Return to Transcripts main page


GOP Debate: Separating Fact from Fiction; FBI Director Warns of "Going Dark" Challenge; Hung Jury In Freddie Gray Case. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 16, 2015 - 16:30   ET




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

We're going to continue now with our politics lead.

Republican presidential hopefuls battled last night over national security, each one trying to convince the American public that he or she is most fit to be commander in chief. There are major policy differences within the GOP field on issues such as regime change in the Middle East or defense spending, the U.S. role in fighting ISIS and just how the U.S. can best win the global war on terror.

CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here to help us separate fact from fiction.

Jim, let's start with Donald Trump, who suggested shutting down the Internet. He then clarified to talk about shutting it down in parts of the Arab world to help defeat and destroy ISIS. Is that a reasonable proposal?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you heard Senator Ted Cruz talk about carpet-bombing ISIS. This might be the Internet or the technological equivalent of carpet-bombing.

As Senator Rand Paul pointed out last night, that there's certainly freedom of expression implications of that, but also just practical implications, because it's not really the way the Internet works. There's no great Chinese firewall like you have in China. It's just such an open system.

And, from my perspective, that was one of the headlines of this debate, very bold foreign policy, national security pronouncements, some of them a bit hard to back up.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have people across this country who are scared to death.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): In the wake of the largest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the Republican presidential candidates delivered tough talk on national security.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president hasn't kept us safe.

SCIUTTO: Still, their command of some of the defense topics was, well, up for debate.

Senator Ted Cruz has said he would launch an indiscriminate bombing campaign against ISIS, a tactic known as carpet-bombing, as opposed to the surgical strikes the U.S. currently uses.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Would you carpet-bomb Raqqa, the ISIS capital, where there are a lot of civilians, yes or no?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You would carpet-bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops. You use airpower directed -- and you have embedded special forces to direct the airpower.

SCIUTTO: But directed strikes, as he calls them, are the opposite of carpet-bombing.

CRUZ: We need a president...

SCIUTTO: The senator also blamed the Obama administration for not identifying social media posts made by San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik before being granted a visa to the U.S.

CRUZ: We didn't monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn't target it.

SCIUTTO: While it's true that Malik's social media trail was not reviewed during the visa process, her views on jihad would not have been found without a warrant, because they were expressed in private direct messages, not in public social media postings.

CNN's Jake Tapper pressed Cruz on the issue.

TAPPER: That's my understanding, is that the message that she wrote was, first of all, in Urdu, second of all, under a pseudonym, and, third of all, in a private message that she was sending back and forth with some friends.

CRUZ: Listen, if we're not capable of understanding Urdu, then we shouldn't be processing visa applications from countries...

TAPPER: But we don't have access to the Facebook private messages of people. This wasn't posted on her page. It was a private message.

CRUZ: We should be directing our attention to focusing on radical Islamic terrorism.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should be able to penetrate the Internet.

SCIUTTO: Donald Trump advocates shutting down parts of the Internet to cut office ISIS' access to the Web.

BLITZER: Are you open to closing parts of the Internet?

TRUMP: I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don't want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet. Yes, sir, I am.

SCIUTTO: Trump seemed stumped on a question about the nation's nuclear triad, capability to launch nuclear bombs from the air, land and sea.

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority? I want to go to Senator Rubio after that and ask him.

TRUMP: I think -- I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.

HEWITT: Senator Rubio, do you have a response?

RUBIO: I do. First, let's explain to people at home who the triad -- what the triad is. Maybe a lot of people haven't heard that terminology before.


SCIUTTO: There was another sensitive moment in the debate last night, when Senator Rubio seemed to be implying that Senator Cruz had released classified information as relates to the intelligence community's ability to access metadata of phone calls.

We learned just a short time ago that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr, as well as the vice chairman, Dianne Feinstein, they have announced they are not investigating any comments from last night's debate as a violation of -- or release, rather, Jake, of classified information.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

With national security a top concern, the Department of Homeland Security is updating how it advises you, the public, of a terror alert. Is it enough after watching attacks in Paris and San Bernardino?

And the money lead. For the first time in nearly 10 years, interest rates are going up, what this might mean for anyone in the market for a new home, a new car or even for the savings account at your bank.



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

Topping our national lead, some new details on the San Bernardino terrorist attack, the FBI director, James Comey, today saying the terrorists Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, that they pledged their allegiance to violent jihad online using private direct messages two years ago, before ever meeting in person.

Comey warned yet again today about the -- quote -- "going dark challenge" for law enforcement, would-be terrorists using encrypted technology to discuss their plans to unleash deadly carnage undetected. Undetected, that's what he means by going dark.

Now, this all comes as the Department of Homeland Security announced updates to the U.S. terror advisory system.

Let's get right to CNN's justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, there have been reports that Tashfeen Malik posted her views online. You heard in the last block Senator Ted Cruz talking about that, how we should have been able to see these Facebook messages. Director Comey of the FBI tried to bring some clarity to that reporting today.

What did he have to say?


It was clear today that the FBI director sought to set the record straight on this issue, Jake, saying that nothing in this investigation so far has shown that the U.S. government missed any red flags on either of the terrorists' social media pages.


BROWN (voice-over): Today, FBI Director James Comey made it clear the married terrorists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik did not publicly post anything on social media that the FBI could have picked up on, but, rather, communicated privately about jihad away from the eyes of law enforcement.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: In late 2013, before there is a physical meeting of these two people and resulting in their engagement and then journey to the United States, they are communicating online, showing signs in that communication of their joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom.

BROWN: Today, for the first time, the FBI called another attack on American soil terrorism, the murder by Mohammad Abdulazeez of four Marines and a sailor at military recruiting centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July.

COMEY: To my mind, there's no doubt that the Chattanooga killer was inspired, motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda. BROWN: Director Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson

both spoke today of the fear Americans currently feel, but assured the nation the country is safe.

Secretary Johnson announced an update to the country's terrorism advisory system, adding a third level called a bulletin, aimed at describing current threat trends to the public.

JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We want to put in one place for the public to see what we are seeing concerning the homeland and what we are doing about it and what the public can do about it.


[16:45:02] BROWN: And, meantime, FBI Director James Comey is also saying today that there's still no indication that terrorists in San Bernardino were linked to any foreign terrorist organizations. Meanwhile, we learned today President Obama will visit San Bernardino Friday to meet with the victims' families.

TAPPER: On his way to Hawaii for vacation. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

Joining me right now to talk more about this Michael Chertoff, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, co-founder of the Chertoff Group, a global security group that does some work for the government and also adviser to Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.

Secretary Chertoff, thanks for being here. Really appreciate it. Now, you understand the terror threat to the homeland as well as anybody. How hard is it to balance not wanting people to panic while at the same time wanting them to be informed?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, I think it's important to inform people, but it's also important not to overstate the specificity of the threat. And remember, we've had this situation for almost 15 years since 9/11.

Right after 9/11 we didn't know what was coming at us. We didn't have an architecture for security and yet we were able to assure the public that vigorous action would prevent other attacks. And frankly we're quite successful.

If you look historically over the last 15 years I think there have been approximately 40 or 45 people in the U.S. or other Americans who've been killed relatively small compared to what we feared we would face in 2001.

So we haven't done a perfect job, and I don't think the public can expect perfection. But there is a very robust intelligence and security architecture in place.

TAPPER: In fact it feels like every week or so the Department of Justice or the FBI puts out an alert about an arrest that's been made. One thing that I always wondered is how many of these FBI agents doing this undercover work and snagging these terrorists before they can act, how many of them are Muslim-Americans?

CHERTOFF: You know, I think probably the number is relatively small, but of course in the essence of an undercover is you're pretending to be somebody you're not. Often you have an informant and it could be an informant from the community that makes the introduction and then drops out.

But the key here is what you're trying to do is to intercept a plot before it gets off the ground. And when you get an indication someone is beginning to think about a plot, that's the time you want to swoop in and attract them and get them off the playing field.

TAPPER: At last night's debate one issue that came up were the changes made to the NSA's data collection system. The changes limited the access in terms of the immediacy to the metadata, but expanded some of the data. Cruz and Rubio went back and forth on that. Bottom line, do you think the intelligence community has what they need to stop an attack?

CHERTOFF: Let me begin by saying what we call metadata, which is literally what number called what number, what IP address contacted what IP address, is maybe among the most important intelligence tools you have because you're looking for needles in the haystack and you have to get the haystack in order to get the needles.

What's happened is we've moved the haystack out of the custody of the government back into private hands. Two things are critical --

TAPPER: The phone companies and technology companies.

CHERTOFF: Correct. Two things critical, one, there has to be a technology platform that allows you to search quickly over all of these databases in realtime. And second, they've got to store the data. So if companies start to delete data too quickly, that's going to become a problem. I think those are the two areas I would focus onto make sure we still get the benefit of this program.

TAPPER: Does the U.S. have immediate access to that information if they need it?

CHERTOFF: I think right now as they're trying the new technology and system out what they're testing to see is in fact how quickly can we get access to the data, how complete is the search across the databases?

One of the reasons I think the government wanted to wait a little bit and phase things is was to complete that testing, but I'm quite sure if there's a problem they're going to come back to Congress and say you've got to fix this.

TAPPER: Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner obviously raised a lot of eyebrows when he talked about a total complete ban on Muslims coming into the U.S. Jeb Bush and others have made the case that actually makes us less safe. Lindsey Graham very passionate last night is saying you're making the world more dangerous. What do you think?

CHERTOFF: Look, this is speaking from a personal standpoint. I think it would be a huge mistake to ban all Muslims from coming into the country. It would be a huge overreaction. And it would be the single best propaganda gift we could give ISIS because they would say, you see, the westerners, Christians, Jews, they hate all Muslims.

And that would put Muslims in a position to feel, my God, the only game in town now is to go with the extremists. We've got to do the opposite. We've got to identify the people who are a real threat and there are some real threats out there.

But for others who participate fully in the life of this country many of whom serve in the armed forces or the intelligence community, they've got to feel as if they continue to be full partners in American life.

[16:50:08]TAPPER: When I asked Donald Trump about this, he said, Jake, we got to do something. We got to do something. This is a real problem.

CHERTOFF: Well, you got to do something intelligent. Just throwing, you know, spaghetti against the wall to see what will stick is not very intelligent. What's intelligent here is to use the ability to focus on the metadata and other intelligence capabilities to identify people who are dangerous and to get the community including the Muslim community to speak up when they see somebody in their recruiting. That's how you do something smart to enlist all of the tools of national power to protect ourselves.

TAPPER: Last night a lot of the Republican candidates criticized President Obama and Hillary Clinton for not using the term radical Islamic terrorism, or radical Islamic Jihad. I know this was an item debated a lot in the bush administration as well. What do you think? Does it help ISIS and al Qaeda if the term Islamic is used by an American leader?

CHERTOFF: You know, when I was in office I went around and met not only with community leaders here in the U.S. but overseas including Arab countries. They told me they tended to use the phrase radical or violent Islamist, Islamist meaning political ideologies opposed to religious ideology.

But they didn't shy away from identifying these ideological fanatics as trying to cloak themselves in Islam and using cherry picking Islamic terms in order to try to broaden their appeal.

So I think we are being overly solicitous if we don't recognize that there's a connection between the ideology and the effort to recruit from the religion.

But we have to distinguish between the political ideology, which is only a narrow band of what goes on, and the broader group of Muslims who don't subscribe to it.

TAPPER: So basically you say Islamism or Islamist. CHERTOFF: I say violent Islamism or extreme Islamism. That's the phrase I use.

TAPPER: All right, Michael Chertoff, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The Money Lead, no more borrowing money for next to nothing. The feds just announced interest rates are going up. It's not all bad news. How it could mean more cash for you in the long run. We'll have that story for you next.



TAPPER: Let's go to Baltimore where the mayor and police commissioner are speaking after the jury could not reach a verdict in the Freddie Gray trial. Let's take a listen.

MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE, BALTIMORE: We have worked relentlessly to unite Baltimore with a resolve to have peace in our streets. We have a chance to show the country how to be heard peacefully, respectfully and effectively. I know that as a community we are up to the task. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER KEVIN DAVIS, BALTIMORE POLICE: Thank you, Mayor. For the protesters and there are certainly protesters out on our streets right now. And there will be in the days to come. We respect the right of Americans to protest. Protesters lawfully assembled have a friend in the Baltimore Police Department.

We are here to serve as peace keepers quite frankly. So we respect the right to protest. And we respect protesters and what they have meant for so many years in this great country of ours.

And those protesters who were lawfully assembled again will find our police department respects them and we'll do everything we can to afford them the ability to protest in this city.

Folks who choose to commit crimes and hurt people and break things and harm people are no longer protesters. You lose your ability to call yourself a protester when you choose to harm people and destroy property.

So I think that's something we've spoken about for a few months now. I believe the vast majority of folks quite frankly understand that very, very well. We too respect the criminal justice process in this country and we exist to protect it.

And we pledged to this city both our police department and our fire department, and we have Fire Chief Niles Ford here with us today, our pledge to the folks in Baltimore is one of public safety. We're here to protect. We're here to serve and we take that responsibility very, very seriously. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did anyone have any brief questions? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Commissioner Davis, you had said you were monitoring social media on April 27th, are there any signs similar to disturbance that you had seen that you're monitoring on social media now?

DAVIS: We continue to monitor social media. We have a pretty robust system in place to make sure we have every capacity available to identify things we should know about. And right now there's nothing that concerns us, nothing that has been brought to our attention at this moment that doesn't give us the impression of any type of wrongdoing whatsoever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Commissioner, I know your -- limited in what you could say, but one of your officers -- now this trial declared a mistrial, what's your reaction to that?

DAVIS: Well, my reaction is it's part of this process and this great American criminal justice process and many Americans think that it's imperfect our criminal justice process. Maybe it is imperfect, but it sure beats what comes in second.

I think we all have to respect the process. The process is ongoing. It's not the last time we'll talk about it. And I think we have to be consistent, measured and thoughtful as we go forward because Baltimore needs to know their police department of all groups of people have to respect the criminal justice process and we do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Commissioner, Officer Porter's status remains the same as it was this morning?

DAVIS: Right. He remains suspended without pay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any other questions?

DAVIS: I guess briefly we have many, many partners here and I'll say one thing about Maryland law enforcement, there's no other place in the country -- and I'm biased, that does this thing better than Maryland public safety. We really have come together as a team to ensure this great city is protected.

I do know that the sheriff's department has made a couple of arrests. I'm not sure the exact nature of those arrests.