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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Presidential Candidate Ben Carson; Trump Demands Apology; Las Vegas Tragedy; Gas Prices Drop; Six U.S. Troops Killed in Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan; Interview with Ben Carson; Las Vegas Strip Crash: Deadly "Intentional" Crash. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 21, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:13]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump saying liar, liar, pantsuit on fire.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Critics are saying it's the pot and the kettle, but Donald Trump is demanding an apology accusing Hillary Clinton of telling a huge fat lie about him at the debate. And what is more, it seems Trump might be right.

Also, mercilessly mowed down. A witness says people were flying in mayhem on the Las Vegas Strip as a driver ran over dozens of people with a toddler in her car -- what police are now saying about the possible motive.

Plus, cheap thrill. In some places, gas prices are now under $1.50. What is driving this rally and when will the almost free ride end?

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

We're going to start with our politics lead.

ISIS terrorists, they are evil, they are maniacal, remorseless. They're twisted murderers. They're also quite good at propaganda. And Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump has provided ISIS with plenty of new material.

National security experts, they do tend to agree with that estimation, but then Clinton on Saturday night went far beyond that, saying, on the debate stage, that ISIS recruiters have been affirmatively going around showing videos of Trump to inspire people to join their terrorist cause.

That is a claim that no one can verify. And that fact has Trump demanding that the Democratic front-runner apologize.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is here with me.

Jeff, where does the Clinton campaign say this claim came from? It seems false on its face.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's a good question. Where did she get evidence for that claim?

But I don't have an answer for you. There is no evidence. In fact, our CNN fact-checking team could not find any videos where Trump has been used as a recruitment tool by ISIS. The Clinton campaign says it's his rhetoric that's been divisive and it could inspire hatred to America.

That is likely true based on all the criticism of his plan to block Muslims from entering the U.S., but there have been no videos as Clinton says, at least not yet. Trump, who is familiar with exaggerations and misstatements of his own, he has made many -- it's keeping this election fact-checkers busy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Never mind their primary fights. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a new brawl of their own tonight. He's demanding an apology for this.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don't fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS' best recruiter.

ZELENY: At the weekend Democratic debate, Clinton said Trump's plan to block Muslims from entering the U.S. has emboldened ISIS fighters.

CLINTON: They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So, I want to explain why this is not in America's interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

ZELENY: But there's no evidence to back up her assertion Trump's rhetoric has been a recruiting tool for ISIS. So far, ISIS recruiters have used American presidents, her husband, President Bush and President Obama in recruiting videos. The accusation set Trump off. He fired back on Twitter: "It's the Democrats' total weakness and incompetence that gave rise to ISIS, not a tape of Donald Trump. That was an admitted Hillary lie."

On "The Today Show," he demanded an apology.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She should apologize. She lies about e-mails, she lies about Whitewater, she lies about everything.

ZELENY: She's hardly the only one talking about a video that doesn't seem to exist. For weeks, Trump has failed to back up claims he saw video of thousands cheering in New Jersey as the World Trade Center crumbled on 9/11. He defended it again today.

TRUMP: There is proof, because many people saw that happen.

ZELENY: And Carly Fiorina's claims about a Planned Parenthood video went too far. CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Watch a fully formed fetus

on the table, its heart beating.

ZELENY: The skirmish between Trump and Clinton came as the GOP field got a little smaller. Senator Lindsey Graham left the race, telling CNN's Kate Bolduan he would get behind one of his rivals.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have hit a wall here. My campaign has come to a point where I need to think about getting out and helping somebody else.

ZELENY: Today in New Hampshire, the campaign trail was filled with Republicans who could use help in their battle to be an alternative to Trump and Ted Cruz.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I want everybody's support, anyone I can get to jump on board.

ZELENY: Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich all trying to squeeze in last-minute campaigning before Christmas.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everyone here in New Hampshire is just so incredibly warm and welcoming.

[16:05:00]

ZELENY: Speaking of Christmas, the Clinton campaign tried to change the subject with a little help from the Grinch.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: But the Grinches in GOPville, it seems they do not. Together, they shout with great Grinchy zeal that on health care their plan is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeal.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Repeal.

RUBIO: Repeal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, that clash between Trump and Clinton could be good politics for both front-runners. It fires up Republicans and Democrats alike.

But as for that apology that the Trump campaign is demanding, don't look for it any time soon. A short time ago, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign said: "Hell no. Hillary Clinton will not be apologizing to Donald Trump for correctly pointing out how his hateful rhetoric only helps inspire ISIS recruit more terrorists."

So, Jake, there you have it, and now back to that fact checking there is so much of. TAPPER: Yes, seriously. That's a major thing this campaign season.

We are going to have a showing later, triple feature of the three videos that don't exist.

ZELENY: Right.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Republican presidential candidate and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.

Dr. Carson, thanks, as always, for joining us.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Dr. Carson, the Democrats were focused on one Republican candidate at their debate, Donald Trump. He's been the front-runner for months. Isn't it logical to think that he will probably win the Republican nomination?

CARSON: Well, interestingly enough, if you look back over history, you can see that there's a lot of fluctuation that occurs particularly in the last few weeks.

So, logical, I don't know if that's the word I would use, but it certainly wouldn't be surprising.

TAPPER: You were ahead in the polls in some states, in Iowa, and a strong second a few weeks ago. You have explained your tumble in the polls today by suggesting that it's possible that there are voters out there who might think you're too nice to be a strong leader on issues like foreign policy. How do you plan on fixing that?

CARSON: Well, I hope to get people to understand that strength is not denoted by the volume with which you speak or the gesticulations that you make, but rather by the accomplishments of one's life.

And, you know, I want people to actually look back at the things that I have had to overcome. Look at the fact that when I became the director of pediatric neurosurgery, pediatric neurosurgery wasn't even on the map and we had to build it to the point where by 2008 "U.S. News & World Report" said it was number one in the nation.

Look at the fact that, you know, people of accomplishment who are not weak frequently are awarded with the highest award a university gives, an honorary doctorate degree. And if you're really good, you might get two or three or maybe even five. I have 67. You go on and on.

The library of Congress made me one of 89 living legends at the occasion of its 200th anniversary. I could go on for quite some time. The point being, is it accomplishment in one's life that is important, or is it the volume with which one proclaims everything?

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton over the weekend claimed ISIS is recruiting by showing a video of Donald Trump. There is, as you probably know, no evidence, according to national security experts, of any such video. Donald Trump is demanding an apology from Hillary Clinton. Her campaign said in response -- quote -- "Hell no."

What do you make of this all?

CARSON: I see it as much to-do about nothing.

You know, we have some really important things to talk about. And, you know, whether there are things that are used and that you can prove that there are things that are used, there's no question that they use anything that they can against us.

They use anything that they can possibly get their hands onto try to make their case, and particularly to go after the disaffected people of the world. And what we need to be thinking about is how do we give them a different message, the disaffected ones, so that they won't be so attracted to those kinds of messages?

TAPPER: As a matter of the campaign, this is to my count the third nonexistent video that presidential candidates have described. You had first Carly Fiorina erroneously describing what she thought she saw, but didn't really in an undercover video purporting to be about Planned Parenthood.

Then Donald Trump said he saw on TV thousands and thousands of American Muslims celebrating 9/11 in Jersey City. Again, video does not exist. Now we have this from Clinton. Are we in a post-truth era now?

(LAUGHTER)

CARSON: Well, you know, certainly, I think we maybe tend to rely too much on videos.

[16:10:00]

What we really ought to be talking about is, what are the real issues? Are there people in this country who are Muslims who celebrate things like that? And if there are, why is that the case? And what are we doing about it? That probably is a more important question.

Are we saying and doing things that inflame the Muslim communities all over the world? And if the answer is yes, should we be talking about those things and should we be trying to cut back on those things and send a different message?

So, I'm a big picture type of person. Let's look at the real issues and go after those, rather than fanning the flames of, you know, things that really don't matter that much.

TAPPER: I'm really interested in your view on comments made by President Obama in an interview with National Public Radio that were broadcast today in which he said Donald Trump is exploiting the anxieties of white blue-collar workers and the fact that he's the first black president. That's why Donald Trump is doing so well, by exploiting these fears of white non-college educated men.

You're out there among voters all the time. What do you think about what President Obama has to say?

CARSON: I really don't think it's necessary to bring race into it.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who are incredibly frustrated with what's going on. And they don't see anything being done about it. This is particularly true, you know, amongst conservatives. You know, you look at the omnibus bill that was passed just recently, and you have, you know, a Republican Congress. And yet in there is climate change and resettlement of refugees and Obamacare and Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities and on and on it goes.

And they say, nobody represents us. And then at least, you know, you have somebody who may be bombastic and maybe it's 100 percent accurate, but at least they say it's different. And I think that's what's drawing people. I hope that those same people over the course of time will start listening very carefully to what's being said by all of the candidates and make a very appropriate choice.

TAPPER: Dr. Ben Carson, stick around. We have more questions for you.

Presidential candidates got the full "Saturday Night Live" treatment this weekend, including Ben Carson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: As a surgeon, I had to tell people things they didn't want to hear, not that they had to have brain surgery, that it would be it would be performed by me, a man who they believe to be asleep.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Dr. Carson will tell me what he thinks of the parody coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:26] TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.

Christmas is Friday. It's the time of the year when soldiers send their loved ones back home video messages since they cannot be with their families to celebrate.

Unfortunately, six more families will not get those messages this year. The United States' longest war claimed even more lives today with news that six American troops were killed just outside the safe perimeter of Bagram Air Force base, killed by a suicide bomber on a motorbike. The Taliban issued a statement taking responsibility for the murders.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, this attack one would think would have to be fairly sophisticated in order to kill so many U.S. service members so close to a major U.S. base. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, at least pre-

planned they were watching, they knew the Americans might be there. I think that's what many people assume. The word we're getting is this was essentially a joint patrol by both U.S. and Afghan forces. They were going outside the base we believe to attend a meeting. They were outside of their vehicle when the motorcycle approached and detonated that suicide bomb.

As you said, Jake, it's just very, very difficult news. Six Americans killed, two injured. A contractor also injured. Difficult news, the worst for their families at this time of year. But it does underscore the rising Taliban violence in Afghanistan from the north all the way down to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

TAPPER: And in the terms of ISIS, there seems to be an operation rose colored glasses going on. We heard Hillary Clinton over the weekend saying, quote, "We now finally are where we need to be in the fight against ISIS." President Obama too telling NPR that the plan's good, the only problem has been that the messaging has been a little off and the media has been overhyping the threat of ISIS.

Is the fight on the ground against ISIS, is it going well?

STARR: Well, there is one place that everybody is really taking a look at, a place where there has been disaster in the past but now the U.S. hopes the Iraqis will have some success.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(GUNFIRE)

STARR (voice-over): All eyes are now on Ramadi. Iraqi officials say their troops are launching a major offensive to retake the city center. Residents have been warned to leave in advance of expected heavy fighting. Ten thousand Iraqi troops surround the city and are already fighting in outer neighborhoods. But now, they are moving towards the center where officials believe up to 500 ISIS fighters are dug in.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's going to be very difficult because ISIS has defended that city, placed roadside bombs, house-born explosives. It's going to be booby-trapped.

STARR: Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned the Iraqi military's will to fight in an exclusive CNN interview after Ramadi fell. This time, he's offering Iraq Apache helicopters and U.S. advisers.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We do want to help you build on your success in Ramadi.

STARR: But so far, Prime Minister Abadi has turned him down.

There's real doubt Iraqi forces will be able to hold onto Ramadi, even if they get it back.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The military person in me says that their ability to take and hold Ramadi is questionable at best.

STARR: Ramadi is a badly need success for the U.S. effort. A senior military official tells CNN the Pentagon has been told by the White House to better communicate to the public about the war against ISIS.

The president hinting in an interview with NPR.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We haven't, you know, on a regular basis, I think, described all the work that we've been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL.

STARR: But also taking a swipe.

OBAMA: If you've been watching television for the last month, all you've been seeing, all you've been hearing about is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you.

STARR: So, has the ISIS war not been reported accurately?

OBAMA: Look, the media is pursuing ratings --

STARR: Or does there need to be more success?

LEIGHTON: The White House always touts the amount of territory that has been retaken by anti-ISIS forces. That's good, but it needs to be even better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So what are we really talking about here?

[16:20:00] Many administration officials now suddenly saying they have to get better at delivering the message about the war against ISIS. But many will tell you, if you're going to have a better message, you have to have some better substance, Jake.

TAPPER: That's exactly it. Every president thinks the problem is communications.

Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

Back with me again Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson.

Dr. Carson, just this morning in New Hampshire you said ISIS, quote, "will destroy us if we don't destroy them first."

That's a very different take on the ISIS situation than President Obama who told NPR that he feels fears about ISIS in the United States may be overhyped by the media and that ISIS does not pose an existential threat to the United States. You think that ISIS does pose a threat to the existence of the country?

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely. I think it's rather naive to believe that they are the jayvee and that we have nothing to worry about, because we live in a different era. You know, he talked about them not being a big industrial power. We're not in the era now where you send, you know, big armies to fight, or, you know, air forces. We're in a place where you use a jet plane as a missile to knock down buildings, where dirty bombs can be used to extinguish large numbers of people.

There are lots of different techniques that can be used, cyber attacks, attacking our electrical grid. You know, these are things that are all well within their capabilities, and particularly when they use them in tandem. There's a lot of things that could happen in this country. And we need to be planning for those things. We cannot take a "wait and see and react" type of attitude. We got to be forward thinking very quickly to protect the American people.

TAPPER: Let's just have one lighter moment in this interview if we can. "Saturday Night Live" did a parody of the Republican debate. Take a look at Jay Pharaoh, the comedian, his version of Dr. Ben Carson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY PHARAOH, SNL (as Ben Carson): Of course I can be tough. As a surgeon I had to tell people things they didn't want to hear. Not that they had to have brain surgery, that it would be that, it would be performed by me, a man who they believe to be asleep. But I'm not asleep. I'm amped. I'm jacked and I'm ready to throw down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's all part of the process, I guess, getting mocked by "Saturday Night Live." What was your take?

CARSON: Hey, if we can't laugh at ourselves, we're in really serious shape. I have no problem with that at all.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Ben Carson, merry Christmas and hope you get some time off the campaign trail. Thanks for joining us.

CARSON: Merry Christmas to you. Thank you.

TAPPER: A woman plows her car into a crowd of innocent people. Police say it was intentional. What they said just minutes ago about her possible motive. Plus, an entire city's school system is shut down over a detailed threat of violence. School officials just spoke about that threat and we'll tell you what that had to say.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:28] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Also in our national lead today, this woman, she intentionally plowed her car into a packed sidewalk on the Las Vegas Strip, killing one person, injuring more than 30 people. That's according to Las Vegas authorities.

Not only did she do it on purpose, they say, but she continued to swerve her car into the crowd over and over. Even more alarming perhaps she had a 3-year-old child in the car with her at the time. Let's bring in our national correspondent Stephanie Elam.

Stephanie, have authorities pinpointed any indication as to motive?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they haven't, Jake. And that's what's interesting about this. They say they know very little about her. Took them a while to even identify the woman who they believe is from Oregon.

But still, even without knowing much about her, the big question is why would anyone ever want to do this?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVEN WOLFSON, CLARK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We are going to start off by filing one count of murder with the use of weapon.

ELAM (voice-over): Murder charges announced in the deadly hit-and-run on the Vegas Strip Sunday night. One person was killed and nearly 40 hurt when police say 24-year-old Lakeisha Holloway repeatedly drove her car through a crowd between Planet Hollywood and the Paris Resort and Casino.

Police do not believe this is terrorism, but say it's too early in the investigation to rule anything out.

SHERIFF JOE LOMBARDO, LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: We are not 100 percent ruling out the possibility of terrorism. The intentional act that occurred on the boulevard is going to be very hard for us to explain.

ELAM: Police say they are having difficulty gathering information on the suspect but believe she is from Oregon. Surveillance cameras from the area could provide clues as police try to determine what motive Holloway may have had for targeting the crowd.

LOMBARDO: The video obviously shows intention. We haven't determined to the exact fact what the motive was.

ELAM: The district attorney is also considering multiple counts of attempted murder and charges of child abuse and neglect. Police say Holloway's 3-year-old daughter was in the back of the car during the hit-and-run but was unharmed.

LOMBARDO: We believe that she had some disassociation with the father of her child. We don't know the exact percipient of it that caused her to snap.

ELAM: Holloway had been in Las Vegas for about a week living out of her car, officials say. Witnesses describe a scene of chaos as the suspect hit pedestrians before she was arrested less than a mile from the site.

SOFIE KITTEROED, WITNESS: It looked like she wasn't even trying to stop the car. She had both of her hands on the wheel and was looking straightforward. ELAM: Twelve people are still hospitalized. Police say three are in

critical condition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: Now, what's also interesting about this is that police are saying that the woman drove away from the scene, drove to a nearby casino where she parked her car, left her 3-year-old in the car, went up to a valet and told the valet what she had just done and asked for the valet to call 911. The police responded, arrested her without incident -- another bizarre wrinkle to this very, very sad and traumatic event here on the Las Vegas Strip, Jake.

TAPPER: Stephanie Elam, thanks so much.

From Las Vegas now to a courtroom outside Los Angeles where moments ago Enrique Marquez, the only person charged in connection with the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, was denied bail. The close friend of Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik purchased the two rifles used in the deadly rampage that left 14 innocent people dead and 22 injured. Marquez is accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism, making a false statement in connection with the acquisition of firearms and immigration fraud by entering into a fake marriage.