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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Bush Vows "Slow And Steady" Campaign; New Era Begins In U.S.- Cuba Relations; Officials Confirm ISIS Used Mustard Agent In Syria. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 14, 2015 - 16:30   ET



SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's continuing to cash a white shadow, continuing to trip him up on the trail. After finally saying he wouldn't have gone into Iraq based on today's facts, Bush is now seeing this.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will tell you taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal.

SERFATY: And trying instead to focus on the sampling and serving of his own red meat going after President Obama --

BUSH: It's time we have a president that accepted responsibility for the duties of the presidency, if there's a problem don't say the dog ate my homework.

SERFATY: And Hillary Clinton --

BUSH: I gave out my e-mail address, that's exactly what I did when I governor of the state of Florida. I released all my e-mails. I am writing an e-book about my e-mails. I think we need a lot more transparency in politics today.

SERFATY: Struggling in the polls in Iowa, Bush has a lot of ground to make up.

BUSH: No, last time around there were candidates that were winning at this point that never even made it to the starting line.


SERFATY: And Jeb Bush later went on to say that slow and steady wins the race and the one thing that will slow down Donald Trump as he has been called for jury duty Monday in Manhattan -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sunlen, thank you so much. A little fact check there, of course, Governor Bush did not release all of his e- mails, though, he did release a number of them as required by law.

Let's return to our World Lead here in Cuba, today's events have been a very, very long time coming, and you saw the flag raising outside the U.S. Embassy right behind me, but inside a time warp.

CNN was granted exclusive access into the building and we will take you inside and show you what it looks like next.




TAPPER: We'd also point out that Steven in the crowd tonight, Senator Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration is ridiculous.


TAPPER: That was then Senator Barack Obama laying out his rational for engaging a rogue regime such as Cuba at a presidential debate back in July 2007, and now here we are today in Havana, eight years and change later where U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, officially ushered in a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations by reopening the American embassy behind me, and shuttered more than half a century ago.

Let's bring in CNN's man in Havana, Patrick Oppmann, who has spent the last four years living and reporting here in Cuba. Patrick, you were granted unprecedented access into this building as diplomats prepared for Secretary Kerry's arrival today.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. When we started to film inside the building and we were running off a generator, and it's daunting, and for these diplomats, it wasn't just a historic occasion. It was a race against time to get the embassy ready and they let us follow them each step along the way as they did that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to the new embassy.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Words that for over half a century, U.S. diplomats in Cuba were unable to say. The day Cuba and U.S. officially restored diplomatic relations officials at the embassy greeted their colleagues with hugs and American flags.

CNN was granted exclusive access to the reopening. Members of the Cuban staff marveled that the cold war hostilities have been overcome.

(on camera): Did you think you would work here and see the change that we have seen in the last six months?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I never thought I would see this in my lifetime.

OPPMANN (voice-over): The head of the embassy says he and his staff are taking part in history. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a privilege to be part of all of this and it's a privilege to be part of an administration that has made a courageous decision to make this change, and it's also a privilege to be able to lead this mission as it transitions from an intersection to an embassy.

OPPMANN: That transition is more of a sprint, as staff get everything ready for Secretary of State John Kerry's visit redoing the long unused flag pole.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But they will use the Spanish feed --

OPPMANN: Hosting an influx of foreign press and planning for every contingency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then Justin should be around holding spaces.

OPPMANN: A long list of challenges in a country where few things ever seem to go right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is where we keep everything running.

OPPMANN: Management Officer Martina Polls (ph) takes us to the basement to get a first look at the sign and the seal that will go in the entrance to the embassy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty cool sign, isn't it?

OPPMANN (on camera): What I am walking next to is something that has not been seen in 54 years in Cuba, and it's a sign for the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

(voice-over): She says reopening the embassy is the high point of her career.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is fantastic. There are so many Foreign Service officers that waited to be here and I think I am being envied by a lot of people who say this is the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people.

OPPMANN: The work will continue until the last moment. Nothing is left to chance. The Marines even practice raising the flag. But as the big day arrives, American diplomats say the U.S. Embassy in Havana is ready to step back into the spotlight.


[16:40:00] OPPMANN: Jake, the diplomats in the building behind us should not expect to get any rest in the months or years ahead because now begins the process of normalization, and that's going to be more complex than anything they have done so far.

TAPPER: Yes, raising the flag was the easy part. Patrick Oppmann, thank you so much.

Noticeably absent from today's ceremony were Cuban dissidents that have been critical of the Castro regime and its painful record of human rights abuses, opponents of the diplomatic thaw and there are many on both sides including Republican senator and presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

I asked Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants what he would ask the Cuban government if given a chance. Here's what he had to say?


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to know why the people of Cuba are the only people in the western hemisphere who cannot democratically elect their leaders? Why are the people of Cuba, the only people in the western hemisphere who did not have free and unfettered and unrestricted access to the internet?

Why are the people of Cuba not allowed to watch any television station they watch from anywhere in the world? I want to know why the people of Cuba have been blockaded and isolated by their own government for almost six decades?


TAPPER: Joining me to talk about this monumental shift in U.S.-Cuban relations is a retired Cuban diplomat, Carlos Alzugaray Treto. Carlos, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it.

The first question that Marco Rubio, Senator Marco Rubio had, and I know you couldn't hear it, but his first question is why are the people of Cuba the only people in the western hemisphere who cannot democratically elect their leader? Why?

CARLOS ALZUGARAY TRETO, RETIRED CUBAN DIPLOMAT: It's a lie. We elect our leaders. We have elections.

TAPPER: Do you have to be a member of the communist party?

TRETO: You have to be a member of the communist party. You have town halls where the candidates are there, and there's only one candidate, and that's wrong, and I think that will change and we will see change happening.

TAPPER: Don't you think there needs to be more than one party?

TRETO: No, just more than one candidate. The parties, it's not an issue now, I think, but anyway that can be opened.

TAPPER: The other question that Senator Rubio had is how come the people of Cuba are the only ones in the western hemisphere who do not have freedom on the internet or TV?

TRETO: You have walked through the street and see all these guys connected on their Wi-Fi?

TAPPER: The Wi-Fis for the last few weeks.

TRETO: Well, it's moving. Things are not status. Things are not frozen. Things are changing.

TAPPER: Why are the people of Cuba not allowed to watch any TV station from around the world?

TRETO: That's a good question. Why should we? We have the Cuban television network. I would like to see more television networks.

TAPPER: It seems like the government is afraid of exposing people to ideas.

TRETO: No, I don't think so. I am a member of the board of a journal that produces ideas. We are on Facebook and internet and on Twitter and YouTube. We organize every --

TAPPER: I mean other ideas.

TRETO: Well, every time we have this meeting we invite everyone, and everyone can express their ideas there, and we invite them.

TAPPER: I hope progress comes and I hope people of Cuba get the government and freedoms that they deserve.

TRETO: We have the freedoms we deserve, and we will be freer, don't worry about that.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much. I appreciate you coming here and answering my questions.

TRETO: Thank you.

TAPPER: We are following another major World Lead, the U.S. now investigating claims of ISIS using chemical weapons. How could this change the war to degrade and destroy the terrorist group? That story is next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper live in Havana, Cuba. Some breaking news from another part of the island, Guantanamo Bay, a source telling CNN that the Pentagon is assessing facilities in the U.S. that could potentially house the detainees who are currently behind bars in Gitmo.

We are told the Defense Department team is currently evaluating the U.S. disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and that they are inspect the naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina in the coming weeks as well, 116 Gitmo detainees are still locked up at that detention facility.

Turning now to the war on ISIS, some breaking news just in to CNN. U.S. military and intelligence officials confirming that ISIS terrorists used mustard agent, which is a chemical weapon in an attack carried out in Syria. This comes right on the heels of another investigation in what officials describe as, quote, "credible claims" that ISIS used the same weaponized gas on Kurdish troops in Northern Iraq.

Both incidents raising serious concerns that the terrorists group may have large quantities of chemical weapons and could use them in a mass casualty attack.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr who is live at the Pentagon. Barbara, if confirmed do U.S. officials have any sense of where ISIS may have obtained these weapons?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this is just one of the many questions that the U.S. right now is scrambling to answer.


STARR (voice-over): The patients came to this Northern Iraqi hospital with blistered skin and respiratory distress. The Kurds say ISIS fired mortars at them containing a chemical agent.

The U.S. is investigating and will test samples to find out if it was mustard agent, a chemical weapon U.S. officials now tell CNN ISIS possesses in small quantities.

[16:50:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a game changer because what it means is the introduction of chemical weapons. When you do that, you have a real issue with protecting troops. You have a real issue with insuring the safety of civilians that might be in the battle zone.

STARR: Samples from an attack a few weeks ago near Hasakah, Syria confirmed a mustard agent was used by ISIS there U.S. officials say. Now two attacks this week near Makhmour in Kurdish Northern Iraq are being closely looked at.

Officials hope more testing will tell them if mustard or possibly chlorine, an agent the Kurds say ISIS has used against them before was used again. Kurdish fighters have proven capable against ISIS, but a chemical weapon would make their task more difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are much more exposed and at risk, so this is for them very dangerous and could really hurt their ability to fight.

STARR: The question now, from where could ISIS have obtained the mustard agent, old weapons from Saddam Hussein in Iraq, a secret stockpile from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that was somehow not destroyed in 2014 under an international agreement, or did ISIS manufacture the agent on its own?

President Obama once threatened military action if the Syrian regime used chemical weapons.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons use or move around.

STARR: Now that it's ISIS, what will the Obama administration do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's important for us to send a signal not only to the Kurds but to ISIS as well that we are going to support the Kurds in any way that we conceivably can.


STARR: Now some activist groups in the area are disputing some of the elements that the U.S. is reporting on, but it really just underscores, there's a lot of confusion here and the U.S. is trying to sort it all out. When it comes to Syria and Iraq there's a long history of concern about that intelligence possibilities about chemical weapons -- Jake.

TAPPER: Indeed. Barbara Starr live for us at the Pentagon. Thank you so much.

Today marks the first time in 70 years that a U.S. secretary of state has visited Cuba. John Kerry is here in Havana. CNN spoke with him moments ago. What he had to say about today's historic and controversial event next.



TAPPER: Monumental De Agila, that's the monument right there, and there used to be an eagle on top of it, but it was torn down around the time of the Cuban missile crisis and the head of the eagle is supposedly in the U.S. Embassy with the body in a Cuban museum.

I am told the Cubans officials say they will put it back when a U.S. president visited the island again. We'll see if that happens. We're live here in Havana, Cuba.

All the ceremony here today signaling a new chapter for this country that has battled through poverty and repression for the better part of five decades.

Just minutes ago, our Elise Labott sat down with the secretary of state, John Kerry, and she asked him what the new normal looks like for Cuba. Elise, what did he have to say?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly he is looking to increase opportunities, as you said, to improve the repression and the poor economy here, but the main question is, is the human rights situation on the island going to improve?

And I asked Secretary Kerry, he's argued that the increased engagement will lead to improved human rights for dissidents, but you know, dissidents have said, some of them didn't want to come today because eight months in, detentions continued and lack of freedoms on the island.

Secretary Kerry said eight months isn't enough, and this is going to take time. Here is what he had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: If eight months isn't long enough, how long is it until you will have a measurable amount of success and you can grade whether this policy is working?

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the announcement was made eight months ago that we were going to move towards this policy, but we have to negotiate for many of the months on the actual process itself. I don't think, you know, we're not there. Today, we raised flags and opened embassies and you have to give us a

moment for us to have our committee sit down and confront these issues and come up with a road map that makes sense, and we will confront if they challenge their own citizens on the issue of human rights, you will hear us loudly and clearly taking them on with respect to that.


LABOTT: The problem is, Jake, with all the pomp and circumstance for the Cuban government, it seems to be business as usual. A lot of symbolic history today, but the U.S. has a long road ahead in terms of trying to get the Cuban government to improve upon that.

TAPPER: Some dissidents say it might even be getting worst. Finally today from Havana, the flag is flying high, and while today's events are symbolically very important, still a long way to go before Americans can enjoy the island much less the Cuban people enjoy freedom.

Some of the remaining '50s charms exist, and cigars and businesses are still run by the dictatorship of the Castro brothers. In the coming months, we will see if this thaw of the relationship, 54 years frozen in time, will lead to a political breakthrough that benefits people both here and 90 miles away in the U.S.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I am Jake Tapper. That's it for THE LEAD here in Havana, Cuba. I'm Jake Tapper turning you over to Pamela Brown. She is filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.