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Interview With Texas Congressman Michael McCaul; Iraq in Crisis; Primary Elections; Cochran Reaching Out to Black Democrats; Rep. Rangel in Tough New York Fight

Aired June 24, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. secretary of state tells Iraq to keep it together, but has a key area already split apart?

I'm John Berman. And this is THE LEAD.

The world lead, the battle for Iraq's oil. Who is in control of a key refinery that could fuel terrorists as they aim for Baghdad and beyond?

The buried lead. So who is this guy, the no-nonsense IRS commissioner who has sparred with a lot of conservative lawmakers this week? Why can't they knock him down? Maybe because he was born to brawl.

The national lead, we all laughed at "Sharknado," but experts now warning to be on the lookout. Warming waters could bring "Jaws" to a beach near you.

I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.

We do begin with the world lead. As Iraq continues to crumble, the battle is going on right now that you can see from space. Iraqi security forces are fighting to hold onto that country's largest oil refinery. The trail of heavy black smoke stretches for miles. The impact stretches worldwide, with gas prices on the rise here in the U.S.

Right now, it's unclear who controls this facility. Earlier, state- run news claimed Iraq security forces are holding the refinery and killed 19 terrorists, including the militant who led the attack. But just a few hours later, several Iraqi security sources told CNN that ISIS had seized the facility. Maybe it's the fog of war. Maybe it's just flat-out denial.

But there is similar confusion over who controls border crossings into Syria and Jordan, critical bridges for a terror faction hell-bent on total Middle East domination. Today, Iraq said it took them back, but CNN can't confirm that. The Iraqi military also says it beat back ISIS fighters just about an hour's drive west of Baghdad. They also reported gains in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, where they say they took out two of senior ISIS figures, one who had appointed himself governor of that city.

And with the sectarian divisions starting to pull Iraq apart right now, Secretary of State John Kerry returned for a second visit to the country in as many days to urge Kurds not to give up on the country.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, sat down with Secretary Kerry in Iraq today. Jim joins us live from Brussels right now.

And, Jim, the Kurds have said in language they really haven't used before that now is the time to split apart. Was Secretary Kerry able to get a different response from them today?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will tell you, the first words that Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish president, uttered to Secretary of State John Kerry today as he arrived in Irbil was that this is a new reality, a new react -- a new Iraq, teeing up the idea that that justifies Kurdish desires to separate.

And, you know, when you're in Kurdistan, you get a sense of those divisions because it operates almost like its own country. The argument that we hear that Secretary Kerry gave to Barzani in response was to say, listen, hold those aspirations for now. What Iraq needs now is unity to the fight this ISIS threat.

But, speaking to him, the secretary heard a lot of promises over these last several days. Even the secretary is skeptical as to whether they will follow through.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Secretary of State John Kerry traveled in Northern Iraq today to press Iraq's divided leaders to join together or lose any chance of defeating the ISIS militants now threatening their country's survival, his first meeting, with the Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, who just a day ago told CNN that Iraq was falling apart.

(on camera): In your time here, have you seen any hard evidence of any of the parties involved willing to make compromises?


I fully -- I'm not taking anything I hear to the bank and saying, wow, it's going to be solved, but I'm hearing things that indicate to me that if they follow through on the things they are saying, there's a capacity to have a new government that could be a unity government.

SCIUTTO: Twelve days ago, June 12, the president that said, my team is working around the clock on options to respond. During that 12 days since, ISIS has captured an additional 11 cities and towns, a key refinery, crucial roadways and border crossings.

Hasn't the delay in the administration's response here on the ground, military action, strengthened ISIS during that time?

KERRY: I think the real question, Jim, is not sort of what happened in those days. The question is, what can happen going forward to have a strategy that's really going to work?

SCIUTTO: More than two years ago, you were advocating for more robust support for moderate rebel groups inside Syria.

When the president was considering military action in Syria, some say you gave the speech of your life advocating for that action, explaining for it. Of course, it didn't happen. Since then, the war. And, again, we have to speak of it across borders. Syria and Iraq has only deteriorated. And I just wonder if you're personally frustrated to have watched that?

KERRY: No. Let's be crystal-clear, Jim. The reason that the decision to strike Syria didn't happen was because we ultimately came up with a better solution after the president made his decision to strike.

SCIUTTO: On chemical weapons, but that doesn't -- hasn't helped the calculus on the ground.


KERRY: Well, but the purpose of the strike was to send a message to Assad, don't use chemical weapons, not a strike that was calculated to end the regime or to get involved in the war directly. It was to end the use of chemical weapons.

We found a better solution. We got all of the chemical weapons out.

SCIUTTO: But ISIS has only grown as a threat during that time period.


KERRY: You're absolutely correct. ISIS has grown as a threat because countless numbers of jihadists are flocking to Syria to oppose Assad.


SCIUTTO: As in Syria, you get a sense that this is not an administration that is champing at the bit for military action in Iraq, their focus now very much on a political solution, but, even on that, the secretary and others, they're waiting to see proof that the Iraqis, John, are up to that.

BERMAN: All right, Jim Sciutto in Brussels, thanks so much for that report and that interview.

A U.N. human rights team announced today that more than 1,000 people have been killed in Iraq this month, most of them civilians. So what is the solution to end this bloodshed? What's the Obama administration doing to help right now? Is it enough?

Joining me is Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas. He's the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, also serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for being with us.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me. BERMAN: You have called ISIS the number one threat to the homeland,

to Americans on American soil. But, in an interview overnight, the secretary of state says ISIS does not yet have the ability to attack the U.S., and the administration is working to make sure they never can.

Do you trust the administration here?

MCCAUL: Well, I think they have been too slow to act. I think this all started when the status of forces agreement wasn't signed to leave a residual force behind in Iraq. And now it's empowered ISIS.

I think that Maliki failed to engage the Sunni tribal leaders. And so al Qaeda came back into Iraq. They have foreign fighters coming into Syria. And now I think their number one goal at this point in time is to establish an Islamic state in Syria and Iraq from which they have a vacuum where they can train terrorists and from which they can do external operations against the West, including the United States.

So, in my briefings, the security of homeland security agrees with me that this is the number one threat to the homeland.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, can they hit us now?

MCCAUL: I believe that they're in the process of conducting, planning for external operations.

But I do think their focus right now is on creating this caliphate, if you will, this Islamic state of the Levant, as they call it. That's their number one goal right now. That's why, when I was on the Sunday shows, I talked about a dual strategy of targeted airstrikes against ISIS, without collateral damage, while at the same time establishing a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis that Maliki has left behind.

BERMAN: So there's a new report out today that talks about extremist groups inside Syria, concerns that they may be receiving bomb-making training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Have you seen any intelligence to this effect?

MCCAUL: I have to be careful in discussing that. I know there are some connections there.

I think one of the biggest threats that we face from the airline aviation sector is the idea that has been reported of these non- metallic IEDs that can be built and taken onto airplanes. And, remember, John, these people are coming not just from the Middle East.

They're coming from Europe, the United States, from Australia. They have legal travel documents to travel outside the region. It's easier to get to than Afghanistan and Pakistan. And now it's the biggest training ground, far surpassing what we saw in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And so that's why I view it as the biggest threat. BERMAN: Well, I know you have to be careful here, sir. But we know

there have been Americans who have gone over to fight in Syria. For all we know at this point, maybe they're crossing into Iraq. Do you have concerns that these Americans may be receiving this bomb-making training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that they may carry it back here to the homeland?

MCCAUL: It's a serious concern, because they can come back into the United States or get on a flight inbound to the United States with materials that may not be detected through our screening.

So that is why I am so focused on it. We have been focused on this for the last two years in my threat briefings. So I think the administration, I'm glad they're finally in the region. We need a regional solution to this, a strategy. But the signs have been out there for quite some time.

BERMAN: You have a lot of interest and a lot of concerns, sir. You're a congressman from Texas, as well as being chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

I want to ask you about immigration right now. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was testifying this morning about the unaccompanied children crossing the border into the U.S. from places like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. He was asked about an ad that was apparently posted January 29 by DHS and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement offices for escort services to help children across the border.

And I think the controversial part is this ad suggested there could be as many as 65,000 children crossing the border. The homeland security secretary said he really didn't know anything about this, but I think the issue here is, did the Obama administration know that there was going to be this be influx in this scale way back in January?

MCCAUL: I think they did.

There had been reports for many months that this was coming. It's really of no real surprise. We have had 50,000 children now crossing primarily in the Rio Grande Valley sector in my home state of Texas. And 250 children a day are being apprehended in this sector.

There are advertisements by the drug cartels, the human traffickers down in Central America that, for $3,000 to $5,000 to $8,000, we will bring your -- we will bring your kid up to the United States. So, they go on a very dangerous path through Mexico with the drug cartels, where they're really put at risk.

I think the only way to really stop this is to show some deterrent value that, if they come here, they're not going to be able to stay. And I think, right now, the message down there is -- and the message is, we're open for business. If they come to the United States, they are going to stay. And until that message changes, we're going to continue to see a wave of these immigrants.

BERMAN: Well, the vice president was just in Central America saying they can't stay. But I take your point. Maybe the message isn't being delivered.

Chairman McCaul, thank you so much for being with us to talk about this wide range of important subjects.

MCCAUL: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Coming up for us on THE LEAD: an unprecedented move for one establishment Republican in the Deep South, asking black Democrats for their vote to beat his Tea Party opponent. Is this legal?

Plus, dirty move or delicious treat? In one of the most dramatic World Cup matches yet, did this player who has been penalized for biting in the past pull his signature move again? Stay with us.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone.

The politics lead now. The bumper stickers, the lawn signs, the firm handshakes and kissed babies, ladies and gentlemen, today is one of the most consequential primary election days of 2014. Voters in seven states heading to the polls in contests that do have the potential to rile Capitol Hill.

Here is a little of what to watch for. In Oklahoma, an African- American and Native American rising star, former State House Speaker T.W. Shannon is running to the right of Congressman James Lankford. A Republican Senate primary race so tight it could go into runoff overtime.

In Maryland, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown has a monster 23-point lead for the Democratic nomination and could be on his way to becoming just the third elected black governor in U.S. history.

But it is the mudslinging in Mississippi that is grabbing so much of the attention this primary day. It is where a six-term senator is facing a young gun with Tea Party backing in a race so sullied, it's got the #whosyadaddy? trending online. And I am being completely serious.

Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Jackson.

And, Dana, a central feature in this race an unexpected central feature in a Republican primary, race. What's going on here?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's going on is that Thad Cochran and his allies who have been helping him really from across the country because they see this as such an important election on a national level with regard to the Republican Party, they've been coming in and trying to help him appeal to African-American voters, Democratic votes who don't normally show up for any Republican race. They might support him in the general election but not now.

I was at a polling place in a predominantly African-American area here in Jackson talking to voter after voter saying they were coming out and voting for Thad Cochran. A super PAC who has been supporting Cochran has been spending money to try to get out had vote. And just anecdotally, where I was this morning, John, at the primary day, 70 people came all day. It's already doubled. And we're still hours away from the polls closing. So, it shows that effort has been helpful.

On the flipside, you have Chris McDaniel, the challenger putting on his Facebook page a short while ago, they're trying to steal this election. Do we really want the liberal Democrats selecting the Republican nominee? They're concerned on the McDaniel side and what they're trying to do is fuel some of his supporters to try to use Cochran's outreach to African-Americans to get their conservative McDaniel supporters to the polls.

That just shows you how things are going, when, by the way, this was supposed to be big picture about simply trying to get rid of people in Washington who conservatives shouldn't -- who conservatives believe shouldn't be there.

Listen to candidates from both sides on this.


CHRIS MCDANIEL (R), MISSISSIPPI SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: If Virginia was a big splash two weeks ago, imagine what happens when a whole state believes that message.

BASH: To those who say, you know what, you have been re-elected time and time again, your opponent says, it's just too much, you've been there too long.

SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, I'm the choice the people have made freely and openly and it's their decision.


BASH: And, John, that's really again big picture what this is. You have a 36-year Senate veteran who has been in Washington too long, according to many of McDaniel's supporters. Didn't get enough votes to clear the 50 percent mark three weeks ago. So, now, we've had this runoff. And it was already nasty, as you can see. It's getting even nastier.

BERMAN: Now, the big picture there is also the on the ground reporting from you, fascinating that black vote crucial today. And that storyline we'll be following all day into the night.

Dana Bash in Jackson, Mississippi, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, in New York, Congressman Charlie Rangel hoping to avoid a Harlem shuffle of sorts. The 84-year-old Democrat trying to hold on to a career in politics that has spanned more than four decades, 22 terms on Capitol Hill representing his district in Harlem, but is the 23rd time the charm? His opponent sure hopes so.

CNN's Alexandra Field has the latest.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Charlie Rangel on unfamiliar ground in the district he's represented for more than four decades, fighting for his political life.

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Let's try this out. If you had a good racehorse, would you say he's too old to win again?

FIELD: Rangel was sent to Congress in 1971 to represent a substantially black district. He was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and became chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, a committee he was forced off in 2010 following a humiliating House censure for 11 different ethics violations, including failing to pay taxes on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic where he was famously seen in this picture lounging on the beach, and improperly using congressional funds.

All of it tarnishing the legacy of a Harlem Democrat once considered among the most powerful members of Congress.

LARRY SABATO, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA: From 1970 on, you see that he's been involved in virtually every major event that has affected the country as a whole and minorities in particular.

FIELD: But in that time, Rangel's district has changed.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There are several factors that really are going to cause him to lose this race, but the biggest one is probably the shifting demographics.

FIELD: A historically black district now has a Hispanic majority.

RANGEL: We never had a political battle in my congressional district in 43 years. Based on where you were born or what religion you have.

FIELD: Two years ago, the congressman barely saved his job beating his primary opponent by fewer than 1,100 votes. Now the same opponent is back.

STATE SEN. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D-NY), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: You know, he's been in office far too long. He's forgotten the little guys.

FIELD: If elected, State Senator Adriano Espaillat would become the first Dominican-American congressman.

SABATO: I'd say there are two deciding factors. One is the racial demographic makeup of that district and it is coming into play. But you also have the overall context of a very senior congressman who's been around a long, long time and has had a lot of scrapes.

FIELD: With the health battle behind him, Rangel's putting more into this fight.

(on camera): What's changed since 2012?

RANGEL: Well, I don't have a walker. I don't have a spinal injury. I'm all over the district.

FIELD: Win or not, he says this is his last run.

Alexandra Field, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: That is just a taste of the primary madness coming to a head tonight. Of course, CNN will have all the results as they roll in in live coverage. It's been a fascinating dramatic season so far. You will not want to miss it tonight. So, stay with us.

When we come back, a little insight into the U.S. strategy for the World Cup match against Germany. What the coach is saying they will do to get to the next round. We'll also talk biting in Brazil.

Plus, he made taking a grilling on Capitol Hill look like a walk in the park. So, how did the man who battled with Republican lawmakers get into this kind of fighting shape?


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone.

The sports lead, you'd just got dominated in the NBA finals. Dwyane Wade's knees may or may not be shot and Chris Bosh said the locker room was one giant no fun zone this past season. It's been rough going of late for the Miami Heat. So, when fans flicked on ESPN this morning, they may have reacted like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No! God! No, God, please, no, no! No!


BERMAN: It is the sequel no one in South Beach wanted. LeBron James deciding all over again where to take his talents. The Heat confirm that James will exercise an early termination option in his contract making him a free agent on July 1st.

In Cleveland, where James played his first seven seasons, some fans hope they be witness to LeBron's return home. His wife posted a picture on her Instagram account of "Akron", LeBron James hometown, and captioned "home, sweet, home, the countdown is real", fueling speculation that the James family may be angling to get out of Miami and back to cold Cleveland winters.

In other sports news, delicious controversy at the World Cup and by delicious, I mean it must taste good or why would this guy keep biting people? During today's match against Italy, Uruguay's megastar Luis Suarez, one of the biggest best players, seemed to eat his opponent's left shoulder. That's Suarez going Mike Tyson on the Italian gentleman.

The incident left the guy with a nasty battle scar and may leave Suarez with more than a case of indigestion. He was not disciplined during the match. But a suspension and perhaps a Hannibal Lecter mask could be handed down by FIFA in coming days.