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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Intense Manhunt for Metro, Airport Suspects; Interview with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson; Cruz: Trump is a "Sniveling Coward"; Trump Retweets Unflattering Image Of Cruz's Wife; Tracker: $67 Million Spent In Attack Ads Versus Trump; Desperate Search For Missing Americans In Brussels. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 24, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:28] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

We are following major developments out of Brussels. A desperate search right now for a second possible subway station attacker, this as the manhunt for the third unidentified airport suspect intensifies. Belgian interior and justice ministers are offering to step down over the massive intelligence failure, but the lingering question, how big is this cell and how many more potential terrorist are out there?

Let's get right to CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Brussels.

Fred, at this point what more do we know about the second attacker at the metro station?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, we know that several people in that metro station appear to have seen this person. Now, it's interesting because, of course, the Belgian authorities have since gotten that sketch together which seems to show at least what this man sort of looked like.

And the information that we've been getting is that he was apparently in that metro station before the explosion went off. He was seen carrying something like a backpack or something like a large bag. There was at least one person who later said that he seemed to have left that metro station without the bag afterwards.

Now, the interesting thing is that the Belgian authorities say they're looking for this man. However, they still say they're not sure whether or not he may not also have been killed in the attack. So, at this point in time, that's unclear.

Of course this is on top of the men that they're still searching who they have on that surveillance footage from inside the airport, that other man who was with the two others who killed themselves in the suicide attacks. And you're absolutely right, they're also still searching to see how big the wider network could be.

One of the things that we've heard in this ongoing investigation is that the French said, look, after the Paris attacks, we were amazed to see how many people were actually involved in this. So, the Belgians at this point in time really checking to see how big this network is and how many people could possibly still be out there, Pamela.

BROWN: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much.

And joining me now, Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us today. We know that you were recently briefed. And something that is a big concern from counterterrorism officials I've been speaking with is that there's other plots that are in the works right now in Europe from people possibly connected to the cell in Brussels as well as Paris. What are you learning about the possibility of other plots?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, in the United States there's no specific credible threat of any plots connected to this thing, but of course that's what we're all going to be guarding against.

What we do know in terms of Europe is there have been literally thousands of foreign fighters that have gone from different European countries into Syria and are now coming back in. We also know that a number of these have been identified as coming back into Europe through the refugee flow. So, that's a threat we have to take very seriously.

Other than that, I think we also understand that Europe is pretty well-overwhelmed by having tracked down as many leads as they might potentially have here and we're also seeing the lack of assimilation within these Muslim communities in France, certainly in Brussels is a real problem in terms of trying to penetrate and get the kind of intelligence that we really need to prevent these plots.

BROWN: But there's also the question of those that we can't keep track of because of encryption and so forth. In the United States, you say there's no specific credible threat. But what about the vulnerability of our mass transit system here in the U.S.?

It seems enormous. It's an easy target for terrorists.

[16:35:01] What more needs to be done to protect Americans here at home?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, you are identifying I think one of the more troubling aspects of just what happened in Brussels. These are very soft targets. These were outside the security perimeter, and so, what you're seeing is Islamic State, the Islamic terrorists are starting to hit those soft targets that are almost impossible to defend against.

From my own standpoint, I really am encouraging DHS to dramatically increase the use of canine units. We had a hearing on the dogs and DHS a couple of weeks ago. There is no technology that beats the nose of a dog. So, they are very effective. They're expensive, but when you take a

look at the cost of just economic damages from even one terrorist attack much less a number of organized attacks, let's not be penny wise and pound foolish, so we really need layered defenses. But I can't stress enough, we need the human intelligence, that effective intelligence gathering capability. This administration's policies have gone a long way toward limiting what human intelligence we can gather because we're not capturing, we're not detaining, we're not questioning Islamic terrorists over a long time.

BROWN: So, what is it when you look at the threat landscape, look at what's happening in Europe -- for you, what keeps you up at night?

JOHNSON: Well, a number of things, which I really don't want to detail on national television.

But let's face it, these threats are real, they are growing. I think it really is the inspiration that is, that caliphate is going to provide to homegrown terrorists is probably the number one threat.

But we also have to be concerned of our completely unsecured border. Potentially Islamic terrorist operatives moving through Africa into South and Central America and coming up through our porous border. These threats are real. And what we have to do is we have to achieve what President Obama laid out as our goal 18 months ago.

September 2014 where President Obama said we have to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS. We have to defeat them. We can't just keep nibbling around the edges, we can't do this in a half-hearted manner. We have to be completely committed to it. We have to assemble a coalition of the willing which ought to be a little more willing now.

We have to lead. America has not made the commitment to lead that coalition to, first of all, defeat ISIS and have a concerted long-term effort to identify through intelligence gathering where these Islamic terrorists are, find them and destroy them.

BROWN: Senator Ron Johnson, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Have a good day.

BROWN: It's the retweet that set Ted Cruz off. Donald Trump threatening to, quote, "spill the beans" on Ted Cruz's wife and then later retweeting an unflattering picture of her. Well, now, Ted Cruz is tearing into Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not easy to tick me off. I don't get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time. Donald, you're a sniveling coward and leave Heidi the hell alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:41:58] BROWN: Our politics lead now, Ted Cruz says Donald Trump is going deeper and deeper into the gutter, by now making his wife Heidi a target on Twitter.

Sara Murray is here with me in Washington.

So, Sara, Ted Cruz apparently had enough of Trump talking about his wife and threw some punches today.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It was pretty amazing, Pam. Ted Cruz was pretty angry about this. He was talking about how he was going to explain this to his children and he said it, families are off limits in this race. But apparently Donald Trump does not agree.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump doesn't shy away from controversy.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But you know, lyin' Ted, we call him lyin' Ted.

MURRAY: Now, he's taking his attacks against Ted Cruz a step further, retweeting a split screen image of Cruz's wife Heidi and his wife Melania, with the caption, "The images are worth a thousand words."

Trump's swipe at Heidi Cruz's looks sparking a sharp rebuke from her husband.

CRUZ: It's not easy to tick me off. I don't get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time. Donald, you're a sniveling coward and leave Heidi the hell alone.

MURRAY: The latest in Trump's tweeting war, even eliciting an incredulous response from FOX News anchor and regular Trump target Megyn Kelly who wrote, "Seriously?" Trump's insult comes after he threatened on Twitter to spill the beans about Cruz's wife, after an old modeling photo of Melania Trump posing nude appeared in a Facebook ad, even though the ad came from an anti-Trump super PAC and not the Cruz campaign.

Today, Cruz accusing Trump of having a problem with strong women.

CRUZ: Real men don't try to bully women. That's not an action of strength. That's an action of weakness. It's an action of fear. It's an action of a small an petty man, who is intimidated by strong women.

MURRAY: While Trump is continuing to hammer Cruz over social media, releasing this video slamming the Texas senator's recent spate of endorsements.

CARLY FIORINA (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz says whatever he needs to say to get elected.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz is not my favorite by any means.

MURRAY: Cruz is warning a Trump nominee could cost the election.

CRUZ: Donald Trump is a train wreck and he hands the election to Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is a gift wrapped in a pink little bow.

MURRAY: With the primary battles still brewing, new CNN/ORC numbers show Trump faces a steep fight in the general. Fifty-six percent of voters predicted Hillary Clinton would win in a head-to-head battle with Trump, while 42 percent believe the billionaire businessman would come out on top.

While the two are nearly even on who would be the strongest leader, Clinton trounces Trump on her ability to relate to middle class problems and handle the responsibilities of commander in chief.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

MURRAY: A strength Clinton is aiming to highlight in the wake of the terror attacks in Brussels.

CLINTON: Cannot allow our nation to be pitting groups of people against one another. We cannot give in to panic and fear.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:30:00] MURRAY: Now, in terms of this Trump controversy today, I've asked his campaign repeatedly whether they think that these kinds of attacks on Heidi Cruz's looks are appropriate, whether they believe that families should in fact be off limits and, you know, to respond to Cruz's claim that Donald Trump has a problem with strong women. And so far, the campaign has not gotten back to me, Pam.

BROWN: All right, Sara Murray, thank you very much.

And for more on this, we have our panel to talk about 2016, CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp, Republican strategist, Lisa Boothe, "Boston Herald" columnist and Donald Trump supporter, Adriana Cohen, plus former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, Mo Elleithee. Thanks guys so much for being here. We really appreciate it.

Let's first talk about this tweet. Adriana, I'm going to you for this because we want to show a retweet of a side-by-side comparison between Melania Trump and a very unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz that Sara Murray was talking about.

You heard Ted Cruz and how he's taking that. What possible motive could Trump have other than insulting Mrs. Cruz's looks?

ADRIANA COHEN, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, look, Ted Cruz, a PAC that supports Ted Cruz launched those negative attack ads going after Donald Trump's wife so he has every right to defend himself and push back against that type of personal attack upon the Trump family.

You know, I disagree with some of the comments that Ted Cruz made. He said that Donald Trump is afraid of strong women. That's absurd.

In the Trump organization, Donald Trump has nurtured and grown so many women to the executive level within his organization. He certainly is not afraid of strong women. His wife is a strong woman. So many women who work on his campaign, in his companies, so that is just completely false.

BROWN: All right, S.E., I've got to bring you in here because you were having a hard time not talking. Your response.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, A, for effort to Adriana for attempting to spin this into something that it isn't. There's really no way to defend slamming a candidate's wife just on her looks. I happen to believe that spouses are not off limits.

I thought it was appropriate to talk about some of the things Michelle Obama had said as a public figure when Obama was running for office about America, for example.

I think it's certainly going to be appropriate to go after some of the things that Bill Clinton has done and said when campaigning against Hillary Clinton. I don't think they're off limits.

But there is absolutely no political rationale for talking about the way a candidate or a candidate's wife looks. There's nothing to be gained. It's not deserving of the office. It's beneath the discourse and there's no way to defend it.

BROWN: Mo, what do you think?

MO ELLEITHEE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DNC: Look, what I think, what I know is if I ever tweeted out anything like that, I'd get my butt kicked by a lot of different people.

BROWN: You'd be fired, right?

ELLEITHEE: That's absolutely clear, he lives by different rules. I think the super PAC that ran the photo of Melania was way out of bounds. I don't think that was appropriate, but that was a super PAC.

For him, the candidate, who wants to be the next president of the United States and has a shot at it, to do that, it just -- it defies all logic and is disgusting.

BROWN: And I want to go to Mo's point, though, because Donald Trump, a lot of people say, just gets away with everything. In fact $67 million have been spent to attack Donald Trump and it's hard to say, Lisa, if any of those ads have really done anything. What do you think, do you think it's just Donald Trump, that nothing sticks or that people aren't going after him hard enough?

LISA BOOTHE, PRESIDENT, HIGH NOON STRATEGIES: I think he's Teflon. That's what we've seen. As you mentioned, $67 million spent. You look since New Hampshire, there's been a 900 percent increase in the spending and attack ads spent against him. Look at Florida and the amount of money and resources that were invested in attacking him in Florida and the fact that he bested a sitting senator by almost 20 points.

Nothing is sticking to this guy, he is like Teflon. The reason being is because he's running an outsider campaign. The people that are attacking him are the insiders, the lobbyists, the politicians, the perceived insiders, so that's only emboldened him so far.

BROWN: And I want to go back to Adriana because one of Donald Trump's foreign policy advisers told NPR that Trump will count on advisers, that he wants his advisers to educate, but he also said that Trump won't follow through on his most extreme campaign promises like enabling interrogators to torture, that he's making those statements because it's, quote, "political season." What do you make of that?

COHEN: Well, you know, that remains to be seen. You know, Donald Trump is expressing his views right now in realtime. It's captivating the public's attention. He's dominating in the delegate count, but I think we'll see as the campaign progresses.

And if he is -- he does end up becoming president of the United States, you know, we'll see where these policies play out later on. We also have to look at where we are with terrorism in November. And that's going to absolutely impact any president's foreign policy at that point.

BROWN: Go ahead.

[16:50:03]CUPP: Two things. It's pretty cynical if Donald Trump is purposefully misleading people about what he would do as president. But a lot of the things he wants to do, he cannot do.

He will not be able to do whether he plans on changing his mind. These are not things that congressionally, constitutionally, international laws, will allow him to do. His supporters should really be asking, you know, these promises I like, these proposals I like, you know, can these really happen?

BROWN: But the same could be said for other candidates too, right, that make these promises and there's no way they could follow through on them.

ELLEITHEE: Number one, when your own supporters are saying we don't know if we can believe what he's saying, we're going to have to wait and see, that's incredibly telling, right? But look, he's getting where he is because he's tapping into this outsider thing.

He's running as this populist who's got your back. What we're seeing time and time again is that he doesn't. This is the biggest con being pulled on the American people in generations.

COHEN: And what Donald Trump is going to have --

BOOTHE: Hold on a second. What Donald Trump is going to have a problem with -- what Donald Trump is going to have a problem with if you look at recent polling with the head-to-head matchup with Hillary Clinton and look how he does among women voters, he's trailing Hillary Clinton by 14 points.

This may not be damaging him now, but what Hillary Clinton is going to do because she is the presumed nominee and most likely unless she ends up getting indicted, which we'll see the likelihood of that, but she will most likely be the presumed nominee, she'll be the Democrat nominee.

And she's going to go to women voters and say, here, this is what Donald Trump said about you so this isn't necessarily going to impact right now in the Republican primary but very well could in the general election.

BROWN: Adriana?

COHEN: Yes, I want to say political correctness has not kept America safe. President Obama is the most politically correct individual and Europe is on fire. ISIS has spread into 20 countries, OK. And so political correctness is getting this country nowhere.

In fact it's one of our biggest national security liabilities along with a broken immigration system and so Donald Trump is not politically correct and so he has tough talk.

Like talking about waterboarding and that's appealing to a lot of Americans who want a real commander in chief and want to eviscerate this grave national security threat which is ISIS.

CUPP: Political correctness has nothing to do with reality and facts. The reality is because of the Geneva Convention we cannot waterboard. It's not politically correct to say that's what makes us better than ISIS, not what makes us weaker. Political correctness has been used through this entire election to defend every asinine thing that Donald Trump has said.

COHEN: Well, S.E. Cupp, I understand that it's against the law right now. Donald Trump has said that. He says we need to change the laws to allow toughness.

CUPP: You understand 196 countries have ratified the Geneva Convention. How will Donald Trump change that law?

COHEN: Well, you know what, it remains to be seen.

CUPP: It does remain to be seen.

BROWN: OK, all right. You don't even need me. The whole show could have just been you two talking. All right, we've got to take it from here. Thank you so much, S.E., Adriana, Lisa, Mo, really appreciate that lively discussion.

Coming up, several Americans still missing two days after the Brussels terror attacks. Why it's taking so long for families to get answers? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:35]

BROWN: Those who witnessed the Brussels terrorist attacks described the aftermath as a, quote, "war scene." The conditions of victims were so horrifying Belgian officials are struggling to identify the dead and the wounded. It's still not exactly clear how many Americans were hurt or dead. Our CNN correspondent, Brynn Gingras reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EMILY EISENMAN, GIRLFRIEND OF BART MIGOM: My mind wanders into dark places, but then I just see a glimpse of hope.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hope, it's all families and friends of those still missing from Tuesday's attacks can do. Emily Eisenman couldn't wait to see her boyfriend, Bart Migon. He was expected to meet her in Atlanta. The last message she got from Bart, a text on his way to the airport.

EISENMAN: I wouldn't be surprised if he was harmed because he was trying to save somebody else.

GINGRAS: Siblings Sasha and Alexander Pinczowski were checking into a flight headed for New York. They were on the phone with their mother.

JAMES CAIN, FATHER OF ALEXANDER PINCZOWSKI'S FIANCE: The phone sounded like it went underwater and then went dead.

GINGRAS: James Cain's daughter is engaged to Alexander. Cain traveled to Brussels Wednesday night to search the hospitals, hoping Alex and Sasha's name turn up on the injured list.

CAIN: You can never imagine that something like this would happen to your own daughter, your own family.

GINGRAS: Levi Sutton had hoped that his brother and sister-in-law, Justin and Stephanie Schultz, were found Wednesday. The son posted a tweet saying his family had been misinformed. The Schultz moved to Brussels in 2014.

They were dropping Stephanie's mother, Carolyn Moore, off at the airport. Moore, injured, was about to walk through security when the first explosion occurred.

The 79-year-old Andre Adams' daughter is still looking for her father, according to a Facebook post. The former Belgian ambassador's wife, Danielle, was found and hospitalized. The couple were reportedly traveling to Miami.

The latest from the U.S. State Department, at least a dozen Americans are injured and with the names of those deceased not confirmed, for now families can only keep hope.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GINGRAS: And the State Department official has since apologized for any misinformation that has gotten out to U.S. families saying that the process has just been so difficult.

Pamela, we should mention that about a dozen Americans have been -- said that they are on the injured list. Of course some of them have undergone surgery, but certainly a long road ahead for them.

BROWN: It must be so agonizing for them and their families. Brynn Gingras, thank you very much.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."