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Biden's Team Meets With Democratic National Committee Officials; Sanders, Clinton Readying For CNN Debate; U.S. Effort To Train Rebels Falls Apart; American In Iran Now Held 445 Days. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 9, 2015 - 16:30   ET


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now Cruz has proven himself to be a prolific fundraiser even though he's been polling in the single digits in most surveys. To put this in context, Cruz's campaign pulled in twice as much as Marco Rubio in the third quarter even though Rubio has been rising in recent polls outpacing Cruz after his strong performance in the CNN debate last month.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Fascinating stuff. Athena Jones, thanks so much. For the Democrats every move now carefully crafted ahead of their first debate, which of course will be here on CNN on Tuesday night.

Today Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are courting groups that could be key to a White House win, but the outcome of a big meeting this weekend could change their strategies. That story next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Even more now on our politics lead. Hillary Clinton saying she cannot control what all those outside groups supporting her do including but not limited to taking whacks at Senator Bernie Sanders, the guy beating her in those New Hampshire polls.

But in just four days Clinton will no longer have that excuse because she'll be standing a few feet away from her rival. Let's bring in senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, as Sanders and Clinton prepare for Tuesday's showdown, the vice president is possibly, possibly preparing to enter the race. He's going to have a big meeting, we're told.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He is. He is possible, but a big decision is looming for the bidden family no question. As the rest of the Democratic field heads to Las Vegas for that first debate, the vice president and his family will gather at their home in Wilmington, Delaware.

It comes as his team is taking new steps and studying the new deadlines. As he charts his future, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the field have their hands full.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton in Washington today preparing for Tuesday's presidential debate. She also met with leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement at the National Council of Negro Women.

These days she's taking no constituency for granted. She wouldn't discuss the closed door session with a group suddenly playing a prominent role in the Democratic primary fight.

(on camera): Secretary Clinton, how was the meeting?

(voice-over): But inside a quick view of Clinton captured by participants on social media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much for the meeting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on periscope, can you just say hi?

CLINTON: Hi, everybody. You are the social media emperor.

ZELENY: The Democratic presidential race could be on the cusp of becoming even more competitive. Vice President Joe Biden's team reached out to the Democratic National Committee officials told CNN. They asked about ballot deadlines and other details only a 2016 candidate would need.

Time is running short to qualify for the ballot. The first deadline is October 29th in Georgia followed by November 9th in Arkansas and November 10th in Texas. Several people close to Biden tell CNN they expect him to make his decision known as soon as next week.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Six weeks after my election my whole world was altered forever.

ZELENY: The vice president was said to be furious at this emotional ad from the Draft Biden Movement telling friends it treads on sacred ground. The group agreed to pull it saying, "Nobody has more respect for the vice president and his family than we do. Obviously we will honor his wishes."

All eyes on the Democratic Party are also on Bernie Sanders who is gearing up for Tuesday's debate with more giant rallies. Tonight in Arizona, tomorrow in Colorado, those soaring crowds have been breeding Sanders since this summer when we caught up with him in Phoenix.

(on camera): Are they underestimating Bernie Sanders?

BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People often have underestimated me. I'm in this race and we're running to win.

ZELENY: Now he's a candidate to reckon with this fall.


ZELENY: Now, it is Bernie Sanders who's going to be on that stage right next to Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. The vice president of course will be watching from the sidelines. Now, even if he makes a decision before the debate, his allies say he's unlikely to make any announcements until after -- Jake.

TAPPER: I always love when my little boy -- people always underestimate him. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

I want to talk all of this over with CNN political commentators, Donna Brazile and Amanda Carpenter. Donna, let me start with you, should Joe Biden run, yes or no?


TAPPER: Come on.

BRAZILE: If he decides to run it's going to be a very interesting race. But my personal position --

TAPPER: That's what I want.

BRAZILE: As an activist, yes. I mean because, look, if you want to run you know why you want to be president, you want to go out there and make a difference, run. But as an official of the Democratic Party, I'm neutral.

TAPPER: Of course, I understand that. What do you think? Should he run?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, absolutely. But even though he's not running and may not be in the race for the upcoming debate, his shadow will be looming over the debate. And if anyone has a poor performance, they're going to provide a vacuum for Joe Biden to get in. And I think that's exactly the game he's playing right now.

TAPPER: What fireworks are you expecting Tuesday night at the debate? What can we expect to see do you think?

BRAZILE: You know, at the Republican debate, we've been seeing what I call a clash of personalities. You're going to have a clash of ideas. The Democratic Party is about big ideas to really solve problems not just of this country, but some of the biggest problems facing the United States. You're going to have a really robust conversation. And of course it all depends on the mood of the moderators and you're not moderating.

TAPPER: I'm not moderating.

BRAZILE: I'm channeling Anderson to be their boo.

CARPENTER: On the point about ideas, I think the day after the debate we're going to be talking about how Bernie Sanders is actually the fountainhead of policy ideas for the Democratic Party. I think everybody should go back and look at a press conference he did in mid-July where he laid out the differences he had with Hillary Clinton raging from the Trans-Pacific trade deal, Keystone, student loan debt.

Since Hillary has come over to his side or laid out policy ideas to address his concerns almost on a checklist.

TAPPER: That's interesting.

[16:40:01] BRAZILE: You know what's interesting though is one hour they want Elizabeth Warren to run. This hour they want Joe Biden to run, the next hour, they want somebody else to run. The Republican Party needs to get with the fact that we have five great candidates. This is not going to be a children's debate. We're going to have --

CARPENTER: Like the more the merrier, have 17 in, it won't hurt.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the Republicans for a second. Obviously outsiders are doing really well. There's a pro John Kasich super PAC called "New Day for America" and they are spending $1.5 million on a new TV ad in New Hampshire. We're going to debut the ad right here. It takes on the outsiders doing so well in the polls at the expense of the establishment candidates.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People want change. They want reform. They want to see something done. But just harping about it and whining about it and making speeches about it, doesn't get it done.


TAPPER: So that's interesting. You have not only Trump and Carson and Fiorina, but Amanda, he had Rubio in there. And we asked the pro Kasich super PAC about that. And they said, well, he's just a speech maker exactly like the outsiders. That's how they dismissed Rubio.

CARPENTER: I think it's a bad idea. Rubio's high favorabilities are so well. We've seen when Donald Trump attacked Rubio people had a visceral reaction, but more so I think that shows that Rubio is kind of inheriting what used to be thought of as the establishment lane with people like Walker, Perry dropping out, Bush performing so poorly and Kasich. People are looking at Rubio to take that mantle and that ad shows how worried they are.

TAPPER: I think that's definitely right. Donna, I want to briefly play some sound of Dr. Ben Carson on a radio show and get your quick reaction.


BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Guy comes in, puts the gun in my ribs and I just said I believe you want the gun behind the counter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In that calm way? CARSON: In that calm way. He said, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you just redirected him --


TAPPER: So that's Dr. Ben Carson talking about an incident with violence at a Popeye's decades ago.

BRAZILE: Profiling courage. He redirected the mugger or the assailant to the cashier. Look, I've heard it. I've read about it. I don't understand what's going on in Ben Carson's world in terms of explaining violence in society, the toxic culture of gun violence. But whatever it is it must be resonating over in the Republican Party. And, Jake, once again I want to promote the CNN debate.

TAPPER: On Tuesday.

BRAZILE: We're going to have a clash of ideas. It's going to be exciting.

TAPPER: Donna Brazile, Amanda Carpenter, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it. This programming note, we don't need it. You can watch the first Democratic presidential debate here at 8:30 p.m. Eastern and Mr. Anderson Cooper will moderate.

The World Lead in about face at the Pentagon, officials now admitting the program to train and equip Syrian rebels isn't working. What's the new plan to fight ISIS?

And as you watch this program, history is being made. A "Washington Post" journalist has just become the longest held American prisoner in Iran in history. We'll talk to Jason Rezaian's family about this dubious milestone coming up.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Our World Lead now, this relationship isn't working out. That's the message Defense Secretary Ash Carter had today for rebels fighting in Syria who have shown little promise of combatting ISIS even after receiving half a billion dollars in U.S. training and equipment.

The Pentagon says it will still provide ammunition and air support to thousands of anti-ISIS fighters. But they say the initial training program has essentially failed.

Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, a Syrian activist told me today that the real problem is that the White House meddled with the Pentagon's plans to train and equip these fighters and created these rules so fighters had to pledge to only fight ISIS.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, all indications are, Jake, that is not going to change, but plenty of other parts of the program will.


STARR (voice-over): Syrian forces backed up by Russia continuing to escalate attacks in Western Syria as the U.S. announces a massive overhaul of its effort to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS.

ASH CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I wasn't satisfied with the early efforts in that regard.

STARR: Few were. Now instead of recruiting fighters from the battlefield for training, the U.S. will provide airstrikes and air drop ammunition and communications gear in Northern Syria to members of the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition, some 5,000 fighters from various tribes and militias that have been fighting ISIS for months.

U.S. special operations forces have worked already with the coalition and pressed the Pentagon for months to back them up. The original effort to train thousands in Turkey and Jordan and send them back into Syria fell apart.

An update on the number of those trained included this shocking admission by the U.S. general running the war against ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a small number. The ones that are in the fights is we're talking four or five.

STARR: About 100 of those fighters remain in training, but the program is over. One problem, many of the rebels opposed the U.S. rule that they must promise to fight ISIS, not Assad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The challenge in Syria is that the entire train and equip program has been pretty hamstrung. It's like the U.S. was trying to train Syrian rebels with one hand tied behind its back.

STARR: And they've had little support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not allowing U.S. special operations forces to accompany rebels in Syria undermine the entire program.

STARR: In the new program, rebels will still have to promise to focus on ISIS, but this time the U.S. thinks it will work because fighters are already in place doing just that.

[16:50:06] And the more they fight, the more air support and weapons the U.S. will give them.


STARR: And what is the latest about the Russians? Well, we can tell you as Moscow says it has killed over 200 militants in Syria in the last 24 hours. And those Russian warships in the Caspian Sea that fired all those naval cruise missiles into Syria, except for the four that went into Iran according to the U.S., those ships we are told by U.S. officials are headed back to their ports to get a new load of naval missiles -- Jake. TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much. In the Buried Lead, a new smile stone no one is celebrating. Jason Rezaian as of this hour has been held hostage by Iran longer than the U.S. hostage crisis from 1979 to 1980. What we're learning about his captivity and any chance he'll be freed next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now to our Buried Lead, that's what we call stories we think are not getting enough attention. As you've been watching this program, the calendars in Iran have just flipped to Saturday.

It is early morning there now on the 445th day of the captivity of "The Washington Post" journalist, Jason Rezaian. Rezaian has been in prison there on espionage charges that "The Washington Post" calls beyond ludicrous, 445 days.

That is one day more than it took to secure this long-awaited homecoming for American hostages in 1981. Rezaian's plight has now lasted longer than the infamous Iran hostage crisis.

Joining me now from San Francisco is Ali Rezaian, Jason's brother. Ali, thanks so much for being with us. First of all, our thoughts are with your family. How is your brother doing on this heartbreaking milestone of a day?

ALI REZAIAN, BROTHER OF JASON REZAIAN: You know, I haven't heard from him today. I think he's going to get a chance to talk to my mother, who just went back to Tehran. These kinds of things, these kinds of milestones are just horribly depressing for him. It just crushes his spirits every time it happened.

TAPPER: You are at the U.N. General Assembly just weeks ago hoping to speak with Iranian President Rhahani there along with Iranian officials. You say your family is being kept entirely in the dark?

REZAIAN: That's absolutely true both here and in Iran. While Iranian law has rules and time lines associated with the trial that Jason's going through which he hasn't been convicted of anything. They haven't been following those rules. They haven't been giving us any updates.

And then over here, we've reached out through many different channels directly to the U.N. mission as well as to the U.N. mission in Geneva for Human Right Commission, and they have completely ignored us.

TAPPER: Your brother is not the only American being held prisoner in Iran. Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent. He went missing in Iran in 2007. Have you gotten any satisfactory explanation from the Obama administration as to why their freedom, why your brother's freedom was not part of this huge deal with Iran?

REZAIAN: You know, I think they've always kept them separate. It was shocking to me when there was a list of Iranians who had their sanctions released and people's names within the deal. Jason and the others were not included in that.

But what they've always said is that was about the nuclear weapons and nothing else and they wanted to keep them separate. I was always concerned that there wouldn't be a deal. And that could then have backfired and held Jason even longer.

But what I've always said and what I believe is that Jason is innocent. He shouldn't be tied to any external factors, things that he doesn't have control over whether it be a nuclear deal or something other people have done.

It's inhumane and illegal by any standards, by international standards to hold Jason in prison for something he has nothing to do with it.

TAPPER: Your family's been able to secure nearly 500,000 signatures on a petition for his release. What are the next steps for you? How are you going to keep making your case?

REZAIAN: You know, we have open right now a petition with the U.N. Working Group on arbitrary detention. We're pushing that forward. They are going to take that up we hope in November. And coming up very soon there's going to be a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

We're going to try and push there as well and make sure that the Iranians know we got a lot of good feedback from other countries, other countries want to help. They want to reach out. And they tell Iranians this is an unacceptable situation.

We want to make sure we keep that pressure up from every different angle so that hopefully they get the pressure that they need to realize this should end.

TAPPER: Rouhani has suggested a potential prisoner swap. Meanwhile the U.S. is easing many of the Iran's sanctions and it's been suggested well, why not release some of the Iranians who were in jail for helping Iran get around those sanctions as long as the sanctions are being eased? Why can't a realistic release for your brother be part of something like that?

REZAIAN: You know, like I said, Jason's innocent. He hasn't done anything. He hasn't been convicted even in Iran. I don't understand why the United States should have to do anything for them to do the right thing.

That being said I don't have an opinion about the legal status or how that would be done. I just want my brother home. I know the other families want their families home. Everybody should be brought together and this is just a situation that's been horrible for all of us.

TAPPER: Ali Rezaian, thank you so much and our thoughts and prayers are with your family.

REZAIAN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: We're going to take some live pictures right now of Marine One in Roseburg, Oregon. President Obama, of course, is taking a trip there. He recently spoke publicly saying that this is a day for comforting the families.

There will be other days for talking about what to do about these mass shootings, but today is about bringing some peace and comfort to those affected by the horrible tragedy, that horrible mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a good weekend.