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Authorities Investigate Prison Break; Chris Christie Running for President; ISIS Fears; N.Y. Official: Prisoners Practiced Escape the Night Before; Greece on the Brink. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 30, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Heightened terror concerns from top national security officials.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. The terrorist took a selfie with a severed head -- new information coming in today about terror on three continents, the exact type of attacks, maximum horror, minimal planning that have U.S. officials so worried about the Fourth of July weekend here.

The politics lead. He's got a bark as big as his bite, but today Governor Chris Christie, once at the top of the polls, entered the race for 2016 as the underdog. Can he pull off a comeback by -- quote -- "telling it like it is"?

Also, an entire neighborhood destroyed as residents watch their homes burn from across the river, wildfires feeding off strong winds, and the hottest June in one state's history with no sign of it slowing down?

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

We're going to begin with our national lead and an urgent warning from U.S. national security officials.

Concern is growing that ISIS-inspired jihadists may be planning a devastating and symbolic terrorist attack to coincide with July 4 celebrations this weekend, this coming as ISIS claims responsibility and praises a string of deadly attacks across three continents Friday at a beach resort in Tunisia, at a mosque in Kuwait, and at a U.S. chemical plant in France, where a man beheaded his boss, took a selfie with a decapitated body, and sent that image to an ISIS friend in Syria, all before trying to blow himself up in a suicide mission.

It is that exact type of lone wolf terrorist attack that is reportedly keeping local, state and federal law enforcement officers in this country on edge.

Let's get right to CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. She's live in New York.

And, Pamela, it's no secret that terrorist groups aspire to stage attacks around symbolic days, attacks quite like the ones we saw in Tunisia and France. But is there a credible threat about July 4 weekend?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there's a lot of concern, but we're being told no specific credible threat as of now for the holiday weekend.

But, as one counterterrorism official I spoke with today said, with the evolving ISIS threat of supporters rapidly going from aspirational to operational, it's very tough to have credible intelligence of an attack before it happens.

And I will tell you the concern is especially heightened following several recent global ISIS attacks you talked about, including that beheading in France.


BROWN (voice-over): New gruesome details about the ISIS-inspired beheading in France at an American-owned factory are raising fears about a similar attack in the U.S. around the July 4 holiday.

Today, a French prosecutor said the suspect hung the victim's head from a fence surrounded with two Islamic flags. He also posed for a picture with the body.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS beheading has been a tactic of choice for them in Syria and Iraq. But we're now seeing this tactic spread throughout the Middle East and also to Europe. The worry is the United States is next.

BROWN: In the wake of the near simultaneous attacks in France, Kuwait, in a beachside attack in Tunisia that killed at least 38 people, here in the U.S., the FBI made its ninth ISIS-related arrest this month.

Authorities say 23-year-old Alaa Saadeh planned to go to Syria to fight. He is part of a group of ISIS supporters in the New York City area, including a Queens college student arrested recently for allegedly plotting bombings in New York.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: I anticipate you're going to see more and more arrests as we lead up to the Fourth of July holiday. And that's to get these people off the streets, so they can't conduct a terrorist attack.

BROWN: U.S. counterterrorism officials fear the symbolic July 4 holiday celebrations coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan will further embolden ISIS supporters in the U.S. to unleash attacks, a threat taken so seriously, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI sent out a warning to law enforcement officials a week in advance of the holiday.

CRUICKSHANK: Terrorist groups have historically been interested in targeting the United States on the July 4 holiday, because they see that holiday as being very important to Americans and if something were to happen, that this would inflict additional psychological trauma.


BROWN: And so of particular concern on the holidays, of course, celebrations, rallies, any place in the U.S. where a lot of people are gathering, Jake.

As per standard operating procedure, the FBI and local law enforcement will have command posts set up at various locations. But it's really that lone wolf attack that -- that is so troubling to officials at this time of year.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

In Tunisia, the hunt is on for two -- quote -- "dangerous terrorists" who may be connected to Friday's deadly massacre where 38 people were murdered at a beachside hotel popular with Western tourists; 11 of the victims have yet to be identified.


Let's go right to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's live in Tunisia.

Nick, we're learning much more about the man behind this deadly attack. Tell us.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The most chilling detail, Jake, frankly is that he was trained, we are told, by senior Tunisian counterterrorism officials in Libya at the same time as the two men who attacked the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, in March. That attack killed over 20.

Now, that is a particularly chilling detail, because it raises the possibility we're talking about a cell here, about coordinated attacks maybe, even. We don't know if those men when they came back to Tunisia from Libya, war-torn, where ISIS have a foothold, actually communicated or knew what the other group was supposed to be doing, but it raises another chilling question that I'm sure is at the heart of what investigators are worried about right now, Jake, and that is, are there more people who have been trained in Libya, sent here?

Authorities suggesting the radicalization of Seifeddine Rezgui was in fact online initially, but this trip to Libya has also made them think there could be two key suspects he was involved in. One is a lesser known group called Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda affiliate, but has sort of morphed into ISIS at times, and also ISIS themselves have claimed responsibility and released a picture of the gunman on the night of the attack, so a lot of questions still to be answered, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh live in Tunisia, thanks so much.

Joining me to talk about the threat from ISIS is former CIA operative Bob Baer.

Bob, security bulletins are typically issued ahead of holidays, such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, Labor Day. Is this one different?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the fact that they have gone public with this, I mean, we all know about the Fourth of July.

But when they're talking about this, and especially in the wake of the beheading in France and the shootings in Tunisia, the FBI is monitoring people traveling to Syria and Iraq, jihadists, would-be jihadists. But that's not their main concern.

Their main concern is a copycat terrorist, someone who will pick up an automatic weapon, go into a Fourth of July event and start shooting people or a simple beheading. And these kind of attacks in Tunisia and France are an inspiration for people who are believers in this country.

TAPPER: What type of additional precautions or security measures do you think should be put in place, given this FBI/Department of Homeland Security warning?

BAER: I think that -- you know, I think what they have to do is start hauling these people in. You simply -- the FBI can't go knock on their door and ask a suspect, have you been radicalized?

You need to do searches. You need to get into chat rooms. You need to be more aggressive. The FBI needs to get out of their offices and hit the streets. It's a thankless job, but there's no choice, because these people are homegrown. And it's very hard to get inside their heads unless you really confront them.

TAPPER: It seems obvious that while law enforcement should be aware and so should the general public, the way to stop homegrown radicals is primarily through intelligence gathering and not law enforcement, right?

You get them before they actually commit an act?

BAER: Well, my understanding is there's so many people that are on the Web looking at the beheadings, subscribing to this philosophy of jihad and are fascinating by it, but a teenager fascinated by what's going on in the Middle East does not mean that they're going to switch over and turn to violence.

And that's what's so hard for the FBI is to figure out the ones that are going to do it. And something as simple as find out who goes out and buys an automatic weapon or bullets for it is a better lead.

But, right now, they're only catching the low-hanging fruit, the people going to Syria and Iraq, which aren't an immediate threat to the United States.

TAPPER: The chair of the House Homeland Security Committee told CNN earlier today that more than 10 terror plots in the U.S. have been disrupted since May and that more arrests should be expected this week.

In a ballpark way, because I know you're still in touch with a lot of people in the intelligence community, how many suspected jihadis are currently being monitored by law enforcement, by intelligence, or is it impossible to tell; it's just an overwhelming number of people looking at material?

BAER: It's hundreds and hundreds all across the United States.

And it's not just Muslims. It's a lot of young people who are fascinated by belonging to this cult that know nothing about Islam. And they feel that they pick up a weapon, they're going to -- you know, it's an act of significance for them, historical significance, and they're doing the right thing.

And for you and me, it's insanity, but, for them, it's not. How many precisely? It all depends who you're asking. But there's thousands, if you like, that are potential jihadists.

TAPPER: All right, Bob Baer, thank you so much.

Also in the national lead today, prison leaders now suspended as the FBI looking into whether drugs and corruption run rampant in that maximum security facility.


Also today, the captured fugitive is divulging new details about the escape plan that included a practice run the night before -- that story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In our national lead today: With one fugitive shot dead and the other now back in police custody, the manhunt for those escaped killers is finally, thankfully over, but the story isn't.

The investigation into how they escaped and other serious problems at the prison is only expanding. Earlier today, 12 employees of the Clinton correctional facility were placed on leave, including prison superintendent Steven Racette, seen here in this video with Governor Cuomo at the prison on June 6th, the day Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped.

Sweat continues to talk to authorities about how he and his erstwhile partner escaped.

[16:15:04] Jason Carroll is in Dannemora, New York, outside the prison.

Jason, what can David Sweat possibly have to gain by sharing this information?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a number of things. As you know, he quite possibly is headed to solitary confinement. So, perhaps he can shave off a little bit of that time. I know you've heard the term singing like a canary. Well, David Sweat appears to be doing that and a little bit more as he gives investigators more details, more insight into how they were able to carry all of this off.


CARROLL (voice-over): The jail break investigation now in full swinging looking into how prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat hatched their escape plan. Sweat told police they conducted a practice run the night before the escape, this according to a state official.

Investigators also looking at whether guards on the so-called honor block were sleeping during their shifts which would have allowed the escapees to easily leave their jail cells and prepare for their escape. Meanwhile, three executives and nine security staff including prison superintendent Steven Racette and his deputy have been put on administrative leave.

Matt was shot and killed in these woods Friday. CNN has obtained a graphic image that some viewers may find disturbing soon after Matt's capture, showing he was shot in the top of the head.

Sweat shot twice in the torso Sunday during his capture is now hospitalized. His condition upgraded today to fair, showing improvement. He's talking to investigators.

And there's another big investigation beyond the jail break. The FBI has launched a probe into possible broader corruption at the Clinton correctional facility, including possible drug trafficking and other criminal behavior among prison employees and inmates. Officials say some employees have told investigators about heroin use among prisoners and that employees may have played a role in the drug trade.

Former Clinton correctional facility inmate Louis Ferrante said a heroin ring would not surprise him at all.

LOUIS FERRANTE, FORMER CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY INMATE: I was in federal, state and county prisons, there's heroin use in every single prison. If feds want to tackle this, they better get ready.

CARROLL: A source says prison worker Joyce Mitchell admitted to smuggling hacksaw blades by hiding them in frozen hamburger meat and having them delivered to Matt. She's pleaded not guilty to promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation.

Mitchell is said to be, quote, "ecstatic" the manhunt is over. And what's next for Sweat? Even though authorities want to know more about the escape plot and who helped him. Observers say it's unlikely he'll get a plea deal out of it. It is also unlikely sweat will end up back at Clinton correctional facility.

FERRANTE: And typically they'd be like, wow, here's our champion, they're going to be spitting on him. I mean, he's garbage now.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL: And, Jake, also a bit more information about Lyle Mitchell. His attorney speaking to CNN saying that he was amazed to learn that his wife who was supposed to be the getaway driver, also saying that he is very glad that David sweat was finally caught -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jason Carroll in New York, thank you so much.

The money lead: an economy on the brink of collapse. Last ditch efforts to save the system in Greece before consequences are felt throughout the world.

Also, Senator Ted Cruz taking on the Supreme Court, saying the justices injected themselves into politics.

Plus, how the presidential candidate ended up watch willing hardcore pornography with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Yes, that actually happened. And it's coming up.


[16:22:45] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Greece is the word in our money lead today. The country is teetering on the edge of a massive debt default. So, the country's precarious position has caused international markets to plunge.

And President Obama said today that while he did not believe the U.S. would be directly harmed by a default, it could have long term global implications that would reach our shores.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can have a significant effect on growth rates in Europe. And if Europe's not growing, the way it needs to grow, that has an impact on us, it has an impact on Brazil. Those are major export markets. And that can have a dampening effect on the entire world economy.


TAPPER: We should probably put up a clock, because it's ticking for Athens to come up with some way to secure the $1.8 billion it owes the International Monetary Fund and, frankly, it's not looking good.

Richard Quest is in Athens with all the latest -- Richard.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Jake, right up until the last minute, this has been a day of extraordinary developments and high drama. The Greek government has asked its European partners for an extension of its existing deal, and the Europeans have said no.

And the Greeks have also asked for a brand new bailout from the stability mechanism, the bailout fund. Now, the Europeans are going to have to take some time to work out whether or not to give the Greeks any new money.

The situation remains dire here in Greece. They will be in default to the IMF in just an hour or two. They will have no bailout funds available to them. The banks are closed and the stock markets closed and won't reopen until next week at the earliest. And we're hearing reports that companies and people are not paying taxes because they want to see what's going to happen.

The Greek government coffers are almost bare and there seems to be no obvious or simple way out. One top European official put it to me like this -- all the easy answers have gone. There's no easy way out, and as far as the Greek people are concerned, things may be about to get worse -- Jake.


[16:25:05] TAPPER: Richard Quest with good news from Athens. Thank you.

The politics lead, he has a tough talking brash delivery, call it a character flaw, call it a virtue. Either way, Chris Christie wants to use it to his advantage, the image that he will be pushing in his new presidential campaign, and the bigger question, will it work? That story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Politics lead now: the Garden State of New Jersey is known for lots of things, Sinatra, JBJ, Woodrow Wilson, the Joy Kilmer rest stop, that funny smell off I-95 when you get near the oil refineries, and, of course, for the ambitions of its governor, Republican Chris Christie -- who with no teleprompter returned to his old high school today to tell the world what's been clear for a long time now, that he wants to be the next president of the United States.

Just in the short life span of the new show you are currently watching, the former U.S. attorney has gone from rising star to embattled, to long shot. And today, the big question: can this Bruce Springsteen super fan return to his glory days?