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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Card; Battle Against ISIS; Deadly Storms. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 24, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:13]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The calendar says Christmas Eve, but in too many parts of the country, it looks neither silent nor holy outside.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news, the death toll rising, as a vicious storm tears through homes and sends big rigs tumbling -- the latest on a tornado that may have lasted for 150 miles, with more tornadoes possibly on the way.

U.S. warplanes pounding ISIS, as Iraqi troops navigate fields of IEDs and take out some ISIS terrorists in a fierce battle for a key city.

Plus, be careful. Be careful. That's Donald Trump's new warning to Hillary Clinton. Is his trump card allegations about her husband's past?

Welcome to THE LEAD. And merry Christmas. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin today with the national lead, a tornado disaster and state of emergency on this Christmas Eve, at least 11 people now confirmed dead and dozens injured across Mississippi and Arkansas and Tennessee. Unseasonal weather unleashed a barrage of twisters. One had terrifying staying power. Forecasters say that this tornado may have barrelled across the ground for 150 miles, tearing apart homes and lives across two states.

And, unfortunately, the trouble is not all now behind us. There is new danger tonight, millions of Americans facing the threat of severe storms across a wide section of the East and Southeast down to the Gulf Coast.

CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers has more on this deadly weather system and the damage it has done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): This Christmas Eve, hundreds of people are facing utter devastation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy mackerel.

MYERS: The destruction caused by a deadly tornado outbreak cutting across the South and Midwest. KELVIN BUCK, MAYOR OF HOLLY SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI: I have never seen

this kind of devastation having hit this close to home and especially at this time of year. We're just now praying that everybody can kind of recover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see debris.

MYERS: The tornadoes claiming multiple lives, including a 7-year-old boy, as residents desperately tried to hide in their cars and homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many, many homes got severe damage. It's just unreal. You would have been to be in the air looking down to see it to really realize how bad it is.

MYERS: In Northern Mississippi, this tornado tore through a busy highway. Watch as the massive twister tosses this tractor-trailer as it barrels through traffic.

The winds in Southwest Tennessee roaring 75 miles per hour, as officials declare a state of emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just hit. We came -- we walked out the storm shelter, everything was gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like a wasteland, a wasteland. There is nothing left.

MYERS: Two people were killed east of Memphis, their bodies found under debris.

Chad Myers, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Chad Myers and our severe weather team are monitoring the storm threat on this Christmas Eve. And we will break in with any major developments.

But let's now turn to the politics lead. Depending which side you're on, he's either the conservative savior or the Grinch who stole the Republican Party. Either way, Donald Trump is heading into Christmas with double the support of his closest opponent, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, in our latest CNN/ORC national poll.

And just a few days after Trump brought a -- let's call it a phallic image into the presidential race, he's tweeting a Heisenberg-like warning right now to Hillary Clinton to tread lightly. He is the one who knocks.

Our Sunlen Serfaty is here with all the latest 2016 headlines for us.

Sunlen, many candidates have hopped off the campaign trail for the holiday, but that's not going to last long.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right There is truly a rare moment in politics, where candidates really do hit the pause button. But with five weeks to go until first contest in Iowa and so many duels still ongoing, this respite will be just a blip on the radar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Today, the candidates bringing good tidings, holiday cards and Christmas play lists on their break from the campaign trail.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Merry Christmas. right?

SERFATY: But not without taking a flurry of parting shots first. After this moment...

TRUMP: She was favored to win and she got schlonged. She lost.

SERFATY: ... Trump campaign now trying to turn the tables on Hillary Clinton after she said Trump has a penchant for sexism.

KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Hillary Clinton has some nerve to talk about the war on women and the bigotry towards women when she has a serious problem in her husband.

I can think of quite a few woman that have been bullied by Hillary Clinton to hide her husband's misogynist, sexist secrets.

SERFATY: Trump firing a warning shot too, tweeting, "Hillary, when you complain about a penchant for sexism, who are you referring to? I have great respect for women. Be careful."

[16:05:05]

Trump today taking fire from Bernie Sanders, blasting Trump's rhetoric, but also blaming the media for falling for his act.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump is very smart. He knows that media is not so interested in the serious issues facing this country. They love, you know, bombastic remarks. They love silly remarks. If he says that somebody is sweating, why, my God, that is a major story. All that silly business, the personal attacks, that kind of works.

SERFATY: This comes as Ben Carson, spiraling downward in the polls, is hinting of a staff shakeup, Carson in interviews saying that personnel changes could come, saying -- quote -- "Every single thing is on the table. I'm looking carefully," but then only hours later distancing himself from those comments on CNN.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We may have to add some people. We may have to change some people. The key word there is may. We're always going to be looking at, we're always going to be evaluating how people are performing.

SERFATY: As some campaigns prepare for adjustments, others are preparing for the post-holiday onslaught. Ted Cruz will come back from his Christmas break to face an aggressive push against him in Iowa, nearly $600,000 from five independent groups lined up and at the ready to stop his momentum before the first contest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And right after the new year, Ted Cruz will be hitting the road for a 36-county, six-day bus tour across Iowa. For the past week, he's been exclusively been looking ahead to Super Tuesday states, these states that vote in March. So, no doubt this will try to refocus on Iowa, get a little momentum, especially in anticipation of all these attacks.

TAPPER: Coming up, February 1. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Joining me to talk about the race is Rick Tyler. He is national spokesman for Senator Ted Cruz's presidential campaign.

Rick, thanks so much for being here.

RICK TYLER, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Good to be here.

TAPPER: We just saw Senator Cruz and his wife, Heidi Cruz, their beautiful little girls. There was a big kerfuffle this week with "The Washington Post" doing an editorial cartoon trying to mock Senator Cruz using his little girls in an ad.

But the cartoon, many felt, took it too far by portraying the little girls as monkeys, which insulted the girls and offended a lot of people. Senator Cruz trying to fund-raise off it. I understand that. It would be political malpractice not to try to fund-raise off it. But is it not now possible, since "The Washington Post" has apologized and taken the cartoon down, that more people have now seen this cartoon because of Senator Cruz e-mailing it out than saw it on "The Washington Post" Web site?

TYLER: Well, first of all, about "The Washington Post," I don't understand how the editorial cartoonist could have put up a cartoon without an editor looking at it.

Now, Fred Hiatt says he didn't see it. So either someone is negligent or someone is not telling the truth. How does a cartoon like that -- papers like "The Washington Post" are supposed to be constructed so that they don't -- things like that don't happen.

TAPPER: I agree. I agree. But my point is, I can certainly understand why a dad would be upset about that. And I have young kids. He has young kids. I get it. But sending it out, more people may have now seen that cartoon because of your campaign.

TYLER: And about 1.7 million people have seen the original Christmas ad which ran on "Saturday Night Live," which is quite enjoyable and fun.

But I'll tell you, what. We couldn't possibly raise the money that the damage that a cartoon like that causes. And I would say that about that the media in general or about the attacks from the establishment in general. That falsehoods that are put out -- because that portrays a false image about the senator and his family.

And so we have got to raise money, so we get out the right message about the family, because the papers seemingly are doing this without any punishment at all. They just unilaterally get to do these kinds of things. Of course, we have to raise money. We have got to get our message out. So, I have no problem with raising money.

TAPPER: So let's turn to some of the attacks that are coming from your Republican rivals.

Senator Cruz in the "Des Moines Register" poll, he's in first place in Iowa, and other polls, he's close to first place, neck and neck with Donald Trump. A super PAC backing Mike Huckabee has a radio ad playing right now attacking Senator Cruz. Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NARRATOR: As Ted Cruz has traveled through Iowa, he said he shares our values. Truth is, there are two Teds. Listen to Cruz raise money in New York City from liberals who don't share our conservative Iowa values.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what you're saying, it's like a top three priority for you, fighting gay marriage?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No.

NARRATOR: Remember, the next time Cruz tells you he shares your values, there are two Teds.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: First of all, I have to say I really enjoyed that swing music in the background. It's like 1920s, 23 skidoo.

TYLER: Right.

TAPPER: But more to the point, you knew as soon as you saw that recording come out and Politico reported it that it was going to be used this way.

What is your response to the people supporting Mike Huckabee and what is your response to people who hear this and say, hey, wait a minute, that doesn't sound like what he told me on the stump in Iowa?

TYLER: Well, first of all, the ad is profoundly dishonest.

[16:10:00]

Second of all, people can go look at Ted Cruz on "Seth Meyers." They can go look at him on "Jay Leno." They can go look at him at the Delivering Alpha Conference that happened in New York City with John Harwood. And they can read the transcript. And particularly the "Seth Meyers" transcript, if you take the

transcript on "Seth Meyers," which played for millions of people, and "Colbert" -- he was on "Colbert" and expressed the...

TAPPER: Same thing, sure.

TYLER: The same thing.

And if you take what he said on "Seth Meyers" and lay it across what he said in that fund-raiser, they would play like an echo. He said virtually exactly the same thing. The ad is dishonest.

I think people are smart enough to know where Ted Cruz stands on. And what it was doing there, by the way, is he's reframing the question. The questioner was trying to get him to say, you know, don't you have an anti-gay agenda? He said, no, I have a pro-constitutional agenda, one that protects the Constitution, one that protects religious liberty, and one that protects people from persecution because of their religious beliefs by their own government.

TAPPER: Let's talk about persecution.

Right now, as you know, Senator Cruz is not alone saying he disagrees with the idea, the call to have Syrian refugees come into this country. He called it -- he said it would be nothing short of lunacy to let them come in.

Earlier this year, as you know, the image of a dead 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, on a Turkish beach became an international symbol for the refugee crisis. Now this week, the boy's father issued a Christmas message. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABDULLAH KURDI, FATHER OF AYLAN KURDI (through translator): My message is, I would like the whole world to open its doors to Syrians. At this time of year, I would like to ask you all to think about the pain of fathers, mothers, and the children who are seeking peace and security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Obviously, refugees need to be vetted. Obviously, we need to make sure that dangerous people do not come into this country.

But Aylan Kurdi was not a dangerous person. His family, they're not dangerous people. On this Christmas Eve, is it not -- is there anything more Christian than letting refugees, desperate people come in if they need help?

TYLER: There's a lot of things we can for refugees.

We can do a lot of things for refugees. The United States can do a lot of things for refugees closer to where the refugees are. It's just been too dangerous to bring over refugees, because something happened in the interim. ISIS said that they would and have and shown successfully that they

will infiltrate the refugees. So that's -- it's too dangerous for America. One person getting it wrong, that is new. That's a new development, refugees being invaded by ISIS. So, it's too dangerous.

But the United States could do lots of things to help refugees in the region. And I think they would be open to that. And what Senator Cruz has said is, he would look at Christians who are being persecuted, who are being be beheaded by ISIS in the Middle East. He would be open to allowing those refugees to come in.

But I think it's very dangerous to have in a broad...

TAPPER: Muslims are being persecuted, too. And Yazidis are being persecuted. And women are being persecuted, and gays are being persecuted.

TYLER: Well, that's right. But we don't -- we know that the Christians are not the ones who are causing the atrocities. It's ISIS.

TAPPER: Rick Tyler, merry Christmas. Thanks for joining us. Please tell the senator we say merry Christmas as well.

(CROSSTALK)

TYLER: Thank you very much. All right.

TAPPER: Coming up, our political team on Donald Trump's Teflon. Will his new warning to Hillary Clinton score him even more points in the polls?

And gather the kids. We have a Christmas Eve treat. We're going to track Santa Claus. Take a look. He's on the radar literally as he makes his worldwide gift giving tour. That will coming up later in the show. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:54] TAPPER: Welcome back.

More in our politics lead: Donald Trump heads into Christmas with an ominous warning for his possible Democratic opponent, telling Hillary Clinton to be careful playing that war on women card.

Last night on "OUTFRONT", Trump's spokeswoman Katrina Pierson elaborated on the warning. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP SPOKESPERSON: Hillary Clinton has some nerve to talk about the war on women and the bigotry towards women when she has a serious problem in her husband. I can think of quite a few women that have been bullied by Hillary Clinton to hide her husband's misogynist, sexist secrets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's bring in today's political panel. Nice enough to join us on Christmas Eve, our chief political correspondent Dana Bash, "Weekly Standard" editor Daniel Halper, also, CNN political commentator and contributing editor to "The Atlantic" and "National Journal", Peter Beinart.

So, Peter, let me start with you. What do you think about that strategy, warning Hillary, watch out for the war on women stuff because we got a whole bunch of ammo?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's good for Donald Trump because Republicans don't like Hillary Clinton very much. I think also Donald Trump is by getting all of this attention, he's distracting from the fact that in Iowa, he's starting to lose ground to Ted Cruz. I think he's -- with all of this attention he's getting from the media, he's distracting from the fact that big political story of last few weeks I would say is that Cruz is gaining at his expense.

TAPPER: Daniel, what do you think? Is this something that you think, you write for the "Weekly Standard", is this something that the conservative media do you think will want to cover? It's an opportunity to cover the scandals from Bill Clinton's past?

DANIEL HALPER, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, a lot of conservative media hasn't really gotten Donald Trump correct all along, right?

TAPPER: Right.

HALPER: Perhaps not the best indication, but there are a lot of Americans. A lot of people who want these things brought up, and they are itching for a fight with Hillary Clinton. They're glad that Donald Trump will take it to Hillary Clinton in the way that he's taking to a lot of the Republican foes and been successful thus far.

And there's no reason to believe that he won't have -- at least have a good fight on his hands and be able to generate a lot of attention for himself which he's already doing.

TAPPER: Is there a risk in this kind of attack? Is there a risk in, A, people -- God, I don't want to hear about the scandals from the '90s -- or that's Bill, it's not Hillary, why you're holding her responsible?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think for a normal politician there is a risk. I think that we are -- we should be careful in saying that anything Donald Trump does at this point is a risk to him.

I mean, how many times have we heard people say and maybe even, you know, some of us have thought is this it? Is this kind of big explosive comment that he's made or is this strategy that he's kind of gone down whatever road that he's gone down going to hurt him? It doesn't, and especially something like this. This is like shooting fish in a barrel when you're talking about in the short term, Donald Trump appealing to conservative voters.

TAPPER: Right. That's true.

Let's talk about. That's a good point, because pundits have certainly gotten us wrong a million times. "Politico" did an unofficial tally of how many political pundits and Republican rivals and the media all predicted Trump's demise, starting with -- there's no way he's going to run, all the way through the ban on Muslims, entering the U.S. and the number they got to is 13. That's before schlonged-gate.

At this point, Daniel, should pundits just stop? I mean --

HALPER: I think they sort of have. Nobody is predicting his demise. Yes, the weird thing is I think more people predict demise, the more it helps him, right? Because there's a George Will column slamming him as not being conservative and saying this end conservative movement if he were elected.

I think that helps him among his supporters because their point is the conservative movement hasn't helped them. And they want somebody who speaks to them, who goes to their issues and Donald Trump, they think he does.

BASH: And George Will is establishment. That is the worst thing you can be if you're a voter out there who thinks they don't speak for them.

TAPPER: Peter, is there anything, do you think, anything that could stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination?

BEINART: Yes. I think there was a very interesting "New York Times" piece a couple of days ago suggesting that he's not actually very well-organized in Iowa. You know, Iowa remember is a caucus, not a primary. So, it's not just a popularity contest. You have to be able to organize to get people to go to these places and spend several hours there.

[16:20:01] It's a test of organization. Remember, Howard Dean was doing very well in the polls, but he didn't have a strong enough organization in Iowa.

I think that what the polls may not be showing us is that Trump's organization in Iowa, remember, they're relying on a lot of new voters that have not done this before may actually be weak. If Trump loses by significant margin to Ted Cruz in Iowa, I think you could seat bubble start to burst.

TAPPER: Your publisher and editor, right, Bill Kristol, has predicted, Daniel, that -- he's one of the pundits. He's not alone, that Trump would and in fact he's now taking names, suggestions for a third party that he will form if Donald Trump does get the nomination. You have submitted any names?

HALPER: I don't want to speak for him. I can't talk about internal deliberations at the "Weekly Standard."

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Jay thought maybe it should be the Whig Party or Bull Moose.

HALPER: He's not conservative, right?

BEINART: Maybe the permanent war.

TAPPER: The permanent war party? Oh, that's for Kristol, not for Trump.

BEINART: For Kristol.

HALPER: Well, it's new conservative party, why not just neocon? But --

TAPPER: Yes.

HALPER: Look, we don't know what will stop Donald Trump. We don't know if he'll stop. We've never seen a phenomenon like this before. We just have no idea what to deal with this or how to expect this.

He's not conservative. He is to the left. He's a Hillary Clinton donor. He's a Hillary Clinton supporter.

BASH: Was.

TAPPER: But voters know this and they don't care. Voters know that and they don't care.

HALPER: They know that, and they don't care, a lot of them do. But there are a lot of conservatives out there that do care. It will fracture the Republican Party.

BEINART: He is conservative on the issues that matter for many conservative voters now which is basically hostility to Mexican and Muslim immigration. On those issues, he's very conservative.

TAPPER: Dana, last word here.

BASH: If you could say really fast -- just listening to Peter talk about Howard Dean, how his entire campaign ended with a scream, now in Donald Trump world, doesn't that just seem so quaint?

TAPPER: Exactly. A lot of things seem quaint from the perspective of December 2015.

Daniel, Peter, Dana, thank you so much. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

Coming up, an ISIS attack foiled. How suicide bombers were stopped in their tracks. And on this Christmas Eve, we are keeping tabs on Santa Claus. Are your kids or grandkids wondering when he's going to get to your house? Gather them around the TV.

We're monitoring the jolly old elf's every move. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:47] TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper.

Topping our world lead day, some major developments from the Iraqi lead effort to retake the key ISIS stronghold of Ramadi. Iraq's security forces say that today, they killed seven ISIS suicide bombers and foiled an attempted attack on a police headquarters west of the city.

Of course, the terrorist group is not giving up easily. They're planting fields of deadly IEDs throughout Ramadi.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr. She is live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what is the Pentagon's read on the state of the fight right now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, right now the Iraqis say they liberated 70 percent of Ramadi. But the Pentagon watching very carefully, worried the worst of the fighting may be yet to come.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Iraqi forces moving through areas of eastern Ramadi where they have pushed back ISIS militants.

What's left is a city in rubble. The remains of a tough fight for U.S. trained Iraqi units with more to come.

Watching it all unfold in real time, U.S. commanders from their operations center.

COL. STEVE WARREN, SPOKESMAN, ANTI-ISIS COALITION IN IRAQ: This enemy set up defensive belts. So, they use IEDs, the very same IEDs that we faced here in Iraq years ago but now, they use them in clusters as if they were minefields. They will rig entire houses to be -- to explode.

STARR: U.S. warplanes are launching dozens of airstrikes to back up Iraqi ground forces. Picking out ISIS fighting positions from the air and not inadvertently killing civilians remains a huge challenge.

Administration officials are talking about how to possibly loosen up the rules restricting airstrikes so they can turn up the pressure on ISIS.

WARREN: What is being talked about out there is how much tolerance we should have for civilian casualties. And that's part of our American values, right? We say that we bring our values to war.

STARR: Senator Ted Cruz continuing to advocate massive bombings, answering Wolf Blitzer's question this way at the CNN Republican debate.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN MODERATOR: Would you carpet bomb Raqqa, the ISIS capital, where there are a lot of civilians? Yes or no? SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You would carpet bomb

where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops.

STARR: U.S. military officials say indiscriminate bombing is not productive and large groups of ISIS soldiers without civilians nearby rarely happens.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS are living in towns and cities add mist the same blocks as the citizens. So when you're talking about expanding the rules of engagement, I don't see how you do that without raising the risk that women and children will die.

STARR: The chairman of the joint chiefs warns the rules will stretch for a big target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can assure you if we're going after Baghdadi's command and control network or some other critical known, then we'll go after it as aggressively as necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now for now, it does appear that weeks and months of U.S. training have given the Iraqis the confidence to deal with those IEDs in Ramadi. The question now is, can they build on it when they make their next move which may be an effort to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, still in the grip of ISIS? Jake?

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, live for us at the Pentagon, thank you, Barbara.

From Iraq to Afghanistan, where the U.S. is providing critical air support to Afghan security forces. They are on the ground there. They're locked in a fierce fight against the Taliban for control of parts of Helmand's province. That's on southern part of Afghanistan.

This comes as just yesterday, Russian President Putin announced that Moscow was entering into an intelligence sharing agreement with the Taliban in hopes of helping both sides fight their common enemy, ISIS.

CNN's Brian Todd joins me now.

Brian, Russia plans to share intelligence with the Taliban. I will admit, I am old enough to remember when the Soviets were locked in a horrible war with the precursors of the Taliban, the mujahedin, and now they're aligning themselves with them?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It changes with convenience, Jake. And as you know, Vladimir Putin was a chief enemy of the Taliban shortly after 9/11.

But these days it appears Putin is thinking more about the ISIS threat in Afghanistan and that maybe the enemy -- and the enemy of his enemy he can work with. But this is not without significant risk for the Russian president.