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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Threatens To Make Independent Run; Bergdahl Explains Why He Walked Away; Special Forces Scouting Locations In Syria. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 10, 2015 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:02] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. More now in our Politics Lead. All options are open, that's what Donald Trump told CNN last night when asked what might happen if he decides he's not being treated fairly by the Republican powers that be.

But with leads in virtually every poll, Trump very well could wind up the Republican nominee. Let's talk about Trump's poll supremacy with CNN political commentator and Jeb Bush supporter, Ana Navarro, as well as Democratic strategist, Steve McMahon.

Ana, there is a story in "The Washington Post," just broke this afternoon, from Bob Costa, who's very plugged in with Republican politicians, and he talks about Reince Priebus meeting with a bunch of Republican officials.

The topic of discussion became at one point preparing for a contested convention, a floor fight to block Trump from getting the nomination.

And what they were talking about according to the report is in case Trump sails through and wins all the primaries, the Republican establishment should get ready to try to block it on the floor of the convention in Cleveland by presenting an alternative to Trump. This is really the state of the Republican Party right now.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have no idea. I mean, I think that's a question frankly for Reince Priebus. I think there is a great deal of concern in the Republican Party when you see Donald Trump leading. And when you realize number one, he's been a Republican for, what, a few years now.

He's been everything but a Republican for the rest of his life. Number two, he's really costing the GOP brand so much harm. There's a lot of us like myself who think with Hispanics, with Muslims, with blacks, name a group, he's causing great harm to the brand.

And, you know, look, the third thing is he keeps this threat alive about, well, you know, I might break my pledge and I might go run independent. So you have to prepare for every single contingency with Donald Trump because you don't know what you're going to get.

TAPPER: Steve, are Democrats happy about this? I mean, is this like --

NAVARRO: They're not happy, they're giddy.

TAPPER: No candidate is perfect.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't mean to giggle, but we are giddy in one sense, obviously delighted if Donald Trump were the nominee because Hillary Clinton would have an easy time with him.

[16:35:07] However, I agree with Ana. You cannot have a Republican Party and a Republican brand that stands for the kinds of things that Donald Trump says every single day.

And frankly not enough people until recently have denounced the things he's been saying. He's been saying these crazy things for a very long time.

And until very recently every other Republican would stand next to him on the stage and nod their head. Now you're starting to see the Republican establishment freak out and try to figure out how to deny him the nomination if he breezes through the primaries.

But this should have happened a long time ago, and frankly the Republican Party did this to themselves, and they may just lose not just the presidential but the United States Senate and Congress as well.

NAVARRO: I have to say -- time and time again voices have come out. You know, when he said the things about the Mexicans, when he said things about immigrants, when we went after the POWs, time and time again you have heard voices in the Republican Party rise up.

The problem is it doesn't do any good. It almost helps him. You see his numbers rise. So you almost have to look at it strategically should we rise against him.

TAPPER: Let me show you what the problem is according to Republican officials, and we should point out he's gaining support -- these aren't chickens that are saying they want to support him in the election. It's voters. It's Republican voters.

But here is the big concern among Republicans. Take a listen to S.E. Cupp, who is a Republican last night on CNN saying she would rather Republicans lose the White House than Donald Trump win it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The damage he's doing is lasting to our party and to the conservative movement. So, yeah, I'd rather sacrifice the White House for one year and not be associated with this kind of rhetoric.

Not be in a position to have to go on television and defend Japanese internment camps and operation wet back and religious tests and then explain to my kids why I did that on television. I'd rather -- yes, I'd rather lose the White House and protect the integrity of the conservative movement and the Republican Party for years to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's the big concern, Republican women like S.E. Cupp, especially women but also maybe some men actually sitting out and not voting.

NAVARRO: Try being a Republican Hispanic immigrant woman and ask me how I feel about it. Look, it's very disconcerting.

TAPPER: Do you feel the same way as S.E.?

NAVARRO: I cannot get myself to believe that Donald Trump is going to be the nominee.

TAPPER: How many polls do you need?

NAVARRO: Many more than this, maybe what I need is election results, but right now I'm going to firmly plant myself and be denial stage of grief and I'm going to stay here until the poll results prove it differently.

MCMAHON: So if the Republican establishment is serious about wanting to stop Donald Trump, there's really only one way to do it. He cannot win a head-to-head race one-on-one. He can win every single primary as long as there are ten candidates.

So what the Republican establishment should be doing is trying to figure out who they are going coalesce around and ask everybody else running as a service to the Republican Party that has served them so well for so long to get out of the race.

Lindsey Graham shouldn't be running. You can just go down the list. Probably Jeb Bush at this point given his poll numbers shouldn't be running. Somebody has to be mano-a-mano with Donald Trump in order to beat him or Donald Trump is going to be the nominee.

If there are five candidates past March 15th, Donald Trump is going to win the delegates, take it to the bank.

TAPPER: All right, Ana Navarro, Steve McMahon, thank you both. We are just five days away from the next Republican presidential debate. You can see that right here on CNN next Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. This has been an unpredictable election.

CNN wants to know what you think might happen next. Your guess is as good as anybody's I suppose at this point. Go to CNN.com/play. There you can make predictions and enter a chance to win a trip to join CNN in Florida at the Republican debate in March.

And our National Lead, he says he abandoned his post in Afghanistan because he wanted to be like Hollywood action hero, Jason Bourne. Bowe Bergdahl in his own words coming up. Plus, a new terror alert in Switzerland. U.S. citizens sent an emergency message as the threat level is raised. That's ahead.

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[16:43:03]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Our National Lead, the widely respected record breaking podcast quietly debuted its second season this morning, quietly until people who rushed to download it crashed the server.

This time serial is taking on the controversial story of Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army sergeant who spent five years in Taliban captivity. Bergdahl was brought home in a quite controversial and possibly illegal prisoner swap with the Taliban.

He was then charged with desertion, Mr. Bergdahl. For the first time in Serial you hear about the entire ordeal from Bergdahl himself, many of his comrades of course who were sent into enemy territory looking for him say they have heard and with their own eyes seen enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Shortly after Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan in 2009, he says the gravity of what he had done shocked him.

BOWE BERGDAHL: At 20 minutes out I'm going good grief, I'm in over my head, suddenly it really starts to sink in that I really did something bad. Well, not bad but I did something really serious.

TAPPER: For the first time since the Obama administration controversially and possibly illegally traded the Taliban five of their prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl. A dramatic release captured on tape by Taliban forces.

The controversial figure explained why he left with filmmaker, Mark Bole and the podcast, Serial. Bergdahl admits he left on his own volition with a plan to return, it would create a crisis he says to draw attention to problems with his leadership.

BERGDAHL: I was fully confident that when somebody actually took a look at the situation and when people started investigating the situation that people would understand that I was right. You know, what was going on, was a danger to the lives of the men in that company.

TAPPER: Bergdahl also says he wanted to show he was a super soldier, like Jason Bourne.

BERGDAHL: All those guys out there who go to the movies and watch those movies, they all want to be that. But I wanted to prove that I was that.

[16:45:10]TAPPER: It was a decision he would re-live during his next five years in Taliban captivity, Bergdahl, a 23-year-old private first class at the time wrapped his head in a scarf and walked away.

Bergdahl's former platoon mates scoff at his story pointing out the platoon was supposed to return to a larger base later that day where Bergdahl could have voiced any concerns.

Bergdahl says as a private first class he would not have been taken seriously. But his platoon mates believe he put his fellow troops in danger with six of them killed in various missions afterward.

EVAN BUELOW, BERGDAHL'S TEAM LEADER: I don't really know if there's anyone who can prove that soldiers died on a directed mission to find Bergdahl. However, every mission especially in the following two or more months those were directed missions. Everything after that they were still missions that were in search of Bergdahl.

TAPPER: Bergdahl tells Serial after he left his post he looked for someone planting IEDs whom he could track, but instead he got lost and in the morning he was spotted by a group of insurgents.

BERGDAHL: They pulled up and that was it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they said you fought like crazy.

BERGDAHL: No, I didn't. I'm not stupid enough to try and fight off, you know, all I had was a knife. I'm not stupid enough to try to knife off a bunch of guys with AK-47s.

TAPPER: And then for five years the horror of a tiny blackened dirt room.

BERGDAHL: Just on the other side of that flimsy little wooden door that you could probably easily rip off the hinges is the entire world out there. Everything is beyond that door. I hate doors now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Let's bring in Josh Korder, a former Army sergeant who served with Bowe Bergdahl in Black Foot Company second platoon. Josh, thanks for joining me today. First off, what's your reaction to hearing from Bergdahl? It must be kind of emotional.

JOSH KORDER, SERVED WITH BOWE BERGDAHL IN AFGHANISTAN: In a lot of ways it is, Jake. It brings back a lot of the memories. You know, having to continue to go through this again and again and again is not easy, but I know that it is necessary.

TAPPER: Did you listen to the podcast?

KORDER: I did, yes.

TAPPER: What was your takeaway? What was your response?

KORDER: I feel that that tinge of reality that he talked about when he was 20 minutes away from the outpost, that was the very wrong time for him to be having a realization that this is real life and that what he had done was something serious. I mean, you go through training, we go through weapons training and basic training and then we go through advanced training for deployments.

Those kinds of things are all there so that we can have that tinge of reality to understand that what you're doing is a real thing and that it has real consequences.

Obviously somehow he missed out on all of that. He didn't get it until he'd already walked away.

TAPPER: I was texting with some of your fellow platoon mates earlier today. Two of them argued that Bergdahl's explanation that he did this, he was going to go out and then come back, to bring attention to leadership problems.

Does it make any sense since, A, they didn't see any leadership problems. And, B, the platoon was all supposed to go to forward operating base just a few hours later, does that square with your recollection?

KORDER: That's absolutely the same way that I feel about it. The whole purpose of going to mess that one time was to rotate out and to switch out with the Afghan partners. We knew that from the start. And so him picking that moment to walk away seemed more like an opportunity -- last-chance opportunity than it did some kind of publicity stunt.

TAPPER: And what's your reaction to hearing him say that he wanted to prove that he could be a Jason Bourne like action figure and take down a bunch of enemy soldiers?

KORDER: Well, you can hear it in his voice when they ask about if he fought or not and then he laughed and said, I'm not stupid. But of course he did admit that he walked away from his comrades in arms into a combat zone where he was then exposed to this situation. So the whole entire thing just seems a little like it's very confused. He obviously did not have the right state of mind when he was doing all of this.

TAPPER: And as we have covered on this show before and as you and I have spoken about before, six of your fellow soldiers were killed by the enemy in subsequent missions, some of them directly to look for Bergdahl, others looking for Bergdahl was always part of it. Do you still hold him responsible in some ways for those soldiers' deaths?

KORDER: Absolutely. I mean, you're going to go out and be Jason Bourne and try and be a super soldier to prove who knows what to who knows who, you left your soldiers behind. You left your men behind.

[16:50:06]Your brothers-in-arms behind and he put them in the very real danger that he was claiming to try to get us out of. So I see no change in the fact that he's deserting and that he's possibly a traitor.

TAPPER: I've heard from some of your platoon mates who also say this is Bergdahl trying to get famous, trying to create a movie deal. Do you resent him at all for doing this?

KORDER: I say in a lot of these interviews, I do them to advocate for the families of the soldiers who were lost. And I say all the time I would rather be doing this to talk about anything but Bergdahl because this is not how I like to be getting seen myself.

I didn't want to be doing this kind of thing, to be quote/unquote, "famous," or known. I just wanted my brothers in arms to be recognized and the soldiers who were lost to have some kind of closure for their families when we didn't know what Bergdahl was doing.

So, yes, I definitely feel that if there's some sort of need for publicity, I do not share that sentiment and being here is only just for those other reasons. It has nothing to do with my own personal gain.

TAPPER: The court-martial for Bergdahl has not started, has not officially been ordered, I don't think. What do you think justice looks like in his case?

KORDER: I think that he needs to be facing life in prison. His decisions don't change what he did. His state of mind doesn't change what he did. What he did was he disobeyed orders. He broke the bond of fellowship, and he walked away from his fellow soldiers for personal reasons.

And all of that is desertion and all of that is possibly being a traitor. You say the enemy came and he did not fight because he did not have the means to. Well, you're a soldier in the United States Army and you're supposed to fight.

And if you die in that fight then that's what you sign up for. You shouldn't be going around making decisions like that.

TAPPER: Josh Korder, thank you so much. And as always thanks for your service and sacrifice, sir.

KORDER: Thank you.

TAPPER: A warning for U.S. citizens overseas as police hunt five people linked to the Paris terrorist attacks, more on that next.

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[16:56:29]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Topping our World Lead today, breaking new details about the Pentagon's plan to wage war against ISIS. CNN has learned that the U.S. is considering expanding military forces at bases in Africa, in Southwest Asia and in in the Middle East.

From where they could launch counterterrorist and intelligence collecting operations as well as air strikes against ISIS affiliates across the entire region. This comes after Secretary Of Defense Ash Carter gave an ominous assessment yesterday on Capitol Hill saying that ISIS is not contained and that the self-proclaimed caliphate is, quote, "metastasizing."

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, as we speak police in Switzerland are searching for potential ISIS terrorists and the threat level has been raised there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right, Jake. In Geneva, the police are on the move, the Pentagon announced today it has killed three more ISIS leaders in Iraq. The hunt now is definitely going global.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Geneva, Switzerland, on high alert as police search for terror suspects possibly involved with ISIS. In a new security message, the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland is warning U.S. citizens in Geneva to be cautious. The United Nations compound under tight security, Swiss border controls beefed up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This process can mean the total closure of the border if necessary.

STARR: Security officials are looking for five suspects, one may be part of a network that recruited an ISIS attacker at the Bataclan Theater in Paris. It's just the latest evidence of what Defense Secretary Ash Carter is now calling the metastasizing ISIS tumor.

There is growing alarm over Libya. Political chaos there has given ISIS free reign to establish networks and training camps. The U.S. recently killed ISIS' top operative in Libya. Carter says it's not enough.

ASH CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're going to have to do more in Libya. ISIL is becoming a magnet for groups that previously existed in some cases that are now rebranding themselves as ISIL.

STARR: The Pentagon now developing so-called counterterrorism hubs to fight the growing reach of ISIS.

CARTER: That's the reality linking together American counterterrorism and military in the region and around the world so they can focus on this network wherever it is.

STARR: The U.S. would use existing bases in Afghanistan and in the horn of Africa. Other hubs set up in the Middle East and Southern Europe. U.S. special operations and conventional forces could also operate for more remote locations in Irbil, Iraq, Northern Syria and in northern and western Africa.

It's already happening. Special operations forces just finished scouting locations in Northern Syria. They can use to help anti-ISIS fighters. Many say it's a growing trend to use small, lethal special operations teams to attack ISIS on the ground in the very places where it's located. MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You begin to breathe and live that environment, you get more familiar with it, intelligence flows, you're now more capable --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: In another potential sign that special operations are going to get more emphasis, several sources tell CNN that currently the head of special operations command is the leading contender to be nominated by President Obama possibly to take over heading all U.S. military operations in the Middle East -- Jake.