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Sideline Meeting; Interview with Stephen Colbert; Clinton Memoir a Prelude to 2016?

Aired June 6, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A sideline summit in Normandy, France.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. They look like a couple at a wedding after they broke up. President Obama and Vladimir Putin cannot avoid each other at D- Day events in France, so they made the best of it by actually speaking face to face. Imagine that.

The politics lead, more leaks coming out from Hillary Clinton's new book. We got a copy. So, how much trash does she talk in it about Sarah Palin? Well, you might be surprised.

And also in world news:


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": These letters and my mother's love is a big reason why like I feel like I know the man.


TAPPER: Stephen Colbert stepping out of character to share with us the story of his uncle Eddie who fought on D-Day, on this, the 70th anniversary of the invasion that saved the world.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the world lead. On this day 70 years ago, 1944, allied forces led an assault against Nazis on the beaches of Normandy. Today is a day for remembering the more than 4,400 allied service members who died in the D-Day invasion, as well as the veterans who survived the charge that turned the tide of World War II.

How the world has changed in the 70 years since then. Today, the only known prisoner of our current war in Afghanistan, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, is recovering at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

That's a sentence which if uttered in 1944 would earn more than a few puzzled looks. A U.S. official say Bergdahl has recovered to the point where he may speak to his family, but he hasn't yet. The Pentagon says there's no hurry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NAVY: The process will only go as fast as he and his doctors are ready to let it go. Nobody is going to be rushing him back into society and even back home.


TAPPER: Today, we're learning more about the five-year ordeal Bergdahl through

A senior U.S. official tells CNN's Barbara Starr something that many have assumed, that the Taliban physically abused Bergdahl during his captivity. After he tried to escape, this official says, he was thrown inside a very small cage or a box.

In the proof of life video of Bergdahl from December 2013, he reportedly appeared to be cradling his arm, a sign that it may have been broken.

Now, a number of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers have come on THE LEAD and accused him of walking away from his post all on his own, including a fellow platoon member whom you're about to hear from. Critics, especially Republicans, have assailed the deal that the Obama administration cut to free Sergeant Bergdahl is exchange for five mid- to high-ranking Taliban who were held at Gitmo.

Those Taliban are now in the country of Qatar, where they are supposed to remain for a year under the terms of the swap. Reports on closed- door briefings and testimony have indicated that even U.S. intelligence leaders under the Obama administration believe that at least some, if not all of these released Taliban will return to the battlefield.

A Taliban commander told NBC that one of the newly freed detainees has vowed to go back into the fight against the U.S. in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has offered no apologies for the deal it cut to free Bergdahl, but critics are also taking exception to the way that some in the administration have characterized Bergdahl's service, using National Security Adviser Dr. Susan Rice as case in point.


SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He's going to be safely reunited with his family. He's serving the United States with honor and distinction.


TAPPER: Honor and distinction. Rice may know a thing or two about being attacked for questionable assertions made on Sunday talk shows, but this time around, in exclusive remarks to CNN, Rice is standing firm.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, caught up with Dr. Rice in Normandy during the D-Day commemoration.

Jim, what did you talk about?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we wanted to ask Susan Rice about those reports coming out of Capitol Hill that administration officials told lawmakers that they had to keep the mission to free Bowe Bergdahl a secret for fear of his life if word had leaked out.

And we also wanted to talk to her about those comments that she made last Sunday when she said that Bergdahl had served in the military with honor and distinction. Here's what she had to say.


RICE: Well, Jim, we were very concerned about the well-being of Bowe Bergdahl.

He had been in captivity for five years. We had indications that his health may be fragile. And so there was a real sense of urgency to obtain his freedom. The president had an opportunity to do so.

And it was an opportunity that could well have been fleeting, and he chose to take it. And he feels very strongly that that was the right decision. All of us on the national security team were unanimous in supporting and recommending that we take this opportunity.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about some comments you made last Sunday on one of the Sunday talk shows. You said that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction.

It's come out since then that some of his fellow soldiers say he was a deserter. He may have wandered off the post there in Afghanistan. Did you misspeak? Did you get that wrong?

RICE: Jim, I realize there's been a lot of discussion and controversy around this.

But what I was referring to is the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That is itself a very honorable thing. And...

ACOSTA: But honor and distinction?

RICE: Jim, really, this is a young man who -- whose circumstances we are going to still learn about.

He is, as all Americans, innocent until proven guilty. He's now being tried in the court of public opinion, after having gone through an enormously traumatic five years of captivity, his parents the same.

I think what we need to care most about is his health and well-being and recovery. There will be an opportunity -- and the military has committed to review the circumstances of his capture. If there is a consequence that results from that, that will be delivered.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: And, Jake, Susan Rice points out that Bowe Bergdahl still has not had a chance to tell his side of the story. And she said that the complete account of just how he fell into Taliban hands won't be known until that happens -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta in Paris, thank you.

And joining me now is former Army Specialist Gerald Sutton, a platoon mate and friend of Bowe Bergdahl's at one point.

Gerald, thanks for joining us.

You were friends with Bowe Bergdahl. He was one of the first people you met in Alaska. Tell us, what was he like?

GERALD SUTTON, FORMER U.S. ARMY SPECIALIST: When I first met him, he was a pretty nice guy. We kind of clicked off pretty well at the beginning. And then, eventually, I made other friends through the unit. And I did kind of see how he was a loner and everything, but he wasn't a total shut-in. He wasn't a hermit or anything like that. And he just -- just seemed like one of the guys.

TAPPER: After he disappeared the morning of June 30, 2009, and you thought about things he had said and done before that, was there anything that he said to you that might have been more important in retrospect, that might help explain what happened?

SUTTON: Maybe.

The time when -- about three days ago before he left, he said -- he asked me, what would it be like to be lost in the mountains? Or do you think I could make it to China, India, or something Far East on foot from where we were in Afghanistan?

And I just -- I really thought it was just a joke. And it seemed like it was a joke to him, too, because he laughed after I laughed. So it -- I mean, maybe that's a big deal, and maybe not. I don't know. Maybe that was his subtle way of telling me goodbye, maybe.

TAPPER: To your knowledge, had Bergdahl ever wandered off an O.P. or a base at any point before this incident?

SUTTON: As far as I know, no. That was the only time that he ever did, was on June 30.

I have been talking to my platoon mates to try to confirm this, because after I heard about this -- I'm not even really sure where it was from -- and I asked everybody in 2nd Platoon, and every person that I asked has -- does not recall that at all.

TAPPER: Does anybody know of a note that he left behind? We keep seeing these reports in "The New York Times" and FOX about a note, but I can't find anyone that knows of any note.

SUTTON: I don't know of any note. I have asked Evan Buetow, Matt Vierkant. I have asked every single

person, my team leader, the other team leader. None of us can remember anything of any note being left behind. And it could be, I guess, but from my perspective, I don't remember a note.

TAPPER: I know that you don't share the opinion of those who say that he had anything to do, necessarily, with the fact that attacks on your platoon, attacks on the 501st in the following weeks and months necessarily had anything to do with him. Why not?

SUTTON: As a unit stays in country for longer, a longer period of time, placement IEDs always changes. So, that could just be a part of it. Just we were there for a certain amount of time, so they stopped blowing up our mine blowers and started attacking the trucks directly.

So, I mean, it could be a number of different things. And to say that it was Bergdahl alone, that he's the main factor, that's kind of a powerful statement, and we need some serious evidence to back that up.

TAPPER: This has been a weird week for you.

You and I spoke last weekend. You were reluctant to come forward. You were reluctant to be named. Since then, you and your fellow platoon mates, people in Bergdahl's squad, have been on national TV. You have even been attacked by people who seem to be trying to defend President Obama's decision to get Bergdahl, people who are accusing you of having a political axe to grind.

Do you have a political axe to grind? Is this about something other than Bergdahl?

SUTTON: This is only about Bergdahl's actions, not really attacking his character or his person, just the action that he had on June 30.

I have nothing negative to say about President Obama. There's no political, like, axe to grind at all. I have no interest in politics. As soon as my story is out there and done with, and nobody wants to hear from me ever again, then I will just go back to playing video games and studying and just be a nobody once again, and I will be happy about that.

TAPPER: Gerald, if you ever get a chance to meet with your one-time friend Bowe Bergdahl, what do you want to ask him? What do you want to say to him?

SUTTON: Well, the biggest question I want to ask is why, if he still considered me a friend, if he was just lying to me the entire time, if it was preplanned.

But, overall, the biggest question is just -- if I could get an answer, would just be to -- why?

TAPPER: Former Army Specialist Gerald Sutton, thank you. Good luck in your studies. And thank you so much for your service, sir.

SUTTON: Well, thank you. TAPPER: Tonight, I will be taking a special in-depth look at this

story. Who was prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl before the headlines, before the political debates? We will hear from hometown friends and fellow soldiers, some who say he was a wanderer long before he ended up in the hands of the Taliban. Do not miss a special "CNN SPOTLIGHT: Bowe Bergdahl," tonight at 10:00 Eastern on CNN.

Meanwhile, come to North Korea for the sights, stay because you're not allowed to leave. North Korea claims it has detained an American citizen who entered as a tourist on April 29. The communist country's state-run news says his name is Jeffrey Edward Fowle. According to Japanese news reports, Fowle was part of a tour group, but he was detained in mid-May after allegedly leaving a Bible behind at a hotel.

North Korea is holding at least two other American citizens, Kenneth Bae, an American missionary, who was accused of plotting to bring down the regime of Kim Jong-un and sentenced to 15 years hard labor, and Matthew Todd Miller, whom North Korea claims was seeking asylum.

Coming up on THE LEAD, they might have patched things up after their heated campaign battle, but that does not mean President Obama always takes Hillary Clinton's advice -- next, how she describes the one time she lost a debate with him.

Plus, the rules were put in place to make the road safer for drivers, so why is one senator calling for changes to laws requiring rest for truckers?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The politics lead now. The 2008 presidential race was a campaign worthy of a Dostoyevsky novel, packed with enough twists and turns to fill thousands upon thousands of pages. But boiling it down to the cliffs notes, the Democratic presidential primary may have, in some ways, come down to one single vote in 2002 with Barack Obama on one side of the issue and Hillary Clinton on the other.

In her new memoir "Hard Choices," the former secretary says her vote for the Iraq war was wrong. Plain and simple.

Keeper of the Hillary Clinton file, CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar is here.

Brianna, what else does Clinton reveal in this book that CNN has now in its position?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We do. We have bought an early copy and we are combing through it as we speak. But, well, for one, she reveals her tips for combating jetlag. That's one of the things.

But on a more serious topic, foreign policy topics, she talks about her split with the president on Syria and a very timely topic, her thoughts on Taliban negotiations for Bowe Bergdahl's release. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): In her much anticipated memoir, Hillary Clinton details her role in negotiations to secure Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That's not how war works.

KEILAR: The controversy surrounding his release and exchange for five top Taliban leaders likely does not surprise her. She writes, "I acknowledged, as I had many times before, that opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war."

Clinton's starkest difference of opinion with President Obama is on Syria's civil war. She says she pushed him to arm moderate rebels, but he disagreed. "No one likes to lose a debate, including me," she says, "but this was the president's call and I respected his deliberations and decision."

Clinton offers her strongest mea culpa yet for voting in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq -- a vote that cost her liberal support in 2008. "I wasn't alone in getting it wrong but I still got it wrong. Plain and simple," she writes.

She speaks warmly of her relationship with Obama, which grew out of a bitter primary battle.

BARACK OBAMA (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're likable enough, Hillary.


KEILAR: She describes their first meeting after she dropped out of the race. "We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date," she says, "taking a few sips of chardonnay. Both Barack and I and our staffs had a long list of grievances. It was time to clean the air."

But she didn't go to bat for Obama right away.

MCCAIN: Governor Sarah Palin.

KEILAR: Describing a request from his campaign to knock Sarah Palin when Republican candidate John McCain picked her as his running mate. "I was not going to attack Palin just for being a woman appealing for support from other women. I didn't think it made political sense and it didn't feel right. So I said no."

Perhaps an appeal to women voters, who will be extremely important to Clinton should she run for president.

On a lighter note, Clinton reveals how she maintained her exhausting travel schedule that often left her jet lag. "I drank copious cups of coffee and sometimes dug the finger nails of one hand into the palm of the other", she says. And she gets personal about her daughter's 2010 wedding, calling it "one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life. So many thoughts went through my head," she writes. "Our family had been through so many things together. Good times and hard times. And now, here we were celebrating the best of times."


KEILAR: So, there are some more personal topics in the book. But, again, CNN has just obtained an early copy of ht book. We're going over it as we speak. But officially, this book is out on Tuesday, Jake.

TAPPER: Brianna, stay right here. I also want to bring in Neera Tanden, who worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

And you were one of the few who made the jump and then work on the Obama campaign.

So, you have --

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: And I have lived to tell the tale.

TAPPER: You have lived to tell the tale.


TAPPER: You and John Lovett, and I'm not sure. There aren't that many that did that.

TANDEN: There's a few of us. There's a few of us.

TAPPER: So, this is fascinating. The Obama campaign wants Hillary Clinton to go after Governor Palin presumably on her record and she won't do it.

Now, you would work for both. Why not?

TANDEN: Well, I think I shall on the book, where she says in the book, you know, I think the initial attack seemed a little bit like it was attacking the first woman to be on a national ticket on the Republican side.


TANDEN: And I think Hillary is a strong believer of ending the glass ceiling, and that issue of being a woman on the ticket should have been something that was noteworthy. And, you know, that day when President Obama spoke, he noted himself or then-Senator Obama spoke he noted himself the historic nature of that but then the campaign was on issues itself.

TAPPER: What was interesting, though, the context, Brianna, is that Palin made -- and you've got to give her credit for it -- she made naked plays for the dissatisfied Clinton voters. I mean, I remember, I was working at the ABC at the time, and she did -- Palin did an interview with Charlie Gibson, and she was praising Hillary Clinton and she was trying to get those dissatisfied Clinton supporters, many of them were women, to take a look at her.

KEILAR: Yes, and that's what Hillary Clinton says in this excerpt that we've seen where she says I wasn't going to attack a woman just for trying to appeal to women. I mean, that was very much going on at the time. I think what you're seeing is kind of two different political instincts that she's highlighting the Obama campaign, that maybe we should go after this and it seemed like, in this case, Hillary Clinton kind of just wanted to sit back.

I don't know if she thought that would take care of itself or something like that but I think she didn't feel like attacking and, also, I would say, she might have a better sense of how female voters might respond to an attack.

TANDEN: Yes, I know. I definitely think -- look, I think, as a woman who was attacked a little bit, she maybe had some special sensitivity to that. But I think, you know, she talks a lot about the issues of women in this book and I think we've seen that there's another glass ceiling.

TAPPER: Let's talk about your favorite subject, Neera, the Iraq war and the vote for the Iraq war. And that is -- I mean, pretty much every Democrat who voted for the Iraq war, and even some Republicans, have said they regret it. It was a mistake. They wouldn't do it again.

But she does it again. She addresses it again. If she runs for president in 2016, this will really be in the rear-view mirror for voters. Why address it again?

TANDEN: Well, look, I think it's an important issue. Iraq is something that she had to address as secretary of state. She had a lot of dealings with that country. I know the vice president worked on it as well.

But I think it's a question that's been out there. I'm glad she's answered it. It's been asked a billion times. So, it's good to have it out there. I think this debate has really moved on. I think it's moved on in the Democratic Party and it's certainly moved on in the country.

TAPPER: And, Brianna, this rollout feels like a very successful campaign rollout, perhaps not to be snarky, a little more successful than her last campaign rollout. I know, Neera --


TANDEN: And the joy of that. Thank you so much, Jake. I appreciate it so much.

TAPPER: But what's interesting, they brought some Clinton hands on board. Tommy Vietor, who used to do the national security communications for the Obama administration, is working for Clinton on this.

KEILAR: Yes. And I think that's for a few reasons. One, that bridges the gap with the White House and also he was at the White House when Benghazi happened. So he knows the script on it, right?

But I also think that it's because one of the narratives that is being pushed by the Hillary camp, which I just feel pretty comfortable saying at this point, is that there was this sort of team of rivals, as they have put it, that has become an unrivaled teen.

That is what I have said. It's one of the talking points that has come out, one of the canned ones.

But this isn't the only -- I mean, we've also seen a lot of former Obama folks who have gone certainly to support Hillary Clinton be it through the different super PACs.

TAPPER: Oh, sure, Jim Messina.

KEILAR: Yes, Jim Messina. We're seeing his battleground director is helping Hillary and also I think you look at the pace of that book tour, it kind of looks a little bit like the campaign.

TAPPER: Neera --

TANDEN: There's a lot of support out there.


TAPPER: A lot of support.

Neera Tanden, Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.

When we come back, they avoided each other at all costs -- no, not Obama and Hillary. I'm talking about Putin and Obama. Until an awkward encounter today over lunch. So, what did Putin and Obama chat about? That's coming up next.

Plus, a comedian's connection to one of the deadliest battles of World War II. Coming up, Stephen Colbert sharing the story of his Uncle Eddie who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and barely survived the first minutes of battle.