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Interview With U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; Terror Investigation; Accused Planned Parenthood Gunman in Court. Aired 16-16:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2015 - 16:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything from the district attorney?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing further at this time, Your Honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Thank you. Court will be...




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with our world lead, but before we get to that, obviously, we were just watching tape coming in from Colorado from the beginning of the case against the shooter at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs.

We will have much more on that later in the show. But let's start with the world lead right now, the desperate international manhunt for one of the world's most wanted ISIS terrorists.

CNN has learned that French intelligence officials are operating under the assumption that Salah Abdeslam, believed to be the sole surviving ISIS terrorist from the Paris attacks, has escaped to Syria, this news coming as President Obama is right now in Paris, a city still on edge from those attacks, meeting with other world leaders, including his Russian counterpart, talking about the heightened security threat.

It also comes as the State Department warns Americans in Afghanistan of an imminent terror attack in the coming days.

I want to get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who has all the late-breaking details.

Now, Jim, there are reports that the terrorists in Paris had more plots in the works described as ready to go. What can you tell us about that?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, in fact, ISIS calling those Paris attacks on November 13 as just, in their words, the beginning of the storm.

That threat coming in the latest issue just out of its French- language magazine. Yes, ISIS has magazines, "Dar al Islam." But that claim has been supported by what French investigators have been finding. They say the Paris attackers had other plots "ready to go," including on transport services and Jewish targets as well.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): The street behind the Bataclan concert hall, site of some of the worst bloodshed and most desperate escapes of the Paris attacks, is now open again with bullet holes marking the walls. Still, one of the chief architects of the carnage, alleged eighth attacker Salah Abdeslam, remains on the loose. French investigators now looking into the possibility he escaped to Syria, sources tell CNN.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: If he made it over land from France to Turkey, it would have been very easy for him to get into Syria. Same -- he could have also done that via Greece going by boat from a Greek island to Syria. All of that is possible. And there's very little control over those borders.

SCIUTTO: Still, it would be an alarming escape by Europe's most wanted man. His last known whereabouts were in Belgium, where security officials have carried out dozens of raids in search of him and other suspected plotters. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee says authorities are getting closer.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: I do think they're closing in on him, and that's the good news. There are many involved in this plot. It was a very sophisticated plot, an external operation that we have seen from ISIS.

SCIUTTO: Investigators are now piecing together the terrorist's movements before the November 13th attacks. French police say Abdeslam bought 10 detonators and batteries from a fireworks shop on Paris' northern outskirts, the store manager alerting authorities after police publicized his arrest warrant.

LEIGHTON: Basically, what we're dealing with is a trail that's gone cold. And they're looking for any kind of clue of, people that he met, anybody who has possibly seen the suspect. That is going to be the key to finding him.

SCIUTTO: Now new information that the terrorists were planning even more bloodshed. The Paris attackers, sources tell CNN, had other targets -- quote -- "ready to go," including transportation networks, schools and Jewish targets, an echo of the January attack on a kosher market following the deadly shooting at the offices of "Charlie Hebdo."


SCIUTTO: We heard just moments ago that the U.S. military has actually lifted its ban on travel to Paris and Brussels by U.S. military personnel. European Command had introduced that ban just following the Paris attacks.

Not unprecedented, but very rare in Europe for them to say to U.S. military personnel don't go to an entire city because of the terror threat, but they are now lifting that.

TAPPER: Right. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

Today, President Obama paid his respects to the 90 victims slaughtered at the Bataclan theater in Paris. Mr. Obama is among 150 world leaders attending a United Nations climate change summit in France. There on the sidelines, he huddled with Russian President Vladimir Putin with two major items on the agenda, as far as we know.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins me now live from Paris.

Jim, what did the president have to say to Putin about the first item, avoiding any further military confrontation between Russia and Turkey after Turkey downed that Russian fighter jet?


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake, President Obama is taking out from this climate summit here in Paris to play referee basically in a simmering dispute between Russia and Turkey over the downing of that Russian warplane last week.

Earlier today, as you said, the president did meet with Vladimir Putin. Mr. Obama expressed his regret, according to White House officials, after Turkey shot down that Russian bomber, but Putin is still furious. He is refusing to meet with Turkey's President Erdogan. President Obama will meet with Erdogan tomorrow to see if he can resolve this dispute, but the White House is pretty clear which side it's on.

While the president said Russia and Turkey need to take steps to de-escalate the situation, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said outside these climate talks here in Paris that the U.S. still wants Moscow to play a more productive role in the war on ISIS. They're not saying it's unproductive, but they would like it to be more productive, Jake.

TAPPER: And speaking of Syria and the role against ISIS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights today, Jim, announcing that Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed roughly 1,000 fighters or terrorists with ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front, but also killing 485 Syrian civilians, 117 of them children.

This is one of the many reasons the White House is so concerned about the role Russia's playing in Syria.

ACOSTA: No, that's absolutely right, Jake. And Ben Rhodes told reporters here in Paris that Russia has been intensifying its bombing of ISIS targets.

They do welcome that news, but they added once again today that Moscow is still hitting those opposition forces that are rebelling against Syria's Bashar al-Assad. That's where the concern is inside the White House. We should point out the Obama administration is hopeful, now that Putin is supporting this diplomatic process that's under way for a political transition in Syria, but Putin does not appear ready yet to give up on Assad.

And that's key sticking points in all of this, Jake. Until that happens, both sides are just going to be butting heads over this war on ISIS, Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta live for us in Paris, Jim, thanks so much.

From Paris now to Afghanistan, where U.S. officials are urging Americans to exercise extreme caution due to -- quote -- "credible reports" of an imminent attack on the country's capital, Kabul, over the next 48 hours.

There are currently more than 10,000 U.S. troops and government personnel stationed across Afghanistan.

CNN's Barbara Starr is tracking this urgent threat and joins me now live from the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are your sources telling you about this imminent threat?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, a U.S. official telling me a short time ago they view this threat as significant, active and credible. That means, reading between the lines, they have information about an active plot. They're offering very little information about the details, however, other than this official telling me at this point they believe the plotters are tied to the al Qaeda Haqqani Network in Afghanistan.

This is a longstanding group of extremely violent militant operatives that have operated for a long time in and around Kabul, out into Eastern Afghanistan. Their traditional tactics, suicide car bombs, multiple, vicious deadly attacks, simultaneous attacks, so a lot of concern over the next 48 hours or so about Kabul -- Jake.

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

Joining me now is Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Secretary Johnson, thanks for being with us.


TAPPER: A couple items about the reports we just had that I want to ask you about.

Yesterday on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," congressman Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that he believed authorities were close to closing in on Salah Abdeslam, the terrorist from the Paris attacks.

Today, CNN learned French intelligence believes that Abdeslam has actually escaped to Syria. I talked to a U.S. official earlier today who said that he believes that his information tracks closer to what we're reporting that French authorities are saying, that Abdeslam is in Syria. Are you -- do you have any information about where he may be?

JOHNSON: Jake, I can't comment on ongoing efforts such as that one, except to say that we are in close contact with French authorities, with Belgian authorities, and across Europe to monitor the situation, to support the European authorities in any way we can in the wake of the Paris attacks.


A source telling CNN today that ISIS terrorists in Paris had other attacks -- quote -- "ready to go" in France. Are you aware of any conspiracies, any terrorist plans that might have affected Americans in Paris in any way?

JOHNSON: As the president, the FBI director and I have said several times, we know at this time of no specific credible intelligence of a plot like the Paris attack here in the United States.

We are, however, vigilant, working overtime. Americans, this past Thanksgiving week, for example, saw a lot of law enforcement, a lot of aviation security at airports, at parades, at public events. There was probably an unprecedented number of cops out at the Macy's Day Parade this past week, which I attended myself.


And so we're on the job. We're concerned about potential copycat attacks, the potential lone wolf actor, the terrorist-inspired attack. And so we're very much on the job. There's a heightened law enforcement presence, a heightened aviation security presence at a number of airports.

And we're continuing -- continually evaluating whether more should be necessary.

TAPPER: All right, Secretary Johnson, stay right here.

We have a lot more to talk about, including the new steps that the Obama administration is announcing that they're taking to track Americans who have traveled to fight with ISIS in Syria.

Stay with us. We will be right back.


[16:15:03] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our national lead: porous European borders just allowed at least two known terrorists to travel between Syria and France unnoticed by authorities.

We're back now with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Secretary Johnson, our visa waiver program, a lot of people don't know what this is, but if you're in Europe you don't apply for a visa, you come to the United States with your passport and you can enter. And that could allow in some ways Europe's problem tracking foreign fighters with porous borders to become our problem. You're unveiling a new program to enhance security for this visa waiver program. What are you doing?

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Jake, this is something that we have been focused on, we are focused on and we should be focused on, the visa waiver program is a program that has 38 countries in it. It is a valuable program for lawful trade, commerce, travel, but last year, we identified some security enhancements that we thought were necessary.

In August, I added additional ones to get at the possibility that somebody who has some terrorist affiliation may come here. They have to go through a vetting process even though no visa is required. It is something that Congress can help us with. A lot of people in Congress led by Dianne Feinstein, Senator Jeff Flake have been thinking about this, and we want to work with them to see if we can put some legislative teeth into these security enhancements.

TAPPER: As you know, there are a lot of people on the hill who are very concerned about Europe's problem becoming our problem. You I believe in these enhanced security measures for the visa waiver program, you would penalize countries in the visa waiver program that don't live up to their agreements and share as much counterterrorism, counter and intelligence information as they're obligated to do under agreements.

Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan, she has a bill it wouldn't penalize countries that don't live up to their obligations, it would suspend the visa waiver program. If this is a life and death issue and we need these countries to share intelligence with you, why not dangle the threat of suspension? Why just a penalty?

JOHNSON: Suspension is an available remedy if we feel it's justified. But it's important to remember the overall picture. A lot of these countries are in this program because it is valuable to promote lawful trade and travel. But we do want to identify places where countries need to step up and do better and resort to a number of different remedies that we can have and we should have available to us to get them to focus on these issues.

TAPPER: So if I may be so bold, let me tell you one country that perhaps is one of these countries, Spain. In August, a terrorist Ayoub El-Khazzani, you know better than I, tried to attack passengers aboard a train from Amsterdam to Paris. Americans who happened to be there thankfully these three heroes stopped the attack, or maybe there were more, but three of them were American. But this man's DNA was on file with Spanish authorities. There had been signs he had links to an ISIS group. Government officials in the U.S. government tell me that European

intelligence had not told the U.S. about Khazzani. And, yet, theoretically, could he not have come over on the visa waiver program and tried to pull that attack on an American train?

JOHNSON: Well, two things. First of all, even if no visa's required, there's still a vetting process --


JOHNSON: -- that one has to go through. It's called ESTA, Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which we beefed up recently. The other point I'll make is that part of our security enhancements are not just enhancing what we know about people who travel here. It is strongly encouraging countries to do a better job themselves in collecting information about people who come in to their borders and come into their countries.

And so, we've identified the visa waiver program which is something that countries really care about and want to get into and stay in as a place where we can focus or efforts and get countries to enhance their own security. And I think we are making good progress. And with the help of Congress I think we can do more.

TAPPER: Isn't the basic problem that there is this border between Syria and Turkey that foreign fighters just fly to Turkey and somehow get across the border and then come back. And that the security and the border checks in Europe are -- I don't want to call them a joke, but they're certainly not taken as seriously as they would be for instance if you were put in charge of the European border checks. And because of that, because of that very porous border, people like Abaaoud who is a known wanted terrorist is able to get into France to stage these attacks.

JOHNSON: Jake, this is something that we talked about at the U.N. I sat in for the U.S. at a U.N. Security Council session in May to talk about this exact issue. It is something that is reflected in U.N. Security Council resolution 2178.

[16:20:04] And I'm going to Europe, I'm going to the U.K. next week to talk about this issue.

So, it's something we're continuing to focus on. But the visa waiver program is a valuable avenue for improving security, both with respect to travel here and with respect to security within Europe in member countries in the visa waiver program.

TAPPER: Do you think it's not just a question of if but when, that we'll see a Mumbai or Paris-style attack in the United States?

JOHNSON: Jake, I choose not to look at it that way. I think all Americans realize that in a free and open society that we have, we cannot erase all risk to public safety. I actually believe the American people understand that. But what we can do and what we should do is buy down as much of that risk as possible while preserving American values, freedom to travel, freedom to associate. And that's what we're doing. That's what we're doing over time.

TAPPER: All right. Well, I know we all wish you the best of luck with what is a very difficult job. Secretary Jeh Johnson, thanks so much for being here. I appreciate it.

Coming up, man accused of killing three at a Planned Parenthood in court just minutes ago. We're learning more about his past and what he said during his horrific attack. That's next.

Plus, Donald Trump adamantly denying he was mocking a reporter's disability. So what exactly was he doing? A top Trump adviser will weigh in, coming up.

Thank you, sir.


[16:26:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead -- just moments ago in a Colorado courtroom, we saw the man accused of shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic killing three innocent people. He appeared with his lawyer briefly answering questions from the judge. And he acknowledged his legal rights.

Authorities have yet to state the motive behind Friday's standoff in Colorado Springs, twisted as it must have been. But investigators say the suspect made a comment about, quote, "no more baby parts," when he was arrested -- a possible reference to questions about the organization providing fetal tissue for medical research.

In addition to the nine people wounded, the fatalities include Officer Garrett Swasey, a husband and father of two children, active in his church and former figure skater, Jennifer Markovsky, a 35-year- old mother of two. And Ke'Arre Stewart, a decorated army veteran who served as an infantryman in Iraq, surviving war only to be killed by a crazed gunman near a strip mall in Colorado. Stewart also leaving behind two children.

CNN's Dan Simon joining me live from Colorado Springs.

Dan, what happened today when the suspect appeared in court?


This was a relatively short court appearance, routine as these things go -- routine except for the suspect and, of course, the heinous crime.

The suspect 57-year-old Robert Dear was charged with first-degree murder. He was appointed a public defender. He was advised of his rights in the process going forward. He looked to be perfectly honest hi looked to be somewhat out of it. He was slowly blinking his eyes almost sedated in a way. He was also wearing a protective vest.

But keep in mind this was a video feed, so he's here at the detention center. So, he wouldn't have access -- or the public wouldn't have any access to him. Dear of course is accused of killing three people and wounding nine others.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are three people hiding in the bathroom at Planned Parenthood where they hear -- they think they hear a suspect. They say somebody's knocking.

SIMON (voice-over): Dramatic audio captured over police scanners during a six-hour standoff with a gunman following a shooting rampage that left three people dead and nine wounded at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. While a motive remains unclear, a law enforcement official told CNN that after surrendering to police the suspect, Robert Lewis Dear, made remarks about, quote, baby parts, and spoke of his antiabortion and antigovernment views with investigators. Propane tanks found near Dear's car in the clinic's parking lot led authorities believe he intended to cause even more harm by shooting them to trigger an explosion.

What is known about Dear's life indicates the 57-year-old lived a hermit's existence for many years on the east coast, eventually living in a cabin with no electricity or running water in the North Carolina Mountains. Although he lived in solitude, Dear was no stranger to police having had several run-ins with the law.

In 1997, his then-wife accused him of domestic assault. Records show charges were never filed. In 2002, Dear was charged with being a peeping tom. Those counts were dismissed. In 2003, he was arrested and charged with two counts of animal cruelty but was found not guilty.

Within the past year, Dear purchased property in Hartsel, Colorado, a small community 65 miles west of the Planned Parenthood facility for $6,000. Neighbors say what interaction they had with Dear was friendly but limited.

ZIGMOND POST, NEIGHBOR: Really nice guy. Gave us some anti- Obama flyers. I didn't even really read them. I just -- I think I used them to start the campfire in our fire that night. That's about all I've run into him.


SIMON: Well, police say after nearly six hours at that Planned Parenthood, the suspect just gave up. He put down his gun and surrendered. He apparently felt like he was cornered and had no more options. His next court appearance, Jake, is going to be on Wednesday. And today, the judge said that if he is convicted, he could face life in prison or the death penalty, Jake.

TAPPER: Dan Simon from Colorado Springs, thanks so much.

More on our national lead: $1.5 million -- $1.5 million, that's the bond a judge set for the Chicago police officer accused of murdering a teenager last year, shackled and handcuffed. Jason Van Dyke appeared in court in his brown prison uniform today.