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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview with Sen. Al Franken; Talking Supreme Court Nominee Chances; Summit To Address Loose Nukes, ISIS Threat; Hundreds Of Emails, Texts Revealed In New Book. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 30, 2016 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN: But never say never.

An influential Democrat pushing for votes as early as this spring will join me next to explain why some Republicans might eventually get on board.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Following his first meeting with a Republican senator, Supreme Court justice nominee Merrick Garland is continuing with more Senate meetings. Today, he sat down with two Democratic senators.


TAPPER: Let's now speak to one of them, Minnesota's two-term Senator Al Franken, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Franken, thanks so much for joining me.

You met with Judge Garland today. What did you discuss with him?

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Well, I asked him about being -- having this reputation of being a consensus judge as chief judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and how he did that, what his approach was.


And he was very impressive in explaining that. And, you know, when I was asked by the White House before they chose Garland who did I want to see them nominate, I said I don't have a person, but I want someone who, after a hearing, after hearings, that the American people will go, like, I want nine of those.


FRANKEN: And this guy is very much that kind of judge.

TAPPER: You and other Democratic senators, including Senator Leahy, Senator Feinstein, you sent a joint letter to Republicans proposing confirmation hearings in April, votes in May.

Do you think that's going to happen at all? It doesn't seem like the Republicans are giving an inch.

FRANKEN: Well, I think there actually has been some softening.

We have a number of Republican senators who have said there should be hearings. They have moved off their initial position. And I think it's pretty clear the American people think there should be hearings. This is a chance for the American people to see who's nominated.

It's also unprecedented to not give this nominee a hearing. Over the last 100 years, since 1916, the Senate has never denied someone a hearing in this situation.

TAPPER: Senator Grassley says that the voters of 2016, given that we're in the thick of a presidential race, they deserve a voice in the future of the nation's high court. What's your response to that?

FRANKEN: Well, the American people had a voice in 2012. They reelected President Obama.

The Constitution says the president has a four-year term. And scientists tell us that there's still 10 months left in the president's term.

TAPPER: Scientists?

FRANKEN: Scientists, yes.


TAPPER: I'm glad you're -- well, I know you're pro-science.

I want to turn to a couple political questions, if possible. There's a lot of talk about you as a potential vice presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. Politico published a column saying -- quote -- "For a presidential 2016 race that's already stranger than fiction, his party truly needs someone like Franken if it's going to win the presidency."

Would you consider a vice presidential slot?

FRANKEN: Well, I thought it was very flattering, until you did mention that it was right after stranger than fiction, so...


TAPPER: Well, I was just quoting it.

FRANKEN: I'm very happy doing the job I do right now, which is representing the people of Minnesota here in the Senate.

TAPPER: OK, not exactly a Shermanesque refusal, but I will move on.

Senator Sanders won the Minnesota caucuses. You have endorsed Hillary Clinton. You are a superdelegate. What do you make of the argument put forward by the Sanders campaign that superdelegates who represent states that Sanders has won should consider voting for the candidate supported by Democratic voters in their state?

FRANKEN: Well, superdelegates are part of our system. I haven't read that in the rules, that interpretation.

TAPPER: You can vote for whoever you want.


TAPPER: But they're saying shouldn't you, as a senator of Minnesota, follow the lead of the voters, the Democratic voters who turned out for the Minnesota caucuses?

FRANKEN: I think Democratic voters who elected me to the Senate want me to exercise my judgment on who I think would be the best president of the United States, and I think that person is Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Al Franken, thank you so much, as always. Good to see you, sir.

FRANKEN: Good to see you, Jake. Or I'm not seeing you, but to hear you.



TAPPER: All kidding aside, since Judge Garland met with Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, Democrats are hoping more Republicans will begin to warm up to the Supreme Court nominee.

Let's now go to CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju.

Manu, should Republican senators up for reelection be concerned about their party's stance toward the Supreme Court justice nominee?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, a majority of voters in polls show that voters actually support moving forward with confirmation proceedings for Judge Merrick Garland.

But other than Mark Kirk, Republican senators in tough reelection races are standing firm, believing it works better politically to stand as a firewall against Obama's nominee. Now, earlier this month, I spent some time on the campaign trail with Ron Johnson, one of the most vulnerable senators in the country, and he made crystal clear that he is not budging.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Do your job! Do your job!

RAJU (voice-over): Democrats believe they have found an issue that will help them win back control of the Senate, the GOP's opposition to considering President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.


TOM BARRETT, MAYOR OF MILWAUKEE: If the senators don't want to do their jobs, then they should just stop taking the pay.

RAJU: At the top of the target list, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a former plastics manufacturer who rode a Tea Party wave to his first term six years ago. He is now considered one of the most endangered Republicans in the country, but he isn't fazed by the Democratic outrage.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: They're blowing it way out of proportion. And, by the way, I'm kind of big in reality. The fact is we're not going to hold hearings and we're not going to confirm this justice.

RAJU: Johnson argues his defiant stand will play heavily to his favor with core GOP voters and gun enthusiasts in his perennial swing state.

JOHNSON: This judge is pretty hostile. He's got a proven record of being pretty hostile to Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms. That's kind of important in the state of Wisconsin. So, I think in general, if anything, it will probably inure to my benefit.

RAJU: Senator Republicans are betting that their stand will energize both parties' bases, while average Americans will be more concerned about the economy and national security in November.

Other GOP incumbents are digging in as well, including Iowa's Chuck Grassley and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte. Polls add credibility to the GOP case, including a recent one from Marquette Law School that found 65 percent of Johnson supporters wanting him to hold firm against confirming the judge.

But surveys also show clear majorities supporting confirmation proceedings. So liberal activists are trying to make the controversy a defining one.

PAUL GEENEN, ORGANIZING FOR ACTION MILWAUKEE: We think that the Republicans are gambling that people won't care about this and that the issue will go away. We're going to try to make sure that the issue doesn't go away.

RAJU: Former Senator Russ Feingold, a liberal Democrat, is seeking to win back the same seat he lost to Johnson in 2010. Feingold tells CNN that Johnson is engaging in pure obstructionism, since never in the modern era has a Supreme Court nominee ever been denied a hearing.

But Johnson's chances may be far more impacted by the presidential race, and the senator says that Donald Trump could actually help his reelection by attracting new voters in rural Wisconsin who are angry at Washington.

(on camera): Would you stump with Trump? JOHNSON: Stump with Trump? Just because it rhymes, if nothing else.

It would be the Ronald, the Donald. We could get all kinds of rhymes out of this thing.


RAJU: Now, Jake, Democrats believe that the Republicans' stand on Merrick Garland will actually play to their favor by painting the Republican Congress as dysfunctional.

But I should add that Ron Johnson actually got some good news. A Marquette Law University poll showed him down just three points to Feingold, which is big improvement than just a few months ago -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

The world lead, raising the stakes in the war against ISIS, evidence of the terror group's attempts to get ahold of nuclear material.

And exactly what happened at a dinner in D.C. that unraveled the careers of two top military commanders before the check came? The author of a new book says she can explain. She will join us live.


[16:46:03] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Topping our World Lead today, a nightmare scenario for military and intelligence officials. ISIS in possession of a nuclear weapon.

Now, the idea may seem farfetched to you, but it is taken very seriously by top officials in the U.S. government. After all, the terrorist group has already used chemical weapons and expressed a desire to get nuclear ones. It's a fear President Obama has discussed openly.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If we discovered that ISIL had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then yes, you can anticipate that not only would Chairman Dempsey recommend me sending U.S. ground troops to get that weapon out of their hands, but I would order it.


TAPPER: Let's get right to CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. Elise, this is sure to be addressed from President Obama hosts several world leaders at a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington tomorrow.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Keeping nuclear material out of terrorists' hands was already topping the agenda. With new evidence ISIS has its eye on nuclear facilities and sciences, the need to secure the world's nuclear material has become even more urgent. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): Raiding the home of a suspected planner of last November's Paris attacks, Belgian authorities found surveillance video of a top Belgian nuclear scientist. That suspect, part of the same ISIS cell accused of last week's attacks in Belgium.

The shocking discovery turned the heads of counterterrorism experts, who fear Belgium with several previous nuclear breaches could be at risks for terrorists to obtain radiological materials for a so-called dirty bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A small dirty bomb would not just cause panic and cause people to flee the city, it would contaminate tens of square blocks for years.

LABOTT: Those fears now top the agenda at this week's Nuclear Summit. President Obama first convened the gathering of world leaders six years ago, issuing a call to action.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It is increasingly clear that the danger of nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security.

LABOTT: Since that warning, 12 countries have eliminated nuclear material, but tons of unsecured weapons grade material remains in 25 countries. And ISIS barely on the radar at the time of the first summit, is now a global network, already using chemical weapons on the battlefield.

A recent Harvard University report warned that despite modest improvements in nuclear security, the capability of groups, especially ISIS has, quote, "grown dramatically," suggesting overall the risk of nuclear terrorism may have increased.

MATTHEW BUNN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY'S BELLER CENTER: We don't know what the terrorist threat is going to look like two years, five years, ten years from now. To me that's even stronger reason to lock down all the ingredients of a potential nuclear recipe.


[16:50:02]LABOTT: Now, White House officials and experts stress there is no firm evidence ISIS is trying to build a nuclear device. The mechanics of assembling a crude dirty bomb are relatively simple and ISIS does have the global network to recruit the experts needed.

Unless nations redouble efforts to secure nuclear and radiological materials, Jake, officials fear such a scenario could be inevitable.

TAPPER: That's terrifying. Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Next in the National Lead, what happened under a D.C. dinner table that ultimately ended up hurting the careers of two of the most powerful men in the world, we have brand new revelations from the David Petraeus scandal.


TAPPER: Welcome back. Our National Lead now, she was the woman whose phone call to the FBI set in motion a chain of events that brought down the careers of two of the nation's top generals.

After anonymous e-mails were sent besmirching the reputation of Jill Kelley, an honorary diplomat and Tampa socialite, Kelley reached out to law enforcement.

[16:55:11]The investigation ended up causing the resignation of then CIA Director David Petraeus and the revelation of his extramarital affair with his biographer, Army veteran and Harvard research associate, Paula Broadwell.

Now Broadwell was the one who had been sending the e-mails to the top general in Afghanistan and to Jill Kelley's husband. Petraeus later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials by allowing Broadwell access to them.

Kelley until recently had been suing the Obama administration for leaking her name to the media for allegedly violating her privacy, but she dropped the case recently.

She's out this week with a new book. It's called "Collateral Damage, Petraeus, Power, Politics and the Abuse of Privacy." That book reveals for the first time what exactly led Broadwell to pursue Kelly as well as the contents of those e-mails Broadwell sent.

And joining me now is Jill Kelley. Jill, thanks so much for being with us.


TAPPER: So I have to ask you how do you reconcile what critics are asking. You sue the government for violating your privacy, but you have this book out, which has some very intimate details and hundreds of your personal e-mails?

KELLEY: Right. You know, Jake, it's a great question. I realize by staying quiet was not stopping these abusive government officials from continuing to collect millions of innocent Americans' e-mails, text messages and every private information they collect about us.

And what they could do with it is exactly what I describe in the book about collateral damage that brought down two of our greatest generals and put my family, a family who just went to law enforcement for help from these threatening anonymous e-mails with national security information.

Went to them for help but instead they dug through our private e-mails to get dirt on their political enemies and destroy these people, put my family through a nightmare and until it stops, it needs to be spoken about.

We need to have a discussion and we need to end this abusive, unconstitutional collection of innocent Americans' e-mails.

TAPPER: I want to read a couple of the e-mails that were sent to your husband that were in the book. Quote, "Be sure to watch Jill's hands under the D.C. dinner table this Friday. They have been seen there before. See if you can rein her in before we publicly share the pictures of her with her hand sliding between the legs of a senior serving official."

Now you maintained very ardently that nothing happened, but a source tells me that David Petraeus did tell the FBI that something did happen. Did he lie to the FBI?

KELLEY: You know, all -- I don't know who this source is. I'm going to suspect it's the same top official government agents that did this to our family four years ago and here they are again.

I asked them, come out. Come out in front of the camera and say who you are. And what's more important here is the fact that these, I like to call them smear merchants are continuing to do this.

To cover up for the fact that they left our CIA director compromised for six months until the election passed. And what they did to our family, just to cover up and distract from the real scandal is really disappointing.

And more importantly, let's go back to the question did I do that. Absolutely not. Why would I go to the FBI if I did it? Why would I go to the FBI and report something such as that if I was having an affair?

Why would General Allen ask me to go to the FBI if we were having an affair? That's how ludicrous these government, unnamed government officials are that are hiding behind this bogus smear campaign that they orchestrated.

TAPPER: So David Petraeus convinced you to call off the FBI, but by then it was too late. When your name was leaked to the media, you begged Petraeus to clear your name, to come forward and say there was no truth to it but he never made any public statement as you asked. You detail this in the book at length. Do you feel betrayed by your former friend?

KELLEY: He still is my friend. They're all still my friends because they know how strong our family relationships are and were that were just basically cheapened as a tabloid rumor by the same unnamed officials that are still harassing our family, that are still harassing people who have done nothing wrong.

David was in a very difficult position. If you read the book, there is really no winning when you're walking a tight rope of a very disappointed ex-girlfriend.

When you have the FBI reading your e-mails for dirt to compromise your job, your security and then, then you have a new scandal that's been created that's bringing in innocent people, your best friends. So, you know betray is a difficult world. TAPPER: All right, Jill Kelley, thank you so much. Appreciate it. The book is called "Collateral Damage" and available on Amazon.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.