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Americans Taken Hostage in Algeria; President Obama Pushes Gun Control

Aired January 16, 2013 - 15:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news here at the top of the hour on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Americans taken hostage in what the U.S. here, U.S. State Department is calling a terrorist attack. It's happening right here. You see the map. We're talking Algeria, Northern African nation. As far as where specifically, this is happening, apparently at a BP facility.

Algerian state media report the militants who have links with al Qaeda are holding at least 40 people hostage. As many as seven Americans could be among them. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the attack, but is being extremely cautious when it comes to specifics.


VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: The best information that we have at this time is that U.S. citizens are among the hostages. I hope you will understand that in order to protect their safety, I'm not going to get into numbers, I'm not going to get into names, I'm not going to get into any further details as we continue to work on this issue with the Algerian authorities and also with their employers.

Chris Lawrence, I'm coming to you at the Pentagon. You have been working this for us.

What details do you have as far as what happened there?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, first off, Brooke, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has also called this a clear act of terror.

And our sources here at the Pentagon and other defense officials around the world are saying that the U.S. does have some assets to help deal with this situation. Specifically, U.S. special forces here on the East Coast are on about a four-hour window to be wheels up.

There are also Marines who can deal with certain crisis situations like this based in both Italy and in Spain. And perhaps most importantly, post-Benghazi, they established what is called a commanders in extremist force for the U.S. Africa Command. This is a small lethal force that is designed primarily for very quick response, hostage-taking situations like this. They are at an undisclosed location, but conceivably would be available. But I have got to tell you, right now, the defense officials I have been speaking with are saying there is still a lot of questions to be answered about this situation, specifically how many bad guys are you talking about, what is the terrain like around that area, what is the layout of the BP facility, and maybe most importantly, how easy or difficult would that facility be to defend?

BALDWIN: Right. I'm wondering what the tactical situation would be. Right? You have been to this part of the world. In terms of terrain as you point out, are they yet planning on going in and rescuing some of these hostages?

LAWRENCE: Right now, the lead is being taken by the State Department. They are in contact with the Algerians.

I can tell you, from sources here in the Pentagon, they say that the Algerian military does have a good deal of experience. They have been battling these homegrown terrorists and some al Qaeda forces for five to 10 years now. And the commander of U.S. Africa Command has been to Algeria about a half-dozen times to work with the Algerian forces there.

So there is that relationship between the U.S. military and the Algerians that they could draw on, you know, as we get more information about what is going on there on the ground.

BALDWIN: I have one more question for you. But let me just talk, Michael, will you put the map back up with the northern part of Africa just so we can talk geography, because you can see Mali and you can see Algeria, and it is significant because, Chris, we talked about this yesterday, this might be an attack of retribution by Islamists.

Here you have Mali just South of Algeria. We talked about the French armed intervention in Mali and the U.S. to a degree as well. Might that be part of a motive here? What are you hearing?

LAWRENCE: It is possible.

There are some Web sites that are reporting from a terrorist group that they are claiming responsibility for taking these hostages in response to the Algerians allowing French jets to use their airspace to fly over and conduct some of those attacks on insurgents in Mali.

So all of this may tie together. It's still too early to know. Sometimes, with these initial claims, you have really got to take some time and sift through them because there can be outlandish claims or claims made by groups that turn out not to be true.

But, yes, there is a group out there claiming responsibility and tying it to the Algerians allowing the French to use their airspace to go after insurgents in Mali.

BALDWIN: OK. Chris Lawrence, thank you very much on that. We will come back to you if need be here.

Meantime, it is the fight he has shied away from in his first term in office, gun control. But as of this afternoon, it is near the top of Barack Obama's agenda.

Thirty-three days since the shocking carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the president is calling the nation to action, saying protecting our children should not be divisive.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I'm putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe's task force. And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.


BALDWIN: Let me just briefly tick through what the president has in mind as we were listening to him this morning.

So, first of all, he is signing 23 executive actions. These are the steps he can take on his own, doesn't need the approval of Congress here. Stand by for specifics on those executive orders, because we have to talk about Congress and what he has to get through there.

The president said today he will be asking for a law establishing universal background checks to govern gun purchases. That was the first one he mentioned. Also, wants a law to limit ammunition magazines to a maximum of 10 rounds.

Perhaps the most controversial here, he wants a nationwide ban on military-style rifles known as assault weapons. As just one example here of the fight that lies before him, today, the National Rifle Association, they released this video ad, drags the president's own daughters into the gun debate. The president said today he cannot fight this one alone.


OBAMA: If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, enough; we've suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue, then change will come.


BALDWIN: And you hear that? I can hear a lot of you asking, what about the Constitution? What about the Second Amendment? That's what a lot of people I know are asking. The president had an answer for that.


OBAMA: As Americans, we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights that no man or government can take away from us. But we've also long recognized, as our founders recognized, that with rights come responsibilities.

Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same.


BALDWIN: With me now from Washington, chief national correspondent John King.

And, John, let me start with something I mentioned a moment ago, these 23 executive orders, this idea itself, unilateral actions by the president, I know is stirring all kinds of concern among a lot of the gun owners out there. Tell me, what unilateral steps are we talking about here?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially what he asked Brooke -- there are some additional things, but some of the first things he asked is for every agency that has any jurisdiction here -- the Justice Department already is involved in some background checks. Other law enforcement agencies are involved in some existing gun control or gun safety measures.

What the president is saying scrub them, and see how you can better enforce them, more disciplined enforcement, better share information, make better use of technology, take every power you currently have and put it on steroids, if you will, and try to use it more aggressively. Some of it is also to ask for more research, and more sharing of research data to find out the root causes of gun violence and to look at federal and other government mental health programs to see what you can do in that regard.

The executive actions will cause some alarm among people who are critical of the president. But the bigger fight will be over the legislative proposals you mentioned. And on that one, you heard the president say he will use all the weight of his office. This is going to be a fascinating test. A president in the second term has a limited window to get things done.

This president wants to get a lot of big things done. How much political capital is he willing to invest here?

BALDWIN: Yes. He said he will use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.

And we have been talking about this, John. We have all been talking about gun violence, especially since Sandy Hook, the president then making it clear he would take action. But you mentioned the F-word, fight. What will we be seeing?

KING: The interesting thing is that initially he seems to be getting the Democrats that he would have some issues with to at least have an open mind. Harry Reid is the Democratic majority leader of the Senate. The NRA stayed out of his Senate race two years ago. They could have probably defeated Harry Reid. They stayed out. Harry Reid is not a big supporter of gun control, but he did issue a statement today saying that the president's proposals were thoughtful and that everything should be considered. He didn't endorse them. He didn't endorse new gun control. But he could have blocked them. The president at least has the Democrats saying we will give you a fair shake here, Mr. President. He's going to have a hard time getting some Democratic votes, however.

Then comes the Republican-controlled House and, Brooke, if you look at the statements coming out from the Republicans in the House, conservative Republicans in the Senate, right now, the president doesn't have the votes. Is he going to say I tried and then walk away or is he going to travel the country? You heard him in that remark, he said he needs help. He wants parents. When members of Congress come home, he wants people to call them, and write them letters.

Will he sustain that for two months, three months, four months and more if need be, when he also wants to do big things on debt and deficit, big things on Medicare perhaps, when he wants to do comprehensive immigration reform, and will be in a fight with Republicans over that?

This is going to be a test of how long the president is prepared to wage what -- to get hard stuff done, to get an assault weapons ban, to get those magazine clips, even maybe -- universal background check is a bit easier, but the president is going to have to dig in and fight and it will be fascinating to watch.

BALDWIN: Let me read for you -- this is a statement that we have actually just gotten from the NRA. This is the National Rifle Association, of course. This part of the statement we just got.

"We look forward to working with Congress on a bipartisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset, our children. Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy,"

To the inevitability here of more tragedy, John King, to the latter part of that statement, Congress could enact everything that the president is asking for and still, I was wondering -- there is really no guarantee that we would not see another Sandy Hook.

KING: There isn't. Imagine if all these things the president wants were in place. There is still no guarantee we would not have had a Sandy Hook. Because of the access to guns, you can steal people's guns, you can take other people's guns, a family member's guns.

There are mental health issues involved. And the president was candid I think in saying that. His point was, if we can save one life by doing these things, which he calls common sense, which the NRA calls an affront, we should do that.

Brooke, we will get a test here. Is this focus temporary, magnified because of the tragedy of Sandy Hook and Aurora, perhaps, or will it last? Will it last? Is there a change in our politics? If you look around the country right now, since 2000, Democrats have been very timid on guns, including President Obama, as you noted. They thought the Al Gore defeat in Tennessee, in West Virginia, in some other places had at least something to do with his efforts to back that assault weapons ban and they have been very timid.

Now, if you look, Joe Biden, thinking about 2016, Governor O'Malley of Maryland thinking about 2016, Governor Cuomo of New York thinking about 2016, Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado thinking about 2016 who are out there...

BALDWIN: Right. It's the politics.

KING: You have Democrats out there right now saying let's take this on, let's take the lead. That would have been viewed as risky, perhaps even suicidal a few years go. Let's see how it plays out.

BALDWIN: Will it remain? Is it fleeting? We shall see, John King. Thank you very much.

Gun rights advocates, they tell me they see gun registration as a slippery slope toward banning, even confiscating guns. But there are areas where they agree with President Obama. We're going to play something from this gun owner who spoke that maybe universal background checks, maybe that's the most palatable idea we heard from the president.

But I want to take you to Las Vegas, because Miguel Marquez is there. He is at the biggest gun range in Nevada.

Huge, Miguel, huge announcement today from the president. What reaction are you getting from gun advocates there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a huge gun range, and it's a huge reaction here across Nevada.

There is the giant SHOT Show happening in the state as well. So the state is packed with everybody in the trade right now. Everybody is focused on what the president is saying.

I'm joined by Mike Heck, who is the general manager here at the Range 702. You heard what the president said today. And your reaction is what?

MIKE HECK, THE RANGE 702: Well, first, I found it a bit vague. We're still waiting for exactly what those 23 executive orders actually say.

Much of it, you could argue, is common sense. Who would be against background checks? That's stuff that we already do. Really, it won't change business in that aspect for us. The assault weapons, high- capacity magazines, we have to see what it actually says in black and white.

MARQUEZ: And see where that goes legislatively, because that will have to be done by legislation. It's really the manufacturers. Here at the retail end, at least, in the immediate future, you won't probably see a big change.

But I want to walk us through a few of the things we're seeing here. These are the sort of magazines, the high-capacity magazines. These are 30-round clips. This is for an AK ...

HECK: AK-47, yes, 30-round magazine.

MARQUEZ: A 30-round magazine, and these are 30-round magazines for the .223 magazines.

HECK: Yes, they are 15 30-round magazines.

MARQUEZ: These are what they're fighting over. The president saying anything over 10, these would not be legal anymore if it becomes law.

HECK: That's true.

MARQUEZ: How would that affect your business overall if these things went away?

HECK: Well, normally what happens is anything that was already produced is OK. That's the way we see these bans function before. Of course, state like New York decided, no, even if you already have it, you need to get rid of it. The stuff that we have we would be able to sell. From a business perspective, the prices go through the roof to almost outrageous.

MARQUEZ: And they're already going through the roof. This is the .223 ammunition. You can't keep this stuff in the house, basically. You have had to limit the number that people can buy.

HECK: We have had to limit it to three cases per customer. There's 1,000 rounds in a case. We used to sell this at about $399 a case. It is currently at $649.


MARQUEZ: So doubled in price. And these -- I know it is impressive. But this is an actual M-16 made by a local manufacturer called M-2.

The only thing, this would be legal, except for the fact that it can go fully automatic, if I can just flip this over here -- this little switch, Mike, if I'm correct, this means it is on safe, correct? I can't pull the trigger.

HECK: Yes.

MARQUEZ: That means that it is on semiautomatic mode, that every time I pull that trigger, a round is fired off. This is what makes it illegal to the public, is that if I were to pull the trigger here and it was loaded, it would fire off rounds until I stopped pulling that trigger and that's automatic. This would be...

HECK: It's much more heavily regulated, and that's not an over-the- counter sale.

MARQUEZ: This is not an over-the-counter sale. But everything about this particular gun would be legal if it weren't automatic?

HECK: Correct. The semiautomatic configuration would be illegal to sell.

MARQUEZ: OK. Thank you very much.

That's a little bit of the retail side of things for you here, Brooke. But certainly they're paying very close attention to everything in Washington and how it will affect them -- back to you for now.

BALDWIN: Got it. Miguel Marquez, thank you.


BALDWIN: Can children grow out of autism? A new study may give hope to millions of families. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

(voice-over): As tourists flock to D.C., many are paying a high price for luxury at the inauguration.

Plus, her husband died in Aurora's movie theater shooting. Now she's suing the psychiatrist who treated James Holmes. We're "On the Case."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is just devastating. I think the whole town is probably just mortified about it.

BALDWIN: A dad and his two young sons go hiking, but never come home. You will hear what happened in their last 24 hours.



BALDWIN: Can kids recover from autism? There is a new study that suggests that some children who are diagnosed as having autism lost their symptoms as they grew older.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen here to talk to me about this study.

First, just explain the study.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is fascinating because it kind of turns conventional wisdom on its head. Doctors thought you can't outgrow autism. Once you're diagnosed, that's it. You have it.

But these researchers found 34 kids who were diagnosed with autism by good doctors who know what they're doing as very young kids before the age of 5, and then they -- years later when they looked at them, they didn't have any signs of autism. They were examined and the signs were gone.

BALDWIN: So how is this even possible? COHEN: A couple of things going on. They did find in some ways this group of kid had somewhat milder autism to begin with, and that's one thing.

It could also have something to do with the early intervention that these kids got, some of the training and the schooling and what have you, the therapy these kids got. And it also might have something to do with these children's individual brains.

Maybe there was something about their brains. And researchers have told me, you know, it is probably not going to be -- it is not going to be every kid that does this. It's probably going to be a relatively small number, a small percentage, but it's still significant it exists at all.

BALDWIN: It is huge. And I can't help but think as we're talking about the parents of children who have autism, right, they're probably thinking this is wonderful news, finally, there is hope for my son or daughter. Is this real hope?

COHEN: I would say excitement. That's what one researcher said.

She said this is exciting. And so the bottom line advice for parents with -- of children who have autism is get your kids the best intervention you can get them. Get them the best treatment that you can get them. Maybe they will outgrow it, or recover, so to speak, maybe they won't. But either way you got to do the same thing, get them the best treatment you can get them.

BALDWIN: Got it, exciting. Not hope, exciting. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.


BALDWIN: The widow of a man killed in the Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre has filed the very first lawsuit against the psychiatrist who was treating alleged gunman James Holmes.

Now, this lawsuit filed by Chantel Blunk accuses Dr. Lynne Fenton of negligence. It says Holmes told Dr. Fenton weeks before that shooting that, and I'm quoting here, "he fantasized about killing a lot of people."

Sunny Hostin is "On the Case" with me today.

And, Sunny, what does this woman, Chantel Blunk, what does she content that Dr. Fenton should have done about Holmes?


Well, she did file this five-page lawsuit. It is pretty bare-bones, but it does contain these allegations. She says that once James Holmes explained to Dr. Fenton that he fantasized about killing a lot of people, approximately six weeks before the Colorado massacre, that she should have notified law enforcement, Brooke.

What is interesting is that she did notify folks on her campus team about this, and law enforcement was notified, but this widow is saying, no, she should have done more. James Holmes was a danger to others and it was in the public interest for her to do something about it. Bottom line is, this woman is claiming Dr. Fenton just didn't do enough to prevent this tragedy.

BALDWIN: Now, we also know that the University of Colorado at Denver also named in a lawsuit. CNN tried to unsuccessfully reach Dr. Fenton's attorney. Let me just put that out there.

But let me read this for you. The university gave us this statement saying -- quote -- "It has nothing but sympathy for the victims," goes on, "but in our initial review of the case, the university believes this lawsuit is not well-founded legally or factually."

So does the widow have a solid case?

HOSTIN: Well, it is not a clear -- there is no clear-cut answer to that, Brooke. But I have got to tell you, everyone is talking about doctor/patient confidentiality and that she couldn't have informed law enforcement. That's not necessarily true, because there are exceptions to that confidentiality.

And one of the exceptions is that you have to be able to protect a patient from himself or from harming others. Now, I think this would be a very different situation if Holmes had explained to the doctor he planned this particular shooting, right? So she would have had specifics, but he did say that he fantasized about killing a lot of people. So it is not a close call -- it is a pretty close call, as to whether or not she should have done more.

So I don't think we can go so far as to say that this is a frivolous lawsuit. I think it is far from that, actually.

BALDWIN: We will see where that case goes.

Other case, Patricia Cornwell, heard of her? Best-selling author, scares the heck out of people with her crime novels featuring forensic pathologist Dr. Kay Scarpetta. She has sold, you know, millions, 10 million books here. Angelina Jolie, she is set to play this character in an upcoming movie based upon this series.

Cornwell is in court. She's suing the firm that handles her money, and this trial, Sunny Hostin, it sounds more like an episode of, you know, Robin Leach's "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" here. What is her beef with her advisers?

HOSTIN: It really does sound like that, right? As I have been preparing for this segment, I have been sort of shocked at the numbers that are being thrown out.

BALDWIN: Like what?

HOSTIN: She is saying that they mismanaged, mismanaged her money. She's saying she had a four-and-a-half year relationship and, Brooke, she makes about eight figures a year from this book, from her books. But she just learned in 2009 that her net worth was only $13 million, which is about what she makes in a year.

And so she says they mismanaged her money, they stole money from her, they moved money into these risky investments without telling her, they even borrowed money she claims to purchase a helicopter without her knowledge. But you know what they say, Brooke?

BALDWIN: What do they say?


HOSTIN: They say, no, actually, you were just trying to live large, Patricia Cornwell.

And let me show you what they're saying. They're saying she spent $40,000 a month on an apartment in New York City, $5 million for private jet service, and $11 million to buy properties in Connecticut. So they're saying they did nothing wrong, that this is really just a matter of Patricia Cornwell sort of having impulsive buying habits and living large. So we will see what happens in court, but it has really been quite eye-opening.

BALDWIN: Wow. What would a $40,000-a-month -- I don't even know. I don't even know. That's what they say.

HOSTIN: I would love to see that.

BALDWIN: Sunny Hostin, thank you very much, "On the Case" with me here.

Want to get along to breaking news, breaking news, developments in that terror attack we have been covering for you this show involving those American hostages. We are now learning that the militant group responsible has made its demands. We're going to take you back to the Pentagon for that next.