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Colorado Man Dead After Shooting; Shimon Peres and Barack Obama Speak in Israel; The State of U.S. Israeli Relationship; Minnesota Shooting Threat a Hoax

Aired March 20, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. officials are telling CNN that they, quote, "can't confirm nor corroborate that either side in the Syrian civil war has used chemical weapons."

That issue took on a sudden urgency with these comments that came yesterday on CNN.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We need that final verification, but given everything we know, over the last year and a half, I, Mike Rogers, chair of the intelligence committee, would come to the conclusion that either positioned for use and ready to do that or, in fact, have been used.


BANFIELD: Mike Rogers with the intelligence committee, the chairman, at that.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is traveling with the president and she is live in Jerusalem. She joins us now.

Jessica, this, obviously, all breaking at a time when, perhaps, Iran was going to be bigger on the agenda. And you know, the relationship with Israel is now Syria and this potential issue trumping the original agenda.


would say that it pushes Syria up on the agenda and brings new urgency to the question, will the U.S. intervene there?

I interviewed Tzipi Livni, who is a minister in the government here, and she tells me that Israelis are clear in their estimation that chemical weapons were used in Syria.

She would not say that it is tied to the Assad regime, she would not say who was behind it, but she is not the only Israeli official now to go on the record, saying, in Israeli estimation, chemical weapons were used.

That is not what U.S. officials are saying.

So, again, to emphasize, the White House is not sharing that same assessment at this point.

But, clearly, this adds a new measure of urgency to the Israeli perspective on this consideration. Syria is right over the border from Israel. There are a number of concerns for Israel in this regard.

One, chemical weapons, any attack there, could actually hurt Israelis, because it's so close. There's a refugee, potential refugee problem, and they'd be concerned that chemical weapons could get to their enemies, Hezbollah, in Lebanon.

But beyond that, Ashleigh, you asked if this would overtake Iran as a concern, and the answer is no because this trip for the president is largely about Israel's security, broadly, and the U.S. assuring Israelis that the president stands for keeping Israel safe, and when it comes to security, there is no bigger concern in Israel than Iran getting a nuclear weapon or nuclear capability.

So, that will always be the number one issue on the agenda and Syria now will compete for some attention, as well.

BANFIELD: Well, with a busy agenda, you're going to be following the president, this we are watching live. This was scheduled to start any moment now, the president, Shimon Peres, and also our United States president, President Obama, scheduled to speak any moment.

We're going to bring it to you live just the moment that it does happen. Chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, thank you for that.

When it comes to difficult and challenging jobs, being the director of a prison is certainly near the top of the list, and you can bet they're not going to win a lot of popularity contests with inmates, possibly even enemies on the outside of prison, as well.

And that may have been the case with Tom Clements, the executive director of Colorado's prison system. He was shot to death at his home last night.

At a news conference moments ago, Colorado's governor was emotional in speaking about the man and the job that he did.

Our Jim Spellman is live on location. He's in El Paso County and he joins us by telephone.

First, the most critical detail, if you can shed any light on this, Jim, the report that this man was shot as he opened the door to his home, which may, and I just say may, suggest that this could have been a targeted hit.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Right. Here's what we know at this point.

It was around 8:30 last night, a knock comes at the door, Mr. Clements opens the door and is immediately shot in the chest.

A family member called 911 and Mr. Clements was declared right there at his home.

Now, we know his wife -- we know he's married, his wife's Lisa, and they have two daughters. We don't know what family members were home or who called 911 at this point.

Now, immediately the police, of course, started searching the area. It's a heavily wooded area, kind of an exurb of Colorado Springs in a place called the Black Forest. They were not able to find anybody immediately.

So, as the investigation progressed, they almost immediately began focusing on somebody who may have had some connection to his work in the prison system, somehow, somebody recently patrolled, somebody who may have had some sort of grievance with their sentence or treatment inside jail.

Obviously, Ashleigh, we all know, it's very early in the investigation, but that's where they're putting a lot of their attention at this point.

BANFIELD: And, Jim, it's not just Colorado. Mr. Clements has had a long career in corrections. He was, what, two years on the job in Colorado, having been lured from another state?

SPELLMAN: Yeah, he was in -- worked in Missouri for about 30-some years. He was the number two there in their prison system, and Governor Hickenlooper said, he lured him away, and convinced him to come and work here.

And I've been speaking with a few sources on background this morning, Ashleigh, and every single person has just had wonderful things to say about him.

And he's not been a controversial figure. This is not somebody who's been in the news or that any big controversies have been attached to.

So, that's one of the -- another reason why investigators are looking at some direct, you know, link, to something that's happened to somebody in the prison system.

Again, it's early, but that's where they're focusing.

BANFIELD: To that end, the prison system is not small. No state's system is small, but Colorado, the system he was overlooking, Jim, as I see it, the department operated 20 adult prisons, and all of the populations therein, as well as a juvenile detainment system.

I don't know how many particular setups that might have included, how many homes or detention centers that may have included.

So, that is a lot of cases to have to investigate, notwithstanding the Missouri caseload he may have had when he was involved in that state.

SPELLMAN: Yeah, that's true. If you're going to include people from Missouri who may have tracked him down, gosh, where do you even begin? It's going to be so many people. What's interesting, though, is only two years on the job here in Colorado, that's not really that long to have somebody with a serious sentence go through the system and either get out or have somebody really, you know, so upset with him to go after him.

You know, that's not really that long with appeals and everything for cases to be in the system.

I also traded notes with other reporters here in the area, and nothing really springs to mind as, you know, a big outstanding case involving somebody in the prison system that he's dealt with.

So, investigators are going to have their hands full, even knowing where to begin, if they weren't able to track somebody down in those early hours right around the home.

BANFIELD: And, Jim, I just want to -- just to reiterate here. While this may be a possibility that this was a targeted hit, the officials there are saying they're remaining open-minded about all angles, that this opens a dynamic, the way he was killed, but it doesn't close it; that's for sure.

Jim Spellman, thank you. If you could just keep us up to date on all of the recent developments as they come in, we would appreciate that. Thank you.

We are also getting reports of a Minnesota middle school on lockdown after police received a call of a, quote, "active shooter."

KARE is reporting that the New Prague Middle School is in what they call a Code Red Lockdown situation right now, and that New Prague High School is also on lockdown.

We don't know anything more than that. We're keeping a very close eye on that and we are going to bring you developments just as soon as they become available to us.

But, again, that school in Code Red Lockdown, very serious, indeed.

Carnival is now pulling two ships out of service. It is the cruise line's first phase of a fleet-wide review following a string of reputation-damaging incidents.

A dozen cruises will be canceled as power and fire suppression systems aboard both the Triumph and the Sunshine ships are evaluated.

The South Carolina governor whose term ended in disgrace is getting back in the game. Mark Sanford took the top spot in Tuesday's Republican primary for his old congressional seat, but it may have been top spot, it was only 37 percent of the vote, so that means runoff, runoff in two weeks.

And it's going to be Ted Turner's son, Teddy, a political newcomer, who makes the headline, too, but he didn't make the cut.

The winner in the Democratic primary is Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Yes, familiar name because she's the sister of the Canadian Steven Colbert. Different pronunciation, same family.

This is the Democratic primary. She's going to face the Republican runoff winner in the May 7 special election.

Michele Bachmann nearly ran through the halls of Congress to avoid some pretty tough questions from one of our own, CNN's Dana Bash. And there you have it. Take a peek.

This is what you call "at pace." Dana Bash was asking Michele Bachmann about the comments that she made at the conservative conference, CPAC.

Mrs. Bachmann used President Obama of very frivolous and lavish spending on a lifestyle within the White House.

Have a listen to how she characterized it.


REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Now, we find out that there are five chefs on Air Force One.

There are two projectionists who operate the White House movie theater. They regularly sleep at the White House in order to be readily available in case the first family wants a really, really late show.

We are also the ones who are paying for someone to walk the president's dog.


BANFIELD: All right. So, I'm going to re-join that story in a moment, but I want that take you right back to Israel right now because that news conference we've been awaiting with President Shimon Peres and United States President Obama, has begun, and I want to listen in.

Let's turn up the mikes.


SHIMON PERES, PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL: ... a true friend, very knowledgeable, and fortunately, and see that we can agree and discuss with you, openly and freely.

After the meeting we just had, I feel more confidence that your vision can be transformed the Middle East. Your vision is achievable.

You arrived here already with an impressive record of answering our needs, particularly and unforgettably in the domain of security. I want to thank you, personally, dear friend, for the long days and for many long, sleepless nights that we know about them, which you spend caring for our country and for our future.

We live in an age that is both global and domestic, inseparately (ph). Interests may divide people. Vision may unite them.

There is a common vision uniting us, to confront the dangers, to bring peace closer as soon as possible. The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran, so you said, so you do.

We trust your policy, which calls to first, by nonmilitary, to try by nonmilitary means, with a clear statement that both adoptions remain on the table. You have made it clear that your intention is not to contain, but to prevent.

We are trying together to restart the negotiations with the Palestinians. We already agreed that the goal is a two-state-for-the- two-people solution. There is no better one, more achievable one.

We consider that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, is our partner in that effort to stop terror and bring peace.

Hamas remains a terror organization that targets innocent people.

On our northern border, Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, continues to stockpile arms and threaten our civilians while they urgently -- while they target innocent people across the world.

Hezbollah is destroying Lebanon and supporting the brutal massacre of the same people by President Assad.

Fortunately, the Syrian nuclear capacity was destroyed, but unfortunately, thousands of chemical weapons remain. We cannot allow those weapons to fall in the terrorists' hands. It could lead to an epic tragedy.

There is an attempt to spring to the Arab world. It is an Arab choice. It is an Arab initiative. It may bring peace to the region, freedom to the people, economic growth to the Arab states. If realized, it can lead to a better tomorrow. We pray it will become a reality.

I believe the real division is between skeptics and those who believe in peace. Your voice will encourage belief.

You came to us with the clear message that no one should let skepticism win the day, a vision that says clearly that peace is not only a wish, but a possibility.

I fully support your call. There is no other way to make the future better. There is no better leader to make it possible.

Your visit is an historic step in that direction. We shall journey with you all the way. Thank you.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you so much. Well, thank you, President Peres, for your very generous words and your warm welcome. It is wonderful to be here once again. I first visited you when I was still a senator and had the opportunity to visit the lovely garden and for me to be able to bring a tree from the United States that will find a home in that garden, I think, is symbolic of not only of friendship between our two nations, but between the two of us personally.

You know, Mr. President, you once remarked that a prime minister's job is to rule, a president's job is to charm. Well, as with all our visits together, I have once again succumbed to your charms and I'm grateful to your hospitality.

It is wonderful to be back in Jerusalem, this eternal city, and I'm pleased to begin my visit with a son of Israel, whose devoted his life to keeping Israel strong and sustaining the bonds between our two nations. You know, President Peres knows that this is a work of generations. Just as he joined the struggle for Israeli independence in his early 20's, he's always looking ahead, connecting with young people, and I'm especially grateful for the time that he allowed me to share with those extraordinary Israeli boys and girls. Their dreams are much the same as children everywhere.

In another sense, though, their lives reflect the difficult realities that Israelis face every single day. They want to be safe. They want to be free from rockets that hit their homes or their schools. They want a world where science and technology is created to build and not destroy. They want to live in peace, free from terror and threats that are so often directed at the Israeli people. That's the future that they deserve. That's the vision that is shared by both our nations, and that is Shimon Peres' life work.

And Mr. President, Michelle and I have such fond memories of your visit to the White House last spring, when I was honored to present you with America's highest civilian honor, our medal of freedom. And that medal was a tribute to your extraordinary life, in which you held virtually every position in the Israeli government.

So today was another opportunity for me to benefit from the president's perspective on a whole range of topics, from the historic changes that are taking place across the region, to the perils of a nuclear-armed Iran, to the imperatives of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to the promise of our digital age.

And I should note that one of the advantages of talking to President Peres is not only does he have astonishing vision, but he's also a pretty practical-minded politician. And consistently has good advice in terms of how we can approach many of these problems. I reaffirmed to President Peres, as I will throughout my visit, that in this work, the state of Israel will have no greater friend than the United States. And the work we do in our time will make it more likely that the children that we saw today, alongside children from throughout the region, have the opportunity for security and peace and prosperity.

You know, this obligation to future generations, I think, was well symbolized by the tree planting that we started our meeting with. You know, the Talmud recounts the story of Honi, the miracle worker, who saw a man planting a carob tree, and he asked the man, how long before this tree yields fruit, to which the man responded, 70 years. So Honi asked, are you sure you'll be alive in another 70 years to see it? And the man replied, when I came into the world, I found carob trees, as my forefathers planted for me, so will I plant for my children. President Peres, I think, understands that story well. So we want to all thank you for all the seeds you've planted, the seeds of progress, the seeds of security, the seeds of peace, all the seeds that have helped not only Israel grow, but also the relationship between our two nations grow. And I believe that if we tend to them, if we nurture them, they will yield fruit in every hill and valley of this land, not only for the children we met today, but for Israelis, Palestinians, for Arabs across the region. That's not only good for the children of this region, but it's good for my children, and the children of America. I deeply believe that. And I couldn't ask for a more wise or more thoughtful partner in that process. I'm very grateful for your hospitality, and I look forward to our continued work in the future.


Please remain seated while the President of the State of Israel and the President of the United States of America exit the room. Thank you very much.


BANFIELD: Well, there you have it. No questions, no answers. But two pretty friendly statements. And if the mission of President Obama was to mend any perceived fences, real fences in the relationship between the United States and Israel, I think you can check that one, perhaps, off the list. Israel will have no greater friend than the United States. Those are the words of the president. And when it came to the other president, Shimon Peres, I want to thank you personally, friend, for the long days and nights that you spent caring for our country and its future.

So as the pomp and circumstance continues, this visit is only just beginning. The president will leave Shimon Peres' presidential residence, and he will then meet with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who just squeaked (ph) by in an election, recently, without a coalition. So there could be some tension there and clearly some messages that need to be cleared up, specifically when it comes to, perhaps, Iran, and when or where the redline on Iranian nuclear enrichment might be drawn.

I want to bring in our Sara Sidner, senior international correspondent, who's live in Jerusalem, as we look at some of these pictures. Sara, that is a big question. We talked off the top with Jessica Yellin about the Syrian potential for chemical weapons, and to Iran now, this deadline that had been imposed, I believe it was spring. I believe it may have been now pushed to summer or fall. What exactly is this deadline? How much pressure is the president going to be hearing about this deadline when it comes to Iran? Where does it stand?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's talk about what you just heard there. Because you just heard two pretty different statements. Yes, they said, we're friends. Yes, they said that Israel and the United States are going to be working together, closely, biggest allies, but when you listened to President Peres, he talked about Hezbollah, he talked about Syria and chemical weapons, he talked about Iran being the greatest threat.

The president didn't say any of those things, but did say that we are Israel's greatest friend and he spent most of his speech really praising the president, but not necessarily talking about all of the issues that are on the table. Will there be pressure? Absolutely. But the pressure will be coming from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Iran has been his number one issue. He said it over and over again. He was standing up in front of the United Nations general assembly last year.

You remember that day. He took a big pen. There was a bomb -- cartoonish looking bomb, but he talked about where he thought Iran was and how close they may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon. And he said in the spring or the summer. Now, his timetable differs from the Obama administration's timetable. They believe that if Iran does decide it wants to make a nuclear weapon, then it's a year out. So they differ in that. But there is certainly agreement on what to do about Iran. And both of them have said that the redline is, Iran must not obtain nuclear weapons, and for Iran's part, Iran has always said that it is not trying to do that, but only using it for civilian purposes. Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: I want to also, Sara, thank you, bring in Jessica Yellin, our White House correspondent, our chief White House correspondent. Jessica, it is no secret that Americans do believe that Israel is either a great allay or a friend, to the tune of about 80 percent of them. But when it comes to just what we should be doing, if Israel (sic) decides on any kind of preemptive attack on Israel, or any kind of attack, it's almost 50/50. In fact, I believe the numbers are 49, yes, 49, no, we should support that nation. Those are the kind of numbers that are not lost on an administration, when they have to go in and negotiate conversations. How public will those conversations be?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Excellent question, Ashleigh. I think what you -- those conversations will be very private, is the answer. What you're going to see on this trip is largely repetition of the same language you've heard from the president in public on Iran, here in Israel, that you've heard back in the U.S. You will hear him talk, I expect, and I'm led to believe, about the U.S. commitment to Israel's security and a belief that Iran cannot be allowed to get to nuclear capabilities. And he'll stand on the soil here, and some people think that makes a difference and some people say it doesn't make a difference where he delivers the same message, but he's going to repeat, from Israel, that the U.S. stands with Israel in ensuring this country's security.

If you talk to Israelis, many of them, first of all, are unconcerned about whether the U.S. does or doesn't support an attack on Iran, because they say the very existence of Israel is, this whole nation was created because Jewish people can't rely on anyone else to protect them. That's what they say. That's why Israel was founded, originally. So they have a very different -- many Jews here have a very different orientation to that very question. But the president will be here, both talking about Iran and security and also making a number of symbolic gestures to the Jewish people here, acknowledging his belief that the Jewish people have a claim to Israel, that goes back many thousands of years, not many hundreds of years. This is on a different issue, but he once suggested that perhaps the claim went back only hundreds of years. Many Jews were offended by that, so he'll be correcting that suggestion. That's another big piece of his trip, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Any time you're in that part of the world, you better know your history, a.d. and b.c., because everyone quotes chapter and verse, to try to bolster their claims. Chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, thank you, and also senior international correspondent, Sara Sidner for us in Jerusalem, thank as well. We'll continue to watch the developments in Israel and watch for that meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Still ahead, we're going inside that gripping Jodi Arias case. Today, the jurors once again get to write their questions of a witness. This time the psychologist who backs this woman's account that she had PTSD, and therefore could not remember how she killed her ex- boyfriend. Just how much benefit of the doubt do you think this jury can carry? Find out in a moment.


BANFIELD: Some news I want to update you on. The breaking news we had a short time ago of a possible shooter at a Minnesota middle school. It turned out to be a hoax. A 911 call led to a lockdown at the New Prague Middle School and police are on the scene, but they have found no sign of any shooter nor any trouble, according to our affiliate stations.