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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Indiana Congressman Andre Carson; Trump Takes Fire; Mass Shooting Investigation. Aired 16-16:30p ET

Aired December 8, 2015 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump's new proposal is being called dangerous, unhinged and un-American. And that's just by the Republicans.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Step one, say something completely outrageous. Two, draw condemnation from fellow Republicans in the media. Three, watch your poll numbers rise. Then repeat.

This is Donald Trump's campaign strategy. Did he finally push it too far with his stunning call to ban all Muslims from coming into the United States?

And while Trump feeds off controversy, many of his Republican challengers have denounced him, Ben Carson not among them. We will ask Dr. Carson what he thinks of Trump's plan and find out how he plans to hang onto conservative voters as we approach the first real test of 2016.

Plus, a years-long path to terror beginning well before she received the visa and not one apparent red flag. New details on how a married couple turned their extremist views into the deadliest terror attack on America since 9/11.

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

From the very beginning of the post-9/11 war on terror, American leaders have taken great pains to emphasize that the nation is at war with a small group of terrorists twisting what the Muslim faith teaches and not a clash between the West and Islam. To do otherwise, national security experts insist, only helps recruit more terrorists while alienating potential allies in the fight.

Other experts point out that most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims want nothing to do with terrorism, but the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, he has made it clear that he would be very different from both President Obama and President George W. Bush.

Mr. Trump says until the U.S. can -- quote -- "figure out what the hell is going on," he wants a -- quote -- "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Now, to bypass for a second any national security or moral

arguments against such a proposal, legal experts say Trump's pitch would run head-first into the very first clause in the Bill of Rights -- quote -- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" -- unquote.

We should note this was not an off-the-cuff remark by Mr. Trump. Rather, it was a carefully designed rollout of a policy proposal, one that will no doubt find supporters in the Republican primaries in this year of ISIS, where so many people are so scared, especially after the terrorist slaughter in San Bernardino.

But is religious discrimination the answer to this problem?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says no. He says that the proposal -- quote -- "goes against everything we as Americans stand for."

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is here with me in Washington.

Jeff, you were at Trump's rally in South Carolina last night when he announced this or talked about it publicly and the crowd seemed to have been very much with him and not with Vice President Cheney.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's true. This crowd was very fired up. I can tell you, there were cheers, there was booming applause. It came at the end of a long riff where Trump was railing against immigration and the media.

Now, some voters said afterword they didn't know the full extent of Trump's proposal, but that's what was so unusual about this. It wasn't an off-the-cuff remark, as you said. It was a rare instance where he released a policy proposal first. And a full day later, the condemnations keep coming from all corners here and around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Defiance today from Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need intelligence in this country. We need a certain toughness in this country. Or we're going to end up like a lot of other places and we're not going to have a country left.

ZELENY: In the face of political backlash, Trump defended his proposal on CNN's "NEW DAY," seeking to block Muslims from coming to the United States.

TRUMP: Because you are going to have many more World Trade Centers if you don't solve it, many, many more, and probably beyond.

ZELENY: An overheated campaign season suddenly even hotter, with Republicans rushing to join Democrats in condemning Trump.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and, more importantly, it's not what this country stands for.

ZELENY: Trump said his ban on Muslims would be temporary. He called it a modern-day version of FDR's actions towards the Japanese in World War II.

He announced his proposal last night to loud cheers on the deck of the USS Yorktown, battleship from that war.

TRUMP: "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: His comments drew instant fire from GOP rivals.

[16:05:10]

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a race- baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party. He doesn't represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we shouldn't do is to just say all Muslims aren't coming into our country. It's not about the blowhards out there just saying stuff. That's not a program. That's not a plan. This is serious business.

ZELENY: And across the world was the talk on the streets, like here in India.

MEDIHA JAVED, STUDENT: I don't think that intolerant people should become president. They don't deserve to become president.

ZELENY: British Prime Minister David Cameron denounced the comments as divisive and unhelpful. The White House called Trump's proposal misguided and dangerous.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact is that what Donald Trump said yesterday disqualifies him from serving as president.

ZELENY: Trump brushed aside the criticism during a round of interviews today, saying his supporters are tired of political correctness.

TRUMP: And got standing ovations as soon as this was mentioned.

ZELENY: Cheryl Covey was among those in the South Carolina crowd. We asked her about Trump's plan.

CHERYL COVEY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Until we can get a handle on who should be here and who shouldn't, I think something has got to be done. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: And that's what we heard over and over again. Something has to be done.

Now, there's no question that many Americans are frightened in the wake of the shooting in San Bernardino. And that's exactly the sentiment Trump is trying to appeal to. But despite all this political criticism spanning the spectrum from Dick Cheney to Hillary Clinton, there's little reason to believe this will hurt Trump in the Republican primary. So far, nothing he has said has -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, it's only helped him. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Let's talk about Trump's proposal with one of the two Muslim- Americans in the United States Congress.

Congressman Andre Carson, thanks so much for joining us today.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Thank you for having me. An honor.

TAPPER: So, what was your reaction when you first heard of Trump's proposal, sir?

A. CARSON: Of course, I was deeply disappointed. I have met Mr. Trump before. He's a smart man, but his statements concern me.

I think that Mr. Trump has proven himself to be a modern P.T. Barnum. He generates a lot of excitement, and his poll numbers go up, but he hasn't presented a real agenda to lead this country. I was in agreement with the president's speech the other day.

And the president understands that we have to deal with the terrorist threat that exists right now. However, in dealing with that threat, he's wise enough to know that there are Muslims like myself who serve in our law enforcement communities, who serve in our intelligence communities keeping our country safe each and every day.

And anyone, male or female, who is seeking the highest office of the land, wanting to be the commander in chief and CEO, must know that we live in a multiracial, multiethnic and multireligious society. And that person has to lead millions of people who have different views and opinions.

TAPPER: I want to ask you a couple questions just based on your membership in the House Intelligence Committee. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul, said yesterday that intelligence officials have told him that -- quote -- "Individuals tied to terrorist groups in Syria have already attempted to gain access to our country through the U.S. refugee program."

Have you learned anything similar in your intelligence briefings?

A. CARSON: I think the facts are clear. Whenever you have huge groups of people during any point in time,

there will always or possibly arguably be a minority of people who have ill intentions, that that can be represented through different careers. You're going to have bad cops, as we're seeing evidence now with a growing number of police brutality cases that are finally being reported.

You are going to have bad educators, you are going to have bad firefighters and attorneys and so on and so forth. And I think what's important to know is that most people who come here from other countries come with good intentions. They want to live the American dream. That does not to say that we should not address the very real terrorist threat that exists internally, but it also says we should not now become a nation of bigots and go against the principles of our founding fathers.

TAPPER: Of course not. But I guess the question is has there been evidence that people have -- those who would do Americans ill, a minority, but still they exist, and have they tried to use the refugee program to get into the United States? Have you heard anything concrete from intelligence officials along those lines?

A. CARSON: No, but that does not say that folks have not tried to use the program. The program is very rigorous. It takes a year or even two years.

There are at least 12 or 13 steps under review from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the State Department and other agencies. It's a very rigorous screening process. That doesn't concern me. What concerns me is, you have the demagoguery taking place from people seeking to become president of the United States.

You have other politicians who are joining the bandwagon and who are fanning the flames of bigotry. That concerns me, because we're putting people, i.e. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others, into the line of fire, exposing them to death threats, discrimination at the workplace, and assaults.

[16:10:10]

I just received a death threat yesterday at my own office. And it's largely in part to this environment, this toxic environment that politicians are fanning the flames. And, to me, it's unacceptable, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Andre Carson, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

A. CARSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: Donald Trump's newest policy idea has him taking heat from some of this Republican rivals. We will ask one of them, Dr. Ben Carson, if he supports Trump's proposal. You will not want to miss that.

New leads in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, two U.S. officials now saying the female shooter, Tashfeen Malik, seemed proficient with the AR-15 she used during the attack. The question now, how did she get so proficient? Where was she trained? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national lead now: new details today about the terror ties of the San Bernardino killers and whether any others knew anything about their terrorist plans. The FBI says the terrorists Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik took target practice at a gun range in the days before the massacre. But their twisted terrorist plot to kill may have been inspired much earlier.

Let's get right to CNN's Pamela Brown.

Pamela, authorities are trying to retrace this couple's history and anyone else with whom they may have interacted.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're putting that mosaic together, and the more they investigate, Jake, the more investigators seem puzzled by this. A lot of this is not adding up, we're told.

And we're learning the Facebook post by Tashfeen Malik just before the attack was full of errors and misspellings, raising questions about whether it was hastily sent. And today, investigators continue to look into whether the couple received any outside financial support.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): The path to radicalization for this California couple began long before they committed mass murder in San Bernardino, according to the FBI. In fact, two U.S. officials tell CNN there are indications their transformation into jihadists began even before ISIS emerged on to the world stage in June 2014. It's difficult to determine exactly who inspired them and who might have helped them.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Had this couple carried out this attack, let's say, two years ago or a year ago, they might have glommed on to another organization. But it happened to be that ISIS is the biggest, baddest organization on the block, and so, they carried out in their name. Whether they actually were a part of that is unclear.

BROWN: A law enforcement official tells CNN Syed Rizwan Farook at one point had explored reaching out to al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra and al-Shabaab.

A Facebook post on an account associated with Farook's wife Tashfeen Malik pledged allegiance to ISIS and used the word "we", indicating the message represented both attackers. Just days before they killed 14 people, Farook went to this

firing range in Riverside, California. A firearms instructor there tells CNN Farook brought his own AR-15 assault weapon to practice.

JOHN GAILETTA, RIVERSIDE MAGNUM GUN RANGE: You can't tell who comes to the range. He presented a valid ID came in and acted the way he normally does, the way normal people act. Come in and use the range.

BROWN: The FBI is now reviewing surveillance video from the gun range and also looking into this man, Enrico Marquez, Farook's friend and former neighbor. Investigators say the two assault rifles the couple used in the attack traced back to Marquez. He has not been charged with any crime.

JOHN D'ANGELO, ASST. SAC, FBI LA OFFICE: Right now, our major concern in the FBI, ATF, and the JTTF is determining how those firearms, the rifles in particular, got from Marquez to Farook and Malik.

BROWN: Two U.S. officials say Malik seemed proficient with the AR-15 she used during the massacre and believed she received some level of training. The couple's family maintains they had no idea Farook and Malik had become jihadists, even though Farook's mother lived with them in the house investigators have called a virtual bomb making lab.

DAVID CHESLEY, ATTORNEY FOR FAROOK FAMILY: Syed and Tashfeen, they were very isolated and honestly the family was completely surprised and devastated, but no one had any knowledge. If anybody would have, they definitely would have done something to stop it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And tonight, the investigation into Marquez continues as well as the other associates of the couple. But no arrests have been made so far, Jake. It's still a very active investigation. But I think what is partly thrown investigators off is this doesn't fit the track record of what past terrorism attacks we have seen. So, there's still a lot more work to be done.

TAPPER: We are as President Obama pointed out the other night, in a new era of terrorist attacks.

BROWN: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

In Pakistan, a former classmate of Tashfeen Malik says she's shocked that the girl she once knew turned into a radicalized killer. What that classmate is telling us about Tashfeen Malik's love of gossip and boys, next.

Plus, Donald Trump says he wants all Muslims banned from entering. What does his Republican rival Ben Carson think? Dr. Carson will tell us, live, ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:41] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

A major part of the San Bernardino terror investigation is now focused on the wife behind the attacks and her previous life in Pakistan. Tashfeen Malik lived in the city of Multan for much of her life before becoming to the U.S. in 2014 and getting married. After the terrorist attack last week, Pakistani police raided her family home seizing books and documents.

But there are conflicting pictures emerging about her background. Some describe her as extremist in her religious views. Others saying she is wasn't very religious at all.

CNN's Saima Mohsin is on the ground in Pakistan and has looked into all of this.

Saima, what are you learning?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, intelligence officials have raided a home here in Multan believed to have been owned by Tashfeen Malik's father. Now, they took away a number of documents, academic documents, religious documents and CDs. We don't know who they belong to.

But we do know that Tashfeen Malik spent some time living there while she was studying here in Multan.

Now, her professor of Bahaudddin Zakariya University where she studied pharmacy has told CNN that she appeared like an ordinary girl like any other student. Not too religious.

She also studied at the Al Huda Institute. Now, I spent some time there today trying to piece together more information about her to try to bring the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle together behind the mystery of Tashfeen Malik -- when, where and how was she radicalized?

[16:25:10] Was that of this institute? Well, I went there to speak to them. They weren't willing to appear on camera.

I did conduct a telephone interview with their spokesperson who said that Tashfeen Malik was a normal student who was confident, hard working and positive minded. That nobody at the institute could have imagined that she could be behind what they termed a horrible attack that is 100 percent un-Islamic.

I asked them how they felt about terrorism and ISIS. Do they hold any allegiance with ISIS? They said absolutely not. ISIS is un- Islamic and they only teach Islamic scripture at the institute. They wanted to distance themselves from violence and extremism.

So, how then did Tashfeen Malik become so radicalized to become the killer that we know to have participated in the San Bernardino shootings? We're still trying to piece that together -- Jake.

TAPPER: Saima Mohsin in Multan, Pakistan -- thanks so much.

Fresh airstrikes taking out several is terrorists in their home base, but is it enough? For the first time, most Americans are saying no. What the Pentagon is saying a about escalating this war, coming up.

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