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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Winter Weather; Forgive Edward Snowden?; Priest Murdered; Calls for Clemency for Edward Snowden; Arrest in Murder of Popular Priest

Aired January 02, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Winter is roaring in with whiteout conditions and nearly 100 million people in the storm's path.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead: It is the worst snowstorm of 2014. OK, that's kind of lame. The year's only two days old. But, still, it's really brutal out there from the Midwest up through the East Coast. How bad will it get?

The world lead. It's no mystery why Edward Snowden hasn't booked a flight home to the U.S. yet. Now two prominent papers say the government should forgive his trespasses, but does the man who brought to the public top secret NSA surveillance methods deserve forgiveness?

And also in national news, after he did not show up for mass, a beloved priest was found dead in his church's own rectory. Police say he was murdered. Who did it, and why?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead. If you have still got house guests from the holidays lingering in your home, ones you want to get rid of, I regret to tell you may have missed your window; 100 million people are in the path of a wintry blast in 22 states.

We're talking blizzard-like conditions here, inch upon inch of snow, subzero temperatures that will make you want to wrap yourself up like an astronaut before leaving the house. More than 1,700 flights are canceled all across the country. Parts of Illinois have already gotten a foot of snow. It has been falling in Chicago and other areas on and off since this young year began, and when it moves out, people there will still have to suffer bitterly cold temperatures.

Meanwhile, a nor'easter is brewing off the East Coast, where the trouble is just beginning. This that you're looking at it right now, this is Upstate New York, where as many as 14 inches may fall. New York City could get nine inches of snow with winds at least 35 miles per hour. Boston could get as many as 11 inches with temperatures that will probably fall below the level you keep your freezer at.

CNN of course has correspondents all over the storm zone and it is a wide one, as we said, encompassing nearly a third of the U.S. population.

I want to start with our own Frederik Pleitgen, standing by live in Boston.

Fred, the worst is apparently yet to come in Boston.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right.

Jake, it is already snowing quite heavily, as you can see. There has already been some accumulation as well. If I go down here, I would say it's about three, three-and-a-half inches of snow that's already fallen. But, as you say, it's going to get much, much worse. And there you can see a snow plow that's going past here right now.

The streets are actually still pretty much OK. A lot of them have been pre-treated with salt, with salt spreaders, so right now it's pretty slushy there. But the traffic is moving. But, again, it's going to get worse. The snow is going to increase considerably, the wind is going to increase considerably, especially in the late evening hours. That's -- pretty much all the schools here in this area will be closed tomorrow.

A lot of government workers have been sent home early as well. So they are expecting a pretty bad storm and they are telling people to stock up in case they won't be able to leave their house in the next couple of days. As you said, we are covering this storm from all angles.

We do have Jean Casarez in New York.

Jean, tell us what is going on there.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it is so cold here. The National Weather Service is saying it's 26 degrees right now.

You say, OK, 26 degrees, but with the windchill, it is 16 and it is going down. New York City and the outside areas are expecting heavy snowfall tonight and this is a city with eight million people. The Department of Emergency Management in New York City and the Sanitation Department have snow plows ready and they are filling the salt trucks, but many are saying around here that maybe this is a test for the newly sworn-in mayor, Bill de Blasio, because it was in 2010 under Mayor Bloomberg that outlying streets in similar circumstances were not plowed for days.

That impacted not only transportation and pedestrians, but also emergency vehicles. The new mayor, Mayor de Blasio, says it will be different this time. He is 100 percent sure.

Now we want to check in at Reagan National Airport with Sunlen Serfaty, who is monitoring the delayed and the canceled flights -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jean, if you're flying today, cross your fingers and arrive early, because we have already seen major delays across the United States. We're here at National Airport, just outside of Washington, D.C., and if you can see behind me, this is what travelers are encountering, a lot of flights canceled, many delays. And at many other airports across the country, it is a lot worse. Logan Airport in Boston has announced they will stop flights from 8:30 p.m. tonight to noon tomorrow in anticipation of the strong winds that are arriving. We have already seen nationwide the numbers just tick up through the day of canceled flights. FlightAware reports 1,700 flights canceled already, 3,400 delays, most in Chicago O'Hare Airport.

Individual airlines are starting to cancel flights as well preemptively as well. Let's check out which airlines. American Airlines, 600 flights already canceled. U.S. airways, over 100. United, 550. Delta, 300 and Southwest about 100. It is predicted that the travel conditions will just get worse as the weather situation does as well -- Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: Thanks, guys.

If it looks as though it's miserable outside now, well, it's only going to get worse. The peak of the storm is hitting tonight with near whiteout conditions and freezing temperatures.


TAPPER: And just a quick programming note. If you're in the mood for a happier take on frozen tundra, CNN Films presents the Academy Award- winning "March of the Penguins" tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Coming up in THE LEAD: new calls to give a deal to Edward Snowden from a surprising source. We will talk to Glenn Greenwald about Snowden's chances for a pardon. That's coming up in our world lead.

And in our pop culture lead, the "Wolf of Wall Street" makes taping money to a nearly naked woman look like so much fun, but some critics say Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are glorifying bad guys. How they are fighting back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for the world lead.

If you were Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who stole and then leaked information that revealed a massive surveillance web operating in secret, would you come back to the U.S.? On one hand, you could keep your freedom, relatively speaking, in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

On the other, you could return home and be immediately thrown behind bars by an enraged government that many of which, the members of the government have labeled you a traitor, maybe for the rest of your life.

Tough choice, right, and not one Snowden should have to make according to two prominent newspaper editorial boards. The editorial boards of both "The New York Times" and "The Guardian" are calling on the government of Barack Obama to give him a pass or at least a deal. "The Times" board, generally a reliable supporter of the Obama administration, disagrees with the White House on Snowden to an almost shocking extent, writing -- quote -- "He may have committed a crime, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency."

Joining me now is Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist for First Look Media. He broke scoop after scoop on the NSA using information Snowden gave to him. Also with me here in studio Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post" who just wrote a piece calling Snowden a -- quote -- "insufferable whistle-blower."

Ruth, I'm going to start with you. "The Times" board also writes, "When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government."

Do you agree with "The Times" that Snowden should get some form of clemency?


In fact, I think he should have -- if he really believes in the Constitution as I wrote, he should have stuck around, tested the constitutional system, taken his punishment, argued that he was justified in the leaks that he did. He didn't. He just turned tail and fled the country.

TAPPER: Glenn, I'm sure you want to respond to that.

GLENN GREENWALD, FIRST LOOK MEDIA: I want to say two things. I think Ruth Marcus' argument exemplifies everything that's really horrible about the D.C. media.

First of all, what she said is just completely factually false. If he had stayed in the United States, as Daniel Ellsberg, widely considered to be a hero by most Americans, argued in "The Washington Post," he would have been barred from making the very argument that she just said he should have made.

Under the Espionage Act, you're not allowed to come into court and say I was justified in disclosing this information. There is no whistle- blower exception in the Espionage Act, which is why whistle-blowers don't get justice in the United States.

But I think the really important point is that people in Washington continuously make excuses for those in power when they break the law. Ruth Marcus was one of the leaders in 2008 saying that Bush officials that torture people shouldn't be prosecuted, they should be protected. She praised and protected FBI agents in the '70s who entered people's homes without warnings and were criminally prosecuted. She said they shouldn't have been prosecuted.

That's what people in Washington do. They would never call on someone like James Clapper, who got caught lying to Congress, which is a felony, to be prosecuted. They only pick on people who embarrass the government and the administration to which they are loyal like Edward Snowden. It's not about the rule of law.


MARCUS: Well, first of all, actually, I don't think -- I think James Clapper lied to Congress and I don't think that he should be in office, and I wrote a column saying exactly that.

But let's get back to...


GREENWALD: Should he be prosecuted? Should he be prosecuted?


GREENWALD: Just answer that. Should James Clapper be prosecuted? You just said the rule of law...


MARCUS: You know what? I let you make your point. Why don't you let me make my point, OK?


GREENWALD: Just answer that question. Answer that question.

MARCUS: No, I don't actually need to answer that question because then we're going to get involved in a whole conversation about what the exact elements of perjury are.


GREENWALD: It's a total double standard. That's a total double standard.


MARCUS: Let's talk about Edward Snowden, instead of calling people names and making accusations.

The fact is that look at the Ellsberg example. Yes, he wrote a very interesting column my newspaper, "The Washington Post," saying that he agreed with Snowden that Snowden should have fled.

But what did Ellsberg do? He came forward. He said he thought it was his responsibility as an American citizen, after actually he tried to get his information to the Senate and have the Senate reveal the information.

When that whistle-blowing didn't work, he took it to reporters. And so that's one big difference. And the second big difference is, he stuck around, came forward, said, fine, go ahead and prosecute me. The prosecution failed because his rights had been violated, but the system worked for him. Edward Snowden didn't give the system a chance to work for him.

TAPPER: Glenn, go ahead.

GREENWALD: First of all, why won't Ruth Marcus answer the question, should the top officials in the Obama administration, to which she's a loyalist, why shouldn't they after they got caught lying by the documents that Mr. Snowden came forward to publish -- remember, when I met him in Hong Kong, the first thing he said to me is, "I have documents proving that the top national security officials and the US Congress have been misleading the public, and lying to Congess," which is a crime. And he gave us the documents that showed the James Clapper lied when he denied that the US government was collecting data on millions of Americans.

Why won't she answer the question, should he be prosecuted for him having broken the law, just like she says Edward Snowden should be? And I'll tell you the answer: because people in Washington who are well-connected to the government like she is, do not believe that the law applies to them. They only believe that the law should be used to punish people and imprison people who don't have power in Washington or who expose the wrongdoing of American political officials.

And as far as Daniel Ellsberg is concerned, just go read what he wrote. He said the world is completely different now. The U.S. government does not allow whistleblowers like they allowed him to stay out of jail, to make their case to the public. If Edward Snowden came back to Washington before he was convicted of anything, he would be disappearing in prison and not be allowed to speak. I want to know the answer to that question, Ruth, should --


RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Why didn't Edward Snowden behave like Daniel Ellsberg and try to work through the system in order to try to get his information public? Daniel Ellsberg tried to work through the system --


MARCUS: No, he didn't. He went and complained a little bit to some of his co-workers at the NSA, he says. That's all that he did.

But let me give you an answer to the Clapper question because you seem to be focused on it, so fine, if you want to spend time doing that, we can do that. The answer to the Clapper question is -- absolutely, if federal prosecutors believe that they could make a case under the perjury statute which I know that you know as well as I do, Glenn, is a very difficult case to make that shows a knowing and material misrepresentation, then fine, go right ahead.

I don't happen to think that the criminal law is going to get you where you should go on the Clapper front, but I take a back seat to nobody in saying that I thought Clapper's testimony was false and that he should be ashamed of it and it's totally intolerable.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Glenn, let me -- let me read something to you from Josh Barro at "The Business Insider".

BARRO: Sure.

TAPPER: He tweeted this out and I just want to get your response to this. Josh wrote, "The case for clemency for Snowden is a radical case against our diplomatic and intel apparatus which people make oddly casually."

And if Snowden had only revealed the reach of NSA inside the U.S. and not divulged the methods, extent, et cetera, do you think then there would be a better case for clemency? Do you think that by going as far as he did, he undermined his ability to come back to the United States?

He could have taken -- he could have done a little bit and started the debate, is I guess the argument Josh is making.

GREENWALD: Well, first of all, the United States indicted him under espionage statutes and charged him with crimes that would put him into prison for three decades before the fourth or fifth story was even published, when just the first couple stories had been published.

Secondly, as all kinds of journalists including from Ruth's own paper have continuously pointed out, the Obama administration is more aggressive and more vindictive when it comes to punishing whistleblowers than any administration in all of American history, including the Nixon administration. All sorts of whistleblowers in the past who have come forward and used the proper channels as Ruth calls them, or disclosed only a little bit like Tom Drake have been prosecuted, have had their lives destroyed.

And the problem in Washington is, the system is designed to prevent whistleblowers from being able to get to the public what it is they want to know. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, two Democratic senators on the Intelligence Committee, already knew what Mr. Snowden made public. They've been warning the public for years that they should know about this and be alarmed about it. But even those two powerful senators were barred by the law and were too afraid to tell the people what they know.

That's why Mr. Snowden did what he did. He knew there was no way inside the system to make his fellow citizens aware of what their government was doing to their privacy.

TAPPER: Ruth, it is true that the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act --

MARCUS: Absolutely.

TAPPER: -- more to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists not just than any previous administration, but then more than all previous administrations combined. So, the argument that Ellsberg makes that it's a different environment than the '70s might be accurate, no?

MARCUS: Well, I think there has been an excessive use of the whistleblower -- excessive use of power against whistleblowers. And I also think because I see the world -- Glenn sees the world in black and white, I see it in gray terms, which makes me apparently a complete tool of the establishment. I think that Snowden, a piece of his disclosure, has done a public service. And so, when I look at this, I really balance the equities of how much he disclosed.

I thought Josh's point that you raised is a very good point -- perhaps if he had just told us only about the metadata program, perhaps if he had tried ways to reveal that elsewhere. The whole establishment, if you will, wouldn't be so up at arms.

But he took, he stole, let's use the right words for it, an enormous amount of data and spilled it out there, and we still don't know the exact consequences of it. I know Glenn any second is going to say show me exactly what the harm is to national security, but you know and I know that that's the issue. You can't actually always show the harm. It's not like giving the name of a spy and the next thing you know, he's executed.

There is a gray unknowable area here, and I just find both his attitude, which I called insufferable and I will stand by that --

TAPPER: Snowden's. Not Glenn's.

MARCUS: Sorry, Glenn. We can discuss that, too.

Just really troubling and reprehensible even though I simultaneously think there has been a value to it. We are having a really important public debate and I wish -- it's the NSA's fault and I have been critical of them as well, that we weren't able to have that otherwise.

TAPPER: Glenn, do you really think that -- and the truth is we have no -- as Ruth points out, we have no idea. But do you really think this hasn't damaged in any way these disclosures, the ability of our national security apparatus to actually accomplish some things truly in the name of protecting innocent people?

GREENWALD: Jake, we do know. We do have that evidence. The federal court two weeks ago and President Obama's own hand-picked panel that studied this for months and wrote a very detailed report both said that the administration keeps claiming that these programs are necessary to stop terrorist plots, and yet there is no evidence that can be identified, they said, that in any way shows that these programs are necessary to do that.

Terrorism is what government officials just immediately start yelling and they have been doing this for 12 years, whenever they get caught doing things that they shouldn't actually be doing. It's just a fear- mongering technique.

There's no reason the United States government needs to collect not just people's metadata, as Ruth keeps saying. They also collect people's content including Americans' content. Ruth said in her column that "the content of my calls remains off-limits." That's totally false. Under the 2008 FISA law, the U.S. government and NSA do collect without warrants the telephone communication of American citizens when they speak internationally with people they're targeting. That was the whole purpose of the law. This is incredibly amazing --


TAPPER: Let Glenn finish, and then I'll give you the last word.

GREENWALD: You do not need -- you do not need, Jake, to be collecting billions of calls and e-mail, billions, every day as the NSA does. You can target the people that you suspect of engaging in wrongdoing in Buenos Aires (ph), and monitor their communications. That would actually make stopping plots more effective than if you're aiming at the entire citizenry as the NSA currently is doing.

TAPPER: All right. I'm going to give Ruth the last word.

MARCUS: Well, Glenn is conflating two things. The president's hand- picked panel as he said did say that there wasn't proof that the metadata program had stopped any crimes but that -- any terrorist activities -- but that isn't proof that Snowden's disclosures haven't harmed national security. So, he is trying to confuse it with that.

TAPPER: Because there are other programs to disclose.

MARCUS: But there are other -- the disclosures were massive and we don't know -- I'm less upset about his revelation of the metadata program because I think to some extent we already knew that was happening, than I am about some of the other things.

TAPPER: All right. Ruth Marcus and Glenn Greenwald, we will have you both back. Thank you so much. Happy New Year to both of you.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, breaking news on the hunt for the man they say murdered a priest inside the church rectory. What was the motive? We'll talk to the police chief, next.

And Netflix has already transformed the way many of us watch TV. Are they changing the game again? We'll tell you about it in our money lead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

There's some breaking news in a murder mystery involving a popular priest. Police say they have arrested the man wanted for killing Reverend Eric Freed and leaving his body inside the church rectory.

Gary Lee Bullock is now in custody in Humboldt County, California. We're still not sure how Freed was killed or why, but police say Bullock was spotted at the church hours before the body was found.

As you can imagine, those who knew Reverend Freed are still in complete shock over all this. The mayor of Eureka called his death a loss for the entire community. Freed was known for sharing funny, inspirational stories with his congregation at St. Bernard Parish, and for his deep ties to a local university, where he taught for more than a decade.

Joining us now live from Eureka, California, is police chief Andy Mills.

Chief Mills, thank you so much for being here.

What can you tell us about this arrest? Where was Bullock found?

CHIEF ANDY MILLS, EUREKA POLICE DEPARTMENT: Gary Bullock was arrested about a half hour ago in the southern part of Humboldt County, down in the Garberville area by the Humboldt County sheriff's department. And we currently have officers en route down there to pick him up.

TAPPER: And why do you think he is the right man?

MILLS: Well, there's a lot of evidence at the scene that would link him to this incident. Based on what we found at the scene as well as interviews we have done with people, he seems to be the person that there's no question in our mind is responsible for this heinous act.

TAPPER: What kind of evidence, can you tell us?

MILLS: Yes, I can't go into a lot of specifics, as you might imagine. This is what the interview will consist of. But we -- both eyewitness accounts to him being in the area as well as things that we found at the scene that would lead us to believe that he is the right person.

TAPPER: Was there a motive or was this more of a crime of opportunity?

MILLS: You know, right now, we see it as a crime of opportunity. However, as we get further into this, I'm sure we will be able to piece together a motive. But at this time, I'm not really sure what the motive might be.

TAPPER: As you know better than I do, members of the community are very anxious to find out as much as they can about what happened, why it happened. When do you think you will be able to share more details about how Reverend Freed was killed and why?

MILLS: You know, to me, why is the biggest thing that we would like to establish, to bring a sense of ease and comfort to the community. But right now, I'm just glad that this incident is done, it is over with, he's in custody, the public can take a deep breath and things can get back to Eureka -- to normal in Eureka, which is just a fantastic city here on the north coast.

TAPPER: Chief Mills, thank you so much. I hope you got the right guy.

Coming up on THE LEAD, nearly 100 million people are in the path of a nasty winter storm. We'll get an update on the worst of what's coming your way. And they said everything but smell you later. Mike Bloomberg takes a beating during the inauguration of New York City's new mayor, someone who served as his right hand man will join us and react.