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Interview With Missouri Governor Jay Nixon; Flames and Floods; Interview With Senator John McCain; Vaccine for Malaria?

Aired August 8, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, why can't wildfires and floods ever happen in the same place and cancel each other out?

I'm John Berman, and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. California burns while parts of the Midwest and Southeast are swamped. Almost looks like it's time to gather the animals two by two in Missouri. The governor of that state joins us as his communities struggle to keep their heads above water.

The world lead. So, when is a coup not a coup? Apparently when the Obama administration refuses to say it is. Our guest, Senator John McCain, is breaking from the White House talking points on Egypt, even though he just got back from a trip there at the president's behest.

And also in national news, it kills a child every single minute. About half the world's population is in danger of contracting a deadly disease. But could there finally be a way to stop it?

I'm John Berman, filling in for Jake Tapper today.

And we begin with the national lead. One section of the country is getting way too much rain and another not nearly enough. Here, you can see rescuers carrying a baby just above floodwaters in Nashville. Crews throughout the Southeast and Midwest are racing to help people trapped by the torrential rains in those regions, Missouri seeing some of the worst of it.

We have been told that flash flooding today in that state claimed the life of at least one person, a 60-year-old woman who was trying to drive across a bridge in McDonald County when she was caught in the quickly rising waters.

Meanwhile, a problem of almost the opposite sort in Southern California. The so-called Silver fire west of Los Angeles, it's only been burning for about 24 hours. But stiff winds and bone-dry conditions are spreading this thing fast.

The fire has scorched 10,000 acres so far, turning sections into that barren hellscape you're seeing right there; 1,500 people have had to evacuate their homes so far.

Joining us now is the Riverside Fire Captain Lucas Spelman. He's a spokesman for CAL FIRE.

Captain, we can see the smoke behind you right there. Have firefighters managed to get any part of this fire under control?

CAPT. LUCAS SPELMAN, RIVERSIDE FIRE DEPARTMENT: Right at this time, we have 10 percent that I can confirm.

BERMAN: Ten percent, so a long, long way to go. Give us a sense of the injuries, numbers of people evacuated. Last, we heard, 15 people had to get out of the area -- 1,500 people had to get out of the area.


I can confirm that also, 1,500 -- 800 of those came from a campground. Also with the firefighter injuries, we have four firefighter injuries. I don't have the extent of their injuries. And we have one civilian also.

BERMAN: Four firefighters injured and one civilian. We certainly hope they're OK. What about buildings in the area, structures? How many burned so far?

SPELMAN: We have 15. We call them structures. They could be outbuildings or homes. But right now we don't confirm what they are. But we definitely have 15 structures that have been burned.

BERMAN: Any stories of survivals? How are people doing in this fire? I have to tell you, just 24 hours ago, we didn't hear anything about this. This thing has spread very, very fast.

SPELMAN: With the weather the way it is, with high heat, low humidity and in this area there is a constant wind. And with the fire season being so early, we're working our way into September-October fuel moistures. And so with that and the wind and the conditions we talked about, it can cause a critical fire spread.

BERMAN: All right. Captain Lucas Spelman, 10 percent contained so far, that fire. We hope you get a better handle on it as the night goes on. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

I'm want to turn back now to the massive flooding hitting the Midwest and Southeast. Missouri is getting some of the absolute worst of it.

So I want to bring in Missouri's governor, Jay Nixon. He joins us now on the phone.

First of all, Governor, we hope you are doing well. We hop your state is faring well.

We heard about a woman who was swept away in McDonald County. We heard earlier in the week about a 4-year-old boy killed in flooding. Give us a sense of deaths in that area. Will this number rise over the next few days?

GOV. JAY NIXON (D), MISSOURI: Well, I mean, we have already -- we have seen those two and we're in the middle of a search for another potential victim we think is going to be very bad news for their family also. I don't want to -- just to say that we have got helicopter assets as well as water patrol assets involved there. Plus, we're going to get a lot more rain tonight. We have had some sections of Missouri that have received up to eight inches of rain in a four- or five-hour period. We have had creeks and rivers that have risen as much as 19 vertical feet inside four or five hours. We have got a lot of activity.

I have been on the phone with most of the local leaders here. I'm getting ready to go down to Waynesville, Missouri. I was just on the phone with the presiding commissioner down near Branson and the Hollister area. It's going to be a very long night.

BERMAN: Now, you actually had to delay your trip to Waynesville because the rains were so hard and the flooding so great.

Give us a sense now of what your state needs. You have declared a state of emergency. What kind of assets would you like to see come in?

NIXON: Well, we're focused right now. We have plenty of assets. We're focused on making sure folks are safe.

We have had to close a number of roads. We had 44, Interstate 44, primary artery for the country, we had to close yesterday. We're watching that very carefully. The water dropped a little bit. We have got it open again. But we have got another -- other roads.

So, tonight what we're doing is making sure we keep folks safe. We're evacuating areas in the lower regions. Basically from the central southern part of the state all the way to the southwest corner of the state, all the way from McDonald County down by Oklahoma and Arkansas all the way to the center part of the state the in Fort Leonard Wood, we have had emergencies declared and problems existing.

But with the next two nights being significant rain drop in both of those areas, we are staying in very close contact with the local officials, have National Guard called up and are working to assist those officials.

BERMAN: Governor, I have to tell you the pictures we're looking at now are very dramatic. And just to clarify what you just said, I have looked at the forecast also, thunderstorms in the area tonight and headed in for the next few days. Those floodwaters could keep rising.

NIXON: Well, it's especially troublesome that -- not only the volume of it, but the intensity in small areas, plus the fact it's coming at night. The way the weather patterns are working now, this is rain that is coming 12:00 to 4:00 in the morning. So, it's in the middle of the dark.

So, it's especially important that people not drive into that water and that they be as safe as possible. They can rest well assured that with our Guard, our patrol, our water patrol, our local sheriffs, our local police folks, and our faith-based initiative, we are fully engaged in assisting the people of Missouri to be safe over the next few days.

BERMAN: We hope they heed your warnings.

Governor Jay Nixon, best of luck to you.

NIXON: Thank you.

BERMAN: That's six minutes after the hour right now.

And you think there would be less drama in a trial where the defendant gets up and says, "I am the shooter" right off the bat. But that's never the case in the trial of Major Nidal Hasan. The accused Fort Hood shooter is representing himself. But today lawyers designed to assist him in his defense told the judge they want out, arguing they think it is morally repugnant to help a man commit suicide by death penalty.

But the judge has now ruled. The judge says these lawyers are staying. Hasan had not -- entered a not guilty plea, but only because he had to. Pleading guilty is not an option in a military capital trial.

Major Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is facing execution for the massacre at the military post that left 13 people dead, 32 injured in 2009, before civilian officers took him down. That left him paralyzed.

They are accused of trying to dispose of evidence to help their friend, the surviving Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Now two of his college buddies have been indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice. A federal grand jury handed up the indictment against Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19, earlier today after the FBI released photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

These two, along with a third conspirator, allegedly went to Dzhokhar's dorm room and removed several items, including a laptop and a backpack containing fireworks. These men each face up to 25 years in prison.

Some would describe them as the odd couple. So, what TV show, what classic did John McCain pick to describe his relationship with President Obama? The senator is just back from his trip to Cairo. And he joins us in the politics lead next.

Also, his friends once joked that his financial plan consists of hitting the lottery. Now he's laughing all the way to the bank. A man comes forward to claim his share of the $448 million Powerball jackpot and gives a can't-miss press conference. Stay with us.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman, filling in for Jake Tapper today.

In our world lead, for the fifth day, 19 U.S. embassies across the Middle East and Africa remain closed because of a terror threat over fears that al Qaeda will attack Americans. A senior U.S. official tells CNN's Barbara Starr and Elise Labott that -- quote -- "We expected something by now in terms of some sort of attack, but nothing and no new information of potential threats."

This raises questions over whether the U.S. is showing weakness to a group that the Obama administration repeatedly told us in the past was decimated and on the run.

President Obama addressed these concerns while talking at a Marine Corps base in California.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even as we decimated the al Qaeda leadership that attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda affiliates and like-minded extremists still threaten our homeland, still threaten our diplomatic facilities, still threaten our businesses abroad. And we have got to take these threats seriously.

As for these extremists, here's what those who would cowardly attack us civilians don't get. The United States is never going to retreat from the world. We don't get terrorized.


BERMAN: For more on the terror threat, let's turn now to Republican Senator John McCain. He's a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He joins us now from Phoenix fresh off a big trip to Egypt.

We are going to talk about Egypt in a second, Senator. First of all, thanks for being with us.

But I want to start with the security situation overseas. These embassies across the Middle East and other regions have been closed for five days now, still no plot uncovered. So how much longer do you think before you would be willing to say that we're safe?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I would obviously have to have access to the most sensitive information that we have been able to gather.

But the point is that, despite what the president said, particularly during his reelection campaign about al Qaeda, many of us have been saying that al Qaeda is not only -- not decimated or on the run. In fact, they are now spread -- they have now spread in the last five years all over North Africa and pose an enormous threat.

Yes, we have killed off people. But al Qaeda has shown an incredible ability to reconstitute itself. And to tell the American people, as the president did during the presidential campaign, that -- quote -- "Al Qaeda is on the run and decimated," that just simply is not substantiated by the facts.

BERMAN: Let me turn now to Russia, because there's a lot of news going all around the world right now, the president, of course, canceling his one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Yesterday, Senator, you tweeted out a link, of course, that alluded to remarks that the president made during the campaign last year when he talked about how he wanted to deal with Russia, the issue of flexibility. Let me play you that clip from the president right now.


OBAMA: This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.


BERMAN: That, of course, President Obama speaking with then Russian Leader Dmitry Medvedev talking about flexibility.

Do you think the president needed to be harder on Russia all along, and do you think canceling this meeting now goes far enough?

MCCAIN: Well, I said back in the 2008 campaign that I looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and saw three letters, a K. a G. and a B.


MCCAIN: Look, this is an old-line KGB apparatchik colonel that has dreams of the restitution or reincarnation of the old Russian empire.

Look, the Russians have reset. They have reset, all right, back to about 1955. So, we need to do a lot of things, not just cancel it, but we need to expand the Magnitsky Act. That is calling into account people who abuse human rights. We need to take Georgia into NATO. We need to have a free trade agreement with the Europeans so they won't be so dependent on Russian oil.

There's a whole lot of steps we can take. And all of them we should take. It's not confrontation. It is just a realistic approach to a country that is not acting in the interest of world peace or anybody else's except Vladimir Putin's desire to hold on to power.

BERMAN: Senator, let me continue to move around the world here. You just returned from Egypt with your colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham. You call the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy a coup. That has caused quite a stir in Egypt. A presidential aide there said that you were distorting facts and your statements are unacceptable in form and substance. The current Egyptian president also accused you of interfering in internal affairs.

How do you react to that?

MCCAIN: Well, Senator Lindsey Graham and I know the Egyptian leadership very well. We have had contacts and relationships with them for many years. If you have a situation where a military takes over the government and puts in jail incommunicado, the elected leadership of the country, then that can only be described as a coup.

Now, Morsy abused his power enormously. The people rose up and said in very strong terms it was unacceptable. But the fact is that it was a coup.

The point is now is there's got to be a national dialogue and reconciliation. There's got to be release of some of these political prisoners. There's got to be a renunciation of violence. In fact, a condemnation of violence by the Muslim Brotherhood, or we're going to see blood in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.

BERMAN: Finally, Senator McCain, I have to ask you about this. In an interview with jay Leno, President Obama was describing your relationship now, which has seemed to have warmed over the last few years. He described it as something of a romantic comedy. Let's listen.


JAY LENO, COMEDIAN: Is it me or do I see kind of a bromance with you and John McCain? Remember, you two had the lovers quarrel for a while. And, oh, now, oh, you're best friends.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know, I mean, that's how --

LENO: What happened?

OBAMA: That's how a classic romantic comedy goes, right?

LENO: Yes.


OBAMA: He is a person of integrity. He is willing to say things regardless of the politics.


BERMAN: So, Senator, which romantic comedy do you think most clearly describes your relationship now? Are we talking "When Harry Met Sally"? "Some Like it Hot" here? I mean, how would you describe the relationship?

MCCAIN: Given my age, how about Ralph Kramden. What was it, "The Honeymooners"? Or maybe "I Love Lucy." I don't know.

Look, the point is, I want to work with the president where the nation's interests are at stake. And we can work together.

There are other areas such as we just described, Syria, where I think it's been shameful that 100,000 people have been massacred and we've stood by and watched it. I think that the people of Arizona and the United States want us to work together where we can. But I think it being in the loyal opposition that I will fight as hard as I can for the things I stand for and believe in.

But there is a demand on the part of the American people, of us, to work together where we can work together. And I want to do that. And I think that that's what I was sent to do. BERMAN: Senator McCain, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you being with us.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: And we've just learned that President Obama will have a news conference tomorrow afternoon -- or Ralph Kramden as Senator McCain likes to call him. We're still waiting for the time of the president's news conference. But CNN will carry it live.

Coming up here now, more people die from this disease every year than died in the entire U.S. Civil War. But have we finally found a way to beat it?

And how many times have you been eating a waffle and thought, this would be a lot better if I could jam it into my face in taco form. Never? Well, Americans have spoken and they've never met a fast food novelty they haven't liked.


BERMAN: In our national lead, just breaking this afternoon, have we finally found a way to stop one of history's most virulent killers? This is a big deal. The U.S. Navy made a big announcement on a new malaria vaccine.

Our own Barbara Starr joins us now from the pentagon with the details. Barbara, we're talking hundreds of thousands of lives here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, if this worked it could be huge around the world. The Navy, along with the National Institute of Health and a pharmaceutical company, have now tested a vaccine for malaria they say provides 100 percent protection.

That is amazing. It's a very small sample. They have a lot more testing to do. But this may be a very significant step forward as you know, 3.3 billion people around the world live in areas at risk of malaria, 660,000 people a year die from this. U.S. troops are very involved because, of course, they travel all over the world and they encounter this in the populations in the countries they go to.

So, it's a military necessity. It's a global health necessity. And if this vaccine were to work, a real step forward in the humanitarian world. Of course, other entities working on it as well. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, funding millions of dollars in research in trying to fight malaria -- John.

BERMAN: Potentially wonderful news. Barbara Starr, thank you so much, reporting from the Pentagon.

So, call it a random act of rich. We are now hearing from one of the three big Powerball winners. A $448 million jackpot split three ways, 45-year-old Paul White and his wife Kim from Minnesota are taking the cash option which means about $58 million and change after taxes.

Paul says he's ready for the other winners to come forward so the spotlight will be on them instead.


PAUL WHITE, POWERBALL WINNER: You just don't want all this attention. You just don't. You know what I mean? It's -- it's kind of daunting. You think about the safety of your family and your kids, because there's crazy people out there. We've all seen "The Jerk." Remember the movie "The Jerk"?


BERMAN: Wow. Some serious props for the jerk reference there. The whites have two teenagers at home. Happy, no doubt, right now. Paul says he's not quite sure if he will quit his job.

I'll tell you what, Paul. I'll quit for you.

So, if it looks like a taco and acts like a taco, it might actually be a waffle. Taco Bell honoring its pledge to think outside the bun. The chain is offering breakfast in three test markets -- Fresno, Omaha and Chattanooga.

Taco Bell is coming in late to the early menu but making the most of it. Their marquee menu item, a waffle shaped like a taco with sausage and egg in the middle. Add syrup and salsa and you're good to go. What could be better?

You could also get a breakfast drink. That's a little bit of orange juice and a lot of Mountain Dew.

Coming up on THE LEAD: our political panel joins me. But wait. They're not here. They're in Washington. They refuse to fly up.

So, my question, Ross, are you going to break up any fights that might start there?

ROSS DOUTHAT, NEW YORK TIMES: No, listen, you've made a terrible mistake. You've got two "New York Times" people right here. So, Don is going to have to break up the fight. It's going to get ugly.

BERMAN: Fantastic. The one thing we know, you're not for sale. We will see you guys in just a bit.

Stay with us.