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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Draws Criticism For Comments On Terrorism and Syrian Refugees; Political Analysis; Santorum: Resettle Syrian Refugees In Middle East; CNN Cameras Go Near ISIS HQ In Syria.. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired November 23, 2015 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We know an airline worker at the gate didn't realize it was an international flight and allowed those passengers to enter the domestic terminal.
Now, all of these passengers and crew had been pre-cleared to board the flight to the United States, and had been checked against the terror watch list. But, again, this is happening at a time when the airports are supposed to be on high alert, Berman.
BERMAN: Yes, heightened sensitivity, to be sure.
Rene Marsh, thanks so much.
The terror attacks in Paris have changed the conversation in the race for the White House. But in that conversation, does the truth even matter? Another candidate just joined Donald Trump in saying he saw American Muslims celebrate the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11. How will voters respond to these controversial memories?
Stay with us.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.
Iowans only have 10 weeks to make up their minds, but in a change election, where outsiders have changed the conventional wisdom something like 47 times now, there has not been much change on top of the polls for really a while now.
Donald Trump leads nationally, according to the latest polling. It's been like that for a while. In Trump's view, it's just more evidence of his claim that the silent majority is no longer silent.
Over the weekend, Trump was anything but silent about the latest flash points in this election, terror attacks and Syrian refugees.
CNN national political reporter Sara Murray in Columbus, Ohio, following Donald Trump -- Sara.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John.
So far, Donald Trump has called for surveillance of some mosques, and he called for putting Syrian refugees on a watch list, all as he tries to be the number one anti-terror candidate, but he's making some questionable claims along the way.
MURRAY (voice-over): Looking to cast himself as the toughest national security candidate in the GOP field, Donald Trump is advocating for harsher treatment of suspected terrorists.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They don't use water- boarding over there. They use chopping off people's heads.
MURRAY: Trump calling Sunday for reinstating water-boarding as an interrogation tactic.
TRUMP: I think water-boarding is peanuts compared to what they do to us.
MURRAY: In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Trump has sharpened his rhetoric with some of those salvos coming under intense scrutiny.
Trump contends he saw thousands of people cheering in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks.
TRUMP: I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.
MURRAY: Standing by his claim, even as it's widely recognized to be false.
QUESTION: You know, the police say that didn't happen.
TRUMP: There were people that were cheering in the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.
MURRAY: Trump also insists, the U.S. plans to accept hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, even though the Obama administration has only proposed accepting roughly 10,000.
TRUMP: So we have a president that wants to take hundreds of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people and move them into our country.
MURRAY: And Trump on the defensive for his response to an incident at a campaign event in Alabama this weekend.
TRUMP: I mean, get them the hell out of here, will you please?
MURRAY: Where a Black Lives Matter protester says he was swarmed by Trump supporters, who punched, kicked and choked him.
On Sunday, Trump appeared to condone the crowd's violent response.
TRUMP: Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting, what he was doing.
MURRAY: Hours after those remarks, Trump retweeted a racially charged graphic that overstates homicides committed by African-Americans and falsely claims that 81 percent of white homicide victims are murdered by African-Americans.
Amid the controversy, the billionaire businessman still topping the GOP field in two nationwide surveys, leading Dr. Ben Carson by 10 points in each.
MURRAY: Now, Trump isn't the only one repeating the debunked story that there were people protesting in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks. Today, Ben Carson said he too saw that footage -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Sara Murray for us, thanks so much.
Donald Trump at an event in just a few hours. We will be watching that very closely.
Want to talk about this with political commentators S.E. Cupp and Paul Begala.
S.E., thousands and thousands of people, of Muslims cheering in New Jersey, that's what Donald Trump says he saw, despite the fact that there's no evidence that that video exists. Ben Carson says he saw it too.
Does truth even matter anymore in this race? I mean, Trump says this stuff, his numbers go up. He says it again, his numbers go up more.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, truth is definitely the number one casualty of the Republican primary so far, at least when it comes to Trump and Carson. But it's not just truth. It's conservative ideology.
It should not be understated that Trump and Carson's solutions to many of our national security problems are to grow the size of government, to monitor and register all Muslims. Does Donald Trump think that takes 15 people? No, it's probably going to take 1,500 people. Dr. Ben Carson talks about monitoring IRS agents, monitoring campuses for political correctness.
It seems that growing the size of government isn't even a turnoff to their supporters. So whether it's truth, conservatism, big government, an affinity for big government, it doesn't really seem like there's an orthodoxy anymore when it comes to Trump and Carson. It's mostly cult of personality.
BERMAN: But, S.E. Cupp, then what does it say about the appetite of the Republican primary voter?
CUPP: Well, it says that 35 percent of Republican primary voters really don't care anymore. But, luckily, it also says that 65 percent or 60 percent of Republican voters are a little skeptical of Donald Trump. And that's a good thing.
You know, when someone like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, even if I don't agree with them on everything, are coming up in the polls in places like Iowa, I think that means that as people get closer and closer to the election time, they're getting a little bit more judicious.
BERMAN: Yes. Again, not to hammer a point here, but we have been asking for months, when will it start to hurt Donald Trump, when will it start to hurt Donald Trump?
But, S.E., that seems like the opposite, the completely wrong question. The question should be, you know, why is it helping him?
CUPP: Oh, I wish I knew. I mean, the magic elixir has been trying to figure out what is motivating folks beyond just the cult of personality to stick with Trump, to stick with Carson.
BERMAN: So, Paul Begala, before I let you off the hook of this, the issue of honesty and trustworthiness does not seem to be a decisive factor in the Democratic race either, because when you ask Democrat voters about Hillary Clinton's honest and trustworthy, 60 percent say no, not honest and trustworthy, 36 percent say yes. So, are Democratic voters suspending their desire for truth as well?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, that's asking about a platonic ideal.
In our poll, CNN poll out today, and the ABC News/"Washington Post" poll also out today, she overwhelmingly leads all Republicans and all Democrats on the question of who do you trust to take on terrorism?
So when you get to things that actually matter in people's lives, not some abstract -- does any politician have good numbers on trust? Well, no. Actually...
BERMAN: But she does worse than most. But you are sugarcoating the fact that her numbers...
BEGALA: The only person who's worse is Mr. Trump, and he's in first place in his party. It's not that we want liars, John. It's that we want someone who can deliver for us.
And Hillary's trusted on the things that matter to voters, a totally different thing. By the way, it's false equivalence to try to say that Hillary and her polling position is anything like Mr. Trump's. What Mr. Trump is doing is saying things that he knows or should know
are false. And he's saying it to people who don't care. That's the difference.
In the Republican Party, get this, Public Policy Polling, which is a Democratic firm, but still they released this poll in September. They found 44 percent of Republicans, 44, think that the president is not born in the United States, which is just false; 54 think that he's a Muslim.
So when half of the party believes things that are factually false, and there's no amount of facts that can turn them off of that, what you're -- here's what's happening. The magic recipe is what Hunter S. Thompson said. It's fear and loathing.
When you hate someone and you fear something, you shut off your brain, you stop thinking. And it happens often in this country. And, frankly, it happens more on the far right. That's what's propelling Mr. Trump.
And the more he pitches fear, the more he pitches loathing, the better he's going to do.
BERMAN: S.E., does Paul have it right there? And if Paul does have it right, which Republican candidate can exploit it and how so?
CUPP: Well, Paul is right that fear and pandering, I would call it, are both particularly useful weapons for Republicans on fear, Democrats, I think, on pandering, and neither particularly healthy or inspirational for a political process.
But, look, for the Republicans not named Trump or Carson to make a dent, they have to convince people that -- not to be afraid. And that's just really hard to do right now, when we have had terrorist attacks overseas and our government here preparing for maybe new terrorist threats here.
That's just very difficult to do. It takes a special kind of leader. And we're just not really seeing that yet.
BERMAN: To be clear, Trump's numbers seem to have gone up since the terror attacks.
Paul Begala, S.E. Cupp, thanks, guys, for being with me. Really appreciate it.
BEGALA: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: A new take on the refugee debate. I'm going to ask one of the presidential candidates why he thinks the Middle East needs the refugees to stay put.
And the war against ISIS on the front lines. CNN went as close as anyone can get to show you the fight against ISIS from right near their headquarters.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. The Republican frontrunner, Donald J. Trump says some of the huddled masses of Syrians desperately trying to escape that country's civil war are not who they say they are.
Instead Trump says some could be ISIS sleepers waiting to unleash chaos should they reach U.S. soil. That is why one reason why he wants to keep them out and watch the ones that do make it here.
Of the Republicans contending for the 2016 nomination agree Syrian refugees should not be granted asylum in the United States including former Senator Rick Santorum, but in this case not for the exact reason you might think.
Senator Santorum joins me right now. Senator, thank you so much for being here.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: So you say admitting these refugees, these Syrians into the United States, would give ISIS what it wants. But this is not an issue you say of letting terrorists necessarily sneak into the country, it's something else, explain.
SANTORUM: Well, I am concerned about terrorists sneaking into the country. But I'm concerned about these refugees and the long-term stability of the Middle East and that area of Iraq and Syria.
What ISIS is doing is they're eliminating the Christian population from that area. They're eliminating ethnic minorities like the Yazidis and they are also getting rid of moderate Muslims, those who are not going along with ISIS.
And all three of those are of grave concern to be relocated out of the region because once they have relocated out of the region the likelihood that any of them will come back is actually very small.
All of those are very integral to the long-term stability of the region and our national security interests. So I don't think we should be relocating very important groups out of that region never to return when they're in fact key to the future of that reason stability and success.
BERMAN: Where do they go? I mean, there's a civil war raging in Syria right now, 4 million have fled. Where do they go?
SANTORUM: Well, number one, I am deeply concerned about these refugees and I think we should be helping by relocating them, refugee camps, neighboring countries, there are countries for example, Saudi Arabia who has to my knowledge not taken a single refugee. They have these huge camps that are there sitting empty right now where many could be relocated into Saudi Arabia to a rather safe place.
BERMAN: So Saudi Arabia no question could do more, but 1.2 million are in Lebanon, a very small country, 650,000 are in Jordan, a very small country.
[16:50:08]The 1.9 million are in Turkey, which has its own ethnic issues. I mean, they are going to these places and they are going to refugee camps. And, sir, with your knowledge of history you know a lot of times refugee camps can be a hotbed of terrorist activity. They can be a breeding ground for strife and unhappiness.
SANTORUM: That's why I think it takes leadership. I think there are obviously other countries in the region where these people can be relocated. Mentioned Saudi Arabia, there are others. You have the emirates, a lot of other places refugees could be accepted where the likelihood of them returning.
And if you talk to the clerics for example, the Christian clerics in the region, they're pleading for their people not to be relocated away and to stay in the region so they can in fact come back and maintain the Christian presence in that area.
So this is not just a one person saying this is a good idea. If you look at the concerns I think there are very legitimate concerns about the stability of that region after ISIS.
Now, the best thing we can do, John, is actually to eliminate ISIS and get ISIS out of there, which is not what this president has been doing over the last year and a half. He's been doing anything but.
You heard his policy was that of containment, not of defeating ISIS. We need to get the Sunnis together in Iraq, that's the Kurds, the Sunni tribes within Anbar Province, and we need to start an offensive at driving ISIS out. That's the best way to solve the problem.
BERMAN: You say start an offensive to drive ISIS out. Up until now you've said only send U.S. troops to Iraq.
SANTORUM: That's correct.
BERMAN: Not Syria.
SANTORUM: That's right.
BERMAN: How much of an offensive, you know, could you really have if you're not striking ISIS where they have their headquarters in Syria? You seem to only want a limited response here.
SANTORUM: No, it's not a limited response, a strategic response. It's understanding where you can put boots on the ground effectively to create a front and right now Syria is simply not a place where we can do that.
I'm not saying we should not have military activities within Syria. I'm talking about when it comes to military commitment on the part of the United States and putting ground troops in the only viable place that I can see right now is in Iraq.
We have the Peshmerga who are willing to fight if we could give them sufficient arms. We've seen already they took back Sinjar, I think they could do more with a lot more support of the U.S.
And the same is true -- this is very important that we bond with the Sunni militias and not join a coalition with Iran and the -- Syria, to try to join a Shiite group, if you will, and Russia, to try to take back ISIS.
That's the wrong approach. We need to bond with the Sunnis and take back ISIS territory with Sunni troops.
BERMAN: Senator, can I ask you a question quickly about what Donald Trump and Ben Carson said today or over the last few days about seeing some video of thousands and thousands of American Muslims celebrating in New Jersey when the twin towers fell. Have you ever seen this video?
SANTORUM: I don't recall. When I heard it mentioned, something clouding my memory that there may have been some people here in this country who were sympathetic to ISIS. But what I remember very vividly actually was a candle light vigil in Tehran, the Iranian people, not the Iranian government, the Iranian people being very sympathetic toward the loss of life here in the United States.
So that's the video that I remember much more than maybe rumors or thoughts that -- not that I don't remember something like that, but I can't tell you that I ever saw anything.
BERMAN: Senator Santorum, thank you so much.
SANTORUM: You bet.
BERMAN: All right, back to our World Lead now in the war against ISIS. CNN went to the frontlines of this war just outside the Syrian city of Raqqah, which is really a virtual ghost town right now that ISIS considers its headquarters.
CNN Senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, did this phenomenal reporting. He joins me now from Irbil in Iraq. Nick, how close were you able to get?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Kurdish fighters, the YPG talked about by your guest earlier on are within 20 miles of the outskirts of Raqqah now. Between the trenches they've dug lengthy earth berms, lightly defended. Not many of their people there with light weapons.
There's a huge stretch of open terrain often with a lot of ISIS outposts in it. Now, obviously ISIS was held back from moving towards them by airstrikes. There were in fact four just on Monday after we left when ISIS got into clashes with those Kurdish fighters.
But they say very categorically we want to avenge Paris. We consider this our duty for humanity fighting ISIS, not just about avenging the deaths of their friends at the hands of ISIS. And actually one of the commanders there say we welcome foreign troops, French, Russian, American, anyone here to help us finish the job.
A lot of determination, a lot of optimism, I think, but not much in the way of numbers or equipment. They have with them some as your guest referring to Sunni, Arab fighters who want to take the fight to ISIS who indeed alongside those Kurds if they're going to go into a Sunni city like Raqqah, but those numbers are slight.
[16:55:10] We heard them talk about Americans being potentially around, maybe special forces are on the ground at this stage, but they don't have -- they have the desire, but not quite momentum or capability at this stage to launch that ground offensive against Raqqah -- John.
BERMAN: All right, Nick Paton Walsh for us in Irbil, returning from a remarkable journey right up into Raqqah right now. Take a look at that report on CNN.com. Thank you so much, Nick.
That is all for THE LEAD today. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. Stick around for "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer next.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, suicide vest, police find a possible suicide device in a Paris suburb reportedly containing bolts, and the same type of explosive used in the Paris attacks.
Imminent threat, an entire country is on high alert, its capital now on lockdown as Belgian police hunt for a possible ISIS terror team.