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FBI Arrests Alleged White Supremacists; Plane Crash Investigation; Republican Debate; FBI: Two Men Planned to Blow Up Black Churches; U.S. Officials: Bomb Likely "Military Grade Explosive"; Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 10, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Will Dr. Ben Carson this evening experience the full Trump?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Candidates under fire, under pressure, under the microscope. Hours before another critical debate, will a cool and calm Dr. Ben Carson be able to fend off a Trumpy Donald Trump?

Not only are they nearly positive it was a bomb, but U.S. investigators may now know what it was made of and how it got on board a plane that blew up in the sky.

Plus, a media professor at Mizzou ignoring like page one of her own textbooks, to say nothing of that pesky Bill of Rights, asking for muscle to help remove journalists from a public space.

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

The politics lead now. The latest GOP debate tonight has the potential to reshuffle the race. Republican presidential candidates are already jabbing elbows at one another and they have not even taken the stage yet, as Donald Trump looks to regain his lead by perhaps going on the attack and Dr. Ben Carson tries to tamp down questions about the accuracy of his autobiography, while Jeb Bush, once again, breaking out the defibrillators to jolt some life into his campaign.

CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, joining us from Milwaukee.

Dana, are we getting a sense how tonight's debate might be different from last one?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One clue that I have gotten, Jake, in the past, Ben Carson has been notoriously mellow. But a Carson source tells me that he's actually pretty fired up about what you mentioned, about the fact that there have been lots of questions into his past and that that very well may seep into his debate performance tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are getting away with murder. I never saw anything like this.

BASH (voice-over): Without a hint of irony, the billionaire TV reality star who rewrites political rules every day is calling out Ben Carson for an unconventional campaign.

TRUMP: You stab somebody, and the newspapers say you didn't do it. This is the only election in history where you are better off if you stab somebody.

BASH: For Carson, anecdotes about overcoming a pathological temper as a child, like attempting to hit his mother with a hammer, is a selling point for many GOP voters enthralled with his story of redemption. But Trump is trying to reframe it was just plain crazy.

TRUMP: If you try and hit your mother over the head with a hammer, your poll numbers go up. I never saw anything like it.

BASH: The Carson campaign is now trying to do defuse that situation with some humor, releasing this new top 10 spoof video of Carson's youthful indiscretions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ben Carson checked out a library book and returned it two days late.

BASH: While Carson and Trump battle for front-runner status, another drama will be playing out tonight, Jeb Bush vs. his former protege, Marco Rubio.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Or just resign and let someone else take the job.

BASH: Bush's direct hit on Rubio in the last debate two weeks ago backfired big time.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Someone's convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.

BASH: Ahead of tonight's debate, team Rubio released a video called "Before the Phony Attacks," Bush in his own words praising Rubio.

BUSH: I'm a huge a Marco fan.

BASH: The Bush campaign released its own game day video featuring their candidate the way they wish voters would see him, an energetic conservative leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Affirmative action, pro-life.

BUSH: Everyone's different. Everyone's different.

BASH: Team Bush says they're being bombarded with often conflicting advice how to resurrect his fledgling candidacy. "The New York Times" reports the Bush super PAC, legally forbidden from talking to the campaign, is testing an attack on Rubio as unelectable, in part because he opposes any abortion exceptions.

RUBIO: When there is conception, that's a human life in the early stages of its total development and it is worthy of the protection of our laws.


BASH: And, Jake, going after Rubio as unelectable certainly could be something that would help Democrats if he is a Republican nominee. That would happen in the general election. But right now, Rubio, of course, is trying to appeal to Republican voters. As much as anybody paints him as very tough when it comes to abortion, the Rubio campaign, they say, that can only help him in the short-term, Jake.

TAPPER: Exactly. Throw me in the briar patch. Dana Bash, thanks so much.


Joining me now to talk about the debate and Republican front-runner Ben Carson and his campaign strategy, Armstrong Williams, the campaign's business manager.

Mr. Williams, thanks so much for coming on today. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: Want to give you an opportunity to respond to Mr. Trump there.

As a point of clarification, CNN never said that he didn't do it. Our reporters couldn't find anyone that saw his bad temper back in the day, but that doesn't mean what he said wasn't true. But I do want to give you an opportunity to respond.

WILLIAMS: Well, look, NBC did report the issue of "Parade" magazine, with his mother confirming it.

TAPPER: Right, the mom -- say it, yes.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Trump should be nervous, and actually desperate.

A month ago, he was -- had a double-digit lead over Dr. Carson in South Carolina. And Dr. Carson is now leading 28-27. He's closing the gaps. Mr. Trump is fond of saying that when somebody he attacks, the numbers just go down. He hasn't not figured out how to deal with Dr. Carson.

TAPPER: Why do you think Dr. Carson is beating Donald Trump? What is it about him?

WILLIAMS: Intelligence. Pure intelligence.

The American people trust Dr. Carson's intelligence, his substance, his temperament, his discipline, and his humility, far more than Mr. Trump. And Dr. Carson is not petty or sensitive or small-minded. TAPPER: He's obviously in the last week or so been asked a lot of

questions about details in his autobiography, and the campaign and he had responded to it in different ways. The most recent way is through humor, a funny video put out by the campaign. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the third grade, Ben Carson got caught passing a note in class. He didn't even use a number two pencil.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Number three, when he was a child, witnesses say that Dr. Ben Carson used to occasionally color outside the lines.


TAPPER: OK. You get the point. It's a joke.

But speaking on behalf of reporters, do you not think it's important that candidates' autobiographies, whether President Obama or Dr. Carson, that the facts be vetted and checked and made sure that the stories are accurate?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. You and I would agree with that. Dr. Carson does not have a legislative record, and an elected-to-office record. All he has is his autobiography and the many books that he has sold and his phenomenal record as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. So, of course, that's fair.

TAPPER: The debate moderators have said that tonight's debate is going to be focused on economic policy. You and I have talked before about how debates aren't necessarily Dr. Carson's strongest forum.

And as brilliant as he may be as a neurosurgeon, he's not used to giving economic policies. How is he preparing? Is he talking to economists? Is he studying research papers? What's he doing to prepare for this evening?

WILLIAMS: Well, he's been involved in debate prep for the last two days, very heavy on economic, very heavy on explaining more of his 10 percent tax plan, more heavy on talking about Medicaid and those issues, which some people feel they're just not certain about where he is because you just can't talk about HSAs, more focused on...

TAPPER: Health saving accounts.

WILLIAMS: Yes, more focused on exactly how do you close the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

I will tell you a funny thing. Alisyn Camerota interviewed Dr. Carson recently. And in all of my years I have known Dr. Carson, I have never seen anyone put fire in his belly, and it continued on that Friday night in Florida, where he was respectfully disrupted, where he was challenging.

And, you know, we saw something that was quite endearing, and even in the conversations with him, he needed an edge. And I spoke to him not long ago and he was talking about some of the economic policies. And I said, oh, my God, man, you sound -- you sound really good. He said, I have been studying. I have been preparing. I have got to sharpen everything going forward, because the other stuff about the biography, that comes and goes, but what's going to endear people to me and trust me is that I have got to get into the substance of the issues.

TAPPER: Are you expecting him to be attacked, especially by Donald Trump?

WILLIAMS: It would not be wise for Mr. Trump to attack him. It's not a winning approach.

We assume that opportunity was at the last debate. But you never know about Mr. Trump, given the fact he doesn't know what he's going to say. And he's pretty desperate, because he cannot even understand how Dr. Carson or anybody is leading him in the polls.

He assumed that everybody should have dropped out of the race by now. But he doesn't understand the race has yet to begin. And he has to earn it. Nobody is going to give it to him. And if he thinks that Dr. Carson is going to drop out of the race or be intimidated by his tactics, he's lost and confused. He needs a different strategy.


TAPPER: Well, we will be watching this evening. It's sure going to be a good debate. We're looking forward to.

Armstrong Williams, thank you so much for coming. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: some breaking news now. We're just getting word that the FBI has arrested two white supremacists who were allegedly planning a race war. We have that breaking story.

And we will bring it to you right after this quick break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We have the breaking news now, the FBI netting two would-be terrorists today who planned, allegedly, to spark a race war.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is here with all the details.

Pamela, what specifically does the FBI allege these two men planned on doing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a couple of things, just reading through the criminal complaint here.

[16:15:01] These are two men that the FBI says were part of a white supremacy group. They say part of their plan was to kill a local jeweler, use those proceeds to stockpile weapons, buy land, and start a race war.

Also in this criminal complaint, it says that the men wanted to use their extremist beliefs by shooting or bombing the occupants of black churches and Jewish synagogues, conducting acts of violence against persons of the Jewish faith and doing harm to a gun store owner and the state of Oklahoma.

We know that the FBI used surveillance, undercover informants to help gather this information. And the FBI says that in November, the men met with an undercover FBI agent acting as an illegal arms dealer to buy these weapons that the FBI says these men planned to use to carry out these attacks -- Jake.

TAPPER: In Oklahoma, this is where this is going to take place?

BROWN: This is Chesterfield, Virginia. Yes.

TAPPER: Chesterfield, OK.

How far did two men get in their plot? Did they get close at all?

BROWN: Well, the FBI says, in the criminal complaint, that they met at a home with a few other people within this white supremacy group and the FBI says the fact the men took steps to buy these weapons, including a .45 caliber pistol was an indication, was evidence, that these men meant to carry out the attack using these weapons from this undercover FBI agent. And what's interesting here, Jake, is that in criminal complaint, these men suspected that the undercover FBI agent was actually acting in an undercover capacity but went ahead anyways to buy these weapons.

TAPPER: Too late.


TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The world lead now. U.S. officials today closing in on what the bomb that likely took down that passenger plane was made out of and how it got there and how it was detonated, killing all 224 people on board, including 25 children. We say likely, because U.S. official tells CNN it's 99.9 percent certain that it was a bomb but not 100 percent.

Figuring out what exactly happened is obviously critical to preventing the next such attack with concerns of about the nearly 1 million people who work behind the security lines at American airports.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live for us at Pentagon. Barbara, what's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Russia and Egypt so far sharing little, almost no information, about this situation. But the U.S. is beginning to develop some ideas about what it believes happened to the Russian airliner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STARR (voice-over): As the U.S. tries to connect the dots on what happened to the Russian airliner, a working theory is emerging inside the U.S. government about the possible makeup of the plot. More than half a dozen U.S. officials in various parts of the administration now believe it likely was a bomb. Officials stress, understanding what happened is critical for ensuring airline security.

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Given the ongoing investigation, we are particularly focused on what happened, understanding what happened, what more we can do in that region.

STARR: But without direct access to evidence, bomb residue, wreckage, the data recorders, or the bodies, the U.S. cannot come to a firm conclusion.

But the U.S. does have intercepted communications, radar readings, videos, and photos of the wreckage to assess. Based on that, U.S. officials tell CNN, a likely scenario is emerging, they believe it is likely jihadists planted a bomb with a timer on the plane, using someone with access on the ground. It was set for enough time to initiate explosion after take-off.

The heat flash of the explosion, picked up by a U.S. satellite, along with reports of an intense explosion, picked up on a flight recorder, add to the U.S. view, a highly dynamic bomb exploded, one official told CNN, the bomb was likely made, in part, by an easily attainable military grade explosive like C4, according to two American officials.

ANTHONY MAY, FORMER ATF EXPLOSIVES EXPERT: The groups that operate in that region from ISIS to al Qaeda, to even Hamas, they would have access to military-grade type of explosives, that's not a problem.


STARR: Now, for now, U.S. officials say there's no intelligence to indicate the attack was ordered directly by ISIS back in Syria. But, look, Jake, all of this could change as the U.S. gets more information and more intelligence.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss this and more, Republican senator and presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham, who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator Graham, thanks so much for being here. If ISIS was behind this bomb attack, and it has not been confirmed, does this make you even more concerned about the threat to the United States, the potential threat?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, definitely. It means they have reached outside Syria.

[16:20:00] It means they can coordinate with people in the Sinai to slip a bomb on a plane in Egypt. Yes, it definitely worries me. You know, I've had a wake-up call about two years ago regarding ISIL.

If this is not a wake-up call for President Obama and members of Congress to get our act together, what will? I mean, do we have to get hit here before we take these guys serious?

Our strategy's not working. Congress is cutting the budget of the FBI and Homeland Security, the president has no strategy to destroy ISIL on the ground, at what point in time do we al wake up?

TAPPER: How serious a threat do you consider ISIS in the Sinai? If you were president and General Sisi of Egypt gave you clearance, would the U.S. be conducting airstrikes against targets in Sinai?

GRAHAM: What I would do is concentrate on headquarters in Syria in the short term. But if you wanted to do joint operations with Egypt, if that was on the table, count me in. I want to partner with Arabs and Turkey to go after ISIL and affiliated groups all over the Mideast. We have an historic moment here with the Sunni Arab world in Turkey are now aligned with us regarding ISIL and other al Qaeda elements as well as trying to take Assad down. There's an historic moment here with a smart president to reset the Middle East and take radical Islam and put them on the back foot using people in the region who have similar interests.

TAPPER: You've called for at least 10,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and 10,000 in Syria as part of coalition to fight ISIS. It's something other Republicans have not said, you say any candidate unwilling to commit to that is not serious about fighting ISIS.

I want you to take a listen to what Senator Ted Cruz told me last week.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, there are some politicians who like to support boots on the ground in every conflict across the globe in an effort to lean forward and show how tough they are. I don't think this is a game of risk. I don't think it should be politicians moving armies about.


TAPPER: That was when I asked him specifically about what we should do, what the U.S. should do when it comes to fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Your response?

GRAHAM: Ted Cruz doesn't have a clue how to destroy ISIL. His plan is no different than Obama.

Three years ago, when Assad was on the ropes and John McCain and Lindsey Graham were calling for a no-fly zone, along with the entire national security team of President Obama, to train Free Syrian Army while they were intact, to have a no-fly zone to they have safety to go after Assad and go after radical Islam, he called the effort an air force for al Qaeda. Senator Cruz has been all over the board. He has no foreign policy

vision. His view of how to destroy ISIL is, to me, I can't understand how it's different than President Obama. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan 35 times.

If you don't realize we're going to need an army to destroy ISIL inside of Syria, that should be a regional army of which we'll have to be a part, you're not ready to be commander in chief.

Senator Cruz was one of the reasons we didn't use force when Assad crossed the red line drawn by our president. Senator Cruz and Senator Paul all objected to using force at a time when it would matter against Assad.

Everything John McCain and Lindsey Graham have predicted has come true. Senator Cruz and Senator Paul were on the wrong side of both issues.

TAPPER: As you articulate, the fight against ISIS, almost certainly be a top priority for the next administration, for the next president. As you know, Donald Trump, one of the front runners for the Republican nomination. I asked him about his strategy to fight the terrorist group. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would hit ISIS very, very hard. I'd hit them at their source of wealth, which is the oil, and I would hit them right now.

TAPPER: When you say hitting ISIS hard what do you mean specifically? Do you mean --

TRUMP: Well, I hate to say specifically because if I win -- you know, I'm leading in the polls, if I win, I hate to give all of my information right up front, to be honest with you. But I would hit them at their source of wealth. I would hit them at the source of wealth, which is the oil. I would take the oil away.


TAPPER: Your response, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: The reason he can't give you specifics is because he doesn't know what he's talking about. This is the Donald Trump who said that he has no problem with Russia destroying ISIL. We should stay out of Syria. It's a quagmire.

Now, Syria is the most likely place for the next 9/11. If you don't realize America has an interest in destroying ISIL in Iraq and Syria, you don't understand. If you join with Russia to destroy ISIL, they will require Assad to stay in power, the puppet of Iran, and the war never ends.

The right way to go forward is form a coalition with Arabs in Turkey going on the ground. We'll be part of the coalition, 90 percent them, 10 percent us, and destroy ISIL.

Donald Trump really has no idea what he's talking about. They get about 100 million from oil, the only way to destroy ISIL was a ground force.

Senator Cruz, if you don't understand there needs to be boots on the ground and the Kurds and Arabs inside Syria don't have the capability to destroy ISIL, you're not ready for this job. Where does the army come from if we don't form it in the region?

TAPPER: Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks so much. Sorry you're not going to be at debate but we provided a little opportunity for you here. I hope you enjoyed it.

[16:25:01] GRAHAM: Thank you. Thank you, I did, Jake. Thank you very much for having me.

TAPPER: Coming up, a U.S. airport partially shut down. The FBI called in. Travelers told to put their hands in the air. The frantic hunt for a passenger with a suspicious bag. That story next.

Plus, protesters pushing a journalist, and a media professor asking for muscle to take out a reporter. The video raising many questions today. That story next.


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

Tapping our national lead today: a major security scare shutting down terminals at one of the nation's busiest airports. Dozens of flights were delayed for hours at Miami International Airport, after a passenger got through TSA security and boarded a plane with suspicious items in his carry-on.