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Hillary Leading; Eat Fat, Get Thin?; ISIS Nuke Fears; Sting Operation Targets Nuclear Smugglers; Clinton Flips, Comes Out Against Obama Trade Deal. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 7, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Like "The Sum of All Fears." Just how close was ISIS to getting the ingredients for a nuke?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, the FBI reportedly stopping smugglers from buying nuclear material intended for terrorists, buying it from gangs with ties to Russia.

The politics lead. With the first Democratic debate just six days away, right here on CNN, Bernie Sanders drawing tens of thousands of fans. But why aren't those huge crowds translating into a definitive lead nationwide? The new poll numbers showing that Hillary Clinton is still the candidate to beat.

And the national lead, could everyone in this B-roll have been saved? The government on the verge of changing the way it's been telling you how to eat for decades. Should you in fact be eating more fat to get thin?

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

We begin today with our world lead and Russia upping the military ante in Syria, Moscow launching a major offensive by land, by air and by sea, targeting what Russia claims, Russia claims, are ISIS strongholds, but what many others believe are other rebel forces fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, including perhaps some backed by the U.S., Russian warplanes bombarding these targets as cruise missiles fired from a warship light up the night sky.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter declaring today that the U.S. will not cooperate with the Russian strategy that is a -- quote -- "tragically flawed strategy."

I want to get right to CNN's Barbara Starr. She's standing by at the Pentagon. She has new information about a close call between the Russian and U.S. aircraft in the skies above Syria -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jake, the Pentagon now going to extraordinary lengths to keep American pilots safe from what they see as very uncertain, very aggressive Russians.


STARR (voice-over): For the first time, U.S. pilots had to divert over Syria because a Russian fighter jet came within 20 nautical miles, according to U.S. officials, two F-16s flying out of Incirlik Air Base were in Northeastern Syria attempting to bomb an ISIS target when the incident occurred.

U.S. officials tell CNN that American pilots are under new strict rules. If Russian aircraft come within the 20-mile limit, for their own safety, the Americans must move away. The U.S. doesn't think the Russians will shoot them down, but commanders don't trust Russia not to make a mistake, officials tell CNN.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter pressing for another round of talks with Moscow about managing the skies.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: To protect our air crews and to continue, as the coalition intends to do, its air campaign unchanged.

STARR: The incident happened after this, the first meeting between the two sides to discuss air safety. The Russians secretly videotaped it all and posted it on YouTube. U.S. commanders say they were shocked, Carter adamant the U.S. will go no further than technical talks.

CARTER: We are not prepared to cooperate in a strategy, which, as we have explained, is flawed, tragically flawed on the Russians' part.

STARR: Russia also launched naval strikes, four warships in the Caspian Sea firing 26 missiles into Syria, hitting 11 targets, according to Moscow. U.S. officials say this was the first time the Russians fired this highly accurate missile in combat.

Pentagon officials believe it is a direct message to them from Moscow: We can fire at you from long distances.

And in Western Syria, Russia now in ground combat. Artillery and rocket launchers pounded targets to back up regime forces of Bashar al-Assad.


STARR: Now, according to the U.S. and Turkey, so far, the Russians hitting few, if any, ISIS positions. And about that called-off airstrike, no word yet whether U.S. warplanes were able to circle back -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Joining me now is CNN national security commentator and former Republican Chairman House of the Committee Mike Rogers.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Jake. TAPPER: How should the U.S. respond to this increased aggression by

the Russians in Syria?

ROGERS: You know, the first thing that's going to have to happen is we have a strategy on ISIS.

When the United States comes out and says your strategy is flawed, we really know what the Russians are trying to do. They're trying to push out the secure zone and protect Assad's troops. Anybody that didn't believe that was going to happen when they started ramping it up hasn't been paying attention.


So, I think we have to take it in phases. One, you have to make sure that they understand that we're serious. If we in fact are serious about continuing our air campaign, then we need to ramp up what we're willing to do. Turning and flying away when they cross that 20-mile mark is not telling them -- sending Russia the right message, candidly.

So, put together an ISIS campaign that is aggressive. We don't have one of those yet. And then circle back with Russia and say, listen, this is what we're doing in Eastern Syria to combat ISIS, so that we can reset the table for negotiation. Right now, everything that you see, the missiles flying over Iran, Iraq to hit Syria from the Caspian Sea, to ramping up ground operations with Assad's forces, to the incursions into NATO -- fellow NATO country Turkey, is all calculated by Vladimir Putin. We need to change that calculus or we're going to get ourselves in some trouble.

TAPPER: Assad has massacred, slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent Syrians.

Is the endgame here for Russian President Vladimir Putin really to have Assad safely ensconced in power?

ROGERS: The endgame for Putin in Syria is to maintain influence there.

And I have to say he's doing pretty well. So, he needs to keep that warm-water port in Tartus that was a navy base that was established in the 70s. He needs to continue his arm sales both in Syria and Iran. And now he's done something pretty clever, Jake. He's coordinated Tehran, Damascus and Syria and Baghdad in Iraq in an intelligence sharing operation.

And many believe now there's even a possibility of Russian troops in South Iraq to deal with the Syrian issue, invited in by Baghdad. So, that is in Putin's interests. That's what we need to understand. It's not really keeping Assad in power. It's keeping his influence alive. And that's exactly what he's doing.

I think he would cut a deal to keep -- to get Assad out if he felt that that served his long-term interests in the region. TAPPER: Is there a scenario where you think the U.S. should possibly

coordinate airstrikes and military operations with the Russians against ISIS?

ROGERS: I wouldn't do that any time soon. What I would do -- and I think the secretary of defense is correct -- you need deconfliction. You don't want an accidental ramp-up. You don't want two planes colliding. You don't want planes shooting at each other because there's some confusion over a target in Eastern Syria.

But beyond that, I wouldn't coordinate. I would show our strength by coming up again by rallying our Arab League partners to start pushing a real campaign in Eastern Syria against ISIS. If you don't, the Russians are going to continue to look at all of this as an opportunity to expand their operations there.

TAPPER: There's a debate right now about whether the United States should be imposing a no-fly zone over Syria or over parts of Syria. What are the pros and minuses with such a thing?

ROGERS: I think the pros are certainly pretty clear that it would send a line of which Russia couldn't cross, number one, so that you could train so-called moderate rebels, if there are any left in Eastern Syria, to actually get back into the fight. That would be a very helpful thing.

So, those moderate rebels are being targeted now by both Assad forces and with the support of Russia. That would be a positive. That would be a big positive. The negative is, now you have got to convince Turkey to participate in that. That's -- if you're going to have a no-fly zone, it really needs to be along that Turkish border. And are they willing to risk the notion that you may have to strike at a Russian aircraft that incurs into that no-fly zone?

Now, they just signed a deal with Russia, $1.5 billion for a nuclear reactor built in Turkey. They have energy concerns. A lot of energy is imported from Russia to Turkey. They'd have to make some really difficult decisions. That's the con of it, is trying to put that thing together. We do have to have a policy, though. And we should have it pretty soon.

TAPPER: Congressman Mike Rogers, always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

ROGERS: Thank you.

TAPPER: From Syria to Afghanistan, where the aid group Doctors Without Borders is making new demands today for a war crimes investigation into that U.S. airstrike that hit a hospital in Afghanistan on Saturday.

That bombing killed at least 12 medical staff and 10 patients, including three children. This afternoon, President Obama called the president of Doctors Without Borders to apologize.

Let's get right to CNN's Nic Robertson, who is live for us in Kabul, Afghanistan. Nic, what kind of investigation is Doctors Without Borders calling

for? And why would that be better than the U.S. investigating itself?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: What they're asking for is for the international humanitarian fact-finding commission to be given this task. It's there under the Geneva Conventions, set up under the Geneva Conventions.


Doctors Without Borders say the strike at the hospital is equivalent to a strike against the Geneva Convention. They want not sort of a legal investigation. They say they want to know, what are the rules of engagement? They say they understand the rules of engagements. They put their medical personnel in harm's way to help innocent civilians caught up in conflict.

And they do it on the knowledge and understanding of the rules of engagement, U.S. rules of engagement, Afghan, Taliban, whatever they are. They understand it and get into it. And they say, OK, if the situations change, if the rules of engagement have changed, let's have this investigation. Let's put it on the table, that we, as Doctors Without Borders, can say, OK, then maybe we can't go into these situations and operate or make whatever adjustments it is.

The real concern for them is, you can have, let's say -- let's look at Syria, where Doctors Without Borders have hospitals right now. Let's say a Russian plane hits one of -- a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Syria tomorrow and the Russians say, you know what, we will investigate that ourselves.

Doctors Without Borders are worried that in other conflicts around the world, bad actors can now act with impunity and strike their hospitals and say -- you know, just write it off and say, well, hey the United States did it. That's why they say they need this independent investigation, so everyone sees it's not the United States investigating itself, and that will prevent others trying to get away with that kind of thing.

TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson in Kabul, stay safe, my friend.

A shocking story: dangerous dirty bomb materials that could contaminate cities at the very least sold to undercover agents posing as bad guys with terrorism ties. Who took the bait? We will have the dramatic video of the takedowns next.


[16:15:53] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD today.

And also in the world lead today, it sounds like the very worst case scenario as imagined by Tom Clancy. But in this case, it's very real. The FBI now telling CNN that its agents helped stop the sale between some apparently some unsavory characters of radioactive material that could have theoretically been used to make a bomb. One takedown captured in dramatic video. The U.S. helping in sting operations that pursued smugglers who paid

top dollar for uranium from the Russia. The plan according to one eastern European government, sell that to nuclear extremist groups such as ISIS with intentions to target westerners. "The Associated Press" first reported the sting operations, the site of the stings, Moldova, just south of Ukraine, with an apparent black market for dirty bomb material.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown has been working her sources to learn more about these sting operations. She's here now.

Pamela, what have you learned?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've learned that this has long been a concern, Jake, for FBI officials because there's so many radioactive materials in that part of Eastern Europe. There's a black market as you point out. And we're learning tonight that the FBI has actually prevented some of those potentially dirty bomb making materials being sold on the black market in Eastern Europe from falling into the hands of terrorists. And now, police video from February is taking us behind the scenes of one of those sting operations.


BROWN (voice-over): This man was arrested in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova in February, allegedly trying to sell this radioactive substance, Cesium 135, a material that could be used in a dirty bomb. The police video was first obtained by the Associated Press. Stings like this utilized undercover operatives posing as middlemen for potential terror organizations.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: The sellers were trying to negotiate deals worth millions of dollars. So, a terrorist group that's got billions is certainly willing to pay that for material that could terrorize or shut down a city.

BROWN: Moldovan authorities tell CNN they worked with the FBI to foil at least three plots to smuggle radioactive material since 2010. In 2014, seven people were arrested in the country for allegedly smuggling uranium.

ANDREW BIENIEWSKI, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: We have to be very concerned about this region of the world. It really is a transit and a gateway by which smugglers can transit material through Moldova to other regions.

BROWN: Moldova's close proximity to Russia where nuclear and radioactive material could be potentially obtained makes the selling of the illicit substances big business for criminal organizations.

CIRINCIONE: We've had hundreds of smuggling incidents. Most of these have fallen flat mainly because while the supply is there, the demand hasn't been there. What you're worried about with ISIS is this is a state group that could actually do it, a global recruiting mechanism, lots of money, lots of resources. If they make that hookup, game's over.


BROWN: And officials say there's no indication that ISIS is actually successfully bought these materials from Eastern Europe. And it would be extremely difficult for it to do so. That could be one reason.

But, Jake, one official I spoke to today put it this way. He said if ISIS wanted to build a dirty bomb today, it could because it already has so many materials at its disposal where it is right now.

TAPPER: A lot of unsavory characters in Eastern Europe where all these materials are.


TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

In our politics lead, Hillary Clinton not just firing off at Republicans today but also Bernie Sanders. Is she starting to feel the Bern?

Plus, both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush dismissing a new poll showing Donald Trump with a big lead in their home Sunshine State. Trump is using it as an opportunity to blast both men.


[16:24:12] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for politics lead.

The calls for Vice President Joe Biden to run for president are getting louder. His personal deliberations have been a public exercise in agony and ambivalence. The vice president expressing doubts he would be able to recover from the death of his beloved son Beau in May and to devote his entire soul to running.

But in the meantime, the cadre of consultants and political friends and other friends urging the man they admired to throw his hat in the ring today released a television spot punctuated by a simple plea, "Run, Joe."

I want to get right to CNN political correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, as speculations swirls around the president, his would-be chief rival Hillary Clinton has just broken with President Obama on yet another issue. Tell us.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. She broke with the president.

[16:25:00] And she really broke with herself too because she heralded this trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership, as the gold standard in trade agreements when she was secretary of state. She's just come out and told PBS that she is against -- that she is against this deal. This comes as she campaigns to the left of Bernie Sanders on guns. And as she's recently announced her opposition to the Keystone XL

pipeline, really undercutting the president who hasn't announced a decision on it. It's a sign she's worried enough about Bernie Sanders' appeal to liberals to take multiple positions against the president.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, didn't she do a great job?

KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton upbeat in Iowa as a new poll shows her ahead of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. She hit Republicans.

CLINTON: We have to take them on on their basic philosophy, which would set the country back.

KEILAR: And she tried to set herself apart from Sanders, whose moderate record on guns reflects his home state of Vermont.

CLINTON: We need to stand up to the NRA and the gun manufacturers who are behind all of this intimidation and political -- opposition to anything that will work.

KEILAR: The Clinton campaign is also worried the vice president might get into the race.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There should be universal mandatory voting.

KEILAR: At a Latino voting event, Biden sounded a lot like a candidate slamming Republicans.

BIDEN: People are depressed. And the message I have for you guys is these guys don't remotely speak for America.

KEILAR: As he weighs a candidacy, the Draft Biden super PAC is out with a new TV ad.

BIDEN: Things can change in a heartbeat. I know. Six weeks after my election, my whole world was altered forever.

KEILAR: Josh Alcorn is a senior adviser to the PAC.

JOSHUA ALCORN, DRAFT BIDEN SENIOR ADVISER: The point is to tell a story of Joe Biden that people outside of Delaware may not know. It's a story of his overcoming personal tragedy, gaining this enormous empathy for people who've suffered. And then it offers his hopeful vision, optimistic vision for America.

KEILAR: One source close to the vice president says there will be a family conversation this weekend that could determine whether he gets in the race. But Biden's pathway to victory is uncertain at best with the Democratic establishment firmly behind Clinton.


KEILAR: And the Democratic grassroots enthusiasm backing Sanders.


KEILAR: Sanders is, of course, against the Trans Pacific Partnership. He has been for some time against this huge trade deal that is really the center piece of President Obama's pivot to Asia. Clinton now opposing it as well, Jake. You can really add it to the list where she's broken with the president on the Syrian no-fly zone, calling to repeal a tax that pays for a big chunk of Obamacare. And now this.

TAPPER: And as you know, she's also breaking with herself.

KEILAR: That's right.

TAPPER: She was a strong supporter as secretary of state.

Brianna Keilar, thanks so much.

This programming, you can watch the first Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN. It's next Tuesday, October 13th. Coverage starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. Anderson Cooper moderating. We'll see you there.

Donald Trump gloating today over his new poll numbers saying, quote, "We're killing everyone." It's his numbers in Florida that has him especially happy as he's up big against both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush in their home Sunshine State. That story next.