Return to Transcripts main page


New Details On Sean Penn Meeting With Drug Lord; Michigan City Gets Federal Aid For Lead-Poisoned Water. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 13, 2016 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: -- patrol car. And it's now being investigated as a terrorist attack.


Last week, Edward Archer allegedly told investigators he had pledged his allegiance to ISIS, and that's why he fired 13 bullets at officer Jesse Hartnett. Yet, Philadelphia's mayor at the time hesitated to call this an act of terrorism.

Today, FBI Director James Comey said his agency is now investigating this as a terrorist attack. Comey reportedly made the remarks and comments to Pittsburgh media.

The money lead now, what would you do with $1.5 billion? Would you buy your favorite sports team, run your own self-funded campaign against Donald Trump? Would you give it all to charity anonymously? Just kidding about that last one.

But whatever your dreams may be, you better run out and get a Powerball ticket right now if you want to have your shot at the richest jackpot in world history tonight.

Just let me go down the news cliche checklist here before we finish. Don't go holding your breath, you have a better chance of, insert super highly unlikely thing here. I turn to wacky weather man who says, if I'm not on the air tomorrow, you will know why.

In our world lead, 10 U.S. sailors released after being held by Iran. Now new video has surfaced of one of the sailors apologizing, but did he have to do that?

That video next.



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

Topping our world lead today, some good news, followed by what many found to be demoralizing and disturbing images. Now, most importantly, those 10 U.S. sailors who were detained Tuesday after straying into Iranian waters, they are free. And they are now, we are told, out of harm's way. Iran claims the nine men and one woman were released after the U.S.

apologized for the transgression. The State Department responded, the secretary of state, John Kerry, who negotiated for their release with the Iranian foreign secretary, that he made no apology at all.

Now Iran has released video of one of those sailors saying that it was a regrettable mistake to go into Iranian waters and the Americans' fault. Now, we do not know the circumstances under which the sailor made that statement.

Let's get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, how did this all go down?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: There's still a lot of questions here that are unanswered. One, were they actually in Iranian territorial waters? We don't know that for sure.

Two, how did they end up there? Was it mechanical failure, as we first heard, or did they make a navigational error? That's another question. Three, how did they end up on their knees with their hands behind their back? The sailor said in this video that they were approached by Iranian Revolutionary Guards with guns drawn.

That would certainly contrast with this message we're hearing from U.S. officials that this was a victory of diplomacy.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): U.S. sailors on their knees, their hands up and behind their heads, this is the moment 10 Americans were detained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards after mistakenly entering Iranian waters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did not mean to go into Iranian territorial water.

SCIUTTO: The sailors spent the night in Iranian custody, fed and given blankets, say Iranian officials, before they were freed early this morning. U.S. officials made clear that Secretary Kerry did not apologize for the incident.

But Iranian state TV aired video by what appeared to be an apology by one of the Navy crew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a mistake that was our fault, and we apologize for our mistake.

SCIUTTO: Tonight, it remains unclear if it was made under duress.

At 12:13 p.m. local time, Iranian forces released the American sailors from Farsi Island. The sailors departed on the same two riverine command boats they'd been captured on and headed to USS Anzio, a Naval missile cruiser positioned in the Persian Gulf.

From the Anzio, the sailors were transferred to the USS Truman aircraft carrier and then flown to shore.

Secretary Kerry, who called his Iranian counterpart five times on Tuesday, credited the new diplomatic ties between the two countries for the resolution of a potentially tense standoff.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago. In fact, this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and officially resolved, and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe.

SCIUTTO: But, tonight, some are questioning just why U.S. sailors found themselves in this situation in the first place.

CHRISTOPHER HARMER, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: My concern is that the U.S. Navy's professional incompetence put these sailors in harm's way without giving them clear rules of engagement or a clear exit plan from Iranian territorial waters.


SCIUTTO: John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Dr. Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, almost on point in terms of their talking points in the wake of this, Javad Zarif tweeting just in the last several hours the following, saying: "I'm happy to see dialogue and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailors' episode. Let's learn from this latest example"

It is true, Jake, that there's a diplomatic channel here that didn't exist more than a couple years ago. You couldn't have had John Kerry calling Javad Zarif five times yesterday to help resolve the situation.

But as good as that relationship may be or how much better it may be, hasn't gotten those five other Americans held in Iran released, of course, Jason Rezaian among them.

TAPPER: And those 10 Americans in those photographs aired on Iranian TV do not look like they're being treated with courtesy and respect at that moment at least.

SCIUTTO: No question.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

A new Republican-backed bill in the House of Representatives aims to increase congressional oversight on the president's Iran deal and the measure is earning Democratic support as well.

Joining me now is Oklahoma Congressman Steve Russell, a Republican and Army veteran who served in Iraq and someone who currently sits on the Armed Services Committee in the House.


Congressman Russell, thank you so much for joining us. Your legislation would halt the lifting of sanctions against Iran. It

received bipartisan support in a preliminary House vote today. Democrats say that your bill's unenforceable and it's truly just an effort to kill the Iran deal. Your response?

REP. STEVE RUSSELL (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, the president has said repeatedly when he was doing the joint agreement that it would not affect those that were on the terror sanctions list or the human rights sanctions list.

We went through the hundreds of names that are in annex two of the joint agreement and we found about three score that we targeted specifically that are on those lists. So the president has said that he will not lift sanctions on those individuals.

We are asking for certification now that if they're going to be included in the joint agreement, we want to know why. And that is the essence of this bill.

TAPPER: Let's talk about diplomacy with Iran writ large, given the recent events involving the 10 sailors who thankfully have been returned from Iran.

Secretary of State John Kerry says that it's his relationship with Iran's foreign secretary that helped secure the sailors' quick release. The foreign secretary of Iran says that as well. Obviously, these images of Americans being detained make a lot of people feel very uncomfortable, but now those sailors are free. Isn't this in a way a victory for diplomacy?

RUSSELL: I think we have to look at the history of our operations in the Persian Gulf since 1979.

We have seen incidents of this type before. We have had occasions where Iranian craft, maybe they got swamped and their sailors were at risk, we picked them up. We don't know the details of why these sailors were picked up yet. And we also don't know, was all their equipment in the boats, were they restored?

So there's still a lot of unanswered questions out there.

TAPPER: President Obama said last night that heated political rhetoric from the United States, from American politicians is actually helping ISIS. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.

That's the story ISIL wants to tell; that's the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: You have actually fought jihadists in Iraq and perhaps elsewhere. Does President Obama not have a point? Doesn't that kind of clash of civilizations language elevate these terrorists and help them in recruiting?

RUSSELL: Well, I think the president really needs to talk to some of our allies in the region. King Abdullah, for example, has used this similar language.

So, you know, the president is maybe castigating those in the presidential race, and I can understand why. But at the same time, there are a great many that see incredible danger. They see coalitions and countries that are at great risk. They see economic risk. They see refugee risk. They see a lot of risk. So, I would just say it's not inconsistent with what leaders in the Middle Eastern region have been saying themselves.

TAPPER: Congressman, before you go, in the Republican response to the State of the Union last night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican like you, she urged Americans to -- quote -- "resist the siren call of the angriest voices."

She was specifically talking about Donald Trump, as she later acknowledged. Do you agree with her?

RUSSELL: Well, you know, you and I have talked some of these out-of- the-yard-type comments before. I think that we have to tone down rhetoric.

When it comes to foreign policy, that's something that we all feel about bipartisan. I do think we have to be very, very careful about being inflammatory. It shouldn't come as a surprise to the president, though, or to senators or other leaders that people in political campaigns can often say some very volatile things.

But we need to have a measured response when we're actually setting policy and we're trying to secure the people here in the United States of America from acts of terror.

TAPPER: Congressman Steve Russell, thank you so much, sir.

RUSSELL: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: It turns out El Chapo had no idea who Sean Penn was. He never saw "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? Anyway, now newly released text messages are revealing who was really on his mind when he agreed to that meeting.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In world news today, it stands to reason that every drug kingpin needs a queen pin. And today a series of flirtatious text messages are surfacing from the weeks after "El Chapo" escape from prison.

The conversation is between the drug lord and the Latina actress who linked him up with Sean Penn. "Milenio" newspaper, one of Mexico's largest publications uncovered the conversations "El Chapo" had his lawyer relay the responses.

He was referred to as "papa" and apparently he had never heard of actor, Sean Penn, as he tried to arrange production on a film about himself. "El Chapo" is now under surveillance 24 hours a day in prison.

Authorities telling CNN they're constantly moving the drug lord cell to cell to make sure he doesn't get away again. They've also covered the tunnel he built to escape prison back in July.

And we have some breaking new details on exactly what U.S. officials knew about the meeting between Sean Penn, Castillo and "El Chapo."

Let's get right to CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. Pamela, you just wrapped up an interview with the Attorney General Loretta Lynch. What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have learned from law enforcement sources, Jake, that U.S. law enforcement was aware of these communications between Sean Penn and the actress, Kate Del Castillo even before that trip to Mexico last October.

In fact, we learned that the Mexican government let the U.S. know that Sean Penn had arrived in the country, but sources say after that they lost track of Penn and that caused fear that he was going to meet with the drug kingpin, the very location where an operation was about to be launched.

And we have learned from our sources that because of that that particular operation was delayed. Here's what the attorney general had to say about that in this exclusive interview.


[16:50:08]LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The operation that did capture "El Chapo" as well as the efforts to bring him to justice after his escape were operations of the Mexican government. We're tremendously gratified that the capture was successful. We look forward to having "El Chapo" face justice in an American court.

Certainly if you look at the number of cases he's involved in, the depth and breadth of his criminal organization, the amount of money he has siphoned off of Americans who are addicted to the poison that he peddles, obviously he's very, very important target for us.


TAPPER: And, Pamela, the attorney general today visited a prison or a correctional facility in Boston today to highlight the administration's focus on criminal justice reform. As you know better than I do 2015 was a record year for ISIS inspired terror arrests.

What did the attorney general have to say about the steps being taken to ensure that these individuals are not more dangerous and radical when they get out?

BROWN: That's right. She acknowledged that prison radicalization is a huge concern. It's one thing to rehabilitate a criminal, another to rehabilitate someone who has been radicalized. The sentences so far for terrorism suspects just this past year range from 3 to 15 years.

Meaning these convicted terrorists will be back on the streets in a matter of years. She says the key in dealing with this issue is connecting these people back with their loved ones in the community. Here's what she said.


LYNCH: The problem of prison radicalization is certainly a serious one. I think the problem for every individual who's incarcerated for whatever crime is finding a pathway to a successful reintegration into society.

What we're trying to do is increase the number of ways in which they can find an off-ramp from that life. Some people don't go to prison for a terrorism offense but for a variety of reasons may join a gang.

We try and make programs available to those individuals that provide them a way to reconnect with their families, reconnect with their children, and more importantly, give them the skills to become productive members of society.


TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much for that report. Those excerpts of the interview, looking forward to seeing the whole thing.

Dangerous lead in the water, but it took Flint, Michigan, city officials over a year to actually admit it. Now the governor is finally calling in the National Guard. Is it too late?



TAPPER: In our National Lead today the city of Flint, Michigan, is at the center of one of the most outrageous, most offensive environmental disasters in recent history in this country.

For nearly 18 months, residents there did not understand why they were losing their hair, getting unexplainable rashes, even suffering from vision and memory loss. Many were suspicious of their water supply.

But they were told by authorities that the water they were drinking and showering in and washing their clothes and dishes with, it was perfectly safe. That was not true.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent, Sara Ganim. Sara, did government officials have any knowledge that the water was toxic?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, right here this EPA memo written in June said that lead levels were especially alarming in Flint and that government water testing was flawed. But still state officials allowed families to drink this water, allowed children to drink this water for months.


GANIM (voice-over): The National Guard arrives in Flint, Michigan, in urgent response to a problem that's been plaguing the city for nearly two years.

(on camera): Do you have any fresh water?


GANIM (voice-over): Residents started complaining immediately after the city switched its water source. Brown water came out of the tap and children developed rashes. The water is tainted with lead because it wasn't properly treated. And now allegations government officials were not only slow to react, but that they may have intentionally hidden the truth.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA, HURLEY CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: I think that is the biggest trauma that our community feels right now. They were told for 18 months to relax. You know, they've been lied to for 18 months.

GANIM: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician took it upon herself to start testing the blood lead levels in children in her community. She found the lead levels had doubled, even tripled in some cases. Even though the state insisted their tests showed the water was safe.

(on camera): Why do you think their information was flawed?

HANNA-ATTISHA: Their information wasn't flawed. They had the data. They had even looked at it back in July and they had seen these abnormal spikes.

GANIM (voice-over): What's more, one researcher claims the state altered data to make the water seem safer. Mark Edwards from Virginia Tech was the first to publicly identify high levels of lead in the water. He says the state not only tested the wrong homes, but also altered a report eliminating tests from two homes that would have shown toxic levels of lead.

MARC EDWARDS, PROFESSOR, VIRGINIA TECH: In essence, the state took an F grade for Flint water's report on lead and made it into an A grade.

GANIM: The state says the alterations were legitimate, but e-mails show state officials were aware of the lead testing data but wanted to stick by their claim that the water wasn't dangerous.

In prepping for a press conference one said, I would like to make a strong statement the lead blood levels seen are not out of the ordinary. Congressman Dan Kildee says he wants to see people fired.

REPRESENTATIVE DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: I'm really focusing on holding the people who made this decision accountable, not just to apologize --


GANIM: Governor Rick Snyder's office says they are waiting on a final report from a state appointed task force before they assign anymore blame. Last month, the State Department of Environmental Quality director stepped down over this issue, but evidence, Jake, continues to pile up as more documents are made public.

TAPPER: Just horrific. Sara Ganim, thank you so much.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @jaketapper. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, forced apology, U.S. sailors held overnight by Iran are freed, but not before one of them --