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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Iran Controversy; Terror in Indonesia; Republicans Set to Debate; Iranian Footage of Sailors Provoking Outrage; Interview with State Department Spokesman John Kirby; Trump, Cruz Set for Explosive Debate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 14, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:07]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: ISIS claiming another Paris-style terrorist attack.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A suicide bombing, explosions and a shoot-out targeting a movie theater, shops and a Starbucks. Did the terrorist group ISIS just prove there is nowhere on earth they cannot or will not hit?

The sailors are free, but the damage is done. What, if anything, will the U.S. do now that our service members were players in an Iranian propaganda piece?

Plus, grudge match, Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz on the debate stage tonight for the first time since they dropped the gloves.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin today with yet another deadly terrorist attack, this one by ISIS, eerily similar to Paris. Massive bomb explosions and a violent shoot-out rocked Indonesia's capital city of Jakarta this morning. It all began when one of the terrorists detonated a suicide bomb near a Starbucks in a bustling shopping district in Jakarta.

That's an area that is usually packed with tourists from around the world. And then, in an alarmingly coordinated manner, other terrorists launched a gun battle with police. At least two civilians died in this attack; 24 others were injured.

Let's now go to CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson, who is in Jakarta, Indonesia, for us live.

Ivan, what's the latest information you're getting there on the scene?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the police say that all of the attackers, there were five of them, they all died after the initial attack began here at this Starbucks and then it kind of fanned out through this square.

I'm going to spin right around here. This is normally a very busy place, but it's about 4:00 in the morning. And this is where gunmen were walking around with guns, throwing grenades, self-detonating explosive devices, attacking that cube over there, which is a police traffic control booth.

And as you can see here there's some Indonesians bringing a bouquet of flowers, condolence message for some of the people who were hurt in this attack. Unlike Paris, unlike ISIS attacks, Jake, this did not cause mass casualties.

And the scale of the damage actually in the Starbucks is not devastating. It is not a massive, massive explosive device that went off here. That said, this is the worst attack that Jakarta has seen. It was brazen. It was in broad daylight, the worst attack Jakarta has seen in six years.

And it has followed through on warnings that the Pentagon, that the Australian government had issued that they fear that ISIS seeks to move in to South and Southeast Asia to countries like Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, thank you so much.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the Jakarta attack in an online statement, which could mean that ISIS or ISIS-inspired individuals have now been behind at least three attacks that happened within days of each other just this week. Is ISIS expanding its reach?

Let's bring in CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, as Ivan Watson just reported, Indonesian officials are still trying to piece together the evidence. Can you walk us through what exactly happened?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, here is the starting point. Make no mistake, ISIS expanding its reach across the globe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The moment of the attack in Jakarta captured on camera, ISIS claiming responsibility. It began with a suicide bomber detonating near a Starbucks in an area frequented by foreigners, at least two dead, dozens wounded, people running in the streets of the world's most populous Muslim country.

The Jakarta police chief says Indonesian ISIS leader Bahrun Naim, thought to be in Syria, plotted the attack, sending money back home to finance the operation.

TITO KARNAVIAN, JAKARTA POLICE CHIEF (through translator): The gang behind this attack are fighters from ISIS based in Raqqa, Syria.

STARR: In an echo of the recent Paris attack, reports indicate after the suicide bombings two foreigners were seized and shot, attackers opening fire on the streets, tossing grenades at police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we ran -- rushed into the building. About a couple minutes later, as we're trying to get an elevator to go up to our office on the 10th floor, a third bomb went off. And then this is really bad.

[16:05:00]

STARR: The latest ISIS assault 6,000 miles and two days after ISIS carried out a suicide bombing in Istanbul, just days after a Philadelphia police officer was ambushed and repeatedly shot in his car, an attack the FBI is now investigating as terrorism, and it comes just five weeks after the San Bernardino terror attack.

SETH JONES, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: The Islamic State is expanding its operational capabilities. And it's expanding its geographic location, where it's conducting attacks. This is a much more serious threat than I think people had anticipated even a couple of months ago.

STARR: Defense Secretary Ash Carter now raising the prospect the U.S. war may grow beyond Iraq and Syria.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: This defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria is a vital and necessary, although not sufficient, component of our worldwide campaign to defeat ISIL.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Not sufficient. ISIS leadership may be well dug in, in Syria and Iraq, but this is a group now bursting across the global scene, Jake.

TAPPER: OK. That's interesting.

Barbara, I want to ask you about another important story breaking today. We learned this morning that the Obama administration released 10 detainees from Guantanamo Bay, delivering them to the country of Oman. That made it the largest Gitmo transfer under President Obama. What can you tell us about these detainees being released?

STARR: Well, this has been part of a plan, of course, all the way along to bring down the detainee population at Guantanamo, to get them transferred overseas. These 10 are some of the toughest customers. They have been through a screening process that's supposed to be OK to transfer them. And Oman will keep an eye on them.

But let's look at just three of the 10 who were transferred. Some of this information already published by groups like WikiLeaks and others. So one is Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel, a member of bin Laden's security detail, 38 years old, a citizen of Yemen, as they all were in this transfer.

Then you have Abu Bakr Ibn Ali Muhhammad Alahdal, also part of a bin Laden-controlled brigade, deemed a high risk in 2008. Third, Fahmi Abdullah Ahmed, he fought against U.S. and coalition forces, also part of bin Laden's brigade.

They are going to Oman, even though they are Yemeni citizens, because, of course, Yemen is in the middle of a very violent civil war., no government there to control their movements. The Omanis promise they will keep them under control. We will see.

TAPPER: We will, I guess, I hope.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also today, Barbara, said that today he's looking into transferring the remaining Gitmo detainees to prisons in the United States, obviously exploring some in Colorado. I'm really confused about this, because it's been the law of the land since the beginning of the Obama presidency when Democrats controlled Congress that these detainees cannot be transferred from Gitmo to the United States. How can the Obama administration transfer them without breaking the law?

STARR: Really good question, isn't it?

Look, they got about maybe 30 more, a handful more that they could transfer overseas. They're deemed possible for transfer. So you get down to the really hard-core, the top leadership from the 9/11 era that are never getting transferred.

Colorado's looking like the place the Pentagon wants to send them. So could Obama do it by some sort of executive order? That's one theory, but -- and it's a big but -- he still needs to get Congress to authorize the money, to appropriate the money and the funds to do this sort of thing. And there is a lot of concern about it.

Now, John McCain says he -- the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- he wants to see a plan from the Pentagon and then he will make up his mind. He may be one of the most important voices on this.

TAPPER: House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this week saying he's worried that President Obama might be about to command the military to break the law. Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

A disturbing sight, video of American sailors on their knees, hands on their heads as they're taken into Iranian custody. Now there are new questions being raised about whether this video circulated by the Iranians violates international law -- that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:37]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our world lead now, Iran released shocking footage of 10 U.S. sailors being taken into custody this week, their arms behind their heads, on their knees, at gunpoint, as well as later sitting on the floor, the female sailor wearing a head scarf. And while those troops and their families are no doubt glad that they are now safe and the Obama administration is calling the quick release of those sailors a victory for U.S. diplomacy, uncomfortable questions are now being raised about whether Iran may have violated international law in this incident.

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me.

Jim, we're told these sailors are tired and upset after this incident which began when they strayed into Iranian water.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and apparently strayed in because of a mechanical issue with one of the boats and perhaps a navigational error as well.

But by early accounts, these sailors had to make a snap decision. They were surrounded. The Iranians had their guns drawn. And the primary focus of the commander of those boats would be the safety of his crew. And we're learning now more details of those moments when the boats surrounded them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The two U.S. Navy boats had drifted into Iranian territorial waters near an island where an Iranian naval base is located, when Revolutionary Guards, their guns drawn, boarded the boats and disarmed the 10 U.S. sailors. Fifth Fleet commanders became alarmed when the sailors missed a planned check-in call.

[16:15:03] The base consulted the boat's onboard GPS system and discovered the vessels were inside Iranian waters. The Navy then launched a search and rescue operation by sea and air. One Navy helicopter spotting the boats moored onshore leading them to conclude the nine men and one woman were in Iranian custody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a misunderstanding.

SCIUTTO: What happened next is sparking even more outrage both inside and outside the military. Iran broadcast and re-broadcast images of the captured sailors on their knees across the world.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: That may be how an intercept happens, but what doesn't happen is we then don't film the Iranian or whoever's sailors on their knees with guns drawn. We don't tape their officer apologizing on behalf of the country and disseminate this to the world.

SCIUTTO: Administration officials continue to insist the standoff could have been much worse, without the diplomatic channels resulting from nuclear negotiations with Iran.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The video on the face of it is -- it's difficult to watch. There's no question about that. And nobody likes to see our sailors in that position. But we've got our sailors back in less than 24 hours. And nobody got hurt.

SCIUTTO: The nuclear deal will take effect as soon as this weekend, including the end of punishing economic sanctions on Iran, freeing up tens of billions of dollars in Iranian assets now frozen overseas.

The taking of the U.S. sailors is the latest in a series of provocations by Tehran. In December, firing a barrage of rockets near an American aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. In October, testing a ballistic missile in violation say U.S. officials of a U.N. resolution banning such tests. In addition, Iran continues to hold four American citizens on what the U.S. considers baseless or trumped up charges.

And U.S. officials believe Iran also knows the whereabouts of former FBI agent Robert Levinson who went missing in Iran in 2007. It's a charge Iran repeatedly has denied.

KINZINGER: I think this administration is willing to stomach just about anything to make sure this deal goes ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Now, the Geneva Conventions do prohibit countries from parading, videotaping like this, captured soldiers from the other side. State Department though said today that since the U.S. and Iran are not at war, the Geneva Conventions don't apply.

But I will tell you this, a lot of folks I speak to in the military who are alarmed by the silence particularly from senior U.S. military officials, including the defense secretary at least saying that's wrong. You don't parade our soldiers and sailors on television like that. And that's a criticism the administration's going to have to answer to.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you.

Joining me now, State Department spokesman John Kirby.

John, good to see you as always.

You were a Navy admiral. When you see these videos aired on Iranian television, U.S. sailors in custody, hands behind their heads, on their knees, at gunpoint, it must bother you.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Absolutely it does. That's hard to look at. There's no doubt about it. It's troubling video. And it's obviously not the kind of conduct and behavior we want to see at sea.

TAPPER: Former Admiral Stavridis says that there is no way American sailors would ever treat Iranian sailors the same way were the situations reversed.

KIRBY: I would agree with Admiral Stavridis. I think you can expect better conduct from U.S. navy sailors at sea, particularly when there's no armed conflict between Iran and the United States. I actually agree with him. I've spent as you know better part of my adult life in uniform in the Navy and I hold the same high regard for U.S. sailors and their professional conduct.

TAPPER: The female sailor in those images was shown wearing a head covering later during the detention. Do you know, did the Iranians force her to wear that? Did she do it on her own out of respect for Iranian tradition? KIRBY: I don't know that. I think all that kind of stuff is going to

come out in the inquiry that the Navy's conducting right now.

TAPPER: What can you tell us about the video of the apology that one U.S. sailor made? Was he forced to do so? Obviously he was under some sort of pressure.

KIRBY: Well, I don't know that. And, again, I think the Navy's looking into all that and talking to the sailors, debriefing them trying to figure out exactly what happened.

You know, when you look at the video clearly this young sailor doesn't look very comfortable. But it's very hard to tell, you know, how much pressure physical or otherwise he might have been under to give those remarks.

What we're most happy about here in the State Department is we were able to get them home in less than 24 hours. Ten fingers, ten toes, nobody hurt, all safe and we got our boats back. I think that's the most important thing.

TAPPER: It is the most important thing. We're very glad that they're back, but another former Navy man, Senator John McCain, points out that normally if a ship strays into foreign waters, matters are resolved without sailors being taken into custody.

[16:20:01] He suggested the U.S. is treating Iran's actions in this case as a victory for another reason.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This is an outrage. This is the desperation not to offend the Iranians because the Iranian deal has to be kept intact. It's now made the American -- United States of America be the subject of absolute humiliation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is it fair to say that the Obama administration is more willing to look the other way because of the nuclear deal that they have so much invested in?

KIRBY: First, I want to say with all respect to the senator, I personally have great respect for his service and bravery under fire in the Vietnam War. And everybody in the navy and everybody at the Pentagon does, too. So there's absolutely no question of our respect for him and his service.

What I'll tell you is that nobody is looking the other way towards Iran or to their provocative behavior in the region or elsewhere around the world. This is not about the Iran deal. It's not about trying to get to the Iran deal. The fact that Senator Kerry had opened up a channel of communication with Foreign Minister Zarif through the Iran deal negotiations obviously gave us an opportunity to get these guys back quickly and safely. And, again, that's what matters most here.

But nobody is turning a blind eye to their other provocative activities. Look, they're still a state sponsor of terror. We still have sanctions unilaterally applied to them, against them, against their ballistic missile program. Nobody is obviously looking another way on all their other provocative activities.

And the Navy's doing an investigation on this. We need to let the investigators finish that work before we jump to conclusions about every bit and piece of this particular incident.

TAPPER: Speaking of bringing Americans home, what can you tell us is the latest on the five Americans being detained in Iran or who's whereabouts are unknown, Siamak Namazi, Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedin, and Robert Levinson? Is that another thing that the U.S. may not be doing as much as it can because of its eagerness to get this nuclear deal done?

KIRBY: Absolutely not. There isn't a single conversation that we have with our Iranian counterparts that we don't raise this issue and try to resolve it and try to get those Americans home where they belong with their families, I can tell you that Secretary Kerry is personally invested in this issue. There isn't a single conversation that he has with Foreign Minister Zarif including over all the last few days where he doesn't raise their cases and our concerns about getting them home. And we're going to keep working towards that. We're going to keep trying for that.

TAPPER: State Department spokesman John Kirby, thanks so much.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

TAPPER: In our politics lead today, Republican presidential candidates are set to faceoff tonight. And Donald Trump is questioning another part of Ted Cruz's past now.

Plus, the Oscar nominations are out and there was one big surprise that delighted us here at THE LEAD. That story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:54] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It's time for our politics now. There's the Red Sox versus the Yankees. There was Ali versus Frasier. Balboa versus Creed.

And now, Trump versus Cruz. The Republicans hit the debate stage again tonight and with fewer candidates in primetime. We are primed for an exclusive showdown between the national frontrunner and the Iowa frontrunner.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash is in North Charleston, South Carolina, surveying the debate stage.

Dana, Donald Trump told our own Erin Burnett last night that he would not throw the birther attack at Cruz tonight. But then, he told people at a rally in Florida the exact opposite.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And as we know, because we've been through this now many times, a lot of what they anticipate is going to depend on what they're asked. So, that could change everything. And just before coming on with you, Jake, I was talking a Cruz aide who said that when it comes to him and his approach, he's going to stand up for himself whatever it takes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Ted Cruz was rallying this South Carolina crowd as the story broke that he may have failed to report borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his wife's employer Goldman Sachs during his 2012 Senate run.

When he was done, Cruz quietly huddled with aides to discuss his response, a rare glimpse of crisis management that goes on inside every campaign.

Clearly not wanting to let the issue fester, Cruz then walked over to cameras --

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, everyone. Welcome to South Carolina --

BASH: -- for an unplanned press conference.

(on camera): Senator, how do you explain to your supporters that you got a very large loan from your wife's Wall Street bank in order to fund your upstart insurgent Senate campaign?

CRUZ: Well, the premise of your question is not right. Heidi and I --

BASH: You didn't get a loan?

CRUZ: The premise of your question is not right. Heidi and I, when we ran for Senate, we made the decision to put our liquid net worth into the campaign.

BASH (voice-over): He said, as part of that, that Cruz has got a loan from Goldman Sachs, borrowed against their stocks and assets.

CRUZ: If it was the case that they were not filed exactly as the FEC requires, then we'll amend the filings. But all of the information has been public and transparent for many years. And that's the end to that.

BASH: Not so fast when Donald Trump sees Cruz as his stiffest competition right now.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hear it's a very big thing. I hope he solves it. I think he's a nice guy and I hope he gets it solved.

BASH: Trump's nice guy remark is a vestige from when Cruz refused to engage with Trump. Those days are over since Trump won't let up on questioning whether Canadian-born Cruz is eligible to be president.

TRUMP: He got a little problem. You know, he got to make sure you can run. You got to make sure you can run. A lot of lawyers say you can't run if you do that. You can't be born in Canada.

CRUZ: This issue did not seem to concern Donald until a little over a week ago when suddenly he was trailing in the polls in Iowa.

BASH: That after Cruz went after Trump for what he called New York values. Trump, Mr. New York, wasn't going to let that go hitting back with tales from 9/11.

TRUMP: The way they handled that attack was one of the most incredible things that anybody has ever seen.

When you want to knock New York, you've got to go through me.