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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Jon Stewart's Farewell; President Obama on Iran Deal; Republican Debate; U.S. Intel Officials Fear Mass Casualty Attack; Conflicting Reports: Airplane Debris or Not? Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 7, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:12]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Raise your hand if you pledge to not run as a third-party candidate.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our country is in serious trouble. We don't win anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The politics lead. He came to Cleveland. Hello, Cleveland. He gave his spiel. But did Donald Trump conquer? Twenty-four million people tuned in to the first Republican debate. We will take a look at which Republicans brought the heat, which contenders got a chilly reception, and if Jeb Bush did enough to change his lukewarm standing in the polls.

The world lead. The senator who will likely be the next Democratic Senate leader runs from the Iran deal. In an exclusive interview, President Obama makes his case as to why that senator is wrong.

And our pop lead, 16 years after he became young America's favorite fake newsman, Jon Stewart bids farewell. Who was there for the tearful adieu? Who was there to tell Stewart not to let the door hit him on the way out?

Happy Friday, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our politics lead now. It was the highest rated primary debate in American history. Last night, Republican contenders all trying to be the alpha dog at the Cleveland debate and rule the Republican animal kingdom, center stage, peacock, the main attraction, the front-runner, Donald J. Trump, he did not even have to say a word.

He only had to raise his hand to provide a very eventful start of the night. When he did speak, everyone in Cleveland and around the country paid attention.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is fresh off a flight from the land of Cleves in Ohio. Dana, round one is done. Round two comes next month on CNN at the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. I will be moderating that one.

But last night, Dana, there were fireworks.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

You know what it's like to be in the very large press filing center behind the auditorium and the stage where these debates are, a lot of grizzled political reporters. All of us were saying it was like nothing we had seen before. You knew a reality TV star billionaire was in the mix, so that would surely spice things up, but he was only part of the theater.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump.

BASH (voice-over): Everyone expected him to be feisty, but with a competitor for the White House, not a debate moderator.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Your Twitter account...

TRUMP: Only Rosie O'Donnell.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: No, it wasn't.

KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks.

TRUMP: I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either.

And, honestly Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn't do that.

BASH: That changed the minute Trump left the stage, taking to Twitter to attack Megyn Kelly as overrated and angry, saying she bombed.

Another moment may make tried-and-true Republicans think twice about Trump. He raised eyebrows by raising his hand, refusing to promise to only run as a Republican, not as an independent.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: You can't say tonight that you can make that pledge?

TRUMP: I cannot say.

BASH: But later the Republican chairman, who lately has been privately talking with Trump, told me he's not worried.

(on camera): As somebody who is the chairman of the party to not be nervous about somebody standing on your own debate stage not vowing to be a member of your party, that seems a little odd, no?

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: No, actually, it proves what I'm saying, which is if I'm not nervous about it, I don't think anyone else should.

BASH (voice-over): There were more crackling moments. Chris Christie and Rand Paul mixed it up over personal liberties vs. security.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you're sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CHRISTIE: When you're responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KELLY: Go ahead, governor.

CHRISTIE: And you know -- you know, Senator Paul? Senator Paul, you know, the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11.

Those are the hugs I remember.

BASH: One of the night's breakout stars was Ohio Governor John Kasich.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're like the little engine that can, and we're getting great, great reaction.

BASH: He took out on his take to same-sex marriage.

KASICH: I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn't think the way I do doesn't mean that I can't care about them or can't love them.

BASH: The only woman in the GOP field, Carly Fiorina, didn't poll well enough to make the main event, but shined at the undercard.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi, she lies being e-mails.

[16:05:1]

BASH: Telling CNN she took advantage of the moment.

FIORINA: Last night was a big opportunity for me. And so I think it's fair to say that this morning a lot more people know who I am and that I'm running for president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And Fiorina told me this morning she hopes this helps her get on the big boy stage -- actually, those are my words, not hers -- but Republicans will gather for another debate.

CNN is hosting it next month, and she's hoping this help push her poll numbers up enough that will get her onto that stage, and her Google search -- there's all this data about the searches -- it spiked dramatically during that spiked and even afterwards.

TAPPER: We will see if it has an effect on her support, Dana Bash.

Let's talk about last night's debate with CNN political commentator Ana Navarro. She's a friend of Senator Marco Rubio and a supporter of Governor Jeb Bush. And here with me in Washington, editor of "The Weekly Standard" Bill Kristol.

Bill, you say that the big winners last night were Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. Why?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I would say the biggest winner was the Republican Party, just to say that at the front.

Think of those debates in 2011, 2012, kind of a clown show, people thought, probably hurt the Republican image in general. You watched last -- first of all, a huge audience last night, impressive, interesting debate.

TAPPER: Huge.

KRISTOL: Lively. If you were a Republican, as I am, and you watched that debate, you felt much better about the future of the party than you did before.

Carly Fiorina was terrific. She will be on the main stage for you on September 16 in California. Marco Rubio -- I thought several people did well in the main debate, but I think Marco Rubio particularly strong, more presidential -- he is so young and so young-looking, looks like he is 12 years old, as someone said. But, you know, I thought he stepped up and looked as a potential president last night in a way maybe he hasn't quite been able to do as a junior senator before.

TAPPER: Ana, what's your take? Who do you think did well last night? The fact that you're not necessarily singing the praises of the candidate you support, Jeb Bush, makes me wonder, why not?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Listen, I think Jeb had very good answers. I don't think he had very good moments.

In a debate where there's 10 people, you need both in order to stand out. I think Jeb has learned. Jeb is a policy wonk. Jeb is a substance guy. He's learned how to put a lot of meat into 60 seconds. He's also learned how to answer and pivot.

He's become very good at that. I think it's now about figuring out how to stand out. It's very different to be on a 10-stage debate than it is to be in a two-person debate, which is something that he's done in the past and done very successfully. I think that's where the work has got to be.

I think the big winner here was FOX News, frankly. I was impressed with the moderators. They asked some doozies of everybody. They asked Jeb about dynasty. They asked Jeb about Common Core and immigration, and his brother's Iraq war. They asked Kasich about expansion of Medicare. They asked Trump some incredibly hard questions.

Now, the only one complaining today about the very hard questions that were asked is Trump. The other ones know that politics is a game of hardball where scrutiny is required. I also think -- I was inside the room. It was so exciting. It was so entertaining.

At some point, I had to get up and get popcorn, because I'll tell you, Jake, it's the best movie I have seen in the last two years.

TAPPER: Yes. It did have a rally feel to a degree.

NAVARRO: Yes.

TAPPER: But, Bill, take a listen to -- Ana just talked about Jeb Bush addressing the dynasty issue. Take a listen to part of that answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to have to earn this. Maybe the barrier -- the bar's even higher for me. That's fine.

I've got a record in Florida. I'm proud of my dad, and I'm certainly proud of my brother. In Florida, they called me Jeb, because I earned it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I don't know if the bar is higher for him or not, but wherever the bar you set for him for his debate performance last night, did he meet it?

KRISTOL: If so, barely.

I just thought he was sort of lackluster, didn't seem to have the fire in his belly, to use a cliche. He reminded me of someone I know very well and thought would have been a good president, Fred Thompson, who ran in 2007-2008, entered the race really with a lot of promise, and it turned out he didn't really have his heart in it. And I really looked at Jeb Bush and thought, fine man, as Ana said, a very good governor, a real policy wonk. Is he running because everybody told him you have got to run, or is he running because he really wants to be president?

TAPPER: Ana, you know him very, very well. Bill is not the first Republican I have heard complain about this fire in the belly problem that they perceive Jeb Bush has. What's your take?

NAVARRO: I think he has the fire in the belly.

I don't think he's running because anybody told him to run. In fact, I would tell you that some people told him not to run, including his mother. I think he's doing it because he feels he needs to serve.

Frankly, Jeb has had a great life. He's had economic success. He's been able to spend time with his family, a wonderful, normal life in the private sector. This is a sacrifice that he's taken on with a great deal of humility.

[16:10:07]

I have actually asked him this question. I have said to him, dude, are you crazy? Why are you doing this? This is so hard and you have been having a wonderful life. I have been impressed by his answer of the level of just -- look, people who have that level of commitment to service have it.

He feels he has it. He feels he has the leadership and he wants to do it. He has cut off, unlike some others on that stage, he has cut off all his business ties, and he's dedicating himself 24/7 to this. I will tell you he's a much better candidate today than he was six months ago, and I think he will be a better candidate as this goes along.

One of the things about Jeb is, look, he makes mistakes, but he learns hard from his mistakes. And he works hard at getting better.

TAPPER: Right. This is only the first debate. There will be several more.

Obviously, Donald Trump got more time. We saw that in the introduction. He is the front-runner, but some -- not a lot, but some of his rivals did try to take him on. Bill, take a listen to Rand Paul, who probably tried to challenge him more than anyone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: I mean, this is what's wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes. He's already...

BAIER: Dr. Paul.

PAUL: Hey, look, look! He's already hedging his bet on the Clintons, OK? So if he doesn't run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent. BAIER: OK.

PAUL: But I'd say that he's already hedging his bets because he's used to buying politicians.

TRUMP: Well, I've given him plenty of money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: One of the things that's been interesting about this race is no matter what Donald Trump does, and no matter what pundits -- how pundits react, he doesn't lose his support.

He says what he says about the Mexican government or illegal immigrants. He says what he says about John McCain's war heroism. He gets attacked like that. That's la really strong attack from Rand Paul. Do you think anyone really laid a glove on Donald Trump last night?

KRISTOL: I think Donald Trump laid a glove on Donald Trump with his answer in that first minute.

You're right. I have been saying for two weeks I think Trump has peaked, and I have been wrong for two weeks. But my line is I was just early.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You're not the only one.

KRISTOL: No, but think about it. I think the media is very interested in these little dramas, which are fine, and the style points they give each candidate.

But the one thing people -- if you're a Republican primary voter, what you remember from last night, what you will remember a month from now from last night is Donald Trump refused to commit to support the Republican nominee. Most Republican primary voters want to support the Republican nominee, expect to, think after a fair fight you should, and want to beta Hillary Clinton.

The notion that Trump is holding out there the possibility of a third party or independent run or sulking on the sidelines because it "gives him leverage," leverage on what? This is not about leverage. This is about defeating the Democrats. I think Trump hurt himself a lot in that first minute you showed just 10 minutes ago when he raised his hand.

He should have said either, yes, I will support the nominee or given a reason why he couldn't support certain of those people, but it just looks like ego putting himself above the party, and if you're a party loyalist, you don't like that.

TAPPER: Ana, very question, if you could, I want to ask you what would you advise Carly Fiorina right now?

NAVARRO: I just saw her. We were together in Atlanta at the Red State gathering. She, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal were on my plane.

I think Carly needs to continue doing what she has been doing. I think she needs to capitalize on this moment, do a lot of press, do a lot of events, and just grow from where she is. Nobody else broke out from that J.V. debate yesterday, but Carly Fiorina proved you could have. And it was a tough debate, because unlike the second one, it a cavernous, empty, dark room with no audience, a dead room. And she did a terrific job.

TAPPER: And she actually will be my guest on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday, her and John Kasich.

Ana Navarro, Bill Kristol, thank you both. Really appreciate it.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

TAPPER: In our world lead, new concerns based on U.S. intelligence that ISIS is planning potential mass casualty attacks bigger than the Paris terror attack earlier this new? Brand-new details on that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Topping our world lead today, a new U.S. intelligence assessment is raising concerns that ISIS may be plotting mass casualty attacks in the hopes of competing with or even overshadowing a different terrorist, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

This comes as ISIS terrorists have taken control of yet another strategically important Syrian town.

Let's get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, is there evidence that after all these months of fight, ISIS' capability is actually increasing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY: No, but there is a acquisition their ambitions may be increasing, because to this point, ISIS does small-bore lone wolf attacks. AQAP, they do the big mass casualty, aviation, that sort of thing. But there's now a debate in the intelligence community. Some believe ISIS is sticking to the lone wolf model, but others believe it's working on the capability, to build a capability to carry out mass casualty attacks which had been the territory largely of al Qaeda and al Qaeda-affiliated groups like AQAP.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The bloody rampage in Paris on the offices of "Charlie Hebdo", to attacks on commercial aviation, U.S. intelligence community divided on whether ISIS today focused on less ambitious lone wolf attacks, maybe working to build the capability to carry out mass casualty attacks -- more complex, more coordinated, more deadly. They should in part compete with AQAP, that same competition was

evident this week when AQAP made its own pitch to supporters to carry out lone wolf attacks, but so far have been largely ISIS's territory.

[16:20:03] LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think they're taking a lot of the new recruits that they don't have time to train, who have not been brought up in their systems and they're using them to create the kind of mass casualty which produces the media attention that exactly is what they want that shows they're still powerful.

SCIUTTO: U.S. intelligence assesses that the formidable flow of foreign fighter to ISIS has not abated. Today, the total number of ISIS fighters numbers between 20,000 and 30,000, similar to levels when the U.S.-led air campaign began, despite thousands believed killed in coalition strikes.

Turkey, the prime transit point into Syria is still struggling to stem the flow. However, the U.S. believes its agreement to allow U.S. air strikes from a Turkish air base and help establish a safe zone along the border indicate that Istanbul is stepping up.

The administration is also claiming gains on the ground.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In Iraq, ISIL has lost the freedom to operate in some 30 percent of the territory that they held last summer. Overall, ISIS has lost more than 17,000 square kilometers of territory in northern Syria.

SCIUTTO: Still U.S. officials warn that the fight against ISIS will last years, in fact the president pledging no specific timetable for degrading ISIS, not disputing that he will hand this war to the next president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think my key goals when I turn over the keys to the president -- to the next president is that we are on track to defeat ISIL.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: One group the U.S. says it is making progress against is the Khorasan Group. This is an offshoot of al Qaeda, based in Syria. You'll remember that when the air campaign started last fall, U.S. officials had said last fall they believed there were imminent attacks from the Khorasan Group, but they believe because of the pressure and the airstrikes, the group still exist, a lot of still but the threat is less immediate than a year ago.

TAPPER: Jim, just to change subjects briefly for one second -- there are these reports that the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, has traveled to Russia, which would be, I believe, in violation of U.N. sanctions. What can you tell us about that, and how concern are U.S. officials?

SCIUTTO: Well, first of all, I'm told by U.S. officials it is true that Soleimani did travel to Russia. This is last month, just around the time that this final nuclear agreement was agreed to with Iran. This is in violation. He's still under U.N. sanctions. He should not be able to travel.

Ambassador Powers said today that if he were to travel there would have to be some sort of exemption given, but that exemption was not given. So, this is concerning. And it shows those ties.

Now, what administration officials will say, well, that shows you, had we not done a deal with Iran, how close Iran is with countries like Iran and how easily that they would --

TAPPER: Like to Russia.

SCIUTTO: To Russia, rather, and how easily they would come together and so on, that we really need this deal. That's the spin that they're putting on it.

TAPPER: That's one way to look at it.

SCIUTTO: That's an aggressive example of spin. But he did go there, and it is worrisome.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, Malaysian officials saying that more debris from the missing plane has washed up. Other experts not so sure. But now, families of the MH370 victims searching for answers, asking to go to the island to see it for themselves.

Plus, everything is a little different in North Korea. Now, Kim Jong- un has a new plan to spite Japan. Details on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:53] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, and I'm Jake Tapper.

And we have some more news in our world. Just when you thought the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 could not get any more confusing, it does. Malaysian authorities insist that parts of plane windows and seat cushion that washed up earlier this week on Reunion Island are indeed from the missing plane. Other experts are cautioning, not so fast.

Pamela Brown is here with the latest.

Pamela, we're now hearing that families are hoping to get visas to go over to Reunion Island? Do they want to help with the search? Why do they want to go there?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, Jake, it's just the fact that they don't trust the Malaysian authorities, they don't trust this process, they don't have confidence in the Malaysian government. That's why they want to see everything for themselves.

This as conflicting reports from Malaysian and French authorities are adding to confusion about whether other parts of the plane have been found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, French authorities on Reunion Island in nearby Mauritius ramping up for the search for more debris from MH370.

Planes and boats scouring the ocean and coastal areas for hours. This captain not downplaying how hard this search will be.

PILOT: It is very difficult to undertake a search for a small object from the air.

BROWN: In Malaysia, the transport minister doubling down, telling CNN his teams have not only confirmed the wing part known as a flaperon is from the a plane, but that more plane debris is in French custody.

LIOW TIONG LAI, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: We have found additional debris, and this debris are all aircraft materials, the windowpane materials, the cushion materials. So, once we collect it, immediately we hand it over to the military police.

BROWN: But French authorities on Reunion Island tell CNN objects were collected, but no one has determined if they are relevant.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Breaking down the tug of war, it appears that the additional debris is on Reunion Island. I don't think that Malaysia can say that it's definitely from -- even from an aircraft, much less Flight 370. But I think the flaperon, Malaysians are correct. There's very little doubt that that's from anything else.

BROWN: And frustration is growing in Beijing, where Chinese relatives of those onboard are demanding answers, some crawling on hands and knees to the Malaysian embassy.