes, a shovel.

LEIL DONNSJO, DIRECTOR, D.C. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: When you're dealing with a weather event of this magnitude, you really want to make sure you have all of the available resources that can be deployed.

MARSH: In the nation's capital people aren't taking any chances. Shovels and salt are selling fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't own a snow shovel since we moved here so thought we better get one.

MARSH: D.C.'s mayor is worried about potential power outages.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), WASHINGTON: If this is a blizzard and we have sustained winds and people lose power and it's cold over a sustained period of time, that would be my bigger concern.

MARSH: D.C. is forecasted to get some of the heaviest snowfall, about two feet. The area has equipped some 2,000 volunteers with shovels to clear walkways, and more than 800 people on snow teams to clear roads.

The area's worst snowfall on record, 1922. But most recently in February 2010 dubbed snowmageddon when nearly two feet of snow blanketed parts of the northeast. The forecasted blizzard conditions including high winds and low visibility could have major impact on air travel across the east coast. Boston down to Virginia, at some airports airlines are already allowing passengers to change flight plans for free.


MARSH: And at this point we're not seeing a lot of cancellations. The airlines are still watching the forecast. Of course if the models are correct, expect to see those cancellations before the storm even comes through -- Jake.

TAPPER: This is the definition of the calm before the storm. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." He's got some hot new poll numbers from New Hampshire. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, stumping with Trump. Sarah Palin hits the trail with the GOP frontrunner, but they seemed to be attacking the Republican establishment --