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US-Vietnam Relations Examined; Latest on EgyptAir Search; Bill Cosby To Stand Trial For Criminal Sex Assault; V.A. Secretary Expresses Regret Over "Disney" Comment; Junger: Tribal Sentiment "Rare, Precious" In Modern Society. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 24, 2016 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Topping today's world lead: a new chapter in American-Vietnamese relations, but is that empirically a good thing? More than 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, President Obama, in his first ever trip to the communist nation, announced that the U.S. will now sell lethal arms to its former enemy, despite Vietnam's long and well- documented history and present of human rights abuses.

This comes as Mr. Obama calls out China for its aggression in the South China Sea, saying -- quote -- "Big nations should not bully smaller ones."

Let's go right to CNN's Michelle Kosinski. She's traveling with President Obama during this weeklong trip to Asia.

Michelle, the Chinese are apparently not taking these comments lying down.


Yes. Well, the White House does this delicate and sometimes awkward dance on this. I mean, obviously, they want a good working relationship with China, too. So, when we hear the president say these phrases that we often hear, that nations shouldn't be bullies, that they should abide by the rules, he doesn't say the word China, but everybody knows exactly who he's talking about.


And China had a kind of wry response, saying, well, if they're talking about freedom of navigation for everybody, yes, we buy that. But if they're talking about special freedoms for the U.S. military, not so much.

Also interesting on this trip to hear the administration repeatedly say, this is not about China, we mean it. However, it is lost on no one that these moves on trade, on helping allies in this region arm themselves are absolutely counters to China's influence.

The White House has said as much on the trade piece. And China's state media had this response today, calling it a very poor lie that the U.S. is saying that this is not about China.

But when pressed on this, the White House clarified by saying, well, the focus is not fully China in making these decisions, Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting.

And, Michelle, human rights groups are assailing President Obama for granting this big concession, allowing arm sales to Vietnam, without exacting any agreement by the Vietnamese government to improve human rights conditions.


Two days ago, the BBC was ordered by the Vietnam government to stop reporting here. And while President Obama was holding a meeting with civil leaders and activists, some of them were barred from attending ,some like Human Rights Watch, who says that human rights in this country are dire in all areas.

They're saying that the White House has given up these bargaining trips to try to make things better. The White House response, though, is that Vietnamese -- Vietnam has made commitments on this trip to open things up, they are making progress, that they will continue to make progress, and that these decisions on arm sales will be on a case-by-case basis and that human rights will be a part of that -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Michelle Kosinski, traveling with President Obama, thank you so much.

Also in world news today, some new sad and gruesome discoveries in the Mediterranean Sea, as authorities continue to search for clues in the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804.

Along with more wreckage from the doomed passenger jet, authorities have discovered more than 15 bags worth of human remains from the suspected crash site, which is roughly the size of Connecticut.

Right now, investigators are conducting DNA tests with the human remains. Families of the 66 people who were on board the plane are also providing their DNA samples to help authorities identify the victims.

Let's bring in CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, there are conflicting reports whether these body parts indicate conclusively that there was an explosion on the plane.


It is still very, very early at this stage in the investigation, and they have only recovered a small amount of these human remains. But the whole investigation is really be crowded by conflicting information, whether there was an explosion potentially on board, but also the direction of the plane and what kind of movements it was making before it vanished. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): As search-and-rescue crews pull more human remains and debris from the Mediterranean Sea, some news agencies have reported the small size of the body parts recovered indicate an explosion on board, but airline officials tell CNN that's just speculation.

AHMED ADEL, VICE PRESIDENT, EGYPTAIR: These speculations and theories most of the time come out very, very early, and it's done through the sudden shock phase, where everyone is very anxious.

MARSH: Some experts agree, saying it's still too early to tell.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's been described that none of the pieces of body, you know, human remains, were bigger than the size of a human hand. You cannot tell from that.

MARSH: Egyptian officials are working to match DNA samples from the victims' families with the remains recovered. Conflicting reports from both Greek and Egyptian officials about Flight 804's final moments are adding to the anger and confusion.

Greece's defense minister says the aircraft swerved 90 degrees left and then 360 degrees before plunging dramatically. But Egypt's national air navigation services refutes that, saying the plane did not swerve or lose altitude before it disappeared from radar.

GOELZ: In terms of Greece, their radar was likely at the outer limits of its effectiveness. My guess is, the Egyptians have more than one radar track on this plane.

MARSH: Meantime, the clock is ticking for investigators to find the plane's black boxes. The batteries are expected to expire in a matter of weeks. The two recorders could hold a treasure trove of information that would explain exactly what happened and how the pilots responded.


MARSH: Well, victims' families say they do not trust Egyptian authorities to investigate the crash, in part because of the way they handled the bombing of the Russian jetliner that took off from Sharm el-Sheikh.


The fear is that the Egyptians will put national interests before the accident investigation, but, Jake, Egyptian officials saying they are promising full transparency.

TAPPER: That took them months to admit that that was terrorism.


TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much. A big decision in the Bill Cosby case today, and new details revealed about pills, clothes, and an encounter many years ago, that's next.

Plus, he compared wait times at VA hospitals to lines at Disney parks, and now there are new calls for the head of the VA to resign.


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

It's time now for our pop culture lead.

[16:45:00] Bill Cosby, known for years as America's dad, will now stand trial on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a judge ruling this afternoon that there is indeed enough evidence for the case against the comedian to move forward. But not before Cosby's lawyer reportedly screamed at the judge, calling the proceeding a, quote, "Travesty of justice."

The accuser is Andrea Constand (ph), a former basketball coach at Philadelphia's Temple University, Cosby's alma mater. Constand who was not in court today claims that the now-78-year-old television star drugged her and sexually assaulted her at his Pennsylvania home back in 2004. If convicted, Cosby could face 30 years behind bars.

Let's get right to CNN correspondent, Jean Casarez, and CNN legal analyst, Danny Cevallos, outside the courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania right outside Philadelphia. Jean, you were in the courtroom today. What was Mr. Cosby's demeanor like?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: His demeanor was he was very professional. There was no joking at all. He was not a comedian. He was led up to the defense table. He sat with his defense attorneys.

Didn't talk to them too much. But I think the thing that really stood out, and Danny was in the courtroom also, was the aggressiveness of the defense, yes, the defense screamed during closing arguments.

Not specifically at the judge, but just that no one in America should have to sit in a courtroom like this as a defendant, but they began the hearing by being very angry that Andrea Constand, the accuser in this case, wasn't there to take the stand so the defense could cross- examine her.

But in Pennsylvania at this point, it doesn't have to happen. So the prosecution put the detective on that had taken her statement where she alleged that one night when she went to her mentor's home, Bill Cosby, that he plied her with alcohol, gave her three blue pills and that she was not able to say no and he sexually assaulted her.

TAPPER: Danny, what was Cosby's defense at today's pretrial hearing? What do you think it's going to be going forward?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In any preliminary hearing because the prosecution's burden is so light, the real defense angle is r6 not the forlorn hope that you're going to get the case tossed at preliminary hearing, but instead defense here focuses, and in many preliminary hearings, focuses instead on testing quality and strength of the prosecution's evidence.

And candidly, as somebody who has done plenty of preliminary hearings, you're trying to develop as much discovery and as much testimony as you can until the judge reels you in and reminds counsel that it's only a preliminary hear and a prima fascia showing of evidence.

So the best defense at a preliminary hearing is not the hope that you're going to win, but rather to develop discovery, evidence, and lock people in to their testimony to be used against them at trial.

TAPPER: Jean, you noted that Andrea Constand, the accuser, was not in court today. But you expect her to take the stand in this case or no?

CASAREZ: I definitely think she'll take the stand. In fact, it was brought out through the testimony of the detective that he called Andrea Constand this last weekend and she confirmed with him that she is a willing participant and will appear at the trial, as this case goes forward.

TAPPER: Danny, more than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual mi misconduct, some on the record, some on background, will any of them be allowed to testify?

CEVALLOS: This will be the biggest battle ground of pretrial motions. Arguably, more important evidence of the case, because any one of those -- for each and every one of the accusers that the prosecution wants to put on the stand, they have to bring in that as 404b evidence.

The general rule is other bad things that a defendant has done in his past are not admissible to prove that he did this particular thing. However, there is an exception if that evidence is used to show things like motive, identity, absence of the state, basically other purposes.

But make no mistake about it, this will be a massive bat until pretrial motions and the defense realizes that if even one of those accusers is allowed to testify, it could really prejudice the defense's case.

TAPPER: Jean, how difficult a case is his going to be for the prosecution?

CASAREZ: Well, we learned a lot more today because we have never been privy to the statement of Andrea Constand and the statement of Bill Cosby in 2005. A bit was in the deposition, but not as much as we heard today.

And the defense is going to come out swinging, saying that she went to his home several times before the alleged sexual assault happened. She went back to his home after that.

She went to Fox Wood Casino where she says in her statement originally that they laid on the bed together and crossed that out saying we were close. So the defense is going to pounce on this, as they did today, to say this was consensual.

It was not something, and that also Bill Cosby said in his statement there was no alcohol that night. She could have said no but she didn't.

TAPPER: All right, Jean Casarez, Danny Cevallos, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

[16:50:08]A new look at horrors of war and why so many service members returning home feel a longing to go back, but it doesn't happen everywhere. Is there something that the U.S. and veterans here could learn from Israel coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In our National Lead today, Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald just released a statement in response to the harsh criticism he's received over his comments in which he compared the time it takes for the nation's 21 million veterans to receive medical treatments at VA hospitals to the lines at Disney theme parks.

McDonald says he regrets his remarks saying, quote, "It was never my intention to suggest that I don't take our mission of serving veterans very seriously."

[16:55:03]There are growing calls for Secretary McDonald to resign. The outrage over this particularly high among Republican lawmakers, perhaps not surprisingly in a tweet, "Iraq war veteran and Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa urged McDonald to step down immediately."

Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, delivered the same message, saying comparing vets' wait times for their medical care and the happiest place on earth, well, that's negligent.

Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan, weighed in, "He did go as far as demanding McDonald's resignation, but he did urge Secretary McDonald to clarify his comments highlighting, quote, "waste, fraud, abuse still rampant within in the VA system."

It is estimated, of course, that more than 20 veterans committed suicide per day between 1999 and 2000, that's one veteran suicide every 65 minutes.

Now in many of those cases posttraumatic stress and depression are thought to be the leading causes, but are we as a society letting our veterans down by failing to welcome them home?

By not giving them the sense of belonging that they desperately need after returning from battlefields? That's the question that we're addressing in today's "Lead Read."

The book that we are talking is "Tribe On Homecoming and Belonging" and now let's talk to the author, Oscar-nominated documentary make, Sebastian Junger. Sebastian, good to see you again. Thanks so much for joining us. SEBASTIAN JUNGER, AUTHOR, "TRIBE ON HOMECOMING AND BELONGING": My pleasure.

TAPPER: So you suggest in your book that the U.S. in some ways needs to emulate the Native-American tribes to prevent PTSD among our veterans. Explain by what you mean by that.

JUNGER: Well, you know, my book isn't even really focused on veterans. It's focused on modern society. Humans have an ancient predisposition preference for community, for close communal connection.

When you lose that, as we have in modern society, everybody suffers. The suicide rate goes up, the depression rate goes up, child abuse. All these social ills go up with affluence, with modernity.

And so what we have in veterans is one among many examples of a population group that's struggling psychologically because they are making the transition in the case of soldiers from the very, very close communal nature of society in a platoon at war from that to the alienation of modern society that affects all of us.

What I would say is that if we're going to help ourselves -- I'm sorry, if we help the vets what we have to do is fix ourselves, fix the society that they come home to.

TAPPER: And you make a very interesting observation about the rate of suicide in new York city after 9/11 drop, this is not a city, and a nation really that experienced trauma, explain.

JUNGER: Yes, I mean, trauma does not seem to precipitate suicide. After 9/11 the suicide rate dropped in New York City. The murder rate dropped. The violent crime rate dropped even Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD reported their symptoms of PTSD got better after 9/11.

What happens in a society that's been traumatized, in a group that's been traumatized is that people come together, and there's an incredible consolation and buffering of effect to the communal existence.

Soldiers leaving the theater of war ironically lose that closeness when they leave their platoon and they return to a safe society that nevertheless is very fractured and so they actually feel less safe than they did in the war zone.

TAPPER: And you also look at Israel, where military service is compulsory for most of the population. You say there's a lesson that we can learn there looking at that society as opposed to ours?

JUNGER: Yes. I mean, U.S. has a PTSD rate in its military of around 20 percent. It's extraordinarily high. The Israeli military has a PTSD rate of 1 percent. And Israeli psychologists I talk to say two factors there.

One is that military service is compulsory and universal. So when you come back from the battlefield, you're coming back to a community that where a military service is widespread.

You're not making it transition from military to civilian life. It's all the same thing. Also, the combat is literally at people's door steps. It makes intuitive and moral sense the war makes intuitive and moral sense when you fly soldiers 10,000 miles away, as we do.

Whatever the other reasons are to going into that decision, it makes it psychologically hard on both the soldiers and the civilians to understand the meaning of the war.

TAPPER: Sebastian Junger, thank you so much. The book is called "Tribe On Homecoming and Belonging." It is a fantastic read as always, thank you so much for what you do.

JUNGER: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. That is it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper. I'm about to turn you over to Wolf Blitzer who's right next door in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM."