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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Senate Majority Leader Says senate Will Not Hold Confirmation Hearings For Any Nominee Submitted By President Obama; GOP Vows To Fight Plan To Shutter Guantanamo; Hayden Discusses Intel Failure Before Iraq Invasion. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 23, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:39] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Big news in the battle to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died 10 days ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell flat out saying today that the Republican-controlled Senate will not hold confirmation hearings for any nominee submitted by President Obama, McConnell also telling CNN that Republican leaders will not even meet with any nominee who tries to make courtesy calls to Capitol Hill.

This move is apparently unprecedented. The Senate historian reports that no Supreme Court nominee has ever been denied a confirmation hearing, unless he or she has voluntarily withdrawn from consideration.

The White House, meanwhile, insisting that President Obama will select a nominee and submit his or her name to the U.S. Senate.

Back now to our politics lead, polls in Nevada giving Donald Trump a commanding lead in tonight's GOP caucuses, so the real battle may be for second place.

Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates take the stage for CNN's town hall tonight ahead of Saturday's big South Carolina primary.

Joining me now to talk about it all, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, political contributor Van Jones, and Amanda Carpenter, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz.

So, Van, Hillary Clinton has a lot of momentum heading into South Carolina, particularly with African-American voters, although Bernie Sanders got this endorsement from Spike Lee. Do you think that this endorsement will actually ultimately mean anything with the voters of South Carolina?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, it's hard to know if it will. She had -- he had to do something.

He is just getting outboxed, outfoxed, outclassed, and outmaneuvered in the black community. And it's a shame to see. He does have an argument to make to the black community. His problem right now is he's kind of a one-note guy on it. It's sort of criminal justice, criminal justice. Once she brought out Morgan Freeman, he had to bring out somebody, so

he brought out Spike Lee. He's got Harry Belafonte, I'm sure, lined up. But what he needs to do is start talking about jobs and other issues in the black community.

TAPPER: And, Dana, do you think an endorsement from a guy like Spike Lee, however popular he might be, can actually move the needle at all? He's really getting clobbered with black voters.

(CROSSTALK)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Unclear.

I think it won't hurt, especially given that -- the kind of message that he's got out there. But I do think it's a little bit unusual that he's -- he, Bernie Sanders, is having the kind of challenge he's having that you just pointed out on economic issues, when that's his whole message.

And so I wouldn't think it would be that difficult to translate the message that so resonates with young people especially to the black community, because there aren't that many differences in what he's saying you need to do to help people.

TAPPER: What were you going to say?

JONES: He is getting defined. Basically, Hillary Clinton's got a little bit of Trump going on, like basically she's...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: She's branding him.

JONES: She's branding him. You're single issue, you're anti-Obama. You're single issue, you're anti-Obama.

And he says, Wall Street, Wall Street, criminal -- criminal justice. And so I think that what he should be saying is, you love Obama, you want to defend his gains. I love Obama, I want to extend his gains, and get that anti-Obama off the table and get back on offense and brand himself with regards to the president.

TAPPER: Amanda, let's turn to the Republicans.

Dr. Ben Carson making some headlines today in an interview he did with a Politico podcast, Glenn Thrush's podcast, saying that Obama was -- quote -- "raised white."

He was asked about it on CNN just in the last hour. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think anybody would deny that someone who is raised in Hawaii by his white grandparents, and then spent formative years in Indonesia with his white mother, does not have the typical black experience. I said I was proud of the fact that the color barrier had been broken.

But there's a difference in breaking the color barrier in somebody who's had the typical experience vs. somebody who has not.

And for you and the rest of the media to try to pretend like, just because your skin is the same color, it means you have all grown up in the same way doesn't make any sense. I'm pointing that fact out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's an interesting conversation. Certainly, Dr. Carson has every right to say that he wants. He knows much more about the black experience than I do.

Why is he talking about this? He's still a presidential candidate.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have absolutely no idea.

But he's never been a disciplined presidential candidate. He's never been able to keep and control a messages that is actually productive. And this is actually negative for the entire field at this point because people are going to have to answer. Did you see Ben Carson's comments? What do you think about that? Do you agree with him?

Let alone the fact that it's just so dangerous to try to define someone else's experience through the lens of color. Ben Carson needs to drop out. Ben Carson needs to drop out. He's not only damaging himself. He is potentially damaging the field. Maybe other people will see that and pressure him to do so.

[16:35:06]

TAPPER: What do you think, Dana? Obviously, you're not going to take a position on whether or not he should drop out, but are you hearing a lot of calls for him and even Governor Kasich to drop out?

BASH: Yes. There are more calls from people like Amanda, but it's a much more dangerous prospect for that to happen from within the campaigns.

We saw that that was sort of the beginning of the narrative on the Cruz campaign, suggesting that he wants Ben Carson to drop out. But there's no question that there is a very, very strong feeling among the anyone but Trump Republican caucus, which is pretty large, especially here in Washington, that they need to start consolidating and doing it fast.

But Ben Carson doesn't seem to care very much. And, more importantly, John Kasich doesn't seem to...

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: I blame Donald Trump. I do.

First of all, that is just a brain-dead comment from a brain surgeon to say something like this. African-Americans have all kind of experiences and parentage. Alicia Keys, you can go through -- Barack Obama -- you can go through all kind of folks who have white parents. It's completely brain-dead.

But Ben Carson has learned in order to get media attention, you have to say something completely insane. He learned that from Donald Trump. This is an insane comment. He got attention. Congratulations. But he needs to move on.

TAPPER: Speaking of Donald Trump, take a look at this tweet from Donald Trump.

He says: "Ted Cruz does not have the right temperament to be president. Look at the way he totally panicked in firing his director of communications. Bad."

Amanda, bad.

CARPENTER: Well, Trump says another bad thing about Ted Cruz,

Surprise. This whole thing, I'm kind of amazed that Donald Trump was so upset, you know, that Rick Tyler had passed on this false story, which he apologized for and he's suffering the consequences for. Donald Trump has passed on more questionable things on the Internet than I think any staffer or presidential candidate combined has ever done.

So, if he's outraged about it, maybe he should just fire himself.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Dana Bash, Van Jones, Amanda Carpenter, thank you. Thank you so much.

President Obama following through on a promise he made over seven years ago to close Guantanamo. And here comes the backlash. That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:20]

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

In our national lead today, President Obama made a campaign promise to close the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After taking office, however, he met a wall of opposition from Republicans and Democrats when it came to bringing those detainees to the United States.

Today, President Obama tried again, proposing a way to close the detainee center.

Let's bring in Michelle Kosinski at the White House.

Michelle, what is the president's plan? Where would the remaining 91 detainees go?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jake. Right.

There are 91 now; 35 of those have already been approved for transfer to other countries. The White House is assuming that will go forward as planned. And then the remainder, 50 to 60 of them, the president would like to see them put in federal prisons or supermax prisons here in the United States.

We know that the Department of Defense looked at a number of them, Leavenworth in Kansas, the supermax in Colorado. There's one in South Carolina. Interestingly, in the president's plan, they listed that there were 13 possibilities, but they didn't name any of them, even though that's what Congress asked them to do, for a detailed plan naming potential sites. And the fact they didn't name any just drew more criticism for the White House today, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Michelle, talk about bad timing for President Obama. A former Gitmo detainee who was released under the previous president was just arrested in an anti-terrorism raid in Spain today.

KOSINSKI: Yes, interesting timing, right? This is a man arrested in a Spanish enclave in North Africa, just right across from Spain, along with some other suspects. He was described as a leader who has been trained in weapons and explosives.

Now, the White House says that he was -- OK, we know that he was at Gitmo in 2002. He was released in 2004. The White House's response to this is, they say they're aware of the threat, they're mindful of such threats of recidivism, but they say most recently under Obama they have been able to reduce the recidivism rate to single digits.

So, they say the situation is much safer now. It's much less likely for people who are released to return to the battlefield -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Michelle, what's been the reaction from the campaign trail?

KOSINSKI: Well, as you can imagine, there's been lots of it. I mean, you have John Kasich saying that these are the worst of the worst now who are still at Gitmo, don't bring them back to the U.S.

You had Marco Rubio saying, we're not going to give Gitmo back to the Cubans, even though the president never proposed that. That is not part of the White House's plan. And then, of course, you have something from Donald Trump

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which, by the way, which, by the way, we are keeping open, which we are keeping open.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And we're going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me. We're going to load it up.

I heard this, but I didn't understand it. We spend $40 million a month on maintaining this place. Think of it, $40 million a month. I would guarantee you that I could do it for a tiny, tiny -- I don't mean like 39. I mean, maybe 5, maybe 3, maybe like peanuts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: He didn't propose that the Cubans pay for it.

But in another colorful moment, we had Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas -- and, remember, one of the possible sites is in Kansas -- he put out a video online showing him throwing the Obama plan for Gitmo in the trash.

Now, we haven't seen any responses in support from Republicans, but Senator Sanders put out this tweet, saying: "Guantanamo has damaged our moral standing, undermined our foreign policy. I'm glad to see a plan to shut it down."

[16:45:00] It's worth noting, Jake, that in the most recent polls Americans themselves are pretty split on whether Gitmo should stay open or closed, just over half say keep it open -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much. One of President Obama's arguments for shutting down Gitmo for good, it's a breeding ground for future terrorists. Is it? We'll ask General Michael Hayden who headed the CIA and the NSA next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. President Obama's plan to permanently shut down Guantanamo bay landed with a thud on Capitol Hill today. So how far should our national security agencies go to ensure the safety and security of the American people while also upholding our values and protecting human rights?

To discuss the president's plan for Gitmo and much more, let's bring in General Michael Hayden, the former CIA and NSA director. He is also the author of the brand new book "Playing to the Edge, American Intelligence in the Age of Terror."

General, thanks so much for being here. Welcome back to the show.

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA AND NSA DIRECTOR: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: So today, President Obama delivered his plan to Congress to close the Gitmo detention facility. He said, quote, "The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it." Do you agree?

[16:50:13]HAYDEN: Not totally. I really don't. One of the things the president specifically mentioned was it was a recruiting magnet for Jihadist. And frankly, Jake, if that were true in the past -- that may actually be debatable -- I don't think it's very relevant now at the present with regard to ISIS and al Qaeda. I think there are some political issues that it raises with our allies, but I don't think it's a recruitment magnet that the president pointed out. Since we are operating under and artificial time line before the administration is over, we need to be very careful about who we push out the door here.

The recidivism rate here is not zero. In fact, under some calculations it's about 30 percent. Now, Jake, having said all of that, we were trying to reduce the prisoner population at Guantanamo in the Bush administration, too, and we've actually pushed more people out the door than President Obama has. So, it's a bit of a mixed bag.

TAPPER: In fact, one of the individuals pushed out of the door in 2004, was arrested today in a terrorism raid in Spain.

HAYDEN: Yes. No, this is -- this dangerous work. As I said recidivism is a problem. Beyond that, Jake, if you get beyond that, those are serious issues, you now bring some of these to the United States.

Number one, I hope we don't do this by executive fiat and create a constitutional crisis. There's a security concern about bringing folks here but, frankly, I'm less concerned about that than some other issues.

We know how to keep people in prison, local communities might be concern, but we've got good prisons. More than that, though, Jake, I'm concerned about some legal ramifications.

What are the intended or especially unintended consequences of bringing these folks from Cuba and putting them on American soil? What will happen in the American judicial process after that takes place?

TAPPER: You and I have had some spirited discussions about various interrogation techniques one that many human right groups consider to be torture. I'd really like to hear your response to Republican presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump, who said the following just a few days ago in South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Torture, you know, have these guys -- torture doesn't work. Believe me, it works, OK? Waterboarding your minor form some say it's not torture. Let's assume it is. But they asked me, what do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine but we should go stronger, that's the way I feel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your response, sir?

HAYDEN: Yes. He actually goes on to say that we ought to do it because they deserve it. We didn't do any of this, Jake, because anyone deserved it. This was not about punishment for past actions. These were admittedly, as you and I have discussed, very controversial techniques, but our objective here always, Jake, was forward looking, not backward looking. This was about preventing future harm, not punishing past harm.

And, by the way, Jake, I'm on public record saying, given what's happened to CA officers who did this in good faith and all of this shoved out of the door, any future president, including a President Trump, if he wants somebody water boarded, he better bring his own bucket.

TAPPER: Let's talk about your new book "Playing to the Edge, American Intelligence in the Age of Terror." You write about your tenure in the NSA after 9/11. How has the role of technology changed in surveillance since then?

HAYDEN: Yes. We actually sensed it pre-9/11 and it's actually really interesting, Jake, and I tried to put this into the book. A lot of things that the Edward Snowdens of the world and similar folks talk about, we actually had under way pre-9/11.

They weren't just a response to terrorism. They were a response to the global telecommunications revolution. I'll pick one, Jake, no civil libertarian raised a finger as I point out in the book when we are intercepting Soviet microwave communications out to the fields.

The 21st Century equivalent of that are terrorist, proliferator communications coexisting with yours and mine in e-mails on integrated global telecommunication structure.

So if you want NSA to do for you in the 21st Century what we did in the 20th we've got to be on those networks and, hence, Jake, all of the controversy.

TAPPER: You're the only person that had both NSA and CIA, in your book, you explained how playing to the edge was your guiding principle when you ran both agencies, explain what that means playing to the edge.

HAYDEN: Sure. Look, first of all, Jake, the thing to emphasize is and I do this in the book, there are edges, there are boundaries, there are lines, that once the American political process has determined those lines when the nation is under threat, people who are in the kinds of jobs I had have to use the entire field.

[16:55:04]We have to play to the edge. If I play back from the sidelines, Jake, I may spare myself some tough congressional hearings or tough public criticism later on. But that's protecting me.

That's not protecting America. So my moral and professional responsibility was to use the full authorities I had when the situation warranted it.

TAPPER: The book is Playing to the Edge, American Intelligence in the Age of Terror." General Hayden, thanks so much.

HAYDEN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back. Stay with CNN for all of this week's big political events. Tonight, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders taking questions from South Carolina voters in CNN's Democratic Town Hall moderated by Chris Cuomo. That begins at 8:00 Eastern.

Then at 10:00, Anderson Cooper, Dana Bash and I have coverage of the Nevada Republican caucuses. On Thursday night, it's the CNN GOP presidential debate in Houston. That will be moderated by Wolf Blitzer beginning at 8:30 Eastern.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Brianna Keilar. She's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."