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White House Unveil Gun Control Proposals; New York Passes New Gun Laws; Two Dead in London Helicopter Crash; Two Japanese Airliners Ground Boeing 787s; U.S. House Approves $51B Sandy Aid Bill; Lance Armstrong's Next "Confession"; Controversy Over "Executive Action" On Guns

Aired January 16, 2013 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Stories we're watching right now. A fiery explosion pierces the London fog and debris from an exploding helicopter showers commuters below. New details on this terrifying explosion

Lance Armstrong may confess to Oprah, but that won't cut it with anti- doping officials. They want much, much more.

Wal-Mart going after American goodwill, promising to boost spending on U.S. made products by $50 billion. But critics say it's just a ploy to make you forget about all those assault rifles they sell.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to visit Washington for next week's presidential inauguration. Many with smartphones in hand, now the rush is on to keep everyone connected. CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Carol Costello. We start this hour talking about a major announcement coming from President Obama and the vice president, Joe Biden. Next hour they will unveil their plan to fight gun violence in America.

And they'll be joined by several families of Newtown shooting victims and children who wrote letters about gun violence. Here's what we're expecting. According to an official familiar with the situation the president will press for a ban on high capacity magazines and assault weapons.

Push for universal background checks and request that funds are made available to treat mental illness and enhance school safety. White House correspondent Dan Lothian joins us now. Dan, the NRA is already on the attack before they have even seen the plan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, it's a controversial ad that the NRA has released on the very day that the president will be rolling out his plan. It's not only going after the president and calling him an elitist or suggesting that he's an elitist, but also going after the first daughters.

It is an ad that is clearly aimed at sort of defending their position, which is they believe as the president looks to have these two tracks, which is one, put pressure on Congress to pass some of this -- these regulations, but also for the president to do things on his own. There's this concern that perhaps their Second Amendment rights might be impacted. So they come out with this ad. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools?

Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he's just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security, protection for their kids, and gun-free zones for ours.


LOTHIAN: So it's a tough ad. It is running on the "Sportsman Channel," which is a channel on cable network, which is aimed at a lot of gun owners. In addition to that, the ad will be running on the internet.

And you know, the pushback not only coming from the NRA, but there is a sheriff out in Oregon, in Lynn County, who sent a letter to the vice president and then posted it on their agency's Facebook page.

Where he is saying and promising and threatening that if there are any federal regulations coming from Congress or things that the president does, that he will not enforce them if he believe that it, quotes, "offends the constitutional rights of my citizens."

So clearly this is -- the president is coming out with his plan, but there's a lot of push back from people across the country who have big concerns -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Definitely so. Dan Lothian reporting live from the White House today.

New York State is the first state to introduce sweeping new gun regulations in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shooting. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law yesterday after getting bipartisan support.

This is how it tightens the gun laws in New York State. It expands the ban on assault weapons, limits gun magazine size to seven rounds down from 10, and includes provisions to keep guns away from the mentally ill.

Experts say the new laws are largely cosmetic because the state already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

Now to London and this morning's spectacular and horrifying helicopter crash in the heart of the city. The chopper hit a construction crane high atop a building surrounded in fog. The flaming wreckage rained down on rush hour traffic below.

Zain Verjee is in London with the latest details. That crane is still dangling, right? ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's actually the main issue right now, Carol. What the police are saying is that it's dangling. It's unstable. They've actually cordoned off the whole area and they are telling people please just stay away.

Remember Hurricane Sandy in New York City and all the drama around that crane? Well, it's the same kind of thing going on here right now in Central London. What they're doing is they're talking to specialists and trying to figure out how soon, how safely they can actually take apart the crane and take it away.

And just allow people who have been evacuated from homes and businesses that have had to shut down to go back to normal.

COSTELLO: The location of this accident, I mean, it immediately triggered concerns of terrorism. Why?

VERJEE: Well, because -- I don't know if you saw the movie "Skyfall," Carol, but you know, in all the Bond movies, Vauxhall and MI6 is a central part of it. In "Skyfall," there's this one scene where, you know, part of the building bursts into flames. that is actually right on the Thames River.

So in the beginning, in early moments, it was thought maybe it has something to do with MI6. That was ruled out very quickly. It is also in an area where the U.S. Embassy, by the way, Carol, is supposed to move from the partisan Central London now to this part of a town called Vauxhall.

This is also a major commuting thoroughfare. So think of it kind of like a Penn Station, you know, Vauxhall that's there, and you have overland trains, the whole underground network. Thousands of people coming in from all around the area into Central London so, people were just stuck. Many of them decided to walk to work.

COSTELLO: Zain Verjee reporting live from London this morning.

Also this morning, new concerns for the airliner that's been billed as the future of air travel. Just hours after the new 787 was forced to make an emergency landing, Japan's major airlines grounded their entire fleet. That's half of the 50 Dreamliners in service all around the world.

In today's incident, the crew reported battery problems and the smell of burning. It's the latest in its series of incidents over the past 10 days. Those concerns had already prompted U.S. and Japanese officials to conduct their own safety reviews. The problems over the past week have included a battery fire, a braking problem and two fuel leaks.

Joining us by phone is Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general of the United State Department of Transportation. Good morning.


COSTELLO: So what do you make of all these incidents?

SCHIAVO: Now it's very serious, there's smoke that occurs in the cockpit almost every week at some point, but for Japan Airlines, which has heavily on Boeing in the past to now say they have lost confidence is very, very serious.

COSTELLO: And just to be clear, this Dreamliner was the future of airplanes, right. It's even made of different materials than your normal plane.

SCHIAVO: Yes, it is. Not just materials, not just that it has composite in it, but also that it has a lithium battery and has some other new developments that have not been in other planes before. So I look for the lithium battery, electrical fires and smoke to be the biggest issue right now for Boeing.

COSTELLO: I think many people are thinking they're having all of these problems. Why weren't these bugs worked out before this plane was put in use?

SCHIAVO: Well, certainly whenever you have smoke and fire, it's an issue. But new model airplanes do have this kind of a period in which they have to work out the bugs for about 18 months to two years. But at this point, with the emergency evacuation, one fire in the electrical bay, and now this causing the emergency evacuation, this is very serious and it's crunch time for Boeing.

COSTELLO: Well, I ask you that because some people say Boeing rushed this plane into service. Boeing dismissing those concerns, but you do wonder.

SCHIAVO: Well, they were rushing because they were behind schedule. At first it looked like it was the same growing pains that they had with the 777, for example, but now it's gone a bit beyond that. For Japan Airlines and ANA to be questioning them, they're good solid Boeing users, so it's really very serious.

COSTELLO: And just a final question for you, I'll ask you a business question because Boeing is a big American company, how could this damage this brand, this company?

SCHIAVO: Well, it will for a short run. In the long run, I think that they will recover. In the short run, it's very serious for them, given that these are two flying customers of Boeing.

COSTELLO: Mary Schiavo, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Lance Armstrong, whistle-blower? The disgraced cyclist could implicate others in a wide-ranging doping problem and one IOC member, that's a member of the Olympic Committee says Armstrong's doping could maybe lead to cycling being dropped from the Olympics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: It's 12 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories, a Bronx woman is indicted and accused of running a scam tied to the Newtown massacre. Prosecutors say 37-year-old Noelle Alba posed as an aunt of a child killed at Sandy Hook and then solicited funds for a funeral fund. She is charged of making false statements to the FBI.

The U.S. House of Representatives approves $51 billion for Superstorm Sandy recovery. The measure passed last night with 179 Republicans opposed. The money will pay for repairs to flood-damaged public infrastructure across the north east that includes transit systems in New York and New Jersey. It will also provide cash grants to storm victims. The bill now heads to the Senate.

The Obama administration launched in 2011. Back then it only took 5,000 virtual signatures to get an official response to an issue. Well, the site grew so popular that the threshold soon jumped to 225,000.

And now it's risen again to 100,000 signatures within in 30 days for all new petitions. The administration says the problem is a big one and it means people are exercising their -- actually it's good because people are exercising their first amendment rights.

This just in to CNN, the Livestrong Foundation, the charity Lance Armstrong founded has just released a statement in response to media inquiries regarding the cyclist's interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Armstrong visited with Livestrong staff just before Armstrong taped that interview with Oprah. The Livestrong statement says in part, "Armstrong expressed his regret for the stress the team suffered in recent years as a result of the controversy surrounding his cycling career. He asked that they stay focused on serving people affected by cancer, something our team has always done excellently and will continue to do so."

The statement goes on to say, "We feel confident and optimistic about the foundation's future and welcome an end to speculation." Oprah Winfrey's interview with Armstrong may be just the first stage though in the cyclist's efforts to come clean.

In doing that Armstrong may wind up dirtying others. The "New York Times" is indicating Armstrong may implicate top cycling officials in a wider doping scandal, and that could ultimately affect the Olympic status of the sport of cycling.

Dan Levy is the national lead writer for "Bleacher Report." Good morning, Dan.

DAN LEVY: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: You wrote a piece on this too. You wrote that Oprah was just a small part of a much larger plan that concerns Armstrong. Explain what you meant.

DAN LEVY, NATIONAL LEAD WRITER, "BLEACHER REPORT": Yes, a lot of people were trying to figure out why now, after denying it for so many years, after denying it for the last few months. Why come out now?

It seems like the Oprah interview is the first part. It's the public apology. It's the public admission to what seems like a much larger story of Armstrong trying to be a whistle-blower figuring there's bigger fish.

And I actually think it may have to do with the fact that he's just a competition junkie and he can't lose. He needs to win at something. And if he can get back into competing, maybe it's winning at that.

COSTELLO: But all the reports I've read paint Lance Armstrong as the leader, if you will, of this big secret organization to dope his teammates and himself. What are you saying?

LEVY: Yes, I agree. I mean, again, you are basing it on reports and what everyone else who has been on his teams for how many years said he was the ringleader of this. You have to decide whether you want to believe Lance Armstrong who says he was one of the guys doing what other people were telling him or believe everyone else who has now implicated him.

Now it's hard to trust them because it took years for them to come out and admit to this until a lot of them were caught. So it seems to be that we have to trust people after they're caught. Armstrong included. So it's very difficult for the average person to know who to trust.

COSTELLO: And then, you know, this idea that the Olympics could do away with cycling. Do you think that's really true?

LEVY: I think Dick Pound is looking for his pound of flesh. Everyone wants a part of this. And Dick Pound and USADA and WADA, all these organizations that are based to eradicate drug use in sports, this is their big whale.

Lance Armstrong is the big of the story in drugs, at least in international sports and maybe Barry Bonds might be bigger in American sports. So if you can be a part of this, of course they'll hop on top of this.

If Armstrong is admitting to it and if he is saying he is going to implicate people who run the sport of cycling, then the IOC is going to get their money's worth on this, too. I don't know if it will come to that. It really depends on what Armstrong says and whether the federal government and USADA are going to listen to him.

COSTELLO: Well, it would be a shame if that happens because all of these people who train so hard to be part of the Olympics could have paid for something they have never done.

LEVY: Well, again, but the question is how many of them were clean? It's been proven, if you look at the Tour De France races that Armstrong won, many of the people who shared the podium with him have also been caught being dirty or using drugs or EPO, performance enhancers. So it's a sport where there is a big underbelly to it and if the head of the sport was facilitating this or at least allowing this happen then there are greater issues in just one guy cheating at bikers.

COSTELLO: Dan Levy, national lead writer for "Bleacher Report," thank you so much for joining us this morning.

LEVY: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, we're going to have a half hour special on why we cheat and we're not going to just focus on Lance Armstrong. We will look at the many cheaters we've experienced over the years, Barry Bonds, how about General David Petraeus, why do we cheat? That's tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. We'll be back.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning, is the NRA leadership on target or out of touch? Personal now, a new NRA web ad makes no bones about it. Want to take away our guns? We're going for the jugular.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he's just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to the fair share of security.


COSTELLO: Normally presidential kids are off limits, but when it comes to Second Amendment rights nothing is sacred. NRA President David Keene told CNN the organization is mobilizing for a fight and engaging its members. This ad is just the start, a response to the president's reluctance to put armed guards in every school.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm skeptical that the only answer is put more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that will somehow solve our problem.


COSTELLO: See that's the thing, by saying that, President Obama opened the door to the NRA's latest salvo. If our elitist president's kids are protected by armed guards, why aren't yours?

Although the ad has prompted a few snarky tweets, from "The New York Post," Robert George, he tweets, "Obama is so elitist, never get stopped and frisked despite using drones to kill Americans." And, "Obama is so elitist, planes can't fly over the White House, but the condo board won't let me install a rocket launcher on my roof."

But political scientist Larry Sabato tells me the NRA's ad is effective. It rallies its members to defeat Obama's gun proposals. More importantly the ad supports an issue that most Americans agree with, armed guards in schools, and it creates plenty of buzz. Still, most Americans don't like the NRA's tactics. In a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll taken before the new ad, only 36 percent have a favorable impression of the NRA's leadership.

Talk Back question today: Is the NRA leadership on target or out of touch? or tweet me @carolcnn.

And we are taking a closer look at cheating in tomorrow's Talk Back. Lance Armstrong is just the latest example of someone who broke the rules to get ahead. So we want you to weigh in on a special Talk Back tomorrow afternoon., 3 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: President Obama set to unveil his recommendations for reducing gun violence in America in just about a half hour. But the state of New York is already taking the lead.

Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law sweeping reforms making New York State the first state to response to the Sandy Hook School shooting with legislation.

Included in New York's law, an expansion of the ban of assault rifles, gun magazines will now be limited to seven rounds down from ten, and new provisions are aimed to keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Mary Snow is in New York. She is following the story. I want to start with the mental health provisions. How does the New York law change things?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Carol. Bottom line, it broadens existing reporting obligations. Now some psychiatrists are saying it's overreaching and could be counterproductive. This new law requires mental health professionals to report if an individual they're treating is likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to themselves or others.

Law enforcement could be notified. That person's gun will be taken away. Their names would be added to a state database. Now a psychiatrist we spoke with says there is already an obligation to report someone who is considered a danger and involuntarily hospitalized, they're put into a federal database.

He worries this new measure is too broad. That someone, for example, who may talk about hurting themselves, a professional believes they can be treated would now have to be reported. While state lawmakers believe this law is necessary, the psychiatrist we spoke with worries about breaching confidentiality and the unintended consequences.


DR. PAUL APPELBAUM, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHIATRY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: My concern about the legislation is that when it becomes known that mental health professionals have this very broad reporting obligation, that patients will be less likely to seek treatment.

And if they seek treatment when they're in the room they'll be less likely to describe honestly their ideation of hurting themselves or their thoughts of hurting other people.

STATE SEN. MALCOLM SMITH (D), NEW YORK: When we look at what happened in Newtown, we have to err on the side of public safety. Our job is to serve and to protect. That's what we're doing here.


SNOW: Now, state lawmakers are saying they're not only focusing on mass killings when they wrote this bill, but also street violence by mentally ill people as well -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I just wondered what will the penalties be if the mental health professional don't follow the law?

SNOW: You know, reading this law, it looks like there are no penalties. It says that this would be a good-faith decision on whether to report would not be a basis for any criminal or civil liability.

But the psychiatrist we spoke to said he is getting a lot of calls from, you know, his peers saying this language is very vague and they don't know exactly what this means just yet. It's something they're looking into.

COSTELLO: Mary Snow reporting live from New York City this morning.

The debate around the phrase gun control is a heated one. Another set of words, executive action, also sparking quite a bit of controversy. In Texas, one Republican congressman is threatening to impeach President Obama for any efforts he tries to take on his own, you know, as far as gun control is concerned.

And the former attorney general for President Reagan, Edwin Meese, in an interview with the conservative media outlet, News Max, Meese says impeachment is possible.


EDWIN MEESE, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR RONALD REAGAN: It would not be legal, it would not be constitutional, and indeed if he tried to override the Second Amendment in any way, I believe it would be an impeachable offense.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: On another front, the NRA has unveiled a new ad. We've been talking a lot about that ad this morning. It labels the president a hypocrite. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama --


COSTELLO: That clip is posted on a Web site called Stand and Fight. An NRA spokesman tells CNN, quote, "Stand and Fight sums up what Americans need to do to preserve our Second Amendment freedom."