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Boko Haram Update; Clay Aiken's Opponent Found Dead; GOP Winning The Enthusiasm War; Going Up: Washington Monument Reopens

Aired May 12, 2014 - 16:30   ET



In world news, dozens of young, frightened faces and full length Muslims head start with terror group, Boko Haram, released a new video today giving us the first look of many of the close to 300 teenage girls were kidnapped in their school a month ago. The group claims the girls 90 percent of whom are reportedly Christian have been converted to Islam. But they have gave the Nigerian government a chance to get them back in exchange for prisoners before they are married off or sold as slaves. It is another numbing development in the community where these girls live or something as simple as a walk to school is a terrifying experience for girls who didn't get kidnapped or for the girls who somehow ran for their lives and got away.

CNN Nima Elbagir was the first international journalist to see what was left of that school. Here's her report.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a road few are now willing to travel. It's been one checkpoint after another as we have traveled north from the Nigerian capital, Abuja. We have definitely seen evidence of the security reinforcements that the government has been talking about. But as we got further north, as we got deeper into the Boko Haram, countryside where they have been striking terror into the heart of villages, much of that presence seems to have evaporated.

Attacks (ph) for the militants is Boko Haram are constant in this part of Nigeria. But what happened in Chibok put the world on notice.

In here in these rooms is where the girls were sleeping when armed men in what they describe as military uniforms came to the dormitory gate and told them that they have came to protect them. The girls started to assembly in the yard as ordered to. They didn't realize who the men really were until it was too late.

This girl managed to escape. She's now too fearful to show her face. Too fearful to go back.


ELBAGIR: A big Lorry?


ELBAGIR: They came with the big Lorry. Was it one or more?


ELBAGIR: Seven Lorries?


ELBAGIR: Shocks most of (INAUDIBLE). Residents here tell us this raid was effectively a shopping trip to Boko Haram. Over 200 girls dragged from their beds to be sold off as bounty, a message that the militant groups (INAUDIBLE) on female education. Must be heated, but a way also for big men with guns to make money off terrified girls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it's in Chibok will never go again.

ELBAGIR: You'll never go back to school because they made you afraid?


ELBAGIR: Before the militants left, they destroyed everything they could. Textbooks, the library, the laboratory, their attempt to forever shudder this school.

Elizabeth who marry at France (ph). Members of the same church, their daughters were also friend, hoping to one day study medicine. They and many of their classmates never made it home from school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are pleading with them to have our daughters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have power to do anything that requires power.

ELBAGIR: They still feel powerless. No closer to finding their daughters nearly a month after they were taken.


ELBAGIR: Those telling details give you a real sense, Jake, of how bracing this attack was. One villager described that it is almost as if Boko Haram went on a shopping trip to pick up these girls from where they slept in their beds. And with today's release of that video, we only get a further sense of the impunity with which this group continues to act -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nima Elbagir, excellent work by you and your team. Thank you. Stay safe.

Would Nigeria's government negotiate in order with terrorists in order to return the 276 kidnapped girls? It may appear so. When asked about it by CNN, one of the Nigerian government's point man responded quote "all options are on the table," unquote.

Now that conflicts with what Nigeria's interior minister told the BBC. He rejected the gambit saying it was quote "absurd for Boko Haram to try and set conditions." Today, the U.S. state department seemed to caution Nigerian officials against even considering a swap.


JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: As you know, Nigeria is in the lead. We're simply supporting their efforts. We, as you know, also our policy is to deny -- the United States' policy, I should say, is to deny kidnappers the benefit of criminal acts including ransoms or concessions.


TAPPER: Let's bring in Bisa Williams. She is the deputy assistant secretary of state for the state department's bureau of African affairs.

Thanks so much for joining us. We just heard the spokeswoman for your buildings say the U.S. is quote " simply supporting the efforts of the Nigerian government." Will that support continue if the Nigerian government negotiates a prisoner release with Boko Haram as they have in the past?


In fact, the United States, we are trying to support the Nigerian efforts. The Nigerians have the lead. Our goal is to help secure the release and return of these girls.

TAPPER: But if it includes a prisoner a swap, the girls for prisoners, would the U.S. continue to be involved with the Nigerian government? Or is it their call to make?

WILLIAMS: It's the Nigerians call to make to try to do whatever they can to secure the safe return and the full return of the girls. So the United States -- we have a team of experts who are there in support of that effort and that effort is really holistic. We are not only providing experts on negotiations, but on rescue attempts as well as on how to deal with hostage situations. So we will continue to support that effort and also to talk and work with the Nigerian government on the other kinds of support that they need to be giving to that region.

TAPPER: Are we aware at all -- is the state department aware at all of who the prisoners that Boko Haram wants back, who they are, for instance, if the Nigerians decided to trade, would the U.S. get any say in who goes free? I imagine some of the Boko Haram prisoners are dangerous terrorists. The group has designated the terrorist organization by the U.S. state department last November. Some might be more a low level. Do we get to have a vote at all?

WILLIAMS: As you have already outlined and emphasized, it is our policy not to allow terrorist groups to benefit from their criminal acts. Not to negotiate. What we're trying to do now is to be supportive to the Nigerian effort. So this is going to be their decision and their strategy and we're trying to help with the information and our learn -- our experiences from lessons learned the best way we can.

TAPPER: Some people say that if you look at the photographs, the videos, as many as 130 of these girls are visible. Does that contradict the intelligence indicating that the girls have all been split up into groups of seven or eight and moved around?

WILLIAMS: Jake, the truth is, we are still trying to find out where the girls are. And we have seen the video. We have no reason to doubt its authenticity. But we are still working very hard to figure out where they are and how we can help the Nigerians to have them returned.

TAPPER: Theoretically, if all the girls are in one place and if it's 130 versus 239, either way, a big, big group, doesn't that make it harder for them to be rescued if there is some sort of rescue operation?

WILLIAMS: You know, I really can't even go into that sort of speculation, theoretical or not. We are helping the Nigerians and we're calling on the Nigerians to use all of the resources that they have available to them to try to secure the return of the girls. And so that would, I think as you also quoted the Nigerian government, would give them every option possible. We are working very hard to make that be a safe and secure return of the girls.

TAPPER: Well, when you look at that video, and look at the photographs of those young girls, it breaks your heart.

So, we all, of course, wish you the best of luck with what you are doing with the Nigerian government. Thank you for coming on, Bisa Williams.

WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: In politics, he wants to raise the minimum wage. No, I'm not talking about the president. I'm talking about Mitt Romney.

And in national, in three years after an earthquake cracked it in 150 places, the Washington monument finally opened again today. So what did it cost to fix it? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to the LEAD.

Breaking news in the politics lead. A sad and surprising development in a closely watched congressional primary in the Tar Heel State of North Carolina. Keith Crisco, the man facing former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken in the squeaker for the Democratic nomination has died. This is as the result of his race with Aiken remain too close to call.

Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us now.

Dana, this is a shock? What do we know about what happened? DANA BASH Not much yet except that reports out of North Carolina were that he apparently fell and he died suffering from a fall at his home in North Carolina . He was 71 years old and that's about it. All we know right now, we're waiting to get more details of exactly what happened.

But he was 71 years old. And as you said, trailing this race was a nail biter. And since the primary that he was engaged in, the Democratic primary with Clay Aiken, we didn't know who was going to win. He trailed just a few hundred votes and both of the men were waiting to find out from the election board in North Carolina about how to proceed. They were waiting to see the votes to be counted from absentee ballots and so forth.

So now that -- unfortunately, what that means is that Clay Aiken appears to be the Democratic nominee for this House race in North Carolina.

TAPPER: OK. So, not to be calluses about it, obviously, horrible -- our condolences to the Crisco family. But that means that the race is over and Clay Aiken is the Democratic nominee.

BASH: Yes. Obviously, that appears to be the case. Now Clay Aiken is going to go to challenge the Re[publican incumbent Renee Ellmers. This is a race that nobody -- even the Democrats privately expect any Democrat to win, whether they have the celebrity or name I.D. as Clay Aiken or unfortunately for this opponent --

TAPPER: There was a third party -- a third candidate in the race, but he's so far behind.

BASH: Exactly, this was neck-and-neck between the two of them and it is --

TAPPER: Very sad.

BASH: Very sad, very unfortunate and we're obviously going to get back if we get more details about what exactly happened how he died.

TAPPER: OK, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Molly Ball, national political reporter for "The Atlantic" and Ryan Lizza, CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." Molly, a horrible way to win. As Dana says, this is perceived as a Republican seat.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE ATLANTIC": Right. I mean, I think, as Dana said, if Clay Aiken were not the candidate lending celebrity pizazz it's not one that we'd be talking about anyway. This is a district that Rene Elmers, the Republican incumbent won pretty handily in 2010 and that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. So it's not a seat that looks particularly competitive. Obviously Clay Aiken with his star power trying to make it so.

TAPPER: Let's turn to bigger or wider midterm election subjects here. The president admits that his party has a problem. They don't vote. Speaking at a fundraiser on Thursday in San Jose, the president said, quote, "Democrats have a congenital defect when it comes to our politics and that is we like voting during presidential years and during the midterms we don't vote. You already have lower voting totals and it's our folks that stay at home.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll shows Republicans have a 10-point lead in voter enthusiasm going into the midterms. So Brian, I mean, in 2006 they didn't have a problem getting Democrats out to the polls.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The gap between the midterms and the midterm electorate has really widened in the modern era and especially since Obama activated a whole new group of voters. Non- white voters, African-Americans, Hispanics.

TAPPER: So it's Obama?

LIZZA: It's new Obama voters that came out in 2008 and 2012 and that the entire Democratic Party is trying to figure out how do you activate those voters in a midterm when frankly a lot of the sheen is off Obama and he's not on the ballots.

TAPPER: Let's dive in Kentucky. Mitch McConnell fending off and probably going to win next week but he's facing Alison Grimes who is polling very, very close to him. I'm old enough to remember when Democrats actually won Senate seats in Kentucky, but that hasn't happened in a while. Do you think she can pull this off?

BALL: The polls are showing neck in neck. It's no secret that Mitch McConnell is very unpopular in Kentucky. It's a red state. It's going to be an uphill battle for Alison Grimes. But the fact that she's still in it, it looks like he will dispatch with Matt Bevin who was going to be the Tea Party challenger who would give him a lot of headaches and it hasn't been much more than a toothache.

TAPPER: Or just the need to floss.

BALL: Right. This race reminds me a lot of Harry Reid's race in 2010 and regarded him of going Washington and being out of touch with him. Reid doesn't pull any punches and so I don't think we're going to know the shape of this race until McConnell starts to engage Grimes more fully after he's done with the challenge on his right.

TAPPER: I heard an amazing static. It's something along the lines of Mitch McConnell, who has won all of these elections, of the six that he's run against, only one has ever run for office against statewide in Kentucky because he is so tough. He destroys them.

LIZZA: If you look at some of the ads in the race, it's got some of the most, you know, vicious, frankly, hilarious ads that are out there this cycle and it's a reminder for West Virginia and Kentucky, two of the most anti-Obama states in country and still states where some way, somehow Democrats can win statewide. The governor of Kentucky is a Democrat. Not just a Democrat. He's running an Obamacare exchange.

So for all of our talk about the Democrats that are disappearing, there are a few rare ones out there and they find ways to win in these very difficult states and Mitch McConnell has something that is very hard to overcome as a leader in Washington and maybe the folks in Kentucky dislike Washington.

TAPPER: It probably depends on how much they are able to attach Obama versus the governor to Alison Grimes.

LIZZA: It will be interesting to see that Alison Grimes has any interest in Obama campaigning down there if there is campaigning down there. She's got the same problem that all have. Activating Obama voters without hugging Obama so much that you turn off some of the dwindling moderates in the center.

BALL: What we've seen her do is have Bill Clinton down to campaign, not President Obama.

TAPPER: If you were a Democrat running for office, how do you get the base energized? You hear President Obama talk a few months ago about income inequality. There's a push for minimum wage. Actually, Mitt Romney coming out not long ago in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour probably helping Democrats to a degree there. But how are they doing it, the two parties?

BALL: Well, I mean, I think you do see the Democrats talking about this message and then on the Republican side, just as, you know, Republicans view all of this Democratic talk about inequality and equal pay and all of that, Republicans see it as a phony issue to drum up the base and then you have Republicans talking about Benghazi and for Democrats it's the same thing, it's not a real issue. It's political thing that they are doing to gin up the base.

And I think that's part of that is the calendar we're at the point in the election calendar when that is the motivation that the parties are looking to stoke and I think they will get to more of a -- trying to win the argument when people are more engaged with the election. Right now it's more about making people mad.

TAPPER: What do you see as the big motivators for the party?

LIZZA: It's become base elections. Ten years ago when we covered these elections we talked about voters in the center and that centrist voter is vanishing. For Democrats, it's issues that can motivate African-Americans, Hispanics, women, and young people. And if you look at the White House, those are issues that are very targeted.

TAPPER: Molly ball, Ryan Lizza, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up down goes "Spiderman." Next in pop culture. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The pop culture lead now, there was a time when the summer superhero pick was unbeatable at the Box Office and certainly would not be challenged by a movie full of toilet humor. Well, the packing order may be changing. The R-rated comedy "Neighbors" starring Seth Rogan and Zack Efron made more than $51 million over the weekend crushing "The Amazing Spiderman 2" in just its second in theaters.

It's the fourth largest opening in history for an R-rated comedy. Here's the key, 53 percent of the audience for neighbors was female according to the Hollywood reporter, a very high turnout for a raunchy comedy. Probably credit Zach Efron for that one, sorry, Zach.

The National Lead now, it is a big day for a symbol of national pride, "The Washington Monument" reopened to the public three years after an earthquake rattled the nation's capital and cracks were discovered in the tallest structure in the world. It kept millions of tourists on the outside looking up. Erin McPike headed over to the National Mall for us on this special day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our Washington Monument is back.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For three years, crews have been restoring the Washington Monument to its original glory. Hard work that has come by stone that has come to a long awaited end. Now that the 555-foot oblique reopens to the public --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome, come on in. You are the first ones.

BOB VOGEL, SUPERINTENDENT, NATIONAL MALL AND MEMORIAL PARKS: We have one of the most spectacular views in America and certainly the best view in Washington, D.C., and we're very excited to allow visitors back up at this level.

MCPIKE: It's been closed since August 23rd, 2011, when a 5.8 earthquake shook the marble and granite sending debris flying.

SGT. DAVID SCHOLOSSER, U.S. PARK POLICE: We have initial reports that there was mortar and stones that came loose.

MCPIKE: The wide crack pictured in this National Park Service video caused rain to pour inside and down the stairs.

VOGEL: You have to do a careful analysis of 20,000 stones before we could figure out exactly what we needed to do to repair it. The first couple of weeks we had people who were repelling down and were doing analysis of each of the stones to determine the significance of the damage.

MCPIKE: The worst damage was at the top.

VOGEL: Many people who have lived here for many years suddenly have a renewed interest. We're very excited. That's what we're here for, is to have this side open to the public.

MCPIKE: The $15 million restoration project lit up the Washington skyline until the most soaring site was back to the way it should be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have only one question. Is this earthquake- proof?


MCPIKE: Maybe not earthquake-proof, Jake, but the park service did tell us that it's been fortified to be stronger than it was before the earthquake. Let me show you what I have here. This is a commemorative ticket from today. I have lived in Washington for almost 13 years now and in my whole life today was the first day that I made it up to the top of the monument.

I actually rode up the elevator with one of the workers who repelled down the monument to do repairs over the last three years. He was here today with his wife and kid. We live in a nice-looking city, but the views, have you ever been to the top? TAPPER: No, I have never been there. I need to take my kids, though. It sounds amazing.

MCPIKE: You do. And until Labor Day, you can get up until 10 p.m. so knowing Mrs. Tapper as I do, I am sure she would appreciate a twilight tour -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, sounds good. Erin McPike on the National Mall.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer next door in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Mr. Blitzer.