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Obama's New Executive Action; Saudi Arabia and Iranian Feud Heats Up; Bill Clinton Hits Campaign Trail In New Hampshire For Hillary; What Is Fair Game In Campaigns? Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 4, 2016 - 16:30   ET


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Let's go back and scrub the law, as they put it, and see what else we might be able to do within those corners of existing law.


So, by definition, this is going to be pretty limited. I mean, we're talking now the margins of the margins of what he can do within his legal authority. But, you know, if he does what some have recommended -- I mean, let's say that he expands background checks for people who are now considered to be private sellers, and if they put a number on it, like people who sell more than 50 guns a year, now there are going to have to be background checks involved -- now, we could be talking a large number of people here overall.

And that's enough to already be drawing the ire of opponents. But here's what President Obama said earlier today about it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and the executive branch, but they're also ones that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support and believe in.

I'm also confident that the recommendations that are being made by my team here are ones that are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and people's lawful right to bear arms.


KOSINSKI: We expect a lot more detail from the White House this evening, but the president did say he's going to unveil this over coming days, plural, and it's going to involve initiatives, plural, so it's pretty safe to assume that this is going to involve more than only background checks. It could be more funding for agencies, additional enforcement of existing laws, possibly more tracking of lost and stolen guns.

We're waiting for him to announce those details soon, Jake.

TAPPER: Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much. And we will continue to cover this story all week. President Obama,

in addition, will join CNN's Anderson Cooper exclusively for a live town hall meeting on this issue of guns and gun control. It's happening this Thursday 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

In our world lead today, diplomats given just 48 hours to leave, flights canceled -- the feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran intensifying as other countries in the region pick sides. Now China and Russia are speaking up -- that story next.



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

Topping our world lead today: growing fears in the U.S. over an escalating showdown between two rival Muslim superpowers in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia today suspending all flights to and from Iran. The move comes after the Saudis officially severed diplomatic ties with its Gulf rival yesterday.

That's after Iranian protesters raided and attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran with Molotov cocktails. This latest confrontation was sparked when Saudi Arabia executed Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric with ties to Iran.

All this bad blood could have serious implications in the American-led fight against ISIS, as well as general stability in the region.

Let's get right to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Elise, several countries now following suit in cutting ties with Iran.


Three nations in the Middle East, as the nations take sides, Bahrain, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates, all Sunni, either severed or downgraded ties with Iran, as the two countries ramp up the diplomatic face-off, tonight, fears in Washington the fallout of direct confrontation between these two major power brokers could see the region spiral out of control.


LABOTT (voice-over): In Baghdad today, protesters chanted "No to Sau" -- as they stormed the Saudi ambassador's residence.

A similar scene in Tehran, where protesters there returned to the Saudi Embassy after ransacking and torching it over the weekend, what is quickly becoming a crisis that could pull America further into a centuries-old Middle East conflict. Tonight, one of America's most entrenched foes is in a showdown with one of its staunchest allies.

Iran is promising vengeance after the Saudi government beheaded this cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who it called a terrorist. He, like much of Iran's population, was a Shiite Muslim. And his killing inflamed that country, leading to protests and the brutal attack on the Saudi Embassy.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI ARABIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We will not allow Iran to destabilize our region.

LABOTT: Tonight, the backlash against Iran is growing. Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Tehran. And, today, three Sunni-Arab countries, Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, joined them, severing or downgrading ties with Tehran and recalling their ambassadors.

AL-JUBEIR: The cutting off of diplomatic ties with Iran is in reaction to Iran's aggressive policies over the years and in particular over the past few months.

LABOTT: Since the American-led nuclear deal with Iran this spring, tensions between the countries have boiled over, each backing opposite factions in conflicts throughout the region, from Yemen to the bloody civil war in Syria, where Iran's support for Syrian President Assad has fueled Saudi anger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they grow further apart, if they're not talking, if they're fighting through proxies in places like Syria and Yemen, and they are, it means, unfortunately, that in the next several months, we should expect to see more violence, more dead, more refugees coming out of Syria.

LABOTT: Tonight, Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to get the countries to talk in an attempt to stave off war between two of the most heavily armed countries in the Middle East.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: What we want to see is the tensions reduced. We want to see dialogue restored and try to get a resolution to these things peacefully, diplomatically and without violence.


LABOTT: Now, the U.S. walking a fine line here. The Obama administration had voiced concern even before the execution of this cleric that that move would inflame tensions in the Middle East, but now the U.S. pointedly not criticizing the decision, just voicing concern about the Saudi legal process and saying it is unhelpful to security and stability in the region, Saudi Arabia still a very important ally to the U.S., Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about this with David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist for "The Washington Post."

David, thanks for joining us.

(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: Explain to our viewers why this growing battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia is potentially so significant.

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's significant because it's leading to a proxy war that is ripping the Middle East apart.

The fighting in Syria, just a disastrous war that's killed over 250,000, fundamentally is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and the Sunni world and Iran and the Shiite world. There's a hot war in Yemen in which Saudi UAE forces are bombing and on the ground fighting what they claim is an Iranian-backed Houthi rebel movement.


There's fighting intermittently in Iraq, obviously. My biggest worry is that this tension blows up the best hope the U.S. had for reducing the level of violence in Syria and the Middle East, which was the diplomatic process Secretary Kerry has been pushing that actually got Iran and Saudi Arabia to sit down together at a negotiating table and try to come up with a cease-fire plan.

They have had two meetings. They have one more scheduled for the end of this month. What's going to happen with that, nobody knows.

TAPPER: So, obviously, tensions between Sunni and Shia are centuries old. Do you actually expect a direct military confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia? Is that seriously in the cards?

IGNATIUS: These two countries have preferred to fight their wars using other forces, as in Syria, as in Yemen, to use proxy forces.

And I think a direct confrontation is unlikely. That said, we have seen a series of miscalculations, I would say especially by Saudi Arabia in the last few days, that have sharply escalated the level of tensions. So you would have to say all bets are off.

The problem here in part is that Saudi Arabia has lost confidence in its traditional ally and military backer the United States. Relations between Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration are just terrible. And I think that's part of why the Saudis are striking out on their own to show their people, the Arab world that they can fight their own battles.

TAPPER: How much of the reason for the breakdown in confidence that the Saudi leadership has for the United States, for President Obama, how much of that is because of the red line President Obama marked when it came to Assad using chemical weapons in Syria, and then didn't actually follow through with any military action against Assad?

IGNATIUS: I think that was part of the Saudi loss of confidence that the U.S. was prepared to use military force, but, truly, this dates back to the ouster under American pressure of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, who was a close friend and ally of Saudi Arabia.

And the Saudis basically said, if the Americans would do this to Mubarak, what would they do to us? And I think it led to a fundamental breach in the trust and confidence. Still haven't really recovered from it.

TAPPER: And how could this impact the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS?

IGNATIUS: ISIS is the primary beneficiary of this tension. As the Middle East rips apart along sectarian lines, that's basically ISIS' strategy come true. ISIS and its forbearer, al Qaeda in Iraq, sought as their goal to create a Shiite-Sunni sectarian war in Iraq. They succeeded in Iraq. There was a civil war.

The United States succeeded in calming it down. They then have moved into Syria, where there is a essentially Shiite-Sunni sectarian war and they're succeeding there. It's spread to Yemen. So, the great beneficiary here, tragically, is the most extreme faction. And that's why my contacts in the White House and the State Department were really anxious last night about the consequences of this.

TAPPER: All right. David Ignatius, thanks so much for your insight. Appreciate it.

IGNATIUS: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: In politics, Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail taking aim at the Republican candidates. What did he say? That's next.

Plus, Donald Trump's first TV ad of the election, and he is hardly shying away from his most controversial proposals of the campaign. Will this help him or hurt him? Can anything hurt him?


[16:47:08] TAPPER: Welcome back to "THE LEAD." More now in our Politics Lead.

Hillary Clinton is letting the big dog out. Her husband, the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton, he hit the campaign trail in his first solo appearance in the cycle. President Clinton parachuting into New Hampshire this morning trying to sway voters there to support the former secretary of state, his wife.

She right now seems vulnerable in the granite state as she is running neck-to-neck with Senator Bernie Sanders of neighboring Vermont.

CNN Senior Political Correspondent Brianna Keilar is tagging along with Bill Clinton today.

Brianna, President Clinton reemerging into 2016, still nearly universally loved by Democrats. But Donald Trump has painted him in recent days as a, "abuser of women".

Now, those are charges that Clinton team vehemently denies for years. Our reporter today, asking President Clinton if those past allegations against him are fair game? What did he have to say? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He pretty much dodged the question, Jake. He punted actually to Republicans saying they will have to decide. He said he is just here in New Hampshire to convince Democrats in the country that Hillary Clinton will be the best president.

That said, even though he really didn't answer that question directly, it was pretty fascinating that in his first event, we're actually hear the second (ph), he made a number of thinly veiled jabs at Donald Trump.


Bill Clinton finally on the campaign trail making the case for his wife.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of great importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience and temperament to do what needs to be done now...

KEILAR: The former president in New Hampshire as Donald Trump puts his past sex scandals front and center.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY: She used the word sexist, I'm sexist. And she was using very sort of derogatory terms. I said how the hell can she do that when she's got one of the great women abusers of all time sitting at her house?

KEILAR: Clinton didn't directly respond but made veiled references to Trump.

CLINTON: Every presidential election people run, and believe it or not, it's kind of scary this year. But believe it or not most everybody actually tries to do what they say they're going to do when they're running.

KEILAR: Bad blood between old friends, Trump explained his formerly friendly ties with the Clintons.

TRUMP: As a businessman I got along with everybody. I did well. Nobody did it better than me. I got along with everybody. And it was my obligation to my company and my family and myself to get along with Clinton and to get along with every person that I needed to get along with.


KEILAR: As Trump tries to make the former president a liability, Hillary Clinton was even heckled by a Republican Legislator about her husband's past while campaigning this weekend.

[16:50:00] HILLARY CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are very rude. And I'm not going to ever call on you. Thank you.

KEILAR: But the Clinton campaign considers him a huge asset with high approval ratings and a long history in the granite state.

B. CLINTON: New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid.

KEILAR: His second place finish here in 1992 was key as news of an affair with Gennifer Flowers and draft dodging allegations threaten to torpedo his candidacy.

Though in 2008, he hurt his wife's campaign with stinging comments about then Senator Barack Obama.

B. CLINTON: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.

KEILAR: With Bernie Sanders making his strongest challenge to Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, she's banking on the controlled messenger who delivered for President Obama in 2012.

B. CLINTON: He is the president satisfied, of course not. But are we better off than we were when he took office?


KEILAR: Now, most Republicans, as in Republican candidates I should say, as in all of them except for Donald Trump, don't seem to think that revisiting Bill Clinton's past infidelities makes for a good campaign strategy. Some of them though are hitting him, Chris Christie for instance kind of describing this as a choice between new and old, lumping Hillary Clinton in with Bill Clinton, today, Jake, saying we've seen this act before. We've lived this act for eight years.

TAPPER: All right, Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.

Let's talk about everything 2016 with CNN Political Commentator, Patty Solis Doyle. She managed Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. Also here with us Phil Musser of Republican Strategies, former Advisor to Mitt Romney who is unaffiliated this campaign season. Thanks to both of you for being here.

So Bill Clinton was asked on a rope line today about are these allegations, et cetera, are they fair game and he dodged it. Is that the right thing to do? Or at some point is he going to need to say something about these charges coming from Trump?

PATTY SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, look, I think this is fair game for Donald Trump. I think attacking Mexicans are fair game for Donald Trump. I think attacking Muslims is fair game for Donald Trump. In this will probably help Donald Trump with his supporters. They're going to -- they likely don't like the Clintons and they're going to like him even more.

But for Hillary these are going to -- her supporters are going to rally to her defense. So I don't think this is going to be helpful for Donald Trump in a general election should he be the nominee against Hillary Clinton. TAPPER: One of the reasons why Trump is doing so well, Phil, is that a lot of the Republican base is angry at Republican leaders, angry at Mitt Romney, John McCain and Paul Ryan, John Boehner. And Republicans who haven't wanted to go after Bill Clinton about these types of things.

And so I agree with Patti, this will probably make him more popular with people who like that he says these things. Why have Republicans, not Trump Republicans, why have they steered away from these allegations, indiscretions, et cetera, about Bill Clinton? Is it because it's kind of politically correct not to do or is it not smart politics?

PHIL MUSSER, FORMER SR. CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO MITT ROMNEY: Well, I think it's a rerun of the fast. I mean elections are fundamentally about the future and you want to talk about what's happening next. What Donald Trump has basically done in this election cycle is any time you make a conjecture about Donald Trump he's pretty much going to answer you back, right.

And, so he was called a sexist, and I think in Donald Trump's mind he's basically raising the Clinton episodes from decades ago as fair game.

Whether that's smart politics, I don't know. I think the danger for the Clinton campaign here is twofold, right? First is that the president overshadows the first lady and second he makes a tactical mistake it gets goaded by Donald Trump who might call him low energy the next time, right. And start to pick a fight.

If the performer president again response what is that do? It highlights a contrast of strength versus two political dynasties in America, that's a new one and old one and that's part of the message that we're seeing with the change here too.

TAPPER: And that had been part of the debate in 2008 when you were trying to decide tactically how much to use Bill Clinton great strengths, also great potential liabilities. We saw some of them in Brianna's piece just then.

DOYLE: Right, absolutely. And it was a point of debate in our own campaign in 2008, where to use them, how to use them.

When he said some of the things that he shouldn't have said, I think he was defending Hillary Clinton in 2008. He took it personally. And that's something he probably shouldn't have done. He said some things that hurt her and hurt the campaign. But he's really, really smart. And I don't think he'll make those same mistakes in this race. Go ahead.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Donald Trump if we can. He has this new ad and it runs right for the most controversial things he has proposed, banning Muslims from entering the US, building a wall, making Mexico pay for it on the border, et cetera. Is this what you would suggest he do had he hired you to advise him? MUSSER: Well, he's not leaving much to the imagination here, Jake. I mean, he's going right at the core issues. He's run his campaign on this. He's been very clear. If you look at his ad, it's actually a piece of marketing mastery.

[16:55:00]The word Trump, the letter Trump, the messaging is all Trump. In whether or not you agree with the substance, this is a clutter buster.

And it's interesting I just before came on I looked at the $2 million buy he placed. He put $1.1 million in Iowa and about $800,000 in New Hampshire. Iowa T.V. costs about 25 percent as much as it does in New Hampshire right now, so he's clearly taking that message.

It's a very clearly defined message and he's aiming a pretty significant buy to the people of Iowa trying to make a case.

TAPPER: Yeah, but the media market is Boston for New Hampshire.

MUSSER: Its about it costs about -- yeah, he bought about $800,000 worth of television in TV, radio and cable in New Hampshire and about $1.1 million in Iowa about three hours ago.

TAPPER: Quick question for you about Bernie Sanders and the challenge. He's still there. He raised almost as much money as Hillary Clinton did in the last quarter. Both of them more than any Republican who's announced how much they've raise at least.

And, obviously, still very competitive in New Hampshire not too far behind in Iowa, does she still have a potential problem here?

DOYLE: He's run a fantastic race, Bernie Sanders, I think. A lot of enthusiasm for him, he has raised a lot of money, almost as much as she has, which is incredible, right?


DOYLE: I think he has a problem after New Hampshire. I think he has a problem in to produce a states. He hasn't really reached out or penetrated the African American vote, the Hispanic vote.

TAPPER: He's tried.

DOYLE: He's tried but he hasn't and that's going to be a problem for him. So Hillary Clinton could lose Iowa, could lose New Hampshire, but I think she'll be in pretty good shape after that.

TAPPER: All right. Patti, Phil, thanks so much for joining us. Happy New Year, thanks for joining us first show of 2016.

Coming up, new Jihadi John, the latest ISIS video features an English speaking executioner threatening the west. Who is he?