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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Donald Trump on Presidency; Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies; Manhunt. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 25, 2015 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Any minute now, another prison employee could face a judge for allegedly helping two terrifying killers escape.
I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.
The national lead, a prison guard about to face charges accused of helping two dangerous fugitives who have been on the run for 20 days now. Was there anyone watching what was going on inside those walls, or were these inmates running the asylum?
The politics lead now, he wears a black robe, but to many liberals, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts wears a cape today. How did a man whom Senator Obama voted against for his -- quote -- "overarching politics philosophy" end up saving Obamacare from crumbling yet again?
Also in politics:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I give up a lot. I give up hundreds of millions of dollars in deals.
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TAPPER: Donald Trump going all in on the presidency and saying it's costing him millions. But is he as serious as that scowl suggests? A sneak peek from my one-on-one interview.
Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Some breaking news now on our national lead. The multimillion-dollar manhunt in New York for escaped killers Richard Matt and David Sweat is now on day 20. You're looking right now at live pictures from inside the courtroom where the arraignment of prison guard Gene Palmer, who was arrested yesterday for aiding in the escape of the two fugitives, will take place at any moment now.
There's also some new information on how the prison was run, a former maintenance supervisor at the prison telling CNN that the Clinton Correctional Facility used inmates to do plumbing and electrical work if the maintenance department was shorthanded, and if corrections officers were understaffed, inmates doing these jobs were not always supervised.
As evidence seems to be mounting that there were lapses in security at the prison, investigators from the New York State Inspector General's Office now at the Clinton Correctional Facility scrutinizing security protocols.
And while this is happening, the manhunt for the two men continues. We're learning more from an interview Gene Palmer gave state police.
CNN national correspondent Alexandra Field is in Owls Head, New York.
Alexandra, what can you tell us?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jake.
Gene is filling in some of the details about what happened behind bars, telling police though that he didn't intentionally help the inmates and saying that whatever assistance he gave them, he had no idea that it would make their escape easier.
FIELD (voice-over): We're learning new details on how David Sweat and Richard Matt were aided in their escape. An official close to the investigation tells CNN Gene Palmer, a prison guard, gave at least one of the inmates a screwdriver and needle-nosed pliers, supposedly to help fix electrical breakers in the catwalk area behind their cells, so they could use hot plates in those cells to cook.
The tools were later found at Palmer's home after police executed a search warrant. Palmer gave access and supervised Matt and Sweat while they worked on the breakers, taking the tools back at the end of his shift. These are the same catwalks used during the inmates' elaborate escape 20 days ago.
ANDREW BROCKWAY, ATTORNEY FOR GENE PALMER: He's a man of integrity. He's fully cooperated with this investigation. He understands that it's a public emergency. He wants these two to be captured.
FIELD: Palmer also accepted paintings from Matt and Sweat, according to court documents. A search of Palmer's house by investigators showed he tried to destroy the paintings by burning some in a fire pit and burying others in the woods.
In an NPR radio interview from 15 years ago, Palmer describes life inside the Clinton Correctional Facility as a negative environment. He went on to say that life as a prison guard is as miserable as the lives of the prisoners themselves.
GENE PALMER, PRISON GUARD: With the money that they pay you, you will go bald, and you will have high pressure, you will become an alcoholic, you will divorce, and then you will kill yourself.
FIELD: Palmer bailed himself out of jail, paying the $25,000 bail with a credit card. Joyce Mitchell, the other prison employee charged in connection with
the escape, allegedly put hacksaw blades and drill bits into chunks of hamburger meat. She then asked Palmer to take the meat to the inmates' cell. Palmer did not run the meat through a metal detector, a direct violation of prison policy.
BROCKWAY: He was conned by Joyce Mitchell. She duped him. And looking back on that, he can't believe that someone would take advantage of him.
FIELD: As convicted killer Richard Matt turns 49 today, hundreds of law enforcement officers are still searching through dense woods around a hunting cabin the fugitives are believed to have burglarized. Boots and a sock were found inside that cabin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a sock that's been recovered, as -- listed as white and red, and the red could obviously be blood. I do know that a DNA profile was from one of the socks.
FIELD: It's been five days since authorities discovered that cabin and the evidence inside.
They have had no credible leads on the men's whereabouts since then. So, they have upped the law enforcement presence on the ground. Jake, there are now more than 1,100 law enforcement officers spread out between Franklin County and also Clinton County. They have now received some 2,400 tips.
TAPPER: And, Alexandra, we're expecting at any moment the second prison employee to face charges. This is prison guard Gene Palmer. We're expecting either him or his lawyer or both to show up in this courtroom that viewers are seeing live on the right side of the screen.
What can we expect there? What's going to happen?
FIELD: We expect that he or his lawyer will enter a plea of not guilty.
We're really learning a lot more about what Gene Palmer has been able to contribute to this investigation though from that interview with state police, those details just coming in today. He is telling police a little bit more about the culture of the relationship between himself and the two inmates, both Richard Matt and David Sweat. He said that what he was getting included elaborate paintings and also details about the potentially illegal activity of other inmates.
And he said that in exchange for that, he was offering assistance, the assistance which he said he didn't anticipate would make an escape any easier. But he said he would provide things like paint, paint brushes, the hamburger meat, which is of course key to this case, and also the access to that electrical box. But, again, he was underscoring the point to investigators that he
believed that they needed access to that electrical box in order to repair a breaker, so that they could cook in their cells. We know that cooking was one of the privileges on the honor block, Jake.
TAPPER: Interesting. Alexandra Field in Owls Head, New York, thank you so much.
I'm joined now by Craig Caine. He's a retired U.S. Marshal of the New York and New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force. And in Sacramento, we have Robert Ayers. He's a former warden at San Quentin State Prison in California.
Welcome to both of you.
We will -- just for our viewers, when the arraignment begins, we will bring that to you live. You can see that on the right side of the screen.
But, in the meantime, let's talk about what's going on.
Craig, you're an expert obviously on catching fugitives. How likely do you think it is that Matt and Sweat or anyone who makes it three weeks without being caught is getting some sort of help on the outside?
CRAIG CAINE, RETIRED U.S. MARSHAL: Well, I have been saying this all along, Jake.
What's troubling to me right now is the DNA evidence that they found in the cabin. Law enforcement got that tip, I believe it was Saturday morning sometime. By the time they arrived and set up a perimeter, so to speak, a couple hours could have passed. But what I haven't heard is that canine did not pick up any scent.
Now, I'm not privy to every bit of information that's going on up there. So, if this was an elaborate conspiracy and there are other staff members involved or outside people, could that have been a ploy, a ruse? Could one of their cohorts have brought dirty underwear and a sock and a peanut butter jar and left it in the cabin and somebody says, oh, yes, I seen somebody running from there, when, in fact, they were never even there and they're somewhere in Idaho right now?
Robert, the investigation is uncovering obviously some major lapses from inside the prison, prisoner-employee sex, smuggling of power tools, what seem like very lax rules when it comes to prisoner movement. As a former prison warden, have you ever seen anything like this?
ROBERT AYERS, FORMER PRISON WARDEN: I don't know that I have seen it to this extent.
And I think I -- the first thing I want to say is that the vast majority of people who work in our prisons are hardworking, honest, dedicated people.
And it's most of them, as well as the prison administrators are always on guard and concerned about the occasional employee who crosses the line. I think this is just a stark example of the worst -- or what can happen when employees do cross the line.
I also think it points to the fact that you can build the most secure facility on earth. I was also the warden at Pelican Bay, and -- which is a supermax prison -- and we always have to keep in mind that it's the employees that are the strongest factor in prison security, but they can also be the weakest link.
Craig, you seem to sound a little skeptical of the hunt going on right now. Is there anything specifically that you think law enforcement should be doing that they're not or things that they could be doing better?
CAINE: No, not at all, Jake. They're experts at what they're doing out there.
The public has to understand that, you know, we're not magicians out there. We don't have a magic wand we can wave, that this ain't like TV or a motion picture. This is real life, people spending a lot of hours combing through woods, dense terrain, bugs, what have you, that they have to exhaust every lead, and they have to feel comfortable that they searched that so-called perimeter to the extent where they have to scale back at some point in time. But that's only when they exhaust every possible lead.
TAPPER: Robert, if the prison suspected a close relationship between Joyce Mitchell and one or more prisoners, why was she still working there? Wouldn't that be enough to dismiss her?
AYERS: Well, that's actually a fairly -- can be a fairly complicated situation.
But, normally, when we have an employee that we suspect is involved with an inmate, the first thing you would want to do is take the inmate or inmates and get them out of the situation. And normally what -- in our state, we would lock them up in administrative segregation, pending that investigation, and then you can re -- we would reassign the employee usually to an area that doesn't have inmate contact.
TAPPER: All right, Craig Caine and Robert Ayers, if you would please stand by, stay with us.
We're going to take a very quick break -- when we come back, more on the manhunt and, of course, much other news, including a major victory for President Obama when it comes to his signature health care law. Stay with us. We will be right back.
[16:16:09] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We're expecting any moment to see a prison guard alleged to have assisted in the escape of two murderers, still on the lam. We're expecting that arraignment in court. We'll bring that to you live when it happens.
But now, let's got to our politics lead, once day, one decision could have undone a key part of his legacy, perhaps his most profound legislative achievement. Instead, today it seems President Obama will instead go down in history as the president to put the government in the health care business and keep it there for good.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that even though the law seemed to many to suggest federal subsidies were only for Americans who bought insurance through individual state-run exchanges, the intent of the law was broader than that, and everyone who qualifies can get them. Just like that, the last time Obama care survived a battering at the Supreme Court, its savior was Chief Justice John Roberts whose nomination then Senator Obama voted against, one might recall. He did the same again today.
Let's get right to CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.
Pamela, a big, big victory for President Obama.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about it, Jake. A resounding victory for President Obama who nearly saw these four words, "established by the state", wreck his signature legislative achievement. And as you pointed out, Jake, Chief Justice Roberts stepping once again and taking the lead to save this bill. It was a broad ruling, allowing millions of people to keep their subsidies.
BROWN (voice-over): Supporters of the president's health care plan celebrating outside the Supreme Court after the justices kept the law intact, preserving insurance coverage for millions of Americans and handing the Obama administration a massive win.
CROWD: ACA is here to stay! ACA is here to stay!
BROWN: This marked the second time the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts played a role in rescuing Obamacare. He joined with Anthony Kennedy and the four liberal justices in the 6-3 decision, writing the majority opinion that upholds federal health care tax subsidies for eligible Americans no matter where they live.
Roberts says a contentious phrase in the Affordable Care Act with the four words "established by the state" does not change the law as a whole. He wrote, quote, the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact that the chief has yet again stepped in
to lead the court in upholding the Affordable Care Act is a sign, I think, of the strength of the administration's arguments that the law is legal.
BROWN: Had Obama care opponents won, 6.4 million Americans in 34 states would have been at risk for losing key subsidies and potentially their coverage. Chief Justice Roberts argued, quote, "Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the act in the way that consistent with the former and avoids the latter."
Justice Antonin Scalia led the opposition, reading his scathing dissent from the bench of the court, saying, quote, "We should start calling this law, SCOTUScare."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice Scalia saying that what the chief justice and other justices did in this is to you, basically, rewrite the law because Congress was sloppy. But he simply just didn't have the argument in that case.
BROWN: And there are other challenges in the pipeline right now to Obamacare, but none that have such high stakes as the one today. It's interesting to note here that Chief Justice Roberts could have ruled more narrowly. That would have given the next administration a chance to interpret the law differently but he didn't leave the door open for that.
TAPPER: No, he did not. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.
Let's bring in CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue, and CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Thank you both for being here.
Ariane, let me start with you, lots of nasty attacks from the right against Bush appointee, Chief Justice John Roberts.
[16:20:02] And you have to wonder, does he worry about this at all? Does he mind this conservative backlash?
ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: I've got to think, today, he sure showed that he doesn't care about it at all. You remember back in 2012 when some conservatives wore t-shirts that said, "Roberts, coward." And the other people said he needs to atone for his sins. Tough language.
And I think he showed today said in this opinion, he doesn't care about that. He said the language might not have been completely clear, but he looked at the intent of the law and upheld it and looked at the way he thought what Congress meant. He doesn't seem to be taking a lot of concern about such criticism.
TAPPER: Very interesting. Jeffrey Toobin, the president's director of speech writing, Cody
Keenan, he had two speeches written, the one that we heard in the Rose Garden, a triumphant one and the second one in the event the Supreme Court ruled against the administration. Keenan now has the second one for posterity, the president signed it "didn't need this one, brother."
Now, whether it's that item or something else related, you say that Obamacare may be the first exhibit in the Obama presidential library.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. When you look at the Obama presidency which is now about three-quarters over, and what's the most significant thing he has done? You could say ending the war in Iraq. You could say winding down the war in Afghanistan. You could talk about the economic recovery.
But in terms of what will endure, I think the Affordable Care Act is now firmly established, and you are talking about millions of people who have health care who wouldn't otherwise have health care. It's there and it's going to stay there unless the political branches overturn it.
The courts are now effectively out of the story. It's going to be up to Republicans in Congress and those who may win the presidency to overturn it because the courts have now said we're done.
TAPPER: That's right. A lot of Republican presidential candidates saying the fight is not over, but they're talking about overturning it.
Jeffrey Toobin, Ariane de Vogue, thank you both so much.
Coming up, breaking news from Upstate New York, we're still waiting for the arraignment to begin for the second prison employee charged with the escape of the two inmates, those killer fugitives. We'll bring that to you live when it happens.
Stay with us.
[16:26:41] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
You are looking at live pictures from inside a New York state courtroom where any moment the arraignment of a prison guard is set to begin. The prison guard is accused of helping two killers escape from Clinton County correctional. We will take that live as it happens.
But let's turn to another story leading our national lead today. As Charleston, South Carolina, begins to bury its dead, the family of the confessed church killer and racist terrorist Dylann Roof released a statement saying they will answer questions, but for now, they want to keep the focus on the nine people who lost their lives, and, quote, "give their families time to grieve", unquote.
Members of the community in South Carolina were doing just that today, gathering to say their final goodbyes to 70-year-old Ethel Lance and Reverend Sharonda Coleman Singleton.
Let's get right to CNN's Alina Machado live in Charleston where they're preparing for a public viewing of State Senator and reverend, Clementa Pinckney's body.
Alina, are they expecting large crowds for this?
ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, it seems that they are.
I'm going to move out of the way so you can see the scene here in front of Mother Emanuel church. They shut down the road in front of the church a little while ago. And this viewing is set to begin in about an hour and a half, all as this community begins the painful process of saying good-bye to the victims of this massacre.
MACHADO (voice-over): South Carolinians lay to rest two of the nine church shooting victims, Ethel Lance was 70 and enjoying he retirement, she worked at 34 years at Charleston's Gilliard Auditorium. Her daughter Nadine Collier describes her as a strong woman, who worked hard to keep her family together and was devoted to the Emanuel AME Church.
Last week, Collier spoke directly to her mother's killer at his court appearance.
NADINE COLLIER, DAUGHTER OF ETHEL LANCE: You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.
MACHADO: Victim Sharonda Coleman Singleton was a reverend at the church where her life was taken, just 45 years old. She was also a speech therapist and high school track coach.
Also today, the body of reverend and state senator, Clementa Pinckney, returning home to Mother Emanuel for his wake. Pinckney had been lying in state inside the South Carolina statehouse where just outside the Confederate Flag still flies.
Though Governor Nikki Haley has called for the flag's removal, she acknowledges she doesn't have the authority to do it herself. She says doing so would likely leave her open to a lawsuit. Supporters of the flag and the history it represents defending it on the statehouse lawn earlier today.
COMMANDER LELAND SUMMERS, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS: Attempting to use this horrible crime to remove historical markers and monuments and to deface them is despicable, shameful and disrespects them.
MACHADO: Attention on the horrific attack and the flag debate that has followed continues to have national implications. And tomorrow, it will take another turn, when the president heads to Charleston to deliver the eulogy at Reverend Pinckney's funeral.