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Obama Awards Medal of Honor; Discussion of Clint Romesha's Actions; Delaware Courthouse Shooting

Aired February 11, 2013 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Throughout history, the question has often been asked, why? Why did those in uniform take such extraordinary risks? And what compels them to such courage? If you ask Clint and many of these soldiers that are here today and they'll tell you, yes, they fight for their country and they fight for our freedom. Yes, they fight to come home to their families. But, most of all, they fight for each other, to keep each other safe and to have each other's backs.

When I called Clint to tell him that he would receive this medal, he said he was honored, but he also said it wasn't just me out there, it was a team effort. And so today we also honor this American team, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Private First Class Kevin Thompson (ph), who would have turned 26 years old today, Sergeant Michael Scusa (ph), Sergeant Joshua Kirk (ph), Sergeant Christopher Griffin (ph), Staff Sergeant Justin Gallegos (ph), Staff Sergeant Vernon Martin (ph), Sergeant Joshua Hardt, and Specialist Stephan Mace. Each of these patriots gave their lives looking out for each other. In a battle that raged all day, that brand of selflessness was displayed again and again and again. Soldiers exposing themselves to enemy fire to pull a comrade to safety, tending to each other's wounds, performing buddy transfusions, giving each other their own blood.

And if you seek a measure of that day, you need to look no further than the medals and ribbons that grace their chests. For their sustained heroism, 37 Army commendation medals. For their wounds, 27 purple hearts. For their valor, 18 bronze stars. For their gallantry, nine silver stars. These men were outnumbered, outgunned, and almost overrun. Looking back, one of them said, I'm surprised any of us made it out. But they are here today. And I would ask these soldiers, this band of brothers, to stand and accept the gratitude of our entire nation.

There were many lessons from COP Keating. One of them is that our troops should never, ever be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible. But that's what these soldiers did for each other, in sacrifice driven by pure love. And because they did, eight grieving families were at least able to welcome their soldier home one last time, and more than 40 American soldiers are alive today to carry on, to keep alive the memory of their fallen brothers, to help make sure that this country that we love so much remains strong and free.

What was it that turned the tide that day? How was it that so few Americans prevailed against so many? As we prepared for the reading of the citation, I'll leave you with the words of Clint himself because they say something about our Army and they say something about America. They say something about our spirit, which will never be broken.

"We weren't going to be beat that day," Clint said. "We're not going to back down in the face of adversity like that. We were just going to win. Plain and simple."

God bless you, Clint Romesha, and all of your team. God bless all who serve and God bless the United States of America. With that, I'd like the citation to be read.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States of America, authorized by act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the medal of honor to Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a section leader with Bravo Troop 3rd Squadron 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on October 3, 2009.

On that morning, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his comrades awakened to an attack by an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of the complex, employing concentrated fire from recoilless (ph) rifles, rocket propelled grenades, antiaircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire. Staff Sergeant Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield and seek reinforcements from the barracks before returning to action with the support of an assistant gunner. Staff Sergeant Romesha took out an enemy machine gun team and, while engaging a second, the generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket propelled grenade, inflicting him with shrapnel wounds.

Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight. And upon the arrival of another soldier, to aid him and the assistant gun, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers. Staff Sergeant Romesha then mobilized a five-man team and returned to the fight equipped with a sniper rifle. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Romesha continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets, including three Taliban fighters who had breached the combat outpost's perimeter.

While orchestrating a successful plan to secure and reinforce key points of the battlefield, Staff Sergeant Romesha maintained radio communication with a tactical operations center. As the enemy forces attacked with even greater ferocity, unleashing a barrage of rocket propelled grenades and recoilless (ph) rifle rounds, Staff Sergeant Romesha identified the point of attack and directed air support to destroy over 30 enemy fighters. After receiving reports that seriously injured soldiers were at a distant battle position, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his team provided covering fire to allow the injured soldiers to safely reach the aid station. Upon receipt of orders to proceed to the next objective, his team pushed forward 100 meters under overwhelming enemy fire to recover and prevent the enemy fighters from taking the bodies of their fallen comrades.

Staff Sergeant Romesha's heroic actions throughout the day long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers. His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed the troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating. Staff Sergeant Romesha's discipline and extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop 3rd Squadron 61st Cavalry Regiment 4th Brigade Combat Team 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us pray.

Today, Almighty God, we have gathered to give recognition to spirit that made our country great, a willingness to give totally of ourselves, even into death. For the great blessings of being a part of this country, for the honor and example of Staff Sergeant Romesha brings to our lives we give you thanks. He was led to our Army for a few short years. We were deeply blessed by his presence. As his ancestors inspired his service, he inspired generations to greater service and devotion. In your strength, may we protect others. In your providence, may we be kept safe. May we turn our hearts towards you each and every day. We ask this and pray in your holy name, Amen.

CROWD: Amen.

OBAMA: Well, thank you, everybody. Most of all, thank you for Clint and the entire team for their extraordinary service and devotion to our country. We're going to have an opportunity to celebrate and there's going to be a wonderful reception. I hear the food around here is pretty good. I know the band is good. And Colin (ph) really needs to get down. So, enjoy, everybody. Give our newest recipient of the medal of honor a big round of applause once again.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Colin, the little son of Clint Romesha, who is obviously very precocious, very excited. An emotional ceremony of the medal of honor. Only the fourth living medal of honor awarded for a member of the U.S. military fighting in Afghanistan and, I believe, Iraq as well.

Jake Tapper is here.

Jake, you wrote a powerful book on this struggle in which Clint Romesha played such a critical role. And we see the president now meeting with some family members of those who didn't necessarily make it out of that battle. Your book, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor," tells this story. What do you think? And you spent a lot of time with Clint Romesha. Jake, tell us what you think was going through his mind as we heard all of these words. JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Just one other point before we get to that. The president, right there, saying hi to the son of Justin Gallegos and the daughter of Josh Kirk, two men who did not make it back. The White House making a point of making sure the president would meet the children of the eight men who were fallen.

But to answer your question, Wolf, Clint Romesha is -- has been all weekend very uncomfortable with the attention. He is not one who seeks the limelight. He is the quintessential soldier who talks about how he did this for his buddies and he didn't do anything other than his job and he still is haunted by the eight men who did not make it out of Combat Outpost Keating. So, I -- he understands and recognizes the importance of this ceremony in American history and military history and also how important it is for the other men of Black Knight Troop to see their experience acknowledged by the government and appreciated by the government, but he's not a big fan of all the fanfare for him.

BLITZER: It looked like at one point he was really holding back some tears as the president was recounting what happened on that battle back and you described it in vivid details. But is he an emotional young man like that?

TAPPER: He's not emotional. No, he's actually quite the opposite. He's a quintessential archetype cowboy from the west there. He lives in North Dakota and he's somebody who is laconic and keeps his emotions pretty much to himself. But recounting what happened that day, the men who followed his lead, running into danger, and the eight men who he was not able to save, that nobody could have saved. He is tough on himself and he still thinks about them and he's still haunted by their loss.

BLITZER: That battle was October 3, 2009. He left the Army in 2011. What does he do now?

TAPPER: He worked as an oil field safety specialist for an oil field company out in North Dakota. His sister and her husband live out in North Dakota, advised that it was a good, honest job they are still getting used to. They are from California. Clint and his high school sweetheart, now wife, now mother of his three children, they are Californians. So they're still getting used to winter in Minot, North Dakota, which, as I learned firsthand a few weeks ago, is rather chilly. But they are putting their life back together after Clint's 11 plus years in the Army, continually deployed overseas, Kosovo, Iraq twice, then Afghanistan.

And one of the questions I asked Clint was, what happens -- what was going through your mind that night, October 3, 2009, after you and the other American troops had pushed back the Taliban? What was going through your mind, eight men dead, more than 20 wounded? He said, back to work. We still had more than nine months left in our deployment. Got to focus on the next job at hand. And that's Clint Romesha. That's so many American fighting men and women we have serving for us.

BLITZER: And you prepared a powerful one hour documentary on Clint Romesha that aired over the weekend here on CNN. It was entitled "American Hero: The Uncommon Valor of Clint Romesha." And then you spent some time with him this weekend and some of his Army buddies as well.

TAPPER: Well, they were all coming into town and it was going to be very fancy, the White House event, a Pentagon event, and I figured the least I could do as somebody whose -- they've been so nice to me in writing this book that they'd spent hours with me telling their stories, the least I could do was throw them a reunion.

So we had a little get together with some pizza and beer and wings and there was some revelry as one might expect with somebody said to me, open bar with a bunch of cav troops, you're a brave man. But I'm certainly not a brave man. But in any case, it was a lot of fun and I think fun for the troops to see each other after two years away, after they got back from their deployment.

BLITZER: Well done. And an excellent book, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor." Let me show it to our viewers. I think if people want to get more information, this is the place to get it in this. And it's a very thick, long book. Well done.

BLITZER: Well done. And an excellent book, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor."

Let me show it to our viewers.

I think if people want to get more information, this is the place to get it in this -- and it's a very thick, long book.

Well done.

TAPPER: Well, thank you.

There are -- you know, there are a lot of -- there are a lot of brave troops and their stories aren't told enough by any of us in the media. And so this was a small attempt to rectify that.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

And our thanks to Clint Romesha and all the young men who were there that day and who are in the White House right now enjoying some fine food, if we -- as the president said.

TAPPER: Probably better than the wings we had the other night.

BLITZER: Probably.

TAPPER: But maybe not.

BLITZER: If you like wings and beer...

TAPPER: Right.

BLITZER: -- and pizza, that's good stuff.

Jake, thanks very much.

So our coverage, a lot of other news going on. Our coverage now continues in the CNN NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, HOST: Thank you, guys.

A stunner in the Catholic Church -- Benedict is the first pope in 600 years to leave on his own will.

So the question is, who's next?

I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The news is now.

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BALDWIN (voice-over): He says he wants revenge on the LAPD. Now, as this ex-cop remains on the run, police announce they're looking into his firing.

Plus, yet another Navy SEAL breaks his silence about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But this time, it's the guy who shot the world's most wanted terrorist. My panel weighs in.

And...

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BALDWIN: -- they are, arguably, the hottest band in music right now.

(on camera): Do you still feel like you're dreaming or has it hit you, your success?

(voice-over): And you will hear my behind the scenes chat with Grammy winners, Vonn (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Hi, there.

I'm Brooke Baldwin live at CNN World Headquarters.

We want to begin with some news you may have heard by now here. The leader of the Catholic Church -- that is a billion people, folks -- the pope, Pope Benedict XVI, he is resigning.

Let me say that word again -- resigning, because the last pope to resign was Gregory XII in the year 1415. That is 70 plus years before Columbus sailed to America. We're talking almost six centuries here.

So this kind of thing, it's unusual, to say the very least. The pope is citing health concerns. He is 85 years old. Still, even high- ranking Catholics say they did not see this coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL WUERL, ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: Not that long ago, I was in Rome and the Holy Father made no indication at all, not that he would have, this intention.

CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN, ARCHBISHOP OF NEW YORK: I have to admit, I was -- I was very startled. And I don't know what to say. I myself am waiting for information, for instruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: You hear the word, Archbishop Dolan just said, startled -- startled by the news. I mean, wow! By the -- by the way here, did you know that 74 million Catholics live in our country?

That's about a quarter of the U.S. population. Only three other nations have more Catholics.

Can you guess?

We're going to get to that here in just a moment.

But I want to also get to some U.S. reaction from Deborah Feyerick in New York.

But first, I want to go straight to CNN's senior Vatican analyst, John Allen.

He is live for me in Rome right now -- and, John, I mean it sounds like the pope left the Vatican scrambling.

Will they have a successor in the 17 days when the pope is stepping down?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT:

Hi, Brooke.

Well, as you can probably see over my shoulder, we've got a rainy night tonight in Rome. And just as this rain came out of a clear blue sky earlier today, so, too, did the announcement that Benedict XVI we go to be stepping down.

I mean I'll tell you how shocked people around here were. I was scheduled to have lunch today with a very senior Vatican official, a guy who works just down the hall from Pope Benedict XVI. And about an hour before he and I were going to get into a cab to go to a Roman restaurant, we were both scrambling, because just as I didn't know, neither did he. I mean this was a decision that Benedict XVI played very close to the vest.

You know, you asked will there be a successor?

Sure there will. The decision becomes official at 8:00 p.m. Rome time on February 28th, at which point the Vatican will enter what's known as the Sede Vacante, the period when the throne of Peter is vacant.

Shortly after that -- and we don't have the date quite yet, but we presume very early in March -- the 118 cardinals who are under the age of 80 and, therefore, have the right to vote for the next pope, will converge here in Rome and begin that very storied, formal process of walking into the Sistine Chapel and casting their ballots.

BALDWIN: So to be clear, for who knows how many days, the Catholic Church will be pope-less?

ALLEN: Yes. Now there is someone who is in charge. There is a dean of the College of Cardinals who presides over the functioning, the public functions. And there's a figure called a cameralanga (ph), who administers the Capitol church on an interim basis. So it's not rudderless.

But, clearly, it's not the same thing as having a pope. Let's put it this way, Brooke. We're going go, in a fairly head-turningly brief period of time, from having one pope to having none to having, in a sense, two, because we will be in the uncharted waters of having a sitting pope and also a retired pope, a situation the church hasn't faced for centuries. And in this media saturated age, an absolute novelty.

BALDWIN: John, I'm coming back to you -- but Deborah Feyerick, you're in New York for me. And we mentioned the United States has the fourth most Catholics of any country in the world.

You've been talking to a number of people there.

What's their reaction to the news?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, they are -- they are they are as shocked as anybody. And, you know, to put some context on what was going on in America this morning, you had the cardinals, the very people who are going to elect a new pope, they weren't even notified until the early morning hours. They were in the middle of prayer. They were in the middle of getting ready for Lent and Ash Wednesday, which is just two days away.

So startled is one word. Surprised is another word.

But, you know, this resignation led to a lot of speculation among some of the Catholics we spoke with. And we spoke with one man and he said, you know, he wasn't quite sure, even though the Vatican said this is because the pope has acknowledged that his health is very, very frail, that he is no longer of -- really, his mind and his body, they say, is deteriorating. A lot of Catholics here were a little bit skeptical as to whether that was the only reason.

But they're looking forward to the future.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My grandparents and stuff, I feel -- think of the whole church like a little bit differently than my generation does. And I feel like we could use somebody maybe a little more younger that, you know, has the generation of a new perspective.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FEYERICK: And, you know, it's that generation of a new perspective. And that's what the cardinals are going to have to wrestle with.

But, you know, the folks that we were talking to, they are very aware of some of the scandals that have plagued Pope Benedict, including the sexual abuse scandal, including the writings that came out of the Vatican by the pope's butler.

And so they are very in tune to that. And so they're ready, they say, for somebody new. But one woman tapped us -- she didn't want to speak on camera, but she said make sure you tell people he was a good pope, he was a good pope. So a lot of fondness for him. But also, you know, understanding that in this digital age, where everybody is hooked up, hooked in all the time, that perhaps now is the time to revitalize, to re-energize certain areas of the church and go back to that spirituality, which was the word of archbishop of Washington, DC.

BALDWIN: Interesting you used the word revitalize -- John Allen, I want to go back to you in Rome here.

I mean, as we mentioned, Pope Benedict, 85, 86 in April.

I mean do you think the pope here might be setting a precedent?

Do you think that his successors, perhaps, could find some wisdom in the notion of hanging it up when it's time?

ALLEN: Well, this question actually came up at the briefing the Vatican gave us about midday of Rome time to just sort of unpack this bombshell. The Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, was asked, does this set a precedent for future popes?

And his answer was basically was absolutely not. This was a very personal choice by Benedict XVI. Every situation is different. It will be up to future popes to make their own call.

BALDWIN: John Allen in Rome.

Deborah Feyerick in New York.

Thanks to both of you.

And there aren't too many 85 year olds on Twitter, even though fewer with more than one million followers. But Benedict is a Tweeting pope. So it's only natural Twitter is exploding with news of his resignation.

And CNN en Espanol's Samuel Burke is monitoring all things social media for us today -- Samuel, what are folks saying?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, just look at this visualization of all the Twitter conversations in the world. The entire planet is talking about the pope.

But a lot of people are focusing in on this Tweet from the pope that he sent out just last night. He says, "We must trust in the mighty power of God's mercy. We are all sinners, but his grace transforms us and makes us new."

And over in Latin America, people are asking, por que no un papa latinoamericano? Why not a Latin American pope?

Forty-two percent of us Catholics are Latin Americans.

And a similar sentiment over in Nigeria.

People are saying why not an African pope, even mentioning the name of Nigerian cardinal, Francis Arinze.

BALDWIN: It's interesting you mentioned Latin America. We discovered that the number one most populous Catholic country -- maybe he'd be speaking Portuguese -- is Brazil.

But we know Twitter can be fun. And comedians, I'm sure, are finding fodder in this news.

Spill it.

What are you finding?

BURKE: Well, of course, in these situations, you always find snarky Tweets. One of the more humorous ones comes from Great Britain, "Pope joins Twitter and loses all interest in his real job." I hear you, mate. I hear you. Of course, not true, but always fun to find humorous Tweets in these types of situations.

BALDWIN: Samuel Burke, thank you very much.

Now to yet another shooting, this one inside the lobby of a courthouse. Here's what we know right now. This guy walks in, starts shooting. This is Wilmington, Delaware. We are now hearing it may have involved a domestic dispute.

Joe Johns is covering this for us today -- and, Joe, apparently officers returned fire.

JOE JOHNS, HOST: Well, Brooke, a very bad scene at the courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware this morning. Authorities say a man, he's believed to have been in his 50s or 60s, he walked into the New Castle County Courthouse around 8:00 in the morning, started shooting. Before the shooter was stopped, two women were dead, two police officers wounded. And according to local reports, one of the women is said to be his estranged wife.

Now when the police officers, who were already in the area, engaged the suspect, a gunfight breaks out. Both officers shot and wounded, but survived because they were wearing bulletproof vests.

The gunman killed in that firefight.

At a news conference this afternoon, the Delaware State Police said that despite the two fatalities, actually, the security perimeter around the courthouse did what it was supposed to do and protect the public. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGEANT PAUL SHAVACK, DELAWARE STATE POLICE: And he did not break the perimeter of that security force of the Capital PD. They did a great job in there. They didn't get past the metal detectors to where the Capital Police Department has their security perimeter set up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Local and federal authorities, including agents from the U.S. Bureau of of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, responded to the courthouse. It was evacuated. The police actually had to do a floor by floor search, a big deal there.