Return to Transcripts main page


Palin to Endorse Trump; Latest on Prisoners Released from Iran; El Chapo Current Prison Situation Examined; New Film Tells Inside Story Of CIA Contractors; CIA Disputes Claim Of Stand-Down Order In New Film; Black Stars Plan Boycott Over Nominations. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 19, 2016 - 16:30   ET


SARA GANIM, CNN: -- the Department of Health and Human services to come here to Flint tomorrow to deal with coordinating the response on the ground here, Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Sara Ganim, thank you so much.

He's escaped from prison twice. This time, guards say they're not taking any chances with El Chapo. The extraordinary measures being taken, including dogs tracking his scent -- that story next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

Just in case you weren't 100 percent sure -- and we weren't, but now we are -- we have word, official word from a source that the big endorsement that Donald Trump is expecting later today will be from former 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. That is right.

CNN is reporting that Sarah Palin will be endorsing Donald Trump later today in Iowa. We will have more on that story as it develops.


But, for now, let's turn to our world lead. We are hearing directly from the first American prisoner released by Iran. "I feel alive." Those are some of the first words we heard from Amir Hekmati. The former Marine and Arizona native was detained in Iran way back in August 2011, accused of espionage after he went to Iran to visit his family. He had been convicted of spying and sentenced to death.

But, thankfully, now he is on his way home. Another free man, "Washington Post" correspondent Jason Rezaian, he spent more than 500 days in Iranian captivity. This that you're looking at right now is the first video of Rezaian since his release. It was provided by "The Washington Post." It shows he and his wife in good spirits at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Let's go now to CNN international correspondent Phil Black in Landstuhl, Germany.

Phil, it's so rare that I'm able to come to you and you're able to report some good news. How did Amir Hekmati describe his time in the Iranian prison?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, when asked that question, he responded -- quote -- "It wasn't good," something of a stoic understatement, we're pretty sure.

He didn't want to talk too much about how just tough it was, although he did touch on what he said was the huge pressure he came under, describing it as often inhumane and unjust. He said he got through all of this through the support that he knew he was receiving, the efforts on the outside, the word he was receiving of the efforts in the U.S. to secure his freedom.

He was hearing about those efforts. So were the Iranians who were holding him. This is what he said about that. Take a listen.


AMIR HEKMATI, FREED PRISONER: Even the Iranian officials who were our captors essentially were amazed and had asked us, why is it that they're, you know, working so hard for you? And I just said, well, that's America. And they love their citizens.

And even the other Iranian prisoners were really moved, you know, by all the support.

I feel extremely lucky, alive for the first time in a long time, and very humbled at everybody's support, from the president, to Congress, to my fellow Marines, and especially my family, who have really gone through so much throughout this time.


BLACK: Jake, what else helped him, he said, was his Marine training. He got through it, he stayed strong because of the support of his fellow Marines, and because he didn't want to let them down, didn't want to let down the reputation of the Marine Corps.

Amir Hekmati is a man who is still very surprised to find himself standing here in Germany, so far away from Iran. He said up until recently, he believed, had accepted the fact that he'd be serving at least 10 years in an Iranian prison. When they came to him and told him to pack his bags, he said he didn't believe them. Now he's here and he says he feels reborn -- Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Black, thank you so much. So nice to be able to report a good news story.

Let's go to Mexico now, where we're learning of the extra security now in place to make sure the infamous Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman does not escape prison again. Remember, this is the guy who slipped through a hole in his shower stall last July and had a mile-long tunnel to freedom awaiting him. His hideout where he was nabbed earlier this month included an escape

route, concealed by a bedroom closet, and he nearly slipped away again.

CNN justice reporter Evan Perez joins me now.

Now, Evan, I don't want to be a skeptical soul, but El Chapo, he already had this huge tunnel awaiting him. What kind of steps are being taken to make sure this doesn't happen again?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, a Mexican official I spoke to today says that they're determined not to have Chapo Guzman get away again.

Here's a look at only some of the measures that are being taken at the Altiplano prison. This is according to the Mexican newspaper "El Universal." To make sure that he doesn't remain in one place for too long, Guzman is being transferred frequently among 30 high-security cells.

Now, this has been happening sometimes every few minutes or every few hours. Guard dogs have been trained with Guzman's scent and stationed outside his cell. And the area where he's being held is recorded on camera at all times. Right now, there are 400 and there are plans to increase that to about 1,000.

And motion sensors has also been installed to detect movement on the ground. This is security that will have to be in place, will have to continue being in place for some time, because now we know that there are efforts under way to have him extradited to the United States, Jake.

TAPPER: And it's not just El Chapo that prison officials are concerned about. They're also worried about individuals who might be coming to visit him.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly.

They're doing all kind of searches on anybody who comes there. They have a cordon of security well outside the prison just in case anybody tries to dig a tunnel again to try to get him out or anyone else. There's a bunch of other very serious criminals inside that prison.


TAPPER: I don't mean to be a jerk, but it seems like kind of -- some people had to have known...


TAPPER: ... in order for that prison to have -- that tunnel to have been built under the prison.

PEREZ: Oh, yes, absolutely. And a few of them have already been charged. So, we know that they do believe that.

TAPPER: I guess we will see what happens.

PEREZ: Exactly.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee boycotting the Oscars because all, all of the acting nominees are white. And now maybe the biggest Caucasian star on the planet is siding with them. We will tell you that story next.

Plus, the new movie that Hillary Clinton says she's been too busy campaigning to see, the fact and the fiction surrounding the film "13 Hours."


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

Our pop culture lead today, Benghazi on the big screen. The new film "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" opened nationwide this weekend and was a box office disappointment, coming in fourth with just $16.2 million in ticket sales, despite generally positive reviews from critics and audiences alike.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Benghazi is under attack.


TAPPER (voice-over): Despite so much press coverage, it's a story few Americans know completely. The tragic scenes that played out in Benghazi, Libya, 2012, left four Americans dead. The film "13 Hours" portrays version of events as told by the five surviving CIA contract operators who were there.

Though officials in the U.S. government and military dispute their accounts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That there was no military stand down order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did that in fact happen or did it not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An order to stand down was never given.

TAPPER: In the book and movie about heroes, racing to save lives -- the man who tells them to stand down is something of a villain.

But the actual CIA base chief in charge that night tells the "The Washington Post" that he never gave that order. Quote, "If there was any delay, it was a matter of minutes," he told "The Washington Post," declining to use his real name.

It took a good 15 to 17 minutes just to get ready. He asserts, we quote, "Went into collect mode to try to figure out what was happening to the ambassador."

But by the time forces arrived, about 30 minutes after they were first alerted, Ambassador Chris Stevens was missing, and one State Department staffer was dead.

The professional writer who collaborated with the security team on "13 Hours" says, quote, "The movie and book got it right." Adding that the base chief statements are, quote, "predictable but not credible."

The secretary of state, at the time, Hillary Clinton, is not mentioned in the movie.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Heavily armed militants assaulted the compound.

TAPPER: But Republicans regularly use the tragedy in Benghazi to go after Clinton's foreign policy credibility.

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them.

TAPPER: And now they are using the film. Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, even planned a screening of "13 Hours" for Iowa voters just before the caucuses and occasionally the criticism can get a bit extreme.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If anyone sees this movie, which everyone should see it, and then goes on to vote for Hillary Clinton, they're a criminal.

TAPPER: So will Clinton be watching?

(on camera): Are you planning to see it at all?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm just too busy campaigning.


TAPPER: Joining me now to talk about this all, former Army Ranger, Kris Paronto, one of the CIA contractors whose story is told in the film. He also co-wrote the book "13 Hours" on which the movie was based.

Chris, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. I'll get to the controversy in a second. But first, let me ask you, what's it like seeing your story told on the big screen? Is it weird?

KRIS PARONTO, FORMER U.S. ARMY RANGER: No. Jake, I should have played myself, to be honest. I'm kidding, it's a joke. No. No. No, it's not. It's a bit therapeutic, to be honest with you. The actors, give them credit, they did such a great job getting the guys.

When I see it, I see Benghazi, I feel Benghazi again, and, I see my buddies again. So it can be hard and very emotional, but it is therapeutic because it's finally out there. It really makes me happy that the story is on another medium.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about the CIA station chief who gave an interview denying that there was an order to stand down. The CIA, in addition, reaching out to reporters, noting that the House Intelligence Committee also concluded in their report, quote, "No officer at CIA was ever told to stand down." Why do you think there's a discrepancy with what you and other contractors said?

PARONTO: Sure. Well, I think because of deaths, first of all. Nobody wants to take a responsibility for deaths, if there's a possibility of a delay that caused the deaths, other than that, you know, I don't know.

We have said it on multiple occasions we were told to wait twice. We were told to stand down once. We have testified to that as well. I think it just turns into a he said/she said.

There's nothing else I can do about it, but just keep trying to tell people, hey, this is what happened, we're the guys there. There's no reason for us to not tell the truth. We have nothing to gain from it.

TAPPER: Is it surprising for you to see the CIA actively challenging it?

PARONTO: No, no, because it doesn't put them in a positive light. And that's just how it is. That's how the world works, brother. So, we're -- we know what happened. We're going to keep telling it like it is. We were told to stand down.

We were told to wait twice, delayed more than a half hour, which cost another half hour for us to actually try to fight our way on the compound and it cost lives. Actually, we'll keep testifying to that as well.

TAPPER: I asked, as you saw in the Piece, Former Secretary of State Clinton, if she was going to see the movie. She said she didn't have time because of the campaign. She also said she wanted to make sure that can do everything she can to prevent another Benghazi from ever happening. What did you make of her answer?

PARONTO: Well, I don't expect -- I honestly don't expect her to see it, and that's OK. I don't care if she sees it or not. It not a political movie. It shouldn't be. The right shouldn't be using that as a political movie as well.

[16:50:09]It's a movie about courage and heroism. As long as the American people see it, I'm happy. As far as it goes down, I don't want it to be turned into a political venue, it shouldn't be.

Benghazi got such a negative connotation now. It needs to be seen as a positive event, courageous action, honor, and integrity, faith in God, faith in your brothers were exemplified that night and that's what needs to be seen as now. It's a positive event, not a negative event.

TAPPER: Well, that's interesting. What do you make of the fact that Ted Cruz is citing the film in debates, Donald Trump is renting out theaters to show the movie, are you happy for that support? Does it bother you because it becomes politicized?

PARONTO: I'll be honest. No, I'm not, because they are politicizing it. That's the problem. That was why the reason we came forward. It was being used as ammunition from the right and use -- the left using it to saying it was a conspiracy theory.

We wanted to tell the truth, and that's the middle, that's the apolitical story of the courage that took place on the ground. No, I'm not happy with it.

Because now again we're turning Benghazi into political fodder, it's a political football. Guys on the ground, when we are fighting that night, bullets don't care if you're conservative or you're liberal. They don't care. You're going to die either way.

We want to show that we were there fighting. Didn't care if you're black, white, red, or yellow, fighting together, trying to get each other home and trying to save lives.

And, again, just showing that there's courage no matter what political side you're on or what faith you are or what ethnicity you are. It makes no difference. I'm not happy with that.

TAPPER: And so the bottom line, that's what you want people to take away from the film, that this story of heroism and sacrifice?

PARONTO: That's -- that was exemplified and especially because I saw Ty and Glenn get blown up in front of me. It stays with me forever. Politics won't help that. It should be inspirational film, not political film, which it's not. We wanted to make sure it wasn't that way as well with the book.

TAPPER: Kris, it's always great to have you on the show. Thanks so much. As always, thank you for your service.

PARONTO: God bless you, brother. Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you. Two big named celebrities are bashing the Academy Awards over the lack of diversity in the acting nominations. Now one megastar is siding with the boycott. Who is that? We'll tell you, next.



TAPPER: Welcome back. Today's Money Lead, if you're happy about cheap gas prices, airlines, they're over the moon. Delta says it saved $5.1 billion on fuel last year, thanks to plunging oil prices. On its way to annual profit of $4.5 billion in 2015.

Overall, 2015 now expected to be the best year for the industry in decades. I know what you're wondering now, will the airlines respond to this by passing the savings on to you with free checked bags or more comfortable seats or greater efficiency in booking and scheduling. The answer is no.

Also in Pop Culture today, a racial controversy hanging over Hollywood's biggest night. For the second year in a row the group that selects Academy Award nominees decided that no person of color was worthy of an Oscar nod in acting category.

Now the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African- American woman herself says that she is heartbroken at the lack of inclusion. Her comments after two a-list stars, film director, Spike Lee, and actress, Jada Pinkett-Smith announced that they will boycott next month's awards.

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Sidner in Los Angeles. Sara, Hollywood heavyweights and America's sweetheart, George Clooney, now jumping into the fray.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was asked by "Variety" magazine what he thought of this boycott, what he thought of the issues being brought up. He said, you know what, we're moving in the wrong direction.

But he talked a little bit more and deeper about this saying, you know, this isn't really just about the Oscars. This is about the industry as a whole and what it offers up in diversities sake, for black people, Latinos, Asians.

He said and I quote here from the article and he talked at length about this. He said, "Look, there should be 20, 30, or 40 films of the quality that people would consider for the Oscars."

By the way, we are talking about African-Americans here, for Hispanics, it's even worse. We need to get better at this. He did talk in length, he talked more about it saying we really need to do something.

This is an issue, an issue that brings up a lot of good points, African-Americans have good points, Latinos have good points we should not ignore this.

We should also look at how the Academy is made up. We're not talking about 10, 20 people that vote for the Oscars. We are talking about more than 6,000 people who are members of the Academy, all in the film industry.

But look at the makeup, according to "The Los Angeles Times," it did a survey and a study on what the makeup of the academy is. Look at this, 94 percent of the Academy is Caucasian, 77 percent is male.

The median age is very telling, 62 years old, only 2 percent black and less than 2 percent Latino. One of the reasons for this is that some of the folks that got into the industry very early on, they are lifetime members of the Academy.

So you see what was old school Hollywood still there, and voting for films now, which may explain some of this. Because you're Caucasian, because you're 62 doesn't mean you can't appreciate or vote for films that are more diverse.

We should make that statement very clear. But when people look at these numbers they say, maybe something is a bit awry -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Sarah, also I think illustrates that no matter what liberal and progressive values Hollywood espouses, they don't always necessarily practice what they preach. Sara Sidner, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. We actually read them, believe it or not.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to my friend and colleague, Wolf Blitzer, who is right next door in a place that I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Trump's big endorsement and a political stunner breaking tonight --