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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford; North Korean Nuclear Threat; North Korea Approves Nuclear Attack on U.S.; Difficulty of Enforcing Gun Laws

Aired April 3, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It was a bad breakup, but some voters seem ready to take a chance on Mark Sanford again.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. South Carolina's former governor clears a major hurdle in his political comeback four years after he took a mysterious vacation to be with his then mistress, now fiancee. As of last night, he's the Republican nominee for his old congressional seat. But can he beat Stephen Colbert's sister, of all people?

The world lead. Breaking news, North Korea green-lights a nuclear strike as against the U.S. as the American military fortifies its defense shields in the Pacific.

And in other national news, fewer than three dozen agents tasked with chasing down nearly 20,000 dangerous people with guns, and that's just in California alone. How do you enforce the laws already on the books with those odds?

The national lead. From the Appalachian Trail to the comeback trail, Mark Sanford is now the Republican nominee for an open congressional seat in South Carolina, the same state he ran as governor where he developed a reputation for fiscal conservatism, though he finished his second term in 2011 under the cloud of an extramarital affair which came to light only after he had vanished for six days.

He may have found a measure of forgiveness from voters in his congressional primary victory last night with his Argentine former mistress, now fiancee by his side in a rare public appearance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SANFORD (R), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: I'm incredibly humbled, incredibly gratified, incredibly thankful for this night, for what it means at many different levels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But Sanford still has to survive the May 7 general election against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who has got some star power on her side. You may have heard of her brother and top fundraiser, comedian Stephen Colbert. Former Governor Mark Sanford joins me now fresh off his primary win.

Governor, congratulations on your victory.

I did want to ask you out of the breaking news out of North Korea. If you get elected to Congress, obviously, this would be something that would be relevant to your job. What are your thoughts on the bluster we're hearing from North Korea these days?

SANFORD: Just that it's I guess deeply unsettling, and it needs to be dealt with, with certainty.

I think it is interesting, if you go all the way back to the Yalta Conference of the 1940s, the Korean Peninsula was split. And a lot of historians believe that it was uncertainty as to whether or not America would step in as an ally in the event of North Korean attack. And as a result of that uncertainty, they in fact did.

I think when you look at it now, a North Korean dictator blustering as he is, I think we need to be absolutely crystal clear in terms of foreign policy and the necessity of military engagement if this guy starts firing off nukes.

TAPPER: All right, I want to turn to your race.

We heard there in the introduction that you're thankful for another chance. But the fact that you were forced into a runoff in your old congressional seat and that you're tied in polls with a Democrat in a reliably red district, does this suggest that voters in your old congressional district are still hesitant, they're still not quite sold on your redemption?

SANFORD: Well, I would respectfully say, Jake, we have known each other for a long time. If we were to put you in there with 15 other candidates, it's very difficult to split a pie 16 ways and end up without a runoff.

I don't think it's been done here along the coast of South Carolina certainly as far as I can remember. And so it was anticipated by every political observer that indeed there would be a runoff. Just a question of whether or not we would end up in it. We were thankful that we did. And we have had that runoff here over the last two weeks and ended up with the nomination last night.

As to Elizabeth Colbert Busch, I think it's important while on the Republican side, we have had quite the food fight as we have had 16 different contestants in this thing, over on the Democratic side, she's had a clear step to the nomination without the battle scarring, if you will, that we had on our side.

I think at this point she's relatively undefined. And she doesn't have a track record, a voting record with regard to votes. So I think that as the people of the 1st District become more clear on what she stands for or what she doesn't stand for, I think those early polls which are simply an indicator of name I.D. at this point are going to I think very much change, because at this point the thing that they know about her is that she's a famous comedian's sister, and at the end of the day, I think it's issues that make a difference in a race, and particularly issues as it relates to the pocketbook, the wallet, or what happens next with regard to Washington spending.

TAPPER: I'm going to spare you reading you press releases from Democrats, because I'm sure you have heard all the comments. The word trust is being used a lot. Can you trust Mark Sanford?

But there was something I caught on Twitter today that I thought was interesting because it came from a conservative female blogger, Jennifer Rubin from "The Washington Post." You tweeted: "There's going to be a real contrast going forward between our ideas on the role of government and that of my opponent."

She wrote: "And between a married, stable, responsible adult and Sanford."

That's a conservative Republican woman expressing serious misgivings. Is this not a concern you have when it comes to Republican women voters in your district?

SANFORD: Well, what I would say is there were a lot of Republican conservative women that voted last night.

And what they did was they decided to send me in as the Republican standard-bearer in this congressional seat in a general election, if we make to and ultimately carry ideas forward to -- can you hear me? I'm hearing some backup noise.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, we can hear you. That's just -- we're just playing some B-roll of your event last night showing a nice -- showing pretty pictures.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No, that's fine.

SANFORD: OK, I gotcha, I gotcha.

I think that -- where were we? I completely lost my train of thought now, Jake.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You were talking about conservative women voting for you.

SANFORD: Yes, anyway, they voted last night.

And what they said was ultimately I think that this guy if he wins in May should take ideas to Washington, D.C. And so I think that last night was a big referendum on the very point that you make. And I also would say that one thing I have consistently done through this campaign is to acknowledge the fact that I failed back in 2009.

But there has been a lot of time since then. There was a great sermon just last Sunday at the church that I attend where he said do the events of your life refine or define your life? I think the political opponents naturally enough will want to make any event define your life.

And what I think we find, whether it's you or me or any of us out there, we will have different events when we wish we could have done things differently, when we wish we could handled them better, but in fact they help us to ultimately refine our lives and make us that much better a person, maybe walk out into the arena of politics a bit more humble than we were before.

TAPPER: So how that has this event changed you as a public servant, changed you as a man? You have said it might make you more empathetic. How would you be a better public servant because of what you went through and because of the scandal?

SANFORD: I think that there are too many people in politics who think that they know it all. I think they project this whole image of perfection, the perfect family, the perfect person, the perfect this.

The reality is, none of us are perfect. I think the sooner we recognize that in ourselves is the sooner that we begin to have real conversations with other people, because if I'm projecting that I'm perfect while you're projecting that you're perfect, we're not having a real conversation.

But it's only when we sort of let our guards down and we say, you know what, I'm an imperfect human being, but I'm trying as best I can. And you're just the same, at that point really beginning to have a real conversation. And if you want to have real conversations in Washington, D.C., I think it means an added level of humility when you say, look, I know what I believe.

I know why I believe it. I think the numbers are on my side. But let me sit down with you and let me just a little bit better understand where you're coming from. I think if we had more of those kinds of conversations from Republicans or Democrats alike, we see would more things getting done in Washington that would make a difference in people's lives whether in the 1st Congressional District of South Carolina or elsewhere across this country.

TAPPER: Governor, how would you respond to somebody who says, look, I understand where you're coming from, but you still oppose same-sex marriage, and yet you are somebody who did not lead an exemplary life as a husband? Who are you to deny love between two men or two women, when you are somebody who talks about following his heart, regardless of the laws and traditions of the state of South Carolina? Why are you sitting in judgment of same-sex couples, when you have had the life you have had?

SANFORD: Well, I think it's important not to redefine my view, which to an extent what you just described is. What I have said is I indeed back in 1996 voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. I was a member of Congress, just as President Clinton signed the bill itself into law and just as President Obama up until about a year ago had allegedly believed and prescribed the same law.

What I have said is I think the current debate has little to do with same-sex marriage and a whole lot to do with democratic tradition in this country and a whole lot to do with the role of the courts.

I think that if you're a conservative, you believe in this notion of federalism, that one size does not fit all and that we shouldn't have prescriptive answers coming out of Washington, D.C., for any of the different things ultimately that we have got to resolve as a family of Americans.

And to have an unelected set of judges deciding what marriage is or is not for all 50 states to me does not make sense. We're beginning to have a democratic conversation on that front, where nine states plus the District of Columbia have said we define marriage to include same-sex marriage.

But the idea that the court should step in and basically truncate that larger debate that I think we need to have as Americans as to what it is or what it isn't is not to condemn it, not to say that your views are wrong. It's to say this is what I define it as.

And I think that again for another state or for Washington, D.C., to prescribe to South Carolina what they think same-sex marriage ought to be is contrary to the democratic tradition that we have had in this country wherein we sit down as Americans. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we don't. But that debate should not be cut short.

TAPPER: Lastly, Governor, there obviously was a surprise guest at your victory celebration last night. Your fiancee, she has stayed out of the spotlight. I don't know if that was her decision alone or if you discussed it, if there was some conversation about what the possible political ramifications would be of her appearing. I know you're in love with her.

Please walk us through the decision of her being there.

SANFORD: There was no decision. She completely surprised me.

I was having dinner with my boys. And a couple of the candidates who had endorsed us in this race, they said time to go in. We start walking in. I round the corner. And there she is give to give me a hug and surprise me. It was a nice event. It was not at all what I had expected, but it's was an awfully, awfully nice surprise.

TAPPER: All right, well, congratulations on your victory, Governor. We hope to have you on again soon.

SANFORD: Look forward to you. Be well.

TAPPER: Next in our world lead, breaking news, North Korea green-lights a nuclear attack on the U.S. We will have details on the threat and the U.S. response.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: "The World Lead" on our show, breaking news. It is the most serious threat of nuclear attack yet from North Korea and a major escalation of rhetoric. North Korea says it has given final approval to plans for a nuclear strike on the United States. This news comes shortly after the U.S. announced that it is sending a new missile defense to its territory in Guam. The U.S. Navy also has two destroyers in the Pacific region which can also intercept missiles.

I want to bring in CNN contributor and retired general, James "Spider" Marks.

General, I should note for our viewers that you served as the senior intelligence officer in Korea. Let me read this statement coming out of North Korea's army and get your reaction.

"The moment of explosion is approaching fast. No one can say a war will break out in Korea or not, and whether it will break out today or tomorrow. We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy towards North Korea and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed and by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear means of North Korea and that the merciless operation of its revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified."

How seriously would you be taking this if you were still stationed in Korea as a senior intelligence officer?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Jake, that's a very serious threat. Now, I must say and I'm smiling somewhat. That's version 943.

TAPPER: You've read it before, OK.

MARKS: We've heard this for decades.

What's different now is North Korea has put something in space. We don't know exactly what that is. They've had a third nuclear test. They did that back in February.

They have a new leader. The South has a new leader.

So, we have this escalation and the context is now a little bit different.

TAPPER: And these two leaders in North and South Korea are both trying to prove a point about standing up.

MARKS: They absolutely have. In fact, Kim Jung Un, the leader, the premier in North Korea, some of Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il is the son of Kim Il Sung.

Now, Kim Il Sung was the warrior. He was the guy who really understood the cost of going to war. And he did that. And his son and now his grandson, they have to -- he has to create his credibility. So, he is doing that with the military.

This is not unexpected. The difficulty is, is that we, the United States and all the other nations of the world, can read the capabilities of the North Koreans. We've never been good at reading their intentions. It's a combination of those two that equals the threat. That's we have to take it very, very seriously.

TAPPER: And U.S. officials say they're not seeing any unusual military movements along with this.

MARKS: And that's key.

TAPPER: So, does this mean it's all rhetoric and all bluster?

MARKS: It's completely rhetoric right now based on what we can see into North Korea, and we have incredible technical capabilities to read what the North is doing. What we don't do a good job is we've never penetrated their inner workings of governance, if you will. So, in better to understand their intentions, you've got to be inside. And we don't have that type of inside look.

So, we can look at their capabilities and we can say, there is no increased capability that we see. What we see are some video clips. We see some bluster. That must be taken seriously based on the contest that we just described.

TAPPER: All right. General Spider Marks, thank you so much for joining us.

Coming up in our "Money Lead", worry that an electric is not worth the hefty price tag? What if a billionaire agreed to buy it back from you in three years? That's what Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk tells me he'll do.

That's our "Money Lead". And it's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: It's time for our "Buried Lead." In the immortal words of Ratso Rizzo, I'm walkin' here. I'm walkin'.

A new study finds the majority of people hit by cars in New York City were in the crosswalk with the walk signal on their side. But wait, there's more. Good news for overweight pedestrians. The NYU study also found being on the heavy side protected you from injury on impact. Good news.

And speaking of New York, talk about a room with a view. These are pictures for the observation deck on the 100th floor of one World Trade Center. This view will not be open to the public until 2015. When it's completed, the tower will be the tallest building in the western hemisphere, standing proudly at the very patriotic, 1,776 feet. That's 1776.

Tough times for government workers after the sequester and that apparently includes the president voluntarily. A senior White House official tells CNN that the commander-in-chief is giving back a chunk of his pay in solidarity with their spending cuts.

We'll ask our panel to make the same sacrifice in our "Politics Lead".

Kevin, Moe, Ron, you can make the checks out to Jake Tapper. That's T-A-P-P-E-R.

That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

"The National Lead", you've heard it time and again in the debate over gun control, enforce the laws already on the books. Well, we'll show you just how hard that really is on the right along with the brave agents who do it.

"The Pop Culture Lead": It was the most important phone call since Alexander Graham Bell's. Forty years ago, the device that most of us would never dream of living without today made its debut.

And "The Sports Lead": No matter who is still in your bracket, there's one player everybody is rooting for. Louisville's Kevin Ware talks to CNN after suffering one of the most horrifying injuries in recent memory on the court.

We begin with national news.

Right now, President Obama is meeting with Denver police officers as he brings his push for tougher gun control laws to Colorado. The president will speak in the next hour, not far from the site of the Aurora massacre in July. And the time since then, Colorado legislators passed a number of stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and restrictions on magazine sizes. The president would love to see bills like that sitting on his own desk, along with a ban on some time of semiautomatic rifles.

But when the U.S. Senate begins its debate later this month, it's looking like expanded background checks might be the only legislation that hits his desk.

The one priority that everybody in the gun debate seems to agree upon is that the laws on the books should be enforced to keep guns out of the hands of those whom society has ruled should not have them -- felons or those with adjudicated emotional and mental problems, or those with domestic violence restraining orders. Simple, right?

Wrong. We recently spent the night with special law enforcement agents from the California attorney general's office. Many of them are undercover, so in the report you're about to see, we've blurred most of their faces.

The program works like this: California requires all handguns to be registered. So the law enforcement agents combine that list of registered gun owners with a separate list of those not allowed to have guns.

And they come up with a third list. These are people referred to as armed and prohibited. There are about 20,000 of them in California and the list is growing every year. And to confiscate their guns, California has about 30 agents.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): We're on the case with special agent John Marsh (ph), who spends most of his time tracking down guns from people everyone seems to agree should not have them.

JOHN MARSH, SPECIAL AGENT: I only focus on people identified as being prohibited from owning guns. And those are the only people we target. And those are the people that should be worried.

TAPPER: Felons, domestic abusers, those with mental problems, all of whom are armed.

For Marsh and his fellow agents, danger always lies just beyond closed doors. We start on the city of Fontana, east of Los Angeles. House after house, the person the agents are looking for is not home. And as day turns tonight, it doesn't get easier.

Inside this house were two young children, two guns and a man convicted of domestic violence. He admitted to having the guns inside the house, but he would not let the agents search. So they wait.

(on camera): So now you're waiting for a judge to grant you a warrant.

MARSH: Right.

TAPPER: That should take two or three hours.

MARSH: The agent will have to prepare a search warrant and bring it out to the on-call judge, because, obviously, the court systems are closed now.

(voice-over): It is a lot of work for sometimes little reward. On our night out with the California agents, eight of the just 33 who do this kind of work, they only made contact with a handful of the people they were looking for.

Inside this house, where our cameras had to wait outside, the agents found a large Confederate flag, boxes and boxes of who knows what, a bunch of guns, and a felon not allowed not to be near them. He fainted while they were in inside.

Though some question how legitimate the fainting was, they had to call an ambulance. (on camera): Most everyone agrees that the gun laws already on the books should be enforced, but it's very labor intensive and easier said than done. We've been here in San Bernardino, California, for more than an hour to go after one felon who allegedly had access to guns and ammunition illegally. And already it's taken not only more than an hour, but eight law enforcement agents and of course a fire truck and paramedics just to go after this one felon.

The end result. So what was the haul?

JOHN MARSH, SPECIAL AGENT SUPERVISOR: Four rifles. And one semiautomatic happened gun, and then corresponding ammunition for those weapons.

TAPPER (voice-over): In all, the Department of Justice in California has confiscated more than 10,000 weapons this way since 2006. But there is still a backlog of 20,000 people because there are just too few agents to go after the weapons.

(on-camera): Is it worth it? All of this to keep him away from guns?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so. I think if those guns are in the wrong hands, and we have an opportunity to get them out of those people's hands, it's definitely worth it.

TAPPER (voice-over): Every year, the department sets a goal of taking guns from 2,000 people on the armed and prohibited list. And every year, the agents say, 3,000 more people are added to the list.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Just after we filmed this story, the California legislature in a bipartisan vote approved an additional $24 million for the program, which will likely increase the number of agents they have to do this work. The additional revenue will come from fees paid by people buying guns.