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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

D.C. Murder Mystery; Rand Paul Filibusters Patriot Act; North Korea Nuclear Threat. Aired 16-16:30p ET

Aired May 20, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: How close is North Korea today to hitting Northern California with a nuclear weapon?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, Kim Jong-un now says his war machine has figured out how to put mini A-bombs destined for U.S. cities and some U.S. officials are warning he might not be bluffing.

The politics lead, Senator Rand Paul sounding the alarm, the Republican presidential candidate marshaling a protest on the floor of the Senate, over three hours now. He's taking a stand literally and figuratively, railing against something most every Republican contender supports.

And the national lead, four people held hostage, possibly tortured before they were murdered in one of D.C.'s most privileged zip codes, now new reports that make this grisly case even more perplexing. Someone apparently dropped off $40,000 in cash at the doorstep before the house and the people inside went up in flames.

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

Alarming news out of North Korea today. The rogue nation says its scientists have managed to shrink down nuclear warheads small enough so they can fit on the top of rockets, rockets that could potentially reach the United States. Today, the White House insisted they have no evidence Kim Jong-un has that capacity. But those denials from the Obama administration run counter to warnings issued by U.S. military officials and North Korea experts in recent months, all pointing to the frightening possibility that Kim Jong-un may in fact be capable of anchoring the deadliest payload in the world to the top of a missile that can reach Los Angeles.

Let's get right to CNN's Will Ripley live in Tokyo. He just returned from a trip to North Korea.

Will, you just got back from Pyongyang. How credible do experts on North Korea take this claim?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Jake, when we were on the ground in Pyongyang, North Korea announced that they had conducted an underwater ballistic missile launch, the photos of which were later suspected of being doctored.

So, clearly, this is a regime that has a tendency to lie and embellish when it comes to their military accomplishments. But I can tell you from talking to officials on the ground there, they are very much invested in their nuclear program. They are spending a tremendous amount of their limited resources on developing and growing their nuclear arsenal.

And so even if they don't have widespread miniaturization technology yet, they are certainly working towards that goal and have no plans of backing down, Jake.

TAPPER: Will, is it possible that this claim has more to do with Kim Jong-un trying to solidify his power base in Pyongyang and less to do with North Korea's actual nuclear capabilities?

RIPLEY: Yes, I get the sense there are definitely two different factions in North Korea. There's the militaristic side, which of course Kim Jong-un is the leader of that North Korean army, one of the largest standing armies in the world. And so he has to deal with all of those senior party members that continue to push for North Korea to be a military power.

But then there's also a side where they're trying to be in some way more transparent. They care about what the world thinks. They're trying to -- for example, allowing journalists a bit more access to the country than they have before. But yet then you have them canceling Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary-general's scheduled visit to North Korea, which was supposed to happen just hours from now. They abruptly canceled it with little notice, made this inflammatory military announcement.

So it's really hard to tell which course they're trying to steer right now for Kim Jong-un.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley in Tokyo, thanks so much.

Let's bring in former Ambassador Christopher Hill, a former ambassador to South Korea who has negotiated with North Korea. He's author of "Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy."

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining me.

How seriously do you take this threat from North Korea?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Oh, I take it pretty seriously.

They are clearly developing, they have been consistently developing these nuclear weapons. And the question has always been, when would they finally miniaturize? Whether they have done it today or whether they won't do it until next month or next year is kind of immaterial. The fact is, that's the direction they're heading in.

And at some point, we're going to have to decide what we're going to do about it. TAPPER: What do you think we should do about it? Obviously,

something diplomatic first and then possibly something military next. What would be those options, in your view?

HILL: Well, the options are never good.

But I think certainly we need to keep the negotiating door open, not that they have been particularly interested in that. Secondly, I think we need to thicken up missile defense in that area. I know the Chinese don't like that. But the Chinese need to look at where we are with North Korea.

Thirdly, I think we should be looking at sort of direct methods, whether there's a way to kind of slow down their nuclear development, the sorts of things that have been reported about Iran. I think the negotiating track is especially important, not necessarily because we can get the North Koreas to slap the side of their head with the palm of their hand and say, OK, we will stop this, but rather to keep China engaged, work very closely with China and also to make sure there's no daylight between us and the South Koreans.

[16:05:11]

TAPPER: You talked about missile defense. Does the U.S. right now have intercept ability to shoot down such a missile should North Korea take such attack?

HILL: We have some capabilities, no question. But the technology is developing very fast in that area. Fortunately, I think the technology on missile defense is developing more quickly than the North Korean technology on missile offense.

So I think we should really be continuing to develop that. But, yes, we have some capabilities now.

TAPPER: North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test on May 8, as you know. That violated a U.N. resolution. Kim Jong-un does not seem to care. Is China doing anything here?

It seems like we depend upon China to really take the lead when it comes to getting North Korea to not act so crazy. And they don't seem to be succeeding very well.

HILL: Yes, it's tough.

First of all, this is not about us outsourcing the problem to China. The issue is we need to work very closely with China and make sure that China sees it in the way we do, so that the Chinese can use the leverage they have, which is considerably more than the leverage we have, to pressure the North Koreans.

I think, at the end of the day, the Chinese need to understand that North Korea may go away and at that point China needs to get used to a new neighbor, namely South Korea.

TAPPER: What do you North Korea may go away? What does that mean?

HILL: In the sense that China worries that if we really put pressure on North Korea, that somehow North Korea will collapse and that you will have a successor state, namely the republic of Korea or South Korea, taking over. And this will be perceived in some Chinese circles as somehow a victory for America and a defeat for China.

So I think China needs to understand that it's not that. It's not a zero sum game. And, by the way, I think the republic of Korea, if this all comes to pass and it becomes a successor state, I think would be a very stable element in the region.

TAPPER: How seriously do you think the Pentagon should be taking right now and the Obama administration should be taking right now potential military strikes against North Korean nuclear sites?

HILL: Well, I'm not sure military strikes are on the table. I don't think anyone's quite up for that. But certainly, if the North Koreans claim that they have miniaturized the weapons, and if they start standing up these weapons and intending to fire them off, then you have the potential of nuclear-tipped weapons in a position to fire at another country.

So I think we need to be ready for that. I think we need to have a very strong anti-missile defense. And I think we need to reaffirm our commitment to our friends and allies. And our allies there are Japan and South Korea. And this could -- this could worry them considerably if they perceive that the United States won't be there for them.

TAPPER: Ambassador Hill, thank you so much for your time.

HILL: Thank you.

TAPPER: Osama bin Laden's secrets revealed. We are just now learning about the inner workings of al Qaeda, including infighting in the group and frustration over lack of communication, but perhaps the most unbelievable, a job application to be an al Qaeda jihadi, including questions about hobbies and who to contact in case of martyrdom -- that story next.

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

Our other world lead today, it starts like every other job application you have ever seen. Please write clearly and legibly. And then it goes on to ask for your emergency contact information, you know, just in case you're forced to blow yourself up in a warped interpretation of jihad.

That job application to join al Qaeda is one of the hundreds of just-released documents recovered when Navy SEALs took out Osama bin Laden in the terrorist leader's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. CNN's Tom Foreman has been digging through the information, much

of it previously classified, all of it released this morning by the director of national intelligence.

So, Tom, I gather that, up until the end, bin Laden was pushing for another major attack in the United States.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And we kept thinking, how involved was he? We still don't know how much real power he had. But he sure was trying to exercise what he did, if you read these documents. These newly classified -- declassified papers reveal the frightening depth of his hatred of the United States as well, his desire to strike another major blow against America, and the real steps he took to try to make that happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Newly revealed in the now declassified bin Laden papers, al Qaeda sent agents to attack targets in the United Kingdom, Europe and even Russia, with an emphasis on hitting Americans whenever possible.

So why did the attacks fail? According to the master terrorist, it was bad luck and "God wasn't on our side." The papers show that, in all the years since 9/11, bin Laden's desire to strike America again never let up. One says: "These pig-eating invaders and their loyal dogs are too scared of death to fight us face to face. The main reason they continue to kill us is because we do not have the knowledge and the resources to counter their technology."

Bin Laden clearly feared the power of American drones, warning his commanders to change locations only under cloudy skies to avoid detection. And he cautioned: "We should be careful not to send big secrets by e-mail because the enemy can easily monitor it. Computer science is not our science."

He distinctly saw any plan to establish an Islamic state as premature and risky, writing that his followers should be prepared for a long struggle for things like food and water shortages. "I'm sure that you're aware that climate change is causing drought in some areas and floods in others."

His online library also revealed in the documents contain nearly 40 books in English, including "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward, "Bloodlines of the Illuminati", and "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers."

And there is this, an application form for would-be jihadists, asking about their education, families, hobbies, and do any of your family or friends work with the government? Would they be willing to help us? Do you wish to execute a suicide operation? And, who should we contact in case you become a martyr?

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN: He even wrote one message to American voters, saying

the reason the value of the dollar was falling and the suicide rate among soldiers was rising was essentially because the United States was destined to lose the war on terror and yet we now know he was ultimately killed by the very troops that he said could not win.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Grand irony for Mr. Bin Laden. Thank you so much.

FOREMAN: An amazing collection of writing, who he is.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Joining me to talk about this newly declassified intelligence as well as the ongoing fight against ISIS is Richard Clarke, former senior counterterrorism adviser to presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. He is out with a new novel, his fourth I believe, titled "Pinnacle Event."

Richard Clarke, thanks so much for being here. Is this your fourth, right?

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER SENIOR COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISOR TO PRES. OBAMA: Fourth novel.

TAPPER: Congratulations on that. I want to get to it in a second. But, first, I can't take -- I have to take advantage of you being here.

Your response to this treasure trove of information -- is there anything as a counterterrorism expert, somebody who was in the White House on 9/11, anything you found striking or surprising?

CLARKE: I think the striking part is how different he is and how different that al Qaeda, al Qaeda 1.0 or 2.0, is from ISIS. ISIS is very professional, very organized, has created successfully an Islamic state, let's admit it. They run three or four cities. They probably have 2 million or 3 million people under their control.

And bin Laden says, don't make the Islamic state. Don't make that your priority, go after the Americans. And so far, ISIS hasn't gone after the Americans in a big way. They've urged those in the United States to act on their own. Ultimately, I'm sure, ISIS will focus on the United States. But the contrast between this sort of philosophical approach of bin Laden, this unreal approach of bin Laden, and the businesslike, organized, sort of corporate governance approach of ISIS is striking.

TAPPER: Is it because, do you think, the goals of the groups are so different? Al Qaeda more aimed at tearing down the West and ISIS aimed at building a caliphate?

CLARKE: I think they both wanted to build a caliphate ultimately. But ISIS, or Daesh as the Arabs call it, just went straight to it and did it. And bin Laden saw this as sort of something like the withering away of the state in the old communist jargon. Let's try to knock off the Egyptian government, let's try to knock off the Saudi government. But we can't do that until we get the Americans out of the way. So let's, bin Laden said, let's attack the far enemy, the United States, increase their pain point and then they'll leave.

TAPPER: Right, drive them out of the region.

CLARKE: And once they leave, we can go after these governments.

TAPPER: Speaking of ISIS, though, and the fall of Ramadi reported this week to ISIS, there's a lot of criticism that the White House strategy is simply not working although the White House says there is going to be no, quote, "formal strategy review."

Do you think the Obama administration is in denial about their strategy against ISIS?

CLARKE: I don't know whether they are in private or not. But it's very clear after the fall of Ramadi the strategy isn't working. It was clear before that. But it was a dirty little secret, I think, in Washington.

There's no plan, Jake, to liberate the city of a million people, Mosul. They were going to try to liberate Fallujah last month. They obviously didn't do that. And now they've lost Ramadi. There's no plan to get rid of them in Raqqa, a big city in Syria. There is nothing realistic about what we're doing that will in the next year or so get rid of ISIS control of large cities in Syria and Iraq.

TAPPER: This is a very depressing thing for you to say, although I have to say, I know a lot of people who agree with you. If you were advising President Obama, what would you tell him to do?

CLARKE: I think he's beginning to do some of it. Susan Rice, the national security adviser, just said that maybe we'll allow air support, U.S. air support of Iranian-backed militias. That's painful. It's distasteful.

But you got to pick your enemy. And they can't all be enemies. You have to pick who's on your side in this fight for now. And the Iranian-backed militias are on our side or we're on their side in the fight against ISIS.

[16:20:04] So, that's one thing I would do.

I would give arms immediately to the Kurds. I would give arms immediately to the Sunni militias and not let the Baghdad government block those things. And we've been letting the Baghdad block those things.

TAPPER: What do you make of the calls we've been hearing from Republican circles, George Pataki today, former governor of New York, possible presidential candidate, Senator Lindsey Graham, presidential candidate, former CIA Director Michael Hayden saying we need to send thousands more U.S. troops to the region? CLARKE: We tried that, Jake, with painful results, with a lot of

dead Americans and a lot of Americans still suffering without limbs and with PTSD. No, I think the 3,000 Americans we have there could be better utilized if the president allowed them as Central Command wants to do, let them go to the front and act as advisers near the front with forward air controllers calling in air strikes.

We've got 3,000 Americans there. That's more than enough. Our job is not to fight it on the ground but to help them fight it on the ground, with intelligence support, with weapons, with air cover.

TAPPER: The FBI Director James Comey said that ISIS -- let me get the quote right -- presents the most urgent threat to America of all the groups. Do you believe ISIS right now has the capability of carrying out a large-scale attack here in the United States?

CLARKE: Well, we don't know. It's at least possible.

And we have to imagine that both al Qaeda -- Al Qaeda is still around, too, particularly in Yemen now. We have to imagine that both al Qaeda and ISIS want ultimately to do that. We can't let down our guard, even though there's been no major attack in the United States since 9/11, there's no guarantee that it won't happen.

TAPPER: The new book is riveting. It seems like it's been ripped from the headlines in many ways 2016. And the book is full swing. There's a growing concern about nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, hell-bent on attacking the United States.

How much does your experience as a counterterrorism official influence what you write about this fiction?

CLARKE: A lot. What I tried to do is -- the challenge is write a fun book, write a thriller, a page-turner, that is as factual as possible. I read thrillers all the time. And they frustrate me because they're so crazy and unrealistic.

So, the challenge to me was see if you can make one that's realistic, see if you can make it fun, but yet at the same time when the reader is done reading it, they're going to say, wow, I think I learned something.

TAPPER: That's fascinating.

All right. Well, the book is Richard Clarke's "Pinnacle Event," his fourth novel. They must be selling well because they keep letting you write.

Richard Clarke, always a pleasure. Good to see you, sir. Thanks so much for being here.

CLARKE: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, Senator Rand Paul three hours into a protest on the Senate floor. Why the Republican presidential candidate says he's not planning on stopping anytime soon. Plus, new details in that horrific quadruple murder at a mansion

in a wealthy part of Washington, D.C. Investigators now telling "The Washington Post" that an employee of the husband's company delivered $40,000 to the home hours before the family was found dead. Was this all about money?

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[16:26:59] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The politics lead now: just about three hours and counting, look at our Rand-a-thon clock there. All right. That's how long Republican presidential candidate and Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, has been speaking on and off the Senate floor as part of his strategy to block the renewal of the Patriot Act. This is a live look at Paul in action.

We can listen in for a couple of seconds.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: If the senator from Utah is interested in telling us a little bit of the story, we'd probably like to hear a little bit from his angle or in the form of a question, any other --

TAPPER: Well, in any case, he started his speech at about 1:18 p.m. Eastern Time. And he's covered everything from privacy rights to racial disparities and incarceration rates. And he just keeps going and going and going.

About 20 minutes in, he or a staffer tweeted, "I've just taken the Senate floor to begin a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal. It's time to end the NSA spying."

CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here.

So, Dana, Senator Paul called this filibuster, I don't mean to be a nitpicker, but it's not technically a filibuster, right?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not yet because to be an actual technical filibuster, you have to be holding up some piece of legislation. He's not technically doing that right now. But if he keeps speaking until midnight, he will technically be doing that on the trade bill.

But regardless, he's talking and will keep talking, maybe overnight, depends on how long he can go. The reason he is doing this is because he's opposed to continuing or extending the key provisions of the Patriot Act. They'll expire on June 1st which have to do with NSA wiretapping which he's long opposed.

He's also running for president and it happens the minute he took to the Senate floor, it was a coordinated effort with his presidential campaign to send tweets to raise money and also to keep kind of the momentum going because it certainly isn't a unified position on the Republican side to be opposed to this. There are plenty of fellow Republicans who say we need these rules. TAPPER: Yes.

BASH: Because they're -- I mean, put in place under George W. Bush. But Rand Paul is very unique in some ways in the Republican field in that he has tapped into the libertarian kind of anti-big government fervor out there that very much does exist in the Republican Party and for him, he is their candidate on the GOP side. So he wants to gin up their support.

TAPPER: Fascinating. Let's turn to the other side of the aisle, another political presidential story. "The Wall Street Journal" has a report that Hillary Clinton's political aides inside the U.S. State Department while she was secretary of state, quote, "sometimes blocked the release of documents requested under public records law."

What can you tell us about that? Is that unusual?

BASH: Well, apparently when it comes to Freedom of Information requests, which CNN does, news organizations do across the board, it's not unusual to take some time to get responses because they sometimes do get held up because of the political wings of the agencies looking into it. But ultimately they should if they follow the law give over what journalists and others are requesting. In this particular report, "The Wall Street Journal" has sources saying that some key things that people were looking for were actually not turned over.