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Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Trump Soars; Mass Shooting Investigation; Poll: Trump Holds Double-Digit Lead. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired December 10, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: An emergency message overseas just issued.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A terror alert elevated for Americans in a major European city, while, here at home, new details about the terrorist couple who dropped off their baby before murdering 14 innocent people in San Bernardino, the FBI now looking at how they may have missed a link to a group of terrorist plotters who were arrested more than three years ago.

Also, new proof that Donald Trump may very well be able to Archie Bunker his way to the Republican presidential nomination. More polls show his numbers soaring, even after or maybe because his plan to ban every Muslim from coming to the U.S.

Plus, he's charged with desertion. The search for him had an impact on the lives and in some cases deaths of his fellow soldiers. But Bowe Bergdahl is now breaking his silence and comparing himself to a movie action hero. What do his platoon mates say?

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

We have some breaking news from Europe, where Swiss authorities have raised the terror alert level for Americans in Geneva. Authorities there are searching for suspects who may be tied to the Paris attacks. We will have more on that story in a moment.

But we're going to begin with the national lead and a series of red flags now emerging after the San Bernardino attack. The FBI says Syed Rizwan Farook was in the social circle of a man convicted of recruiting four terrorists in 2012. Farook's wife also dodged U.S. intelligence when she moved from Pakistan to the U.S. to marry Rizwan Farook.

The State Department now acknowledging they never asked her about any possible interest in jihad during her background check. These discoveries come as families plan memorial services for their victims and loved ones. The first funeral is being held today for 27-year-old Yvette Velasco.

Lots to digest. Let's begin with CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Sources we have been speaking to, Jake, are telling us that investigators are now discovering a new tie between Syed Farook and a terrorist convicted right here in the U.S., raising questions about how Farook was able to fly under the radar for years.


BROWN (voice-over): Investigators now believe San Bernardino killer Syed Farook had direct ties to a radicalized group arrested in Riverside, California three years ago. The FBI charged four men in 2012 with planning to blow up a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

But the FBI is only now learning Farook was in the same social circle as the group's recruiter, Sohiel Kabir, who was sentenced earlier this year to 25 years in prison.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA OFFICER: It shows that there is a -- beginning a network that is emerging very slowly for law enforcement and intelligence community folks.

BROWN: FBI interviews with Syed Farook's former neighbor and friend Enrique Marquez revealed the pair plotted a terrorist attack in California in 2012. The arrest of the Riverside group that same year may explain why Farook and Marquez decided to abandon their plans.

Three years later, Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, did carry out an attack. This picture shows the training event Farook attended with co-workers before launching the massacre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The subject's last Farook, first Syed.

BROWN: In a meeting with survivors, investigators said Farook left behind a bag of explosives before returning to the event with his wife.

PERITZ: The fact the bomb didn't go off meant that maybe he came back to finish the job.

BROWN: The FBI says Farook's wife was radicalized years before coming to the U.S., but she was never asked about jihadist leanings when a U.S. Consulate official interviewed in Pakistan her last year.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We don't have any indications right now that the screening process for Ms. Malik was any different than it is for any other fiancee or that there were any things missing inside this very rigorous screening process.

BROWN: State Department officials say questions about jihad are only asked if red flags are raised beforehand in background checks done by the Department of Homeland Security.

KIRBY: If the investigation turns up something that tells us there was something amiss in the screening process or something we should have done that we didn't or that the screening process needs to be improved to make it more rigorous, well, we will do that.


BROWN: And, right now, as we speak, an FBI team is searching a lake in San Bernardino right now.

There's about a team we're told of six FBI agents there on the ground with a tent set up. So, clearly something's going on. We haven't been able to confirm if this was actually connected to the terror attacks, but we know that if it is and they are looking for an item, that it could be the missing hard drive, Jake, that we reported on from the very beginning, the hard drive that was removed from the couple's computer.

We don't know, but we're trying to find that out right now.

TAPPER: All right, fast breaking story. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. Also with me, CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer, who is, of course, a former CIA operative.

Thanks for joining me, gentlemen.

Paul, let me start with you.


Now there seem to be links to this 2012 terror ring. We know that the neighbor, Muslim convert Enrique Marquez, gave Rizwan Farook these two weapons. Do you suspect that a wider ring of people may have been involved in the San Bernardino attack?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there was certainly, it would appear, some kind of wider group of radicals in that general area.

Several of the plotters back in that 2012 case were living in Riverside, which is a 15-minute drive away from San Bernardino. And as Evan Perez and others on CNN have been reporting, Farook was part of the same social circle, which was a very radicalized social circle that we understand from all the court documents in that case in 2012.

This was a group that were basically superfans of the American terrorist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. And they wanted to go and travel and fight jihad overseas anywhere they could. They were thinking about Yemen. They eventually settled on the idea of going to Afghanistan to join up with terrorist groups there and fighting against U.S. forces over there before the FBI came in and arrested them.

And it would appear, at least according to Marquez's statements to the FBI, that this spooked Marquez and Farook back in 2012, and they put on the shelf any kind of plot that they were planning then because they thought that they were going to be arrested in the same dragnet. They clearly weren't. And, of course, we have seen the results all

these years later.

TAPPER: Bob, the FBI says that the husband and wife talked about jihad online well before they were married. We're learning this, of course, after the fact. How often is chatter like this happening between at least one American?

And I thought that that was the whole goal of the surveillance program that is so controversial, to track exactly this kind of conversation.

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Jake, exactly.

The problem is this is a fire hose of intercepts. You just can't believe the number. And they don't really make sense taken in isolation. You know, support for jihad is generally, you know, a tenet of Islam. It means struggle. And if they don't take an overt act, like buy a ticket to Syria or send money to a jihadist -- militant jihadist group, they haven't broken the law.

So the most the FBI can do is simply monitor these people until they do break the law or they're about to and they go knock on their door, they ask them if they're radicalized. They always say no. And that's as far as it goes.

And they're doing this according to law, the FBI. So, I don't think we should go down that road this is an intelligence failure. I haven't seen that yet. In some of these intercepts, I have to assure you I have -- you know, they don't make sense until years after. And these intercepts apparently only made sense after the act occurred.

TAPPER: All right. That's good information.

Paul, what can you tell us about this new warning to U.S. citizens in Switzerland and the terrorist manhunt happening in that country right now?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Jake, this appears to be related to an alert that is taking place in Switzerland, in Geneva, right now, that they're looking for five individuals, five radicalized individuals who they suspect may be planning some kind of terrorist attack in Geneva.

There was information, we understand, that came in from U.S. intelligence agencies to their Swiss counterparts about these five individuals, and that not only were they potentially plotting something in Switzerland, but also against U.S. cities as well.

According to the Swiss, they're not sure whether these people are actually on Swiss territory or not, so not clear where they are. Clearly, they don't have information which will lead to an arrest at this point, because, otherwise, they wouldn't be putting this alert level out there.

There's a lot of concern that ramping up security at the airports, Jewish community sort of been alerted to this in Geneva as well. And they're also concerned about all those international sites, the U.N., and there was a key meeting that was going to take place between the Americans and the Russians on Syria tomorrow in Geneva.

It appears, according to local media, that they have switched the location to a secret location now because of concerns about these five individuals, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Paul Cruickshank and Bob Baer, thank you so much.

Just minutes ago, senators were briefed on -- briefed by the FBI on the San Bernardino investigation. One member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who just stepped out of that meeting will join us next.



TAPPER: We're back with more in the national lead, and some breaking news.

FBI dive teams, as you see right there, are searching a lake in San Bernardino, California. It's just north of the Inland Regional Center where last week that terrorist couple massacred 14 people. A law enforcement official tells CNN that this search you're seeing on your screen right now is connected to that terrorist attack.

We also have tons of new information coming in about the California couple responsible for the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since September 11, new and alarming details that might have been helpful to know before Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, slaughtered 14 people.

Just moments ago, the FBI briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill about the intelligence.

Joining me now, Senator Angus King. He is from Maine. He's on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he was just briefed on the attack.

Senator King, thanks for joining us, as always.

What's your major takeaway after coming out of the meeting?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, I think my first major takeaway is I'm glad Jim Comey is the director of the FBI. He's a very thorough and professional guy. He sort of sent an air of calm through the room. But he also gave us a lot of information.

[16:15:00] Here's where we are and here's what I can tell you. It was a classified briefing, but here's what I can tell you -- there are a number of still unanswered questions. But the biggest one I think is whether or not there are other people involved in this plot or whether there were follow-on plots that may still be out there threatening us. That has not yet been fully run to ground.

The current impression is that these two people were acting alone, but on the other hand they destroyed their phones, they destroyed their hard drives, and if you weren't in touch with other people, why would you go ahead and do that? So, that's question number one.

I think question number two that's in everyone's mind and there were a lot of questions on this, and you alluded to it in your lead there, is whether -- what we can learn from this in terms of whether there were red flags missed, whether there were tips that should have been picked up.


KING: For example, how do we do the fiancee visa? How do we do all visas, for example?

And, Jake, here's where the problem is on visas. When you apply for a visa, they -- whatever it is, whether it's a fiancee or whatever kind of travel, they take your fingerprints and they check it against whatever databases we have available. The question is, to what extent are other countries cooperating with us in terms of making those -- their databases available?


KING: We may have checked this woman's database, found nothing. But for all I know she's on a database, a watch list in Pakistan.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: I think that's something we really have to run down.

TAPPER: But, Senator King, let me ask you, today the FBI revealed, acknowledged that Rizwan Farook ran in the same social circle as at least one member of this radicalized group arrested for terrorist related charges in California in 2012. I think a lot of people might be wondering, he was in their social circle, one would think that the FBI and other spy agencies would keep an eye on people in the same social circle as people arrested and charged for terrorism.

KING: Sure. We'll keep an eye on, it sounds -- it's easy for you and I to say that. That's one of the questions, how many people does it take to maintain a full wiretap, for example? The answer is 30 agents when you do a 24-hour period.

This is a very labor intensive business. And, yes, there are follow- up checks, there are checks on associates. But the question is, how far can you practically go without putting a cop on every corner or on the doorstep of every house? That's the kind -- that's challenge that we have.

But again, I think one of the most important things we can do here is what I call an after action assessment. And that is to go back and say let's reconstruct this whole scenario once we have all the facts and see if there are areas where we should have gone further, where we should have checked. And that's part of the analysis.

TAPPER: Do you think -- did you learn anything about Tashfeen Malik, the female terrorist in this attack that makes you think that she might have been on the radar of Pakistani intelligence? KING: Well, the one thing we know about her was she's a graduate of a

university in Pakistan that's known as a kind of hotbed of terrorism, of violent jihadism. And whether or not that was enough to elevate her to put on that database, I don't know. That did not come out of the hearing today.

But this is an area that I think we really need to work on. And I've been in an awful lot of hearings and discussions on this issue as you can imagine in the last week. And to me, this is one of the weak points is whether we're able to get access to the data that other people have.

And I think that's going to be certainly one of the tasks that I'm going to focus some attention on in the coming weeks.

TAPPER: Have you heard anything about -- there was some scanner traffic as the attack was going on or right after the attack in which some of the police officers said things along the lines of, I believe that person, somebody was working that name up or something last week, I just got some info from LAPD, they have information on one of your suspects, et cetera, et cetera.

Have you heard anything at all about Syed being known by law enforcement?

KING: Only what you've heard. I haven't heard official reports or confirmation of that. The original response from San Bernardino was that this guy we had no record of, but now, we're hearing these reports that perhaps he was -- his name was familiar to police either in San Bernardino or Los Angeles or somewhere in southern California. We don't know that yet.

That's just -- that's another -- there are all kinds of loose ends. There are all kinds of questions that aren't yet resolved. And that's what we have to continue to chase all those threats.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Angus King, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

In our politics lead, there seems to be no stopping Donald Trump even after a Republican backlash over his proposed travel ban for Muslims coming to the United States.

[16:20:00] The latest polls, next.

Plus, for the first time, Bowe Bergdahl in his own words, explaining why he abandoned his post in Afghanistan. One of his platoon mates says Bergdahl's insane. And he'll join me ahead.


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

Our politics lead now, Donald Trump says the Republican establishment needs to treat him with more respect. If they are unfair to him, he says, he may bolt the party and run for president as an independent. But he points out he may not need to pursue that option given his commanding leads.

Another new poll out today shows him with another double-digit lead nationwide.

[16:25:02] Mix it with his double-digit leads in various polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, and Trump says that could be a recipe to run the table.

CNN national political reporter Sara Murray is tracking Trump in New Hampshire today -- Sara.


Even amid this controversial proposal to ban Muslims and backlash from the leaders of his own party, Donald Trump is still leading the field. And you are starting to see just how frustrated that is making some of his Republican rivals. Nothing can seem to knock him from the top spot.


MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump still looming large over the GOP field pulling 35 percent support nationwide in a new CBS/"New York Times" poll. His closest competitor, Texas Senator Ted Cruz trailing with 16 percent.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm 20 points up. I'm way up on everybody.

MURRAY: Trump also leading in two new polls in South Carolina. The front-runner showing staying power as he faces a bipartisan backlash over his controversial plan to ban Muslims from coming to the U.S.

TRUMP: The group that is not criticizing me is the public. The public agrees with what I said.

MURRAY: His supporters, some of whom took part in a conversation with CNN, remain steadfast.

PAUL DIBARTOLO, TRUMP SUPPORTER: So I could care less about a few Muslims or a few people that are upset. I could care less about people saying they don't like Donald Trump's tone, OK. We need a true leader in this country. And Donald Trump is that leader.

MURRAY: But Trump's rivals continue to line up in opposition. Some subtle.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to support the Republican nominee, and I believe the Republican nominee's going to be someone that can win the general election. And I don't believe Donald can.

MURRAY: Others more direct.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama's strategy is a miserable failure. The only thing worse than Obama's policies is Donald Trump's policies.

MURRAY: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham unleashing a stinging critique today in New Hampshire.

GRAHAM: I'd rather lose without him then try to win with him if he keeps doing what he's doing. There's no shame in losing an election. The shame comes when you lose your honor.

MURRAY: And in the face of backlash from world leaders, Trump is canceling a trip to Israel, tweeting, "I have decided to postpone my trip to Israel and to schedule my meeting with Netanyahu at a later date, after I become president of the U.S."

That's after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement rejecting Trump's comments on Muslims. And as a petition to block Trump from the United Kingdom swells to nearly half a million signatures, Trump tweeted, "The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem."

There are signs his brash rhetoric is costing him in other ways. One of Trump's Middle East business partners is now pulling Trump branded products from its shelves.


MURRAY: Now, Trump will be here in New Hampshire in just a couple hours. But in the meantime a small group of protesters have already assembled with signs like no scapegoating Muslims and support immigrants and refugees.

Jake, that gives you a sense even though what Trump is doing may bolster his support in the Republican Party, these are really tough ideas to take to a broader electorate and win with in a potential election.

TAPPER: Not to mention possibly unconstitutional. Sara Murray in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, thanks so much.

National polls and state polls nearly every single one has Donald Trump on top. And now, some Republicans are saying as you heard that they would rather have a Democrat in the White House than Donald Trump as president. Our panel will discuss it all, next.