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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Rep. Mike Turner; Police Chief's Mission To Make Guns "Safer"; Vet First American To Swim Entire Mississippi; Debate Shifts To National Security After Terror Attacks. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 14, 2015 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:05]

TOM HAMBURGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This person is also concerned about the Second Amendment, but, instead of emphasizing a family hunting trip, the emphasis would be on personal safety, perhaps accompanied by a picture of a burglar breaking into a home at night.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Fascinating.

Tom Hamburger of "The Washington Post," thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

HAMBURGER: Thanks, Jake, good to be with you.

TAPPER: All the Republicans hoping to replace President Obama will tangle here in Vegas tomorrow night, but, today, the current commander in chief went to the Pentagon. He issued a warning to ISIS, but will his talk of urgency, strength and precision against the terrorist group calm anxious Americans?

We will discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Tomorrow, here in Vegas, candidates will push their agendas on national security. That, of course, is a topic that's a critical priority for many worried Americans.

This month in California, we saw ISIS-inspired terrorists kill 14 innocent people in San Bernardino. There's still so much we do not know about that attack, which is a problem, since it is the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.

Today, President Obama tried to reassure any anxious Americans out there, saying coalition forces are hitting ISIS targets harder than ever, but progress must come faster.

[16:35:00]

Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, President Obama -- we knew that Jihadi John had been killed,

targeted in a strike by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter a few weeks ago, but this is the first time President Obama mentioned Jihadi John being killed, all part of a change in rhetoric to a degree.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question a change in tone, much stronger language than we have heard from him in the past.

He used phrases like the U.S. is squeezing ISIS' heart. He warned ISIS leaders, in his words, you are next, discussing strikes like the one that killed Jihadi John. But he left the substance of his ISIS strategy largely the same. In fact, he defended it, citing progress, though admitting that it must come faster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Two weeks after the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the president convened his entire national security staff at the Pentagon to discuss the fight against ISIS. The president's language was strong.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we squeeze its heart, we are hitting ISIL harder than ever.

SCIUTTO: And he cited progress, ISIS losing territory in Iraq and Syria, and losing senior leaders to coalition airstrikes and special forces raids.

OBAMA: The point is, ISIL leaders cannot hide. And our next message to them is simple: You are next.

SCIUTTO: But like his speech from the Oval Office last Sunday, Mr. Obama announced no new military steps, other than sending his defense secretary to the Middle East to build up coalition military support.

OBAMA: We recognize that progress needs to keep coming faster. No one knows that more than the countless Syrians and Iraqis living every day under ISIL's terror, as well as the families in San Bernardino and Paris and elsewhere who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.

SCIUTTO: The Pentagon visit, his first since July, comes as hard questions arise about missed signals before the San Bernardino shooting. Authorities have discovered online discussions about jihad between the attackers Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik before the two even began dating and before Malik applied for a visa to the U.S.

U.S. authorities only began reviewing the social media activity of visa applicants in the past several months. Secretary of State John Kerry says the State Department is giving the issue further attention.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Clearly, the social media has placed a whole new burden and a whole new set of questions, but not impossible ones to resolve. And I think we need to look at this very, very carefully, which is what we're doing. SCIUTTO: A three-day search of the lake near the shooters' home has

turned up nothing. The crucial hard drive from their personal computer remains missing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: We learned today that those social media postings were done actually under a pseudonym and with privacy settings that made them visible only to a small group, which means, Jake, that they would likely would not have been found even if visas were subject before the fact to a social media review.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

Joining me now, Republican Congressman Michael Turner. He's on the House Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

I want to ask you about this report that "The New York Times" did over the weekend, and Jim just elaborated on, that the female terrorist, Tashfeen Malik, has these social media posts in which she praised violence jihad. But even though she went through three background checks, it was missed.

It seems outrageous on its face, but Jim just said she wrote these under a pseudonym and they were only available, only visible to a small number. Was this -- obviously, it was a missed red flag, but can the intelligence community really be expected to find this?

REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R), OHIO: Well, it certainly makes the process difficult.

And that is one of the concerns that everyone has about the visa process itself. And, certainly, the president's effort to try to bring additional refugees from Syria into the United States, and the ability to do full background checks to determine what the risks are.

Congress is taking action, just last week toughening up the standards with respect to visa waiver programs. I think, as we get some of the information about what occurred in California, certainly, there will be congressional action that occurs.

I think, as this point, as you were describing, the president's comments today still do not reflect the very real danger that the United States has. The president is talking tough. He's not working tough. We still don't have a global strategy to defeat ISIS.

The president is not recognizing the real threat that ISIS represents to the United States. And he needs to make certain that we have a strategy that will be successful. Right now, what they have been talking about, the secretary of defense and the president, are really very small and minimal advances that really are not going to result in any different outcome.

TAPPER: Congressman, what do you want President Obama to be doing when it comes to the threat of ISIS abroad and to the homeland that he is not doing or at least trying to do?

As you know, saying that you want a multinational force of Sunni Arab military going in there and taking on ISIS is much easier said than done.

[16:40:12]

TURNER: Right.

Well, the president continues to talk tough, instead of again, as I was saying, work tough. His global strategy to defeat ISIS has yet to have really been defined. And, certainly, it's difficult then for both the United States or our allies to achieve it.

The president has talked about advances that have occurred. The Kurds have made some advances in the Kurdish areas that Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, testifying about that before Congress just this month, but that's not going to defeat ISIS. It's not going to free Iraq or free the territory in Syria.

You know, all of this brings us to the issue of not only the rosy picture that the White House is portraying, but what information the president's getting. We have sent a letter to the president asking him to share with the Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services Committee the source of his intelligence that gives the rosy picture that he keeps trying to sell to the American public.

We have not heard an answer yet. The information we continue to get still shows a very bleak picture, both in Iraq and Syria, and a growing risk to the United States.

TAPPER: Congressman Mike Turner, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Coming up: He swam for 181 days for 2,400 miles while carrying the heavy hearts of everyone who has lost a loved one in service to the United States. The former Navy SEAL who became the first American to swim the entire Mississippi River, he did it in honor of the troops that have been lost -- that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Coming to you live from Vegas. In our National Lead, three years ago today 26 people, most of them first graders, were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Flags across the state were ordered to fly at half-staff in memory of the victims today.

The tragedy of course reignited the national debates over many issues including gun control, mental health, and school safety. Today, three years after that horrific nightmare, activists gathered outside the National Rifle Association to protest the failure of the federal government to pass any sort of restrictions on guns.

I want to bring in CNN national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick. Deborah, you sat down with the Newtown police chief who says that there might be an outside the box at least partial solution to the problem of gun violence involved law enforcement. What did he tell you?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Jake. Chief Kehoe is retiring after 37 years on the job, last 14 as police chief, his mission right now is to make guns safer. How do you do that?

He's suggesting put your money where your mouth is and leverage gun buying power because the biggest consumers of U.S. firearms is U.S. military, U.S. law enforcement along with civilians. That amounts to 64 percent of all sales in what is a $13.5 billion a year industry.

This is part of a very big campaign, it's called do not stand idly by, and the goal is really for U.S. government to leverage the billions that are spent in taxpayer dollars to convince gunmakers to make safer guns through things like smart technology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF MICHAEL KEHOE, NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT POLICE: I think if we could have that message sent to those who have a voice, like police chiefs, I think that we can start that conversation and shift that needle in a positive direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: And it's really about starting the conversation. It is going to be a tough sale. We spoke to a number of police chiefs and federal officials at a major conference in October. And they say it's unlikely that leveraging gun buying power is going to happen or even make a dent because you have to remember, Jake, that police, soldiers, federal agents, they need the latest firearms, they say, when going up against criminals -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Deborah Feyerick, thank you so much.

Now to our Buried Lead, that's what we call stories that we believe are not getting enough attention, enough media coverage. Over the weekend thousands of family members, friends and strangers turned out to lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.

The wreaths across America volunteers covered all 227,000 graves this coming just as one former Navy SEAL completed a record breaking six- month journey down an incredible source of inspiration for so many Americans honoring fallen troops in one extraordinary way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): The annual Army-Navy football game is a spectacle of testosterone and rich tradition where the only thing that overshadows the fierce rivalry is the love of country shared by all.

Arguably the strongest athlete in attendance was Chris Ring, not a player on the football field, but a veteran honored during the CBS broadcast for a charitable and record breaking feat. Ring, a former Navy SEAL, spent the last six months swimming the entire Mississippi River in honor of gold star families, those who have lost loved ones in battle.

CHRIS RING, SWAM MISSISSIPPI RIVER: We have what we have today because of these families and everyone should know truly that and appreciate that sacrifice.

TAPPER: Ring teamed up with Legacies Alive, a nonprofit started by two combat veterans who share his goal.

RING: We do an extreme challenge every year to raise national awareness to the life and character of our fallen heroes.

TAPPER: Video teams and support kayaks followed the 28-year-old as he swam six days a week nearly eight hours each day, growing a beard along the way. The trek would take him through ten states in just 181 days. He finished on December 4th in the Gulf of Mexico leaving 2,350 miles in his wake.

RING: Of course, it was physically demanding. You know, every day getting in the water and swimming. But, you know, it was more mentally demanding.

TAPPER: More than 200 gold star families cheered Ring on along the way.

RING: No matter how gross I am they hug me. Some have tears in their eyes thanking me for what I'm doing.

[16:50:01]TAPPER: Debbie Arthur is one of those gold star moms. She says following Ring's progress was like therapy.

DEBBIE ARTHUR, GOLD STAR MOM: This is probably the biggest impact in my life right now of go-to. You know, go to people or places that I can find some comfort.

TAPPER: Her son, First Lieutenant Chase Presniki helped inspire this very challenge. He played football at West Point with the founders of Legacies Alive. He was killed by an IED in Afghanistan in 2012. He was just 24 years old.

ARTHUR: I have so many wonderful memories, but when you wake up, every day you wake up, and they're still gone. You know, it's really hard.

TAPPER: For every year that Presniki and others like him are not able to attend this game, Legacies Alive aims to complete a challenge that honors their ultimate sacrifice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: More than 6,000 U.S. servicemen and women have lost their lives while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our thoughts of course are with their families. You got to keep them honest and keep them from veering off all the way to Reno. The ones who will be asking the questions, tomorrow night, they'll join me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper coming to you live from Las Vegas. We are now just about 25 hours away. Republican presidential candidates will faceoff once again for the last GOP debate of 2015.

[16:55:12]One of the final chances for candidates to get their messages out to the masses unfiltered before the real voting begins.

Let's now bring in CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and talk radio giant, Hugh Hewitt, you love it when I call you that, who will be questioning the candidates tomorrow night alongside of course head moderator, Wolf Blitzer. We all worked together during the last CNN Republican debate.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The band is back together.

TAPPER: Yes, the band's back together. But the race is very different now than it was in September. How is that changing your plan, your game plan for tomorrow night?

BASH: Well, it's completely different because let's face it because of what happened in Paris, because of what happened in San Bernardino, terror attacks, the focus is national security. And what will each of these candidates bring to the oval office as commander-in-chief?

I mean, you know, we asked -- you asked a wide range of topics, and there are of course a host of topics and issues that will be important for any president, but right now at this moment in time Americans are scared and want to know how the next president is going to keep them safe.

TAPPER: Obviously we don't want to tip our hands as to what the questions will be asked, but there are some -- and I would guess and I don't know because I've been kept out of the process. But I would guess for example that encryption is something that will be debated on that stage. Rand Paul does not believe in letting the government into that technology and probably everybody else disagrees with him.

HUGH HEWITT, HOST, "THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW": Well, you're absolutely right to anticipate there are a lot of issues. Looking for people to not -- it's obviously a question after San Bernardino when they couldn't find the digital trail, what are we going to do that in this digital age?

TAPPER: We've heard a lot of really strong, harsh rhetoric from the kids in the build-up to tomorrow night. What are you making of that?

BASH: I think what has been most fascinating really in the past 12 or 24 hours shake is that the change from immediate condemnation of what Donald Trump said about temporarily banning Muslims from coming into this country to realizing that at least what the polls show is that a lot of Republicans, majority of Republicans say, you know what, he's not wrong.

And so what you've seen in a new web ad from Chris Christie and from Rand Paul even and Marco Rubio a television ad we first reported this morning in Iowa and New Hampshire, much tougher rhetoric.

Not to the extent that Donald Trump has been, but almost like they're trying to be a more palatable Donald Trump for Republican voters when it comes to keeping them safe.

HEWITT: Speaker Ryan was out earlier today talking about how this debate is setting the stage for the holiday discussions that begin and go on through the year and he does not want the face of the Republican party to be only angry and afraid, but they have to raise their game to close this gap. Donald Trump has a big lead.

TAPPER: It's 41 percent in the Monmouth poll nationally, yes.

HEWITT: And so they have to say this is our opportunity to close the gap and pick up the speed and turn on the sprint or it's just going to get away from us.

TAPPER: Ted Cruz at least in one poll in Iowa ahead of Donald Trump and another poll basically neck and neck with Donald Trump. I don't expect Cruz to go after Trump. He really seems to hug him. But the Cruz-Rubio dynamic, and you covered them in the Senate, that's very interesting.

BASH: It is because they really have been in a lump together up until now and even with Rand Paul because they are kind of the younger senators, the newer senators, the next generation. But boy, when it comes to so many issues within national security, NSA surveillance, on immigration, even on using troops to fight ISIS, they have been really going at it.

A little bit candidate-to-candidate, but really the campaigns have been going at it in a big way. It will be interesting to see if they mirror that on the stage.

TAPPER: Cruz has been calling Rubio saying he has Hillary Clinton's foreign policy, Rubio's been saying Cruz is an isolationist.

HEWITT: And hitting him on the cotton bill to reintroduce Section 215 the Patriot Act. They are definitely getting prepared. I prepared yesterday by putting $200 on the browns by a point and a half and I won.

John Kasich has to, the governor from Ohio, where the Browns live, he has to bring his game and go after them as hard as possible or those guys at the edge of the table will be off the next time around.

BASH: That's not true. I was locked in a room with him all day. He might have, but he snuck out --

HEWITT: I tweeted the picture.

TAPPER: All right. Are you guys excited? Are you ready?

BASH: Yes, we're very excited. It's going to be --

TAPPER: This is the third time now for you and the second time for you. It's got to be not as nerve racking.

BASH: Not as nerve racking but also, look -- yes, it was very different. The field was bigger. We kind of have a little bit more of a groove, but it's always -- exactly.