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Interview With North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory; Blizzard Warnings; Presidential Poll Numbers; CNN/ORC Poll: Trump Has 11-Point Lead in Iowa. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 21, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just a dusting paralyzed the nation's capital for hours last night, so what's going to happen when that massive blizzard hits tomorrow?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Brace yourselves, new blizzard warnings issued, a possible snowstorm of the century inching closer to the East Coast, 75 million people in its path who may not be able to dig themselves out for days. Are you one of them?

Donald Trump holding a rally in Las Vegas this hour, as some brand-new CNN polls debuting on THE LEAD have some very interesting news for the front-runner.

Plus, this is apparently what happens when you cross Vladimir Putin, new evidence showing the Russian president himself may have ordered the poisoning of one of his former spies.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's get right to our national lead, millions of people from the Carolinas to New England in the path of a monster and potentially historic blizzard, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Pennsylvania, all of them already have declared a state of emergency, and we are still a day away from seeing this storm system's first flakes.

Once the winter assault starts, it could be even uglier than snowpocalypse and snowmageddon in 2010, this time even more snow, whiteout conditions and wind gusts as strong as a tropical storm.

But officials around here today are apologizing for giving a lesson in how not to deal with winter weather. They did it by not dealing with winter weather. Barely a dusting last night in the D.C. area, yet untreated roads caused hundreds of crashes in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, massive backups and stranded drivers five, six, even nine hours in traffic.

Some ditched their cars altogether and walked home on the highway.

CNN is covering every angle of this story. CNN meteorologist Tom Sater is in our severe weather center. Rene

Marsh is tracking travel.

But we're going to start with Chris Frates in Washington, D.C., at the spot where they're loading up the trucks with salt.

Chris, the D.C. mayor today already apologizing and the big storm hasn't even hit yet. It must be asked, is the Northeast ready for this storm?

CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, officials up and down the East Coast spent the day outlining their preparations for the big storm, warning people to stay off the roads.

And here in D.C., the mayor apologized for not deploying enough resources to avoid last night's slip-and-slide gridlock, a mistake she vowed not to make again tomorrow.


MURIEL BOWSER (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: We are very sorry for inadequate response.

FRATES (voice-over): Washington, D.C.'s mayor under fire after just over an inch of snow Wednesday night crippled the area, making some wonder if the city is ready for the big blizzard headed its way.

BOWSER: We believe that we did not provide adequate resources at a time where it could make a difference in last evening's commute. We should have been out earlier with more resources.

FRATES: As the snow began to stick, untreated roads quickly turned to ice, leaving people stuck behind the wheel for hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was pretty rough driving home. And it took a while. It took him an hour to get four miles.

FRATES: Some drivers abandoned their cars to flee the weather. Pedestrians weren't spared from the hellish conditions either. President Obama's motorcade didn't fare much better, slipping and sliding on snow-glazed streets.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is a reminder of how much the president's going to miss having access to Marine One a year from now.

FRATES: Around the nation's capital, heaters, shovels and sleds were flying off the shelves. Grocery stores are being cleaned out as people begin to prepare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take action now and prepare before this severe weather strikes. Make sure you have food and supplies at home, not just to last for the weekend but enough to last up to an entire week.

FRATES: Cities up and down the East Coast are scrambling piling up salt and positioning plows to prepare for what some are calling a storm of historic proportions. Governors were declaring states of emergency to free up more resources, Virginia and North Carolina deploying the National Guard.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I have activated the state emergency operations center. We have declared a state of emergency, allowing me to deploy essential assets for storm response.

FRATES: New York City isn't taking any chances, issuing a hazardous travel advisory for the city, while, back in the nation's capital, many are hoping that the big snow show goes better than the rehearsal.


FRATES: Officials in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia have all declared a state of emergency to qualify for federal help, including the National Guard.


And here in D.C., the city government will be closing early. The schools will be closed all day. And that's in part to keep cars off the road, so that the salt trucks can start treating those roads and avoiding a repeat of the disaster we saw last night -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Chris Frates, thanks so much.


TAPPER: The approaching storm has the potential, as you just heard, to bring the East Coast Corridor to basically a standstill and then have a ripple effect across the United States.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh joins me now live from Reagan National Airport.

Rene, airlines are trying to get ahead of the mess before it starts.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Not only airlines, but passengers also trying to get ahead of this storm.

I can tell you I see some long lines here both at the ticket counter, as well as security checkpoint, as passengers are trying to beat this storm. This storm could potentially shut down operations, airport operations at airports in major cities.

Of course, in the crosshairs of this massive storm is Reagan National Airport, where I am today. At this hour, we already see that airlines are starting to pre-cancel in advance of this storm. They're canceling Friday and Saturday flights. They're also allowing passengers to change their flight plans without a charge.

And, lastly, again, they're stressing that people should find alternate plans, because, again, those airport operations could shut down at airports like Reagan National.

We have spoke with passengers, but, more importantly, spoke with the airport spokesperson about how they're preparing for what will be a record-breaking storm.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that it could be, you know, disastrous for a lot of people trying to get out of town. I know if you look at the lines, I'm not the only one who is trying to get out a little bit early.

MARSH: What's happening behind the scenes at an airport like this one?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, right now, we're preparing for the winter storm. We're checking our chemical levels, our equipment, and also calling in our snow removal teams, so that we're prepared to clear the runways and roadways.


MARSH: OK. So the key question right now is, if you are flying, you know, what does this mean for my flight?

Right now, I can tell you we are still seeing flights leaving. They're also landing at airports. So, today isn't really the problem. If you have a flight first thing in the morning, you may be OK. Any time after that, that's where you're going to see the problems.

So, they're really stressing that you take advantage of those free waivers to change those flight reservations, Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thanks so much.

Joining me now from Raleigh is the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory.


Governor, thanks so much for being here.

You have declared a state of emergency in North Carolina. You could see as much as 18 inches in parts of your state. What are you most concerned about with this storm?

MCCRORY: Well, first of all, winter has finally arrived. And we're not even used to the cold weather yet, because we have had such a warm December and January.

But we're of course concerned about the very treacherous conditions on our roads, especially where we anticipate ice. In fact, the conditions where the ice vs. the snow will come is probably our most worrisome areas in the Raleigh, Greensboro, and possibly Charlotte areas, you know, three major metropolitan areas in the Southeastern part of the United States.

And we're very worried about the road conditions. And we're also very worried about downed power lines and power outages, especially during such cold weather. And that's just going to be especially true up the mountain areas. You know, we're talking about over 400-mile -- 400- mile area of North Carolina.

People don't realize how wide or long North Carolina is. So this is going all the way from the tip of the mountains to the Tennessee border, all the way down to the middle part of Eastern North Carolina. And so it's going to be a very, very hard hit.

And we're trying to deploy our resources as best we can, kind of guessing where the worst conditions will be.

TAPPER: And, Governor, in addition to the road conditions and the power lines, coastal flooding is an issue in North Carolina.

MCCRORY: Yes, it has been in the past.

We're not sure what the coastal conditions are going to be at this point in time. You know, it's just a guess. A lot of it's going to be based upon what the high tide and low tide situations will be. And then, of course, up in the mountains, in a completely different part of the state, we're going to be very, very concerned about some of the terrain as far as vehicle.

We had two fatalities last night in the mountains, which, really, I feel for the families that are dealing with those fatalities due to slick roads and the cars going off the road completely and, sadly, killing the drivers.

TAPPER: Yes, it's tragic. Governor, in the short time we have left, people who are in North Carolina or the area in the path of the storm watching, what are you telling them?

MCCRORY: Don't go on the roads tomorrow if you don't need to. In fact, just stay home, enjoy the sports on TV and get some rest from work. Most likely, later on this afternoon, I'm going to probably not have any state employees come to work, except for essential state employees.

And I would probably encourage the private sector to do the same thing, especially in those areas where we anticipate very, very large snowfall and also very treacherous ice conditions.

TAPPER: All right. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, thanks so much. Good luck.

MCCRORY: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our world lead.

The U.S. Marine whom Iranians held prisoner for four-and-a-half years has finally returned home. Seconds ago, Amir Hekmati plane touched down in Michigan.

Some of his family on the tarmac to meet him to wrap their arms around him, they're inside the plane with him right now. We can only imagine how happy his family is that he's finally back home. Iranians arrested Hekmati in 2011 while he was visiting his ailing grandmother in Iran. And then they accused him of spying and sentenced him to death in 2012.

He sat in a prison until last weekend, awaiting another trial, when U.S. negotiators finally secured his release. And there he is right now, Amir Hekmati, 32-year-old former Marine, on the tarmac in Flint, Michigan.

After months and months of secret negotiations, he was freed. He said being freed was -- quote -- "like being born again."

Let's listen in while he talks to reporters.

AMIR HEKMATI, FREED PRISONER: It's been a very long road, a very long journey.

Unfortunately, many people have traveled this road with me. But despite all the difficulties, thank God, thank everyone for the support, everybody from the president, Congressman Kildee, everyday Americans.

I'm standing here healthy, tall and with my head held high. So I'm glad to be here. And I appreciate everyone's support once again.


QUESTION: What now? What will you do now that you're home?

QUESTION: How does it feel?

TAPPER: A wonderful sight, live pictures of U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati released from Iran after three-and-a-half years in captivity for what are widely regarded as trumped-up charges of espionage. We're so glad he's home.

In our politics lead today, with only 11 days until the Iowa caucuses, we have the results of a brand-new CNN poll just released. Who's on top for the Republicans? Who's on top for the Democrats? Those numbers coming up next.


[16:19:13] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have breaking news in our politics lead. It all comes down to turnout. Now, there's probably no more overused cliche in politics than that one, and yet our brand new CNN/ORC poll releasing right now on THE LEAD show a fascinating dynamic in Iowa and it's related to that cliche, only heightening the suspense over who might win the first big presidential contest just 11 days from now.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins me now to break down the numbers.

Dana, really interesting poll.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Really interesting because the headline is, if Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side can turn out new voters to the caucuses like they're hoping to, they're in strong position to win.

Let's just start in the Republican side, see there, when you look at Donald Trump, he has an eye popping 11-point lead, 37 to 26 among voters who call themselves likely Republican caucus-goers.

[16:20:06] But if you look at the next screen, people who caucused four years ago, it's a dead heat. Ted Cruz with a slight lead, 30 percent to 28 percent for Donald Trump. It's really a statistical tie.

On the Democratic side, the same dynamic. Among Democratic voters who say they're likely to caucus, Bernie Sanders has a significant lead in our new poll 51 percent to Hillary Clinton's 43 percent. But then again among those who caucused in 2008 the last time there was a Democratic contest there Clinton is the one with the big lead, 55 percent to 38 percent.

So, as you said at the beginning, it does tell us that this old cliche is true, that if Trump and Sanders can get out these new voters to the caucuses, it's a game changer.

TAPPER: The governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, who doesn't want Cruz to win, says Cruz has the best ground game. Does Trump have a strong ground operation in Iowa?

BASH: We don't know. The Trump campaign says that they have a very strong ground game. They have an Iowan who is leading it, who's very talented, Chuck Laudner. He led Rick Santorum to victory four years ago. But the Trump campaign keeping their operation very close to the vest.

The Cruz campaign has a very robust, overt, aggressive operation. They've rented an apartment complex called Camp Cruz and has hundreds of Texans living there. And they have, Jake, what they call a Cruz strike force, about 800 people going door-to-door.

TAPPER: When you look at the issue breakdown in the cross tabs, in the poll, is there anything interesting there? Does Trump do better than Cruz in any issue or vice versa?

BASH: On most issues Trump does better. If you take a look at it, he's leading on the economy, illegal immigration, foreign policy. But it is Cruz who has an edge as candidate who can best handle social issues which in a state like Iowa could matter more than other places.

Now, let's look on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is besting Hillary Clinton big time on economic issues, including helping the middle class. And, Jake, Democratic voters say the economy by far is their number one issue.

TAPPER: Fascinating. Thanks so much, Dana Bash. Appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you. TAPPER: So, how does Ted Cruz hope to turn those Iowa numbers into a win? Well, in the past few days, his plans haven't mattered much because an energetic Donald Trump has seized the narrative answering each of Cruz's attempts at criticism with a swift counterpunch.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is in Las Vegas covering Donald Trump right now.

Sara, what's the latest in the Trump/Cruz feud?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the latest feud has been Ted Cruz trying to paint Donald Trump as the establishment candidate, and Donald Trump is just behind me speaking. And he is unloading on Ted Cruz today.

He said you need to be a little bit establishment to get things done. Trump saying you can't be so strident, promising that he would be a deal-maker, and taking a swipe at Ted Cruz saying not even senators serving with him like him.

He unveiled a couple new attack lines against Cruz too saying he's had his moment. He's going down the toilet and saying that Cruz is a good debater, but he can't even talk.

TAPPER: All right. Let's take a listen to Donald Trump as he goes off.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They'd be OK. The enemy has him. They shot up in the air and our so-called allies that we don't even know who the hell they are, where they come from, they run and they get brand new armor-plated the best in the world, bombs go off, they go up, they come down and they're fine. OK?

With us, we have to stop, the bomb goes off, the whole thing blows up and everybody is either killed or badly hurt because we're led by stupid people.


We're led by people that shouldn't be there. We're going to change it. That's why the polls are like that. The polls aren't about me. It's about you.

You know, I used to say -- I tell you what I can think of other things I would rather be doing. I have a night life, I have this great company. I built this incredible company. I have a wonderful family.

In fact, speaking of my family, Eric and Don, get up here. My two sons here. Get up here.

TAPPER: All right. Donald Trump in Las Vegas.

Thanks to Sara Murray, appreciate it.

So, what will Donald Trump do to improve on those eye-popping poll numbers? We're going to ask his campaign manager next. The e-mails about the poisoned water Michigan officials probably don't

want the world to see. So, do they tell the story of who knew when the drinking water was toxic? We'll talk about that too.

Stay with us.


[16:28:24] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

A brand new CNN/ORC poll shows Donald Trump has a healthy lead with Iowa's Republican voters, but the story gets a bit more complicated when you single out the voters who actually bothered to show up for the last caucus in 2012.

Joining me now, Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Corey, thanks so much for joining us.

As you just saw Mr. Trump's lead in Iowa is substantial over Cruz and the others, but if you only look at voters who have caucused before, it's a neck and neck race.

How are you going to get your voters who didn't bother to caucus last time to do so this time?


I think what you'll see here in Iowa and you'll see it across the country is people have been so disenfranchised with politicians who are all talk, no action, that they've stepped away from the process. What we've seen now with Mr. Trump is that he's energized these people, not just in Iowa but across the country. We saw it yesterday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where 15,000 people came out in the middle of the day to listen to his vision, to make America great again. We see it here in Iowa with these record-setting crowds.

These people are so invigorated. They're so excited. They wait in line for hours in the freezing cold to get inside to listen to his message that I'm very confident those people who show up on caucus night for 30 minutes to cast their vote for Mr. Trump I think that's going to happen. I think anybody who doesn't think that is probably missing what's really going on here in Iowa.

TAPPER: Well, it might happen. I don't know. But as you know better than I do, the caucus process, it's very difficult, it's very involved. It's not just a matter of going and voting.

Are you going to have buses to get people out in bad weather? Have you trained your supporters in public speaking?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, you know, again, it's a misconception. It's really not that difficult to go and caucus. You have to be at a certain location at a specific time, you listen to people make some speeches, and you can write the name Trump on a piece of paper. It's a secret ballot, you write the name down, and you're all done.