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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Obama, Putin Chat In France; Stephen Colbert's Hero Uncle; Keeping Drowsy Truckers Off Road?

Aired June 6, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The world lead. It was a war that brought together two unlikely allies, the United States and the Soviet Union to squeeze from both ends and eventually crush Nazi Germany. Today, President Obama and Vladimir Putin joined many world leaders in France to commemorate D- Day, the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler, and to honor the men who lost their lives and built a brotherhood on those beaches. But judging by the seating arrangements that potentially left the queen in the middle of a very awkward game of telephone, Presidents Putin and Obama are literally and symbolically far apart on the crisis in Ukraine.

But there was some surprised face time it turns out captured on this Vine, it happened on the sidelines of the event and we're learning much more about it. CNN White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is live at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. What did Obama and Putin talk about?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, from the Kremlin's perspective, they are not saying much about it all. They are just mentioning it in contrast to all the detail they are giving about Putin's meetings with other world leaders. From the White House's perspective, they say that President Obama conveyed exactly what he said he would tell President Putin when asked about this yesterday and consistent with a message that he's been sending Russia for months now.

That basically Russia needs to do something. They need to recognize the new government in Ukraine and legitimately work with them. They need to stop supporting those militant groups within Ukraine's borders and stop arming those armed groups. And President Obama added, according to the White House, that if Russia did take these steps, then the opportunity would be there to, you know, to de- escalate the crisis.

I think many would say, though, that Putin has exhausted these opportunities and this is the same thing that the west has been saying for months. But world leaders are still leaving that door open saying that Russia can do this. If this is an opportunity for them to finally act -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Michelle, the powerful ceremony to mark D-Day, plus 70 years. I was there five years ago. This is probably even more moving because it's the last landmark anniversary when we'll see so many of these veterans who are now in their 80s and 90s. Describe, if you will, the emotion of the day.

KOSINSKI: I think it was hard for anyone here not to get choked up. First of all, listening to the words. They were well-chosen and talking about these human concepts. You know, standing up for human dignity and human freedom that these people fought for when they were little boys. Some of them were 16, 17 years old.

I think personally, that was the most striking thing. To see them gallantly make their way up to the stage. Many were in wheelchairs or using canes to slowly walk up to the front and you see them sitting there very calmly and stoically themselves not showing a lot of emotion while this was going on.

Some of them even kind of smiling lightly. You look at their faces and you think, they really were here, something that so few of us today could even begin to imagine. And you look at their weathered faces and you try to think of them at that age, 16 years old fighting the Nazis. But basically fighting their way on to the beach. It was powerful -- Jake.

TAPPER: Michelle Kosinski, live in France, thank you so much.

When we come back, he makes a living making you laugh, but when he's outside of work, he can be a sentimental family man. Stephen Colbert coming up next. We'll share with you the story of his Uncle Eddie, one of those men who fought on D-Day and he talks more about the man he never met.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our World Lead, now D-Day, 70 years on, it could be one of the last chances to personally thank the veterans who stormed those bloody beaches and did not stop marching until Western Europe was free. One of those heroes was a young lieutenant who had quite a story to tell about he fell from a plane nearly into Nazi arms. And who better to bring that story to us with a personal touch than this young man's nephew, Stephen Colbert.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Dropping from the sky, emerging from the sea and facing unimaginable odds, Americans and allied troops stormed Normandy, June 6th, 1944. Among the paratroopers behind enemy lines that night, First Lieutenant Andrew Edward Tuck III, or Uncle Eddie. Tuck's nephew is Stephen Colbert, the comedian who actively thanks troops every chance he gets.

Lieutenant Tuck belonged to the 101st Airborne, made famous by the book and HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers."

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: People are familiar with "Easy Company" from Band of Brothers, but this was Fox, which went everywhere "Easy" went. TAPPER: Colbert's siblings have dozens of Tuck's letters

including one sent just days before he dropped behind enemy lines.

COLBERT: May 10th, 1944, Mom dearest, do you want to go on a dream with me? I'm tugging myself back to reality. It's quite a job. Here I am on a hillside, each valley smiles back up to me, its face wrinkled with roads and gardens and clustered houses. This is England in the spring of '44 and warriors gazed eastward as warriors have before.

TAPPER (on camera): He didn't know if that was going to be the last letter he ever wrote.

COLBERT: Right. Right. And he's looking eastward over the channel at the hedge rose of France that he knows he has to drop into.

TAPPER (voice-over): Eight hours before D-Day, Tuck parachuted in.

COLBERT: He landed in a little schoolyard off of the main square at St. Mary Glace. He was one of the first on the ground and these Germans patrolling and they grabbed him right away. But as soon as they grabbed him, two other men came down on either side of him in trees and they were shot and were killed. In the confusion, he dashed off and got away and joined up with his company later.

TAPPER: Colbert saves his uncle's correspondence in a personal album, an extraordinary record of bravery and courage.

COLBERT: That sweet boy that right there in the middle, there are letters in here that say, Dad, thanks for the stiletto you sent me because what they were doing at night was going into enemy camps and killing German officers in their sleep and then coming back without getting caught. Those letters were to his dad about, sorry, can you send me another? I left it in a German.

TAPPER (on camera): That's incredible.

COLBERT: Yes. And those letters would go to my grandfather and my grandmother would get, thank you so much for the socks.

TAPPER (voice-over): Eighteen days after D-Day he wrote this --

COLBERT: It's been rough as hell, but now things have quieted down. As far as our unit is concerned, right now I'm in a foxhole about 300 yards from enemy observation posts. Nights are marked with a good deal of shelling. All of that and then the squirt.

TAPPER: Humor and whimsy seems to run in the family. The swap soldier described his trip to Paris this way.

COLBERT: Just before dinner I went to a snazzy little cafe and imbibed quite freely in cognac, result, mild paralysis. In the process, I met a very beautiful model who spoke about three words of English, but was a real lexicon with the hands and eye. TAPPER: A similar trip was in "Band of Brothers" based on Major

Richard Winters photographed in Austria with his battalion including Lieutenant Edward Tuck.

COLBERT: They were just kids, though everybody in photos from World War II looks like they are 40.

TAPPER (on camera): It's true.

(voice-over): Lieutenant Tuck survived Normandy. He survived Bastogne. He was there for the defeat of the Nazis and wanted to fight in the Pacific. But before he could, Tuck was killed at the age of 23 in a jeep accident in Austria. So the performer and the paratrooper never met, but Colbert's mom kept a memory of Uncle Eddie alive and well by sharing his letters and his stories.

COLBERT: And she gave it to all of us with such love of her brother and it's like we knew him. I know I didn't, but these letters and my mother's love is a big reason like I feel like I know the man and I feel like we lost.

TAPPER: Both the joys and the terrors of service are preserved in this trove. Memories Colbert wants to pass on to his own children.

COLBERT: We were going with my kids to Normandy to see where Ed had gone and go to France, which is a nice thing to do.

TAPPER: A guy did done some research for them to retraced Uncle Eddie's steps.

COLBERT: We were walking down an alley and a baker says, Tuck? And I said (inaudible) and he points down the alleyway. And we went down there and I managed to stand in the spot, as indicated in the records, where he landed and said I've got to call my mom and say, you never knew where Eddie landed, but I'm standing there right now.

TAPPER: Then they went to the beaches with their guide.

COLBERT: And he said to my two boys, boys, how fast do you think you can make those hills? Run up that cliff. And then of course they took off against each other to race to see who could get to the hills first and I said that's cruel to make us watch that. Because my uncle I think was only four years older than my son when he enlisted and it made it very real.

These were -- these were the backfire. Unbelievably harrowing and terrifying and heart wrenching. You know, it's alive. It's not history. It's alive. I wish more of World War II vets were alive to tell us their stories.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Stephen Colbert's mother died last year. He delivered a touching tribute to her on his show. The woman responsible for keeping Uncle Eddie's memory alive. Rest in peace to both of them. Next, meetings in city bars, secret messages from untraceable

phones and documents mailed with no return addresses. How whistleblowers exposed the VA hospitals that they work for and why they were so scared to come forward.

And later, a Capitol Hill debate that could affect every driver. Why the Senate just voted to relax the rules that required truckers to rest. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In the Buried Lead, how did the Department of Veterans Affairs managed to keep a lid on the scandal involving outrageous wait times at its hospitals until, of course, CNN blew that lid off in April? Well, a campaign by management of intimidation and fear, according to VA employees across the country who have spoken to CNN, such as Germaine Clarno who works at the Heinz VA Hospital in Chicago and went public with accusations of secret waiting list there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERMAINE CLARNO, VA WHISTLEBLOWER: These are men and women who made sacrifices for our freedom and to think that we can't work in a place where we feel that some of our freedoms are taken away, our freedom of speech, our freedom of expression, the fear and the retaliation is horrific.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Clarno claims that other whistleblowers want to come forward, but they are afraid to. But now the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating claims that the VA retaliated against 37 whistleblowers. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson who took over after Eric Shinseki resigned over the scandal last week said he will not stand for whistleblowers being intimidated in his department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SLOAN GIBSON, ACTING VETERAN AFFAIRS SECRETARY: That is absolutely unacceptable. I will not tolerate it in the organization and no matter where they happen to be in the leadership chain of command, I will hold them accountable for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Gibson has also admitted that 18 veterans did die while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA. That's getting closer to the CNN reporting that preceded all of this. Our sources saying at least 40 veterans died in Phoenix while waiting for appointments.

Wolf Blitzer is here with a preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf, our tragic, horrific shootout today outside a courthouse in Georgia. Your team is following all the latest?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": We are going to take a look at what's going on and it's still unresolved because police suspect the gunman in this particular case may have booby- trapped with explosives the homes so they are carefully outside that home right now. We are watching what's going on.

He stormed the courthouse in North Georgia. He went in with explosives, an assault rifle. He had gas grenades. It was a pretty scary situation. He's got a political background. He belongs -- belong, I should say, to one of these very, very strange organizations.

TAPPER: All right, Wolf Blitzer, looking for that on "THE SITUATION ROOM" in 9 minutes. When we come back, General Motors announcing yet another recall of its vehicles. We'll tell you which ones are affected today and why. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In our National Lead, we've been all there. You've been driving on a long road trip when you're pushed off the road by a tractor-trailer that has veered into your lane. It's a terrifying moment. Life or death. You can think a minute about the truck driver who has to log long hours on the road to make deadlines. There were regulations put into effect last summer that forces drivers to take breaks.

One senator is pushing to change one part of that. CNN aviation and government regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh is here explain. Rene, it's surprising to me that we're talking about main, moderate Senator Susan Collins. Why is she doing this?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: There is support on both sides for this change here. Now they don't want to throw out the entire rules as it relates to truck drivers, but there's a very specific portion of these rules that some Republicans and Democrats say they want to see change. This is all about preventing sleepy truckers from driving 80,000-pound trucks on the roads we all drive on and this debate really boils down to how many hours and which hours these truck drivers are allowed on the road.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a picture of her husband, Mike.

MARSH (voice-over): Ron Woods' mother, sister, and three nephews killed in a fiery crash in September 2004.

RON WOOD, CRASH VICTIM'S RELATIVE: Out of blue, this truck driver of an 18-wheeler fell asleep, crossed the median and crashed into my sister's SUV, flipping it upside down, landing on top of it.

MARSH: The debate on Capitol Hill over truck driver rest rules cuts close to the heart for Wood.

WOOD: If they think that these rules are inconvenient for them, this is inconvenience, having your family wiped out. MARSH: The Department of Transportation says in 2012, nearly

4,000 people died in collisions with large trucks. In July, it implemented rules aimed at curbing fatigue among truck drivers. Now they can't drive more than 11 hours in one day and they have to take 30 minutes off in the first eight hours of a shift. Once drivers hit 70 hours, they are required to take at least 34 hours off. That must include two mornings between 1:00 and 5:00 a.m.

DAVE OSIECKI, AMERICAN TRUCKING ASSOCIATON: Essentially, it's the government telling people, professional truck drivers in this case, when they have to rest, what time of day they have to rest.

MARSH: The early-morning rest restrictions are what the Senate Appropriations Committee just voted to roll back. Those calling for the change say forcing truckers to take their time off in the early morning means they'll be driving during the day.

OSIECKI: The riskier proposition in having truckers drive when the public isn't there. What these rules have done is raise risk and when you raise risk, you raise the number of accidents.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, the vote is to ease restrictions just so they can study the effects of the rules on overall safety on the road. We should point out the rest of the rest rules would remain in place. We're talking about the 11-hour driving limit each day, the 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a trucker's shift. We should point out that the industry says they are OK with the rest of the rules. It's this very specific portion that they have a problem with.

TAPPER: I've been there on the road. I'd like them to be rested. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Incredibly General Motors is adding more cars, trucks and SUVs to its recalls 2014. Today the automaker issued four different recalls and nearly 90,000 models for issues ranging from on your seat chime not working to your airbag may not deploy. So far in this year alone, GM has recalled nearly 16 million, million vehicles. The government fined the company $35 million for waiting to recall an ignition switch problem that it knew about for a decade, a flaw that was linked to at least 13 deaths and maybe even more by GM's own admission.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn. Don't forget to watch CNN's "Spotlight Tonight," the full story on Bowe Bergdahl. That's 10 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.