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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Talks But Bush Collects More Cash; Negotiations With Iran Extended Again; VA Hospital Project At Least $1 Billion Over Budget; Pope Speaks His Mind In Latin America. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired July 10, 2015 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- leadership matters.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chris Christie is trying to get back into the conversation through a half million dollar advertising campaign, aimed at New Hampshire voters.
CHRISTIE: But if we're going to lead, we have to stop worrying about being loved and start caring about being respected again.
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ZELENY: Now it's not only Christie who is seeking attention, the Republican field is expanding even more next week, when Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin officially jumps into the race on Monday, perhaps giving Donald Trump a fresh rival to go after in what's becoming an increasingly unruly GOP primary fight.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.
In our World Lead, another deadline has come and gone in the Iran nuclear negotiations, but is each delay making Iran's position and its chances of developing a nuclear weapon stronger? The Obama administration weighs in, next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The World Lead now, the intricate negotiations to try to keep a nuclear bomb out of the hands of the Iranian regime. Today, we learned negotiations with Tehran will drag on even longer, at least through Monday.
[16:35:08] For weeks now, the U.S. and five other countries have sat at a table trying to negotiate limits on Iran's nuclear program. Today EU's top foreign policy official called this morning's meeting constructive, but if no deal can be reached, will Monday be the end of discussion? Secretary of State John Kerry insists talks will not go on forever.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: If the tough decisions don't get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this process.
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TAPPER: Joining me now Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a members of the Armed Services Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee, and also a veteran of the Armed Forces as well. Thanks for joining me, Senator. What is your understanding of where talks stand right now?
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, we've had another forward extension. I think we're continuing to teach Iran a bad lesson that the window for diplomacy never closes. They can continue to get extensions and continue to get concessions or even put new issue on the negotiating table.
So I don't know if there has been any progress made in recent days, but I do know that these continued extensions of deadlines are teaching Iran a very bad lesson?
TAPPER: Why is the window for diplomacy is never closed? Why is that a bad lesson?
COTTON: Because every time we've had one of these extensions we've seen Iran walk back from the previous concessions or demand new concessions from the United States. For instance three months ago they walked back from their previous commitment, or to close their underground fortified bunker.
Now they are demanding that we lift the conventional arms embargo, not nuclear related sanctions or embargo, but conventional arms embargo at the same time that they're going to be getting tens of billions of dollars in a signing bonus.
What do you think they are going to use that money for if they want the arms embargo listed? They are going to buy -- use it to buy more weapons so that they can destabilize the Middle East even more.
TAPPER: You and I have talked before about your view that the military option should be on the table. I want to play some sound for you from your fellow Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is also running for president. I asked him what he would do when it came to dealing with Iran in negotiations. Take a listen.
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SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President of the United States, and they want to try to break out -- a nuclear breakout. We're not just going after your facilities. We are going after your offensive capability. We're going to sink your Navy and we are going to shoot your Air Force down. If that's what you want, that's what you're going to get.
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TAPPER: You have talked about taking out the nuclear facility, but I don't think I've heard you say anything about going after the Iranian Navy or Air Force, as Senator Graham says, what do you think of that? COTTON: Well, military action is not the preferred choice here. It shouldn't be the first choice nor would it be, but it has to remain a viable auction on the table.
A military action would not simply target Iran's nuclear facilities. It would in fact have to target their command and control facilities, their air defense systems, and their coastal defense systems.
And I'm confident that the United States military has the capabilities to do so. In fact, just this week at a hearing for the Senate Armed Services Committee, I asked Marine General Joe Dunford, who is going to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, if the United States has that military capability, and he said yes, it does.
TAPPER: And lastly, I guess, a lot of people would look at your position and say, look, at the end of the day, we don't want to go to war in the Middle East again, and President Obama is pushing for a peaceful resolution to Iran getting nuclear weapons. Why wouldn't you at least favor that diplomatic effort more so than another Mideast war?
COTTON: Well, unfortunately, the president's two goals of stopping nuclear proliferation and stabilizing the Middle East are actually undermined by the course of action he's taken. You can see that in what's happened in Syria and in Iraq with the Islamic State.
But you can also see it in the reaction of some of our gulf partners like the Emirates or the Saudis, who are more anxious than ever and are building up their own defenses because they realize that a nuclear Iran is a grave threat not only for the United States, but also to the regional stability.
TAPPER: Senator Tom Cotton, thanks for being here, and congratulations again on your baby boy.
COTTON: Thank you.
TAPPER: Let's now bring in John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. State department. John, thanks so much for joining us. You heard Senator Cotton. He says these continued extensions are teaching Iran the wrong lessons, allowing them to walk back from the previous concessions they made or demand new concessions of the U.S. What was your response?
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: My response is that this another extension here, what it's doing is allows the negotiators to stay in the room and to build on the progress that has been made in the last couple of weeks. It will be foolhardy. It will be foolish to simply walk away while progress is being made.
That said, and Secretary Kerry said this for himself, it's not an open-ended commitment there in Vienna. If we can't get a deal, he will walk away.
TAPPER: Is it true, though, that every time one of these extensions happens, as Senator Cotton says, Iran goes back on something they had already agreed to, such as previously they said they would ship uranium out of the country, they would close down an underground bunker, now they're saying that they want the convention an arms embargo on them lifted. Is that how this is working?
[16:40:04] KIRBY: Well, I don't want to get into what's being discussed inside the negotiating room. I think what I would say is that there still remains, and Secretary Kerry said this too, there still remain some key issues that need to be resolved, and I don't want to get into content.
But yes, there are some issues that need to be resolved. As for the agreement itself, we've also always said that it's going to be in compliance with the April agreement in Lausanne, the basic parameters of what the deal needs to be constructive like.
We are not going to walk away from that. There were parameters which Iran agreed to, are still the parameters that our negotiators are working towards.
TAPPER: Senator Cotton and others fear that the so-called signing bonus that Iran will get for this deal, billions of dollars that Iran will get when sanctions are lifted theoretically, that that money could end up one way or another in the hands of terrorists. Is there any way that this deal could include provisions to prevent that?
KIRBY: Well, look, we're not unmindful of the fact that Iran as a state may continue to spend money, whether it's additional money or money they have now, on state sponsorship of terror and other destabilizing activities.
We're not blind to the other things that Iran does on a daily basis that is causing tensions to rise in the Middle East and not decrease. So we're mindful of that, but we have mechanisms to monitor, and there will still be sanctions in place, even if a deal is reached, Jake.
There will be sanctions in place to deal with conventional arms and other activities that Iran continues to pursue.
TAPPER: John, as long as I have you here, I want to ask about another world threat in his nomination hearing yesterday. The nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, he said that, in his view Russia poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security. Does Secretary of State Kerry agree with that?
KIRBY: No, the secretary does not agree with that assessment. He has great regard and respect for General Dunford, and certainly he understands that General Dunford has a responsibility to offer his best military advice and his most candid opinion and clearly, the general did that.
But Secretary Kerry's view is that Russia is not the greatest national security threats in the United States. There are many, many threats that we are dealing with, many challenges. Russia poses a security challenge on the European continent to be sure. But we also cooperate with them on many things, for instance, these Iran talks right now going on in Vienna. Frankly, the secretary views are greater threat to our national security right now as the growth of violent extremism around the world.
TAPPER: All right, John Kirby, thank you so much. Have a good weekend.
KIRBY: Thank you.
TAPPER: Our Buried Lead, delays of billion dollars over budget? That's right, a billion, and of course, veterans waiting for much needed and earned care. A special report on the mess surrounding construction of a new VA hospital, that story next.
Plus he's the pope who once insisted on driving his '84 Ford around the Vatican. Now Pope Francis in front of a million strong is sending a message to those who put the pursuit of money above all else.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now for the Buried Lead, that's what we call stories we think are not getting enough attention. Six years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs started building a hospital in Colorado to take care of the more than 400,000 veterans in the area.
It was going to be a great state of the art facility, multiple buildings, 184 beds, and a research center. It was supposed to be finished a year and a half ago. It wasn't and it's more than a billion over budget. And it's the latest story in our series called "Why Won't Washington Work?"
TAPPER (voice-over): These construction workers are building a sprawling state of the art Veterans Affairs hospital near Denver, Colorado. It was supposed to cost $328 million, and look like these models by February of 2014 that's last year.
But the project is now not only 17 months past deadline, but the VA has projected it will cost more than five times the original estimate. That's $1.7 billion. Perhaps even more upsetting, the warning signs date back to before a single shovel hit earth.
(on camera): How did this even happen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is shocking. This is everything that could go wrong with government did.
TAPPER (voice-over): Colorado senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennett did call for an investigation into the projects many failures. Congress has already approved two budget extensions this year. The latest one only is keeping the project afloat until September.
As far back as 2011, e-mails obtained by CNN show a contract specialist that the VA alerted management of financial troubles, quote, "Without a change in strategy, my estimate would be around half a billion dollars in total cost overrun, 500 million dollars, where in this economy are you going to find the money?"
That specialist said he was not only ignored, but fired for refusing to work on contracts with vague cost projections. A 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office found stunning incompetence, including mistakes on basic measurements and site inspections.
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Even the sizes of the rooms have to be upgraded because you didn't know how big the equipment was that was going to be put in it to begin with.
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: They talk about how there is a hidden swimming pool that they didn't know existed. It was an underground spring that drove up costs, asbestos abatement issues.
TAPPER (on camera): It's just insane. Nobody would build a house this way, much less like multimillion dollar hospital.
GARDNER: The anecdotal stories that we hear from the subcontractors are countless, people who talk about elevators that were wrong, that were resized.
TAPPER (voice-over): As often happens with the federal government, there has been little accountability. Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson argues that those responsible for this boondoggle are no longer at the VA.
SLOAN GIBSON, DEPUTY SECRETARY, VETERANS AFFAIRS: You won't find a single senior leader that still at the department. Not one, they are all gone. Everyone that had anything of consequence to do with this project.
TAPPER: That's true, but two high-level officials at the center of the scandal have been able to retire with benefits and without punishment.
GIBSON: Somebody wants to resign or retire and they're retirement eligible, then you can't keep them from doing it.
TAPPER: Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers finally was given control of the six-year-old project, but the VA still has to pay for it and here is where this incompetence gets really ugly.
While VA Secretary Robert McDonald acknowledges that the delays are inexcusable, his proposed solutions to solving the problem are either to cut $625 million from the VA budget across the board, or to delay progress on more than 100 other facility and maintenance projects to meet costs.
The VA says both scenarios will mean negative consequences for veterans or VA's ability to carry out its mission. In March, Senator Gardner and Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Kauffman proposed using the $360 million set aside for VA bonuses to help defrayed the cost.
GARDNER: This will be a functioning hospital that provides the kind of care that we have promised to our veterans. It's just embarrassing that they've had to suffer this long.
TAPPER: So why won't Washington worked, incompetence, lack of oversight, zero accountability, and at the end of the day you pay for it and veterans suffering.
TAPPER: To reduce costs, the VA has cut the construction of two of the hospitals facilities, small things like the nursing home and post- traumatic stress clinic, things that don't seem all that important, right? Still no final word on when the doors will open to welcome patients.
Pope Francis comes out swinging on his swing through Latin America, he called greed the dung of the devil and he also called world leaders cowards. Next a live report from his latest stop and what this all means for his upcoming trip to the U.S.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In other world news today, Pope Francis, Il Papa, on the last leg of his Latin American tour, there he is, having just landed in Paraguay.
The 78-year-old Argentinian pontiff said masses for millions in Ecuador and Bolivia. He blessed the disabled and visited one of Latin America's most dangerous prisons before leaving Bolivia. He's also continued to speak his mind in a way that few popes have before him. CNN correspondent, Rosa Flores is in Santa Cruz, Bolivia -- Rosa.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake, you know, Pope Francis, usually makes headlines when he speaks off the cuff. This time, it was all scripted, he stuck to the script and he still sent waves of controversy around the world.
FLORES (voice-over): At almost every turn in Pope Francis' trip to South America, his message -- the world needs to pay attention to the poor -- all leading up to this bombshell in Bolivia.
POPE FRANCIS (through translator): An unfettered pursuit of money rules, that is the dung of the devil.
FLORES: Saying unbridled capitalism is the dung of the devil. Searing language of social activism from the Holy Father as he spoke to a group of grassroots organization. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pope is not afraid to use strong language. He needs to get people's attention as Jesus did in a world full of noise and confusion.
FLORES: The pontiff also talking about new colonialism, the capitalistic world of free trade agreements and austerity measures that take from the poor and give to big multi-national corporations.
(on camera): As the pope moves on to his stop, the message here well received, especially by those countries who have been governed by dictatorships in recent history.
(voice-over): The response from the United States? Unclear, as for conservative Republicans, with the backlash from the pope's recent letter on the environment is any indication, presidential hopefuls won't hold back.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or from my pope.
FLORES: Now, Pope Francis also asked for forgiveness on behalf of the church for what he called the sins, the ills that the church committed against Native-Americans -- Jake.
TAPPER: Rosa, what has been the response so far to this strong language from the pope in Latin America?
FLORES: You know, here in Latin America, people really praised it. In some of the speech when he was delivering it, people even stood up, giving a standing ovation while he was delivering all of these words, but you also have to keep in mind that in modern history, in some Latin-American countries, people still remember being governed under dictatorships.
So some words from the pope calling for freedom, for independence, calling faith a new revolution, calling evangelization a new revolution really hits the heart and souls of some of the people here in Latin America.
TAPPER: All right, fascinating, Rosa Flores in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, thank you so much.
In our Sports Lead today, it was a beautiful day for a ticker tape parade in New York City. The U.S. women's soccer team which trounced Japan to win the World Cup Sunday, paraded down the iconic route today in Manhattan. It's known as the Canyon of Heroes.
That route, presidents, war heroes, sports teams, have all been honored here, but this is the first time a female sports team has ever been celebrated in a ticker-tape parade in New York. Thousands of people lined the route and it reportedly cost about $2 million. Congratulations to the women's team.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I am now turning you over to Brianna Keilar, who is filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend.