Return to Transcripts main page


New Deadline For A Deal With Iran; Interview With General Anthony Zinni; One-on-One With Senator Harry Reid; Senator Minority Leader Hopes Jeb Bush Loses In 2016; New "Daily Show" Host Slammed Over Tweets. Aired 4:30-5p

Aired March 31, 2015 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:06] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Back to our world lead and a new deadline for a deal with Iran, the State Department now saying the talks will likely continue into tomorrow, despite that deadline that is just a little bit over an hour from now. What is holding up a potential deal?

That's next.


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

Our other major world story today, and some breaking news, they now have another day to hammer out a deal. This afternoon, with just hours to go before the deadline to reach an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, the U.S. State Department announcing negotiators have made enough progress to merit adding another 24 hours to the clock to try to piece together a framework accord.

The West wants an agreement that assures Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. Tehran wants to shake free from the crippling economic sanctions that have damaged much of its economy.

[16:35:07] But, depending on whom you ask, the deal would be considered a milestone diplomat achievement or another chance for Iran to pool the wool over America's eyes.

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has the details.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Negotiators worked within hours of the deadline, but, again, disappointment, no agreement and one more one-day extension.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our negotiators have determined, over the context of a mostly sleepless night last night and long negotiations over the course of the day in Europe today, that they're going to continue these conversations tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: The sticking points remain the same, the pace of lifting economic sanctions on Iran, how much nuclear research and development Iran will be able to maintain, and the question of whether Iran will ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country for reprocessing into a safer form.

Even if those issues are resolved to the West's satisfaction, however, the deal's opponents argue an agreement would leave Iran closer to a nuclear weapon.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The deal being formed will most likely leave Iran with underground facilities, a nuclear reactor and advanced centrifuges.

SCIUTTO: U.S. officials insist that any agreement will involve heavy monitoring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like any agreement, it can't be based on trust. It has to be based on verifications. If there's a good agreement to have, obviously, it's worth waiting for and completing the negotiations.

SCIUTTO: But it now seems clear that the sides, at best, are working now toward a general statement of principles, leaving the most contentious issues for another deadline, June 30, when a final agreement is due.

LEONARD SPECTOR, CENTER FOR NONPROLIFERATION STUDIES: It sounds as if progress is being made. And I would say the waiting interim agreement has been followed on both sides. It gives you some confidence that the two sides can trust each other and they will find a work-out before it is all over.

SCIUTTO: And now it won't be all over for at least another three months.

Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Let's bring in General Anthony Zinni, the former commander in chief of CENTCOM, author of "Before the First Shots Are Fired." He also serves on the board of directors of BAE Systems, a defense contracting firm.

General, thank you so much for being here.

From what we know about the framework so far, do you think this is a good deal?

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.), FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: Well, it's hard to tell where it comes out in the end.

I think we know what the issues are, verification. I would sum up the really important part is the ability to enforce any kind of measures if there's a violation in some way, reinstating sanctions or some means of reacting pretty quickly.

I would think Congress and others are going to look at that part most likely, maybe even more so than some of the issues -- other issues that seem to be on the table that are more technical. I think the big fear here is that if they cheat or slide on this, that we have no way to put them back in the box in some way. So, whatever measures allow that, I think, will be key it determining whether this is a good deal or not.

TAPPER: I have heard from critics, people who actually think that this deal is better than nothing and are sympathetic to President Obama, that the administration seems a little too deal-hungry, and that they have already given away the biggest toys in the box last year when they said Iran could have a nuclear power program and that there would be an end date to this deal.

Do you agree?

ZINNI: Well, I think it's -- we have to look at, when is this end date? If we're talking 15 years, and there may be some measures that could be in place at the end of that if there's still not satisfaction that they are not committed to a weapon, you know, we have to see what comes out of this deal.

A bad deal is the worst outcome. I think Susan Rice said that. And that's even worse than no deal, in my view. So I think, rather than speculate, let's see what comes out of this at the end. I think we know what the issues are. I think we know what everybody's concerns are, the Israelis, Congress and others. So, let's see where the pieces fall.

TAPPER: It's very unlikely that there would be any military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. But I know, in the military, you do a lot of war-gaming. How do you think Iran would respond to any military action by the Saudis, by Israel, by the U.S.?

ZINNI: Well, I will tell you one thing. From a military perspective, from -- as a commander of U.S. Central Command charged with the mission to conduct those strikes, I don't plan on just a one-and-done. You have to plan as a military commander against capabilities, not against assumptions.

Biggest mistake we made in this last Iraq conflict is, we made assumptions and threw away the plan that existed. You have to believe that, if they have the capability to respond, they will, which means you have to put in measures and capabilities to counter that and to take it to the next step.

[16:40:12] So the big question for the political leaders that give us that mission is, and then what? What happens if the airstrikes lead to some sort of retaliation? What's next? How many forces will it require to build up and provide security in the Gulf, for our forces, our allies and others? A military planner doesn't look at this as simply one strike and over.

TAPPER: Obviously, the United States, the public very war-weary.

How realistic is the notion, do you think, that the Israelis might strike unilaterally if there is not a deal? ZINNI: I don't believe they would, because, first of all, if they did

it without consulting with us, they would leave us exposed.

You know, we have a lot of military assets. We have allies in the region. A retaliation against them could be caused by an Israeli unilateral stroke -- strike, rather. And that could create big problems back here in terms of what they did and I think would alienate many of the people here that left us exposed by doing it on their own.

From the Iranian point of view, it would be viewed as condoned by the United States, if not supported, and by our Arab allies on the other side of the Gulf. So I think that would be a big risk. This is not Syria or Iraq, where the Israelis previously conducted strikes and didn't maybe have to worry about retaliation. I think Iran is a very much -- very much a different case.

TAPPER: General Zinni, as always, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

ZINNI: Sure, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, he rarely does interviews. Maybe this is why -- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid telling us what he really thinks of the list of potential 2016 contenders -- that exclusive interview next.

Plus, yesterday, the comedian Trevor Noah got the gig, and today Comedy Central is already forced to defend their new host of "The Daily Show." Why the sudden backlash? Can Trevor Noah survive? That's ahead.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In our Politics Lead today, after more than three decades walking and working the halls of Capitol Hill making friends and sometimes some bitter enemies, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid stunned the political world last Friday by announcing he would not seek re-election.

And in an exclusive interview with CNN's Dana Bash, the five-term senator makes no apologies for his polarizing politics and pulls no punches on the 2016 presidential field.

Dana Bash joins us live from Reid's home state of Nevada. Dana, the senator is still recovering from a New Year's Day exercise accident as we saw in that clip there, but he is still throwing punches.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He absolutely is. In fact, he's at least temporarily blind in one eye from that accident, Jake. And he admitted to me that was part of his decision to not seek reelection. Despite all that, the soft-spoken and sometimes ruthless Democratic leader is still very much interested in who is and who is not going to be in the White House next time. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Harry Reid says one of his proudest accomplishments was encouraging a young new senator named Barack Obama to run for president.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: I called him into my office and said, he should take a look at this. He was stunned. I was the first one to suggest that to him. When he was reelected, one of the most moving phone calls I've ever received because he said, you're the reason I'm here.

BASH: Reid has led Senate Democrats through the entire Obama presidency.

REID: I care about Barack Obama. He has changed the world.

BASH: Now he's ready to support the woman he encouraged Obama to challenge eight years ago, Hillary Clinton.

REID: I have such admiration for the Clintons because of their loyalty to people they work with. I think the country is ready for a woman. We need to move on.

BASH: Reid will leave the Senate as a polarizing figure. Republicans argue a lot of congressional gridlock stems from Reid's hardball tactics. He revels in playing the political bad guy.

REID: I don't really care. I don't want to be somebody I'm not.

BASH: In 2012, he used the Senate floor to accuse Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes, even though he had no evidence.

REID: Let him prove that he has paid taxes because he hasn't. I don't regret that at all.

BASH (on camera): Some people have called it McCarthyite.

REID: They can call it whatever they want. Romney didn't win, did he?

BASH (voice-over): Now Reid works closely with several new Republican senators running for president in 2016.

(on camera): I want to ask you about a few of them. Rand Paul?

REID: As far as liking people that are running, I like that guy. He is so nice, but you know, his politics and I --

BASH: Think you might have just hurt his chances. Marco Rubio? Would he make a good president?

REID: Go on to the next name.

BASH: Ted Cruz? REID: Ted Cruz and I disagree on almost everything. Personally, he has been very nice to me. I don't think he stands much of a chance, but I admire his tenacity for thinking he does.

BASH: Lindsey Graham?

REID: Well, Lindsey Graham is a super good guy. Whenever into need to know what's going on, call Lindsey.

BASH: You like all these Republicans.

REID: I do. I like them all very much. I apologize for the loser. I haven't for the liar.

BASH (voice-over): Reid is known for his blunt style which gets him in trouble. He called George W. Bush a loser and a liar. What does Reid think about his brother, Jeb, running for president?

REID: His dad was wonderful. I thought that his brother was the worst president we've ever had. I think Jeb is trying to figure out who he is. He came out against XM Bank. Why would he do that? Who would do that? That's right wing stuff at its best. He can't decide what he wants to claim a change. I don't think he knows who he is. Of all the candidates we've mentioned, I hope he loses.

[16:50:11] BASH (on camera): Why?

REID: For the reason I said, I don't think he knows who he is.

BASH: Not because of his name.

REID: Well, I don't know about that.


BASH: The truth is, what's really striking about Jeb Bush on the campaign trail, from my experience, Jake, is he's exactly the opposite of what Reid said. He's actually quite comfortable in his skin.

But the fact Reid went after him that way is vintage Harry Reid, he wants to be out there early and very hard against a Republican most Democrats think is the one who's toughest to beat -- Jake.

TAPPER: And as a former boxer Harry Reid, you can still see it in how he approaches politics. Dana Bash in Vegas, thank you so much.

Coming up, that escalated quickly. Comedy Central just handed Trevor Noah the keys to Jon Stewart's kingdom, but now just a little over 24 hours later, the network is forced to defend him after a history of Jewish and female jokes surface on Twitter.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for our Money Lead, in the matter of hours, the new host of "The Daily Show" went from toast of the town to Twitter villain over some offensive tweets targeting Jews and women dating back a few years.

Not long after Comedy Central announced that South African comedian, Trevor Noah would be replacing long time "Daily Show" host, Jon Stewart, Twitter users decided to vet Trevor Noah in a way that perhaps Comedy Central had not.

Noah once tweeted, quote, "Yes, the weekend people are going to get drunk and think I'm sexy attributed to fat chicks everywhere." Here's another one of the few we can read to you, "Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn't look before crossing, but I still would have felt so bad in my German car."

And this one, "When flying over the middle of America, the turbulence is so bad it's like all the ignorance is rising through the air." "The Daily Show" of course, is not only a cultural institution, it's a multimillion-dollar franchise for Comedy Central, which is part of the Viacom empire.

And for many Americans, these tweets are all they know about Trevor Noah, Noah, whose mother is half-Jewish has not directly addressed the controversy or claims he has tweeted anti-Semitic things.

His only response was this, quickly deleted tweet, quote, "Twitter doesn't have enough characters to respond to all the characters on Twitter."

Let's bring in Howard Bragman. He is the vice chairman and founder of and the founder of "15 Minutes PR." Howard, what a difference 24 hours makes.

We just got a statement from Comedy Central defending Trevor Noah saying, quote, "To judge him or his comedy based on a handful of jokes is unfair. Trevor is a talented comedian with a bright future." Good response? I guess in some ways it's risky to even respond.

HOWARD BRAGMAN, VICE CHAIRMAN AND FOUNDER, REPUTATION.COM: Well, it is risky to respond, but what they're trying to do is show that they're on his side, supporting him, and let's put those questions to rest. Jake, this guy 24 hours ago was a relatively unknown guy in the United States.

He'd only been on Jon Stewart's show three times. Now he's going to be heading really the flagship show for Comedy Central and you can expect a great deal of scrutiny. I frankly wonder if any comedian could survive the scrutiny of thousands of people looking through everything you've ever posted, every joke you ever made, everything you ever said.

I think he's going to come out of this unscathed. I think he's going to be a fine host and I think he's going to move on from here with a little speed bump in the way.

TAPPER: We've heard from Comedy Central. Do you think Trevor Noah still needs to discuss this in some way? I mean, "The Daily Show" is an institution and it's a player in elections.

BRAGMAN: Well, I was frankly a little surprised he put out what I thought was a clever tweet last night. Then he deleted it, which I really didn't understand and I thought it was a nice way to handle it for him organically in a comedic sort of way.

I think he's going to eventually have to address it when he goes to launch the show and he's doing those interviews where you do that. But I think it will be a foot note by then. I don't think it will be the central theme.

I don't think this is as big a deal as people are making. It's a big deal because we didn't know him going into it and this is the first thing that defines him as throwing a bucket of mud on this guy. I think he'll clean it off and move on.

TAPPER: He's obviously not the first comedian to make offensive jokes. Bill Maher is thriving at HBO even though he is a very vicious satirist and comedian and critic of religion and conservatives. Then last night on Comedy Central itself, while this story was blowing up on twitter, you had the roast of Justin Bieber, which clearly had something to offend everyone. How is this story different? How are these offensive jokes different?

BRAGMAN: It's different because we know Jon Stewart. We know what Comedy Central is going to do on the roast. We had no idea who Trevor Noah was 24 hours ago. That's what's different.

When you come out of the starting gate and you've got mud flung all over you, it's a little different way to first present yourself to the public. It would have been nice if he would have had a little breathing room pour people to know who he was before this negativity came out.

But it's the nature of the world we live in, the nature of the internet. I guess, I can't be surprised in Comedy Central and can't be surprised that it happened.

TAPPER: Howard Bragman, thank you so much.

[17:00:02] BRAGMAN: Thanks, Jake.

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