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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Freddie Gray's Case Compared To 2005 Arrest; U.S. Strikes Kill Two Top American Al Qaeda Leaders; First Black Female Attorney General To Take Office; Protesters Question Freddie Gray's Arrest And Death. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 23, 2015 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Coming up, it's a case that was all but forgotten until Freddie Gray's death. Another man who died from a spinal injury after taking a ride in the Baltimore police van, the officer driving the van at that time was accused of intentionally roughing him up. That's next.

Plus, just who were the two American members of al Qaeda killed in the U.S. drone strikes? One had a million dollars bounty on his head. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:34:30]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. More now on our National Lead, the mysterious death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody has left some protesters wondering whether Gray may have been a target of the so-called rough ride, a rough ride is when a driver of a police van allegedly intentionally makes sudden starts and stops so that the person in custody can get banged up.

This isn't the first time the Baltimore Police Department has faced that type of accusation as first read this morning in "The Daily Beast."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Of all the many questions that remain in the investigation into the fatal injuries suffered by Freddie Gray, the most important remains, how was he so severely brutally fatally injured?

[16:35:12] TESSA HILL-ASTON, PRESIDENT, BALTIMORE NAACP: What needs to be asked is what happened before the van or in the van, you know, you can get rocked around pretty good if you're not tied or concealed in a certain kind of way.

TAPPER: The police union says they've heard these complaints before.

MICHAEL DAVEY, ATTORNEY, BALTIMORE POLICE UNION: It's something people on the street tell us a lot that that happens. In my 16 years of representing police officers, have I had anyone disciplined for that? No. TAPPER: To some in Baltimore, Gray's case seems eerily similar to a case from a decade ago in Baltimore involving an arrest, a police van and a broken neck. It started here at the corner of Pimlico Road in Loyola Southway.

Dondee Johnson Sr. was walking home from work. He stopped to relieve himself in an alley and was arrested by police. Normally public urination in Baltimore gets you a ticket, not an arrest.

But Johnson was handcuffed and put in the back of a police van without a seatbelt. During the ride, Johnson pitched off the bench and snapped his neck.

According to court documents, Johnson said, the officer in the van was driving like a (inaudible). I fell and I can't move. He was taken to the hospital where according to court documents, Johnson told the doctor the wagon made a sharp turn. I fell hitting face first. I heard a pop and blacked out.

Two weeks later, Johnson died. There were no criminal charges, but Johnson's family filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Baltimore police. A jury awarded them $7.4 million for the wrongful death at police hands.

During the trial, Officer Nicole Leak, who drove the police van testified quote, "I did not seatbelt him because she thought he had a full bladder and didn't want to discomfort him." She denied giving him a rough ride. An illegal tactic used to rough up arrestees.

BRANDON SCOTT, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCIL: It makes you want to wonder, what can we do to shed light on those cases, but also to prevent them from happening?

TAPPER: Now Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott is calling for hearings about how police transport arrestees.

SCOTT: I know growing up as a young black male in the 90s that Baltimore has made a lot of progress when it comes to police issues and things. As you can see, it was a lot more common back then. We have a lot more work to do moving forward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: In our World Lead today, two accused terrorists, both Americans dead from U.S. drone strikes. What do we know about the role they played in al Qaeda and what do their deaths mean for the future of the terrorist group? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:49]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We are going to continue with our World Now, two al Qaeda hostages were accidently killed in a U.S. drone strike in January as announced by President Obama this morning. That air strike and a different one also took out senior al Qaeda leaders including two American citizens. One of the dead terrorists is Adam Gadahn born Adam Pearlman, a Californian come al Qaeda spokesman.

Well-known to U.S. counterterrorism officials, who is regularly called for attacks against the United States and against the west.

Joining us now is CNN counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd, the former deputy director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. Also with us is CNN terror analyst, Paul Cruickshank.

Phil, I want to start with you, two hostages were killed, one American, the other one not an American. Was this drone strike a mistake?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I have heard commentary all afternoon characterizing this is a mistake. We got to start up by saying it was a tragedy. As an intelligence professional it's not at all clear to me this is a mistake.

Let me tell you why, the way this works is you're going to look at what's called signatures. You'll get information that suggests there's a group of al Qaeda bad guys at a facility in a no man's land that not even the Pakistani army can access.

As the president said today, you're going to surveil that facility for potentially hundreds of hours not only to understand whether that target is there, but to also look at patterns of life and determine if women and children are there.

And then after you make that determination, you're going to take a shot. Now if somebody says that there is a step beyond that that requires you to get physical access to that facility, to insure you identify every person and to insure you get into the basement to see if that's the one in a million where there might be an American hostage or a European hostage.

My answer would be, we had a tragedy today, but that standard for action is a Hollywood movie. That is not warfare. This is tragic. It's not clear to me that it's a mistake.

TAPPER: Paul, how big a blow is it to al Qaeda, these two individuals that were taken out including Adam Gadahn?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: There is no doubt that it is a significant blow against al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan, Pakistan border region. Adam Gadahn was al Qaeda's central chief English language propagandist.

Somebody who in recent years was urging loan wolves in the United States to launch gun attacks, for example, and Al Farouk was the deputy leader of this new al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

A group which back in September had a failed attempt to try an hijack a Pakistani Navy vessel in Karachi and to use it to attack an American warship.

So it's a significant blow against the group. These are two key figures, two Americans at the pinnacle of the organization over there.

TAPPER: Phil, quickly, if you would, the White House said that they did not know that Gadahn or Farouk was at the al Qaeda compounds either though they knew they were high value al Qaeda leaders present.

Obviously, there were necessary protocols for targeting an American that were not followed in this case. The ACLU and other civil liberties groups not so sure that the administration is being forth right, what's your take?

[16:45:09] MUDD: Are you kidding me? This is Washington, D.C., if somebody had some certitude that there were Americans there in the wake of killings of other Americans like Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen years ago. That would leak in about 45 minutes.

The number of people who know what goes on in these operations has got to be in the hundreds. I'm not saying the CIA, the military or the government is perfect. I'm just saying, trust me, that would leak if somebody tried to hide it. I don't buy that for a second.

TAPPER: All right, Paul Cruickshank, Phil Mudd, thank you so much for your insights. Appreciate it.

Coming up, we'll go back live to Baltimore where protesters have taken to the streets in large numbers. What kind of crowds are we expecting this evening? We'll talk to an organizer next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:49:45]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Politics Lead today, a historic vote on Capitol Hill. It's official after months of political posturing and grand standing and delay after delay. The U.S. Senate finally confirmed former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general. The vote was 56-43.

CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, joins me now. Dana, ten Republicans voted to confirm her. Any surprises?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There was, one big surprise and that's the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he voted yes after being the one because he's in charge of the floor of holding this up for months and months.

You know, Democrats have talked about the fact this has been the longest attorney general held up since the Reagan years, that was three decades ago. He voted yes.

Now I actually saw him in the hallway afterwards and asked him why he wouldn't say. But minutes after, he walked over to a group of African-American House Democrats who had come over for the vote shaking their hands, smiling. And they were congratulating each other. It was kind of remarkable. He was saying he thinks it's time to move on from the Eric Holder administration.

TAPPER: Interesting, and then of course, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who is running for president has made a lot of hey out of the Lynch nomination. He opposes it. How did he vote today?

BASH: I think that we can say this is one of the definitions of (inaudible), Jake. This is a man who was the only one of all 100 senators who wasn't there. He was the one who from day one all senators should oppose Loretta Lynch's nomination because she is one of the key nominees, who is going to push forward the president's immigration plan, which is, by the way, why a lot of Republicans voted against her.

He wasn't there. He was here today. He was in the Senate today. He voted on an earlier procedural vote, which his office is saying that's one that actually mattered. But the actual confirmation that he wanted to vote no on, he wasn't there.

And the reason is because he was on his way to Houston for a major fundraiser for his presidential campaign, with a guy named Ted Hicks, who is house is up for sale right now for $100 million.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, interesting stuff, back story, thank you.

Coming up, back in Baltimore, protesters have taken to the streets blocking traffic in some spots. We'll go there live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:56:07]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Let's go back to our National Lead now, a growing crowd outside Baltimore City Hall, days without information now infuriating protesters, who want to know the details behind a man's death while in the custody of the Baltimore City police.

Freddie Gray, as you know, was dragged by officers into a police van. It's a mystery, however, what happened in that van or before he was put in it. Today a number of groups are leading protests, rallies, and vigils across Baltimore.

Reverend Jamal Bryant is one of the many organizers of these protests. He joins me now live from Baltimore. Reverend, thanks so much for joining us. You're a pastor at Empowerment Temple just a few blocks from where police arrested Gray.

You've called on your congregation to join you at city hall today. What's the message you want your congregation to be sending and to whom?

REVEREND JAMAL BRYANT, ORGANIZED FREDDIE GRAY PROTEST: We're demanding a message because we're between city hall and the Baltimore Police Headquarters. We need some answers. There is no account as to why Mr. Gray was even arrested. There's a lapse in time that has been unaccounted for.

For the police commissioner and the mayor to say they have no answers, it almost feels like Barney Fife has moved to Baltimore. We need to know answers. Somebody has to answer to this mother why her 25-year- old son is going to be buried on Monday.

TAPPER: The protests in Baltimore all week have been thankfully peaceful. Today the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, announced that state troopers will join Baltimore police as a backup to keep things under control. What's your reaction?

BRYANT: I think it's unnecessary expense. There has been absolutely nothing out of order. It is my prayer he would use that money and put it back out of the public school system he just took out of in the general assembly. We don't need barricades and fences. We need books. Everybody has been operating in decency and order and at the highest level of dignity.

TAPPER: The president of the police union or an official of the police union yesterday compared the protests to a lynch mob. He says, that their evidence of desire to not let due process play out for the officers allegedly involved. What was your reaction to his use of that term?

BRYANT: It was absolutely laughable when you would consider that those six police officers acted like a lynch mob against Freddie Gray. There was no probable cause. No reason for arrests. No reason to put him into the police vehicle. They have no account of their time. So the community is saying the police have been ISIS to us. We're being terrorized with no accountability.

TAPPER: The Baltimore Police Department has shed very little light into how Freddie Gray was possibly hurt, how he later died. Are you hoping that the crowds and the protests will pressure them to move faster than they are when it comes to releasing the information about what happened?

BRYANT: We're really sending a message to the state capitol. The police are operating out of their officer's Bill of Rights, which gives them the room for ten days not to say anything, to get covering and to get real legal representation.

If something is out of sorts, if the police have greater coverage than the citizens and so what has to happen to the state legislators is they've to review that law and there has to be accountability for our community.

Otherwise, the police officer will be able to continuously to operate in reckless abandonment when it comes to the handling of black men.

TAPPER: Reverend Jamal Bryant, thank you so much. I continue to hope and pray that the protests are peaceful. Thank you so much for your time. We'll end the show on a lighter note, a lot of grim news today. But today was take your daughters and sons to work day. That meant dozens of smiling beautiful young faces here in the CNN Washington Bureau. One of those peanuts is mine.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Brianna Keilar. She's filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" right next door -- Brianna.