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Obama to Attend King Abdullah's Funeral; Deflategate: Who Deflated Brady's Footballs; Alan Dershowitz Denies Sex Slave Allegation; Conservative Stampede in Iowa; Candidates Court Billionaire Brothers

Aired January 24, 2015 - 18:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Smerconish, coming to you from Washington, D.C. with breaking news.

An abrupt change of plans by the president of the United States. Mr. Obama and the first lady left for a state visit to Indonesia and India this morning but that plan has changed. The president will cut short his trip to India, and go to Saudi Arabia to pay his respects following the death of Saudi King Abdullah. The plan had been for Vice President Joe Biden to go, now he will stay home.

So, the real question of course, is why? The president seldom travels for the death of a head of state. The only such trip in recent memory was to South Africa when Nelson Mandela died. The answer he is facing a myriad of crisis in the Middle East. Not only is ally Saudi Arabia getting a new leader but also this week Saudi neighbor Yemen descended into chaos with the president apparently out after a coup by a Shiite group and Yemen, of course, is the new Al Qaeda headquarters.

Then, news from our so called strongest ally Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so mad at President Obama that he's coming to the United States to address Congress even though the president asked him not to. I can't think of any one better to help us understand this moment than Aaron David Miller. He is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and a former adviser to several secretaries of state, on the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Aaron, read the tea leaves. I get the impression that this is not just a function of the president saying "hey, I'm in the neighborhood, I guess I'll attend.

AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: Well, clearly Michael, good morning, it's great to see you, it wasn't part of the original plan. Some smart adviser, let's hope it was the president basically said "look, I'm in the neighborhood. I've been to India twice now which is historic for a president, I've got a critically important relationship with Saudi Arabia, I didn't show up in Paris, I'm being hammered for abdicating my responsibilities by Republicans and others for leading from behind, a lot of important issues, Yemen is in crisis, it's right next door. I'm going to go see King Salman. I think frankly, under the circumstances, it was clearly the right decision. SMERCONISH: Is part of the motivation to send Benjamin Netanyahu a message given the angst that now exists between the United States and Israel, to let the Israelis know "hey, Saudi Arabia is as key an ally to us in that part of the globe as is Israel"?

MILLER: You know, I think that would probably be too clever by half. It's not like the U.S.-Saudi relationship is in the best of shape. There are fundamental differences, paradoxically, the same things that divide President Obama from Benjamin Netanyahu have caused serious tensions within the relationship between the Saudis.

Our willingness to accept Mubarak's transition perhaps to edge him out. The fact that we're trying to cut a deal with the Iranians, both the Israelis and the Saudis fear. And support for CC (ph), the new president of Egypt which both the Saudis and Israelis think is the right course, all of these things suggest that there's serious tensions also within our relationship with Saudi Arabia. So no, I don't think this was intentional willful poke in the eye or a slap but rest assured, the president will be criticized for "snubbing" the prime minister of Israel and meeting with the new king of Saudi Arabia, a country that frankly, to say the least, doesn't share our values with respect to human rights.

SMERCONISH: Let me pursue that for a moment. Do you think that the fact that the president now meets with the new king of Saudi Arabia increases the pressure on President Obama to meet with Netanyahu when he comes to the United States or will the mindset still be one of "that was a poke in my eye, I don't need to meet with BB Netanyahu when he's here."

MILLER: I think the chattering classes including myself will continue to debate this issue but I think no. I think that there's a separate issue between Obama and Netanyahu. That the Boehner invitation combined with long-standing suspicision, Israeli elections really does suggest that the administration wants to stay clear on this one. Frankly, no meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel even from his perspective is better than a bad meeting.

SMERCONISH: You know, what strikes me to my untrained eye and I have you here because you're the scholar in these matter is the dichotomy that seems to exist between the peaceful transition of power in Saudi Arabia and soon because this new king is what, 79, it will be transferred yet again, with what's going on in neighboring Yemen. Will you speak to that contrast?

MILLER: I think you broke the code here, Michael. The kings have made the transition in the Arab Spring, weathered the Arab Spring which has now frankly become a winter or worse. Much better than the phony republics. Morocco, Jordan, Saudi, Qatar, Oman, the UAW which is now emerging as a key American ally in the bloc in the gulf, all of these states in large part because of money, some of them have it, in large part because their rulers are less cruel and less extractive than the Iraqis, the Syrians and the Egyptians, they all maintained a measure of stability, and represent, frankly, despite all of the imperfections and the fact that we don't share many values with some of these authoritarian regimes, they really are partners of the United States. And the fact that the president will be in Saudi Arabia, a state that critics believe is primly unstable at a time when right next door Yemen is in the process of failure big time, really makes your point and contrast to reality that despite all of the instability, there are processes in the Middle East and states that can weather the worst kind of regional transition.

SMERCONISH: I said to a friend, an intelligent friend this week, that were witnessing a period of unprecedented unrest in the Middle East. His response to me was to say "no, this is a reflection of the news cycle." He wasn't being critical but he was saying we have the means now of being more up to date, better informed on events that are transpiring around the globe. Which of those two do you believe?


SMERCONISH: That it is unprecedented unrest or which is better informed?

MILLER: I mean I think 24/7 media cycle in which everything is elevated to the same level of importance which is frankly breaking news, is clear. It gives us the capacity in the sense that the world is in crisis. Let's be clear, what's happening in the Middle East over the last four years is extraordinary. Things regional transformation like this occurs maybe once a century.

No, this is a fundamental transition, largely negative, most of the moving parts in this region are running in the wrong direction, it's a generational problem. We're going to be in this region perennially and it's going to be in crisis and our real problem, Michael, is we can't transform it and we can't leave it. We are going to have to try to manage to protect American interests as effectively and as (INAUDIBLE) as we possibly can.

SMERCONISH: Aaron David Miller, as always, thank you for your expertise.

MILLER: Always a pleasure, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

Coming up, deny, deny, deny. That's what's coming out of Foxboro, Massachusetts after New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady both say they had nothing to do with so called deflategate. But are their denials just a bunch of hot air?

And the new movie, "American Sniper" shattered box office records. But was the man behind the war drama a liar? Don't go away.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back. Deflategate. Everybody including me wants to know who let the air out of Tom Brady's footballs, and if they will be punished. The NFL broke its silence confirming the balls were underinflated but the league has not figured out how that happened or if anyone did anything wrong. They've already spoken to dozens of people connected to the case but as of Thursday, they had not spoken to Brady. He told a packed press conference that he had not broken any rules.


UNIDENTIFED MALE: Is Tom Brady a cheater?

TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: I don't believe so. I mean I feel like I've always played within the rules, I would never do anything to break the rules.


SMERCONISH: I'm not sure that press conference got us any closer to the truth. I watched and I took to my twitter account with frustration. I said among things, "Jesus, will somebody at least ask him? What did you know and when did you know it?" Another of my tweets, "I am missing Helen Thomas in the front row, was she questioning Brady right now? I know she's gone but she could really hold president's feet to the fire." One more of my tweets, "Wait, so he thanks the people who prepped the balls but a moment ago he said he doesn't know who handles them. Come on. Ask a follow-up."

Joining me now are former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira. He has revolutionized football coverage as a rules analyst for Fox Sports but he knows every rule in the book. And former Patriot tight end and now Boston radio host Jermaine Wiggins who knows Brady very well, as a tight end, you'll remember, he caught a key Brady pass in Brady's first Super Bowl win.

Mike, let me begin with you, to the uninitiated you know, I'm holding now one that is inflated at 13.5 psi and another that's under at 10.5. It's very hard to tell the difference. Here at CNN, we've been passing the footballs and asking people in a blind test can you tell which one is within the reg. Is this a big deal?

MIKE PEREIRA, NFL HEAD OF OFFICIATING: Well, be careful when you pass the football. Come on now. There's a lot of expensive equipment there. I do think it is - I think it's a big deal because really, you know, it's about the integrity of the game. Look, it's not a player safety football type act that you may get disciplined for. But this is the integrity of the game. And while everybody has said the same thing that two pounds of pressure is hard to recognize, the fact is two pounds maybe to a quarterback does have an effect. Certainly the aspect may be of it in cold weather. I do think -

SMERCONISH: How about the officials?

PEREIRA: (INAUDIBLE) standpoint, yes.

SMERCONISH: How about the officials who -

PEREIRA: Never know.

SMERCONISH: And plays the ball, why wouldn't the officials have a trained touch that they could have figured this out? PEREIRA: You know, they did it before the game, and they actually when they pressure test the balls they mark it, put one of their marks, one of their referees mark on the game. And really, they don't sit there and squeeze them and try to feel if they are properly inflated. I always say these logs where the stripes aren't the same guys that go to the produce store and squeeze avocados and cantaloupe to see if they're ripe. They're not used to squeezing things like this.

And again, I think it's very hard to tell. I think once they test them at the beginning then they figure the clubs, the ball people, anybody that might have any possibility of touching the balls have enough integrity that that won't be compromised. Obviously there was some type of breakdown here that needs to be found out.

SMERCONISH: Jermaine, I know your support of Tom Brady in this whole instance. I have to tell you that the press conference for me it just didn't pass the smell test. For this reason. If I were Brady and my credibility had been called into question I would be tearing apart that locker room to find out what the hell went on here and who knows what the real story is. Instead he came out in the press conference and suggested that he had not asked questions, he wasn't sure who handled the footballs, he couldn't really speak to the chain of custody. Did that not rub you the wrong way?

JERMAINE WIGGINS, FORMER PATRIOT TIGHT END: No, it didn't rub the wrong way. Because clearly Tom Brady is a guy that he wants to make sure he is very calculated in the questions that he is being asked. You have to understand, you have to make sure you don't say anything that might jeopardize what's going on here, the investigation, so he comes out, to me the biggest thing that he came out and the one statement that I took away from this is he put himself on a ledge and said "I had nothing to do with altering the footballs."

The NFL then came out and gave us some insight to the investigation and said the balls are kept in the referee's office until 10 minutes up until kickoff time. Then they go out on the football field. And you said clearly that you guys were passing around a football. My question is this. If you are a referee and you handle that football on every single play, wouldn't you notice the difference after the first possession when the Patriots have the football and say "hold on, these balls feel underinflated. Let's stop the game and see what's going on." We don't know if this is even checked the footballs.


SMERCONISH: Jermaine, I'm going to tell you, unlike you I didn't play in the NFL. My claim to fame is that I held for extra points in high school. That's as far as my football career took me. Brady tries to downplay what kind of a deal this really is. But it's Brady who lobbied the NFL for the rule change, I think it was 2006, where each team got to pick their own football. So Tom, which is it. If it's not a big deal why doesn't everybody play with the same ball?

WIGGINS: Well, it's really not a big deal. This underinflating because it doesn't give you an advantage. It doesn't give you - it doesn't make you a better quarterback because you have a football that's underinflated by two pounds of psi, right? If that was the question Tebow would still be in the NFL and all of these quarterbacks that really fizzled out. It's not about the under inflation of the football. When you look at it what Brady wanted to do changing the rule was saying "hey, as quarterbacks we should have the ability to have the footballs, pick the ones that we want to use and use our own footballs." Not to say "hey, why do we have to all use the same football."

I think the thing that he was trying to lobby is that each quarterback would be able to pick the footballs and then those footballs would be decided which ones are going to be used on game day.

SMERCONISH: But Mike Pereira, it has to be a big deal because if it weren't a big deal there would be no standard and we'd let each team go out there and play at whatever inflation rate they choose to.

PEREIRA: Listen. I was part of that petition that was sent in by the quarterbacks and you're talking about not just Tom Brady but Peyton Manning and all of those that sent in the petition to the competition committee to use their own footballs. We got it. The committee got it and understood and thought that it was a fair thing to do to let the quarterbacks - listen, when I was on the field back in '96 and '97 we got brand new balls in the locker room and I'd have to sit in the shower, I was the rookie, with the wet cloth and rub all of the red wax off of the ball and brush them and prepare them myself.

So, the competition committee said "OK, let's let the teams prepare their own football. Let's let the quarterbacks throw them during the week." I think that was wise. And that includes the Super Bowl by the way. I disagree with Jermaine that it's not a big thing here. Because while it may be hard for the layman to touch and feel, the two pounds, I do think quarterbacks have all said, quarterbacks have said, that it does make a difference.

And again, you know, it's kind of like taping on the field, taping the team's calls and plays which we have in spygate back in 2007. It's the integrity issue of the game. They are breaking a rule. And to me, that all boils down to -

SMERCONISH: Mike, Jermaine, I'm going to give - I promise I'm going to give Jermaine the final word. Look, you are a Super Bowl champion, now you talk about this on the radio. You must have a theory as to what went on here. Why would the pressure have been proper two and a quarter hours before the game and by halftime 11 of the 12 balls are outside the parameters. What do you think happened?

WIGGINS: Well, first of all what I think happened is I don't know exactly but my theory is this, right? The football, the NFL said the footballs are brought out 10 minutes prior to kickoff. The window, you have a 10-minute window to let out air. And so, to me it's about the officials. And who knows, maybe the officials never checked the gauge. Because you clearly said you can't tell the difference between 13 psi and 10.5 psi. So they might have felt them, that ball's fine. That balls' fine. Rather than going through 48 balls and have to put a gauge in. Maybe it was "hey, these balls are good" and now they go out there and it's brought to their attention because if it wasn't brought to their attention, would we even be talking about this. Probably not. So it's brought to their attention, now they go in and they measure the footballs, and they check the air gauge and they can see that they are a little bit underinflated.

The thing that I would say to Mike and I understand Mike has been -- he has been an official for a long time but he knows it's better than anybody else a lot of teams in the National Football League do a lot of things to bend the rules.

We heard Aaron Rodgers say he goes over the allotted 13.5 to get his footballs a little bit heavier. So you're telling me that he's never played a game with a football that was over inflated? I just don't see that. A lot of teams do a lot of different things.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen. We got to shut it down here but thank you. What a great conversation. Mike Pereira, Jermaine Wiggins. Thank you gentlemen.

Coming up next, it's the first major presidential cattle call of the year, all eyes on today's Iowa Freedom Summit, and the high profile possible 2016 presidential hopefuls including Chris Christie. Will the brash New Jersey governor be a hit in front of the ultra conservative crowd?

And a convicted billionaire pedophile's alleged sex ring, new allegations that two high profile men were accused of having sex with underage girls. I'll speak to one of them right here in just a moment.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back to the program.

The story I'm about to tell is not suitable for young children, so fair warning. It involves a tangled web of sex and lies featuring famous people, everyone from England's Prince Andrew to famed criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. Both are alleged to have sex with girls or young women provided to them by a pedophile billionaire, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who used to be a hedge fund manager known for making large political donations to Bill Clinton among others.

New court papers reveal explicit details about Epstein's so-called "Lolita Express", a private plane in which he allegedly forced young women to have sex with his well-connected friends. The court documents are part of a civil case brought by a young woman who says she was forced to have sex at age 16 with Prince Andrew and with Alan Dershowitz.

The prince vehemently denies the allegations, so does Dershowitz, who has vowed to seek disbarment of the accuser's attorneys.

Alan Dershowitz joins me now.

Professor, I think context is important in this case. Am I right in saying that this is a lawsuit in which you are not a named party, but nevertheless you were named as having had sex with an underage woman? ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Yes. I'm

not a party, and it was like a drive-by shooting. They said, oh, by the way, Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz had sex with this woman, who I never met, don't know, couldn't have been in the places she said I was at the time.

For example, she said I was in Jeffrey Epstein's ranch. I was there once with my wife and daughter and two friends. The island, his private island, I was there once for a day with my wife, my daughter, a professor at Harvard, and four members of his family.

So, it's just literally impossible that it could have happened. And the woman knows that. That's why she's refused to come on your show or any other show, and repeat her false allegations in public because she knows that I could sue her.

So, what they have done hidden behind what's called the "litigation privilege", they put it in a document, didn't give me an opportunity to respond, forced me into speaking out in the court of public opinion and then sued me for defaming for telling the truth.

SMERCONISH: And so, now, this week the now 31-year-old woman filed an affidavit in which she affirms that the end, you know, subject she says to a perjury charge and it's loaded with graphic detail and I apologize for reading this if it makes --

DERSHOWITZ: Please, please, please. Fiction is good. So, go ahead.

SMERCONISH: OK, here we go.

"Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz was around Epstein frequently. Dershowitz was so comfortable with the sex that was going on that he would even come and chat with Epstein while I was giving oral sex to Epstein."

DERSHOWITZ: Well, you know, anybody who knows me knows how preposterous this is. I never smoked a marijuana cigarette in my life, I never snorted cocaine, I have never driven while drunk. I stopped Harvard serving cherry to 19-year-olds because I don't believe universities should break the law.

I'm the most law-abiding person. I am also sexually very, you know, personal and private. The idea of me standing around with a client, what are we talking about? -- while he was getting arousal (ph), it's so preposterous.

It's almost as stupid as her saying that she participated in a sex orgy with Stephen Hawkings while on Jeffrey's island. And a range of other preposterous activities of heads of states (ph).


SMERCONISH: One more, I also had -- I also had sex with Dershowitz at Epstein's Zorro Ranch in new Mexico, in the massage room off of the indoor pool area which was still being painted. Have you ever been in that room? DERSHOWITZ: No, of course not. I was only in the house while it was

being built once, in the presence of my wife, my daughter, two friends, and was there just looking around the house. No one was there. I have never ever seen young women around Jeffrey Epstein.

SMERCONISH: Surely, you have wondered, what could be if it's not true, what could be the possible motivation?

Because, Professor, to put your name in these pleadings is to catch a tiger by his tail. You know that one of the smartest legal minds in the world is going to come after you. So, I began by asking you context because --


SMERCONISH: -- whether this took place doesn't matter to the underlying litigation. Why the hell would they put your name in this?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, they profiled me. What they were looking for was somebody who was Jeffrey Epstein's lawyer and helped strike the bargain which they didn't like, but who also knew Jeffrey Epstein. I knew him essentially as an academic, a colleague, before any of these allegations came up.

But I was in his house once on the island. I was in his ranch for one hour. So, they were looking for somebody who fit the profile -- a lawyer who helped him in his case but also knew him and could conceivably have been in a situation. But they picked the wrong guy. I'm just not that kind of person. And they have to know that.

SMERCONISH: Gawker has analyzed the flight log --


SMERCONISH: -- of Jeffrey Epstein. They say that whereas you suggested you always travel in the company of your wife --

DERSHOWITZ: I never said that. I said I generally travel. My wife loves to come with me. I love to travel with her. We're leaving tomorrow night for a trip to a foreign destination. She's with me.

When I speak, I like her to come with me. She doesn't come with me on every trip.

SMERCONISH: OK. But let me --

DERSHOWITZ: She was with me on two trips.

SMERCONISH: Let me at least finish the question, because as they point out, they say that according to the manifests, your name appears but never does her name on the same flights where Alan Dershowitz was flying, you get the likes of Hazel, Claire, and Tatyana (ph).

Do you know any of those three women?

DERSHOWITZ: Yes. I know Tatyana. She was about 25 years old. She was Jeffrey Epstein's girlfriend. She was a serious person.

The other two names are unfamiliar. They are probably the stewardesses. I was never on the airplane with anybody who looked underage or even close to it.

SMERCONISH: Did you ever fly on Jeffrey Epstein's plane with former President Clinton?

DERSHOWITZ: No, I didn't. I flew to a dinner with Shimon Perez and Senator Glenn. But I never flew with any young women and I didn't have sex on an airplane. I am not a member of the Mile High Club. That's just not me.

SMERCONISH: Do you worry that if there are portions of this which are true with regard to Prince Andrew, you'll be sullied in the process even if Alan Dershowitz did nothing improper?

DERSHOWITZ: No, I'm not worried. Look, there is a picture of Prince Andrew with this woman, there is a diary. He has his own situation. I have mine.

There's no picture of me. I'm not in any diary. I was never in the same place with her to my knowledge. And therefore, I have nothing to worry about.

You know when you're completely innocent and have nothing to hide, it's really easy to defend yourself. You don't have to think about what you're saying or whether you could be contradicted. Just tell the truth. That's what I've been doing.

SMERCONISH: Am I correct in saying that this is it for you, the Professor Alan Dershowitz after this interview will have nothing further to say publicly and you'll do your arguing in a court of law?

DERSHOWITZ: I don't intend to have further interviews unless other lies are circulated about me. I will always respond to lies.

But I'm satisfied with the state of the record now. I put everything forward. I have not ducked a single question. I've never ducked a deposition.

I am happy to be deposed. I want to make sure she is deposed first because she is the accuser. But I think I'm saying my last word here and I'm sure that any reasonable person in the American public at this point understands that I have been the victim of a totally false charge.

SMERCONISH: The Jane Doe who we're referring to said she's been watching you on television, calling her a liar, "he is lying by denying that he had sex with me." For the final time, respond to that.

DERSHOWITZ: I challenge her to repeat that to you, to repeat that in public. She shouldn't be hiding behind her lawyers. She is ducking depositions, by the way. We've tried to locate her. We know she lives in Colorado. We think we know where she is. Her lawyers refuse to accept a summons on her behalf. They are trying

to hide her because they know that if she gets on that witness stand and is cross-examined, her entire story will crumble.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Professor Alan Dershowitz.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: After a quick break, a busy weekend for Republicans eyeing the White House. Many attending a major conservative gathering in Iowa, a key campaign state. But Mitt Romney is not invited to a second and equally important event for potential candidates.

And, "American Sniper" is a blockbuster movie. But now, serious questions about the truthfulness of claims made by sharp shooter Chris Kyle. The co-author of that book joins me ahead.


SMERCONISH: The 2016 presidential election is a long way off. Among Democrats, very few names have been floated so far as potential candidates, everybody is waiting for Hillary Clinton to decide if she's running. But there's already a stampede among the wide field of potential GOP candidates. Mitt Romney, considering a third run for the White House, met with top aides yesterday in Boston to plot his next moves.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who's long hinted at running in 2016 has hired a new finance director and making a fund raising swing through California next week. He is huddling with advisers this weekend in Miami.

But interestingly enough, Romney, Rubio and even Jeb Bush are all skipping today's Iowa Freedom Summit, a major conservative gathering others seriously considering a bid such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are all attending.

We're joined by David Chalian, CNN's political director who is in Des Moines.

David, in San Francisco last night, Jeb Bush told auto manufacturers, dealers, that immigration is the engine of economic vitality. And I said to myself, if he were to come and utter those words today at this group in Iowa, wouldn't go over so well.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. Michael, that's a really brilliant observation on your part. Nobody's going to say that on this stage behind me here today. What you've got here today in Iowa, you've got about 1,200 activists who are really excited to be at what is basically the starting line for the 2016 presidential race. And you know better than anyone the folks here take that role very seriously, of being first in the nation, and they're going to begin the process of poking and prodding the candidates. That's what today is about. But you're right to notice that sort of split, because you've got

obviously anti-immigration reformer Steve King on the conservative wing of the party as one of the hosts here. He's known for many for many of his controversial comments around immigration, certainly not where Jeb Bush is on the topic, Michael. But every one of these that take the stage today will sort of have to navigate that as they begin the process of wooing these Iowa conservative activists. These are the folks who show up to the caucuses. Every candidate that is on the stage today is going to want to start making a good impression with these folks.

Without Mitt Romney here, without Jeb Bush here, the only establishment wing guy here, Michael, is Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. I'm watching how he gets received by this crowd. It will be fascinating.

SMERCONISH: Well, not only if I interested how he is received, David. I'm interested to see how far to the right does he pivot to try and curry favor with the conservative crowd that many of us believe is necessary for a candidate to win a Republican nomination.

CHALIAN: Well, as you know, the most successful presidential candidates in this process are ones that can start up the process at this very early time, and stick with the same sort of messaging that goes all the way through the general election, not just the nomination. This was true of George W. Bush, successful candidate. This was true of Barack Obama's successful candidacy in 2008.

So, I agree with you. You'll be listening to see are some of these folks going to take positions or sort of color their remarks in a way that may make a general election a little more difficult. Chris Christie, of course, has said he won't play that game but I agree, let's see what happens when he takes the stage today.

SMERCONISH: And, David, one other question if I might. Not only are there big goings on today in Iowa relative to the Republican nomination, but the Koch brothers are having a primary of sorts of their own.

CHALIAN: They are. Out in Palm Springs, California, the Koch brothers bringing together some of the biggest donors starting to introduce them to some of the potential presidential candidates. They have got a trio of senators there, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio tomorrow night will be on stage in a forum there.

And listen, this is a clear signal, the Koch brothers have put their money behind framing elections in the last couple of cycles. Now, they are trying to play a little more of an active role in helping the party sort of find its way to its nominee. SMERCONISH: David Chalian, thank you, from Des Moines.

Got to take a quick break. But when we come back, this other Republican gathering, this one, top secret, oiled by big money and full of questions about who is not on the invitation list.

Plus, "American Sniper" -- new questions about the Navy SEAL at the heart of the story. I'll be talking to the man who helped write the book that became a hit movie.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got some sort of savior complex?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to get the bad guys. If I can't see them, I can't shoot them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All these guys, they know your name. They feel invincible with you up there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are. They think they are.


SMERCONISH: Because it's invitation-only, the Koch brothers meeting is an important for potential GOP candidates. Charles and David Koch are the billionaire brothers who donate gigantic sums to conservative candidates and causes, getting an invite from them is a big deal for any Republican, and their network consists of hundreds of other wealthy donors. So, every Republican wants to get close to them.

Many considering a White House run in 2016 are on the guest list, including Jeb Bush, who's not expected to attend. But Mitt Romney is not invited.

Ken Vogel is chief investigative reporter for "Politico" and he has written about the influence of billionaires Charles and David Koch, the influence that they have on American politics.

As a matter of fact, Ken, the opening chapter of your book "Big Money" talks about you trying unsuccessfully to crash a Koch brothers seminar in 2013. They escorted you out. But there's more openness this year. Maybe because of the way you wrote about it.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Well, I don't know how much credit I do, but certainly the Kochs have had this reputation for years of being sort of secretive and opaque in the way that they try to influence the political process and try to steer money into it. I think they are making a concerted effort to change that reputation and one of the things that they're going to be doing in Palm Springs is -- well, first of all, the very fact that they acknowledge they're having this gathering is unique and is new.

But in addition, they are going to be providing a live stream to media outlets of this big panel that is going to feature the three U.S. senators thinking about running for president in 2016 -- Cruz, Rubio, and Rand Paul. That is new and that's something that I think does show a willingness to be a bit more transparent and to engage a little more with this political world that they are so clearly an influential player in.

SMERCONISH: So, here's what occurs to me. The cameras that will now be permitted I'm sure will be trained on the speakers. And we know who the speakers are, and you just identified those three senators. Who's in the audience?

Tell me about who the people are that are attracted and invited to a Koch brothers event.

VOGEL: Yes, that is another area where they've had a penchant for secrecy. They did not want their donors to be known and their donors primarily gave money into these nonprofit groups that did not have to disclose the identities, the sizes of contributions, the identities of donors, the dates on which they gave.

However, even that is changing a little bit both in that they started a super PAC, the Koch brothers network through this organization, umbrella organization called Freedom Partners, started a super PAC in their run-up to the midterms that raised a bunch of money and was hugely influential --

SMERCONSH: But give me a name. Tell me somebody in the audience.

VOGEL: Sure.

So, for the first time, because of this super PAC we know some of the names of folk who is will be in that audience. Ronnie Cameron is an Arkansas poultry magnate, Stanley Hubbard is a Minnesota telecommunications billionaire, Bryon Warner (ph) is a Nebraska trucking magnate. So, these are folks in mostly older industries, sort of industrialists, not unlike thing Koch brothers themselves who are largely owner, largely white and very concerned about the direction of the country, who want to spend some money and are willing in some cases to put their names on their checks to try to shape the direction of our politics.

SMERCONISH: I watched Barbara Walters interviewing David Koch at the end of the year, and he revealed that his politics on social issues are frankly quite liberal. The issues that are discussed at a seminar like the Koch brothers are having tomorrow night, only financial issues or do they get into social issues as well?

VOGEL: Primarily financial. That is how the Koch brothers have framed their involvement, their desire to be involved in politics. They are primarily interested in bringing in what they see as reckless, run-away government spend, expansion of government, and that sometimes does put them at odds with the Republican Party.

They famously opposed the Iraq war as sort of reckless foreign intervention and expensive, and they favor -- I interviewed David Koch around the 2012 Republican nomination. He said he favored scaling back some U.S. intervention and U.S. presence in the Middle East. That is way different than the party line, the GOP orthodoxy on foreign policy.

Now, their donor base is not homogeneous. There are some folk who is probably would qualify as hawks, but the brothers focus on and what their organization focuses on during these seminars is very much just the fiscal issues.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question, 10-second answer. Do the brothers necessarily agree on how they see the world?

VOGEL: Not only they do not necessarily agree on how they see the world, but they might not agree on who they see as the best presidential candidate in 2016.

SMERCONISH: Ken, like any other brothers I imagine. Thank you for being here.

VOGEL: There you go, Mike. My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: All right. When we come back, they called Chris Kyle the legend, the most successful American sniper ever, with lots of incredible stories. But many of them just don't check out. We'll talk with a man who helped him write "American Sniper", next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you a question, Chris. Would you be surprised I told you that the Navy has credited you with over 160 kills?


SMERCONISH: Bradley Cooper in "American Sniper". Like an on target sniper's bullet, that box office sensation is a big hit.

The film is the story of Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL who served four tours in Iraq. In his book also called "American Sniper", he claimed 160 confirmed kills. Two years ago, he was murdered by a veteran he was trying to help, and now, critics have him in the crosshairs questioning some of Kyle's stories and he loved to tell stories.

One of them how he climbed to the top of the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and picked off dozens of armed bad guys, or how he killed two armed men at a Texas gas station who tried to steel his truck. And his story about punching out former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, Ventura says it never happened, he sued and won, and reporters looking into the other two stories haven't been able to corroborate them.

What's going on here? Does it affect how we look at Kyle's story?

I'm joined by one of Kyle's co-authors, Jim DeFelice.

Thank you so much for joining us.

JIM DEFELICE, CO-AUTHOR, "AMERICAN SNIPER": : Michael, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Congratulations on the success of the movie that is based on your book. Did Bradley Cooper nail it? I mean, you knew Chris Kyle. How close was the adaptation? DEFELICE: I have to tell you that the first time I saw the movie,

there were many, many moments where I'm watching the screen and I'm thinking, my God, I know that's Bradley Cooper, but that looks like Chris.

He had -- he has everything. He's got his voice, he's got his mannerisms. He nailed it.

SMERCONISH: Let me tell you something it if I might, Mr. DeFelice. I regard Chris Kyle as a patriot, and I tell you that up front because I want to ask you a couple questions and I don't want you putting me in a category with Michael Moore.

So, let me begin with this, was he a BS-er?

DEFELICE: No. Absolutely not. Chris was just very, very straightforward, very honest in what he said. You know, you could take it to the bank.

SMERCONISH: But how do you square that with some of the stories that have been told, were told by Chris Kyle, that just don't check out? I mean at the top of the list, the story about Katrina and him in response to the government taking up a position on the roof of the Louisiana Superdome and shooting as many as 30 looters? There's no factual basis to support that story?

DEFELICE: You know, here's the problem, Michael, you know, you're talking about stories that this -- you know, this is all hearsay. This person says that Chris said it to them. I don't know what the context was. That's not in the book. Chris never told me a story about that, so I don't really -- I don't know.

So, you know, the problem is that there's been a lot of controversy about the book because the book is very straightforward and honest about what a warrior has to do and has to feel in war, and -- you know, a lot of people criticize it and what they're really doing is criticizing war, which frankly is a good thing. You know, we shouldn't get into wars easily. We should hate war.

But in order to succeed at war, you have to think like a warrior and that's what Chris Kyle was.

SMERCONISH: But that's not where I'm coming from. I approach this completely independent of whether we should have been in Iraq and we should be in Afghanistan. I simply want to know what the truth is, and it just seems to me whether we're talking about Pat Tillman, whether we're talking about Jessica Lynch, whether we're talking about any number of other instances --


SMERCONISH: -- a genuine American story of heroism, nevertheless gets embellished. I mean, Chris Kyle told a story, was routinely, according to so many accounts, telling a story about how two guys wanted to steal his truck and he killed them, and there's just no record of that whatsoever. And, of course, as everybody knows, in the book itself, although he

doesn't identify Jesse Ventura by name and, you know, you wrote it with him, he calls him scruff face, a $1.8 million defamation jury verdict in support of Jesse Ventura. And it leaves me wondering, well, how much of the story can I believe, if each of these instances is just not based or grounded in fact?

DEFELICE: You see, now, there's the problem. You just said it was a defamation judgment and the reality is that that's -- it was more -- it was not a defamation judgment. Part of it was. Part of it was something else.

What happens in these cases is someone says one thing and goes on the Internet, something else happens, somebody else says, you know, whatever. Now, you know, in that case, the jury split. There were something like a dozen witnesses who said it happened and, you know, the jury split. You know, I have a feeling that if the case had been in Texas maybe the split would have gone the other way. But --

SMERCONISH: Jesse Ventura said before the trial, if Chris Kyle would simply take it back and let them know it's not true he wouldn't have proceeded.

Look, I don't agree -- I don't agree with so much of Jesse Ventura, he's a 9/11 truther, whatever the hell that is, but in this instance, I feel like the guy was done wrong. You certainly knew when you wrote the word "scruff face" in the book that Chris Kyle was talking about Ventura, right?

DEFELICE: Oh, absolutely. It was Chris's decision not to -- actually Chris didn't want to use the names of any SEALs or former SEALs and we don't throughout the book.

You know, again, if, like I say, look at -- go ahead, do the work, look at all the depositions, look at the motions, we did transcript from the trial and --

SMERCONISH: I think I would surprise you. I have. I'm an attorney and I know what defamation is.


SMERCONISH: It encompasses liable and slander, this was a slander verdict if we want to get technical.

Look, bottom line, sir, I'm thrilled for your success, I regard Chris Kyle absolutely as a patriot, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I will read the book, but all along, I'm going to be wondering what's grounded in fact. But thank you for your time.

DEFELICE: You're welcome.

SMERCONISH: I'll be right back with a final thought.


SMERCONISH: Hey, thank you so much for joining me. And to all those who made the program work, we had some great guests today.

Don't forget follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish. And please join me tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. and noon hosting. I'll be hosting "STATE OF THE UNION."

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