Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview with Joe Biden; Thousands Flee Aleppo As Forces Advance; Trump: We Will Have "America First" Foreign Policy; Gabbard Introduces Bill To Stop Terror Funding; Wreckage Vanishes From Ocean; Astronaut, Senator John Glenn Dead At 95. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 08, 2016 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm talking about quarterbacking during the game.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, during the game we believed that -- and one of the reasons the president acknowledged was because of I -- hopefully that I am trusted or have some connection with those neighborhoods. But it's -- I don't think there is nearly -- like one leading Democrat said. For every vote Biden is going to go out there and get some white guy to vote I'll get two educated women to vote Democrat.

We don't -- there is a sense that's grown up in the Democratic Party that somehow these folks are -- I mean, these are good people, man. These aren't racists. These aren't sexists.

Here is the thing. I have never found, Jake, any difference between the progressive views I have -- and I challenge anybody to have a more progressive record than I have on race, women, LGBT, whatever, and union halls.

I go do these events in Youngstown. I would stand up there. You may have covered some of them. I would say, we need equal pay for women. They'd all cheer because, guess what, their wives work. Their wives work. They know their standard of living is diminished.

I would say, look, we have to stop the violence on college campuses, and we have to make men stand up and take responsibility. These guys, it wasn't because Joe Biden said it. They cheered.

But there is a sense in some of our party that, wait a minute, we either have to tone down our progressive point of view and ramp up what we're going to do for working folks or somehow talk less about working folks and ramp -- there is no conflict in the neighborhoods I come from. None. None at all.


TAPPER: You can see my entire, exclusive exit interview with Vice President Joe Biden on "STATE OF THE UNION". That will be Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and again at noon right here on CNN.

Some people barely able to walk without help, others unable to stand. These are just some of the people fleeing their homes in Syria as the calls for a ceasefire grow more dire and desperate. That story next.


[16:36:39] TAPPER: We're back with our world lead now.

Secretary of State John Kerry says he is, quote, "confident and hopeful" that he and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov will reach an agreement for a ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria. This as Russia claims that Syrian regime forces have temporarily suspended all military actions in the war-ravaged city today to help 5,000 civilians flee.

But CNN crews on the ground say they can still hear shelling and e explosions in addition to rifles.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen takes us now inside Aleppo, Syria.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, in the last 24 hours, the Syrian air force has escalated its air strikes on those rebel-held areas in the east of Aleppo. Now, of course, at the same time, those rebel areas are continuing to shrink. Apparently only about four square miles left for the rebels still control any sort of terrain.

At the same time, more and more people are trying to get out, are trying to flee. And we witnessed some devastating scenes at one of the crossings where they go from east to west Aleppo.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): As the rebels increasingly lose their grip on Aleppo, Syrian armed forces continue to pound the besieged areas, many killed and wounded in the crossfire. We came to this crossing as a man was being evacuated, claiming he was shot by rebels as he tried to flee.

"They shot me as I was running out," he says. "They don't allow anyone to get out. They said, are you going to the regime areas?"

The opposition strongly denies its fighters would harm civilians, but the rebels do acknowledge they won't be able to hold out in Aleppo much longer. And that realization is leading to an avalanche of people trying to flee the rebel district.

Syrian troops throwing some bread, but not nearly enough to quell the hunger of the many who have been starving for months.

(on camera): The Syrian military has made major advances in the past 24 hours. And we can see that as the army moves forward more and more people are coming out of the former besieged areas.

(voice-over): Many of those fleeing, families with small children, struggling to carry the few belongings they were able to take. Many overpowered by emotions, some with barely enough strength to walk, others too frail to walk at all.

The Syrian army has amassed a massive force at this front line, the local commander with a clear message to the rebels.

"Look at the siege. These are your families. Surrender yourselves, drop your arms. Come back to the country. Hopefully, our leadership (INAUDIBLE)."

But for now, the fight goes on. This family, one of the many to cross into government-controlled territory, now in safety but still in agony.

"Things used to be good," this elderly woman says. "May God act out revenge on those who brought us these difficult circumstances and may God protect us."

And so, they walk on, weak and traumatized, moving into an uncertain future.


PLEITGEN: Certainly a devastating state that many of these people were in that we saw come out of those areas.

[16:40:02] And, you know, at the same time many people here asking whether or not there could be some sort of negotiated ceasefire, humanitarian ceasefire for east Aleppo. But judging by the pace of operations by the Syrian military, it really looks as they they're trying to force a military solution, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much.

So, what should America do about Assad's regime? Next, we'll ask a Democratic congresswoman who has met with President-elect Trump and discussed the issue. Stay with us.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We're guided by the lessons of history and a desire to promote stability, stability all over, and strength in our land. This destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally, folks, come to an end.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

That was President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday night, vowing to scale back U.S. intervention overseas, all part of his America-first policy.

Joining me now to talk about this and more, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, democrat of Hawaii. Hawaii, I guess, you'd say. She's serves in the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Oh, Jake, always good to see you. TAPPER: So, let me ask you a question. Do you agree with Donald Trump's vision of America first when it comes to foreign policy?

GABBARD: I'm glad to hear him talking about ending our country's interventionist regime change war policies. As you know, this is something that I've been talking about for years, that we need to stop the destruction that's been caused by our country, continuously getting involved in these counter-productive regime change wars that not only end up strengthening our enemy in groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, but they actually end up causing more suffering for the people in these countries where we are intervening as in Syria now.

TAPPER: I know you feel that way about Syria, and Libya and Iraq. Do you feel that way about Afghanistan?

GABBARD: Afghanistan is a little bit of a different situation, but, yes, essentially.

TAPPER: OK. You met with Donald Trump two weeks after he was elected. There was some speculation that he might offer you a cabinet position or some sort of position. Were you hoping to work in the Trump administration?

GABBARD: I love my job. The people of Hawaii chose me to rehire me again in November. And I look forward to continuing to work for them. My goal in going there, in receiving the invitation to speak to President-elect Trump was to speak specifically about the situation in Syria, the dangerous consequences of escalating the regime change war that the United States is fueling there along with countries like Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, and Turkey are escalating that through a so- called no-fly zone or safe zone. And urging him to end our regime change war there to stop funding both directly and indirectly groups that are working with Al Qaeda and ISIS. And to stop funneling those dollars and weapons and other assistance through these others countries like Saudi Arabia who are directly supporting these terrorist groups who are supposed to be our enemy, who we're supposed to be fighting to defeat.

TAPPER: And tell me about legislation. You have a bill that you introduced today that would address loopholes.


TAPPER: You say have allowed American taxpayer dollars to fund terror groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria. Are you -- are you suggesting that the U.S. government is funding these terrorist groups?

GABBARD: I'm not only suggesting it. This is -- this is the reality that we're living in.

TAPPER: Not directly, though.

GABBARD: Most Americans -- you know, if you were -- I were to go and provide money, weapons, or support or whatever to a group like Al Qaeda or ISIS, you would immediately be thrown in Jail. However, the U.S. government has been providing money, weapons, intel assistance and other types of support through the CIA, directly to these groups that are working with and are affiliated with Al Qaeda and ISIS.

TAPPER: So, you're saying the CIA is giving money to groups in Syria, and those groups are working with Al-Nusra and ISIS.

GABBARD: There are -- there have been numerous reports from The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets who have declared that these rebel groups have formed these battlefield alliances with Al Qaeda, that essentially is Al Qaeda groups are in charge of every single rebel group on the ground fighting in Syria to overthrow the Syrian government.

TAPPER: And the U.S. government says they vet the groups that they give money to very, very closely. And that you're wrong, there are not alliances between groups at the American taxpayers fund and these other groups. Obviously, they all are fighting Assad.

GABBARD: I beg to differ. Evidence has shown time and time again that that is not the case, that we are both directly and indirectly supporting these groups who are allied with or partnered with Al Qaeda and ISIS, in working to over throw the Syrian government of Assad. And we've also been providing that support through countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to do that.

TAPPER: Quickly before you go, I know that some of your colleagues, democrats, have expressed concern about too many retired generals being in the Trump cabinet. You have the National Security Adviser General Flynn, and then, also, he's talked about General Mattis and General Kelly at the Pentagon and Homeland Security. Do you share their concerns or do you disagree?

GABBARD: I don't share their concerns. In fact, as a veteran and as someone who's still serving in the Hawaii Army National Guard, I found it pretty offensive for people to outright discriminate against veterans. Here you have generals who have literally spent their whole lives serving our country, putting service before self, putting their lives on the line to defend democracy. And yet, people are criticizing them and discriminating against them, saying, just because you served as a general previously, you are disqualified from serving in a high position of leadership in our government. These people, arguably, have put far more on the line and are far more deeply personally committed to upholding and protecting our democracy than their critics.

[16:50:09] TAPPER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, thanks so much. Always good to see you.

From a World War II fighter pilot to the first American to orbit the earth, John Glenn's legacy knows no bounds. We'll remember an American hero, next.


TAPPER: Welcome back. This week, 75 years later, America is commemorating those killed in the attack at Pearl Harbor. Just two months after that attack, still more lives were lost at the Battle of the Java Sea. Japan sank 10 allied ships including the USS Houston and the USS Perch. And as CNN's Ivan Watson reports, the wreckage from five of those ships has mysteriously vanished.


[16:54:56] IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The USS Houston and the USS Perch, two navy ships that were sunk by the Japanese in a series of naval battles that began on February 27th, 1942, in the Java Sea, one of the worst naval defeats for the allies in World War II.

The Japanese Navy crushed a coalition of warships from the U.S., Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, sinking at least eight ships in several days of fighting off the coast of what is now Indonesia.

In the run-up to the 75th anniversary of the battle, a diving expedition recently made a disturbing discovery. The wrecks of the U.S. submarine Perch and at least four Dutch and British warships, some of which are seen in this rare archive footage, completely disappeared off the bottom of the sea, leaving Indonesian officials baffled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Haven't identified where they are. It has moved or whether it has been stolen. The point is that it's not there, where it was once, there.

WATSON: Britain and the Netherlands condemned the disappearance.

Here's why some people are so upset about the missing warships, the relatives and governments of sailors who died on board view the undersea wrecks as maritime war graves that should be respected and protected just like any other World War II cemetery, where hundreds of fallen servicemen are buried.

In 2014, the U.S. Navy held this ceremony over the final resting place of the USS Houston, a cruiser that fought to the death against the Japanese, alongside the Australian ship Perth, before both ships sank with a combined loss of life of more than 1,000 sailors.

JOHN SCHWARZ, SON OF VETERAN OTTO SCHWARZ: My dad was able to survive the sinking. He literally was the only person that got out of the lower deck Turret Number One team, because he was a young man, he was only 17 years old.

WATSON: After the war, Otto Schwarz started a survivors' group that's now led by his son, John, who's now deeply worried by the disappearance of other ships in the region.

SCHWARZ: We're on eggshells. We're very anxious and very disturbed, and we're just praying and hoping that no further damage gets done to either our ship or any others.

WATSON: Two years ago, U.S. Navy divers visiting the Houston, discovered scavengers systematically looted the wreck. Experts say hoisting an entire warship off the bottom of the sea would be logistically challenging, but if you could do it, professional Indonesian ship breakers tell CNN, the scrap metal from one vessel alone would easily be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. SCHWARZ: To do things such as we're talking about, would be

equivalent for someone to go into Arlington National Cemetery with an excavating equipment and start digging up coffins and graves. It's the same thing.

WATSON: The Indonesian and Dutch governments have agreed to launch a joint investigation to solve the mystery of what happened to the final resting place of so many sailors. Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


TAPPER: Finally, from us today, beloved astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn has died. He was 95 years old and had been hospitalized for more than a week. Glenn was an American hero, the son of a plumber, he served in World War II and the Korean War as a marine pilot.

Later, of course, he became a pioneer in the golden age of space travel, the first American to orbit the earth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First glimpse of the conquering hero, Colonel John H. Glenn, he left his footprints among the stars.


TAPPER: The astronaut's career was immortalized in the iconic 1983 movie, "The Right Stuff." But Glenn was not yet finished. The American legend went on to represent the State of Ohio in the U.S. senate for 24 years, although he didn't achieve his goal of making it all the way to the White House when he ran for president in 1984.


JOHN GLENN, FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR OF OHIO, VETERAN, AND ASTRONAUT: The nomination of my party, I firmly believe I can beat Ronald Reagan.


TAPPER: At the age of 77, Glenn blazed another trail into space, this time, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, the oldest astronaut ever to take flight. Glenn's bravery, his curiosity, his pride and his good nature, inspired a nation. He was truly -- his was truly a life well- lived.

President Obama said Glenn's life inspired us to reach for the heavens. And President-elect Trump today mourns the loss of a great pioneer. But perhaps NASA summed it up best this afternoon, echoing the words that mission control told him 54 years ago, "Godspeed, John Glenn."



TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer now. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM".