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Interview with Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan; Official: Freed Gitmo Detainees Have Killed Americans; Rapist Serving Six Months In Jail Under Protective Custody; WWII Vets Honored 72 Years After War. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 9, 2016 - 16:30   ET



[16:31:12] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're going to stick with the politics lead. There's a major momentum swing going on for Hillary Clinton after receiving the endorsement of President Obama this afternoon. Clinton's former boss and rival saying today that he cannot wait to hit trail and campaign for the first female nominee of a major party.

But was the endorsement a bit premature given that the primary season is not over?

Joining me is Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who is a Hillary Clinton supporter.

Senator Stabenow, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Great to be with you.

TAPPER: So, President Obama endorsed Hillary Clinton today and it came just moments after the meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders ended. Were you surprised it came so quickly given that Senator Sanders is still in the race?

STABENOW: Well, I was pleasantly surprised. I loved what President Obama said, and he's right on in terms of Hillary Clinton and that she'll be a fantastic president. I do know that President Obama and Senator Sanders have been allies and friends for a long time and I know he wouldn't have done that had he not felt comfortable after the meeting doing that.

And I want to, by the way, congratulate Bernie Sanders for all he's accomplished. He's a fighter. We need him back in the Senate. We need to be in the majority. He needs to be chairing a very important committee and he'll have a very important platform to continue fighting for the things that we all care about.

TAPPER: Senator, let me bring up an issue that a conservative friend of mine brought up. President Obama is endorsing Secretary Clinton while she's still being investigated or the investigation into her e- mail server is going on, being conducted by President Obama's Justice Department and the FBI.

Could you understand why some voters might be skeptical that the president's public endorsement of Clinton will not influence the outcome of this investigation?

STABENOW: Well, those two things are totally separate and -- I mean, we all know what is going to happen in terms of looking at past secretaries of state and what's happened in terms of changing processes. When I think about just the evolution of what's happened and how we all use e-mail and what's been happening there and changing policies and so on, all of this is going to get worked out.

It has nothing to do with what the president is doing in terms of endorsing Hillary Clinton and I have great confidence in the people in the Justice Department to keep that separate.

TAPPER: So Hillary Clinton says she's going to reach out to Senator Sanders to help try to court his supporters and unite to defeat Donald Trump. Sanders supporters, however, many of them have said they believe the system is rigged. Take a listen to what a Sanders supporter told our Jeff Zeleny last week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will never vote for Hillary. It's Bernie or bust.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole Bernie or Bush movement is also that a lot of people don't want her.


TAPPER: So, those are two supporters of Senator Sanders saying that the system is corrupt, the system is rigged and she is the poster girl for that.

Barney Frank, former congressman, co-chair of the Democratic rules committee, he told CNN yesterday that Sanders stirred up anger amongst his supporters. Can this anger be assuaged?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, let me say that, you know, it's hard to lose when you feel passionately about someone and a set of issues. And I understand that. I was there in 2008 when there were many strong feelings as we were bringing that primary election to a close.

But I also know that just as in 2008 to today, everyone who cares passionately about the system being rigged and what's really being rigged is tax policy and rules that favor the wealthy in the country instead of giving everybody a fair shot to succeed, and that's something that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both share a strong passion about.

[16:35:04] And so, we'll come together. When you look at the other side, somebody who is really a con man and very dangerous if he was in the White House versus our side, which is debating, how do we get to universal health care? Not whether we should. They want to repeal health care and take away Medicare and Medicaid as

we know it. We're debating, how do we get to where we all want to go? So, I think as emotions come down, that will become very clear.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Debbie Stabenow, thank you so much. Good to see you.

STABENOW: You're welcome. Nice to see you.

TAPPER: Finding out information from freed Guantanamo Bay detainees. A new report claiming that they killed Americans after their release and that story is next.


[16:40:03] TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper.

Turning to our world lead, released only to kill again. A startling new report saying about a dozen former prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay returned to Afghanistan and killed Americans, including an innocent civilian.

Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, this is what some people fear most about President Obama, is to shut down Gitmo, releasing the most dangerous terrorists, which are the ones who are left.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, question. It is an enormous risk. To be clear, these detainees were all released during the Bush administration but it has a clear impact on President Obama's nearly 8-year-old promise to close Gitmo completely. Our sources are telling us that some 15 released detainees went on to kill Americans, including soldiers, all in Afghanistan.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): They were freed from the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba only to pick up arms against the U.S. once again, killing Americans overseas.

A U.S. official tells CNN that an estimated 15 freed Gitmo detainees all released before 2009 went on to attack Americans in Afghanistan. A number of Americans killed in those attacks is in the single digits.

The threat was first brought to light during testimony on Capitol Hill this March.

REP. DAN ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: How many lives have been lost by those terrorists who went back to their terrorist activity?

PAUL LEWIS, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: Unfortunately, there have been Americans that have died.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. has been aware of the high recidivism relate of released Gitmo detainees for some time. In the most recent U.S. report of the 676 detainees released from Gitmo as of January, 118 have returned to the fight and a further 86 are suspected of returning.

That's nearly 1 out of every 3 released. But as "The Washington Post" first reported, this is the first time U.S. officials have confirmed that free detainees targeted and killed Americans.

LEWIS: We don't want anybody to die because we transferred detainees. However, it's the best judgment and the considered judgment of this administration and the previous administration that the risk of keeping Gitmo open is outweighed that we should close Gitmo.

SCIUTTO: One consistent challenge has come from foreign governments, losing track of the former detainees. However, the political challenge is clear for President Obama, who vowed to close Gitmo just days after he first assumed office.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hereby order Gitmo will be closed less than one year from now.

SCIUTTO: Opposition on Capitol Hill and within the Pentagon since then has delayed closure by years. This new information likely to provide more information to critics just months before his presidency ends.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: People on the hill, people in the American public are going to look at this and say, the minute you release somebody, no matter what the statics are, the risk is too great and the fact that they have killed Americans is the most damning of all.


SCIUTTO: Now, the Obama administration claims it has done a better job than the Bush administration, both vetting the detainees, its release, arranging for their imprisonment or surveillance after returning to their home countries or others willing to accept them. That's at least the Obama administration's claim. I should mention that of these 15 detainees, the U.S. believes that nine of them are either dead now, that they've been killed in strikes or in fighting, or they're in the custody of foreign governments.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, excellent reporting. Thank you so much.

It's a letter that's being talked about, coast to coast. Why does the Stanford rape survivor statement sparked a global conversation that has now world leaders weighing in?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In our National Lead today, the outcry over the Stanford rape case is showing no signs of subsiding. The story is gaining more attention nationally and even internationally. And now even Vice President Joe Biden is weighing in calling the survivor a warrior. In an open letter sent to Buzzfeed, Biden said, quote, "You were failed by a culture on our college campuses where one in five women is sexually assaulted year after year after year.

A culture that promotes passivity. That encourages young men and women on campuses to simply turn a blind eye." Turner is currently under protective custody at a California jail serving his six-month sentence.

Let's bring in Stuart Taylor Jr. He is an attorney and non-residence senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thanks for being here, Stuart. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: You co-wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" this week and said the sentence for Brock Turner was too short. You said the sentence was too short but the system worked. Now a lot of people think when a rapist gets only six months in jail, the system hasn't worked. But when we were talking during the commercial break you said, hey, it wasn't a rape even.

TAYLOR: Well, a couple of points. First, it was a very serious crime and there's not much doubt it was a crime. It was a sexual assault. The instrument was fingers. Technically as a matter of law in California, to be a rape, the instrument has to be a sex organ. So not to quibble.

I'd also quibble with statics. But to get to your point, here's why I think the system worked. On the whole, it would have worked better if he had gotten a two-year sentence, which is what I would have recommended.

I think the victim called for three years. The police did a great job, collected the evidence, and arrested the bad guys -- the bad guy. The prosecutors did a great job. They put it to a jury. A jury convicted and goes to the judge.

The judge presided over the trial well. So you've got a lot of things that you don't get through the campus disciplinary systems, which is what a lot of activists would like to substitute for the criminal justice system.

TAPPER: So that's what you mean by the system worked --

TAYLOR: Yes and --

TAPPER: -- like there was evidence and there was a charge and a sentencing, et cetera.

TAYLOR: And also, although, six months was a light sentence in the sense of that's not a lot of time to be in jail. He also has hanging over him this sex registry thing. Sex offender registry thing for the rest of his life everywhere he goes, he's carrying a brand. He probably never be able to go to college or no time soon. His life is pretty well ruined. Now the victim's life may be ruined, too. I don't mean to, you know --

[16:50:08]TAPPER: Equate the two, right.

TAYLOR: Yes, but in other words, those who say he is not really being punished it seems to me are missing the point.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about something else. And that is the justice system as we have it about a year ago, a similar rape took place in Nashville. It was a 19-year-old football star from Vanderbilt, found guilty for raping an unconscious woman last year. Unlike Brock Turner at Stanford, Cory Batey received a sentence of 15 to 25 years in prison.

You see the picture that differentiates between the two. A lot of African-Americans out there think Brock Turner would have received a harsher punishment if he looked more like Cory Batey. How do you respond to that?

TAYLOR: It's a reasonable reaction, but sentences vary all over the place for all kinds of reasons. I'll give another black football player who was convicted of a rape far more serious than the crime of which Turner was convicted.

He's name is (inaudible). He's at Baylor. He's one of the reasons Ken Starr got fired as president of Baylor. He was convicted of a very serious rape. He got six months. He's black.

So I don't think -- I think we've got a problem with the criminal justice system being pretty tough on blacks, but I don't think anybody has made a persuasive case than this case. This guy got a lighter treatment than he would have if he weren't a privileged white male.

TAPPER: The attorney general of California, Kamala Harris, running for the Senate, she said recently that the concern I have is the victim's voice was not heard, was not respected, she was not given dignity in the process. Do you think there's too much politicization of this case?

TAYLOR: Well, first, I think that's an odd word choice. Her voice was not heard. She spoke for 7,400 words in the courtroom in front of the judge and she spoke very eloquently. Her voice was certainly heard.

And the process, you know, I think the attorney general suggested there was something wrong with the process other than the sentence, but there wasn't anything wrong with the process other than the sentence. The sentence was too lenient, but I think there's a huge overreaction to that one fact and people are trying to discredit the whole criminal justice system based on that one fact.

TAPPER: All right, Stuart Taylor, always great to have you. Thank you so much for your voice. Appreciate it.

He was presumed dead even had a toe tag put on his foot after he was injured in Okinawa. Now 72 years later, he's making the journey to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial honoring his bravery and his service. We meet some real heroes coming up.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Today's Buried Lead, that's what we call stories not getting enough attention. Today, we're saying thank you to a group of men and women who changed the course of history. They are not household names or on television every day but you know of their work.

This week marks 72 years since many in this group worked in various capacities helping 155,000 allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, during World War II. There's a memorial here in Washington, D.C., to honor their service, though many of these veterans are in their 90s and frankly it's not easy for them to get here.

This week, however, I had the honor to meet a few of them as they took a moment to see the memorial built for them and for their lost friends.


TAPPER (voice-over): D-day and the invasion of Normandy, a defining moment for a defining generation. They are deemed the greatest generation because of men and women like these.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.

TAPPER: World War II veterans from Kentucky and Illinois here in Washington on the 72nd anniversary of the infamous battle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in England. I arrived there on D-day. I was with the eighth air force and there was so much happening, so much.

TAPPER: They served in Okinawa.

(on camera): You fought there?


TAPPER (voice-over): And the Pacific as medics and Marines. They came here this week by way of a complementary honor flight so see the World War II Memorial recognizing honor their service and sacrifice.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Thanks for your service.


TAPPER: Here to welcome the Kentucky veterans, Republican Senator Rand Paul who says he has a plan to change the way that America goes to war. PAUL: When we went to war with Germany, we knew there would be an end. Either they would win or we would win, but there would be an end of the war. Now the enemy changes names, faces and countries and it goes on and on and on determining when you've won is very difficult. That's why what I've proposed is if we authorize war in the Middle East, we do it for one year, and it has to be reauthorized.

TAPPER: Though the enemy and the equipment may be different for today's service members, the hardships endured in war bond veterans young and old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew it was a job that I had to do and so I went ahead and did the best that I could.

TAPPER: Humble stories emerging from a hell too difficult to discuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a bloody battle.

TAPPER (on camera): How did you get through it? How did you survive?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) that's all I could tell you because we're lucky.

TAPPER: After injuries sustained in Okinawa, Japan caused Matt Watkins to slip into a coma, he was presumed dead. He even received a coroner's toe tag.

(on camera): And they thought you died?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They thought I died.

TAPPER: But what happened next?

MATT WATKINS, WWII VETERAN: Well, I stayed in a coma for about a month, about 30 days and I woke up.

TAPPER: We're glad you're OK.

WATKINS: Yes, I am now.

TAPPER (voice-over): The call to serve and the will to fight are exemplified here among this group, this greatest generation. A tradition of patriotism passed on to the men and women fighting today.

PAUL: When we are attacked, we unite and I think we do pretty well, but there needs to be that vote. People need to participate and decide it's time to fight. It needs to be that this is a war worth fighting.

TAPPER (on camera): Do you know what a hero your great-granddad is? Do you know that? Do you?


TAPPER (voice-over): To all the volunteers who have fought and will fight for our freedom, thank you.


TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. Here's Wolf Blitzer.