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Aaron Hernandez Found Guilty; TSA Scandal; Capitol Landing; TSA Groping Scheme?; Hernandez Sentenced to Life in Prison. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 15, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A mad security scramble at the Capitol, as an aircraft lands just steps away from the Capitol dome. The pilot says he wanted to send a message.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

Breaking news in the national lead, a scare on Capitol Hill, broad daylight, peak tourist time, a small, strange aircraft violates restricted airspace. This hour, new details on the pilot, his possible motive and on how layer upon layer of security missed this thing, even with advanced warning.

Also in national news, a plot by TSA employees to grope passengers, two officers accused of singling out attractive flyers for some very uncomfortable screening.

And life without parole. The jury did not have the smoking gun, they were not sure of a clear motive. But a short time ago, members of the jury spoke out, saying they did the right thing finding ex-New England Patriot and football phenom Aaron Hernandez guilty of first-degree murder.

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

We begin with some breaking news on the national lead. Chaos at the U.S. Capitol after a startling stunt puts lawmakers on lockdown, shutting down nearby streets, sending security teams scrambling. It all started when a pilot landed his small aircraft on the west front lawn of the Capitol Building just hours ago.

We want to show you this video of the landing from the Associated Press. You can see tourists looking on in disbelief. We're now learning that the pilot likely did this on purpose. He was trying to send a message to the Congress. The pilot has been identified by friends as Doug Hughes. He's now in police custody. He said he was trying to bring attention to the need for campaign finance reform to the Capitol, but somehow, somehow that got list amidst the frenzy and national security concerns.

Members of the bomb squad just finished inspecting his aircraft. They're moving it to another location.

Tom Foreman has much more now on this bizarre story -- Tom.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "When I took off, I was over an hour away from the no-fly zone." Those words are from an extensive Web site believed to have been built by the suspected 61- year-old pilot well before his flight that ended amid confusion, alarm and drawn guns on the Capitol lawn.

Nora Neus saw the single-seat aircraft approach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It flew straight toward us on the west face of the Capitol Building, landed on the lawn, bounced one and then sat still. The man sat still, sat in his chair, and then one cop came down and started trying to figure out what was happening. Another one came down. And within about 30 seconds, there were dozens of police cars, a large number of men with rifles and snipers running toward the man, yelling, don't move, don't move.

FOREMAN: Neus nearby security forces seemed unaware of the craft until it touched down. While the suspected pilot appears to have kept details of his plan sketchy, in many ways it was hidden in plain sight. Not only did he have his Web site. He had talked extensively to "The Tampa Bay Times," which in turned reported that he was previously questioned by the Secret Service.

The Web site says he even sent an e-mail to President Obama before taking off, insisting he was no threat and didn't want to be shot down. He was just a protester on a mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was a joke at first. And then my next thought was that this is something really bad.

FOREMAN: So what was his mission? According to his Web site and the Tampa newspaper's reports, the man is deeply concerned about campaign finance reform and wanted to deliver more than 500 copies of a letter to members of Congress. The Web site says he was prompted to take dramatic action following the suicide of his son over unrelated matters.

It says the pilot worked on this attention-grabbing protest for well over two years. And in that time, he bought his aircraft, learned to fly it and plotted his path, a flight that ended in a daring dive toward the Capitol.


FOREMAN: This notion that he informed the White House and others that he was going to do this before he took off really matters because think about this. If he was, in fact, an hour outside the no-fly zone here, that means he was still out in a zone where you're supposed to tell the FAA that you're flying.

So this aircraft of his would have flown for somewhere around two hours before coming in here. We don't know if it came from this direction. It could have come from another direction up here, from anywhere. But that meant that this aircraft would have been a couple of hundred feet off the ground traveling at only 25 miles an hour through what is supposed to be some of the most protected airspace in the country, Jake, and yet through all of that, he managed to come not only right down here to where the Washington Monument is, the White House is, the Smithsonian all through here, all sorts of departments of the government through here and the Capitol, to touch down right in front of the U.S. Capitol.


FOREMAN: Jake, above all else, there are some huge questions being asked right now among some of the top security agencies in this nation's capital about how on earth this happened -- Jake.

TAPPER: I would think so. Tom, obviously, we're all glad that he's OK, that no one was hurt in any of this. But I'm surprised that he wasn't, as he said he suggested the president -- wasn't shut down. What have you learned about why no fighter jets were apparently scrambled?

FOREMAN: We don't have an answer yet as to why nothing was scrambled over this or why this wasn't spotted.

He fully expected -- in his own notes, he said I expect that helicopters will be following me, that they will overfly me because I'm going so slowly and in my open craft, they will see I'm no threat, so they will decide it's not politically smart to just knock me out of the sky.

But he expected some sort of opposition. And all indication is he got absolutely none of it, Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

While a bizarre scene was unfolding outside the Capitol, inside the Capitol, officers sprung into action alerting lawmakers and their staffs that the building had been put on lockdown.

CNN's Athena Jones is now live on Capitol Hill.

Athena, you were there when this all went down. Tell us what happened.


It was dramatic. And I have to tell you, it was confusing at that particular moment in time. We were standing outside the Senate Foreign Relations Committee room which is a room on the first floor of the Capitol. Inside was the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi who was having a meet and greet photo-op with members of that committee.

When you have a foreign leader coming in, there's always a lot of security around and a lot of folks with radios. All of a sudden, we heard that distinctive crackling of the police radio. Then at least half a dozen uniformed officers of the Capitol Police rushed by us in a couple of directions rushing through the building. And we asked, what's going on? We were told that a helicopter had landed on the west front of the Capitol and that no one knew why. So, of course, this is a huge concern, this being a restricted area.

Later on, we find out it's this smaller aircraft, gyroscope. But at the time, they were very, very concerned. They did not evacuate the Capitol Building, but they did put it briefly on lockdown. And they also were also discussing having to evacuate the Iraqi prime minister out the other side of the Capitol, the side facing the Supreme Court, if that had been necessary. In the end, everybody was brought under control and this man was brought into custody.

But it was bizarre and not a very ordinary day on the Hill.

TAPPER: Indeed. He's lucky to be alive. Athena Jones, thank you so much.

While this incident may have caught U.S. Capitol Police and bystanders off guard, there was at least one witness who was ready and waiting for the aircraft to make its descent. He's a reporter who was tipped off with all the details of the plan. The pilot wanted someone to know his story in case the pilot got hurt or even killed.

And Ben Montgomery with "The Tampa Bay Times," who's been writing about this and has the scoop on the whole story, joins us now.

Ben, thanks for joining me.

What can you tell us about this pilot? Why did he do this?

BEN MONTGOMERY, "THE TAMPA BAY TIMES": Well, he's been thinking for a very long time about a very boring issue, campaign finance reform.

And his mission was to do something big, the sort of mix of P.T. Barnum and Paul Revere, as he described himself, and fly a gyrocopter through protected airspace and land it on the lawn of the Capitol to deliver 535 letters, one for each member of Congress, that spells out how he feels about campaign finance, money corrupting elections.

TAPPER: I saw a tweet that you wrote earlier today hoping that nothing bad happened, that no one got hurt. Do you think that the pilot understood that he could have been killed doing this?

MONTGOMERY: Oh, yes, he knew that was certainly a possibility. He was ready for that.

He's been thinking about this for two-and-a-half years. He's pictured every scenario you could possibly imagine.


MONTGOMERY: Thought about where he could put the plane down safely, where he could land on buildings if he was forced down. He thought he would be escorted in by Black Hawk helicopter. I think he was probably surprised that he didn't have any resistance.

TAPPER: The story that you wrote for "The Tampa Bay Times" about this referenced that he started thinking about this after his grown son committed suicide driving a car into another driver.

Help me understand, what is the connection between that and what happened today?

MONTGOMERY: He learned a lesson. He told us that he felt like his son did something stupid, but he had made a point.


And I wrestled with this a lot. We thought long and hard about whether Doug had a death wish. And, ultimately, I didn't think so. He learned a lesson out of that. And it was, if you want to make a point, you have got to do something big, as sad as that seems. And he said what he was working on was doing something significant, making a point about reforming government, getting corrupt money, corrupt dealings out of elections.

TAPPER: I'm not sure that he's going to make any point having to do with that. He will probably make a point having to do with increasing the security at the perimeter of the Capitol. Where did he fly this gyrocopter from and how did he get it, how did he learn to fly it?

MONTGOMERY: He bought it for $5,500, put $1,000 in parts into it. He learned how to fly over the past year-and-a-half down to Wauchula, Florida. And he launched today from an undisclosed location somewhere around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, an hour away so that the authorities would know that he was on his way in.

TAPPER: This must be a very strange story for you to cover, given that you knew he was thinking about doing this at the same time. It's not your job to stop him. But a friend of his told "The Tampa Bay Times" that -- the friend said that he tried to warn the Secret Service.

MONTGOMERY: Well, he had a -- Doug had a political spat with a relative and the relative alerted the Secret Service.

So Doug says the Secret Service interviewed him about a year ago. The colleague at the post office said that the Secret Service also talked to him. We were comfortable reporting the story with that knowledge, that the authorities did know about this, even though they may not have known when he was going to pull this off.

TAPPER: Ben Montgomery, "The Tampa Bay Times," I know you still have more reporting to do on this story. Thank you so much for your time.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: And we have also just learned that NORAD had no idea about this landing until it had already happened. That means that the aircraft either wasn't picked up on radar or wasn't in the air long enough for anyone to notice it and scramble jets, a very odd story.

In other national news today, an elaborate and shocking scheme at an airport security checkpoint. Two TSA officers allegedly targeted -- quote -- "attractive passengers" and conspired to grope them during pat-downs. How did they get away with it and how they did get caught? That story next.


[16:17:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead now: An anonymous tip uncovered a sickening scheme really, allegedly pulled off by two TSA officers. Investigators say one male and one female officer plotted together to target what they deemed to be attractive men coming through the security point at Denver International Airport. The passenger would then get flagged for additional screening, at which point the male officer would grope the male passenger, under the guise of doing a security pat-down, touching him in the wrong way in the wrong places.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is here with more on how this investigation unfolded.

Rene, how long did this go on?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It went on for months. And we know that several passengers were victimized, according to this police report that we saw today. But after investigators received this anonymous tip, the two TSA officers were caught in the act and tonight, they are off the job.


MARSH (voice-over): Two TSA officers targeting unsuspecting male passengers at the security checkpoint at Denver International Airport. It's all detailed in this police report. The pair, a man and a woman, conspired to find and grope, quote, "attractive" male passengers.

(on camera): How would you rate this violation of policy? I mean, is this the worst of the worst?

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: It doesn't get much worse than this. They undertook a scheme on a very innocent passenger trying to get to his or her flight.

MARSH (voice-over): Here's how it worked: a male officer would signal his female co-worker when he saw an attractive male. She would put information into the body scanner that a female was being screened when it was actually a man, causing the computer to detect an anomaly in the groin area, prompting a pat-down by the male officer.

After receiving an anonymous tip, TSA investigators say they witnessed the TSA officer touching a male passenger's genital area and buttocks with his palms, a clear violation of TSA policy. They're supposed to use the back of their hands.

WOLF: The procedure is very clear on how a TSA screener conducts a pat-down.

MARSH: The female officer told investigators the scheme happened at least 10 times. The two officers are no longer with the agency. In a statement, TSA said these alleged acts are egregious and intolerable. WOLF: I think the Denver Police Department definitely needs to look

at whether criminal charges of any kind need to take place. TSA screeners need to understand that this type of behavior is completely unacceptable.


MARSH: According to the D.A.'s office in Denver, two alleged victims have now come forward saying they may have been victims. Investigators got this tip in November that the groping scheme was happening. But it wasn't until roughly three months later that the investigators actively got involved.

So, the answer -- or the question now is, why did it take so long for that TSA investigator to get on the scene there at the airport?

[16:20:06] TAPPER: You'd think they would fly right out there.

All right. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Also in fairly big national headlines today, a blank face from a once superstar athlete in court today when he learned he would spend the rest of his life behind bars. The five men and seven women on the jury all agreed Aaron Hernandez killed semipro football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez once had a $40 million contract with the New England Patriots. He once scored a touchdown at the Super Bowl. Today, he's shackled in handcuffs.

CNN's Susan Candiotti was in court as this all unfolded.

Susan, not a lot of reaction from Hernandez but a very emotional day for others involved.


Yes, the bravado, the smile, the winks that we would see from him throughout this trial as he would come and go from the courtroom, all gone. As he stood there appearing stunned, perhaps, as he heard a verdict from the jury, guilty of first-degree murder.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty of murder in the first degree.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Two mothers, both sobbing in court. The lives of each of their sons forever changed in different ways, as a jury finds former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez guilty of murdering Odin Lloyd.

URSULA WARD, LLOYD'S MOTHER: My heart stop beating.

CANDIOTTI: Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward, saying she's forgiven those involved in her son's murder. His bullet-riddled body found in an isolated pit in an industrial park. WARD: I forgive the hands of the people that had a hand in my son's

murder, either before or after. And I pray and hope that someday, everyone out there will forgive them also.

CANDIOTTI: Terry Hernandez and his fiancee weeping in each other's arms as Hernandez turns to look at them. Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, is the sister of the victim's girlfriend, Shaneah, who is sitting beside Lloyds mother. Hernandez sitting down after the verdict is read, his face emotionless.

Defense attorneys maintaining the rising football star would never kill his friend Odin Lloyd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aaron Hernandez was planning a future, not a murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're committed to the MCI-Cedar Junction for a term of your natural life without the possibility of parole.

CANDIOTTI: Hernandez found guilty on three counts, first-degree murder and two weapons charges, sentenced to life behind bars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my opinion, the firearm shown in the video still is a Glock pistol.

CANDIOTTI: But the gun used to kill Lloyd has never been found. Surveillance video showing Hernandez carrying what is believed to be a Glock pistol in his home the night of the murder, still jurors say they feel confident with their verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Going by the law, we didn't need the murder weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a 23-year-old kid who had witnessed something, a shocking killing, committed by somebody he knew.

CANDIOTTI: Closing arguments taking a twist when the defense hints that Hernandez saw a crime but that he didn't do it, pinning it on his friends, Earnest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, high on PCP, who the defense says committed the murder. Both are scene on surveillance video with Hernandez before and after Lloyd's murder. They pleaded not guilty and are being tried separately.

Prosecutors argue Hernandez was not an innocent bystander.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the one who then controls the time of the killing outside the car and then effectuates the plan for the escape.

CANDIOTTI: Hernandez's mother and fiancee comforting each other as he is put in handcuffs.


CANDIOTTI: And for now, he has been transferred to a state prison ironically located very close to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough where he used to play for the New England Patriots. And you know, Jake, I spoke with a friend of his, Darryl Hodges (ph),

who testified at trial today. He said just this morning he was at the graveside of his friend, Odin Lloyd. He said, I thought I would feel better. But he's not feeling so good today because all of this brings back memories of the details of how he lost his best friend -- Jake.

TAPPER: Susan Candiotti, thank you so much.

Coming up, we're just learning now that a city an hour from Baghdad, is completely under siege on all sides by the terrorists of ISIS. The Iraqi army is now begging for help. That story, next.

Plus, equal opportunity smack talker, Governor Chris Christie back on the trail. He has a message for a certain Clinton and another one for a certain Bush.

Stay with us.


[16:28:49] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Some breaking news in our world lead today. A terrifying development in the battle against ISIS in Iraq. We have just learned the key Iraqi city of Ramadi is now completely under siege by the terrorists of ISIS. Ramadi only about 70 miles from Baghdad. Hundreds if not thousands of families are now making desperate attempts to flee Ramadi. Tribal fighters and government officials are pleading for help and ammunition.

Let's go live to Arwa Damon who is in Baghdad.

Arwa, how likely is it these fighter in Ramadi will get what they need to fend off ISIS?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And enough time to push ISIS out of the city, highly unlikely, Jake. The Iraqi government had said they sent around three brigades to Anbar province to help beef up those already there. We don't know where those brigades are at this stage. That is the question that the deputy head of the provincial council was asking as well.

Faleh al-Essawi is currently in Ramadi, and he put quite bluntly. He said, in my perspective, this city has already fallen. ISIS took over the eastern part of the city, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, according to Essawi. And all around 150,000 people have fled the city. He said that ISIS continues to advance from all sides getting closer to the city center.