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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Hillary Clinton in Trouble?; Suicide Bombing in Turkey; President Obama Set to Deliver State of the Union Address; U.S. Official: 10 American Sailors Detained by Iran; Interview with Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: ISIS blamed for another shocking blast and more senseless murder.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Terror in one of most visited cities in the world, a suicide bomber killing at least 10 innocent people after allegedly sneaking in from Syria.

Trouble for Hillary Clinton, signs history could be repeating itself in Iowa, only with Senator Bernie Sanders playing the part of Senator Barack Obama.

Plus, it might be the first time Sean Penn did not want a camera following him, but, today, new images show someone was on the actor's tail as he was on his way to interview the most wanted drug lord in the world and it wasn't paparazzi.

Hello, everyone. You're looking at live pictures of the Capitol Building here in Washington, D.C., where in just a few hours President Obama will deliver his last, last State of the Union address. We're going to be covering it from all angles, from the White House to Capitol Hill.

This is THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live up on Capitol Hill, where congressional leaders will gather this evening along with the Supreme Court justices and others. We're going to break down what we expect to hear from President Obama and from Republicans in response to what the White House is saying will be a nontraditional speech. More on that coming up this hour.

But, first, let's start with some breaking news in our world lead, the U.S. condemning today's terrorist attack in Istanbul. Turkey is blaming ISIS for the suicide bombing. The blast happened in a popular and heavily guarded tourist area in the heart of Istanbul. The terrorist waited until midmorning and then detonated a bomb in a busy historic square, killing 10 innocent people.

We now know that eight of those who killed were Germans; 15 other people were hurt. As for the terrorists, Turkey says they know he was from Syria, but he was not on the list of refugees authorities were tracking.

CNN senior national correspondent Arwa Damon joins me now live from Istanbul.

Arwa, what are you learning on the ground there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this stage, Jake, Turkish officials are saying that this individual only just recently crossed into Turkey from Syria, perhaps one of the reasons why he was not necessarily on the intelligence agency's radar, because they are at any given time tracking numerous individuals.

We also do know that this person was born in 1988 and that, at this stage, the Turkish authorities do believe that he was a member of ISIS. Now, how much coordination did the terrorist organization have in terms of directives when it came to carrying out the attack, what the target should be, that at this stage we do not yet know.

But it does seem as if this was a deliberate move to send a message not only to Turkey when it comes to just how vulnerable this country is, despite many ongoing efforts to try to clamp down on various different individuals affiliated with terrorism, but also send a message far beyond Turkey's borders. The target of this attack were tourists that not only are fundamental to Turkey's tourism industry, to its economy, but this also serves to really send that message that ISIS most certainly does like to emphasize, and that is that no one can necessarily consider themselves to be safe, Jake.

TAPPER: Arwa Damon, thank you so much.

Let's turn now to our politics lead. The inevitable Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, well, she might be quite evitable. In New Hampshire, a new poll shows Sanders, Bernie Sanders, with a 14-point lead there. He of course hails from neighboring Vermont. Perhaps more surprising, in Iowa today, a Quinnipiac poll finds Bernie Sanders now winning there, too.

Let's go right to CNN's senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar.

She's In Ames, Iowa.

Brianna, the Clinton campaign looks like she's in real trouble. What does the campaign have to say?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're stressing at this point, Jake, that they have said all along the race is going to be close, both in Iowa and New Hampshire and that it would be unusual here in Iowa for someone in Hillary Clinton's position to get more than 50 percent of the support from caucus-goers.

But I will add I don't think they thought it was going to be this close. I'm told privately what we're seeing is the campaign recognizing, of course, that there's an enthusiasm gap, that they have to really rely on the ground game that they have built here over months and also that they're preparing for perhaps a longer primary season than they had anticipated. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If that's the kind of revolution he's talking about, I'm worried, folks.

KEILAR: Hillary Clinton going hard at rival Bernie Sanders as a pair of new early state polls show him in the lead.

[16:05:05]

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Secretary Clinton and her campaign now know that she's in serious trouble.

KEILAR: The Vermont senator running ahead of Clinton by 14 points, 53-39 percent, in a New Hampshire poll from Monmouth University.

SANDERS: Obviously been very pleased by recent polls.

KEILAR: And in Iowa, a Quinnipiac University poll showing Sanders with five-point advantage. Clinton, on the trail in the Hawkeye State, is zeroing in on a potential Sanders vulnerability with Democratic base, his moderate stance on gun control.

H. CLINTON: Stand up to the most powerful special interest. Stand up to that gun lobby. Bring people together and let's have commonsense gun safety measures.

KEILAR: Clinton ratcheting up attacks, while also picking up a key endorsement from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, that as her daughter Chelsea hammers Sanders over health care while making her 2016 debut.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF HILLARY CLINTON: Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle private insurance.

KEILAR: But Sanders appears to be weathering the storm, making the case that the recent attacks show he is a real contender.

QUESTION: Has you noticed lately that she's been getting more aggressive with you?

SANDERS: Yes.

QUESTION: Why is that?

SANDERS: It could be that the inevitable candidate for the Democratic nomination may not be so inevitable today.

KEILAR: Sanders even seems relaxed amid the tough fight, joking Monday about his potential White House accommodations.

QUESTION: Is it off-brand for a Democratic socialist to live in a mansion like the White House?

SANDERS: Well, I would consider it more like public housing. (LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: One top Democrat not caught off guard by the close race, Vice President Joe Biden.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not surprised that it is viewed as neck and neck.

KEILAR: Biden telling CNN's Gloria Borger that Sanders' success is due in part to his authenticity on the issue of income inequality.

BIDEN: Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. And he has credibility on it. And that is the absolute, enormous concentration of wealth in a small group of people, with the middle class now being able to be shown being left out.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But Hillary's talking about that as well.

BIDEN: Well, but it relatively new for Hillary to talk about that. Hillary's focus has been other things up to now. And that's been Bernie's -- no one questions Bernie's authenticity on those issues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: You bet Bernie Sanders loved to hear that, Jake.

Now, the Clinton campaign is relying on seasoned caucus-goers who have the muscle memory for the process, first-time caucus-goers more likely to support Bernie Sanders. But, remember, back in 2008, they were more likely to support John Edwards and Barack Obama, both of whom beat Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: Something of an in-kind contribution to the Sanders campaign from Joe Biden there. Thanks, Brianna Keilar in Ames, Iowa. Appreciate it.

Let's turn to the Republicans now. Donald Trump has been going hard after Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in particular questioning whether his Republican rival is really a -- quote -- "natural-born citizen." Cruz says the matter is straightforward. He is qualified to run.

But, today, the Texan got a little saltier. He had this to say about the current national front-runner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The past couple of elections, we saw the Democrats thrilled that they

got the nominee they wanted to run against in the general election. And it seems the Hillary folks are very eager to support Donald Trump and the attacks that are being tossed my direction.

Regardless, he's entitled to toss whatever attack he wants. I haven't reciprocated. I don't intend to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was, of course, a reference to Laurence Tribe, a legal expert and Hillary supporter, saying the issue is not settled.

Let's go now to CNN political reporter Sara Murray, who is in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Donald Trump is going to deliver his own prebuttal to the president's State of the Union address in just a few hours.

Sara, what are you expecting Mr. Trump to say?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I think the biggest question is whether he's going harder against Ted Cruz.

I think these are some of the sharpest comments we have seen from Cruz against Trump. And as you said, Trump will be right back here in Iowa where he's hoping maybe this late push will get him over the top in a state where he and Cruz are locked in a dead heat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump not taking any chances in Iowa.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a great relationship with the people of Iowa.

MURRAY: Back on the hustings tonight, just three days after his last trip to the Hawkeye State, a state he says could be key to a huge victory.

TRUMP: I would love to win Iowa. We will see what happens. I think I'm going to do great there. If we win Iowa, I think we run the table. I think we run the table.

MURRAY: But, first, he has to contend with Ted Cruz, who is locked in a dead heat with Trump in Iowa.

CRUZ: Four weeks ago, just about every Republican in the race was attacking Donald Trump. Today, just about every Republican is attacking me.

[16:10:07]

MURRAY: As for Cruz, he's dipping into Trump territory, stopping by a gun range New Hampshire.

CRUZ: You don't stop the bad guys by taking our guns. You stop the bad guys by using our guns.

MURRAY: Recent polls show the Texas senator on the rise in the state, but Trump still trounces his competition, the GOP primary far from over, but Trump already sharpening his attacks on Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: I think she's having a tough time. She's got some guy who is -- I mean, he should be easy to beat. I mean, how can you lose like this? He really isn't even a Democrat. MURRAY: Telling "The Tonight Show"'s Jimmy Fallon that's just a taste

of what he has in store for Clinton if the two go head to head in a general election.

TRUMP: So, look, and I haven't started on her though yet, although last week I did a little bit, I guess. But we haven't even started.

MURRAY: Even claiming in a mock job interview that his other assets could give him a boost along the way.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Perfect. Well, do you want to tell me a little bit about yourself?

TRUMP: Well, I'm an extraordinarily handsome person. I have a beautiful head of hair.

FALLON: I know. I noticed that. I noticed that. Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: Meanwhile, the other GOP candidates are honing their jabs ahead of the next GOP debate, where the main stage shrinks to just seven candidates. Trump will be at center stage, flanked by Cruz and Marco Rubio, then Chris Christie and Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush and John Kasich at either end. That leaves Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee for the undercard debate.

But Paul tells CNN's he's going to pass.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I won't participate in anything that's not the first tier, because we have a first tier campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: So we have seen Donald Trump's sharp words against Ted Cruz, against Hillary Clinton. We will see what he has to say about Barack Obama tonight just hours before the State of the Union -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray in Cedar Falls, Iowa, thanks, Sara.

The White House says that this will be a State of the Union like no other we have ever seen. But will Republican reaction be out of the ordinary or is it already partisan politics as usual? That story next.

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[16:16:30] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just a few more hours until President Obama comes here to deliver his last State of the Union Address. When the president does, he, we are told, will offer an optimistic view of a nation on the rebound. He will look to counter the fear and the anger and the anxiety igniting voters on both sides of the aisle.

Here on Capitol Hill, criticism has already begun.

CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins me now live from Statuary Hill on Capitol Hill.

Dana, what are Republicans saying ahead of the speech?

DANA BASH ,CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I've been standing here, talking to Republican lawmakers walking back and forth, and even the most moderate Republicans who don't have a lot of, you know, tense anger towards the president, are kind of rolling their eyes and shrugging their shoulders.

And that was the House speaker walking by me, by the way, which gives me a nice segue to tell our viewers a little about a breakfast he had. You and I were both there, Jake. He made very clear that he sees this as a political event. Much more so than before the past States of the Union because the president, he believes, is going to lay the groundwork for who he hopes will be his successor, Hillary Clinton. He said that he expects the president to set up six or seven straw men.

This is what he said. I'll show the quote. He said, "My assumption is he will do everything he can do bait us into fights with him, to make us look like we're angry reactionaries incapable of winning the Electoral College. How they -- the Republicans are going to avoid looking like that, that's an open question.

I'm not told of any special instructions that the speaker has given to Republicans. What I am told and what we heard from the speaker, Jake, this morning was that he is practicing what he called his poker face because he is in a new speaker. It the first time he's sitting behind the president. He's used to showing his reaction on his face. He says this time he won't be able to do that so much -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Dana, despite all of our attempts to get the speaker to weigh in on the 2016 presidential contest, he would not take the bait. But, Dana, he did very clearly lay out a very different message and different strategy for what he thought the Republican Party should be than what we've heard from people like Donald Trump or even Ted Cruz.

BASH: Absolutely. It was really fascinating. His whole message was, we've heard him say this a little bit, but it was more pointed. We can't be the party of opposition. We have to be the party of proposition.

He says that he intends to help the Republican Party get on its way to trying to get the White House no matter who the nominee is because they have to be standing for something before the personality shows up in whomever that nominee is -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash, thank you so much.

We have some major breaking news just in to CNN. According to a U.S. defense official, Iran just seized U.S. navy boats. Ten American sailors have been detained. This is breaking news right now.

Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what can you tell us? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a potentially alarming situation under way, certainly serious. We have word from both defense officials and a senior administration official that two small U.S. Navy boats, they were in transit from Bahrain -- from Kuwait, rather, to Bahrain, that they were detained by Iranian naval vessels with 10 U.S. sailors on board.

The U.S. has been in touch with Iranian authorities who confirm that those ten sailors are in Iranian custody, although the senior administration official tells us they've been assured they will soon be released. They've been assured they are healthy and in good condition. Regardless, however, if those dangerous waters there, a conflict between, really, military, between U.S. and Iran, just to have those sailors in Iranian country -- custody, rather, certainly, a very serious situation.

You may remember, Jake, just a couple of weeks ago, an Iranian naval, small naval boat fired rockets very close to a U.S. aircraft carrier also in the Persian Gulf, taken at the time by officials I spoke with as, at least a message. They were not trying to put the U.S. aircraft carrier in danger but a message. This one you might be able to take as well.

And I don't have to mention the timing tonight with the president giving his final State of the Union Address where he'll be likely to mention the Iran nuclear deal, which is days away from implementation, implementation meaning when those punishing economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted in conjunction with that nuclear deal. Timing of this, with the State of the Union, with that nuclear deal, coming certainly very dangerous and concerning timing, Jake.

TAPPER: Very, very strange timing, Jim Sciutto.

Let's now go to the Pentagon, where Barbara Starr has more on ten American sailors who have been detained by Iran.

Barbara, what can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a senior defense official here at Pentagon has just finished briefing reporters on this incident. What this official is telling us, it was a short time ago that two United States Navy small craft were on their from Kuwait to Bahrain in the Persian gulf, and apparently, according to this official, indeed, it appears, he says, that the two U.S. Navy craft entered Iranian territory waters briefly.

Now, this is very tight water space. What the U.S. cannot say at this point is, frankly, whether, it was intentional breach of Iranian waters or unintentional. That remains to be seen. This is happening near Farsi Island, Iran's Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf.

What we are told is the U.S. Navy lost contact with these two small patrol craft that were carrying a total of ten sailors. They lost contact with them. They got no apparent distress call that we know of at this point. They began a wider area search and quickly determined that the Iranian military, Iranian naval authorities, apparently had the sailors.

Diplomacy sprung into action very quickly, we're told. Secretary of State John Kerry speaking to his counterparts. We are told, at this hour, that the sailors, U.S. Navy sailors, will be allowed by Iran shortly, if not already, to continue their voyage, their planned trip from Kuwait to Bahrain.

But I have to tell you, this U.S. official that just finished briefing reporters could not say, at this very point in time, whether the navy sailors have been released by the Iranians or whether they left the Farsi Island and their status. It's a diplomatic dance they are doing now. They are not willing to say just at this moment that the U.S. Navy sailors are being detained by Iran because they say Iran has assured the United States the sailors will be allowed to continue their journey, that they are safe, that they are well, and that they will be allowed to continue their journey.

So, a lot of international very quick diplomacy, very urgent diplomacy and military diplomacy going on at this hour. Not at all clear, not at all clear exactly how the U.S. military lost contact with these two boats, how the boats apparently entered Iranian territorial space and who exactly, from Iran, came out from Farsi Island and took these sailors into custody, if you will -- even if it was very briefly, even if officially under international law they were not detained. They certainly were held by Iran -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Some stunning news coming from the Pentagon. Barbara Starr confirming reports that two boats, ten American sailors, have been -- I don't know what word to use other than detained, even though the Pentagon is not using that word officially detain, but they are in the custody of Iran right now in the Persian Gulf, although it seems Iran is offering reassurances to the Obama administration that the sailors will be released.

Let's talk about this with Republican senator from Colorado, Cory Gardner, who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining me. Obviously, you were booked to talk about foreign policy writ large, and the president's State of the Union, but this is some stunning news. We're all both learning about it at the same time.

[16:25:00] Assuming what the officials are telling Barbara Starr are accurate, what's your reaction to this news?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: I think the White House needs to be honest and transparent as quickly as possible with the members of the Congress, the House and Senate, perhaps that even means a delay to the start of the State of the Union tonight to talk about exactly what happened.

Look, this continues, apparently a pattern of aggravating action by Iran. We know that Iran has taken ships that were under the flag protectorate of the United States. We know they continue to test ballistic missiles in spite of the sanctions against them. This is a pattern by Iran now apparently detaining U.S. sailors. We don't know the facts yet. We'll get the facts, but I think this is a serious enough event that we shouldn't proceed with the festivities of tonight until we have answers.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you because independent of what is going on right now with -- if you're tuning, two American boats, ten American sailors, in the custody right now of Iranian military officials, although Iran is assuring the United States that they will release these ten American sailors, regardless of that crisis or whatever you call it right now, you mentioned the ballistic missile test by Iran.

You mentioned, or rather Barbara and Jim Sciutto mentioned, the firing against an American vessel. It didn't hit it but it was firing upon it. This does not seem like a country that the United States is engaged in a huge diplomatic engagement with, and this, you know, removal of the sanctions, all of which is supposed to start soon.

GARDNER: Iran set to receive billions and billions of dollars in economic activity from around the world, cash released to Iran as a result of this agreement on the nuclear deal. This agreement ought to be delayed until we find out exactly what's happening, until we know what the administration is going to move forward with sanctions on the ballistic missile tests.

Again, this is a nation that is holding journalists captive in Iran. This is a nation that has been responsible for the deaths of Americans. In fact, General Dunford testified before the United States Congress saying that at least 500 men and women, soldiers, in our country were killed because of Iranian activities in the Middle East.

TAPPER: Right. Iran giving weapons to Shiite enemies in Iraq.

GARDNER: That's correct. And here we are on the eve of the -- the night of the president's State of the Union Address and Iran detaining American soldiers.

This is a pattern of aggravating action by Iran that proves when the ink is dried on the Iran nuclear deal, when implementation day occurs, this pattern of activity is going to continue. I think it's irresponsible of the United States to allow this to go forward. It's irresponsible of our partners around the globe who were part of this agreement to ignore this continued hostilities by Iran.

TAPPER: Let's talk, for a second, if we can, about the State of the Union Address. President Obama and the White House are conveying that the president's message will be nontraditional. It will be optimistic, that even though the country is feeling anxious and nervous and unsettled about things, the president has an optimistic vision.

You're somebody that want in no small part because of your ability to convey an optimistic vision, what's your take on what you want to hear from the president?

GARDNER: Well, I believe that anybody is better off when you focus on what we can achieve together, that optimistic message will win for Republicans in 2016. But what a nontraditional speech, State of the Union for the president may mean is simply actually talking about working together with Congress in ways that he actually means it.

In the past several State of the Unions, he's talked about ways to work with Congress and then turn around way and stuck his finger in the eye of Congress, found ways to end run Congress, issued executive orders despite the fact that Congress has written laws to oppose those actions. Guantanamo Bay, something very important to the people of Colorado, the law clearly states the president cannot spend money on the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

TAPPER: And just to be --

GARDNER: That's exactly what he's doing.

TAPPER: There's a super max in Colorado and there's talk of sending some of the Guantanamo prisoners to that super max.

GARDNER: Well, they actually inspected another prison that's been -- that's a closed prison in Colorado where they would have to spend millions upon millions of dollars to prepare it for Guantanamo Bay detainees. But it doesn't matter if it's super max or this closed prison that they're looking at, it's still in violation of the law. And yet, the president is expending money in violation of the law to work on the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

So, a nontraditional speech by the president tonight would be one where he's actually sincere in his desire to work with Congress, where we can continue successes we had last year in the House and the Senate. Transportation bill passing for the first time in 18 years, an education bill passing for the first time in a decade -- those are the kinds of things the American people can expect from us if the president is willing to drop his partisanship, if the president is willing to work with us and not simply try to set the stage for the transition of his third term, and that's Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: OK, a lot more to discuss but we don't have time because of this breaking news out of Iran.

Senator Gardner, thank you for joining us.

GARDNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Really appreciate it. Good to see you.

When we come back, much more on this breaking news. U.S. officials say ten American sailors being held by Iran. We will go right to the White House for the latest after this quick break.

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