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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
North Korea Murder Mystery; Leadership Fight; 100 Protesters Voluntarily March Out Of Campsite; Pipeline Protesters Set Fire To Tents Before Deadline; Sources: Bomber Believed To Be Ex-Gitmo Detainee; Malaysian Police: Toxin Used To Kill Jong-nam; Police: Suspects Swabbed Kim's Face With Toxic Liquid; Police: Someone Tried To "Break Into" Morgue. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired February 22, 2017 - 4:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Let's stick with politics and talk about the anger we see boiling over at town halls across the country. Today, more lawmakers are taking on the crowds and their questions as they face post-election frustration back home.
While some of the turnout seems to be driven by grassroots groups offering step-by-step instructions on how to oppose the Trump administration and its policies, so-called resistance, it's also Democrats hoping to flip some red congressional districts blue in 2018.
Such might be the case in Branchburg, New Jersey, where Congressman Leonard Lance could get a feisty crowd this evening.
CNN's Kyung Lah is there ahead of this town hall.
Kyung, this is so reminiscent to me of the Tea Party protests in 2009 and 2010. And just like then, today, the White House questioned whether the anger of these town halls is being manufactured.
I remember Robert Gibbs saying the same thing to me about the Tea Party protests way back when.
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and the shoe is on the other foot now, different political party. But, certainly, as you point out, it certainly has very strong parallels.
We're hearing it today from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who called them, yes, angry, but he believes that there are professionals in there. And as far as whether or not they represent the district, he said not necessarily. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think some people are clearly upset, but there's a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there. But obviously there are people that are upset. But I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things that it is not a representation of a member's district or an incident. It is a loud group, small group of people disrupting something in many cases for media attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAH: Do they want media attention? They say, oh, yes, they do. But are these groups local?
That's what we're seeing. We have been to places from California to Utah to Virginia. They certainly appear to be local. And they are also passionate. I want to you take a look at Senator Joni Ernst's town hall. You can see the passion there from the moment she walked out. That crowd let her have it.
It was an uphill climb for her. She did manage to have a back and forth. There were some questions that she managed to answer, but when she ended it after 45 minutes, there were some extremely loud boos.
Her office says that 45-minute end, that was always the plan, Jake. But certainly how this is all happening, what we have seen at least appears to be organic -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Kyung Lah, thank you so much.
The battle over who will lead the Democratic Party in the era of Trump, and President Trump is giving a shout-out to one of the contenders for DNC chair, the guy who picked him to win, of course -- that story next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Continuing on with politics now, it's not really a good time to be a Democrat. Republicans control the White House, the House, the Senate, 33 governorships and the vast majority of state legislatures. According to one analysis, the Democratic Party is at its weakest point at the state level since 1920.
So, who might lead the Democratic Party out of this wilderness? Well, Saturday, the Democratic National Committee will hold elections, and eight candidates are vying to be the party's chair.
Tonight, CNN will give each one of them a platform. They will debate why they should be the next leader and the direction they want to take this party.
Let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, President Trump gave something of a shout-out to one of the candidates today, noting that Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota long ago predicted that there might be a Trump White House.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did.
Keith Ellison said early on in the primary that Democrats should be taking Trump much more seriously. And now Ellison, as one of the front-runners of this race, could have to follow his own advice if he does go on to take the helm at the DNC.
Going into Saturday's votes, there are huge implications for the Democrats. This is a party badly in need of a reboot and the big question this race will answer, who will hit the reset button?
THOMAS PEREZ, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: We have got to organize, organize, organize.
SERFATY (voice-over): Democrats are a party in search of direction and a new leader to help guide them.
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: We have got a fight ahead of us. We have got to come together, and we will.
SERFATY: Enter these eight candidates battling it out to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.
PEREZ: We need a DNC chairman who can inspire, who can make sure we talk to the entire big tent of our party, who can bring us together, who can invest in all of you.
SERFATY: The outcome could offer a huge signal on where the Democratic Party goes from here.
ELLISON: We win elections, and that is how we get the majority back.
SERFATY: Just look at the two front-runners, becoming something of a proxy war between the Sanders and Clinton factions of the party.
In one corner, Tom Perez who served both the Clinton and Obama administrations with the backing of the establishment of Democrats like Joe Biden. And just today, Perez rolling out the endorsement of heads of four DNC caucuses. In the other corner, Keith Ellison, representing the more progressive wing of the party backed by Senator Bernie Sanders.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I think it's time to take a reassessment of the purpose of where the Democratic Party is and where it wants to go. And I think essentially what we need to do right now is to become a grassroots party, which is what Keith Ellison believes.
SERFATY: Ellison's past ties to the Nation of Islam and his defense of its anti-Semitic leader, Louis Farrakhan, are resurfacing as he campaigns, though he publicly renounced them in 2006. Neither candidate has the race locked up, presenting an opportunity
for other candidates like South Carolina Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to tout their outsider status and potentially alter the race.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: I believe the DNC needs a fresh start, too, and I believe that I can deliver that fresh start.
SERFATY: Buttigieg picking up the endorsement of former DNC Chair Howard Dean today.
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's the outside the beltway candidate. This party is in trouble.
SERFATY: The Democratic Party is in trouble. They have been relegated to minority status in the Trump era, still reeling after suffering a big loss in November and their majorities in the House and Senate before that.
JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a contest of ideas as to which direction to take the party. After every single loss, the political party that loses, they go and they do a retrospective. What happened? Where did we make a mistake? What did we do wrong?
SERFATY: The new leader of the DNC will be in charge of helping define the course correction.
BUTTIGIEG: Our party has got some issues, and let us not for one moment shrink from the knowledge that there is no majority for Trumpism in America.
SERFATY: As the party looks to make gains in 2018...
PEREZ: You need a turnaround artist.
SERFATY: ... to retake the White House in 2020.
SERFATY: And going into Saturday's vote, a candidate will need a majority of the 447 committee members to win, but none of the candidates have secured enough votes yet.
Aides to several candidates, though, tell us that they think Tom Perez has a very narrow lead over Keith Ellison. So what will very likely happen, Jake, is that they will go into several rounds of voting on Saturday before they ultimately settle on a winner.
TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.
And a reminder, do not miss it this evening, the battle over who will lead the Democratic Party in the era of Trump. The candidates to lead the DNC debate tonight live on CNN at 10:00 Eastern. Our own Chris Cuomo and Dana Bash will moderate. Time is now officially up for protesters trying to prevent the
building of that controversial pipeline, but many are still refusing to leave. What happens now? We will go there live next.
Plus a break-in at the morgue. Security now increased around the body of Kim Jong-un's dead half-brother. Was someone trying to get his corpse?
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: And we're back with our "NATIONAL LEAD". Just moments ago, the deadline passed for Dakota Access Oil Pipeline protesters to leave their encampments on federal land. Now, anyone on the pipeline project site could be subject to arrest. While some of the remaining protesters may be getting ready to dig in their heels even deeper, others are leaving the site. Some protesters have been setting fires to their own camps, either because they did not have enough time to break them down or because the tents are quite frankly frozen to the ground. Let's bring in CNN Correspondent Sara Sidner. She joins us from Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Sara, how is the evacuation going so far?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far we've seen 75 to 100 people who have walked out peacefully. They were chanting, they were singing, they were beating drums, and they were crying. There were several people who had tears in their eyes as they left the camp. Many of them have called this home for many, many months. Some of them since August and September, they have weathered a lot of storms here, and they were very, very sad to leave, but they did leave peacefully.
Now, I want to give you a look at the camp. We are very far away from the camp, where we're normally right in front of it, but law enforcement pushed us back to this area, saying they needed the space for their cars, and there is a huge contingent of law enforcement here, bigger than we have ever seen since this encampment ended up being populated. I know you remember this, Jake. Back -- just a few months ago, there were upwards of 10,000 people here. If you take a look out there now, a very different scene.
First of all, the snow is gone. It is a muddy, wet mess, which is one of the reasons why authorities and the tribal council wanted people to leave because it is in a floodplain. But there are also far fewer people there. There is an estimate by someone in the camp, there may be about 50 people left inside this camp, and they have been told, we are now more than an hour past when people were supposed to evacuate. They have been told, "You are now subject to arrest and fines," but law enforcement has also been negotiating with the group of people who said that they want to be arrested and they will come out, and there is a specific area, but they are still negotiating. That was supposed to happen at 2:00. Law enforcement says, "OK. We'll give you until 4:00." Here is what one of the people inside the camp, who has now evacuated, said about those who were left behind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [16:50:20] KAOOPLUS ENIMKLA THUNDER AND LIGHTNING, TRIBAL MEMBER: I
fear for the safety of the people. You know that we have a lot of elders who are going to stay. Women are going to stay, too. And I fear for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Now, I do want to mention the fires because there were a couple of other reasons why people were setting fires to, for example, a Tipi, to some of the structures that have been here, semi-permanent structures, and they said that some of the tribes do this for traditional reasons. It's basically burning things to the ground and letting things go back to the earth. But we did see them burn a guard shack that they had built, right up at the entrance, and a little interesting tidbit here. They had a television set up there, not plugged in, of course, there is no electricity, but it said the revolution will not be televised. I beg to differ. Jake?
TAPPER: And Sara Sidner, I want to ask you the months' long protest, they've not only been emotionally charged, but I would imagine quite financially costly.
SIDNER: Very financially costly. If you listen to what law enforcement has said, they have spent -- in North Dakota, the sheriff's department, the Morton County Sheriff's Department, has estimated $22 million of taxpayer money has been spent with the number of law enforcement that has been here 24 hours a day, since around August, as well as many other agencies surrounding that, including the National Guard, who have also had troops that are just behind me there, kind of waiting to see what happened and being available to law enforcement here. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Sara Sidner, thank you so much as always.
A new twist into the mysterious murder of Kim Jong-un's brother at a Malaysian airport. Now, authorities are searching for a North Korean embassy official. That story next.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: Turning to our "WORLD LEAD", a man who ISIS claims carried out a suicide attack near Mosul, Iraq, has been identified in a British press as a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. A British official confirmed this, telling CNN that U.K. Intelligence believes the suicide bomber was indeed British-born Ronald Fiddler. He later changed his name to Jamal al-Harith when he converted to Islam. He was at Guantanamo inmate for about two years, until his claims of "torture and systematic abuse", got him released back to the U.K. under President Bush in 2004. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed his administration did work out a deal to free him and the succeeding David Cameron administration, even financially compensated him. ISIS said in a statement on Monday that the suicide bomber had blown up his car at an army base near Mosul.
Also, in world news today, a toxic substance was indeed the murder weapon used to kill Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, Malaysian authorities confirmed this today. Investigators also believe half a dozen operatives including two women who were trained to use the lethal substance carried out the mission. Another clue, the North Korean Leader may have ordered the killing of his half-brother. The North Korean Embassy worker is now wanted for questioning by Malaysian authorities. Let's bring in CNN Correspondent Saima Mohsin from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Saima, thanks for joining us. How was Kim Jong-nam killed according to authorities? How did this toxin get into his system?
SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this is the first time we've heard from Malaysia's top police chief in the extraordinary details that he's sharing about this attack at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in full public view. He says that four North Korean men poured a liquid into the hands of the two women now in custody. They then took turns to approach Kim Jong-nam, and this is how he showed us, wiped his face with the toxic substance. He says they knew it was a toxic substance, they knew what they were doing, they ran away with their hands in the air to wash them, and this was no prank T.V. show that's been suggested by Indonesian police. This was a carefully planned attack with several test runs at various malls here in Kuala Lumpur. Jake?
TAPPER: And as if the story could not become any more bizarre, is it true that someone tried to break into the morgue where his body is being held?
MOHSIN: Yes, Jake, more fantastical information in an incredulous story as you say, straight out of a spy novel. Yes, the other night several SWAT teams turned up at the mortuary. The press outside that have been staking it out thought that perhaps a member of Kim Jong- nam's family had come forward to formally identify him. But apparently, no, the inspector general of the police said somebody had tried to break in. He wouldn't tell us who, but he said they are prepared to protect the morgue so that nobody gets in to tamper with the evidence. Jake?
TAPPER: And, of course, there's so much speculation that Kim Jong-un, the dictator of North Korea would have been the one who ordered the murder of his half-brother. Why would he want his half-brother dead?
MOHSIN: Well, you know, this was the one time would-be heir of North Korea. He is Kim Jong-il, the former leader's first-born son to his favorite mistress, and he was topped to be the new leader of North Korea or tipped, rather. And then, he fell out of favor because he was using a forged passport to try to get to Tokyo Disneyland in 2001. He was seen as too progressive for the regime. He wanted reform for North Korea. And then when Kim Jong-un stepped in, as we all know, he has not favored any kind of rivals to his leadership, and there have been apparently several assassination attempts before according to South Korean intelligence. Jake?
TAPPER: Saima Mohsin, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.