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Secret Service Troubles Examined; Latest on Lakeisha Holloway Case; Details of the Fighting in Ramadi; Interview with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Clinton: U.S. Where It Needs To Be In ISIS Fight; Muslims Shield Christians During Terror Attack; Officials: Man Passed Through Security, Onto Tarmac. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 22, 2015 - 16:30   ET



JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Also, in November, a Secret Service officer assigned to the White House was arrested after he was caught in a sting allegedly sending naked pictures of himself to someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

And last September, a man jumped the White House fence with a knife in his pocket, reaching the mansion's doors and ran through much of the main floor, past a stairway that leads up to the first family's residence before he was ultimately stopped.


JOHNS: We understand, from talking to law enforcement, that there is a way to disable Secret Service radios. There's not a lot of fear someone could be using it to listen to proprietary Secret Service communications. A D.C. Police Department report said the agent saw someone reach into the vehicle, but did not see that person take anything out.

TAPPER: What is amazing about that report, Joe, there are so many scandals you didn't have room for all of them in your piece.

JOHNS: Exactly. Yes, this is such a long list, we literally had to throw things out.

TAPPER: You were generous.


TAPPER: Joe Johns, thank you so much.

In other national news, we're learning more about this woman, 24-year- old Lakeisha Holloway, the suspect who police say rammed her car into a street full of pedestrians on the Las Vegas Strip. Just three year ago, it looked as if she had turned her life around, and she went from being homeless to landing a government job. But now she faces a murder charge for allegedly killing a mother of three girls and also mowing down others.

She will be in court tomorrow. Let's now bring in CNN national correspondent Ryan Young.

Ryan, do we know what caused this woman to snap?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, you know, so many people All right, asking that question.

In fact, the sheriff here alluded to the fact she may have been having a dispute with the father of her child and that she was trying to sleep in several different parking lots throughout the city, but the security here was kicking her out of those places and then she took her car and brought it on the Las Vegas Strip. So many innocent people were standing there on the sidewalk when the car started going on and off the side of the road.

One doctor telling us he will never forget the sound of hearing the bodies hitting the glass and hitting that car. They desperately tried to beat on the glass and stop this woman from hitting people. We do also know she tried to learn her life around and in fact there in Portland she talked about getting her life together, getting that job, getting off the streets.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being homeless and on my own taught me how to stand on my own two feet. Not only did I managed to beat working dead-end jobs that I had seen my mother struggle with, but I managed to land a federal job at 21. That is what I call living the grand life.


YOUNG: This was terrifying for people out here, of course, with all of the bodies, not anybody being able to stop the car, but all this going on while a 3-year-old child, her daughter, was inside the car.

At some point, when she told the security guards what she had done several blocks down the road, she left the child in the car. We're told that child right now is in the custody of the state as they try to sort all of this out, Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan, you spoke with the spokesperson for her family. How does the spokesperson describe Holloway?

YOUNG: This woman, who is a cousin and part of the family, is now a spokesperson, was telling us they never thought something like this would happen.

They said their prayers, first of all, go to all of the victims of the families she hit. But they say she never believed this could -- there was no point of her mental stability where they thought something like this could happen. In fact, they went as far to say she is not homeless, she had a job, and they're trying to figure out themselves what's going on.

They want her to know that she is not alone. We do know she's been put on a suicide watch at this point, so we know family members are coming to town, and they're obviously going to try to rally around the child and her. But at this point, so many people want to know was she on alcohol or on drugs? We know she wasn't on alcohol, but was she on drugs before this happened? So many questions that have yet to be answered just yet -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan Young, thank you so much.

In our world lead today, an intense battle against ISIS under way at this moment, as the terrorist group grabs civilians using them as human shields -- that story next.



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

Topping our world lead today, American fighting men and women playing a crucial role in a fierce fight that began in earnest this morning to liberate the Iraqi city of Ramadi, an ISIS stronghold just 70 miles west of the capital of Iraq, Baghdad.

Iraq's security forces are advancing to the center of the city backed by coalition airstrikes. But complicating their effort, the Iraqi army says that the terrorists of ISIS are using innocent civilians as human shields, this as we have learned the names of some of the six Americans killed in that motorcycle bomb attack in Afghanistan yesterday, including Air Force Major Adrianna Vorderbruggen, seen here. She's on the right, alongside her wife and son.

And New York Air National Guard Technical Sergeant Joseph Lemm, also an NYPD detective.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, you have some late-breaking details on U.S. special forces in Syria. What can you tell us?


CNN has learned that a small number of U.S. special operations forces are now back inside Northern Syria, a very difficult situation for them, and they are trying to keep a very low profile, officials confirming they are there, but not saying where they are or how many are there due to security concerns.

They have been there a few weeks ago for some initial reconnaissance, now back to advise anti-ISIS forces on their moves to try and fight ISIS in Northern Syria. That is happening in Syria, but, at the same time, Jake, a major strategic battle under way in Iraq.


STARR (voice-over): Gunfire in battles now raging across the ringed city of Ramadi. Iraqi forces on move to take back the city's center from ISIS seven months after they ran away from the fight.

Back in May, when Iraqi forces fled, top U.S. officials thought it was a bump in the road.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is possible to have the kind of attack we have seen in Ramadi, but I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed.

STARR: But it's taken months of American-backed training and advice and careful choking off of ISIS supply lines to get Iraqi forces to the point where they finally made their move.

The new Iraqi assault began by unfolding a bridge like this one across a branch of the Euphrates River. The U.S. military provided the training for the operation. The Iraqis then pushed into the center of the city, with help from U.S. airstrikes to begin confronting an estimated 350 ISIS fighters.

Optimism from the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the fall of Ramadi is inevitable. The end is coming.

STARR: The fighting is brutal. The U.S. believes ISIS is using civilians as human shields.


The Iraqis tried to get many of them out, dropping these leaflets with instructions on leaving. But ISIS fighters are dug in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ISIS has probably laid mines in buildings and laid explosive devices throughout the streets and inside the houses that are going to cause a lot more casualties.

STARR: Just getting control of Ramadi back will not be enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking back and holding territory is a very difficult operation. It's one thing to clear that area initially, but the problem that you have is actually coming back and making sure that nobody else goes into an area when you move to the next building or the next objective.


STARR: Now, getting Ramadi back for the Iraqis is a must-win. They have to get it back and hold it. But in the political season here in Washington, it is also a must-win for the Obama administration, which is under mounting pressure to show its anti-ISIS strategy in places like Ramadi is working -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Joining me now from Honolulu is Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She's an Iraq War veteran. She's a major in the Army National Guard and she serves on both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congresswoman Gabbard, thanks for joining me.

ISIS took control of Ramadi in May. As you know, that was an embarrassing defeat for the Iraqi army. If Iraqi security forces do succeed in retaking Ramadi this time around, are you confident that this time they can keep ISIS out?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Jake, I think it's too early to tell, quite frankly.

I think a lot is going to depend on how the people there in Ramadi are going to be treated by the occupying forces who will remain there after this battle is won. And that's a key thing that we have got to focus on here, because we have seen in previous battles, as you have mentioned with other cities, where the battle has been won, but you have seen how the sectarian tensions have completely gotten in the way, where the people there in the Sunni communities were persecuted and it allowed the space for ISIS to come back in and take over.

TAPPER: The Pentagon says that the only role the U.S. military is playing in this attempt to retake Ramadi is air support. Should U.S. troops be doing more, maybe even special forces on the ground, hunting and killing ISIS fighters?

GABBARD: Well, I think, generally, what I have long called for is having these hubs throughout the region in different places where our special forces can operate from and conduct quick-strike attacks against ISIS, al Qaeda, and these other Islamic extremist groups.

There in Iraq, it is going to be critical, especially within these Sunni communities, that you empower the Sunni tribes, that you equip them and you arm them so that they can these fights, and then, more importantly, for the long term, that you have a plan in place to govern and secure these territories.

And this is why I have long called for a three-state solution, arming and empowering the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis and the Shias and having some form of three-state semi-autonomous or autonomous region. And, frankly, I think something similar is what's needed in Syria as well.

TAPPER: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during the Democratic debate, she said, we are where we need to be in the fight against ISIS. Are we?

GABBARD: I would heartily disagree with that.

We have got a strategy that is being executed, frankly, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I have been calling for an end to the counterproductive illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad, and very specifically talking about how dangerous a no-fly zone in Syria would be.

We heard the president talk the other day about his opposition to a no-fly zone, but at the same time we have heard from many of our presidential candidates how they're advocating for a no-fly zone. I don't see how your head can be screwed on straight if you're pushing for a no-fly zone, when we hear people like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio saying that they would shoot down a Russian plane that violates that no-fly zone, kicking off a U.S.-Russia war, an escalation to a world war or a nuclear war.

This is something that points to a very important issue, which is the fact that our political leaders are not operating with a military mind-set. This is something that I have and other young officers learn very early on in the military, which is before you go out and execute a certain course of action, you have got to look at what are the consequences, how will your enemy or other actors react to that course of action, and, once they react, how will you -- what will your response to that be?

And then what will their response to that be? And continue to go down layer by layer. So, if you look at what's happening in the Middle East now, the mess that we're in today can be pointed directly starting with the Bush administration and continuing to today with that lack of military mind-set, that lack of foresight, whether you're talking about overthrowing Saddam in Iraq...


GABBARD: ... Gadhafi in Libya, the Arab Spring, Mubarak in Egypt, and now Assad in Syria.

TAPPER: So, just to make sure I understood, you disagree with Secretary Clinton; you do not think we are where we need to be?

GABBARD: We are not where we need to be. We should have been -- yes.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you this last question, President Obama told NPR that in his view, the biggest problem in the ISIS fight is not the strategy itself. He says is that the administration could be communicating better what they are doing and that we in the media are over-covering the terrorist attacks. Do you agree? Are those the main problems in the fight against ISIS?

GABBARD: I respectfully but completely disagree. This is not a so- called communication problem or issue. There is far more that we should be doing, there should be adjustments and corrections made to this strategy so that we're actually focusing on defeating and destroying our enemy, ISIS, al Qaeda, other Islamic extremist groups.

I keep pointing back to Syria because it makes no sense how on one hand we can be -- the United States can be waging war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad what ISIS wants and on the other hand fighting to destroy ISIS. You can't be doing to things at the same time that are completely opposed to each other.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, thanks so much. Have a great holiday in Hawaii.

GABBARD: Merry Christmas, aloha. TAPPER: Islamist terrorists boarding the bus intent on killing all Christians on the bus. Plot foiled when Muslim passengers step in. That story next.

Plus, a scary breach of security at JFK airport, how did a man get past security and on to the tarmac, and where did he go?



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In our World Lead today, an incredible act of bravery shown in this divisive world in which we live. Gunmen believed to be part of the Somali Islamist terror group, Al-Shabaab, ambushed a bus traveling in a border region of Kenya with a plan to kill Christian passengers.

But then another group of Muslims ruined their plan. Kenyan Muslims on that bus, shielding the Christian Passengers, and standing up to the attackers saying they were prepared to die together. CNN international correspondent, David McKenzie explains how the passengers survived.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Their aim is to cause terror and division, but Al-Shabaab gunmen here in Kenya came up against an extraordinary show of defiance and unity.

(voice-over): On Monday, more than 100 passengers crammed on this bus, traveling on the chronically insecurity border with Somalia. Bullets ripped through the side of the bus in an ambush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two groups -- I immediately see to stop us and told us to get those who are Muslims to come out, go back -- don't go back to the bus.

MCKENZIE: A man on the bus told CNN there were 12 Christians on board. The gunmen wanted to identify them and execute them. He says Muslim passengers helped hide some of them on the bus, and they gave the Christian women head scarves before the gunmen made them line up on the road.

They stood strong, said the witness, telling the gunmen, quote, "If you want to kill us then kill us. There are no Christians here." Al- Shabaab then fled.

JOSEPH NKAISSERY, KENYAN INTERIOR CABINET SECRETARY: We are all Kenyans. We are not separated by religion. Everybody can profess but we are one country, we are one people. That is a very good message.

MCKENZIE: Civilians have suffered through countless Al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya. Earlier this year, Al-Shabaab attacked a university killing 147 innocent studentss. Again, they singled out Christians. More than 20 killed in a shocking bus ambush last year. (on camera): Tragically a man who fled the scene and passerby killed by the gunmen, but the death toll could have been that much higher. Kenyans are praising acts of citizens who stopped this terrible attack. David McKenzie, Nairobi, Kenya.


TAPPER: Thanks to David McKenzie for that report.

Back to our National Lead, we are learning about a major security breach at JFK Airport. Not only alarming but the story is strange, a week ago a man snuck past security, scaled a fence topped with razor wire and wound up on the tarmac bringing the airport operations to a halt.

Perhaps even stranger, authorities still don't seem to know who this guy is or where he went. Let's bring in CNN aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. How could this guy possibly get through security and then get away?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: That is the million dollar question at this hour. We know that right now, investigators are going frame by frame through that closed circuit footage from the airport.

But the mystery man was caught on camera scaling a perimeter fence in an area under the watchful eye of airport security. The intruder made it over the fence and on to the taxiway. At this hour, the man's motive remains unknown.


MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, CNN is learning a man made it over airport perimeter fencing and on to the taxiway near the terminal used by American airlines, bringing operations at John F. Kennedy International to a halt. Police were called in.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCH: Getting phone calls on this, location of 32, 33 of Terminal 8. All we have is a male.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Roger that Gate 32, Terminal 8.

MARSH: CNN obtained the police incident report which describes how a Lufthansa cargo worker questioned the intruder who didn't have the required ID. That's when the trespasser warned, quote, "You better not say, expletive." Before police arrived on scene, the man had disappeared. Last seen near Terminal 8.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Doesn't appear anyone's on the taxiway.

REPRESENTATIVE GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: For someone to be on the airport property, jumping a fence, or how far they got on, without proper credentials, but what's more disconcerting to me is that the person was able to get away.

[05:30:020]MARSH: Congressman Gregory Meeks' district includes JFK Airport. He was briefed today. JFK had sensors in some of its fencing but not all. It has gaps, and that's where this man climbed over.

MEEKS: We don't know whether or not they were there casing the airport, whether they were testing security, what the purpose was, and it would seem to me that that person then had some idea if they got away of weak points.

MARSH: Breaches in airport perimeter security happen more often than people may realize. In 2011 TSA told Congress there were about 2,500 security breaches at airports annually. That includes perimeter breaches.

This past August, at JFK, a man ran out of fuel for his jet ski in the waters near the airport. He climbed a fence, and walked across two intersecting runways before anyone spotted him.


MARSH: Since the December 13th breach, we are told port authority is reviewing its perimeter security measures. The congressman tells us that police were very delayed in getting on the scene. That, too, is under investigation.

As for that surveillance video, we are told no clear shot of the man's face, you only see him as he's jumping over that fence.

TAPPER: The kind of news you want to hear before the holiday travel season. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

They stuck the landing after two failed attempts. Elon Musk's Spacex successfully launched its Falcon 9 reusable rocket into space and brought it back, and landed it, upright. The pictures are almost unbelievable.

It as if you're watching the launch in reverse. The upper stage of the rocket delivered 11 satellites to orbit for a Spacex customer. The stunning, long exposure image shows two streaks of light, one from launch, one from the history making return.

More politics ahead, Donald Trump's vulgar takedown of Hillary Clinton and the audience went crazy, that's coming up.