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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Remembering Pearl Harbor; Inside Aleppo; Obama Advising Trump?; ; Officials: Two Juveniles Charged With Arson; Ohio Governor Considers Strict Abortion Legislation. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 7, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You saw that when he went to Mexico and had that news conference with the head of the state of Mexico.

And so, on one level, it doesn't surprise me that now the two of them are able to figure it out. Now, for Donald Trump, though -- I mean, for Barack Obama, it strikes me that he is the ultimate lobbyist for his administration. He has got the ear of the next president. He is going to influence him to keep his policies.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, Michael, the president-elect said he was honored to be named "TIME"'s person of the year 2016.

But he also did take some exception to the subhead there, president of the divided states of America. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: It's divided -- I am not president yet. So, I didn't do anything to divide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, he really thinks he did nothing to divide. Anybody?

MICHAEL SCHERER, "TIME": I think he really thinks that right now he is trying to unify. And that's what that message is. I think that's why he is praising President Obama so much.

One of the first things he said to his advisers the day after the election was, "I want to be the president of all Americans," why he is taking prosecution Hillary Clinton off the table.

I think it's a fact that he participated substantially in the very divisive campaign. But I think he is really trying -- in our interview with him last week for the person of the year story, which is, for better or worse, the most influential person, so it's not strictly an honor. He was even then moderating a lot of his positions, saying, for instance, that he wants to find out some accommodation for dreamers, which is not something you would have heard him say on the campaign trail.

TAPPER: Certainly not.

And while on the subject of congeniality and bipartisanship, I want to play some sound of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about Vice President Joe Biden, who served for decades in the Senate, obviously as vice president, as president of the Senate. He was honored today at the Senate. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: He has been blessed in many ways. He has also been tested, knocked down, pushed to the edge of what anyone could be expected to bear. But from the grip of unknowable despair came a new man, a better man, stronger, and more compassionate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He goes on from there. And it's really very, very moving. It is -- we don't see a lot of that.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": Well, Joe Biden is just likable, period, by members who served with him on both sides of the aisle, but particularly in the aftermath of the very public way that he suffered with the death of his son.

And he was up on the Hill the other day to push this cancer -- or to celebrate this cancer -- advancement of this cancer legislation. And I think he had an emotional moment, and everybody could see that as well when he talked about, yes, maybe I will run again.

And so, again, it kind of brings out the humanity in Joe Biden. And that's not something that is a partisan thing. And I think that's to the credit of Joe Biden that so many people feel about him that way, including Republican leaders in Congress.

TAPPER: Do you think that's credible at all, him running for president in 2020 at the age of 78?

SCHERER: I think Joe Biden will never stop. Whether he is actually running, you will never have an interview with Joe Biden where he says, I'm done for now, or I'm going to retire. I'm going back to the house, or I'm going to get a new Corvette.

Joe Biden's entire career has been about pushing forward. And he always -- whenever he is asked that question in any scenario always says he is in the running, he is in the hunt, he is a player. That's just who Joe Biden is.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: -- Him, Bernie, Hillary, all to run again.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Something I'm really curious about, Ari, you heard our segment earlier about conflict of interest watch, these potential conflicts that Trump, as a global business leader, assuredly will have.

And they're already cropping up here and there. What would you advise him if you were one of his senior staffers.

FLEISCHER: He has got to get it right.

Look, what Donald Trump needs is for a neutral observer -- there are very few in this town -- but somebody who is not for him or against him, to say he made that decision because he thought it was good for the country and not for his bottom line.

And he needs to carve out that relationship so he is not making decisions where people can make that accusation against him. I would start by making sure that his children don't go to meetings that are governmental or quasi-governmental. If you are going to have a separation, it needs to be a strong black line that doesn't get crossed.

TAPPER: What do you think?

PRZYBYLA: The problem is, Ari, today with his taxes -- or with his stock, he is acknowledging that because that was potential conflict of interest, he sold them off.

And yet those are not companies that he controlled and directly drew a paycheck from. And the ethics experts that I talked to say there is absolutely no way to remove the potential, not even for Trump, but for people down lower in the food chain to get in trouble for quid pro quo and for conflict of interest, unless he does remove ownership, OK, because what he is talking about right now is transferring controlling power to his kids.

[16:35:00]

But he is still the owner. And that is the key, is the ownership. And I just don't get a sense from what we're seeing, at least publicly, unless there is something really big going on behind the scenes, that there is going to be a move, and especially not with the polls coming out saying that the public also doesn't think that he should do it.

But if you read the Constitution, the Emoluments Clause is pretty darn clear that any kind of gift from a foreign government, which could be classified simply by foreign officials staying at his hotels, is a violation of that clause.

TAPPER: All right, Michael, Ari, Heidi, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Leave or be killed, that's the dire warning from the Syrian regime to people in Eastern Aleppo. We are going to go live to that shattered city next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Turning now to our world lead, the Syrian government's ruthless push to take back Aleppo.

[16:40:00]

President Bashar al-Assad's troops now control most of the old city, relying heavily on Russian military muscle. Syrian regime troops continue to pound Eastern Aleppo with intense, indiscriminate bombings and heavy artillery shelling, this as an estimated 200,000 civilians are trapped inside the shrinking rebel-held portion of the city.

One activist saying the desperate hospitals there resemble -- quote -- "slaughterhouses."

Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen, who is in Aleppo.

Fred, a U.N. official saying today that the Aleppo situation has plummeted to even greater lows. Tell us what you see out there.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you do see a lot of desperation here on the ground, Jake.

And I was able to go to a district that is on the front line and that was actually under rebel control until yesterday. We went there only a few hours after the Syrian regime took over there. And what we saw was many, many people fleeing. They were tired, they were hungry, they were weak and they were trying to get to a better place.

Here is what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): This is what rebel desperation looks like during the Aleppo nights, firing at jets in the skies, unable to stop them from dropping their deadly load. And this is what the rebels' defeat looks like when daylight comes, thousands of civilians fleeing the old town of Aleppo only hours after government forces took most of it back, among them, Najua (ph), with her seven children, one of them her baby, Bilal (ph).

"When we left, there was a lot of shelling behind us, a lot of shooting in front of us, and the airplanes above us," she says. "We barely managed to get out."

Most seem weak and malnourished, some resting, finally in safety in this former school. The smallest, a baby girl, Azal (ph), is only seven days old, born right as the battles were at their worst.

(on camera): It's really remarkable, some of the scenes that we are witnessing here. Hundreds of people have already come across the border crossing between Eastern and Western Aleppo. And many of them are taking shelter in buildings like this one, carrying only the very few possessions they could take as they fled.

(voice-over): Soldiers take us to the places they recaptured from opposition forces only hours before. We see Syrian troops evacuating weak and elderly and rebel barricades showing just how intense the fighting was.

(on camera): Just look at all the destruction here. We are actually in the old town of Aleppo right now. And this entire area, until a few days ago, was right on the front line.

(voice-over): While this may not be the end of the opposition's fight in Aleppo, many of those fleeing described the rebels' morale sinking and the harrowing conditions in the besieged areas.

"We didn't have food and barely any bread," this man says. "We were eight people. They would only give us two loafs of bread every two days. That was it for all of us."

While much of Eastern Aleppo has been reduced to rubble, the one thing expanding was the cemeteries. This one ran out of space as the bodies kept coming. Now that much of Eastern Aleppo has changed hands, Syrian soldiers plant their flag on the ruins of the place they have just conquered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And then, of course, Jake, you do have those efforts by the international community, especially the U.S., trying to get some sort of cease-fire going, a humanitarian cease-fire, for those eastern districts of Aleppo. But it really doesn't look like that's something that is currently in the cards.

The Syrian government has told us that they are giving the rebels two choices, either lay down their arms and leave Eastern Aleppo or continue to face the current onslaught. Really unclear how much longer the rebels are going to be able to hold out -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much. Please be safe.

The date that lives in infamy, the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago today. Our next guest, that day, was rescuing the men around him and writing down names and dog tag numbers, so he could tell parents just what happened to their sons.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. On this date, December 7th -- that's this date -- has indeed lived in infamy ever since President Franklin Roosevelt said those immortal words.

Japan surprise attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago today. It claimed 2,403 lives and changed the course of world history. This morning in Hawaii, some of the veterans who lived through that attack were on- hand to pay their respect and recall their experiences.

One of the survivors joins us now from Oahu, retired Navy Lieutenant Jim Downing -- age 103, he served on USS West Virginia. He lost 106 of his shipmates that day. Lieutenant Downy first off, thank you for your service and thank you for being with us today. Take us back to that morning 7:55 a.m., the bomb started dropping, where were you, what happened?

JIM DOWNING, RETIRED UNITED STATES NAVY LIEUTENANT: Actually, I was off the ship for the first 20 minutes. I've been married for 5 months, and my new bride and I lived about 20 minutes from the air station here.

TAPPER: What scene plays most vividly in your -- in your mind when you think about today, 75 years ago, December 7th, 1941?

DOWNING: As I look back, the strongest thing was surprise. There were no satellites in those days. Radar was not yet accepted, so the first shock was surprise. The first Japanese plane I saw was flying towards me, low and slow, and the pile of mag and machine gunner cut loose and the bullets went over my head and dug the trench behind me. So, surprise turned into fear. And then my fear turned into anger. Anger that they were letting Japan build up a big war machine.

[16:50:04] And also, angry at own political and military leaders for letting us getting caught like that. So, those were the reactions that were triggered by the fact that I looked just a few hundred yards (INAUDIBLE) at my battleship had been my home for 10 years. It took nine torpedoes and beginning to take on water and then sink, and was on fire above the waterline. So, I was really aggrieved to see my home of 10 years sinking and on fire.

TAPPER: And you had a lot of friends who were badly injured and told you took a notebook, and you offered to do something for them and their families. It's pretty remarkable. Tell us about that.

DOWNING: Yes, we were moved next to a battleship, Tennessee, which is almost undamaged. So, I knew that planes were approaching, ammunition storage, so I took a hose and tried to keep the fire away from those ammunition. But while I was doing that, I noticed the (INAUDIBLE) lying around, and it occurred to me that their parents will never know what happened. We had fire-proof nametags and lanyards so the flame wouldn't touch it. So I've been memorizing and I can hear these names with the objective of writing till it burns and telling another heroic last minutes in his life.

TAPPER: There are not a lot of people left who can share memories like the ones you're sharing with us today. What's it like being back in Hawaii with your fellow veterans on this anniversary?

DOWNING: Well, I think the picture in our minds is really not the greatness of this island. It's frozen in our minds, the destruction that took place that morning. So, it's good to meet old friends and talk to them, but somehow that image of the attack is frozen in our minds and that kind of overrules everything else.

TAPPER: Lieutenant, I cannot thank you enough for your service and your sacrifice. To you and all your fellow members of the greatest generation, thank you for what you did and thank you for spending some time with us today.

DOWNING: Well, I thank you for the privilege of talking with you. TAPPER: The fires in Tennessee killed 14 people and destroyed hundreds of homes, and now two people are now facing charges, who are they -- why'd they do it? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. In today's "NATIONAL LEAD", two juveniles are now in custody for their alleged roles in the wildfires that killed at least 14 people in Tennessee. Both are being charged with aggravated arson. Authorities said the fire started around November 23rd in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, then spread towards the town of Gatlinburg. We also learned that the juveniles are from Tennessee, though, not from the Gatlinburg area. Given their young age, authorities would not say much about their identities. They are both now in the detention center and will get a juvenile court hearing within the next 72 hours.

Opening statements began today in the trial for Dylan Roof, the avowed white supremacist who police say, shot and killed nine African- Americans last year at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. After the shooting, Roof told police he'd been trying to provoke a race war. Today in court, prosecutors called Roof's planning cold and calculated and urged jurors to consider his racist ideology. The defense reminded jurors of his young age, 22 years-old. The defense also said it will probably not call any witnesses, 10 women and 2 men will now decide Roof's fate on 33 federal charges related to the shooting. Nine of the jurors are white, three are black. If convicted, Roof could face the death penalty.

The rigorous search for bodies in that fire-ravaged building in Oakland, California has come to an end. The total death tolls stand at 36, authorities have identified all but one of the victims. The deathly blaze is now under criminal investigation but the cause or origin of the fire has yet to be determined. Officials have not ruled out arson. Also, an unsettling glimpse into what it was like inside that artist collective called the "Ghost Ship", court document show at the time of the fire, the site was under a pending investigation.

Officials were looking in to complaints that the property had piles of garbage and had been improperly remodelled for residential use.

In Ohio, it's now up to republican governor John Kasich to decide if his state will pass the country's strictest abortion law. The so- called "Heartbeat Bill" is now on his desk and he has 10 days to sign it, or veto it before it automatically becomes law. The law, would ban abortions in Ohio from the moment the heartbeat of a fetus can be detected. Now, doctors say that's typically around six weeks in to a pregnancy. No other state bans abortions until at earliest the 20th week of a pregnancy. Kasich has not weighed in on this bill, but told CNN earlier this year, he is against abortion with the exception of rape incest and the life of the mother. The ACLU already plans to fight Ohio so-called "Heartbeat Bill" if it becomes law.

Arkansas and North Dakota passed similar laws but they were strucken down after they were found unconstitutional in federal courts. Be sure to tune in tonight for a "CNN SPECIAL REPORT: THE LEGACY OF BARRACK OBAMA". CNN's Fareed Zakaria sits down with President Obama for a full conversation and look at his presidency, that's at 9 p.m. Eastern. That is it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @JakeTapper or the show @TheLeadCNN. You can also watch us on Facebook. And I'll turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he's right next door, in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM".

END