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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Presidential Candidate Ben Carson; Candidates Flood Iowa; Stock Market Drops; Carson on Campaign Shakeup, Dip in Polling; Protesters Take Over Federal Building for 3 Days; Obama to Issue Executive Action This Week. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 4, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

Happy new year.

I'm Jake Tapper.

All of that ahead, but we are going to begin 2016 with some breaking news in the money lead, shockwaves from China sending global stocks on a freefall to begin the year, dropping more than 460 points earlier today.

Let's go right to CNN's Alison Kosik. She's at the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, what happened today?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, you know, as bad as the sell- off looked as we watch the closing bell ring right now, you can certainly call the Dow the comeback kid, because the Dow closing down only 280 points, as opposed to 468 that we saw earlier today, most of this being caused by what happened in China overnight, a bloodbath in the markets there, so bad that stocks in China are falling so fast and so much, they went ahead and closed the market, so everybody could take a breath.

[16:00:22]

You know, there's a saying here on Wall Street. If China starts to sneeze, we could get a cold, meaning what happens in China could bleed over here into the U.S., meaning their slowdown. And that's the worry that we felt here in the market today.

And there's a reality to that, because China is one of the U.S.' biggest trading partners. And a lot of U.S. companies have big exposure in China, household names like Apple and Tiffany's, Wal-Mart and Starbucks. So you saw that worry flow through the market, although this isn't a new worry, so a new year, old worries when it comes to China, Jake.

TAPPER: Alison, how much are analysts concerned that this is a harbinger of potentially painful year to come, especially for people's savings? KOSIK: That's a good point, because even at the end of 2015, we saw

that the markets really couldn't pull off a good year, the Dow, the S&P 500 ending in the red.

Already, you have got analysts predicting that 2016 will be a choppy, low returns and kind of tepid year for investors. But one thing to think about, there's yet one more saying I will give you here that we say on Wall Street. As goes January, so goes the year. That happens 70 percent of the time.

Look, we had a rough first day, trading day of January. We have got a full month to go. I say fingers crossed.

TAPPER: All right, Alison Kosik, thank you so much.

Let's get right to our politics lead now.

For all the candidates this election season who said, hey, it's still too early to predict what's going to happen, or I still have time, or, you know, it's the voters, they're still making up their minds, or no one gets serious about elections until after the holidays, and on and on, hey, guess what, guys, it's after the holidays. It's serious. It's 28 days until the Iowa caucuses.

Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee all descending on the Hawkeye State today.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray, though, she is in Lowell, Massachusetts, right across the border of first in the nation primary state New Hampshire primary. That's where we will find the front- runner, Donald Trump, who will rally another capacity crowd, no doubt, in just a few hours.

Sara, Donald Trump ringing in the new year with his first TV ads. And instead of a biographical ad or a list of his business accomplishments, this ad is list of his most controversial, some might say outrageous proposals.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. These are the comments that would have sunk any traditional candidates, ones that even had members of his own party backing away from the Republican front-runner. But Trump's not backing away from them. They are all in his latest ad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Donald Trump and I approve this message.

MURRAY (voice-over): Just four weeks out from Iowa, GOP candidates hitting the hustings, as Donald Trump lights up the airwaves, Trump releasing his first TV ad aimed at Iowa and New Hampshire, not showcasing anything new, but rather doubling down with dollars on his most controversial statements, the Muslim ban, widely criticized as religious discrimination by Republicans from Paul Ryan to Dick Cheney.

TRUMP: He keeps signing executive orders because he doesn't meet with people. I don't know. He doesn't like people, I guess.

MURRAY: Today, Trump showing no sign of slowing, ramping up his criticism of President Obama's upcoming executive action on guns, but perhaps overstating their impact.

TRUMP: Pretty soon, you won't be able to get guns.

MURRAY: And claiming gun-free zones make it harder to keep Americans safe.

TRUMP: Whenever I see gun-free zone, I see that's a flag for the wackos to come in and start shooting people.

MURRAY: Trump betting his tough tone and $2 million a week in paid advertising could push him to a victory as his closest competitor takes a different tack.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If every one of you gets nine other people to show up at caucus, you have just voted 10 times. That's how we win Iowa. That's how we win the primary.

MURRAY: Ted Cruz kicking off a six-day 36-county tour of Iowa, still playing nice with Trump as his super PAC takes shots at Marco Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I know I have a debate, but I have got to get this fantasy football thing right.

MURRAY: Rubio's team defending their lighthearted video and firing back at Cruz over his pop culture proclivities.

CRUZ: Do not say that name. I can't hear you.

MURRAY: Rubio's senior adviser tweeting, "Fantasy football unpresidential? But quoting entire scenes from 'Princess Bride' is, what, Reaganesque?"

The target on Cruz's back growing as Iowa nears, 2012 Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum mocking Cruz's filibustering in a new TV ad.

[16:05:05]

CRUZ: I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam I Am.

NARRATOR: You want someone to read one hell of a bedtime story, Ted Cruz is your guy. If you want to protect America and defeat ISIS, Rick Santorum's your president.

MURRAY: While Rubio takes his own backhanded shots.

RUBIO: Words and political stunts cannot ensure our security. ISIS cannot be filibustered.

MURRAY: The battle for the establishment crowd growing more pitched, as both Rubio and Chris Christie sharpen their tone to cast themselves as the serious alternatives to Trump. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These times and

these challenges demand a grown-up. Showtime is over, everybody. We are not electing an entertainer in chief.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, not everything in that Donald Trump ad is exactly how it appears. Remember those images of people surging across the border? In fact, those are from Morocco. And when I spoke to the Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, about this, he said, no kidding, but he used more colorful language, they're in Morocco.

He said they chose that footage intentionally to show what the U.S. would look like if we don't deal with illegal immigration and build a wall along the southern border, Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Headlining our politics lead today, a sit-down with Dr. Ben Carson, whose campaign is now saying new year, new me. I sat down earlier today with the renowned neurosurgeon to discuss the recent turmoil in his presidential effort, after three high-ranking members of his staff resigned, after he announced there would be staff shakeups, and after he went from leading Donald Trump nationally about two months ago to barely scraping double digits in the latest CNN/ORC poll.

But we started discussions with some events in the news, including the showdown between U.S. law enforcement and the armed anti-government gang that has seized control of a federal building in Oregon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: How should the situation be resolved?

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, the tendency for everybody is to, you know, come down on one side or the other side, government's bad, these people are bad.

I would think that we should try to look at things from both perspectives. Why, in fact, do these ranchers feel that way? Let's hear their grievances. I don't condone them taking over, you know, a federal building. You know, we have better ways of expressing our displeasure than that.

But the fact of the matter is, there are legitimate grievances. You know, there's absolutely no reason that the federal government should lay claim to so much land. I believe it would be a very wise thing to begin to gradually get that land back in the hands of the states, and then let the states deal with it in an appropriate way.

You can't just turn it all over, because the expense would be too great for any of the states to handle. But, you know, these are things that we need to start talking about. And, you know, the people also need to recognize that, you know, we do have a federal government for a reason. We need to respect them. We need to use their regular channels for dealing with the problems that are occurring. So... TAPPER: There's obviously a lot of the tension going on right now in the Middle East, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some other Sunni nations have severed or reduced diplomatic relations with Iran.

What do you make of this? What do you make of what Iran is calling a provocation in terms of the execution of one of the Shia clerics in Saudi Arabia. How would you resolve this as president?

CARSON: Well, you know, obviously, I'm not in favor of the execution of anybody under those kind of circumstances. These are political executions.

However, I would hasten to say that, you know, our embrace of Iran is probably not helping the situation, because I think it's creating more fear, you know, throughout the whole area.

TAPPER: How do you view Saudi Arabia as an ally? There was an interesting article, a profile of Senator -- I'm sorry -- Secretary Kerry in "The New Yorker" in which it talked about some of the tensions going on between Saudi Arabia and Iran in discussions about Syria.

And one of the things that Iran pointed out during these discussions that got quite heated were, hey, a majority of the 9/11 hijackers didn't come from Iran. They came from Saudi Arabia.

How do you view Saudi Arabia as an ally?

CARSON: They are our ally. Do they do everything the way that we would like it done? Absolutely not. Do we align philosophically on everything? Absolutely not.

But that's no reason for us to, you know, toss them under the bus. We need to be working with them. We need to be strengthening those relationships. I have a strong feeling that if, you know, our traditional allies in the region had full faith and confidence in us that we wouldn't, like, turn our backs on them like we have on Israel, I think they would be much more enthusiastic about supporting anything that we called for.

[16:10:12]

TAPPER: President Obama is set to announce some executive actions having to do with further restrictions on gun ownership. The details haven't been forthcoming, but our understanding is, it may have something to do with closing the so-called gun show loophole and expanding background checks. What do you think about such measures?

CARSON: Well, you know, I believe very strongly that we have to be responsible as a society. There's no question about that.

And I don't think there's anybody who wants dangerous weapons in the hands of, you know, dangerous criminals and mentally unstable people. But we also have to recognize, where is this coming from? This is coming from a president who said, if you like your doctor, you can keep them. If you like your insurance company, you can keep them. So, now he's saying, if you like your gun, you can keep it. I don't

know if I completely trust that. This is something that needs to be worked out with Congress, with the people who represent all of us. This is not something that needs to be done by executive order.

TAPPER: Someone who was a surgeon at John Hopkins in Baltimore certainly doesn't need me to talk about what gun violence can do and what gun violence does to young people and to innocent people.

Do you think that if one works with Congress expanding background checking or closing the loophole, the gun show loophole, are acceptable?

CARSON: I think, again, this is a societal issue and it should be handled by us as a society, and not by executive order.

So, certainly, yes, working with Congress, coming up with reasonable safeguards -- I don't know anybody on this issue on the Republican side, quite frankly, who is totally unreasonable, who's not willing to sit down and talk about those kinds of things. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: With just four weeks before the Iowa caucuses, why did Dr. Ben Carson shake up the top ranks of his campaign staff?

That subject next -- after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:31] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Politicians, they're just like us. Dr. Carson is the guy who spent whole of New Year's Eve hoping things would turn around for him in 2016. Last week, five Carson staffers quit after he announced staffing changes that were in the works. The campaign management was replaced and it all played out as a very public spat.

When I sat down today with Dr. Carson and his new campaign chairman, retired Major General Manager Bob Dees in their Virginia campaign headquarters, I asked about the campaign's messy shakeup.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: What wasn't happening that need to have been happening?

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Operations, the ability to execute things. There's a special talent involved in execution. And a lot of people in politics, in medicine, in law -- in everything, don't have that ability. Doesn't mean they're not good people. It means you need to add that in.

TAPPER: One of the things that we've heard in criticisms from people who used to be running your campaign, Barry Bennett and others, is that the way that the staff changes were announced don't speak well of your management style. Their criticisms, not mine. What do you say to that? CARSON: Could it have been done better? Absolutely. Are we perfect?

Absolutely not. Did we need to make these changes? Absolutely yes.

TAPPER: What did you learn from the experience of the last week or so changing your staff that next time you have such a challenge, you will do it differently?

CARSON: Well, hopefully there won't be anymore challenges like that, particularly during this.

TAPPER: Well, let me say something, if you win the presidency, sir, there are going to be plenty of challenges and plenty of staff shakeups.

CARSON: But, you know, you're never going to be able to do a shakeup in a way that will please everybody. Almost by definition that's not going to happen. So, the key thing is you have to know what it is you're trying to accomplish. You have to have a timeline and a mechanism for executing.

And you have to have a number of backup plans. You don't ever want to be caught flat footed or by surprised.

ROBERT DEES, CARSON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: We're going to be far more forward leaning. We're going to get out the word. We're going to work with the medium in a more friendly way so that they can understand the true nature of Dr. Ben Carson.

You know, the question one would ask is it about volume or is it about values? Is it about wild proclamations or is it about policy that leads us to moral high ground as Americans? You know, is it about a tempest or is it temperament? Is it about disunity and division, or is it about unity? All those are value propositions on the part of Dr. Ben Carson.

TAPPER: The words you're using in terms of contrast seem to be drawing an implicit contrast with the front-runner nationally and most of the states, Donald Trump. I mean, that seemed to be what you were just saying when you were talking about tempest versus temperament. Why not just come out and say that?

DEES: Well, I would rather and I know Dr. Carson would rather, the people of America, we the people around their kitchen table and in their living rooms to discuss these things.

TAPPER: General Dees, I believe that there is in addition to many other bonds, one of the bonds that you two have is one of faith.

DEES: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: The former campaign manager said that an interview Dr. Carson did with Sally Quinn, in which he said he doesn't believe in the rapture or hell, I believe --

DEES: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: -- was damaging. That's what the former campaign manager said.

Do you think it was damaging? And what do the religious voters out there need to know about Dr. Carson?

DEES: Well, first, I think we need to correct the false narratives about Dr. Carson. Every time, there's -- he's labeled as such, we discover later that that's not truly the case. Dr. Carson is a man who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ. He's a man who believes in mainstream doctrine. And as far as I'm concerned and he's concerned, we want to major on the majors.

Clearly, there's lots of different denominations. There shouldn't be divisiveness within the body of Christ. And there's room for latitude in many areas. So, I think Dr. Carson is a wonderful man of faith.

CARSON: And just to add onto that, a lot of times when people say things, they take them completely out of context. So, you know, they come and say I don't believe in the rapture. I don't believe in a secret rapture where people just -- he's sitting here one minute and he disappears. I believe in what the Bible says and the Book of Thessalonians where he will come, everybody will see him, people will be raised from the dead, called up.

[16:20:07] You know, I believe what the bible says.

And, you know, as far as hell is concerned, everybody has a different concept of what hell is. I personally don't believe in the situation where there's this dungeon and a bunch of little minions poking people forever and ever and burning them. You know, that's inconsistent with the character of god. And that's not what the bible says.

TAPPER: You've said, general, that social experimentation within our military is weakening the nation. What do you mean by that?

DEES: Everyone is not good at everything. And a lot of times because of perhaps what some would call social engineering. We have tried experiments within the military such as the role of women in combat.

Certainly, some women can perform well in combat under certain task. But if you look at the population demographics, most women -- I mean, you're talking thousands, cannot properly carry a 230-pound soldier with rug sack and combat vest on off of the battlefield to save his life.

And so, there are just certain realities where men can do certain things better. Women can do certain things better.

TAPPER: How would that philosophy apply to gays and lesbians in the military serving openly?

DEES: Well, I think the first priority again is cohesion. And the second priority would be that the commander in chief listen to the best military advice. So, on a number of these social issues the best military advice has been thwarted and the administration has said, "Do this, do this, do this", apart from military and defense considerations as a priority. TAPPER: If you were president, sir, would you contemplate bringing

back a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military if that's what military advisers including General Dees told you to do? Would you favor rolling back some of the programs that have been opened up for women, if you were convinced by individuals like General Dees that they were done for social experimentation and women were not up for the task?

CARSON: One of the things that I learned in a long medical career is that you make decisions based on evidence and not on ideology. So, yes, I would be willing to sit down with people from both sides and examine the evidence and make decisions based on what the evidence shows.

TAPPER: Dr. Carson, General Dees, thank you so much. Appreciate you taking the time.

CARSON: OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Also in politics today, Bill Clinton comes out of the shadows after Donald Trump called him, quote, "one of the great woman abusers of all time." The former president's response to that coming up.

But first, protesters ready to use their guns. The federal government planning its move. How will this showdown in Oregon end?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In our national lead today, a group of protesters took over a federal building in Oregon over the weekend, they are armed, they are angry and they are not going anywhere they say. That showdown continues into day three at this hour. The leader of the self-proclaimed Citizens for Constitutional Freedom just held a press conference earlier this afternoon to try to explain the group's demands while federal law enforcement officials are simultaneously strategizing on how to end this showdown while hoping that the situation de-escalates before someone uses one of those guns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): The American flag is center stage, watchmen are on post, and armed protesters have said they aren't leaving an unused building in a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon until they get what they want.

AMMON BUNDY, ACTIVIST, CITIZENS CONSTITUTIONAL FREEDOM: Our purpose as we have shown is to restore and defend the Constitution.

TAPPER: This land belongs to the U.S. government, but the anti- government group that is now occupied a building here for nearly three days, says the federal government is unfairly taking that resource, that land from the people. A. BUNDY: They are coming down into the states and taking over the

land and the resources, putting the people into duress.

TAPPER: Federal law enforcement hoping to avoid the kind of violence seen in the Ruby Ridge or Waco standoffs are not visible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. government is acting outside the authority enumerated in the Constitution of the United States.

TAPPER: The current protest was sparked by the sentencing of two Oregon ranchers in nearby Harney County. Dwight Hammond and his son due to spend five years in jail for burning federal land and plan to turn themselves in today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It isn't my decision, obviously. It's a sentence.

TAPPER: The Hammonds say a blaze on their own property simply got out of hand. The U.S. attorney in Oregon says the blaze was purposely set to hide evidence of their poaching.

A. BUNDY: It has been left to us to decide whether we allow these things to go on or whether we make a stand so they will not happen to other people across this country.

TAPPER: The Hammonds have the support of the community but are distancing themselves now from those who have taken up arms on their behalf, many of whom are from out of stand. Ammon Bundy is leading the group. He and his brother have confronted the U.S. government with arms over land issues before.

CLIVEN BUNDY, RANCHER: Hold our access to our public land.

TAPPER: Their father is Cliven Bundy, the infamous Nevada bureau who fought the Bureau of Land Management in 2013 over grazing rights for his cattle.

C. BUNDY: My goal in this is to be a rancher.

TAPPER: This group rejects labels such as militia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just a simple hick and doing the best I can.

TAPPER: But experts disagree.

DAVID GLETTY, FORMER FBI OPERATIVE: I would say it's peaceful protesters mixed in with violent domestic terrorists with alter plans and you have a small percentage ready to go to the end and then you have the bigger percentage that are getting scared and like, "Oh, my gosh, what have I gotten myself into."

TAPPER: Former FBI operative David Gletty has embedded with anti- government groups before and says this is a dangerous scenario.

GLETTY: It's a powder keg now and it has to be handled with great care and sensitivity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Also in national news today: just moments ago, a high level meeting between President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch concluded. On the agenda, President Obama's pending executive action on guns. The president wants to take unilateral action to impose new restrictions on gun sales.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, presumably, the president today and also in the past has been discussing with Attorney General Lynch how to impose these further restrictions legally.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, this has been a pretty long time coming. Remember three years ago, the president took executive action on guns, dozens of them in fact. But they didn't go very far. And the president said, you know, I'm limited in what I can do unilaterally.

And then just a few months ago, he and his team said, OK, let's go back and scrub the law, as they put it. And see what else we might be able to do within those corners of existing laws. So, by definition this is going to be pretty limited. I mean, we're talking now the margins of the margins of what he can do within his legal authority.