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Up To 300 Military Advisers To Iraq; Democrats' Billionaire Fundraiser; Interview with Saxby Chambliss

Aired June 19, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to --welcome back to THE LEAD.

Returning to our world lead, I have a news whiplash here. The president's announcement up to 300 military advisors will be sent to Iraq. The big question, what can these advisers do to cut off what some are calling the beginning of civil war?

Let's bring in Retired General Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of the United States Central Command.

First of all, General Zinni, thanks so much for being here. Can you explain exactly what these 300 military advisors will be actually doing? We're told they'll be broken up into several small teams, about a dozen individuals each. Talk us through where they go and how they assist the Iraqi military.

GENERAL ANTHONY ZINNI, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER IN CHIEF (RETIRED): Well, it depends on which level they're advising. At the more senior levels, at the corps, division brigade level they might it be advising more operational level things such as logistics, intelligence, and fire support coordination. It would be the more broader staff functions.

And they would also be a conduit for any support that we might have to bring in and coordinate. At the lower levels, if we put them down on the frontline levels, at the company level, platoon level where you might see special operations forces, it might be advice on weapons and tactics.

It could be actually helping collect intelligence, reconnaissance. Could be to actually control U.S. fires like air support. So depending on the level, obviously, you're going to get a different kind of advice that goes up the chain.

TAPPER: Obviously, we're still speaking theoretically here. How dangerous could this be for those 300 troops?

ZINNI: Well, depending on where you are. I was an advisor in Vietnam. I was at the company platoon level and obviously, you're in the middle of the fire fight and you are responsible for providing American support and engage in the fight directly so at that level where you might find the Special Forces A teams, maybe SEALs and others, you're obviously part of the frontline units in contact. As you move further back, you're more involved with the staff planning and you're more involved with the staff functions and the higher level commands.

TAPPER: The president was asked about the fear of mission creep by sending these advisors to Iraq and then all of a sudden, you have thousands and thousands of ground troops because of decisions. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think we always have to guard against mission creep. So let me repeat what I've said in the past. American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.


TAPPER: Let's explain exactly what that means to people because they're some selective language being used. American combat troops are not going to be fighting. What does that mean exactly?

ZINNI: I think what is meant by that is conventional forces. You know, we aren't going to see infantry battalions, artillery units, those kinds of units engaged. I think he's accepted the Special Forces, the advisory effort, those forces that may be involved in protecting our embassy and our personnel or conducting the evacuation.

So I think there should be more clarity in that. We've used this term boots on the ground. It's too generic and I think there ought to be more specificity so people can understand exactly what's meant by that.

TAPPER: Yes, I think people get confused. I think the American people don't necessarily understand the difference between a combat troop and a special force. They just think American fighting men and women in a country with a gun getting shot at. What's the difference? So I take your point. President Obama also said this about possible future action in Iraq. Take a listen.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it. If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region.


TAPPER: What does that mean to you, General Zinni, specific air strikes with intelligence gleaned from these 300 special operations troops?

ZINNI: I think in the near term, which obviously the mission is to stop ISIS from moving any further south, particularly or getting into Baghdad and maybe not taking it, but certainly causing a lot of chaos and violence, I think in the immediate sense it's to provide air support to frontline units defending Baghdad. But I think the next phase of this is going to have to be a counter offensive to retake the ground that ISIS has. But there had better be in my view some sort of political arrangement where Malaki reaches out to the Sunnis or else going back up and just conducting a military operation.

I don't think is going to resolve the issues that the Sunnis have, and those non-ISIS forces that are up there that may be supporting them or at least willing to have them in there because it's the devil they know.

So I think you have two military parts to this the immediate emergency defense and then a political requirement to set the stage and the conditions in the Sunni areas and provinces that allow you to conduct a counter offensive that's acceptable up there that leads toward a greater political solution.

TAPPER: Lastly, General Zinni, what lessons have we learned especially people like you who helped wage the war in Iraq, what lessons have we learned that so that we don't repeat mistakes we made in Iraq already? What does President Obama need to know having learned from mistakes made in that 9-year war?

ZINNI: There's a lot of lessons learned. I would say first understand the complexity of what you're getting into. It wasn't a war just against a dictator. It had religious and ethnic undertones we didn't appreciate going in. The idea that you can shake and bake democracy and hold a few elections and it's going to take and solidify, that doesn't work.

And the estimates in the beginning, the understanding of the culture what we would encounter when we went in, those were the biggest mistakes. We went in with too few troops, threw away the plan we should have used in the beginning. More importantly than that, Saddam was contained. We had interests elsewhere in the world like Afghanistan that suffered from this. I hope we understand that going forward.

TAPPER: General Anthony Zinni, thank you so much for your thoughts and thank you for your service, sir.

ZINNI: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, a potential 2016 presidential candidate being accused of being part of a criminal scheme to raise campaign cash. The breaking details coming next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing with our World Lead and President Obama's decision to send up to 300 military advisors he's calling them to Iraq. While no air strike appears imminent, President Obama made clear that the U.S. is not taking sides in a possible civil war.

And joining me now is Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. He is the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also serves on the Armed Services Committee. Senator Chambliss, thanks for being here. These military advisors that President Obama announced, up to 300 of them, that will work alongside the Iraqi military, will that be enough?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well, I think that's a real question because we don't know the answer to that. Here's what the president didn't say, Jake, and that is, he didn't tell us what his goal is and what is his plan to achieve that goal? He did say that he may send in up to 300 Special Forces folks to carry out a joint operation with the Iraqi security forces.

And they're going to be there in an advisory capacity only or are they there to carry out joint operations? I don't know the answer to that. But 300 Americans is not going to solve the problem of stopping the advance of this group that is more extreme than literally core al Qaeda.

TAPPER: What do you think he should have done then if 300 special operation troops are not enough? Do you think there should be air strikes? Do you think we should send in ground troops? What would you prescribe?

CHAMBLISS: Listen, the president has good military advisors around him, and they are the ones that actually need to be telling him, but clearly, particularly from an intelligence standpoint we need to carry out a surge to be able to be provide the president with the right kind of intelligence relative to these ISIL folks. We don't know where they all are now, we don't know the exact number of them, but the intelligence community is still gathering that kind of information.

Based on that and based on what the president said, I assume he's not going to carry out air strikes. That they're going to be more targeted types of strikes, which indicates to me he's probably thinking more about drones than he is about sending F-16s or some tactical aircraft in there.

TAPPER: Senator, as I'm sure you know better than I, the American people are very skeptical of sending any military troops into Iraq. Why do you think there is a national security interest in preventing ISIS or ISIL from taking Baghdad and stopping what looks to be something like a civil war in Iraq?

CHAMBLISS: Clearly Americans have paid a heavy price in Iraq. We've made a lot of gains and provided a lot of subsistence to the Iraqi people so that they could govern themselves. All of that seems to be falling apart now, all of the gains we made, all of the sacrifices that America and Americans made seems to be for naught.

I think it's important that we ensure that American lives were not lost for nothing.

But secondly, our economy is still oil driven. It's important that in that part of the world, not just in Iraq, but in that part of the world, that we have as much stability as possible. We've already seen the ISIL folks make an attempt to overrun the largest oil refinery in Iraq. There's a question as to whether they've been successful at that or not.

If that does happen, you're going to see the price of gas in America increase more than it should. So there are a number of national security interests that America has in the whole region. Iraq happens to be the country now at the center of that stability issue in the region.

TAPPER: Senator, I just want to press you on the point you made when you said that one of the reasons why we should be sending troops and having more U.S. military activity in Iraq is because we are so dependent upon oil and we need stable and hopefully lower oil prices. That's an observation that I think might ring upsetting with a lot of Americans, the idea that we would go to war for cheaper gasoline.

CHAMBLISS: And we should not go to war for cheaper gasoline. But our economy is driven by that, and that's why providing stability in that part of the world is important to us. We never went into Iraq on the very first day with the idea that oil was an issue. But stability in the region is important.

TAPPER: You're on the Senate Intelligence Committee. How much of a threat do the terrorists with ISIS or ISIL pose not just to American interests and not just to the American allies, but to the United States homeland itself? How concerned is the intelligence community that these terrorists are capable of striking in the United States?

CHAMBLISS: We know that in Syria, for example, an American strapped a suicide vest on himself and went in and blew himself up and killed a number of other people. My biggest fear and the thing that keeps me awake at night is that we're going to have more homegrown terrorists do that same thing in the United States. We don't need them -- these individuals to have the opportunity to train as to how to do that in places like Iraq and Syria.

TAPPER: Senator Saxby Chambliss, thank you so much.

CHAMBLISS: Sure. Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: As we continue to cover the crisis in Iraq and how conflicts overseas can affect multiple presidents, tonight on the "The Sixties," a look at the Vietnam war. JFK didn't want it. LBJ couldn't stop it. That's "The Sixties" at 9:00 p.m. on CCN.

Another major political story we're following at this hour for months, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's name has been discussed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate but now, the man who famously defeated a recall is being accused, accused of coordinating what prosecutors call a nationwide fund-raising scheme, which they say is in stark violation of election laws.

This is all according to court documents unsealed just a few hours ago in a legal battle that has spanned months. Governor Walker, his former chief of staff and top advisor are alleged to have discussed illegal fundraising options with a number of national groups and figures including Republican strategist, Karl Rove. Moments ago, Walker told reporters there's "no foundation to the claims." The charges are part of an ongoing lawsuit from the conservative group, Wisconsin Club for Growth, that was filed in December in an effort to halt the investigation.

Coming up on THE LEAD," war of the billionaires, the Senate majority leader says when it comes to super rich party backers, it's not a fair fight. We have the story of one Democratic donor dropping a lot of dough this election year. Who is Tom Stier?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The Money Lead now. It is a mad dash for control of the U.S. Senate. The midterms are looming. Right now every dollar counts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came to the floor of the Senate today to rant once again against the Supreme Court's decision striking down overall contribution limits to campaigns. That's when the senator from Nevada started singing a populist of fight song that may not be completely on pitch with reality.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Decisions by the Supreme Court have let the American people with a status quo in which one side's billionaires are pitted against the other side's billionaires. Except one side doesn't have any billionaires.


TAPPER: One side doesn't have many billionaires? The left doesn't have many billionaire backers, really? Well, you could name George Soros, David Shah, Irwin Jacobs, just to name a few. Let's not forget, of course, Tom Steyer. You know, Tom Steyer?


TAPPER (voice-over): So just who is Tom Steyer?


SENATOR JIM INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: There's a guy right here, his name is Tom Steyer. He's going to put $100 million into the legislative process to try to resurrect global warming as an issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know Tom Steyer from a bar of soap.

TAPPER: Steyer's a hedge fund billionaire bursting onto the political scene on behalf of environmental causes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to hold these candidates accountable for being against science and be loud about the fact that if they don't believe climate change is real, we can't trust them.

TAPPER: He's focusing on at least seven states that could decide which party controls the Senate and key state houses after November. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm grateful.

TAPPER: Last year, Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's Republican candidate for governor, was defeated in a very close race. Steyer spent nearly $8 million helping Cuccinelli lose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Climate changing is an important issue. We should all be proud of the work we've done to keep climate change denier, Ken Cuccinelli, out of the governor's mansion.

TAPPER: He's also funding efforts to derail account controversial Keystone pipeline. All of this has Republicans crying hypocrisy. Noting that Democrats have practically put the Republican aiding billionaire, Koch Brothers, on the ballot decrying their influence on elections while remaining silent about their own big money donors. Groups advocating campaign finance reform agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not supposed to be a game for millionaires and billionaires on either side of the aisle to spend as much money as they want buying access and influence.

TAPPER: Tom Steyer advisor, Chris Lehane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States Supreme Court has dramatically changed how campaigns work by allowing all this outside money to come in and Tom would be the first to say the laws that the Supreme Court have said and have articulated are not good for our democracy, but it's the reality we're in. The other option is to at least have someone out there trying to balance that playing field to provide some resources for the other side.

TAPPER: Another point of dispute involves Steyer's assets.

STEYER: The Keystone pipeline is not a good investment.

TAPPER: Steyer made his money as the manager of a $20 billion hedge fund, amassing a fortune through a variety of investments including many in the very fossil fuels he now decries.

TIM PHILLIPS, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: He made most of his fortune in foreign coal investments, the very energy he now says he wants to get rid of. I think a lot of Americans will see it as hypocrisy and political opportunism from Mr. Steyer.

TAPPER: Steyer says it was those investments that led him to his most recent cause.

STEYER: I need to square what I believe is right with what I was doing in my own life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only did he recognize it was not right, he decided to step down from the business that he had helped create, a fund that he was doing exceptionally well in and decided to leave and dedicate and donate the money that he has made to really fighting this. TAPPER: So he divested two years ago from some of what he calls the dirtier fuels, coal and tar sands. His portfolio is as of today still not free of these investments. In other words, Steyer has continued to make money off these unclean energies while simultaneously decrying them.

STEYER: Does this pipeline help us or does it help a few narrow interests?

TAPPER: But this month his advisors say all of those fossil fuel investments will end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the end of this month, we'll have become fully divested from fossil fuel companies. People who know economics know finance know what did investment means and understand and recognize that meant an awful lot of money was left on the table.

TAPPER: An awful lot of money spent to defeat politicians he sees as insufficiently committed to the cause. He threw fundraisers for President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He also spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

STEYER: Let's embrace a vision of a clean healthy planet, the one that God gave us. And not eight a scorched earth that can't sustain future generations.

TAPPER: His admirers argue that this is a guy who is fighting for the environment at his own expense both because of investments he's about to give up and campaign cash he's willing to spend.

STEYER: Investment is about analysis and timing

TAPPER: With Steyer's $100 million on the table this election cycle, Senate Democrats perhaps eager to have their names in his checkbook ledger held an all-night session earlier this year to highlight his pet issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down to this little puddle.

TAPPER: Republicans pointed out the obvious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senate Democrats are just trying to please the left coast billionaire who plans to finance so many of their campaigns.

TAPPER: Citizens have criticism notwithstanding, Steyer sees combating climate change as good policy as well as good politics.

CHRIS LEHANE, ADVISER TO TOM STEYER: Giving away millions and millions of dollars to try to impact our political system so that we avoid the disaster of climate change I think speaks an awful lot to this person's character.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: THE LEAD will continue to follow the money as the midterm elections approach. You can see our previous reporting on the conservative Koch brothers on our webpage

In other politics news today, a story we've been covering for months, they're the standard bearers on foreign soil for the American way of life. It's a cushy gig if you manage to avoid being posted to Turkmenistan. That's why high profile ambassadorships often go to members of the donor class.

Fifty two times the Obama administration has chosen a bundler to become an ambassador according to the center for public integrity. But rarely have they backfired like the White House's pick to represent the United States in Norway. George Sunnis, he bundled more than $1.3 million for the president's re-election compaign.

While Sunnis clearly passed the test for money marketing on Obama's behalf, he showed up to his congressional hearing without studying. Sunnis said Norway has a king and a prime minister.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As ambassador, how would you promote those trade cooperations?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for that save, Senator Johnson.


TAPPER: That's Republican Senator Ron Johnson offering up the proverbial softball to Sunis. Even Democrats such as Al Franken don't want Sunnis to represent in Oslo.


SENATOR AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: He seem very, very ill prepared and also seem to kind of melt down a little bit. And I think what you want from a diplomat is someone who is good under pressure.


TAPPER: Franken and his fellow Minnesotan Democrat Amy Klobuchar say the Norwegians in their state take umbrage and they've already announced their intention to vote against the nominee.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.