Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Kim Jong Un Accused Ordering Attack Preps; Radioactive Material Stolen in Iraq. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 18, 2016 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And the YPG militia is America's main ally on the battlefield in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

[16:30:02] The YPG for the record has denied any involvement in the terror attacks. Turkey responded by launching air strikes in northern Iraq, close to the Turkish border, specifically targeting the Kurdish fighting force.

All of this illustrates just how complicated and messy the alliances and animosities are in this war against ISIS and the Syrian civil war in general.

And we're back with Senator Marco Rubio.

Senator, let's talk about Syria. You say removing from power Bashar al Assad is a must. Do you worry at all that doing that could propel Syria into even further chaos?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, as long as Bashar al Assad is in power in Syria, you're going to have a civil war. He has now been responsible for the death of a quarter million people. In fact, some agencies are now saying to be as high, close to 500,000 Syrians who have lost their lives.

So as long as Bashar al-Assad with all that blood on his hands is in power, you are going to have a radical jihadist movement from the Sunni movement in Syria. Even if you wipe out ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra is prepared to step up and fill that void.

So, Bashar al Assad is an irritant in that region. And as long as he remains in power, it is going to continue to create conflict there. There will be no peace in Syria as long as he remains in power. That's the reality of it.

TAPPER: Talking about ISIS, your front-runner, Donald Trump, said point blank, quote, "torture works".

What's your position on what Donald Trump had to say about torture? I know that you think that some of the enhanced interrogation techniques should be permitted.

RUBIO: Yes. So I think we have to understand, number one, I'm not talking about torture. Number two, I don't discuss interrogation methods because it allows terrorists to train, to evade interrogation methods.

I believe that we can gather actionable intelligence without doing anything that would violate our tradition as a nation of laws and a civilized people. By the same token, however, we cannot assume and we should not believe that interrogating a terrorist is the same as interrogating a criminal. In a criminal case, when you're interrogating someone, what you're trying to do is gather information to be able to prosecute them.

In a case of terrorism, when you're interrogating someone, you were trying to gather information to prevent something from happening, not to investigate it after the fact. And so, the methods have to be a little different. That's -- and I do think we have an obligation to gather actionable intelligence.

Today, it's a moot point, we're not interrogating anybody. There is nowhere to take them. If we capture a terrorist today, we're no longer sending people to Guantanamo. On the contrary, we're -- this president is emptying it out. I do believe they should be sent to Guantanamo and they should be subject to interrogation, including enhanced techniques that I won't discuss because we're not going to -- we're not going to make it easier for them to prepare to evade it.

But I don't think it has to be done in a way that would violate our conscience. And in fact, a lot of things going on now have gone on in the past and are no longer in practice. But we can't act like this is some sort of criminal prosecution because we're not seeking to prosecute people here as much as we are trying to gather actionable intelligence to prevent a future attack.

TAPPER: In terms of gathering actionable intelligence, I know you've talked about the difficult conflict that's going on right now between the United States government and Apple when it comes to the U.S. government telling Apple they want them to create a new operating system that would allow them to get into the cell phone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Apple says, hey, that operating system would really put at risk everyone's information because once it exists, who knows who's going to get it.

At the end of the day, would President Rubio order Apple to create a new operating system or no?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, presidents can't order that. What's happening here is a court has ordered them to do it and Apple needs to follow a court order. Whatever that court order is, they obviously have a right to appeal it, but eventually, they'll have to comply with the laws. Apple is not above the law.

This is a complicated issue. Apple is not necessarily wrong here. If they create an opening in this operating system, that could be found and exploited by, you know, criminal groups or even other terrorists. That said, you know, this encryption devices and encryption software is available all over the world. So, even if American companies were forced to create openings in this encryption and backdoors to encrypted devices, there's always going to be software available from other countries and other places that don't have those things and terrorists would just migrate to it.

So, simply requiring American companies to create back doors is not going to solve the problem because terrorists will simply continue to use either existing software that doesn't have back doors or new software around the world that isn't subject to U.S. law that has back doors. This is a real challenge. And I think there's going to have to be a serious coming together between the tech industry and the U.S. government to kind of figure out a way forward on this new challenge that we now face with encryption.

TAPPER: Senator Marco Rubio, you've been very generous with your time, we really appreciate it. Good luck on Saturday. We'll see you out there on the campaign trail.

RUBIO: Thank you.

With so much vitriol on the campaign trail these days, it is easy to lose sight of just how deeply important this race is for so many Americans.

[16:35:03] We saw a reminder just an hour ago in South Carolina. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like over a year ago, a man who is like my second dad, he killed himself. And then a few months later, my parents got a divorce. And then a few months later, my dad lost his job. And I was in a really dark place for a long time. I was pretty depressed.

But I found hope and I found it in the Lord and in my friends. And now I've found it in my presidential candidate that I support, and I'd really appreciate one of those hugs you've been talking about.



TAPPER: After that touching moment, Governor Kasich said he hears similar stories all the time on the campaign trail.

He's launched missile tests and claims to have conducted a successful hydrogen bomb test. Now, North Korea's Kim Jong-un may be preparing for his most terrifying stunt yet.

Stay with us.


[16:40:31] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Some shocking allegations in our world lead today, charges that North Korea is preparing to launch terrorist attacks against its bitter enemy and neighbor, South Korea. That dire warning coming from South Korea's spy agency which claims North Korea's erratic leader, Kim Jong-un, personally gave the order to target subways, shopping malls and critical infrastructure as well as North Korean defectors and government officials in South Korea.

Let's get right to CNN's Brian Todd who has the late-breaking details.

Brian, this comes after North Korea claims to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb last month, and, of course, they launched a rocket into space a few days ago. What do we know at this point?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we know that right now, the South Koreans, the government, everybody there is on edge over this threat.

You mentioned subways, malls, power plants could be targeted by North Korean security services but South Korean intelligence also telling us South Korean government officials could be the targets of a terror attack from the North. That could include the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye. Her own father, who was president in the 1960s and '70s was targeted for assassination at least twice by the North Koreans.

Why is Kim Jong-un's regime apparently planning such an attack right now? Well, tensions between the two nations are at a very elevated level at the moment. You have the North Koreans conducting their fourth nuclear bomb test last month, and this month, they tested a long-range ballistic missile under the guise of a satellite launch. And South Korea and the U.S. have since brushed back on that. South Korea shut down the Kaesong industrial complex, a very lucrative complex, makes a lot of money for North Korea. That money -- that complex the two nations share operation of that.

Just yesterday also, American F-22 stealth bombers flew low over South Korea in a clear show of force, Jake, so those tensions dating back to the summer where they had that land mine attack from the North Koreans across the South Korean border. It's been ratcheted up ever since then.

TAPPER: It's there a response beyond the show of force from the United States?

TODD: We have reached out all day to the White House, to intelligence agencies. They are not commenting on this threat or on what they would do in response to the threat. But just a short time ago, President Obama signed new sanctions into law against North Korea in response to the nuclear test. Those would measures would freeze the assets of people doing business related to North Korea's weapons programs or their related to their human rights abuses. So, that is a punitive measure for the tests earlier this winter.

TAPPER: All right. Very disturbing. Brian Todd, thank you so much.

More on our world lead. A desperate search is under way in Iraq after highly dangerous radioactive material was stolen and it's causing fear that the stolen material could land in the hands of ISIS.

Let's bring in chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

And, Jim, as if this news weren't bad enough, this highly dangerous material was stolen at least three months ago?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, from a facility in southern Iraq. It was basically an industrial tool, something used in oil and gas facilities to test the pipes there, but it does have radioactive material inside. It's categorized by the IAEA as such that an investigation has been launched, a criminal investigation.

They have not found elevated levels of radiation in and around that site. To this point at least Iraqi authorities have no information that it ended up in the hands of a group such as ISIS.

TAPPER: Worst such scenario, could this be used for a dirty bomb?

SCIUTTO: The short answer we got from speaking to expert is not easily and that's for a couple of reasons. It is a radioactive material, category two as categorized by the IAEA, one being the top. But it only has a half-life of 74 days. If you remember your high school physics, which I don't, that means basically it loses half of its potency after just a couple of months. So, you have to use it very quickly.

The second thing is that it's in metal form. It's not in powder form. So it wouldn't be easily dispersed by an explosion. You would still have a radiological effect but it wouldn't be the easiest way to build a bomb.

So, in the category of radiological dangers, it's not very high on the list. But, listen, frankly, any time something like this goes missing, of course, there's concern.

TAPPER: And it sounds alarming on its face. How alarmed are U.S. policymakers, the Pentagon, the White House, et cetera?

SCIUTTO: The short answer is not particularly alarmed. Of course, they would watch this but I've spoken to a couple of my colleagues and Barbara Starr has spoken to a couple of folks as well, and their reaction has been not particularly nervous about this but Iraqi authorities are certainly investigating.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Imagine you're upset and distraught, possibly even contemplating suicide. You call a crisis hotline and then instead of getting a real person, you get voice mail. That's what happened to dozens of people, but that's not even the most outrageous part.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back. Today's Buried Lead, that's what we call stories that we think are not getting enough attention. A frightening and regretful mistake putting the lives of U.S. service members at risk in their own country. The Department of Veterans Affairs now admitting that instead of reaching a live person, several troubled veterans that called the department's suicide crisis hotline were sent to voice mail. Sometimes no one got back to them.

This shocking report comes from the VA's own inspector general. Dealing with times when the crisis center featured in the Academy award-winning documentary, "Veterans Press One" were overwhelmed with calls from suicidal veterans.

[16:50:03]CNN's senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, joins me now with the findings. Drew, this is so upsetting. What happened exactly when the crisis center had too many calls to handle? How did the ball get dropped here?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The calls, Jake, came into this overloaded crisis center. They were rerouted to contracted-backup call centers and then in some cases, unbelievably, sent to voice mail.

It's all in this inspector general report where the investigators found a significant number of these calls being handled by the backup centers and then going to voice mail or on hold or to music.

As you alluded to, what's worse, the inspector general determined at one of these backup centers, 20 voice mails were never even returned because the workers there had no idea there was a voice mail system.

The report found that callers were not always offered immediate assistance. Social workers connected to the hotline were working without adequate training. It's really quite remarkable.

TAPPER: It's so upsetting. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to correct the problem, right?

GRIFFIN: Yes. To be fair, the VA, in fact, jumped on this even before the report came out. Five veterans a day, Jake, commit suicide. That's the estimate. This is very serious. The VA taking it very seriously. They're hiring more workers.

They have been at the call center trying to make sure the vets know they can get help. But it's just another fire that the VA health system is trying to put out. Another one erupted just this week in Cincinnati.

An investigative report citing that 34 doctors and nurses at this VA facility alleging surgeries and specialty care for veterans are being cut to save money. That a top official there is double-dipping on salary and that there's an element of cover-up under way.

Here the VA is forced to send in investigators, temporarily reassigning administrators there, and generally deal with yet another medical center, Jake, facing charges of treating our vets poorly.

TAPPER: What's so frustrating for so many is that Congress recently set aside a ton of money to help the VA after the most recent VA scandal that you broke, but even when Congress spends all this money, so much of it seems to be wasted.

GRIFFIN: It is, Jake. An inspector general report came out this morning. Tucson, Arizona, the VA had leased $1.8 million in urology equipment for Tucson and the vets in Southern Arizona. What happened? It sat there. They didn't use it for five months.

So the taxpayers lost $217,000 just tossed away in this kind of rental fee for the equipment, but worse, for five months these veterans that needed the equipment to be working for their urology exams, they didn't get that quality of care.

And again these reports come out almost every week. Like you say in this segment, it's a Buried Lead. Nobody is paying attention to this. I don't know why.

TAPPER: All right, Drew, thanks so much for staying on top of it. We appreciate it.

Now, we should mention the crisis hotline is open. Veterans Affairs credits it for more than 50,000 rescues. If you are a veteran and you or someone you know needs that number, it will be answered. It is 800-273-8255 and press "1" for veterans services.

In our Money Lead, potholes can damage your car, wreck your tires, turn you into the incredible hulk with rage, but now there's a way to avoid them and you don't even have to do anything.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In our Money Lead, yet another massive recall by Toyota. The world's biggest automaker is recalling nearly 3 million SUVs around the world. This one affects the Rav-4 and Vanguard models, a third of which were sold in this country, the United States.

Toyota says there's a potential problem with their rear seat belts, which could come apart during a crash. Toyota says dealers will fix the problem at no cost to the customer. It's not clear whether there were any injuries or fatalities caused by the seat belt failure. Come on, Toyota, get it together.

New technology could smooth out your bumpy ride, especially this time of the year with so many potholes in the road. The new Ford Sport allows the car's wheels to skip over those street craters.

They tested it out with ping pong balls. Sensors monitor what's ahead and when they detect a pothole, they send a message to the shocks. Hopefully that will save you a trip to the repair shop, perhaps even a trip to the chiropractor.

Some luxury cars already use this technology but ford says the Fusion is the first sedan in its price range to offer the suspension system.

It's Bond, James Bond, that's what one super fan is saying after buying the spy's famous ride at auction for $3.5 million and it doesn't even avoid potholes. It was expected to go for anywhere between $1.4 million and $2.1.

Apparently the buyer, really, really, really wanted 007's ride even though they may not actually be able to take it out for a spin.

Ashton Martin says because the ride was made solely for the new bond film "Specter," they can't guarantee that the vehicle is actually road worthy. Do you expect me to drive?

A reminder, we're just hours away from part two of CNN's Republican town hall. Tonight South Carolina voters will get to ask John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump their questions. It all starts right here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

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