Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Standing Rock Protest Continues; Wildfires Rage; OSU Attack Investigation; Brazil: Six Survivors Pulled From Wreckage; Officials Say Crew Declared Emergency Before Crash; Word War II Heroes Could Receive Congressional Gold Medals. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 29, 2016 - 4:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So far, at this early stage, there is no indication he was communicating with groups overseas.

But, Jake, this does fit the pattern so far of what we have seen in other attacks here in the United States where you have someone looking at terrorist propaganda online, operating under law enforcement's radar and then launching an attack with very little warning -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Pamela Brown in Columbus, thanks so much.

Joining me now to talk about this is CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.

Paul, thanks for being here.

What do you make of the fact that this ISIS news agency, this propaganda outlet is claiming that terrorist was inspired by ISIS?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: He might have been inspired by some degree by ISIS. But it's probably a very opportunistic claim they're putting out.

They're not substantiating that in any way. They're not even saying they had any kind of connection to him, communications and so on. But this is somebody who appears to have been both inspired by ISIS to some degree and also perhaps even a little bit more by al Qaeda, because he mentions Anwar al-Awlaki, who was an American-Yemeni cleric who was killed five years ago in a U.S. drone strike.

This was a cleric who called for relentless attack against the United States, referring to him as our hero imam, somebody who was clearly inspired to some degree therefore by Anwar al-Awlaki, but somebody who had a lot of animosity towards the United States, railing on his Facebook page about U.S. actions in the Muslim world, even saying that he would be willing to have up to a billion infidels killed in retribution in this Facebook posting, somebody who had become very angry indeed and somebody who, himself, said that what tipped him into action was atrocities against Muslims in Myanmar.

There's a Muslim minority in the majority Buddhist country. And the UNHCR just last week alerted the world to a lot of killings, to ethnic cleansing going on against that community. He appears to somehow blame the United States for that.

TAPPER: That's odd.

CRUICKSHANK: Not clear why. But just last month, the Obama administration actually ended their sanctions regime against Myanmar. Perhaps he feels that somehow the United States has some complicity in that with no evidence.

TAPPER: What does it say to you that Anwar al-Awlaki, even five years after the Obama administration had him droned, continues to crop up as a source of inspiration for a lot of homegrown, so-called homegrown terrorists, self-radicalized?

CRUICKSHANK: His inspiration has absolutely continued beyond the grove.

This is somebody that put out a lot of videos in English speaking to recruits in an English vernacular that they could understand and they could be inspired by, a very charismatic cleric. And his influence has really lived on through the years, and now ISIS have really, just like al Qaeda, embraced him.

And he's a very unifying figure for global jihadis. And in almost these cases, he's the common denominator, his inspiration of these attacks in the United States.

TAPPER: Also, this attack was done, and thankfully nobody was killed other than the terrorist himself, it was done with a knife and a car, basically household objects.

CRUICKSHANK: Basically household objects.

Terrorist groups have caught on to how effective this can be. We saw the Nice attack 86 people being killed in that rampage during this summer. We see this tactic increasingly used in Israel over the last year, 30 vehicle attacks.

It's a trend likely that we will see in the future as well. It's possible to protect events like, say, the Macy's Day Parade that ISIS were calling for these kinds of attacks against, but it's impossible to protect any potential target everywhere across the United States.

Everywhere people have cars, they can launch these kind of attacks.

TAPPER: Horrific.

Paul Cruickshank, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

New this hour, the raging fires tearing through a popular tourist destination have now officially and tragically turned deadly. The race to save homes and to save lives -- that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:32]

TAPPER: Some tragic breaking news now on the national lead.

Authorities in Tennessee say that three people have been killed in the wildfires scorching parts of the Great Smoky Mountains. Look at these images captured by visitors at a Tennessee hotel as they watch in shock as flames rush up around the lobby, causing the windows to glow.

Since yesterday, those fast-moving wildfires have been threatening the small resort town of Gatlinburg and the surrounding area where flames have already consumed homes and businesses.

CNN correspondent Nick Valencia is live for us in Gatlinburg.

Nick, why did the fire move so quickly?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this fire intensified with the help of low humidity and hurricane-force winds, winds up to 80 miles per hour.

Firefighters are continuing to battle some of the flames. It doesn't translate over the camera, but here in Gatlinburg, smoke has really filled the air. The mayor of this small town says nearly half of it has been affected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is crazy.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Flames surround and destroy businesses, cabins, resorts and homes. This is what a city on fire looks like. The mayor of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, now says more than 100 structures in his city have been damaged by the historic forest fire, the mayor's own home likely destroyed.

Others not as lucky. Three burn victims are now in critical condition. A drought and hurricane-force winds fueled the flames overnight and spread embers.

GREG MILLER, GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE, FIRE CHIEF: Those high winds were knocking down trees. Those trees were hitting power lines and they were falling on this very dry, extreme drought-like condition, and everything was catching on fire.

[16:40:07]

VALENCIA: Thousands forced to evacuate, many taking shelter at evacuation centers. Some had to abandon their pets because they simply didn't have enough time.

Others had to drive straight through the flames because it was the only way out. Now all they can do is wait to see, and in many cases, this is what they will come home to, destruction, gutted buildings, piles of debris, all still smoking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a difficult 24 hours that our community has faced.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: This city really has been through a lot. If we could offer our viewers any good news, it's that downtown Gatlinburg remains intact. Local and state officials, however, still pleading for federal funding.

As for those who have been evacuated, they're being told at least two to five days before they can go back to assess the damage to what little is left -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia in Gatlinburg, thank you so much.

To North Dakota we go now, where protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline are currently in a standoff with authorities in the middle of a snowstorm. Today, law enforcement said those who remain at the protest camp site despite an evacuation order do so at their own risk. The site is growing with activists wanting to support members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies.

The governor says the evacuation will help save lives in harsh winter conditions. But the tribe calls the order an attempt to cause fear. They want to protect the land and water supply they say is threatened by the pipeline.

CNN's Sara Sidner made it to the campsite just south of Bismarck, North Dakota.

Can authorities force all those people to leave?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly want to encourage them to leave.

The Army Corps of Engineers had at first said there was going to be a December 5 deadline. Then they decided that actually they are not going to forcibly remove people. Let me give you an idea of just how big this camp has gotten.

We were here a few weeks ago. There were hundreds of people here. Now, Jake, there are certainly thousands of people. And you can see the conditions in which they are living, in teepees, living in tents, living in structures that they put up that look far more permanent made with wood.

And what you are seeing is a resilience here and an absolute determination to be here and not leave. And so the idea from the governor that he is going to push people out and convince people to leave, that's just not happening.

We have talked to several people who have said their intention is to stay put and that they are winterizing the camp. Just recently, Jake, I do want to mention this. We heard from the sheriff's department that they were going to cut off supplies and stop people from moving in and out of the camp starting today.

But then they backtracked and said, wait a minute. There was a misunderstanding. We're not going to be doing that, enforcing that strictly. But they certainly have been encouraging people to leave this camp.

The word from the camping and from the Standing Rock Sioux or the Oceti Sakowin, as they're known in their native language, is, we're not going anywhere unless we're able to stop the Dakota Access pipeline -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara, practically speaking, construction on the pipeline, we're told, is mostly complete. At this point, can protesters stop the project from coming close to the tribe's land?

SIDNER: Yes, so, basically, where we are is not on reservation land. We're just literally right outside reservation land.

But the Oceti Sakowin says, look, this land is treaty land and should be treated as such. And that means they have to protect the people and the water, the government and the tribe. And they say they do not want this pipeline going underneath the Missouri River, and that's what they're doing here to stop it.

The pipeline is just up the road a couple miles. Work on the pipeline has been going nonstop seven days a week, 24 -- almost 24 hours a day, although these conditions will hamper it some. But, certainly, they feel like they can stop this as long as they stay put -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Sidner, thank you so much. Stay warm.

Living to tell about it. A plane carrying a beloved Brazilian soccer team crashes -- 75 have been killed. Six survived. How did those six get out of this disaster alive? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: We're back with today's "WORLD LEAD". Officials in Colombia now say they have recovered the black boxes from a plane crash that killed members of a popular Brazilian soccer team. Those devices along with six survivors could be key to determining what went wrong. When you see the wreckage, it's really hard to imagine how anyone was pulled out alive. The charter plane had 81 people on board. It left Santa Cruz, Bolivia yesterday evening. The crew reported some sort of emergency before the plane crashed in the mountains of Colombia, not far from its destination. CNN Aviation Correspondent Rene Marsh joins me now. And Rene, did the crew specify what was wrong before the plane went down?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: They did report some sort of electrical problems, but tonight, it is still unclear what exactly caused the crash with a beloved soccer team on board. Investigators will look at a wide range of possibilities from pilot error to the safety record of the charter company, to the mechanics of the plane, and also weather.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: This is what's left of the plane, carrying Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense and more than 20 journalists after it crashed into the mountainside in Colombia. At least 75 of the 81 people on board are dead. The charter flight left Santa Cruz, Bolivia Monday night, bound for Medellin, Colombia.

It declared an emergency just minutes before the crash. The pilot reported electrical problems. Investigators found both of the plane's black boxes in perfect condition. It will tell them if the plane had any mechanical problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Sadly, all we can do beyond crying for those who have left us was to arrange federal government support for the families who are in mourning.

MARSH: Miraculously, among the rubble, there are survivors, and they are accounts of the final seconds on board could help investigators.

[16:49:58] PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: They'll want to know whether there was any indication in the cabin from the flight crew to prepare for a crash landing, did they hear the engines functioning normally right up until the end, were there any diversions during the flight, did they have to fly around the storm?

MARSH: Satellite images show scattered showers and thunderstorms had moved across the region, and meteorologists say there was likely turbulence. Just days ago the team celebrated a semi-final win in the South American Cup. They were on their way to Colombia to compete in the finals. Here they were at the airport, one of the players taking this video and snapping these photos while on board. Fans mourned outside the soccer stadium where the team was scheduled to play.

Brazilian football great, Pele tweeted, "Brazilian Football is in mourning." A team that experienced a meteoric rise making it to the elite level of the Brazilian soccer championship. Investigators are now trying to figure out what brought this Cinderella story to such a deadly end.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: The aircraft the team was on was manufactured in 1999. It's usually used for short flights. Investigators are going to be looking at the operation of the charter company and the crew. Did they make the right decisions, was there something going on in the cockpit and, of course, Jake, the black boxes will fill in a lot of the blanks.

TAPPER: And the six survivors.

MARSH: Yeah.

TAPPER: Amazing anybody survived.

MARSH: Yeah.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thanks so much. The secret warriors of World War II, many of them now in their 90s. They might finally be getting an overdue honor. That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for our "BURIED LEAD". That's what we call stories that we feel are not getting enough attention. For generations, we've all been regaled with tales of American spies and Special Forces saving the day. But long before the likes of SEAL Team Six, they were the heroes of the OSS or Office of Strategic Services. This was a clandestine intelligence agency fighting evil in the shadows. Brave men and women instrumental in the ally victory in World War II. This week, congress will have the opportunity to finally honor their service and sacrifice with Congressional Gold Medals, more 70 years after they helped win the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you get your hair cut, be sure it's enemy area style. The hands must look as if they've done the work. Every scar must conform with your cover story.

TAPPER: These World War II training films could be taken right from a spy thriller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The identities of the recruits remain a carefully- guarded secret, which explains the use of masks in this film.

TAPPER: But the dangerous missions and secrecy of the military intelligence agency they were made for were all too real.

The Office of Strategic Services or OSS was the 1940s precursor to the modern CIA, the Navy SEALs and U.S. Special Forces Command. It's members were tasked with some of the most important and covert assignments in the war.

JOHN BILLINGS, RETIRED OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES CAPTAIN: We weren't even supposed to mention that we were with OSS. The less people that know, the safer it is for all of us. I was a good boy. I didn't talk about it to anybody.

TAPPER: Now, more than seven decades later with the help of the OSS Society, legislation finally might pass to recognize members of the OSS, such as Captain John Billings, with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor.

BILLINGS: To me, it means that at least somebody thinks we did a good job.

TAPPER: Billings had already flown countless bombing missions for the U.S. Army during World War II when he was recruited to the OSS at age 21. His assignment, to fly operatives and other agents and supplies to drop zones within enemy territory. Some marked in the snow with letters such as this one.

BILLINGS: We weren't supposed to learn their names. Occasionally, we'd drop Joes, everybody's name that gone on that was not going to come back with us was named Joe. You as a single plane were probably shortening the war much more than hundreds of planes just dropping bombs, hoping to hit a factory or something of that sort. The OSS was very powerful. and we liked it. TAPPER: Billings said perhaps his most daring mission was Operation

Green Up in 1945. He flew three Joes deep into the Austrian Alps to parachute out behind enemy lines and gather information on the Nazis. Two of the men were Jewish including the late German-born spy Fred Meyer, a close friend of billings whose work inspired the film "Inglorious Bastards".

BRAD PITT, AMERICAN ACTOR: 98 soldiers, 8 Jewish-American soldiers. We're going to drop into France dressed as civilians.

TAPPER: Billings tell CNN that the film's fictional portrayal missed the real bravery and aptitude of OSS members such as Meyer.

BILLINGS: These people, especially the people that went out of the airplane, they were - they were going into unknown things, and they had, especially Fred had (INAUDIBLE)

TAPPER: The kind that congress may finally honor, though, much too late for far too many members of this greatest generation.

BILLINGS: I would have liked to have had this medal knowing that he was going to get one, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Thank you, Captain Billings. The vote to recognize the brave men and women of the OSS with a Congressional Gold Medal is set to take place tomorrow in the House of Representatives. Some surviving members are expected to attend.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper. I'm turning you over to Wolf Blitzer who is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.