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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Russian Fighter Jets Permitted to Launch New Airstrikes from Within Iran. An Interview with Senator Chris Murphy. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 16, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just immediately jumped in and took off. Started blowing the horn right there. And I just leaned on the horn all the way. Stopped in front of all the houses, blow the horn, so that -- try to wake them up.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Felder (ph) said, as he was going down his street, it was like a tidal wave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It woke people up, but it was too late for them. Most of these people were in their beds sound asleep.

GRAY: In Livingston Parish alone, population 130,000, there were 15,000 rescues. An estimated 75 percent of all homes and businesses in the parish took on water, buildings upside down, boats flipped, and water still inside people's homes.

This is what downtown Denham Springs looks like on Sunday. This is downtown today. Today, homes that are still underwater are hoping the water will recede quickly. People like Danny Sparasian (ph) will begin cleaning up, salvaging what he can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Words can't describe it right now. It's just we're going to do it. We're going to get through it, like always.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRAY: And taking a look from our drone, you can get a scope of what is going on here.

When the water recedes, you can really get an idea of the devastation. I want to tell you that a lot of the homes in this neighborhood still underwater and so it will still be another day or two before they're able to get back.

But behind me, you can just see boats flipped over. And it is just -- it's like this at every turn, Jake. And I talked to the president of the parish earlier today. And he said his biggest fear now moving forward is doing that door-to-door search for people and also the fear of people leaving and never coming back because they don't have anything left -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jennifer Gray, sad story in Louisiana.

A new turn in the terror fight, Russia and Iran working together on airstrikes in Syria, but who is really being targeted? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:08]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Our world lead now. Iran just allowed something to happen within its borders for the first time since 1979, something the U.S. State Department says may have violated a U.N. resolution. Russian fighter jets were permitted to launch new airstrikes from within Iran. They took off with their bombs from an air base in the west of the country and then headed for Syria to hit targets, but what targets?

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us.

Barbara, did U.S. officials anticipate this, and do we know whom these strikes hit?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, perhaps not a huge surprise to the Pentagon.

The Russians were going after civilian populations in Northwest Syria, especially around the city of Aleppo, where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped. Already, the State Department taking a very hard line. Secretary of State John Kerry calling his Russian counterpart to raise objections and concerns about this.

The State Department today saying all of this might have violated some U.N. resolutions. Not perhaps the biggest surprise, though, because these civilians, the rebel groups, anti-Assad groups in that area had been making progress against Assad. And it was becoming a little more clear that the Russians were going to have a show of force perhaps to try and push all of this back.

The Russians sending a message by using that Iranian air base they want the U.S. to sign up to an agreement to join forces with it, but the U.S. very -- especially the Pentagon, very adamant that they cannot agree to any kind of cooperation with the Russians, per se, until Russia backs off from killing civilians in Syria -- Jake.

TAPPER: And speaking of civilians and wars, Iran is also caught up in the ongoing civil war in Yemen. And we just today saw more devastating images out of that country. Saudi warplanes bombed a hospital..

STARR: The images are just absolutely heartbreaking.

More than a dozen people killed in this hospital, which is at least in part administered by the very remarkable group Doctors Without Borders. This is an airstrike said to be conducted by the Saudi-led coalition. Very difficult situation here. They may have as many as 14 people dead.

This comes just days after the Saudi coalition is said to have also struck two schools in Yemen, also killing civilians there. But the Saudis say that that was a training camp for terrorists that it's fighting.

So, again, you have just absolutely devastating images of heartbreak in yet another place, Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about that. We are all generally on a day-to-day basis paying attention to this war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but there is this other war that your tax dollars are helping to fund. It's in the same region of the world.

Since 2011, Saudi Arabia has been the number one recipient of American-made arms. And these weapons are being used by Saudi forces currently to fight rebels in Yemen in a war where Saudi Arabia is killing civilians.

Just this week, the U.S. State Department approved a $1.2 billion arms deal, will which send more American-made tanks to Saudi Arabia knowing they could end up on the battlefield in Yemen.

Joining us now, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

In just the last few days, as you know, at least 31 Yemeni civilians, including 14 children, have been killed in Saudi airstrikes in Yemen that hit civilian targets, a hospital and two schools. Were those American weapons that were used? How culpable is the United States in this?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: The's an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.

[16:40:00]

Why? It's because, though the Saudis are actually dropping the bombs from their planes, they could not do it without the United States. It is our munitions sold to the Saudis. It's our planes that are refueling the Saudi jets.

And it our intelligence that are helping the Saudis provide their targeting. We have made a decision to go to war in Yemen against a Houthi rebel army that poses no existential threat to the United States.

It is really wild to me that we're not talking more about this in the United States because of the very high level of U.S. involvement in the civil war and the consequence to U.S. national security.

What has happened in Yemen is that not only are civilians being killed by the thousands, but both ISIS and al Qaeda are taking advantage of this civil war and growing in scope and size and potential threat to the United States.

I think it is time that the United States rethink its support for this bombing campaign. And these civilian casualties are just yet another reminder of the toll that this civil war is taking inside Yemen.

TAPPER: But Senator, you say we have made the decision to get involved in this civil war. What do you mean we, kemosabe? I never did. I don't remember any voters weighing in on it. I don't remember any measure in the United States Congress about authorization for use of force.

MURPHY: Yes, I should be careful about the collective we, because you're right.

The United States Congress has not debated a war authorization giving the president the power to conduct this operation in Yemen. And given that we are not targeting al Qaeda, where there arguably still is a pending war authorization dating from September 11, this war, to many of us, looks like it's unauthorized.

Now, the Congress may have a chance to weigh in, in September, because the Saudis need more bombs. And so they need the Congress to reauthorize a new sale of weapons. So, Congress can step in and say enough is enough.

But this is, Jake, you're right, another example of a war being conducted by this administration without prior approval by Congress and therefore, by the American public.

TAPPER: So, in September, when Congress returns, what are you going to do to try to stop this?

MURPHY: I'm right now talking with Democrats and Republicans about what our ability is to stop this latest round of arms sales to go forward.

I would love for Congress to debate an authorization of war, not just in the context of Yemen, but also in the broader context of our war against ISIS, which hasn't been authorized either.

But we have a chance to perhaps put a pause or a halt on all these arms sales to the Saudis, at the very least in order to get some assurances from the Saudis that they're going to stop bombing civilian hospitals and schools and factories. At the very least, we need to press them to be more responsible in the conduct of this war.

TAPPER: It's just amazing to me, because we hear from the Obama administration criticism -- and rightly so -- that the Syrians and the Russians are targeting civilian locations in Syria right now, that Bashar al-Assad and the Russian army are targeting hospitals and civilian locations.

And yet we're -- we, again, the United States is doing the same thing, to a degree, allied with another very questionable ally, the Saudis, in Yemen.

MURPHY: And we don't know whether these are deliberate decisions made by the Saudis to use U.S. weapons to target medical clinics and schools, or whether it is just negligence or just really terrible targeting. But, regardless, they're not getting better. The civilian casualties

are mounting. Estimates are that there are thousands of civilians that have been killed. And if you talk to the Yemenis, they will tell you that inside Yemen, this is not perceived to be a Saudi bombing campaign. This perceived to be a U.S. bombing campaign.

What is happening is that we're helping to radicalize the Yemeni population against the United States in the conduct of this campaign. It may not be that they're deliberating target schools. But the result is that people on the ground think that the United States is involved in a campaign that is killing thousands of civilians. That is terrible for us right now.

TAPPER: And terrible for the Yemeni civilians.

Senator Murphy, thank you so much for your time.

MURPHY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, Obamacare may be in big trouble after a big insurance company makes a big move. Is the open market accomplishing what Republicans in Congress could not?

And breaking news on a long-held Pennsylvania tradition. It's not cheesesteaks. It's corruptions.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:43] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Some breaking news in our politics lead. Notes from the FBI's interview with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are now in the hands of Congress. The FBI released those notes to the House Oversight Committee this afternoon. The committee staff says it is currently reviewing the classified. This as more polls show Clinton widening her lead over Donald Trump, so much so that her main super PAC is pulling TV ads from key three swing states, Virginia, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Let's bring in CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johnson who is in Philadelphia.

Joe, Clinton is in this key battleground state, Pennsylvania, for two days in a row now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

And I've got to say when you look at the state of Pennsylvania, she is ahead in the polls by large numbers, but the campaign says as a state, they have to keep their eye on, up around Scranton where Mrs. Clinton was yesterday. Donald Trump has been surprisingly strong in the polls. And here, around West Philadelphia, there are concerns about voter registration. That's what the campaign was focusing on today. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): Hillary Clinton campaigning today at a Philadelphia voter registration event, hoping to turn out African- American voters in record numbers.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We want you all to register to vote. We have places to register because we don't want you on the sidelines come November.

JOHNS: Clinton courting the black vote, a day after vying for white working class voters, alongside Vice President Joe Biden in Scranton, Pennsylvania, trying to hold on to the battleground state that has gone to Democrats in every presidential election since Bill Clinton won it in 1992.

CLINTON: It is so great to be back in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

JOHNS: Clinton today reminded of the e-mail controversy casting a shadow over her campaign. The FBI releasing a new report to Congress detailing why it recommended no charges be filed against the former secretary of state over her use of a private email server. The report also includes notes taken by the FBI during witness interviews.

While classified, it keeps the controversy alive for Clinton while offering Donald Trump another talking point against her.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Hillary Clinton lacks the judgment --

JOHNS: The Clinton campaign saying they prefer that report be released publicly rather than by someone with political motives against Hillary Clinton.

But Clinton is polling very well in key battleground states like Virginia, a new "Washington Post" poll finds Clinton ahead of Trump by eight points there, 51 percent to 43 percent, among likely voter. In fact, Clinton is doing so well, her super PAC, Priorities USA, is pulling ads in Virginia, along with crucial states, Colorado and Pennsylvania, for| much of September.

AD ANNNOUNCER: Priorities USA Action is responsible for the content of this advertising.

JOHNS: The group telling CNN, Clinton's early success on those states means they can focus their attention and cash in states where it's more needed.

And the Clinton campaign is already putting together a transition team, announcing former Colorado senator and interior secretary, Ken Salazar, will lead it.

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta writing in a statement, "While our campaign remains focused on the task at hand of winning in November, Hillary Clinton wants to be able to get to work right away as president-elect." (END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And Mrs. Clinton was asked on the rope line today about the latest development in the e-mail controversy. She said she had not to say -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Chris Christie, of course, heading up the transition team for the Trump campaign.

Joe Johns, thanks so much.

Growing concerns among Republicans that Donald Trump may be casting a long shadow on those heated down ballot races.

Case in point, New Hampshire's incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte. She is feeling some of the heat there. She is more than one- half dozen Republican senators whose fate is critical to keeping the Republican Senate majority this fall.

Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju.

Manu, Senator Ayotte, obviously in a very difficult spot here, in a state where Donald Trump is not doing well in the general election, but it's a state that he won handily in the primary.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Jake.

[16:20:00] She actually needs those Trump supporters to come out to the polls, but also need those same voters who've been turned off by Donald Trump's rhetoric.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Donald Trump putting Senate GOP candidates in a bind. Nervous about his inflammatory rhetoric and declining poll numbers, Republicans still need his core supporters to help their narrow senate majority.

In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte is keeping her distance from Trump even though he won her state's primary by nearly 20 points.

(on camera): You're saying you support Donald Trump, but you do not endorse him?

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I've said that I'm going to be voting for him, but I do have significant disagreements with him, which I have been very clear on. So, I won't be endorsing him.

RAJU: What's the distinction between endorsing and voting?

AYOTTE: There's actually a big distinction. Everyone gets to vote. I do, too. And, you know, but an endorsement is one where I'm out campaigning with someone.

RAJU (voice-over): Other GOP incumbents are running away from Trump, like Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey. SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm going to see how this plays

out and see if Donald Trump can earn the support of Republicans like me.

RAJU: But other vulnerable senators are more willing to embrace Trump because they believe he can turn out the vote, like Rob Portman of Ohio and Richard Burr of North Carolina. And in Florida, Marco Rubio who once called Trump a con artist told the "Miami Herald" Monday that he stands by those remarks. But he still backs Trump.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I have my own identity, I have my own positions on issues, and I'm not going to be out undermining him or anything of that nature because I don't want Hillary to win.

RAJU: Back in New Hampshire, Ayotte is trying to campaign on her battles with Trump, where one poll has him down 15 points.

AYOTTE: Whoever is in that corner office, whether it's my own party or the opposite party, if they're doing something that I don't agree with, that I don't think is right for New Hampshire, I'll stand up to them.

RAJU: And GOP believes that Hillary Clinton's own liabilities will hurt Democratic candidates, like Ayotte's opponent, Governor Maggie Hassan.

(on camera): Do you think she is honest and trustworthy?

GOV. MAGGIE HASSAN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I support Hillary Clinton for the presidency because her experience and her record demonstrate she is qualified to hold the job.

RAJU: Do you think she is honest?

HASSAN: She has a critical, critical plan among others for making college more affordable.

RAJU: But do you think that she is trustworthy?

HASSAN: I think that she has demonstrated a commitment always to something beyond herself, bigger than herself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, Jake, afterwards, Maggie Hassan's campaign gave me a call and said she actually does believe Hillary Clinton is honest or trustworthy. It shows both presidential candidates can put some of those down ticket candidates in a bind -- Jake.

TAPPER: Some pretty -- those are pretty direct questions.

Manu Raj doing the lord's work there in New Hampshire -- thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses taking on water. The flooding that few saw coming is now affecting more than we first thought. We'll show you scene on the ground and from the air, next.

Plus, hospitals ad a school bombed and a war you may not even know about. Is the U.S. supplying the weapons that are committing these atrocities?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:42] TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's turn to the national lead now.

For several days, a true disaster has been unfolding in Louisiana, after devastating floods. At least nine people have been killed nearly 30,000 other Louisianans are living in shelters, many lost everything they own to the flooding.

Today, President Obama declared disaster areas of eight more parishes, making 12 total eligible for federal aid. One of the hardest hit Livingston Parish, more than 130,000 people there, and the sheriff there flooding destroyed or damage 75 percent of the homes and businesses. Some houses took on 12 feet of water, 12 feet.

CNN's Jennifer Gray made her way to Livingston Parish and she joins me now live.

Jennifer, many of these people don't live in flood-prone areas and they never saw anything like this coming.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Never say anything like this coming, and even the people who live in those flood-prone areas never thought it could get this high either.

Look here, in the trees. You see the dust on the streets or the dirt, and then you see the green leaves, that's the water line where I'm standing. Sunday morning, that's how high the water was and they say it rose quickly four feet within an hour and most people were sleeping.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRAY (voice-over): Watermark's 12 feet high mark a haunting reminder of Saturday night, when the worst flooding that this area had ever seen left destruction at every turn. When the water started rising in Denham Springs, it came up fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 8 1/2 feet off the ground. We took 10 1/2 feet of water, that's what they say. So, 16 inches in the house.

GRAY (on camera): On the second floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the second floor.

GRAY (voice-over): Danny Perecinan (ph) was out of town during the flood, his neighbor took these pictures, a foot and a half of water in his second floor, soaking everything.

Walking in today, this is what's left. The flood of '83 was considered the worst ever, that was nothing compared to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never thought we would see another '83. This is 6 1/2 feet over '83.

GRAY: Between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the water rose nearly four feet in about an hour. Terry Fielder (ph) knew he had to do something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't think I had even a minute to go back and shut my front door, I just immediately jumped in and took off. I started blowing the horn right there and I just leaned on the horn all the way.