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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Crisis in Iraq; IRS Under Fire; Why Are There Chemical Weapons in Iraq?; "Nobody Believes You!"
Aired June 20, 2014 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A group of hard-core, too-extreme-for-al- Qaeda terrorists now controls a chemical weapon stockpile. So, you may be saying to yourself, wait, Iraq has chemical weapons? I'm John Berman and this is the lead.
The world lead: On its bloody march to Baghdad, ISIS captures what was a Saddam Hussein chemical weapons plant, but the labels say expired. So can they do any damage in the hands of these terrorists?
The politics lead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I don't believe it. That's your problem. Nobody believes you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: How many times have you wanted to say something like that to the IRS? Paul Ryan unloads on the head of the agency that makes you sweat after months of e-mails go missing in the age where no information just goes missing.
The national lead, by the thousands, children pouring over the U.S. border sent by parents hoping they can stay. Can Texas wait for Washington to do something? I will ask the man there who wants to be governor.
I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.
And we do begin with the world lead.
The United States' next mission in Iraq could begin any minute. The Pentagon tells CNN that some of the 300 U.S. military advisers ordered to Iraq by President Obama are, in fact, already there. They are being drawn from personnel already in the country to protect the U.S. Embassy.
Right now, their mission is to help the Iraqi military destroy ISIS on its own. The president has vowed that American troops will not go back into combat, but many military analysts, including some who saw action in places like Fallujah say boots on the ground are boots on the ground.
Meantime, the United Nations now says this terror siege has forced more than one million people to flee their homes in Iraq, but many who stayed behind are taking up arms against the Sunni extremists who are vowing to take Baghdad, and now have one of Saddam Hussein's old bombed-out dusty chemical weapons plants.
We will have much more on that a little later with the former chief U.S. weapons inspector.
Meanwhile, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has the latest from Baghdad.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a nationally televised address, a top Shia cleric, Imam Al-Safi, sought to tamp down sectarian tensions, calling on the government to ban all militias and clarifying an earlier call to arms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This call was directed to everybody and not to one sect. It aimed to prepare to stand up to ISIS that has got the upper hand and strongest presence in many areas.
ROBERTSON: Meanwhile, supporters of ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, amped up their vicious sectarian message with a social media blitz featuring a YouTube video in English aimed at Westerners.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have brothers from Bangladesh, from Iraq, from Cambodia, Australia, U.K. Nothing has gathered us, except to make (INAUDIBLE) with the highest.
ROBERTSON: On Iraq's ever-expanding battlefield, ISIS remains in control of vast parts of north and central Iraq and is fighting towards Baghdad.
It is into this that U.S. special forces are being sent back into Iraq, almost three years after U.S. combat troops left. President Obama said as many as 300 special forces might be sent in an advisory role. They are set to assess the dangers ISIS poses and will be forming two joint operation centers with Iraqi troops.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just like in any unfolding situation like this, like even in a disaster relief operation, one of the first things you do is you deploy assessment teams to go find out what the requirements are, before you start flowing in your support. And that's I think what these first couple of teams will do.
ROBERTSON: So far, the fighting in Iraq this year has displaced more than a million people, the U.N. High Commission on Refugees says.
We met the Red Cross chief for Iraq, who warned me, where ISIS took control six months ago, the situation is dire and could be repeated in the new conquests in the north.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fallujah has been blocked since quite some time, and the needs are only increasing.
ROBERTSON: Iraq is, meanwhile, looking to embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to form a more inclusive government, but, Friday, there was no sign of any changes.
Imam Al-Safi told the faithful to be patient while a new government forms.
ROBERTSON: And that, be patient while a new government is formed, is, in fact, a veiled threat to Nouri al-Maliki: A new government is to be formed. Your time is up, Maliki. It is time to go.
It is the religious leaders in this country and Ayatollah al-Sistani, who this man was speaking for, is the most important. Millions of people hang on what he says. The importance of his Friday prayers, Friday sermons cannot be underestimated. This is a very powerful political message coming from this leader, saying that Nouri al-Maliki has not been able to bring the stability and meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people, has not been able to properly lead the country.
It is time for change and it should be happening now, a powerful message from this religious leader, John.
BERMAN: No, a major statement from the man who really the entire population there, at least the Shia population, hangs on his every word.
Nic Robertson in Baghdad, thank you so much.
So with the first group of military advisers set to begin their work in Iraq soon, the question is, just what exactly will they be doing?
Joining me now is CNN military analyst and retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. He served as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer during the Persian Gulf War, also served in Northern Iraq with the CIA.
Rick, thank you for being with us.
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Sure.
BERMAN: You have been in this situation, so you can help me understand what's going on here.
When these military personnel, these special forces leave the U.S. Embassy, they go to the front lines, they show up, and what happens? You walk up to an Iraqi major and, say hi, I'm from America, I'm here to advise?
FRANCONA: I'm here to help.
No, there's an art to this. You have to go in there and let them know that you are there to help. But there's a way to do that without appearing to be arrogant, like, we're not -- we're coming in here to tell you people who don't understand what you're doing how this is supposed to be done. We're the Americans. So follow what we -- listen to what we say and do what we say. That doesn't work. You have got to get in there and recruit them and
let them know that you are there to help, but you want to work with them, not for them to work with for you.
BERMAN: Do they actually want U.S. advice or do they want U.S. missiles being fired from planes at these ISIS forces?
FRANCONA: Actually, they want the latter, but they will have to put up with the former to get that. They know that we're not going to commit weapons, we're not going to conduct airstrikes unless we feel that our needs are going to be met as well.
And, right now, we have to assess if that's going to actually be what the Iraqis need.
BERMAN: Well, that's the flip side. Are we there, the U.S., is the U.S. actually there to provide advice that the U.S. thinks will be taken, or are U.S. military personnel there to actually look at ISIS themselves and get a sense of what's going on?
FRANCONA: Well, they're going to look at both, John.
They're going to look -- first, they're going to look -- their initial task is -- my understanding from the Pentagon -- is to assess the Iraqi army. Can they do this? What do they need? Can we help them? Is what we are do going to be enough to disrupt ISIS?
And if that's not, then we have to come back and figure out, what are we going to do? Because the goal here is to get ISIS out of that country. And we're hoping that the Iraqi army can do it. So, the first job is, can the Iraqis do this? If they can is, what do they need?
Then and only then should we be assessing ISIS.
BERMAN: And we say 300 U.S. military personnel headed there, but don't they need translators, don't they need transport? Doesn't this indicate an operation that isn't insignificant?
FRANCONA: Well, there will be 300 Americans. All the other support will probably be either contractors or local Iraqis that the Iraqi army will provide.
So, the 300 is actually just the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, Navy personnel that are going to be there. And that 300 does not county the countless numbers of pilots that are overflying that country right now. So, at any given moment, there are manned platforms over that country that are not being counted.
BERMAN: There's a phrase you hear tossed around sometimes. If you're not in military, it doesn't necessarily mean much, rules of engagement. So, you're one of these U.S. military personnel there advising the Iraqis. You get fired upon by ISIS. What do you do?
FRANCONA: Well, I assume they're going to fire back, and they will be armed. But, of course, the protection of these advisers will be the responsibility of the Iraqi army.
But they're all going to have their own personal weapons. And the rules of engagement will allow them to respond, but only if they're shot at first. I know, these are crazy rules.
BERMAN: Crazy rules. And, again, when the president says no troops going back into combat, there's combat going around all on around them. So, effectively, they're in combat.
FRANCONA: They're at risk. They are going to pushed down as far as the brigade level.
The brigade is the basic combat military unit of the Iraqi army. So, if you're an adviser to a brigade headquarters, you're going to be out where people are shooting at you.
BERMAN: Last question. Doesn't this provide -- or does this provide some kind of opportunity for U.S. involvement in Syria? The Syrian conflict has been very difficult for the U.S. to get involved in. But won't the U.S. follow ISIS if it sees them running across the border to Syria?
FRANCONA: Yes, well, that's a question I put to some of my colleagues at the Pentagon. They have not -- they have decided not to answer that. They said right now they're going to focus on ISIS in Iraq, and Syria maybe down the road. But they said that's yet -- that's a whole 'nother political ball game they don't want to talk about right now.
BERMAN: But if they can kill, if the U.S. can kill some of the bad guys who have been fighting in Syria, if they can kill them or help kill them in the Iraqi desert, that's not a bad thing for the Syrian conflict.
FRANCONA: Well, what we're also seeing is, we're seeing the Syrian air force coming over into Iraq and bombing targets in Iraq. So, you have got cooperation between the Iraqi government and the Syrian government killing people in Iraq.
Now, we're going to get involved in that? We're going to put U.S. forces in the middle of this? This is a real problem.
BERMAN: And that's why it's so complicated and that's why clearly the president has been so hesitant to get involved.
Rick Francona, thank you so much for being...
FRANCONA: Mission creep. Can't have it.
BERMAN: Appreciate seeing you.
Coming up on THE LEAD: A terrorist organization has taken over another building in Iraq. Only, this one houses the remnants of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons. We will ask a former U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq what these weapons were doing there in the first place.
And then Paul Ryan has gone from running for V.P. to calling B.S. on the IRS. So, WTF? We will tell you why the IRS commissioner is being asked to apologize. That's our politics lead.
BERMAN: All right, welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.
Continuing our world lead and Iraq's battle to keep the militant group ISIS from taking over its country. So, if this were a soccer match, score one for the terrorists. They've taken over one of Saddam Hussein's old chemical weapons complexes not even 15 miles from Baghdad. The State Department and Pentagon say the facility has stockpiles of old weapons.
All right. I know what you're saying here. I thought we had already been through this, that Iraq didn't have the WMDs. That was kind of a big deal.
So let's get an explanation about this from David Kay. He was the chief U.S. weapons in Iraq. He's a member of the State Department's International Security Advisory Board.
David, we are thrilled to have you here to clear up what I think is a big question that everyone has when they first hear the story. We didn't think Iraq had WMDs. What are these?
DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF OF U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR IN IRAQ: Well, John, the history of this facility is interesting. First of all, you have to understand how large it is. It's larger than the District of Columbia in terms of total area. It was extensively bombed by the U.S. in the First Gulf War. When we went in in 1991, and that was the U.N. inspection team, UNSCOM at that point, the facility was -- buildings were collapsed, bunkers were torn open from bombs. It was a huge mess.
Now, what the U.N. did is it gathered all the chemical arms it could, safely, and then incinerated them and got rid of them. There were a small number. I certainly wouldn't call it a stockpile, a small number of weapons that were essentially too dangerous because they were leaking for the inspectors to even drain them and incinerate them. They were put into two very large bunkers and sealed in concrete.
Now, when I went back in 2003 and went out to this facility, I discovered that indeed, in the period after the inspectors, U.N. inspectors left in 1998 and before the Second Gulf War in 2003, the Iraqis are someone had broken into some of the bunkers and gone through various facilities. Now, whether they gathered together is a lot of scrap that was contaminated. It was more toxic than chemical weapons. The Iraqi chemical weapons, most of them did not survive as stable chemical weapons in the environment for very long.
So, I -- there certainly are chemical weapons and leakers there still. But they're much more dangerous to anyone who tries to get them than they are to anyone they could possibly be used on. The insurgents in 2004, 2005 tried to use a couple of these weapons as improvised roadside bombs and indeed, they killed no one, did no damage at all.
So, I mean it, I actually hope ISIS tries to dig through the facility and get access to them. They'll end up killing probably more effective than anyone else ISIS fighters.
BERMAN: So, they're more of a threat to is than they are to anyone else. That interesting.
Also interesting though, you know, the U.S. knew these things were there. So the question is, why are they still there?
I want to play something that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said in 2004. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Not a figment of our imagination. He had chemical weapons 20 years ago. He had them at the time of the First Gulf War, didn't use them. We found those stocks and destroyed them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, he says we destroyed them, but this falls outside that group clearly you think. The U.S. intentionally didn't destroy these because it was too dangerous to get near them? Is that what you're saying?
KAY: Well, it was the U.N.'s job at that point, not the U.S. military. The inspectors destroyed everything that could be safely destroyed. And the technical advice was some of these are simply too dangerous to handle. They're leaking.
Saddam had two things he did that were just still to this day amazing to me. One, he didn't mark which weapons where chemical and which were high explosives. This is why some in the U.S. military in 1991 were exposed when they tried to get rid of what they thought were high explosive.
The other thing he did is he mixed chemical agents in a way no one has ever done. You found sarin mixed with mustard mixed with tear gas. And some of these things were simply too dangerous and they were sealed. So, it's a relatively small number and like I say, mostly today given the time and heat in Iraq, they've simply -- they disappeared.
Now, the Iraqi government the inspectors left in '98. In 2000, the U.S. left in the 2011. There have been no eyes on this facility as far as I know since 2011. And I think that's largely because everyone looked at the technical judgments made and said, it's a dangerous toxic waste dump. It is not weapon storage.
BERMAN: So, just quickly yes or no, there's nothing the U.S. should be doing about this now?
KAY: I'm not sure. I mean, I'm not with current intelligence. I can imagine some things you might do, cluster munitions for example that would discourage even more ISIS soldiers from going around. But basically, I'm not worried about this.
There are other things -- you have to realize, ISIS seized a large amount of current U.S. military equipment that we had given to the Iraqi military when they abandoned Mosul and fled towards Baghdad. So, they actually have some very good weapons in their hands now, and the chemical weapons are really not military weapons.
BERMAN: David Kay, that's why we brought you in. Thank you for clearing this up because I know a lot of people were concerned. Thanks, David.
Make sure you tune into NEW DAY on Monday morning. President Obama will sit down with our Kate Bolduan to talk about his decision to send U.S. military advisors into Iraq, talking about that and much more. That's Monday on NEW DAY, starting at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time.
Coming up on THE LEAD -- so that's what it feels like to be audited. Paul Ryan normally only own pops a vein like that doing P90X. So, what did the commissioner say to get the House Republican so overheated?
And, a pandemic wipes out most of Earth's population and McSteamy is our last hope. Our Erin McPike spoke to the former "Grey's Anatomy" star about the new TNT drama "The Last Ship." You will not want to miss this. I'm talking eye candy.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.
The politics lead, the latest hit on the scandal parade is an oldie. Remember Lois Lerner? She was head of the IRS, part of the agency, when it was accused of targeting Tea Party groups for audits and invoked her Fifth Amendment rights when she had to appear before Congress.
Today, the new commissioner, John Koskinen, who has only been on the job for six months, had to answer questions about tens of thousands of Lerner's lost e-mails apparently gone thanks to a crashed hard drive.
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee were riled up by the chief asking everyone to just trust them.
CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash was there for the fireworks.
And, Dana, Paul Ryan who is often calm and collected, not at all so today.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, a big picture, John. The IRS scandal had quieted down in recent months, but with today's hearing, you can see that it is coming back with a vengeance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. Levin.
BASH (voice-over): In the annals of white hot moments on Capitol Hill, this IRS hearing ranks high.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial. I don't believe you. This is incredible.
JOHN KOSKINEN, IRS COMMISSIONER: I have a long career. That's the first time anybody has said they do not believe me. I'm actually --
RYAN: I don't believe you.
BASH: Former Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan is usually more policy wonk than attack dog but not here.
RYAN: You asked taxpayers to hang on to seven years of their personal tax information in case they're ever audited and you can't keep six month worth of employee e-mails?
BASH: Republicans pushed John Koskinen on new IRS claims that two years of e-mails from IRS official Lois Lerner vanished because Lerner's hard drive crashed. E-mails from the same time frame the IRS targeted Tea Party and other groups,
KOSKINEN: The actual hard drive after it was determined it was dysfunctional and that with experts, no e-mails could be retrieved, was recycled and destroyed in the normal process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, was it physically destroyed?
KOSKINEN: That's my understanding.
BASH: The IRS commissioner repeatedly said Lerner herself worked with I.T., even an IRS criminal forensics lab to restore the e-mails but they couldn't, and noted the IRS did find 24,000 Lerner e-mails elsewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you withheld the information?
KOSKINEN: We did not withhold the information.
BASH: Beyond the question of what happened to Lerner's missing e- mails is whether the IRS purposely kept Congress in the dark, that e- mails were lost, fueling GOP accusations of cover-up which Koskinen flatly denied.
KOSKINEN: There's been no attempt to keep it a secret. My position has been when we provide information, we should provide it completely. If we provide you incomplete information, people sometimes tempted to leap to the wrong conclusion.
BASH: It was testy right at the gate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I didn't hear in that was an apology to the committee.
KOSKINEN: I don't think an apology is owed.
BASH: The IRS commissioner tried to give as good as he got from Republicans, with backup from Democrats.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could the witness answer the question?
BASH: Accusing Republicans of badgering the witness.
REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: This hearing has been conducted as less as a hearing than it has been as an inquisition.
BASH: Democrats even mocked Republicans for obsessing over conspiracy theories.
REP. RICHARD NEAL (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The only thing it's missing is Oliver Stone.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: How about Area 51 out in Roswell, New Mexico, where all the space aliens ever came. Have you ever had responsibility for that?
DOGGETT: Have you ever had custody of the president's birth certificate?
BASH: Now, when this IRS scandal first broke, there was bipartisan outrage, and it was aimed at the IRS. You could see there, John, that is no longer. In fact, today, Democrats were sending around via e- mails to reporters like me a reminder this kind of thing happened under the Bush White House in 2007, meaning, 5 million e-mails just went missing about a scandal during those years about firing federal prosecutors.
So, they're trying to point out this is nothing new. Very, very partisan and as you saw, very intense today.
BERMAN: Both sides and the man testifying bringing it. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like that in awhile.
Dana Bash in Washington, thanks so much.
As many as 50,000 children some just 5 years old, sent alone on a journey over the U.S. border. So, where will they go now? We're going to ask the man who wants to be the governor of Texas. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)