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Media Too Focused on Castro Handshake and "Selfie-Gate"?; Former DEA Agent Now Works With Marijuana Supplier; A Budding Career In Cannabis; Most Influential Man Of 2013?; Fake Interpreter Signs "Gibberish"

Aired December 11, 2013 - 16:30   ET



The politics lead now. By now, we are all familiar with former president George W. Bush's new passion for pink. But on the flight to South Africa on Monday, the passengers aboard Air Force One got an up- close look at his work on his ipad. We don't know which period from Bush's work was on display, perhaps his pet series or maybe some from the bathroom period. You can try to read former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's amused expression for clues. I can't really tell.

But between the ongoing conversations about it, awkward handshake and a much discussed presidential selfie, senior White House officials are concerned that the media is focusing on the color instead of the substance of the trip. Do they have a point?

Let's bring in our panel to talk about it. Host of "the Washington Post in play," Jackie Kucinich, co-host of CNN's "Crossfire's" S.E. Cupp, and columnist for the "Washington Post" Matt Miller.

Here is to jump all the beat of the press -- S.E.?

S.E. CUPP, HOST, CROSSFIRE: I'm happy to join in. I mean, poor guy. And I don't say that often or lightly, but poor guy. First of all, he gives a decent speech and it aired at like 6:00 in the morning, when no one was watching it here. And then, all of the news about the handshake, and the selfie, he's trying to move past this news cycle. I think frankly Americans don't have an appetite for anything deeper right now than a selfie and a handshake discussion. They just don't. Americans don't. They're waiting for the holidays; wait until then to talk about anything.

MATT MILLER, OPINION WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: But the pictures were pretty irresistible. I mean, that selfie would be stern Michelle Obama off on the side. This is pretty some kind of Danish plot, I think.


TAPPER: -- photographer in the previous segment, he said that it was representative. Michelle Obama was in a fine mood. They have been chatting --


MILLER: But they switched seats afterwards. Now, on the full stop, if you see it on the web, one of photos later showed that she had moved -- somebody moved them in between.



TAPPER: But Jackie, let me play devil's advocate. I do think that the handshake is potential important. And there's been reporting today to back us up that it wasn't just out of nowhere, and this is representative of potentially a thaw between Cuba and the United States.

JACKIE KUCINICH, HOST, WASHINGTON POST IN PLAY: And there was some substantive conversation about U.S.-Cuban relations after that handshake happened. So, it wasn't total plot. Yes, maybe the focus was too much on the actual like palms to palms. But there was discussion of the substance and where the United States is in the debate right now.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the president's approval numbers because they are hurting. They continue to hurt. Quinnipiac yesterday had a 38 percent approval. Today NBC/"Wall Street Journal" have in the 43 percent low across the board. Is this a moment for him then if he could turn the things around? Is he is so beat up and he has nowhere else to go but up and press has started to route for him and who knows?

KUCINICH: You would think. You'd think that, but you know, it depends on how the Obama carry ball out continues. I think that is the issue. I think the economy -- the jobless rate is going down, the economy is getting better. And yet Obamacare is his biggest achievement and yet, the biggest albatross around his neck.

MILLER: But it won't be. I think if you flash forward a little bit to the state of the union. End of January, we get through the holidays. The Web site is much better. Signups are going to be proceeding in a much faster clip. I think by the time you get to the end of January, when he is addressing the nation and the entire country tunes in, they will be able to say look, we screwed up at the launch, we got now it could be a million people by then who are signed up. A lot more folks, I think it will turn the store around and it should.

KUCINICH: But it's hinged on that.


TAPPER: He has depended on that. How much do you think his success rises or falls with the Web site and the other statements?

CUPP: Yes. As Obama care goes, so goes the president is. I mean, you know, it is optimistic. And hopefully, I guess for Democrats in January, things are looking rosier. But I know Republicans, unless we put our foot in our mouths, which is a safe bet, Republicans are hoping to run on Obamacare for the entire year. And I think it will be interesting to see how many Democrats try to run on that. They will try to wriggle away from it a little bit while still defending the president.

TAPPER: And speaking of wriggling away, let me play some sound from House Speaker John Boehner after the budget deal was introduced last night. Boehner was asked about the fact there were conservative groups out there criticizing the deal. Here as what the speaker had to say.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You immune the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Are you worried that there are --?

BOEHNER: They're using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.


CUPP: I think that was a moment of reality.

TAPPER: That is some strong stuff.

Now, I know that the establishment Republicans are annoyed with these groups that are trying to pick off their incumbent members with these primaries, but what is this indicative of, that outburst, there I say, from the speaker?

CUPP: Yes. Well, I think the speaker knows that conservatives do well when they run against Obamacare. And if they're advocating for another shutdown or opposing this budget deal, and they don't get to run against Obamacare and that is where they should.

Let me just point out, though, that there's some split on the left as well. Democracy for America sent out an e-mail today that begs the Democrats not to pass this budget because it didn't go far enough to the left.

KUCINICH: But Democracy for America hasn't stirred thing up along the way, the way the conservative groups have for Republicans. And if the leadership -- I don't care where you are in leadership, someone had to speak out against these grips and someone had to take that stand, because they're going to keep going and keep picking off these members for things -- John Boehner takes you anything right with these groups. So I think there had to come a time where he had to push back forcefully and he chose this.

MILLER: This is all really small ball. Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to talk about defining (INAUDIBLE). We defined achievement down I the U.S. government. They are taking the government open with this little many deal is sadly the best we can do. And whether you're a Ryanesque (ph) type of things, deficit reduction is the big deal. He spending cuts that he was trying to tap earlier on the show here, they're like a fraction of one percent of 40 trillion federal spending over the next ten years, and no one is doing anything about the jobs gap. And you even had Martin Feldstein, you know, the former Reagan economic advisor saying we need $200 billion a year infrastructure in the "New York Times" the other day. So, there is a potential concession on left and right for more aggressive movement on jobs. Washington can't get that --.

TAPPER: S.E., final word?

CUPP: Merry Christmas to everyone.

TAPPER: All right.

S.E. Cupp, thank you so much. That was an unexpected --

CUPP: I'm in a good mood.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, how does a guy who helped put drug dealers behind bars go to being in the weed business himself? I'll ask former DEA agent turned to marijuana supplier next.

Plus, he stood next to President Obama and other world leader in Nelson Mandela's memorial. He's also apparently a fraud. How did this fake signed language interpreter get such a high-level gig, when he's been caught doing the same thing before?


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

Now, it is time for the buried lead. These are stories we think are not getting enough attention. He made his living fighting what used to be called the war on drugs, but Patrick Moen suddenly decided it was time for a radical change. So, how does a guy go from being a DEA supervisor in charge of the team of agents who bust traffickers for a living to the new hire at a private equity firm that is entire business is based on marijuana?

Patrick Moen now, A fight is your holding. He's kind enough to join me from Seattle to explain.

Patrick, thanks for being here.

So tell me about what you did at the DEA and what your new job is like as director of compliance and senior counsel, a pivot to your holding in Brooklyn.

PATRICK MOEN, FORMER SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT, DEA: Sure, I spent over 15 years in law enforcement, ten years with DEA. I worked primary on targeting large-scale drug trafficking organization, moving heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, et cetera. And now at privateer holders, I'm going to be running s compliance program and acting as in-house attorney.

TAPPER: And you are going to be making sure that privateer holdings adhere to state law, but not presumably federal law, because marijuana is still illegal federally, right?

MOEN: Right. So, we're operating in an obviously complicated legal area here -- excuse me. What our business is focused on right now is investing and managing businesses that support the cannabis industry. For instance, we have (INAUDIBLE) which is somewhat like yelp of cannabis review, and we just established an enterprise called arbor main that will run business parks in Washington state for cannabis production.

Obviously, it's an emerging industry. And as we transition from a black market to a legal market, we're kind of having to make it up as we go along. But we are doing it in a way that's ensuring professionalism, legitimacy and transparency.

PATRICK MOEN, FORMER SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT, DEA: -- of cannabis review, and we just established an enterprise called "Arbor Main" that is going to run and manage business parks in Washington State for cannabis production. Obviously it's an emerging industry, and as we transition from a black market to a legal market. We're kind of having to make it up as we go along, but doing it in a way that's ensuring professionalism, legitimacy and transparency.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: When you were a DEA agent and you were fighting drugs and the importation, the selling of narcotics, did you think that marijuana shouldn't have been included on the list?

MOEN: Well, there came a point in time in my career when I realized that targeting marijuana was not an effective use of our resources. The reality is myself and most of my colleagues had always subconsciously prioritized the drugs that we felt were causing the most harm to society. We're talking about cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and that marijuana was just not an effective use of our resources.

TAPPER: How do your old DEA buddies feel about your new career?

MOEN: I have to be honest, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

TAPPER: That's surprising because obviously DEA individuals take the war on drugs very seriously. Marijuana still illegal federally. I understand that you didn't think it should be a high priority, but you never told me that you thought it should be legal. How do you justify it and why do you think you're getting such a positive response from your former DEA colleagues? MOEN: Well, I have the utmost respect for all my colleagues. I had a very fulfilling career there. They're doing very difficult, dangerous and thankless work. The reality is they're focusing on the hard drugs, but DEA agents are just a subset of the American population as a whole, and 58 percent of Americans believe that cannabis should be legal, and I'm one of them.

TAPPER: In a recent poll as you point out, 58 percent of Americans are in support of legalization. In August, the White House announced the federal government will not interfere with state marijuana laws. Have you smoked marijuana since leaving DEA?

MOEN: I'm going to politely decline to answer that question, but I will say this -- adult responsible use of marijuana is a decision that every individual adult should make for themselves.

TAPPER: Patrick Moen, thank you so much for joining us and telling us your interesting story. We appreciate that.

MOEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Today authorities arrested Senator Lamar Alexander's chief of staff. He's accused of having and distributing child pornography. Post Office inspectors raided his D.C. home today. He's been the Tennessee Republican's top aide for nearly two years. He was Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn's communications director several years ago and was staff director of the Senate Republican Conference before getting the chief of staff job.

Senator Alexander released the statement after he learned authorities were searching Lascarn's home, saying, quote, "I am stunned, surprised and disappointed by what I have learned. Base on this information, I immediately placed Mr. Lascarn on administrative leave without pay. The office is fully cooperating with the investigation."

Countless giant dancing teddy bears were upset when "Time" magazine announced Miley Cyrus was not its "Person of the Year." We'll take a closer look at who did the win the honor when we come back.


TAPPER: Welcome back. In our World Lead, ever since Jorge Mario Bergulio became Pope Francis back in March, he's been on a mission to engage those who had perhaps given up on the church, washing and kissing the feet of inmates of a juvenile detention center, embracing a severely disfigured man in St. Peter's Square, and stirring up controversy about how much he's open to change.

He told reporters back in July that if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has been well, who am I to judge? Those sorts of efforts have propelled Pope Francis to be named "Time" magazine's "Person of the Year" announced today. The last time a pope was on this cover was when John Paul II took the title in 1994.

Michael Crowley, "Time's" deputy Washington Bureau chief tells us how the pope landed the cover. We should mention, of course, "Time" magazine is part of our Time Warner family. So Michael, thanks for being here. The Vatican has issued a response to your decision saying, quote, "It is pleasing to the pope that this service should appeal and give hope to women and men." So you pleased the pope. Why pick the pope?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Well, this pope is a sensation. People love this pope. He didn't just come into the job and fill the other guy's seat and keep it warm. He hasn't changed doctrine, but he's changed the tone in dramatic and surprising ways. He has shown a kind of accessibility and humility that has surprised people. I think his message, again, atonal thing has caused people to listen again to the church's doctrine. Particularly after a period when the church has had some bad moments, some bad PR, and people are tuning back in, hearing surprising things, and they love him.

TAPPER: So, look, I'm not going to begrudge the pope, but what is "Person of the Year" supposed to be? Isn't it supposed to be for the person who influenced the events of the world the most that year, isn't that what it is?

CROWLEY: It's a person who has broad influence, who as consequential, who is a newsmaker. There's not a scientific formula to explain it.

TAPPER: Here's my thing about the "Person of the Year." Look, I understand it, you guys have to sell magazines, but I think empirically looking at the year, Bashar Al-Assad or Edward Snowden changed events more tangibly than the pope has done in his short time as the head of the Vatican and you guys don't pick bad guys. You haven't done it since '79 when you picked the Ayatollah Khomeni.

When you picked Giuliani in 2001, instead of Bin Laden, I understood the decision, but Bin Laden changed the world more in 2001 than Giuliani. No one is going to buy a magazine with Bin Laden on the cover. Don't you think that this is about marketing? I mean, certainly you can sell magazines a lot easier with the pope's face on the cover than Bashar Al-Assad's?

CROWLEY: Look, Jake, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.

TAPPER: Marketing, my point.

CROWLEY: So when you talk about influence, you talk about the number of lives that someone has touched, this guy has enormous reach, enormously influential and consequential. Everyone you mentioned and all of our runner-ups, there's a winner and four runner-ups who were profiled in the magazine, who were also enormously consequential. It's not an easy decision.

It wouldn't be fun if it was an easy decision. Part of the fun for us is the debate going into making decision and the debate that we're having now that is happening on Twitter and online where people were saying, no, it should have been Snowden, it should have been Assad. So this is the decision that we came down with, but you can make strong cases for the others. It's not a vote against anyone else.

TAPPER: You have the short list of ten people, and Miley Cyrus was on the short list? Can you justify that?

CROWLEY: I mean, can you name ten people you talked about more than Miley Cyrus or we sort of culturally in America talk about more? She definitely would be high on any list. You may not agree with the reasons, but she's someone who is debated everywhere from kind of teenage magazines and TV shows, to the pages of the "New York Times." What does she mean? What does she represent in our culture?

TAPPER: How do you come up with the topic? How do come up with the top ten list? Is that just kind of random?

CROWLEY: Well, not random, but there's no science behind this for the top ten list, for the top five or for the final choice. There's no algorithm. There is no perfect answer. We solicit huge amounts of feedback, both from within "Time," all of our correspondents, both domestically and abroad, former "People of the Year," our "Time" 100 list. We have an online poll, but ultimately it's the judgment of the senior editors and the final call of Nancy Gibbs, the manager.

TAPPER: "Person of the Year" version has been around since the 1927 issue with Charles Lindberg. Let's put the winners of the last five years just to get some perspective before we say goodbye to you, 2012, President Obama, 2011, the protester, 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, 2009 Ben Bernanke, 2008 Barack Obama. I just wonder like, if you think as we get closer to the 2027 issue, the 100 years, if constantly picking people that everybody likes and everybody will buy a magazine will --

CROWLEY: I challenge that everybody likes all those people. President Obama, Ben Bernanke, they have big critics --

TAPPER: That's fair enough, but more mainstream choices. I've got to go. Thank you very much, Michael. I appreciate you coming in, and I hope the magazine sells a lot.

In other world news, yesterday's moving tribute to Nelson Mandela featured international luminaries, presidents and this guy, the still to be identified man seen here standing next to President Obama. He was supposed to be interpreting for the deaf people in attendance or watching around the globe.

One problem, none of what he's doing here apparently means anything. Sign language experts say these signals don't translate in any of the South Africa's 11 official languages, English or any of the world's known 6,909 distinct languages, though it is oddly reminiscent of something we recall.

Maybe he was trying to tell us to steal third. The country's deaf federation says this is not the first time the man has duped the South African government. The group told the Associated Press, the fake interpreter committed a similar linguistic bamboozling last year at an event attended by South African President Jacob Zuma.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll be back in two hours substitute anchoring on Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" at 7 p.m. Eastern. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.