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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Vets Forced To Reimburse Bonuses To Re-enlist; Iraqi Army: 78 Towns Liberated From ISIS; Officials: ISIS Executes Dozens Of Civilians; Doctors: Parents Should Sleep In Same Room As Infants; Famous Lions Dress Like Cubs In Chicago; Cubs Series Tickets Averaging More Than Super Bowl; Murray Sees Cubs Win Pennant, Gets Twain Prize; Five-Point Margin; Too Confident?. Aired 4:30-5pm ET
Aired October 24, 2016 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about early voting.
Susan, more than five million Americans have already cast their ballots. What can we look by looking at early voting?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, you don't know how people voted, but you can extrapolate by where they're from, whether they're from a district that tends to run Democratic or Republican, and who they are.
And we know the strength that Hillary Clinton has had among women voters. So the fact that we have seen a particular uptick in early voting and absentee voting by women tells you that Hillary Clinton is -- not all these people are voting for her, but probably they are more voting for her than for him.
And this is a sign of the strength of her turnout operation and the fact that women are ginned up about this election and willing to get their vote out there. It also insulates her from more WikiLeaks leaks. Those votes are cast and done and are not subject to whatever turmoil might be ahead in the next two weeks.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump would benefit from that as well, though, right? This early voting would also benefit whatever nonsense Donald Trump does next.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It's only 3 percent of the votes so far. I think it's overdone a little bit. If there's a huge surprise, there will be plenty of votes still out there to be affected by it.
But for me, the big story is in the CNN poll Donald Trump trailing by 15 points, 15 percentage points, on the commander in chief. Who do you trust more as the commander in chief? That has traditionally been a Republican strength. Normally, the Republican wins that. The Democrat wins, who cares more about problems that you have, who is going to be nicer to poor people and so forth?
And then you end up with a close election. That's got to be a lot of men who think, incidentally, that Donald Trump shouldn't be commander in chief, not just women. It's awfully late for Trump to fix that by harping on -- by discovering more ethically questionable behavior or unseemly behavior conceivably by the Clintons.
TAPPER: And Kirsten, but one of the things that both S.E. and Bill point out is the fact that Hillary Clinton running much closer with men voters in the new CNN/ORC poll than she had been in the past. What do you make of that?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that she's going to end up probably outperforming on a lot of places that she wouldn't have normally have expected to do so well because of what's going on with Donald Trump.
She's doing much better among white women, for example, as well, or college-educated whites, where you see people who traditionally would be voting Republican I think are talking at Donald Trump and saying, I don't know if I can pull that lever for him.
CUPP: It's also three debate performances, right?
Most people tune in to the presidential election then. If that was their introduction, I think if you were maybe unsettled or undecided, he looked very scary on that debate stage. And so maybe if you're a guy who maybe would have traditionally voted Republican and disliked Hillary Clinton, I think there was a very stark contrast on that stage.
And as it's getting closer, people are getting more and more serious about who they're going to pull the lever for.
KRISTOL: But when historians look back, I think Trump came close, right? At the end of the Republican Convention, and even into the Democratic Convention, it looked like a competitive race.
What happened right after that? I think when historians look back, the moment they will speak about is Captain Khan and the attack by Donald Trump on the Gold Star parents of someone who died fighting for this country. And I think that feeds into the commander in chief issue. It feeds into the deep discomfort with the idea that Donald Trump should be president of the United States.
TAPPER: And you know what else? Midnight tweets on Alicia Machado.
CUPP: Didn't help.
KRISTOL: Didn't help.
TAPPER: "Check out sex tape."
Kirsten, S.E., Susan, Andre, Bill, thank you so much.
They were given bonuses -- I was quoting Donald Trump there.
They were given bonuses for volunteering to return to the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now the U.S. government, they want that money back. And they're going after the soldiers, demanding that they pay up.
We're going to talk to one of those veterans next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back with the national lead.
American veterans who once put their lives on the line fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are now locked in a struggle with their own government. Thousands are disputing orders to repay bonuses received when they reenlisted and returned to the battlefield.
The U.S. government saying that in many cases the bonuses should have never been awarded to begin with. "The Los Angeles Times" put the spotlight on the problem at the California National Guard, but the problem is impacting thousands of veterans nationwide.
CNN's Drew Griffin is looking into this for us.
Drew, some of these veterans received upwards of $20,009. And now the government is saying they have to pay it back? How did this even happen?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: It's even more than that in some cases.
Jake, it's easy to see how it happened. The Department of Defense needed to do recruit and they just threw money at the problem.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In 2006, the military desperately needed soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was missing recruitment goals for new enlistees.
So the Defense Department started paying incentive bonuses to keep the soldiers it already had. Reenlist and you get not just money, but loan forgiveness, other benefits. It was a good deal. Thousands reenlisted.
Now nearly 10,000 of them are being told that good deal was a crime. A federal investigation found enlistment officers committing fraud. In California, the FBI went after Master Sergeant Toni Jaffe, who pled guilty on submitting false and fictitious claims on behalf of her fellow California National Guard members.
Her efforts alone added up to $15.2 million in illegal payouts and loan repayments to California Guardsmen. Jaffe has gone to prison, but, inexplicably, the Department of Defense has gone after the soldiers to pay back their bonuses.
Chris Van Meter served his country an extra six years and then was forced to pay back $46,000. CHRIS VAN METER (RET.), CALIFORNIA NATIONAL GUARD: You think it's a
joke. Obviously, it was not a joke. And it's gut-wrenching, because you have to figure out what you're going to do and how you're going to survive. I had a young family at the time.
GRIFFIN: The California National Guard shares the frustration, but says it does not have the authority to waive the debts.
California Congressman Adam Schiff today told CNN he's already written ahead to head of the California National Guard asking any attempts to reclaim soldiers' bonus money be stopped until he and Congress can work out a solution.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it is outrageous that the National Guard soldiers are being asked to repay bonuses that they had every right to expect.
GRIFFIN: Jake, the real story here is that Congress has known about this problem and Congress and the administration have failed to fix it.
California's congressional delegation has been aware of this back in 2010. Senator Barbara Boxer's office, who I have contacted today, would only they're only trying to find out what happened to her efforts back in 2010 when she asked for an investigation back then.
TAPPER: Drew, we're talking roughly in aggregate of about $20 million. The Pentagon theoretically could -- they have a $534 billion budget. One would think they would be able to find $20 million to cover these bonuses.
GRIFFIN: You and I could easily come up with a solution. Here's an easy one. How about stop building and upgrading tanks that the Army doesn't want? Yes, it's been going on for years, another $367 million in the 2016 budget to upgrade the M-1 tank.
Look, the Army has repeatedly told Congress it doesn't need them. And you can see why. These are thousands and thousands of tanks parked in the California desert. We're going to spend $367 million for more tanks -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you.
Congress, there's your answer.
Let's bring in Susan Haley. She's a retired Army master sergeant who served in Afghanistan and is affected by this.
Master Sergeant, thanks so much for joining us.
You were an intelligence specialist in the Army. How did you get this bonus that the government is now demanding you give back? MASTER SGT. SUSAN HALEY (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, because they wanted
me to reenlist. They needed people to go on various deployments.
And I knew that if I reenlisted, I would deploy. They promised me a bonus because of my specialty and because of the time I was reenlisting for. I reenlisted for six years. I was promised a bonus for that and plus one that they had owed me from 2003 that they had never paid me.
So I was expecting all these funds that I was told I was going to get. There was one that I wasn't sure about, and I called Master Sergeant Jaffe, and she said everything was fine, not to worry about it. And now they're asking for it back after 24 years of service.
TAPPER: At the time you got the bonus, was there any indication this was improper or questionable in any way?
HALEY: No. It was not.
TAPPER: We should note that your husband also served, as did your oldest son, who lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan.
TAPPER: How much are they asking for back, and can you afford to pay it back?
HALEY: They're asking for $25,000, over $25,000. And that's because they have been charging me interest since 2013. And they were taking it out of my paycheck when I was still in the military, but now that I'm retired, they are asking for $650. That is a quarter of my income, $650 a month.
TAPPER: Wait a second. They have been charging you interest?
HALEY: Yes. And they want me to pay back the taxes that I'm never going to exceed ever again.
TAPPER: So, as you heard in Drew's report just there, members of Congress are now saying that they're outraged to hear about this. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy saying in a statement today -- quote -- "Our military heroes should not shoulder the burden of military recruiters' faults from over a decade ago. They should not owe for what was promised during a difficult time in our country."
Now the House is investigating these repayments. How long have you been fighting this? And is it comforting or is it kind of frustrating that it took until "The Los Angeles Times" reported on this and CNN and others started making phone calls that politicians actually now are starting to get aware of this?
HALEY: Well, it's been very frustrating since 2012, when I was notified about this.
And I have tried and tried to get people interested, and finally "The L.A. Times" developed an interest in it. The whole thing has been very frustrating to me. And the debt, the amount of debt that has been incurred is devastating to our family and I'm sure to so many others.
TAPPER: Go ahead. I'm sorry.
HALEY: It's just devastating to me and so many others in my place, and I hope there's something they can do for all of us.
TAPPER: What do you think Congress should do? Should they just waive the demand for repayment?
HALEY: I think they should, because it was through no fault of our own that we got these moneys they're saying were in excess. It's not our fault.
And we have to rely on the expertise of the people in charge of the recruiting office to give us the proper amount of money.
[16:45:00] SUSAN HALEY, RETIRED ARMY MASTER SERGEANT: It's not our fault, and we have to rely on the expertise of the people in charge of the recruiting office to give us the proper amount of money. And I was told I kept in - I didn't keep well enough good records. I didn't keep - I knew I should have kept better records, is what they said. And I'm asking, what about California? They lost $100 million.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: Yeah, seriously. Right.
TAPPER: The idea that you - that you need to - you need to keep better records. Let me just ask you on a more emotional level, you, your husband, your son, you put your lives on the line for this nation going into warzones, your son lost his leg in Afghanistan. What does it feel like to have the U.S. government say, "Hey, you owe us $25,000 for bonuses that we should never have given you. And yeah, we're the ones that screwed up, but we want that money back?"
HALEY: It's very devastating. It's sad. It breaks my heart. I feel betrayed that I gave them my time, and now they want my money back. And I - my family has -- so much - sacrificed so much, and now we're struggling to pay even our house payments, and we've exhausted our savings account. And we're going to have to - we're going to have to do something if this continues much longer.
TAPPER: Master Sergeant Susan Haley, thank you for telling your story. And thank you, your husband and your son for your service and your sacrifice to this nation.
HALEY: Well, thank you very much for listening to this horrible story, and I hope it helps so many other soldiers, not just me. I'm just - I hope it eases the burden for some and for many, many others. Thank you.
TAPPER: Well, we're going to keep - we're going to keep on this story, and we're going to stay in touch with you, and we're going to - we're going to - we're going to make sure that this is taken care of. Thank you so much.
Coming up, savages on the run. ISIS now returning to liberated villages and slaughtering people celebrating their freedom. Stay with us.
[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Time now for our "WORLD LEAD," Iraqi and Kurdish forces right on Mosul's doorstep, the last remaining ISIS stronghold in Iraq. The Iraqi Army says more than 80 towns have already been recaptured, and nearly 1,000 ISIS terrorists killed in one week of intense fighting, but as ISIS loses ground, the group's barbarity is on full display. According to local sources, dozens of innocent civilians were executed Sunday while celebrating the liberation of their village. CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon has been on the front lines, and joins us now live from Irbil, Iraq. Arwa, you visited a joint U.S and Iraqi airbase. Take us through what you saw.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were down at the Qayyarah airbase, which right now, according to a coalition spokesperson, is the largest U.S. base, U.S. facility currently in Iraq at this stage. And what you'll see inside the joint operations room is Americans and Iraqis both inside staring at multiple screens that are looking, pinpointing key locations on the battlefields. And while we were there, we saw them calling in an airstrike. The target was a group of ISIS fighters who were carrying a rocket-propelled grenade, trying to launch a counter-assault against the Iraqi troops, as they were advancing. On the base itself, a massive, sprawling facility still being cleaned and cleared. When the U.S. and Iraqi troops and others coalition partners moved in, they found this facility filled with bombs. The buildings have been booby- trapped, the runways had multiple roadside bombs placed in them as well. All of that had to be cleared.
They have managed so far to land one C-130. They're not really using it at this point to launch attacks with their fighter jets, but they are planning on having this be a key strategic location. And of course, also on-site, you have a number of what are called U.S. enablers. You have rockets that can be deployed that are placed on the back of trucks. Within about two minutes of getting the coordinates for an enemy position, and these rockets have a range of about 80 kilometers, 50 miles, and they're very accurate. And this is going to be especially key, Jake, as these troops move closer to the City of Mosul. Because right now, they are fighting in this fairly open landscape and villages that are more or less abandoned, but once they reach the City of Mosul with a population of upwards of 1.2 million, precision is going to be key when calling in those strikes, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Arwa Damon in Irbil, thank you so much. Please stay safe. Why sleeping in the same room as your baby could save his or her life. That story next.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "HEALTH LEAD" now. Every year, nearly 3,500 families lose their babies to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, but now brand new health guidelines say there may be a way to try to reduce the risk by as much as 50 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics is advising parents to sleep in the same rooms as their babies, at least, for the first six months. That's when most SIDS cases occur. Babies should have his or her own crib or bassinet in the same room. Doctors say parents should avoid using soft bedding such as pillows, crib bumpers or soft toys to prevent accidental suffocation. The CDC says SIDS is one of the leading causes for infant's death under the age of one.
In our "SPORTS LEAD" today, slaying the curse of the Billy goat, the Chicago Cubs clinching the National League Championship to pave the way to their first World Series appearance since 1945. They're trying to win the whole thing for the first time since 1908, and that's before the World Series was broadcast on television. The Windy City, of course, has not stopped celebrating, that includes the two iconic lion statues outside the Art Institute of Chicago. They've worn helmets for other championship winners such as the White Sox, and the Bears and the Blackhawks. This time it's finally the Cubs turn, as excitement soars across the city, so are ticket prices, averaging more than Super Bowl tickets with the best seats going to close to $20,000. Game one is tomorrow night in Cleveland.
Well, congratulations, Bill Murray, in our "POP CULTURE LEAD." You had the best weekend ever, not only did the Cubs' super fan crashed a White House briefing, and get to see his team win a pennant for the first time in Bill Murray's lifetime, Mr. Murray was also awarded one of the highest honors in comedy, the Mark Twain Prize here in Washington, D.C. Murray and his Cubby blue bowtie joke that it's a good thing that they wrapped it up in six games or he might not have showed up to accept the award last night. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM ANCHOR: Happening now, "BREAKING NEWS." Five-point margin, our new poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by five points nationally. Is that enough to close out an election win? Trump claims the polls are phony, and he says, he's winning. Too confident? Clinton is offering her coattails to other democrats across the country, but as she focuses in on the White House transition and --