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Battle Lines

Aired June 16, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Coming up, next, he knows the complexities of Iraq because he lived in the middle of it for several long years during some of the deadliest fighting. And now he's saying the U.S. only has itself to blame for what's happening now.

Plus, it was how they got their scoop -- clandestine meetings in a dark parking lot.

Why no future journalists will be able to do precisely what Woodward and Bernstein did. That's coming up ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper.

Continuing with our World Lead, as Iraq descends further and further into chaos, the United States is keeping its enemies close. Secretary of State John Kerry saying today that while the U.S. won't be cooperating militarily with Iran, there could be discussions when U.S. and Iranian officials meet to address nuclear issues next week in Vienna.

It's almost possible to trace a straight line from the American teardown of Saddam Hussein to the struggle to rebuild the destroyed nation to U.S. armed forces' perhaps early exit from the country to now an Iraq possibly devolving into a Sunni-Shia civil war.

Here to discuss all this, a reporter who has been covering Iraq since the United States first recent started Operation Iraqi Freedom and who has a new piece in this week's "New Yorker" on the crisis, staff writer for "The New Yorker," Dexter Filkins.

Dexter, so good to see you.

You wrote the seminal book on the Iraq conflict, "The Forever War." You spent three times in "The New York Times'" Baghdad bureau, countless other trips around Iraq. You know people who died there, you know Iraqis, you know Americans, contractors, soldiers, citizens.

Before we get to the policy of all this and the history, is it personally difficult for you to watch what's going on there?

DEXTER FILKINS, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, of course. I mean, you know, I was there in February. And it was -- I felt like it was -- I was in a time machine. You know, I felt like it was 2006 again. I was staying in a hotel in Baghdad and I was -- every morning I would wake up to the sound of car bombs, you know?

And that's really, I mean that's 2005, 2006 all over again. It's as if you know, all the money and all the lives that we spent were for naught.

And that is depressing. Of course it is. I mean al Qaeda is in -- or an al Qaeda affiliate, in this case, is in control of towns across the Sunni Triangle. Yes, that's depressing.

TAPPER: You summed this all up rather succinctly last week. You wrote, "What the Americans left behind was an Iraqi state that was not able to stand on its own. What we built is now coming apart. This is the real legacy of America's war in Iraq."

Now the White House, this White House, argues that they had no choice, the Iraqis wanted U.S. troops out in 2011.

Do you think the White House is overstating the case?

Could the U.S. have pressed harder and kept enough troops there that this would not have happened?

FILKINS: Well, look, I mean that -- that was two-and-a-half years ago when we left. And, you know, if you think back to that time, there aren't a lot of American who wanted to stay in Iraq. And so I think public opinion on that point was pretty clear.

There were a lot of negotiations. These negotiations went on for months. And the negotiations centered around the question of do we leave some troops behind, and not combat troops, but basically troops to train and do intelligence.

But I think the most important thing was you'd have a lot of troops there and they would essentially -- they would act to restrain the prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, who is a Shiite, from his most sectarian impulses. And that was the idea, because if the -- because basically, the Iraqi political system -- the political system that we helped build, it doesn't really work without us. And that's kind of the great irony of it. And so we built -- we spent nine years building this new Iraqi state, after we destroyed the one in 2003. And it doesn't work all that well. And it doesn't stand on its own very well.

And so, you know, the question was, do we leave some people behind?

And it didn't work out. There was no deal.

You know, at one point, Maliki is pretty clear on this point. He says I told the Americans I would just do an executive agreement president to prime minister, I'll make a deal with the White House, you can keep some troops here, I won't have to take it to parliament.

And the White House rejected that, for what they say were good legal reasons. But I don't know. I think we'll never know now and it's a little late but -- and I don't -- you know, I don't think we're -- we're not going to put troops back there now. But it's a pretty troubling question, could this have been averted if we'd left some people there?

TAPPER: Dexter, do you think that the United States has an obligation to try to stop this massacre that it looks like could happen in Baghdad?

FILKINS: I don't know. I mean, I -- I think, look, you know, we did have an obligation, I think. We came in in 2003, whether you supported the invasion or not. The United States destroyed the government there. We were obliged, I think, to rebuild something that would work. We left behind a pretty fragile -- a pretty fragile piece of machinery there that's -- that's not standing on its own very well.

Does that create an obligation for us?

I -- I don't know. I mean, I -- I think it comes to practical questions now, really.

I mean what can we do?

Can we actually do any good there?

Can -- or would it just -- would we just be creating more problems?

And I -- you know, I think they're weighing that right now. I mean, you know, what can they do that would actually do some good?

That -- those are hard questions.

TAPPER: Dexter Filkins, always a pleasure.

Thank you so much.

FILKINS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, she's been the focus of an investigation for allegedly targeting Tea Party groups at the IRS. Now Lois Lerner says two years worth of e-mails are gone after her hard drive crashed.

Guess who's not buying that?

Plus, it's finally time to enter the group of death -- the first World Cup match for the U.S. starts in just minutes.

Can they eke out a win over their soccer nemesis?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper.

Now time for the Politics Lead. "Sorry, my hard drive crashed" is probably not the kind of excuse that would get you off the hook if you were being audited. But that is exactly the explanation the IRS, and now the Obama administration, are using to explain more than two years of missing e-mails from Lois Lerner, former director at the Exempt Organizations Division at the IRS, who has been at the heart of the House investigation into whether the agency unfairly targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups.

The IRS says a crashed hard drive caused them to lose all of Lerner's emails from January 2009 to April 2011. In a statement, the agency explains at the time Miss. Lerner asked IRS IT professionals to restore her hard drive, but they were unable to do so.

Incoming White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, stands by that explanation. He just told reporters aboard Air Force One, quote, "I think it's entirely reasonable and it's fact."

But Republicans are not convinced and they're outraged that it took a year for the IRS to tell them about the crash.

The whole thing gets a little bit more complicated after you listen to the testimony of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen back in March, telling Congressman Jason Chaffetz that all of the IRS e-mails are stored on servers, not on individual hard drives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's one of the brilliance of the e-mail system is you go in and you check the sent box, the inbox, and you suddenly have all the e-mails?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, they get taken off and stored in servers.


TAPPER: Except of course, when they don't. Commissioner Koskinen is on the Hill right now to meet privately with Senate's Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Ranking Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. He tells CNN we're not hiding anything. Missing documents, zigzagging explanations, looming scandals, the more things change in this town the more they stay the same.

Let's bring in two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, who broke the mother of all political scandals, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. They are out with the 40th anniversary edition of their legendary book, "All the President's Men," a thrilling account of the reporting on the Watergate scandal that brought down the sitting president and of course, inspired the Academy-award winning film starring two not as good looking actors by the same name.

Here they are, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein. Thanks so much for being here. I have to say I think about Watergate looms large over all Washington, D.C. scandals. They seem to pale by comparison. When I heard the IRS excuse, it made me think of Rose Mary Woods accidentally deleting 18-1/2 minutes of tape. CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What you need to remember about Watergate was about a criminal president of the United States and a criminal president. Unlike anything in our history. We have no indication that Barack Obama knows anything about what happened at the IRS in Cincinnati. At the same time, you would hope that some Democrats would say, could we please get some answers from the IRS, not just the Republicans?

TAPPER: Having broken the story of this the biggest political scandal in the last 50 years if not longer, is it tough to cover other scandals in Washington?

BOB WOODWARD, CO-AUTHOR: "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN": No, I mean, here is the problem. Carl and I talk about almost daily and that is that there's such an impatience in the news system, give it to me now right away. I want 140 characters, not words that will describe reality. And one of our bosses at "The Washington Post" I remember one afternoon saying, you can't understand a man or a woman or anything in an afternoon.

And so you've got to spend time on these things. You're there reporting on the Iraq situation. Now, that is giant news. If you rewind a little bit, you realize a decision was made to leave no troops there and that decision was insufficiently covered like almost everything in Washington.

TAPPER: Interesting. Forty years since Watergate. You both are obviously continuing to thrive and report. Is it easier or tougher to break stories today?

BERNSTEIN: I think that you do the work, you get the stories. I think the problem with many news organizations are that they don't do the work. They don't send the reporters out to knock on doors. The basics of reporting still work. That's how you get the good stories.

TAPPER: You've seen this at "The Washington Post" and obviously, not to pick on the post, one of the problems is the business model is suffering. And there aren't as many reporters in a lot of cases.

WOODWARD: That's true. If you look at the demise of Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and that was not that far away in Richmond, Virginia. His district. Carl used to cover this.

BERNSTEIN: Virginia reporter at the time of Watergate.

WOODWARD: And you find out what's going on the ground, and the reporters who did this for small papers and had a sense the earth is moving at the big papers. We did not have enough of an understanding because people were not sent down there to live.

TAPPER: I have to ask, over the weekend, it was announced that the zoning or the planning people in Virginia, they're going to tear down the garage where you met with Deep Throat. Is that upsetting at all to you?

BERNSTEIN: Not unless I had a parking sticker. TAPPER: There's no -- you don't have any nostalgia?

BERNSTEIN: They say they're going to put up some kind of plaque. That's OK. But -- he's one that went there.

WOODWARD: History can't stand in the way of progress.

BERNSTEIN: That's right.

WOODWARD: And that's a case where you know, everything --

BERNSTEIN: Starbucks.

WOODWARD: I mean, everything moves on.

TAPPER: You should get the Newseum to buy that specifically post where you met with Mark Felt. Don't you think?

WOODWARD: I don't think so. You know, I think it's only cement. What was important, and again, you know, not to overstress, but let us repeat, this is about going into the night, talking to people, developing sources in places where they have specific information and you know, not giving up. Carl was the one who developed the strategy. I mean, imagine going and knocking on someone's door at 8:00 without an appointment. When is the last time you did that?

TAPPER: I call now. I call. But you're right. It is an unbelievable -- I'm sorry that I lean on the film, but in the film they do a vivid job of re-creating it. Why is that important to go to people in their homes at night?

BERNSTEIN: People are intimidated and under pressure in their offices. Now so much reporting or twittering is done without even going to the offices. We have a real problem of the basics that you need human intelligence in reporting. You can't just do it by going online and there's an awful lot of, quote, "reporting" that is done that way in this rush to get it on the air or get it online.

WOODWARD: And it makes a difference. When I was doing the fourth book on Bush's wars, the war within, there was a general who would not talk. And e-mails, intermediaries, nothing and I find out where he lived. The best time to visit a four-star general without an appointment is the 8:15 on a Tuesday because he would have eaten dinner, not gone to bed. I knock on the door.

And he opens the door and looks at me and he says are you still doing this "s"? And then he kind you have got a disappointed look on his face and said come on in, and sat for two hours and answered most of the questions why because someone showed up. They don't show up enough.

TAPPER: Before you go, I have to ask you about Hillary Clinton. You wrote a book about her in 2008, I believe. Tell me how you think her roll out has gone so far.

BERNSTEIN: We've never seen anything like this. This is a huge Clinton choreographed operation by about the most famous woman in the world. A celebrity more than a politician at this point. We're two years before the election and we're all extras in this Clinton -- and the press especially this Clinton choreographed production.

And our job once again is to find out what's really going on, who she really is. Whether or not she's connecting with people, whether or not she's being factual. But right now, she's in control of had this huge locomotive that's going down the tracks.

TAPPER: I owe you an apology because when you had your book and said the thing about the on the table about the Biden, Clinton switch. You said it was on the table. I was asked about it and I didn't give it much credibility. It turned out they polled for it. I owe you a public apology for questioning that.

WOODWARD: No apology. Carl's great book about Hillary is about her real decisions, her real life. How she was raised. If you read that book, if I may say, it's very balanced. She's got some weaknesses. She's got some strengths. We need to find out how was she as secretary of state. And you find that out by the going to the people who really worked with her, quite frankly, knocking on doors, getting documents, getting notes.

And answering that question, you know, kind of the bottom line lesson of Watergate is -- it makes a big difference who's president. If you look at Nixon, if you look at a lot of presidents, we didn't do our job in the media in describing who these people really were.

TAPPER: Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, an honor and pleasure to have you here. Good to see you. The book, of course, "All The President's Men," the 40th anniversary edition. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

Coming up, maybe this will help make up her mind. Our new CNN poll on the 2016 election that might even surprise the most ardent Hillary Clinton supporter. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In politics, the sky is blue, water is wet and Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination if she decides to run according to an overwhelming number of you who see a Clinton nod as all but inevitable. A brand-new CNN/ORC poll, a whopping 78 percent of you believe Clinton will likely win the Democratic nomination if she runs for president.

But will she win the oval office? Fewer people believe that she will. These numbers look pretty good for her, 67 percent of those we polled think she will win it all if she runs. Will she run? I bet the question will come up tomorrow when CNN host "A Global Town Hall with Hillary Clinton moderated by our own Christiane Amanpour at 5:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow and a replay at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Turning now to the Money Lead, I do not know how many times I have said this exact sentence on the show this year, maybe somebody can put together a super cut of it on YouTube. Here it is again. General Motors is announcing yet another recall. General Motors is recalling more than 3 million cars in the U.S. due to faulty ignitions, which the company links to at least eight crashes and six injuries.

Several models are included ranging in years from 2000 to 2014. This announcement today brings the number of vehicles recalled by GM just this year and it's only June in the U.S. to more than 17 million.

Now, to the Sports Lead, the U.S. kicks off its World Cup slate against Ghana tonight. While most fans here are searching the internet for free live streams, Ghana's government is willing to max out their entire country's power grid to make sure people can watch.

The nation struck a deal with neighboring Ivory Coast for 50 megawatts of extra electricity to make sure the broadcast doesn't hiccup. Last time the two the squads played, Ghana beat the U.S. 2-1 eliminating the U.S. from the tournament.

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