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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

The Full Lewinsky; Missing Nigerian Girls; Interview with DoD Spokesman RAdm. John Kirby; Hillary Clinton Accused of "Gross Hypocrisy"; Interview with Rep. Patrick Meehan

Aired May 8, 2014 - 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 seems like a no-brainer now to designate Nigeria's Boko Haram a terrorist group, so why did the State Department wait so long to do it?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

That world lead. As the Pentagon sends help to try and find nearly 300 kidnapped girls, critics are asking, did the U.S. underestimate Boko Haram? Our guest argues, yes, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's State Department wasted valuable time.

The politics leads. Speaking of things coming back to haunt Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky's full buzzed-about essay for "Vanity Fair" is now out for all to see. Why is she writing this now? And will it mean anything at all for a potential Hillary presidential run?

And the money lead. NFL draft day, but what happens to the players who are not taken in the first round or, for that matter, the last? At least they have their world-class educations to fall back on, right?

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

The closing bell ringing -- seconds ago on Wall Street, the Dow today rising to record high levels during trading, though it didn't stay there.

Now on to our world lead. You could fit the size of the U.S. response to the Nigeria kidnappings on a city bus and still have plenty of seats left. About 11 military personnel from the U.S./Africa Command are on the ground right now. Seven more are expected tomorrow, no special forces, no shadowy figures with a very particular set of skills, if you know what I mean, at least not publicly or officially.

The U.S. appears to be mostly in advisory mode here to help the 276 girls kidnapped by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. President Obama at an event last night seemed to lament that he can't snap his fingers and get these girls home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids, and having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment, I think drop by drop by drop that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive, that we can tell a different story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The first lady also joining the international outcry to rescue these girls. She posted this photo of herself on Twitter last night with the message, "Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It's time to #bringbackourgirls."

Nigeria asked for U.S. help only in recent days, even though Boko Haram took many of these girls more than three weeks ago.

Let's bring our own Isha Sesay, standing by live in Nigeria's capital.

Isha, good to see you, as always.

Just as help from the U.S. is arriving, it seems like finding all of these girls just got a lot harder.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jake.

There is no doubt about it, a senior U.S. official telling -- telling CNN that U.S. intelligence believes that the girls could have been broken up into smaller groups. According to some reports we're hearing, it's groups of maybe seven or eight. And I want to put this information in context for our viewers.

You have to understand that the borders with neighboring countries in that region, in the northeast, which is where this attack took place, the borders through Chad, Cameroon, Niger are extremely porous. So, it's very easy to slip across back and forth those borders and to move these girls out of Nigeria and into one of these places.

Jake, I was just speaking to someone that has actually mediated on behalf of the Nigerian government about this issue and moving the girls. Could they be here? Could they be here elsewhere? He made a very interesting point to me that I think is worth putting out there for our viewers.

Abubakar Shekau, according to this man, belongs to an ethnic group which has many other members in these various countries in Cameroon, Chad, Niger. So, his point was they could indeed have moved these girls to those places because they are supporters of Shekau, people who belong to his same ethnic group in these places. And those girls could be placed with them.

So, it's a very worrying situation, but, as you say, the Nigerian government now getting critical advice from the U.S. in the hopes of bringing these girls back -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Isha, you just spoke with somebody who met with some members of Boko Haram. What were his impressions?

SESAY: You know, it was incredible to me to speak to this man, Sher Hussani (ph), a civil rights activist here in Nigeria who has met with Boko Haram on two separate occasions. One of the things that find most incredible, that members of Boko Haram that he met are educated. He said they have first and second degrees in the sciences. These are people that went to school and speak articulately. Abubakar Shekau himself, he goes on to say, is a man who, too, is educated, who went to school.

So, it's incredible, incredible to me that this same group is waging a war against Western education, a group that obviously has benefited from it a great deal, Jake.

TAPPER: Isha Sesay, thank you so much. Fascinating.

So if U.S. officials believe these missing Nigerian girls have been split up, do they also have an idea of where they are being held?

Rear Admiral John Kirby is the Pentagon press secretary. He joins me now.

Admiral, good to see you, as always.

So about this intelligence that shows the girls may have been split up, is there anything more you can tell us about that and how U.S. officials may have come to that conclusion?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NAVY: Well, look, it's a multipronged effort here to try to figure out where they are. And that's obviously the question everybody wants to be able to answer.

We do think -- and I'm loath to get into some of the details on how we think this, but we do think that they have been broken up into smaller groups. But I will say, we also don't know where they are. It's very difficult to know exactly where they are at any given moment. And that's, frankly, one of the reasons why we're sending some additional planners and advisers down to Abuja right now. These are folks that can maybe help the Nigerians with some of their collection efforts.

TAPPER: I think one of the things that might help with intelligence collection, as I recall in the days of 9/11, a bunch of U.S. advisers, shall we say, parachuting into Afghanistan, figuratively, with bags of money to try to find out information.

Would it be presumptuous of me to assume that some of that is going on as well?

KIRBY: Yes, Jake, I think that would be presumptuous for you assume.

Right now, this is a very small team of advisers. They're going to be working out of the embassy with the 10 or 11 or so other U.S. military personnel that were already down there at the embassy. One thing I think is important for people to know is we have been working with the Nigerian military now for a couple of years to help them get at this very significant threat from Boko Haram and terrorist groups like Boko Haram.

So, our coordination and collaboration with the Nigerian military is something that we have been doing for a while. We expect this will continue. Obviously, this is a very specific, a very tragic incident we're all trying to get our hands around. But this is a military that we're starting to try to build a better relationship with.

TAPPER: What exactly is the U.S. offering here? Do we have drones? What specific kind of advice do we have? Do we have intelligence? What can we give the Nigerian government?

KIRBY: At this point, what we're trying to do is assess those exact requirements.

So, the team that is going down there, this extra seven, the group of folks, they are subject matter experts in intelligence, logistics, communications, even hostage operations. They are going to go down there and they're just going to look at the -- look at -- sort of do what we call a gap analysis, see what is the need, what is the requirement, and then we will move on from there.

So, right now, we're really in the assess mode and basic advice mode.

TAPPER: Is there no chance that there will be any sort of U.S. military operation? Has that been completely taken off the table?

KIRBY: Right now, there are no plans for a U.S. military operation right now.

You have to remember that Nigeria has armed forces, armed forces that we have helped train in counterterrorism now for the last couple of years. And so I think what we'd like to do is urge them to use all their resources to help go and try and find these girls. And our advice is going to -- our involvement right now is going to be restrained to advice and guidance.

TAPPER: Of course no plans doesn't mean it's off the table, but I take your point.

Politicians here in the U.S. have been expressing frustration over how long it's taken Nigerian officials to accept the U.S. offers for help, which came fairly immediately. Could this reluctance have cost them the best chance of finding these girls?

KIRBY: Look, in any hostage situation, Jake, time is of the essence.

And there was time that, unfortunately, we lost. We had been making offers of assistance for some time before yesterday's acceptance. But, look, I mean, that's -- the past is past. We have to deal with what we have got right now. Right now, we have got these guys going down there. We're going to do all we can to try to help them.

The president has made that clear that he wants us to do that. And the troops thing I would say is, it's not just about the military. We're going down there as part of an interdisciplinary team across state, FBI, other law enforcement. And we're not the only ones trying to help here. This is -- the whole U.S. government is really trying to come to grips with this.

TAPPER: Admiral, obviously, you can't speak for the president. But we just played some sound of him from last night talking about the search for these girls.

He sounded almost wistful about the fact that while he has so much power -- this is the strongest military in the world, he's the commander in chief -- it's just not that simple to go in and save these girls. Other than our lack of information, what are some of the other complications?

KIRBY: Information is the big one, Jake.

But it's also -- look, I mean, it's -- this is tough terrain. It's difficult topography to work in. It's easy to conceal people, particularly if you're breaking them up into small groups. And it's just -- it's a hard environment all around, not to mention these terrorists, Boko Haram, they know the ground and they know the territory.

And, frankly, they have nothing but ill design here. So, we are racing against the clock, we are racing against geography.

TAPPER: Rear Admiral John Kirby, thank you so much for coming in. Thanks for your time.

Coming up on THE LEAD: Boko Haram has a history of violence, riots, targeted killings, dating back at least five years, but the U.S. decided to declare them a terrorist organization only in November, after Hillary Clinton left the State Department. Why the wait?

And here's something I bet Vladimir Putin isn't used to, people defying him. We will tell you why some pro-Russia groups are ignoring the Russian president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

More on our world lead now, the hunt for 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria and how the government there has limped into action to find them.

The terror group that took those students from their school, Boko Haram, is known as Nigeria's Taliban. They have declared war on Western education and have slashed and burned and blasted their way through villages and schools, before demanding that citizens convert to their particular perverse form of Islam, or die.

Still, the State Department under Hillary Clinton reportedly did not seem convinced that they belonged on the terror list.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah.

TAPPER (voice-over): The Islamist extremists of Boko Haram have seized 276 schoolgirls and killed more than 300 others just in the last few weeks. They've done it all in the name of establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria. Boko Haram sure sounds like a terrorist group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have killed countless soldiers and we're going to kill more.

TAPPER: Long before the kidnappings, Boko Haram was a vicious organization. The name means Western education was sinful and has carried out attacks in Nigeria for more than a decade, responsible for thousands of deaths since 2009, including a brutal attack at a boarding school last year that killed 20 students.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The seizure of these young women by this radical extremist group Boko Haram is abominable, it's criminal, it's an act of terrorism, and it really merits the fullest response possible first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.

TAPPER: But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's own State Department refused to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group, even after the group bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, and despite the urgings of the Justice Department, Pentagon, CIA, FBI, Capitol Hill, and even the White House's own counterterrorism officials.

Why? State Department officials say it's complicated.

JOHNNIE CARSON: There was a major discussion on whether this should be done and why. I won't reprise it all here. But there was a concern that -- of putting Boko Haram on the conformed terrorist list would in fact raise its profile, give it greater publicity, give it greater credibility, help in its recruitment and also probably drive more assistance in its direction.

TAPPER: In June 2012, the State Department did add several of the group's members to the terrorist blacklist, including its leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nigeria is no longer a big deal to us. As far as we are concerned, we will now comfortably confront the United States of America.

TAPPER: But they still held off on designating the group as terrorists. That year, a letter from Republican Congressmen Patrick Meehan and Peter King urged Clinton to put Boko Haram on the terrorist list, warning of the group's, quote, "rapid aggression from a machete- wielding mob to a full-blown al Qaeda affiliate."

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: We lost valuable time in the number of years. And for the life of me, I cannot understand why the secretary of state would not want to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization.

TAPPER: Finally, last November, Secretary of State John Kerry put Boko Haram on the terrorist list, and while the finger-pointing is playing out in Washington, back in Nigeria, the desperate search to find these stolen girls continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Let's talk now to two people who have added a lot of context to this story, Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, he, along with Congressman King, pushed for Boko Haram to be designated a terrorist organization years ago.

Congressmen, thanks for joining us. I'm going to get to you in a minute.

But, first, I want to ask Josh Rogin about some of his reporting, he's a senior correspondent for national security and politics for "The Daily Beast," and he wrote a great piece detailing the back and forth in the Clinton State Department on this issue.

Josh, why did it take until November of last year to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization?

JOSH ROGIN, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, very simple, the Clinton State Department resisted calls from the Justice Department, the CIA, the FBI, some of its own officials, some of the White House officials, at the behest mostly of the Nigerian government. The Nigerian government was staunchly against this. They believed it would give Boko Haram added stature.

And, secondly, the State Department did not believe at the time that Boko Haram represented a threat to U.S. critical interests abroad. They believed it was a localized, regional organization, that aspirations were contained to Nigeria. This was despite the fact that they had the U.N. headquarters.

Looking back, we see that now that Boko Haram only got more violent, larger, and more aggressive in the two years that we didn't designate them. So, regardless of our discretion and the State Department's caution, all of the negative outcomes that were warned about seemed to have taken place anyway and that's why we have lawmakers looking back and wondering why the decision was made the way it was.

TAPPER: Josh, this scathing quote in your article from a former senior U.S. official unnamed, quote, "The one thing she could have done," about Hillary Clinton, "the one tool she had at her disposal she didn't use and nobody can say she wasn't urged to do it. It's gross hypocrisy," unquote.

So, this is just one example of the file against Clinton for her State Department's decision on this.

How widespread do you think that sentiment is?

ROGIN: Yes, we've been getting huge reaction to our piece from the right, with tons of criticism of (AUDIO GAP) Clinton's decision, and a correspondent reaction from the left defending her decision. What's clear is that this will be a huge issue in the narrative of her tenure at the State Department if she decides to run for president in 2016, because it speaks both to her record on international terrorism and her claim that she's at the forefront of predicting women and girls in conflict. Unfortunately, the Clinton office did not respond to my multiple requests for comments but those demands for her to talk about why she made this decision will continue and one has to wonder how long she'll able to remain silent.

TAPPER: Josh Rogin from "The Daily Beast" -- thank you so much.

Congressman Meehan, let me turn to you.

You and Congressman King wrote to the State Department, advocating for Boko Haram to be designated a terrorist organization. Your subcommittee put out a report in November 2011 called Boko Haram emerging threat to the U.S. homeland.

So, let me just ask you -- if they had listened to you, if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had listened to you and Boko Haram had been designated had been a foreign terrorist organization back in 2011, what would be different today?

REP. PATRICK MEEHAN (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I suspect we would have had more intelligence that would have been able to be garnered because of the authority that would have been granted as an FTO, a foreign terror organization, some of the opportunities that the agencies, like the CIA and FBI, to be able to monitor terrorist organizations under the law would have given them a better chance to perhaps know who's who within the organization and more about their activities.

TAPPER: Let's put ourselves in -- let me put myself in the shoes of Hillary Clinton for one second.

Yesterday, I spoke to former CIA director, former National Security Agency director, Michael Hayden. He gave a warning about the U.S. a takes a stance against Boko Haram. Though he agreed with it is.

This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, those al Qaeda guys are already committed against the far enemy, you and me. Boko Haram is not. Boko Haram is local. And now, we are making a choice. I think it's right, but it carries consequences.

We are putting an American face on opposition to Boko Haram, an organization that doesn't target Americans yet, and we may accelerate that process because of what we've done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That seems in some ways a compelling argument, Congressman.

MEEHAN: Oh, I respect Michael Hayden. He certainly knows a great deal about it. We were looking at it, however, from the perspective of trying to identify where in fact al Qaeda had been metastasizing, worried about Yemen, and then the committee started to follow the work that was happening in -- with Boko Haram in Nigeria. Of course, it wasn't just the blowing up of the -- of the U.N. facility. The attack on the schoolgirls -- I mean, of the churches, the Christmas Day attack of the Sunday mass around the holiday, in my mind, was an eye opener. We also saw a greater sophistication in the way this group is acting.

And you remember, it was a failure of imagination a couple of times we looked at some of the other groups and believed that they would not have any interest in attacking the United States and ultimately we had a Nigerian, you know, try to carry a bomb on a plane. So, we have -- we were appropriately, I think, trying to sound the signal that this was a group that we needed to watch and we needed to use the full resources of our country to be able to do so.

TAPPER: Congressman, you will grant that it is a complicated decision and now there is increased risk that Westerners and the U.S. will be targets because of this decision. Yes?

MEEHAN: Well, I think it now, in the aftermath of the abduction of these girls, this is a group that has come to international attention and so the idea of them perhaps metastasizing beyond just locally in Nigeria, I think they are already out there.

So, the potential is there but we need to have more closer work with the Nigerian people themselves, the government, and I maintain that hadn't we put them as the foreign terrorist organization, the Nigeria government of Jonathan and others may have been more proactive in pursing the acts of Boko Haram.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Patrick Meehan from the great city of Philadelphia, and Josh Rogin, thank you so much.

Coming up in the politics lead -- former presidential mistress, future "Jeopardy" answer, Monica Lewinsky, breaks her silence after years out of the public eye. Now, the full essay she wrote for "Vanity Fair" is out, is online. Should team Hillary be thanking her or cursing her?

And in the sports lead, Donald Sterling wired for sound again, allegedly. And he says he has proof that black people like him. Stick around for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In world news, more Western officials will have to give up their dreams of summering in Siberia. Russia added more Americans and Canadians to a list of people barred from entering their country, but it's not publicly revealing the names. And despite Russian President Vladimir Putin imploring pro-Russian separatists to postpone their secession vote in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, the rebels there say they will defy him and go ahead with it anyway as the Ukraine military tries to force them out of cities that they have already seized.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is standing by live near Slaviansk, which has seen some intense fighting. Nick, what is happening around you?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's calm but there's a sense of fear about what the days ahead bring. A lot of surprise about Putin's comments yesterday, a lot of people seemingly winded. In fact, wind taken out of their sails.

Today, that decision to continue regardless of the referendum Sunday I think was designed to show they are still in control of their fate, but we have two processes happening. This clock ticking towards this vote, I don't think anybody really expects it to be a legitimate process. This has been a one-sided discussion. You rarely hear the other side of the story on the streets at all in Slaviansk. I've seen the ballot papers in the office of self-declared mayor here. I think everyone expects an endorsement of the decision, realistic that actually how people actually vote. The fear is what happens after that.