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Interview With Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar; Immigration Controversy; Tensions Rising in Israel; Obama & Perry to Meet After Much Conflict; Interview with Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi

Aired July 8, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The ominous wail of sirens blaring through the night air in Israel as rockets rain down. I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, breaking news: deafening blasts, as Israel puts up its shields against attacks from Palestinians, the rage over the deaths of teenagers on both sides boiling over as we speak.

The national lead. Governor Rick Perry of Texas will meet with President Obama in the Lone Star State after first refusing to send the welcome wagon, but still no plans for the president to see the thousands of children imprisoned in Texas' backyard.

And the politics lead. Who allegedly smeared this Democratic senator with prostitution allegations? Now, before anyone starts thinking vast right-wing conspiracy, the senator suggests it may have literally been a communist plot.

Breaking news in our world lead. It is beginning to come to a head in Israel. Within just the last few moments, we have gotten a flurry of reports of rockets fired apparently by the militant Palestinian group Hamas into Israel, Hamas furious after a Palestinian teen was burned to death last week, his death believed to be revenge for another atrocity committed against, three Israeli teens abducted weeks ago and murdered.

One eyewitness says Israel's defense system was able to intercept at least three rockets. But did any get through?

Let's go straight to our own Ben Wedeman, who is standing by in Gaza City.

What is happening there, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we are seeing occasionally, Jake, is that a nearby mosque is boasting about rockets being fired at Jerusalem, at Tel Aviv, at Haifa, and other Israeli cities.

What they are leaving out of their announcements, however, is that almost all of those missiles are not hitting their targets, but rather they are being intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome system or they're simply falling in open areas. So, there certainly seems to be sort of a charged atmosphere here,

with Hamas boasting about attacking an Israeli outpost in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, some frogmen being able to get on to an Israeli base to the north of Gaza.

But the narrative never really gets to the conclusion that all of these operations don't seem to be actually resulting in anything, but making the situation worse, provoking Israel to launch more airstrikes. So, situation here is rather strange compared to what's going on in Israel, where they are seeing these rockets coming in, but almost all of them being intercepted by the Iron Dome -- Jake.

TAPPER: And just for our viewers who aren't entirely familiar with the Iron Dome, would you explain what that is?

WEDEMAN: That's an anti-ballistic system that Israel has developed over the last few years, which basically as soon as it sees that a missile has been launched, it zooms in on it. It targets it and shoots it down from the sky.

It's a very sophisticated system that has been very successful at rockets being fired at a longer range. If they are just being fired right over the border, that's not so useful. But what we have seen multiple times here in Gaza and back in 2012 is you will see an outgoing rocket not far behind me oftentimes, and then moments later you will see something zooming up from the sky from the horizon. And then it's like fireworks in the sky as the outgoing missile is destroyed -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ben, Israel and the Israeli government say that they specifically target Hamas terrorists and individuals who are wreaking havoc.

When Hamas fires these missiles from Gaza into Jerusalem or into Tel Aviv or wherever, are they specifically targeting anything or anyone or is it just into population centers?

WEDEMAN: It's just in the general direction of population centers. These rockets don't have sophisticated guidance systems.

They simply have a certain range that Hamas knows about. They have developed some of these missiles. Some missiles have been smuggled into Gaza. They are just fired in the general direction. There is no sophisticated targeting involved.

I -- in fact, a couple of years ago, I was able to go to one of the workshops where they were making these missiles. It was pretty crude, a little scary given all the sort of explosives that were hanging around. That was in the days when the missiles had a much shorter range of like 10 to 15 miles maximum.

But what we have seen in the last few years is a dramatic development in the missiles that are either made here or smuggled in with a much longer range, but, still, as I said, in terms of targeting, still very crude, and just they don't hit the target because they don't really have a specific target in mind -- Jake. TAPPER: All right, Ben Wedeman in Gaza, thank you so much. Stay

safe, my friend.

Let's bring in Diana Buttu on the phone. She's in Haifa, Israel. She's a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and a human rights attorney.

Diana, these missiles are not hitting their targets, whatever the targets were. They are being intercepted by Israel. How does this help the situation at all?

Is Diana Buttu there? I'm not hearing Diana Buttu.

We will have to check in with her in a little bit.


TAPPER: Is Diana Buttu there? Is that Diana?

All right. Why don't we take a quick break while we get our phone situation taken care of? And when we come back, we are going to have more on these rocket attacks against Israel.

And then of course, we will go to the border and cover the immigration crisis here in the United States. We will be right back after this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now we turn to the national lead. They are just children, about 52,000 of them since October. Many journeyed more than 1,000 miles with no apparent adult supervision, other than the smugglers who exploited their parents' hopes for a better life.

Instead of finding open arms, these children found themselves closed up in detention centers. The administration says it's not as if the U.S. can simply say, come on in. That would set a bad precedent, and yet the children just keep coming.

When President Obama touches down in Texas tomorrow, he will come with a plan to deal with this crisis at the border, White House aides say, at a cost of $3.7 billion. Now, that is nearly double what earlier reports out of the White House indicated.

Of course, Congress must now approve this emergency funding. That is the same Congress that has repeatedly failed to address this immigration reform issue with any measure of success. There are still no plans announced for the president to visit the border or these detention centers while he is in Texas, which has earned him all kinds of flak from Republicans and some Democrats as well.

The president primarily scheduled this trip to Texas in order to fund- raise. Yes, there are people in Texas who give money to Democrats, a lot of them actually. But the uproar over what's happening at the border is really refocusing everything. Our own Ed Lavandera is standing by in Dallas live, one of the stops

on the president's trip tomorrow.

Ed, $3.7 billion in emergency funding, if Congress approves that, which of course is a big if, where will that money go?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a huge chunk of change, Jake, so you well know it will be fascinating to see how this fight in Congress works out.

But the way some of this earmark -- this maybe is being earmarked so far, it would be about $1.8 billion that would go toward caring for the unaccompanied children and all of the medical attention and the housing issues that you would need to handle all the numbers that are coming through, more than $1 billion being allocated for transportation and the cost of the detention centers and that sort of thing, $430 million that would include the overtime costs for Border Patrol agents and other Border Patrol costs, as well as $64 million for the immigration and the legal system of this, because as the Obama administration said, that they don't anticipate many of these unaccompanied minors would qualify for asylum status here in the United States.

So, there is definitely a push to deport many of these children. But you are already talking about an immigration system and a legal system that is overwhelmed with cases that are already there. They need that money to be able to facilitate that and move that process along much quicker.

So, as you're seeing, $3.7 billion, a large amount of money. And you can imagine that it's going be -- create a huge fight in Congress, as both sides argue in asking whether or not this is going to be the best way to spend this money.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

And joining me now on the phone is Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar. He represents a border area of Texas.

Congressman, the White House is still saying that it doesn't plan to schedule a trip to the border for President Obama while he is in Texas raising money. You have said that the president is a step behind on this issue. If he doesn't visit the border on this visit, what step forward can he take?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Well, certainly, the reason I said that is because this just didn't happen last month.

It happened or started happening since last year, and maybe even before that. So, the administration knew this was going on. I wish that he would make the time to come up here. And if he wants to do the fund-raisers first and then after that stop by the border, it's not too far away.

And I think it will be good for him to put a face to it. But, again, it looks like he is dug in, not wanting to come and not going by what the critics are saying. But, again, that's up to the president. But, again, I would encourage him to come down to the border.

TAPPER: Do you think the president's policies in any way have contributed to this crisis?

CUELLAR: Well, I know what my Republican friends have been saying, that DACA and talking about immigration reform -- and I support immigration reform.

I don't think that's what is causing this. It's a complicated, very difficult way to come up with an answer. I know the root problems of violence and of course the poverty that we have up there. But I think one of the main things that's bringing this in is, there are perceptions down there, because the smugglers have been telling them this, that if you just get over to the border, and if you have a child, you will get a -- they don't call it a notice to appear, but el permiso, the permit, and you are going to be let go.

And, certainly, that is what's happening right now because of that 2008 human trafficking act that says that we treat contiguous countries and noncontiguous countries very differently. And that's what the Border Patrol is facing at this moment.

TAPPER: And tell us about the humanitarian crisis that this has created. You have been speaking about the sex abuse and the rape of these -- the young girls that have been trafficked across the border.

CUELLAR: Well, first of all, I wish that they wouldn't make this trip, because it is a very dangerous trip.

We have seen just in my area there was a -- they found somebody, I think about an 11-year-old young boy that they found dead. It's dangerous coming in, especially now, with the hot weather coming in July and August. And it's going to be very hard to make those trips, number one.

Number two, when I was with the first lady of Honduras at Lackland Air Force Base, we -- we started talking to the young kids. And we asked them -- because they are young girls. I'm letting you, they are just young 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-old girls and boys.

And we asked about the young girls. And they said -- Health and Human Services told us that about one-third of them get raped on the way up here. Just (INAUDIBLE) babies coming across.

And the other ting is that what people don't talk about is, think about the ones that never made it across. Think about the ones that the drug cartels and smugglers decided to keep down there in Mexico. So, it's a very tragic, very difficult situation for this young kids coming across.

TAPPER: A heartbreaking situation that needs action immediately.

Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, thank you so much.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much. TAPPER: Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat President Obama in 2012, will now meet with the president during his trip to Texas tomorrow, after a back and forth over invitation etiquette, perhaps deserving of a Miss Manners column. Hint.

I want to bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, these two adversaries will meet and discuss this problem tomorrow. But it took a lot to get these two guys to the table.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And on the surface, it really looks like the meeting between a president and border state governor whose state is in crisis. But you don't have to dig deep to see a meeting between a Democratic president and a Republican who may want his job.


BASH (voice-over): Oh, to be a fly on the wall. President Obama will meet Wednesday with Texas Governor Rick Perry, Obama's chief antagonist on the crisis at Perry's border.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: My message to President Obama is to secure this border, Mr. President. Finally, address this issue and secure this border.

BASH: What Perry really wanted was not a private meeting, but a public trip together to the border, to give the president a first hand look to see the children flooding to the U.S. illegally. Obama will be in Texas in part for a pair of political fundraisers. Meeting with Perry is a compromise of sorts following public sparring, including the president's spokesman mocking the governor's message from the White House podium.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The truth is it's hard to take seriously Governor Perry's concerns.

BASH: Perry has been so outspoken against the immigration policies. He even floated conspiracy theories.

PERRY: I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept or you have some ulterior motive which you are functioning from.

BASH: He never expanded on what that Obama ulterior motive would be. With all eyes focused on his state, Perry is seeing the political stars align, taking on the president on an issue, immigration, that sources close to Perry tell CNN caused the most political damage during his last run for president.

PERRY: I don't think you have a heart.

BASH: Defending state-run tuition for illegal immigrants turned off GOP primary voters and allowed the eventual GOP nominee to take a devastating shot at Perry. MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You say you've got

the experience. It's like saying the college coach that lost 40 games in a row has the experience to go to the NFL.

BASH: And who can forget one of the most memorable gaffes in modern political history.

PERRY: Commerce, and let's see -- I can't. The third one I can't, sorry. Oops.

BASH: Perry told THE LEAD earlier this year, back surgery and pain medication were to blame for his catastrophic campaign.

PERRY: Anyone who watched that campaign knows a very humbling time for me.

BASH: This is the new Rick Perry, openly trying to redeem himself as a smart, capable politician.


BASH: Now, Perry is pretty open that he is considering another presidential run in 2016, and realizes when other big problem four years ago he wasn't prepared on a policy level. To change that, sources close to Perry tell me he has multiple briefings a week on everything from economics to health care, to education and to foreign policy.

And one source said that he is traveling all around the country. If he's a near think tank, Jake, he goes to that think tank and he's not traveling domestically, he's traveling aboard. He is going to China later this year.

TAPPER: You know, I covered Perry. One of the problems he got out there, he got into the late race and he wasn't prepared politically. He didn't have any organization. He had no ground game in these key states. Are they going to work on that?

BASH: They already are. Again, he hasn't officially said whether he is going to run, but he is preparing, just in case, on that level, too, which is critically important. He has been meeting with donors that he needed to talk to, to finance any presidential run. When it comes to the run, he's been cultivating key sources going to South Carolina, to Iowa. He is going to go to New Hampshire next month, as well.

I talked to key Republican in New Hampshire who has been working with him, setting up meetings with really important people. The kind of thing that he simply didn't do last time around. And not just that, a couple of weeks ago, he had a group of New Hampshire Republicans down to the governor's mansion to wine and dine.

So, he's working really hard to correct that really important problem from four years ago.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash, thank you so much. Coming up on THE LEAD: a U.S. Marine back from the battlefield now

fighting for his freedom. How he says a wrong turn landed him in a Mexican jail. And that's not the worst of the story. We'll talk to him from prison coming up next.

Plus, the final straw in the spying game. Germany fed up after an alleged double agent is arrested for passing secrets to the U.S. Hillary Clinton's response? The U.S. can spy on anyone it wants.


TAPPER: In other national news, it's a whole other kind of battle over the border. Tomorrow could be a truly life-altering day for U.S. Marine Corps Reservist, Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi. Right now, this Afghanistan war veteran is sitting in a Mexican prison for the crime of driving into Tijuana with three legally-obtained guns in his truck. Tahmooressi says it is a misunderstanding over a wrong turn. And that is what he hopes to convince the court tomorrow in a hearing that could decide his fate.


CROWD: Free our marine!

TAPPER (voice-over): The fight is on to free an American marine being held on foreign soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's fought for our freedom. It's my turn to fight for his freedom.

TAPPER: Twenty-five-year-old Andrew Tahmooressi isn't a prisoner of war. Instead, he's a prisoner of Mexico. The South Florida native has been jailed just across the border on weapons charges for more than three months.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feeling today, Andrew?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you doing?

TAPPER: After serving two tours in Afghanistan, Tahmooressi moved to San Diego in the spring to seek help for post-traumatic stress. He spent March 31st in neighboring Tijuana, walked back across the border to his car, then he says he made a wrong turn, driving back towards San Diego.

JILL TAHMOORESSI, MOTHER OF IMPRISONED MARINE: Swept south on a blind curve, and corrals you. There is no turnaround point. It's a point of no return if you make that one wrong left turn and that's literally what he did.

TAPPER: With three firearms in his truck and no way back, the sergeant was arrested.

JILL TAHMOORESSI: He was confiscated, held captive, nearly killed by the gang members and the guards in that prison. I'm furious.

TAPPER: Tahmooressi's mother is fighting for her son with a White House petition demanding his release. So far, she's received 129,000 signatures.

Tomorrow Marks Tahmooressi's 100th day in prison. After dismissing his first two lawyers, it will also be his first opportunity to present his side of the story to a judge.


TAPPER: And Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi joins me now by phone from a Mexican prison in Tecate. This is the second Mexican prison you've been in. Your mother says this one is safer.

How bad was the other one, did you fear for your life in the first prison? And do you feel safe now?

ANDREW TAHMOORESSI, IMPRISONED U.S. MARINE (via telephone): Yes, I did fear for my life then. My life felt like it was threatened. And it was.

And -- but now, now, I feel much safer. They've got me in a cell all by myself in an area all by myself. The guards are friendly and so is the prison director. Yes, I feel safe now.

TAPPER: And your life, you felt you were not safe because of other inmates or because of the guards or both?

TAHMOORESSI: Both. Because from what happened to me at the border, I did not trust any government officials at that point. And then once I got here, the inmates that I was with were not the best people. They were convicted of doing some pretty bad crimes and they were threatening me pretty profusely.

And I didn't believe that the guards would help me in any way if I asked them to move cells. And if I did ask them and I was denied, I thought that would make my situation even worse. That's why I decided to try to escape.

TAPPER: Explain what you mean when you talk about because of what happened to you at the border with the border patrol, the Mexican border patrol, you are suspect of -- you're suspicious of Mexican guards, et cetera?

TAHMOORESSI: Well, they were not dealing with me the way a human being should be dealt with. They didn't have a translator present. They didn't have -- they didn't ask me if I wanted a lawyer present. They didn't have -- they didn't care about hearing me out. And they were pushing their power around to try to get me -- to try to force me to do things I was not comfortable doing.

TAPPER: Like what?

TAHMOORESSI: Like signing paperwork. That I didn't understand. They were threatening me to -- that they were going to take all my possessions, my truck and my guns. And it just wasn't a very comfortable situation there. They weren't treating me like caring, human beings would treat someone.

TAPPER: So what do you expect to happen at this hearing tomorrow? What is why you are lawyer telling you about the chances that you could be freed and when that might happen?

TAHMOORESSI: I think the chances are looking pretty good. Tomorrow, basically, what's going to happen is I'm going to give my statement to the judge. Two of the border patrol officers that were supposedly there that night with me are going to give their statement, as well. Hopefully, the judge will see that my story is probably, you know, maybe like 99 percent accurate or 100 percent accurate and their stories are maybe 15 percent or 20 percent accurate.

TAPPER: And how is your family doing?

TAHMOORESSI: They're doing good. They're fine. They're holding up. They're strong.

TAPPER: What's the lesson from all of this, do you think?

TAHMOORESSI: I would say to make sure I know where I'm going next time. Look at a map.

TAPPER: I know it's probably tough to tell from inside that cell, but there are lot of people thinking about you and hoping that you see daylight soon. Thank you, Sergeant, and good luck tomorrow.

TAHMOORESSI: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Some of Sergeant Tahmooressi's supporters, including his hometown congressman, have brought strong charges against the Obama administration, saying the White House has not done enough to seek his release. The Obama administration officials say their goal is to make sure that the sergeant is being treated fairly and getting the support he needs with consular officers visiting 13 times since his arrest in both prisons, making outreach to his family.

Secretary of State John Kerry and embassy officials discussed his case with Mexican authorities. And Sergeant Tahmooressi's family has asked if you want to give money to his legal defense, you can visit the Web site

Coming up, Mexican drug cartels carving up the California countryside and stealing the most precious resource in the state: water. Next, how California is hunting them down as time runs out.

Plus, a salacious story leaked to the media accusing a Democratic senator having relations, let's say, with underage prostitutes. Now that senator suggesting it was all a plot, perhaps cooked up by Cuba to fool the FBI.