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Interview With Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton; Deadly Mistake; Rubio Under Fire; Oregon Shooting Investigation; Shooter's Mom Writes of Guns, Son's Disorder; Interview with Congressman Tim Murphy; Rubio Under Fire for Missed Senate Votes. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 6, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The top general in Afghanistan saying that America's longest war is going to take a little longer.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead: major changes coming after the U.S. mistakenly bombs a hospital, killing doctors and children in Afghanistan -- what the top commander in the region said today about the decision to fire and why the president's original plan to bring troops home before he leaves office may not work.

The national lead: She bragged about stockpiling guns while she cared for an unstable son -- what online postings are now revealing about the Oregon shooter and his mother. Haven't we seen this tragic story before?

And the politics lead, Donald Trump trolling Marco Rubio, as the Florida senator faces some tough questions about missing votes while on the campaign trail. He just missed another, this time to fund the troop he wants to lead. How is Rubio defending these absences?

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

We are going to begin today with our world lead. The top commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, is now issuing a stark warning. The U.S. must consider keeping more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he says, past 2016, forgoing a further drawdown to deal with what he calls a -- quote -- "tenuous security situation."

That situation, the resurgence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the growing ISIS threat and the Taliban recapturing its first major Afghan city since 2001. This comes while U.S. military officials are also scrambling to explain just how it is that a USC-130 gunship dropped a series of bombs on a Doctors Without Borders hospital Saturday night, killing 22 innocents, medical staff, patients and three children.

We will get reaction live from Afghanistan in just a few moments.

CNN's Nic Robertson is standing by in Kabul.

But, first, we go to CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. Barbara, Pentagon officials saying today, admitting they made a

mistake. What exactly did they say?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Admitting they made a mistake, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter a short time ago, Jake, issuing a statement saying that the Pentagon deeply regrets the incident. Not yet a full-blown apology, not yet a full sorry, because it all remains under investigation.

General John Campbell, the top commander, issuing his own testimony about this today, calling it a mistake as well, but also taking some additional steps.


STARR (voice-over): In the aftermath of the attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital, a stunning military order from the top U.S. commander.

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: I have directed the entire force to undergo in-depth training in order to review all of our operational authorities and rules of engagement.

STARR: That order an acknowledgement that something went wrong. Rules of engagement spell out when and how the U.S. military can conduct airstrikes, like the AC-130 gunship that hit the hospital.

Doctors Without Borders says the U.S. knew it was a hospital. They were under attack for 30 minutes. It could not have been a mistake.

JASON CONE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Until we're told otherwise and until we see an independent investigation, we will presume that this was in fact a war crime.

STARR: Did this violate U.S. military rules?

CAMPBELL: Even though the Afghans request that support, it still has to go through a rigorous U.S. procedure to enable fires to go on the ground.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There was no forward air controllers, American forward air controllers on the ground?

CAMPBELL: Sir, we had a special operations unit that was in close vicinity that was talking to the aircraft that delivered those fires.

STARR: If the U.S. knew it was a hospital, did reports of Taliban firing justify the attack?

CAMPBELL: We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.

STARR: Standards for airstrikes, at least initially, do not appear to have been met at the hospital. Military rules require U.S. troops are at risk. Contrary to initial reports, U.S. troops were not fired on. When the U.S. is going after al Qaeda. Here, it was the Taliban.

When Afghans are about to be overrun. Here, the Afghans were trying to retake the area.

Campbell said the overall security situation in Afghanistan is still so uncertain, he needs to revise his recommendations about a troop reduction.

CAMPBELL: We have to provide senior leadership options different than the current plan that we're going with.


STARR: So, still on the table, how many of the 10,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan will stay after the end of next year? And on the hospital attack, still mixed reports about what is happening, General Campbell very adamant he will get to the bottom of it and ordering the troops to get that training. He doesn't want this happening again -- Jake.


TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is joining us now live from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Nic, what is the reaction from officials on the ground there to the United States military admitting that hitting the hospital was a mistake?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Health Ministry here says that all the health workers in Afghanistan are now frightened, that they absolutely rely on U.N. -- NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, and that this means for them they back the Doctors Without Borders' call for an independent, international, transparent investigation.

Doctors Without Borders today gave some more details of why they believe that the hospital was being directly targeted. They say their staff on the ground heard the aircraft circling overhead, and it came in and hit just one of the buildings inside their large compound area. This was the intensive care unit and surgery building.

Then the aircraft circled round again, they say, came back and hit the same building again, then circled round again several times, then came back and hit the same building again, not any of the other buildings, they say, which had only minor damage at the worst.

So, they say, for them, that means, if each airstrike means checking and checking coordinates and making sure you have clearance for each strike, that's three times, at least, that errors were made. And for them, they say that cannot be a mistake. And that's why they're really standing by their call, calling it a war crime, and calling again for this international, independent investigation, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson, live for us in Kabul, Nic, thanks so much.

Joining me right now to talk more about this, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee and he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Cotton, thanks so much for being here.

Obviously, the largest context, American soldiers have fought and died to bring a better way of life for the Afghan people. But let's talk about this incident.

Doctors Without Borders insisting that they had shared the coordinates of their hospital with American officials for weeks, they say. What do you think happened?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Well, Jake, before we get to the specific instance of the assault in Kunduz, I do want to talk about the larger context.

We have been fighting in Afghanistan now for 14 years. It's the one place from which we have expelled al Qaeda. And many brave Americans have given their life. Just Saturday was the six-year anniversary of the battle of COP Keating, which you chronicled in your book "The Outpost." And I'm grateful for your attention to this war and the ongoing sacrifice of our soldiers there to make sure that there's never another terrorist attack launched from Afghanistan.

Now, in Kunduz, it's unclear still exactly what happened. Obviously, General Campbell testified today that American forces on the ground and in the air were involved. But it's too soon to identify exactly what went wrong, although something went wrong and it was a terrible tragedy.

There are three different investigations under way. And I have every confidence that General Campbell is going to get to the bottom of this. And if there was wrongdoing or negligence, then American forces will be held to account. I'm also confident, though, the American forces involved probably regret this more than anyone.

But, ultimately, we have to remember, it's the Taliban that commit war crimes in Afghanistan, in part by fighting from built-up civilian areas.

TAPPER: That's absolutely right. No disagreement with what you said.

Translate something for us, if you would, from military-speak to regular English. General Campbell said today that the entire force needs to review all operational authorities and rules of engagement.

You're a combat veteran. What does that mean?

COTTON: Obviously, this was a mass casualty event, and that's a terrible tragedy.

But even at the lowest level, when there's an accident on the road or an event in which a civilian is injured, but not killed by a single gunshot wound, you will undergo retraining from the highest down to the lowest level. I participated in this in Afghanistan.

It can be something relatively minor, such as hitting a local farmer's go or his sheep. But they always undergo retraining to ensure that everyone understands the rules of engagement and to ensure that everyone is proficient in the skills needed both to kill our enemies, but also to protect civilians.

TAPPER: How many troops do you think need to remain on the ground in Afghanistan to continue this fight to push back against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and now it appears ISIS?

COTTON: Jake, I wouldn't remember that we draw down much below where we are now at 10,000.

Ultimately, though, as General Campbell testified, it's about capabilities, not personnel. We have to take an assessment of the conditions on the battlefield. And the Afghan security forces, while doing a regularly good job of fighting on the front lines, do need a lot of capabilities that only the United States-led coalition can supply, close air support, for instance, logistics, intelligence support, maintenance support, and so forth.

When you look at those capability gaps that they have and they need to support their front-line troops, I would say it's probably about 10,000. And I hope the president makes a decision based on those conditions on the ground, not based on the end of his administration and the political calendar.

TAPPER: I want to change subject just for this last question here, sir.

You're calling for an investigation into the Secret Service for leaking personal information about Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs a committee that oversees the Secret Service, has been a critic of many of their mishaps.


Do you believe at this point that the director of the agency, Joe Clancy, should be fired?

COTTON: Jake, I don't want to prejudge any particular outcome either in workplace discipline or criminal investigation, but it's actually worse than just a leak; 45 different employees of the Secret Service, we now know, thanks to an inspector general report, illegally accessed their files to discover Jason Chaffetz's personnel file.

So, this is a case in which the American people's elected representatives were trying to do their job to conduct oversight of past misconduct by the Secret Service. And the Secret Service leadership at least tolerated intimidation and retaliation. That should frighten most Americans, because it could happen to them if it could happen to a powerful chairman of a committee, and it could interfere with their representatives doing their job to hold the executive branch accountable.

TAPPER: Senator Tom Cotton, thank you so much. Appreciate it, sir.

COTTON: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: In our national lead today, the mind of a killer. The mother of the Oregon shooter describes her son's fascination with guns and she even bragged about the loaded semiautomatic weapon she kept in the home. That's next.


[16:15:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national lead now. She bragged online about her stash of guns while, at same time, talking candidly about her very troubled son. And now, there are new questions about whether the mother of the Oregon shooter, who massacred nine people at Umpqua Community College Thursday, shares at least some of the responsibility for the tragedy.

Sara Sidner is live for us in Roseburg, Oregon.

Sara, obviously, the shooter had serious problems, otherwise he would not have done what he did. What kinds of warning signs might there have been?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, some of his postings could have given serious warning signs. And, of course, some of the mother's postings are making everyone look at whether potentially she may have known, maybe not what he was about to do, but that he was very troubled and perhaps should not have been around so many guns.


SIDNER: Almost a week after a 26-year-old man shot and killed nine people on the campus of Umpqua Community College, a series of online posts, attributed to the shooter's mother, appears to offer insight into the parent's relationship with firearms. Laurel Harper's apparent online writing came in the form of posts to several web sites usually about health topics.

Public records link Harper to the same e-mail address used in 34,000 posts made by a Yahoo! user with the screen name TweetyBird.

In a posts from at least three years ago, Harper appears to boast about her arsenal of weapons on a Yahoo answers discussion thread about state gun laws, saying, "I keep two full mags in my Glock case. And the ARs and AKs all have loaded mags. No one will be dropping by my house uninvited without acknowledgement.

In another response to a hypothetical query about gun violence and the law, Harper claims her son, quote, "has much knowledge in this field." Harper's postings first reported by "The New York Times," also reference her son, having a disorder on the autism spectrum.

"My son has Asperger's. He's no babbling idiot nor is his life worthless. He's very intelligent and he's working on a career in filmmaking. My 18 years worth of experience with and knowledge about Asperger's syndrome is paying off. I'm a nurse."

We reached out multiple times to Laurel Harper. She has not responded.

Earlier this week, the gunman's father spoke to CNN about his son's mental state, adding that he had no knowledge of the young man's interests in guns.

IAN MERCER, OREGON GUNMAN'S FATHER: Obviously, somebody goes and kills nine people, has to have some kind of issue, whatever it is. I have no idea that he had any guns whatsoever. And I'm a great believer that you don't buy guns -- don't buy guns, you don't buy guns.


SIDNER: We do want to point out that Asperger's syndrome, there's been no link with violence with that condition. It is on the autism spectrum. And there's no reason necessarily to believe that that had anything to do necessarily with what he did.

But we certainly want to say that we have reached out to authorities to see if any of the local authorities are looking into potentially what the mother's role may have been in all of this -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Sidner, thank you.

I want to bring in Congressman Tim Murphy, Republican of Pennsylvania. He's also a practicing psychologist.

Congressman, when we look at what we know about the shooter, where are the red flags? Where do you think it's possible that his mother or father or society could have stepped in and said this person needs help?

REP. TIM MURPHY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Red flags probably started in his life early on. There was documentation that he was receiving special education help, perhaps some behavioral problems. There would have been discussions about what his behavior was, or what kind of sensitivity he had to other people, hopefully people who are also looking, was there any signs of aggressiveness, or loneliness, or alienation.

However, keep this in mind -- once someone turns 21, everything is dropped. The support services are gone. Consultation with parents disappears. In fact, they might have stopped telling the mother anything when he turned 17 or 18 or so.

And that's when the problems or HIPAA laws end. She would not have known that there was other risk, other problems --

TAPPER: Health privacy laws.

MURPHY: Health privacy laws.

So, she would not have learned about that. She could not have inquired about that. And worse yet, a doctor would not have been able to call her and say, can you tell me, I want to know about some other things about him. Does he have any fascinations with morbid or dark Web sites? Does he have anything going on there?

TAPPER: A doctor couldn't -- so let's say 24-year-old and a psychologist or psychiatrist concerned about this person, he cannot call the mom?

MURPHY: He can't call. HIPAA laws prevent that unless gives approval.

Now, he may, I don't know if he was, but let's say he was not in treatment, completely blind, but if he was in treatment, unless the person gives you specific permission you can go unless you have an elevated concern for risk, if you believe that there's a direct threat, if there's a risk, then you have a duty to warn. But other than that you're limited.

Unless something is publicly posted on a social Web site.

[16:20:00] But you wouldn't know -- but if you don't know the person's handle you can't find that. That's some place where doing risk assessment professionals are really flying blind.

But certainly in these cases, I think it's essential when you have someone with serious mental illness to be able to create some tiny changes to HIPAA laws where you could --

TAPPER: This is what you're proposing in legislation?

MURPHY: Yes. So, you could consult with the family member. At least get some sense there. I hear time and time and time again from parents that said, I know my kid's getting help. I'm not allowed to tell a meeting. They don't call me unless they get permission or they happen to run into me.

TAPPER: And your bill would change that? It would allow more conversation?

MURPHY: Two things can happen. One is a person can be -- a doctor can be in passive mode, if they say, OK, I know you're the mother, I'm not going to tell you anything, but I can listen, that can happen if they happen to be there. But that professional can't give her a cold call and say, tell me what you know. Very limited on that and you certainly can't snoop for risk assessments. Those are serious problems.

TAPPER: Now, you've been pushing for a change in the mental health system for a long time.

MURPHY: For years.

TAPPER: You and I -- unfortunately, you're a guest on the show every time we have one of these horrific shootings, not every time but quite often. Have you gone to Vice President Biden, who was put in the task force by President Obama after Sandy Hook to come up with a -- what they called at a time, a holistic approach, talking about mental health, the culture as well as guns? Have you talked to them?

MURPHY: I've talked to him informally at least five times. I'll tell you, he tells me he's very sympathetic. He agrees each time we said, can you call my office, set up a time, and then that gets blocked, I'm rebuffed from that. And he did say, look, the White House wants to focus on guns.

We have to do more that just focus on guns. We've got to focus on what's in their mind, and not what's in their hands. That we can change. We can identify people at risk. We can provide help for them early on. We can make a difference in their prognosis of their life.

But here we are, after the bloody summer of 2015, horrible, horrible tragedies in multiple states. We haven't made any changes to the mental health system in America. We have federal systems abusive and neglectful towards providing services for people with mental illness and it's worse for minorities yet and for low income families. It's a terrible system.

TAPPER: Hopefully, they'll stop blocking those meetings so you and Vice President Biden can get together. Who is blocking them, the White House?

MURPHY: Well, some staff said it wasn't in their sub-bucket. Hopefully, we can get through. Look, we have to have a discussion. Republicans, Democrats, executive branch, legislative, both ends of the capital. We have our solution. My bill HR-2646 is a solid solution.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Murphy, thank you so much, as always. Appreciate you being here.

Coming up, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson weighing in on the Oregon shooting, saying if he was in a confrontation with a gun man who asked him his religion, he would not, quote, "let him shoot me".

Plus, Donald Trump sends Marco Rubio a care package, one looks for like a high school prank. That story next.


[16:27:09] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Politics now. Donald Trump has been firing rhetorical salvos at rival Marco Rubio for weeks now.

This week, Trump sent him something else -- 24 bottles of Trump Ice Natural Spring Water, and some towels. It was a care package to Rubio's Washington campaign office, along with a note that read, "Since you're always sweating, we thought you could enjoy some water. Enjoy".

Rubio responded this morning, saying it seemed like top-notch water and that he was, quote, "grateful for the gift."

Let's get right to CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, this all comes as Rubio rises in the polls and he attracts attention and also scrutiny.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Scrutiny especially when it comes to his voting record. He has actually missed more votes this year than any other Republican senator running for president. And the big vote today in the Senate was on a defense authorization bill. Usually, they're bipartisan and aren't really in jeopardy, which is why Rubio didn't feel compelled to come back from the campaign trail. And it was a decision that was nearly a political mistake.


BASH (voice-over): Marco Rubio has missed many Senate votes but this was almost a political disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yeas are 73, the nays are 26.

BASH: For a while, it looked like Republicans would need Rubio's help in beating back a Democratic filibuster of a military funding bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Marco Rubio.

BASH: He was hundreds of miles more on the presidential campaign trail.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are times when you're not going to be there. Now, let me tell you, we have canceled events and traveled across the country to make votes, especially if we can make a different or if it's a high profile --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you don't think --

BASH: Rubio didn't cancel today's trip to New Hampshire and lucky for him after high drama, a 15-minute vote dragged out for an hour and a half, so many Democrats broke ranks that Rubio's absence did not cause an embarrassing Republican defeat. One that would have been worse since another Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, was presiding in the Senate.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), FLORIDA: The yeas and nays are mandatory under the rule.

BASH: Rubio's former mentor, Jeb Bush, regularly hits him on it, telling voters that senators should only get paid if they show up for work.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everybody works to provide for families. Why is it that people miss votes in the U.S. Congress in such a rampant way? I think if they miss a vote, there should be a deduction in their pay. And I hope you do as well.

BASH: Donald Trump is on his case, too. DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's got the worst

attendance record. You can't do that. You've got to vote. You know, people elect you to a position, you've got to vote.

BASH: Rubio is slowly climbing in the polls, which puts him squarely in the sights of the GOP front-runner.

TRUMP: Rubio is not the guy negotiating with the kind of people you have to negotiate to turn this around.

BASH: That as Trump insists he's in this for a long haul.

TRUMP: I'm not going anywhere.


BASH: Now, Rubio sources say, he regrets missing votes but it's not practical to travel the country running for president while being in Washington to cast votes. And they privately insist he's not going to pay a price with presidential primary voters for missing Senate votes because they say many of those voters view the Senate as a waste of time anyway.