Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California; Image Of Bloodied Child Vivid Reminder Of Wars Horror; Head Of National Guard Tours Louisiana Food Damage. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 18, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And super agent Leigh Steinberg, let me bring you back because Christine touched on something I think is something very resonant in Rio right now. We're talking about this instead of the achievements by so many great athletes, American athletes and otherwise.

[16:30:01] I can't imagine how angry his fellow athletes must be right now.

LEIGH STEINBERG, SPORTS AGENT AND ATTORNEY: Well, remember, Jake, they have been training, many of them, since kids. Especially for the last four years. Their whole life goes into this. And there is a massive international audience, and certainly a big American audience. They want to be recognized for their achievements.

And instead, we're talking about a potentially bogus story that one athlete told to get out of a difficult circumstance. What these athletes have to do, involved in this is to get out rapidly, tell the truth, apologize so all of the constituencies for their own legacy, but also to give their fellow Olympians that they owe so much to, a chance to be recognized for their achievements. They owe it to the Olympic committee. They owe it to their country. They owe it to the other athletes. And they owe it to Brazil and the host committee that already has enough problems without adding apocryphal stories to the mix.

TAPPER: All right. Leigh Steinberg, Christine Brennan, Paul Butler, thank you so much, one and all. Great panel. Really appreciate it.

Breaking news, did the State Department just admit that a $400 million cash payment to Iran was in effect a ransom payment? We'll play the tape, let you be the judge.

Then, how is it possible that this child is considered lucky when it comes to the war in Syria. The story behind this heartbreaking image, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:03] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Politics now, we don't what they're being told. Donald Trump was on the receiving end of his first classified national security briefing yesterday. Clinton is expected to get hers soon as well. Joining me now to talk about this and other issues, the senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, ranking senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- thanks so much for joining us, Senator.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you. Thank you very much, Jake.

TAPPER: I'd love to get your reaction to these four U.S. Olympic swimmers being accused today by Brazilian officials of having lied about being held up at gunpoint in Rio and committed acts of violence. It's turned it into an international incident. How serious do you think it is?

FEINSTEIN: Well, it can be serious or not be serious. I think Lee Steinberg, who's a very respected advisor to athletes, I think gave very good advice. I think it should be taken.

These fellows were out at 4:00 a.m. I mean, who does what at 4:00 a.m.? Whatever happened and there are different stories, continuing this doesn't make any sense.

I would join him in saying -- say, apologize. Make your amends, and put it aside. And hopefully that will be the case because this is an incident that will escalate.

I say one other thing. When anybody goes out into another country to represent our country, and Olympians are part of that representation, they shouldn't be out on the streets at 4:00 a.m. drinking and carousing.

And I think that's kind of commonsense. You represent your country. We're a powerful country. People look for things to bat us down. I think it is up for those of us in the public eye that represent our government, our people, our Constitution, and most importantly our flag, do so with the highest respect for the country they're in.

TAPPER: All right. Also breaking this afternoon, the spokesman for the U.S. State Department, John Kirby, minutes ago, he commented on the $400 million cash people to Iran that many critics of the Obama administration have called a ransom payment. I want to play that video for you and let you respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: In basic English, you're saying that you would not give them the $400 million in cash until the prisoners were released, correct?

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: That's correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, Kirby emphasizing that doesn't necessarily mean it's a quid pro quo.

FEINSTEIN: That's right. TAPPER: But a lot of people are going to hear that quote and see it as the definition of ransom for all intents and purposes.

FEINSTEIN: Well, look, we're in campaign season. Misconstruing what somebody says, particularly of the part the administration has become an art form of this campaign. The facts are clear.

Now, this was a negotiation over I think a 1979 sale. This is Iranian that was frozen. The agreement was that the $400 million be returned to Iran.

Now, Iran was going to release hostages that we very much like released. Would we send the money before their release or after their release? I ask for your judgment, I know what I would do. It would be after they are released, and that's exactly what the administration did, and I think it's very much the right thing.

TAPPER: You are the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, as I said. You have been getting briefings similar to the one that Donald Trump got yesterday and Hillary Clinton will soon get.

Do you share the view of Democratic leader Harry Reid that Donald Trump cannot be trusted with this kind of intelligence briefing?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I know this. I know that you have in Secretary Clinton the most experienced, knowledgeable leader ever running for president. I think that's well-known, and I think it's accepted, and I think it's fact.

[16:40:04] I think in Donald Trump, you have somebody that is spontaneous, that explodes. That says the first thing that comes to his mind. That didn't know that Russia invaded the Ukraine or annexed Crimea, who to put it nicely, is not up-to-date on these things.

We're in a very difficult position with respect to classified information. The classification system is difficult for many of us to understand. There are those of us that believe it's overclassified.

So, the briefings he's having are all classified briefings and he's going to have to restrict what he says about those briefings to the extent that those briefings better inform him. I'm all for them. He should be better informed and he needs to be better informed.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Dianne Feinstein, always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: If you want to know why the war in Syria matters, take a look at this face. He is 5 years old, all he knows is war, and somehow he is better off than thousands of other children in his country. Who is he?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: We're back with our World Lead now. Today, marks five years since President Obama first called for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to step down.

Also five years old, this Syrian boy, Omran Daqneesh, whose image covered in dust and blood is heartbreakingly innocent. The image went viral overnight. It's a reminder of that unfulfilled call for an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.

Human rights groups say nearly half a million people have been killed since the war began, 4,500 of them were children just from one town, Aleppo, where Omran was just rescued.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Barbara, we've been covering this story for years and years. Just last week, Syrian doctors sent a letter to President Obama pleading for help from the U.S.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. The images are really heartbreaking, some of them are very graphic, very difficult to watch. But the question now, of course, is will any of these images of what has happened to these children in Syria make a difference?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh carried out of the rubble in Aleppo, Syria. Sitting in shock, alone in the ambulance, no shoes, not even crying, wiping away the blood. The Syrian activist who recorded the images says it took nearly an hour to pull him out.

MUSTAFA AL-SAROUQ, ACTIVIST, ALEPPO MEDIA CENTER: Omran's whole face was blood and his family was under the rubble and there was no one to help him but the rescue workers.

STARR: The image going viral, capturing the horror of Aleppo and the humanitarian disaster that is Syria. Evoking another image, that of a 2-year-old drowned on a Turkish beach. The impossible choice facing millions trapped in the middle of Syria. Stay and try to survive, or escape either way risking death. The U.N. special envoy demanding Russia and the U.S. try to stop the carnage and get humanitarian aid into Aleppo.

STAFFAN DE MISTURA, UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SYRIA: I again insist on behalf of the secretary general of the U.N. and of all the Syrian people to have a 48-hour hold in Aleppo.

STARR: But safe passage for relief convoys is impossible as long as Russian and Syrian war planes continue bombing. More than 4,500 children have been killed in the Aleppo area since the war began five years ago according to an observer group. The last U.S. ambassador to Syria says the U.S. is failing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is important for Syrians, such as those doctors in Aleppo to not be waiting for the Obama administration to come to their rescue because frankly I don't think it's going to happen. STARR: Viral moments like his Omran's image may be fleeting, however. This time, will the outrage last? For just a moment, the heartbreak of Omran Daqneesh's 5-year-old life was shown to the world. Five years of war and trying to survive.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: For every day he has been alive, he has known nothing but conflict and war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now according to the latest report, Omran's immediate family has also survived this attack in Aleppo. The question is how to get humanitarian aid into that besieged city. That aide is not likely to flow in until the bombing by Russian and Syrian war planes stops -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

One firefighting commander says he has never seen a fire behave so extremely. More than 80,000 people told to get out as a totally unpredictable and untamed wildfire spreads. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The National Lead now, a call today from Baton Rouge for President Obama to cut short his vacation in Martha's Vineyard and get down to flood ravaged Louisiana.

The death toll there is now at least 13 and tens of thousands of Louisianans have lost everything they own when water rushed their homes.

The advocate, the state's largest daily newspaper, wrote in an editorial, quote, "We have seen this story before in Louisiana and we do not deserve a sequel," referring of course to George Bush's 2005 Hurricane Katrina fly over.

Jeh Johnson, the U.S. secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is on the ground in Louisiana today. The general who commands the National Guard also visited a local shelter earlier and is now touring flood sites by air.

CNN has a crew with that general and CNN's Polo Sandoval has been on that tour. Joining me now live from Gonzales, Louisiana. Polo, what did you see from the air?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Complete devastation in several neighborhoods, Jake. Even now as the waters begin to recede, it's quite obvious that the need is great here. We did begin to see what appeared to be small landfills beginning to pop up on people's front yards from the ground, though, those are people's belongings. They are going inside removing everything they can that's been lost and having to rebuild their lives.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SANDOVAL (voice-over): From the air, the scale of the devastation is overwhelming. CNN spending the day with the National Guard to survey the scope and severity of Louisiana's historic flood.

Tens of thousands have abandoned their homes and from this vantage point, it looks like very little will be salvaged when the water finally subsides.

General Joseph Lengyel oversees the National Guard including the estimated 3,800 guardsmen on the ground.

GENERAL JOSEPH LENGYEL, CHIEF, U.S. NATIONAL GUARD: It's what makes the Guard different, you know, if fighting wars is one thing, and then when you're not fighting wars, you're helping the homeland and that is something special.

SANDOVAL: Some of the National Guard members helping in recovery are also flood victims themselves.

[16:55:05]LENGYEL: In many parts of the region, 75 percent of the homes were destroyed and those were the homes of the men and women of the National Guard really of all of the people in the response. So they're affected by it and they have the burden of having to respond.

SANDOVAL: Touring an evacuation center, many flood victims are worried about how long it will take to recover.

LENGYEL: Is there something you don't have that you need, I mean, you have medical, food, clothing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do, but we're not turning anything around because we don't know how long --

LENGYEL: How long can it go on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.

SANDOVAL: At the same time, there is growing criticism of President Obama for vacationing in Martha's Vineyard as the people in Louisiana deal with the aftermath.

The "Baton Rouge Advocate" writing in an editorial, "If the president can't interrupt his vacation for a swanky fundraiser for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton as he did on Monday, then surely he can make time to show up for a catastrophe that has displaced thousands."

PETER KOVACS, EDITOR, "THE ADVOCATE": The magnitude of this disaster requires federal leadership. It requires federal intervention. This is a poor state and a lot of people have lost everything they own and you know, we're going to need help just as we did in Katrina.

SANDOVAL: FEMA Director Craig Fugate was on the ground here on Tuesday. Today, the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

JEH JOHNSON, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The federal government is here. We have been here. We will be here as long as it takes to help this community recover.

SANDOVAL: Back in the sky, whole communities remain submerged.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: And in the coming days, we could see several of these assets and resources that you see behind me begin to be consolidated into one place according to the conversation I have with the general, Jake.

This is as the things, the situation here on the ground begins to shift from search and rescue to full-on recovery mode. And finally, the story not only in the pictures that you saw, but also in the numbers.

The governor's office here in Louisiana saying at least 86,000 people are applying for federal aid. That is the only hope they have as they rebuild their lives -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you so much. Another weather disaster is wreaking havoc on the U.S., this time on the west coast. Fire fighters facing a challenge they call unprecedented.

Battling the raging blue cut fire in San Bernardino Country, 70 miles east of Los Angeles. The rapidly spreading blaze started Tuesday, but it grew so quickly.

It's already forced tens of thousands of Californians out of their homes. These images from NASA show that the plumes can be seen from space and it is only 4 percent contained as of now.

CNN correspondent, Paul Vercammen, joining me now live from San Bernardino. Paul, the surprising thing about this fire is how quickly it spread.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely shocking, Jake. In fact, when it first broke out, a fire that burned ten acres, and in a snap of a finger, they were talking about 20,000.

And the acres burning behind me right now, this is the leading southern flank of a blaze. It is burning slowly not close at all but slowly towards San Bernardino. They're going to make a stand here as we speak.

You can see that there is a redness in the hillside. That is all fire retardant. The idea is to slow it down here and try to break this monster of a fire down, 31,000 acres burned so far. We have almost 1,600 firefighters on this blaze.

But don't forget there are nine other blazes burning in California. They have to be very careful that they don't put all of their resources into one basket.

Right now the approach on this fire is to attack it via the air. You can't go setting firefighters up in those cannons not yet at least. But the San Bernardino County fire chief telling us that he's going to go ahead and try to hit this with some bulldozers and some (inaudible) soon.

It's quite an arduous task. You can hear it in my voice, it's so dry, so bone dry, about 100 degrees. Those winds, of course, are dastardly.

Some good news, though, you mentioned 4 percent containment. San Bernardino County fire officials telling me they expect that number to rise when they have a briefing later at 6 p.m. That's west coast time -- Jake.

TAPPER: Paul, do authorities at this point have any idea how this fire started?

VERCAMMEN: They're looking at a couple possibilities. The fire chief telling me THAT where it started in this Cajon Pass and this is a wind tunnel, there is a popular picnic area. You also at times can be susceptible to cars shooting off sparks somehow or a carelessly discarded cigarette. They are looking at all of that and they will also, of course, look at arson. But right now they don't have a cause -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Paul Vercammen, in San Bernardino, California. Thank you so much. Stay safe.

That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @jaketapper or the show @theleadcnn. Send us tweets, go to our homepage. We read it all.

I now turn you over to Brianna Keilar who is in for Wolf Blitzer, who of course, is out on grandfather leave. Briana Keilar right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.