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Obama and Cameron Press Conference; O.J. Simpson in Court to Ask for New Trial; 47 Killed in Weekend Bombings in Turkey; Pakistan's New Leader

Aired May 13, 2013 - 12:00   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I've been very clear about taking responsibility for the fact that we were not able to prevent their deaths. And we are doing everything we can to make sure we prevent it, in part because there are still diplomats around the world who are in very dangerous, difficult situations. And we don't have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington. We should be focused on, what are we doing to protect them?

And that's not easy, by the way. And it's going to require resources and tough judgments and tough calls. And there are a whole bunch of diplomats out there who know that they're in harm's way. And there are threat streams that come through every so often with respect to our embassies and our consulates.

And that's not just us, by the way. The British have to deal with the same thing. And we've got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, you know what, I'm willing to step up, I'm willing to put myself in harm's way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.

And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus. What happened was tragic. It was carried out by extremists inside of Libya. We are out there trying to hunt down the folks who carried this out. And we are trying to make sure that we fix the system so that it doesn't happen again.



On the issue of the opposition in Syria, we have not made the decision to arm opposition groups in Syria. What we've done is we have amended the EU arms embargo in order that we can give technical assistance and technical advice. And as I said in my statement, that's exactly what we're doing. We're continuing to examine and look at the EU arms embargo and see whether we need to make further changes to it in order to facilitate our work with the opposition.

I do believe that there's more we can do alongside technical advice, assistance, help, in order to shape them, in order to work with them. And to those who doubt that approach, I would just argue that, look, if we don't help the Syrian opposition, who we do recognize as being legitimate, who've signed up to a statement about a future for Syria that is democratic, that respects the rights of minorities, if we don't work with that part of the opposition, then we shouldn't be surprised if the extremist elements grow.

So I think being engaged with the Syrian opposition is the right approach. And that is an approach I know I share with the president and with other colleagues in the European Union.

James Landale from the BBC.


Prime minister, you're talking here today about a new EU/U.S. trade deal, and yet members of your party are now talking about leaving the European Union. What is your message to them and to those pushing for an early referendum? And if there were a referendum tomorrow, how would you vote?

And, Mr. President, earlier this year you told David Cameron that you wanted a strong U.K. and a strong EU. How concerned are you that members of David Cameron's cabinet are now openly contemplating withdrawal?

And on Syria, if I may, a question to both of you, what gives you any confidence that the Russians are going to help you on this?

CAMERON: Well, first of all, the issue of the referendum. Look, there's not going to be a referendum tomorrow and there's a very good reason why there's not going to be a referendum tomorrow is because it would give the British public, I think, an entirely false choice between the status quo, which I don't think is acceptable. I want to see the European Union change. I want to see Britain's relationship with the European change and improve. So it would be a false choice between the status quo and leaving. And I don't think that is the choice the British public want or the British public deserve.

Everything I do in this area is guided by a very simple principle, which is what is in the national interests of Britain. Is it in the national interests of Britain to have a transatlantic trade deal that will make our countries more prosperous, that will get people to work, that will help our businesses. Yes, it is, and so we will push for this transatlantic trade deal. Is it in our interests to reform the European Union, to make it more open, more competitive, more flexible and to improve Britain's place within the European Union? Yes, it is in our national interest. And it's not only in our national interest, it is achievable, because Europe has to change because the single currency is driving change for that part of the European Union that is in the single currency. And just as they want changes, so I believe Britain is quite entitled to ask for and to get changes in response.

And then finally, is it in Britain's national interest, once we have achieved those changes but before the end of 2017, to consult the British public in a proper, full-on in out (ph) referendum, yes, I believe it is. So that's the approach that we take, everything driven by what is in the British national interest. That is what I'm going to deliver. It's absolutely right for our country. It has very strong support throughout the country and in the conservative party. And that's exactly what I'm going to do.

On the Syrian issue, you asked the question, what are the signs of Russian engagement? Well, I had very good talks with President Putin and (INAUDIBLE) on Friday. And, look, we had a very frank conversation in that we have approached this and some extent still do approach this in a different way. I have been very vocal in supporting the Syrian opposition and saying that Assad has to go, that he is not legitimate. And I continue to say that. And President Putin has taken a different point of view.

But where there is a common interest is that it is in both our interests that at the end of this there is a stable democratic Syria, that there is a stable neighborhood, and that we don't encourage the growth of violent extremism. And I think both the Russian president, the American president, myself, I think we can all see that the current trajectory of how things are going is not actually in anybody's interests. And so it is worth this major diplomatic effort, which we are all together leading. This major diplomatic effort to bring the parties to the table, to achieve a transition at the top in Syria so that we can make the change that country needs.

OBAMA: With respect to the relationship between the U.K. and the EU, we have a special relationship with the United Kingdom. And we believe that our capacity to partner with a United Kingdom that is active, robust, outward looking and engaged with the world is hugely important to our own interests, as well as the world. And I think the U.K.'s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world, as well as, obviously, a very important economic partnership. Now, ultimately, the people of the U.K. have to make decisions for themselves.

I will say this, that David's basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what's broken in a very important relationship before you break it off makes some sense to me. And I know that David's been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the EU. Those are tough negotiations. You got a lot of countries involved. I recognize that. But so long as we haven't yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be, you know, I, at least, would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment. Again, I want to emphasize, you know, these are issues for the people of the United Kingdom to make a decision about, not ours.

With respect to Syria, I think David said it very well. If you look objectively, the entire world's community has an interest in seeing a Syria that is not engaged in sectarian war, in which the Syrian people are not being slaughtered, that is an island of peace as opposed to potentially an outpost for extremists.

That's not just true for the United States. That's not just true for Great Britain. That's not just true for countries like Jordan and Turkey that border Syria, but that's also true for Russia. And, you know, I'm pleased to hear that David had a very constructive conversation with President Putin shortly after the conversation that had taken place between John Kerry and President Putin. I've spoken to President Putin several times on this topic. And our basic argument is that as a leader on the world stage, Russia has an interest, as well as an obligation, to try to resolve this issue in a way that can lead to the kind of outcome that we'd all like to see over the long-term.

And, look, I don't think it's any secret that there remains lingering suspicions between Russia and other members of the G-8 or the west. You know, it's been several decades now since Russia transformed itself and the eastern bloc transformed itself. But, you know, some of those suspicions still exist. And part of what my goal has been, John Kerry's goal has been and I know David's goal has been, to try to break down some of those suspicions and look objectively at the situation.

If, in fact, we can broker a peaceful political transition that leads to Assad's departure but a state in Syria that is still intact, that accommodates the interests of all the ethnic groups, all the religious groups inside of Syria, and that ends the bloodshed, stabilizes the situation, that's not just going to be good for us, that will be good for everybody. And we're going to be very persistent in trying to make that happen.

I'm not promising that it's going to be successful. Frankly, sometimes once sort of the fury's been unleashed in a situation like we're seeing in Syria, it's very hard to put things back together. And, you know, there is -- there are going to be enormous challenges in getting a credible process going even if Russia is involved because we still have other countries like Iran and we have non-state actors like Hezbollah that have been actively involved. And, frankly, on the other side, we've got organizations like Alnusra (ph) that are essentially affiliated to al Qaeda that have another agenda beyond just getting rid of Assad. So all that makes a combustible mix and it's going to be challenging. But it's worth the effort. And what we can tell you is, is that we're always more successful in any global effort when we've got a strong friend and partner like Great Britain by our side and strong leadership by Prime Minister David Cameron.

All right, thank you very much, everybody.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron in the East Room. They took questions from reporters. There was a lot on their plate, talking about the global economy, talking about what to do in Syria. But, obviously, the first question from the American reporter was about the IRS scandal, Gloria Borger, and Benghazi. Let's talk about Benghazi. President Obama called the debate over the talking points. He called it a sideshow. Said there was no there there.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Right. Clearly dismissive is the word I would use about the Benghazi scandal. He said, why would you ever think this was a cover-up when what was being said in those e-mails was essentially the evolution of what he himself knew. He said that we came out very clearly and said that this was politically motivated. He said it defies the logic that these Republicans are out to get Hillary Clinton and are out -- he knows they're out to get him. And that they're besmirching Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen. And he basically said, you know, we're dishonoring the people who died there when we turn this into what he called a political circus.

So obviously he was not giving an inch on Benghazi. And it's very clear that he sees this as a political attack rather than anything that needs to be looked at internally at the White House or the CIA or the State Department. Absolutely saying no cover-up whatsoever.

TAPPER: And chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, who was in the East Room.

President Obama, on one hand saying that the Benghazi talking points issue is a sideshow, there's no there there, but having a very different tone when it comes to the scandal about the IRS targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.


First on the Benghazi. I have to tell you, I'm not surprised by the tone he took. Inside this building, as you well know, they find this digging around about the talking points and the e-mails sort of ridiculous and just sort of politics as usual because they argue, as you heard him say, not only has Capitol Hill had these talking points for many months and the e-mails about them and so the outrage seems sort of, to them, new. But it's sort of just the politics and what really matters is what happened on the ground. And they've explained. So they just think, you know, we're all engaged in a silly game of political gotcha. Not new to hear that.

On the IRS issue, you know, I just saw the head of the RNC, Reince Priebus, tweet that he was surprised the president did not apologize or lay out a plan of action to hold anyone accountable in his answer. Now, having covered the president for some time, you know, he doesn't like to get ahead of the process. And so the I.G. report has yet to come out. That's their own investigation into what went wrong. And so it sounds, he said, he doesn't want to say what will happen yet. But I would suspect that he will lay out specifically what they plan to do once we know what it is in this I.G. report.

His language was pretty strong. He called it -- you know, outrageous is a pretty -- about as damning as you can get from a president. And so he's put himself in a very clear position where he has to take some sort of action or has to make sure the IRS takes some sort of action next.

It's an independent agency, so there is a bit of a wall there, but he is making it clear that there has to be some consequence if there was wrongdoing at all, Jake.

TAPPER: Jessica Yellin in the East Room of the White House.

Now let's go to Capitol Hill where chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is waiting to tell us what the response has been from the president's Republican friends, the loyal opposition, and what they thought of President Obama's comments about both the IRS scandal and the Benghazi talking points controversy which President Obama called a "sideshow."


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can imagine, Jake, Republicans are unsatisfied -- I think that's probably the understatement of the year -- with what the president said about Benghazi. Let's start there.

First and foremost, the idea that he called it a "sideshow," from Republicans point of view and, just in general, really, doesn't answer the question of why these talking points were changed and, more specifically, why the White House said it was something that was stylistic, really up until last week, and hasn't directly answered the question about the fact that al Qaeda was taken out, that the idea of -- that this was a protest was still in there, that the president talked about the video at the U.N. a couple of weeks later, all of that continued to be part of the White House narrative, even though the administration and the broader community knew that that was not the case.

So those are still questions that Republicans are asking. In fact, as the president was speaking, Jake, the House oversight chairman, Darrell Issa, released a formal invitation, or at least announcement, that he is going to have the two co-chairs of the internal State Department investigation, Thomas Pickering and Mike Mullen -- he's going to have them for at least a private interview first, which has not happened yet, about their findings, which Republicans do not think were all that impressive.

And then I'm told that they are likely going to eventually have a public hearing.

So that's on Benghazi. On the IRS, you heard Jessica report on what the Republican chair tweeted, but I can tell you that it is obviously a very different kind of dynamic with the IRS because on that you have Democrats and Republicans alike tripping over themselves to get out there and say that they too think it's outrageous and they're going to investigate as well.

TAPPER: Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.

Now let's go AROUND THE WORLD to Cairo, Egypt, where CNN's Arwa Damon is reporting.

Arwa, lots in the president's comments about both Syria and, of course, about Benghazi. Your thoughts on either or both?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when it comes to Benghazi, of course, that is the same rhetoric the administration has been maintaining all along. They do also acknowledge that the U.S. grossly underestimated the level of security threat that actually existed against it at the time of that attack. And that, of course, is a matter of great debate. The issue is, given all of the markers that there were prior to this devastating attack on the U.S. consulate and then, of course, the annex, why were more measures not really being put into place? And, perhaps more importantly at this stage, the president also saying that they vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice shortly after the attack took place. Well, that still hasn't happened to date.

And it's not really clear at this point what sort of pressure the U.S. is trying to put on the Libyan government to go after these attacks because, these extremist groups that exist, especially in the eastern part of the country, they are growing more powerful by the day with many Libyans saying that it is also because there has been no accountability following this attack and that allowed these various extremist groups to grow even more emboldened.

And when it comes to Syria, of course, Jake, this is obviously a very, very difficult situation for the U.S. and its allies as they keep on highlighting, but the bottom line when it comes to Syria is that the international community really needs to decide how it is going to take serious action because what we have unfolding in Syria right now is very much the worst-case scenario.

And that country has sadly become a self-fulfilling prophesy where in Syria, too, it is these extremist groups that are gaining more power on the ground, more credibility as a military fighting force against the regime. And that, of course, is going to lend itself to even greater problems if and when the regime should fall, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon, thank you so much. She's in Cairo.

And, speaking of Syria, I would just like to remind our viewers perhaps the most poignant moment in the entire press conference came when British Prime Minister David Cameron said, referring to 80,000 Syrian dead, "Syria's history is being written in the blood of their people and it's happening on our watch."

I'm Jake Tapper. I'll be back at 4:00 p.m. Eastern with "THE LEAD."

I'm going to take a quick break now and, when we come back, you'll be joined by my friend and colleague, Suzanne Malveaux.



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

Let's begin with the return of O.J. Simpson to court. Of course, he captured the world's attention during his ex-wife's murder trial 20 years ago now.

MALVEAUX: So at this hour, one day of a five-day hearing on the 2008 conviction. This is for robbery, assault. This is kidnapping as well. At the time, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison. Well, he has since served five years. Now he's appealing on grounds that his attorney might have given him bad advice during the original trial.

HOLMES: Yeah. Paul Vercammen is live in Las Vegas right now.

Paul, first of all, I think a lot of people watching are going to say, what'd he look like?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Michael and Suzanne, O.J. Simpson is noticeably older. He's 65-years-old now. He will turn 66 in July. He's also, according to his attorneys, very arthritic. When he walked into the courtroom just a short time ago, he was somewhat bent over, his hair very closely cropped and it has certainly turned grey in those four years he spent at the Lovelock prison. That's in northern Nevada.

He had a long drive down here to Las Vegas, we understand, in a bus and came here on Friday night. But according to his new defense team, he is optimistic that he does have some sort of chance, a "hail Mary," to use a football term, that this trial will somehow be found to -- they will find him a new trial here on grounds that he was not served very well by his previous attorney, Yale Galanter.

MALVEAUX: All right. Of course it's going to be an interesting ride here in the Vegas courtroom with Simpson's attorneys expected to actually bring up 20 points of contention.

I want to bring in our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who's joining us from New York. And, Jeffrey, of course, you know. You've followed this from the very beginning 20 something years ago, even wrote a book ...


MALVEAUX: ... wrote a book about the whole thing. Well, he never goes away. He's back again today.

A couple of things. He clearly looks pretty bad. It looks like he's aged a lot, gained some weight here, but what is his contention here? What is he actually trying to fight for?

TOOBIN: Well, just to remind people what this case is about. In 2007 there was a bizarre altercation at a low-rent Las Vegas hotel casino where O.J. and some of his buddies went to a room and attempted to get some memorabilia that they said still belonged to O.J. There you see on the screen some of the security camera video.

One of the people O.J. was with had a gun. There was a confrontation. Ultimately, all of the people involved were arrested. Everybody pled guilty, except for O.J., and had very low sentences, suspended sentences or very low sentences.

O.J. Simpson got nine-to-33 years. He's not even eligible for release until 2017. He's now charging that in that trial his lawyer, Yale Galanter, who's a very well-known lawyer from Florida, was so bad that it was ineffective assistance of counsel, violating the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

That's a very, very difficult case to make. Judges are very reluctant to overturn convictions on the basis of ineffective assistance, but that's what this hearing is about. And I think his chances of success are remote.

HOLMES: I want to ask you one thing, Jeff. One of the arguments is that his attorney never told him about a possible plea deal.

And if there had been and he'd taken it, he'd have been out by now. Is that a ground there?

TOOBIN: Well, a couple of things there, Michael. First of all, we don't know what the plea offer was, if there was any plea offer at all. Second, that's the kind of thing where his attorney's recollection may be very different from his own.

This puts an attorney in a very difficult position because it's always the job of an attorney to do whatever is best for the client. But at this point Yale Galanter's integrity is being challenged and he now has interests that are very different from O.J. Simpson.

So I think plea negotiations are almost never -- not always, but almost never a ground for overturning a conviction, but it will be very important to hear what Yale Galanter, the attorney, says about those negotiations rather than simply rely on what O.J. says about it.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, I understand that we are going to see him take the stand, O.J., I think later in the week. I think that's Wednesday actually, so we'll be watching every day, a five-day proceeding.

Thank you, Jeffrey. Appreciate it.

Turning our attention now to the growing rage over a weekend of bombings, killed 47 people. This was in Turkey.

HOLMES: It was. It's all happening in a Turkish town on the Syrian border. And this is what's interesting. Turkey's government believes some of its own citizens were behind the attacks, officials blaming a Marxist group, but a Marxist group whose leadership fled to Syria years ago, so there are Syrian links.

Syria, officially, the regime says they had nothing to do with it.

MALVEAUX: Dozens of people marched in the streets of Turkey today, some calling for the government to resign.

And Pakistan has a new leader, and that may signal a major shift in relations with the United States. Nawaz Sharif seems to have won the election, marking the first transition between civilian governments in the country's history.

HOLMES: But the centerpiece of his campaign -- or one of them anyway -- he talked a lot about the economy, but he also said he was going to end U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. He also said he was going to talk to the Taliban.

Well, President Obama says he looks forward to working with the new government. It's going to be interesting to see how that unfolds.

MALVEAUX: And coming up ...


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you worry now that people will always suspect that you actually did have a role?