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Bookkeeper Hero; Killed Australian Teen Mourned; Ousted Egyptian Strongman Out of Prison; Could Modern Intel Have Prevented 9/11?; Obama Addresses Huge College Costs; New Conservative Darling: Ashton Kutcher; Hovercraft Lands on Russian Beach

Aired August 22, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Some grateful parents dropped off gifts for the school bookkeeper whom they credit with saving their kids' lives.

We're now hearing for ourselves parts of Antoinette Tuff's calm and brave encounter with the shooting suspect in her gripping 911 call to police.

CNN's Alina Machado is in Decatur, Georgia -- Alina.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the principal of the school says today this school became the hugging capital of the South. Things are slowly getting back to normal here. Counselors were on hand to help students if they needed it. Security was a little tighter than usual. And even though the hero of this story had the day off today, everyone was thinking of her.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MACHADO: When you hear the name Antoinette Tuff, what do you think?

ASHLEY HALL, STUDENT: Hero.

MACHADO: She's your hero?

HALL: I think she's the whole school's hero because what she did was amazing.

MACHADO (voice-over): Ashley Hall and countless other parents at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy were thankful Antoinette Tuff was working at the front office Tuesday afternoon, even though she wasn't scheduled to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven't seen her in the front office since they have been going to school, but it was just -- it was God that day, it was God that day.

MACHADO (on camera): It was meant to be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it was.

911 OPERATOR: DeKalb Police. What is the address of your emergency?

ANTOINETTE TUFF, TALKED SHOOTER DOWN: Yes, ma'am. I'm on Second Avenue in the school and the gentleman said tell them to hold down. The police officers are coming and he said he's going to start shooting, so tell them to back off.

MACHADO (voice-over): That was Tuff talking to a 911 dispatcher after coming face to face with Michael Brandon Hill. Police say Hill slipped into the school with an AK-47-type weapon and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

911 OPERATOR: Stay on the line with me, ma'am. Where are you?

TUFF: I'm in the front office. Ooh, he just went outside and started shooting.

911 OPERATOR: OK.

MACHADO: For more than 20 minutes, Tuff was the link between authorities and Hill.

TUFF: Stop all movement on the ground. If it's not an emergency, please do not use the radio. If it's not an emergency, do not use the radio.

911 OPERATOR: Are you talking to the shooter?

TUFF: That's what he's telling me to tell them on the radio. He doesn't want the kids. He wants the police, so back off -- and what else, sir? He said he don't care if he dies. He don't have nothing to live for, and he said he's not mentally stable.

MACHADO: Tuff, according to school officials, is one of three staff members specifically trained to deal with hostile situations. Listen to how she keeps her cool and calms down Hill, eventually leading him to peacefully surrender.

TUFF: He say he will be on the ground with his hands behind his back, and I will take the gun from him and put it over here on the other side by me.

911 OPERATOR: OK, one moment.

TUFF: OK. Yes, put all that over here, so that way they won't see it, OK? Come over here, put it on this. OK. Put it all up there. OK.

911 OPERATOR: He's put the weapons down?

TUFF: Yes.

Stay there calm. Don't worry about it. I'm going to sit right here so they see that you're trying not to harm me, OK? OK.

911 OPERATOR: OK. TUFF: It's going to be all right, sweetheart. I just want you to know that I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you. That's a good thing that you're just giving up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life.

No, you don't want that. You're going to be OK. Do you want me to call somebody to talk to somebody for you? OK. We're not going to hate you, baby. It's a good thing that you're giving up, so we're not going to hate you.

911 OPERATOR: Ma'am, you're doing a great job.

MACHADO: Police believe Tuff's actions saved many lives.

TUFF: OK. It's just him. OK. It's just him.

Hello?

911 OPERATOR: Yes.

TUFF: I'm going to tell you something, babe. I ain't never been so scared in all the days of my life.

911 OPERATOR: But you did great.

JACQUELINE THOMAS, GRANDMOTHER: I knew one day she was going to be a hero.

MACHADO (on camera): And why is that?

THOMAS: Because she always goes out of her way to do for these kids.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MACHADO: Tuff has worked at this school for the past three years. The principal tells us they plan to thank her in a big way, but, Jake, they still haven't released details of how they plan to do that.

TAPPER: Thanks, Alina.

And CNN is planning an emotional reunion between the school shooting hero and the 911 dispatcher with whom she spoke in those riveting audio tapes. That will air tonight at 8:00 Eastern on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," only on CNN.

In the small Oklahoma town where an Australian student was gunned down, people are asking whether race was a factor in Chris Lane's death. Was it more than a few teenage suspects with nothing better to do? Just three days before the shooting, 15-year-old suspect James Edwards tweeted that he and his friends were ready to take some lives. In April, he tweeted that 90 percent of white people are nasty. And he showed off an assault rifle in a video posted on Vine in may.

Chris Lane's girlfriend says there's a lot of shock, anger and sadness over his death.

She told CNN's Anderson Cooper that the town of Duncan is a bit dull, but it's usually very safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HARPER, FRIEND OF VICTIM: We don't have anything like this ever happen here. We're a pretty boring town, really. I mean, there's the same -- everybody loves the Friday night football games and just doing the everyday life, and most everybody always runs that street, walks that street. My neighbors had been on it earlier in the day. It's just -- it's amazing that something could happen like that middle of the day, a popular area of town.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And joining me now is Australian Ambassador to the United States Mr. Kim Beazley.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being here.

KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's good to be with you, Jake, but now in these circumstances.

TAPPER: Exactly.

I want to get your reaction to the shooting death of Christopher Lane, who is Australian -- was Australian. How big a deal is this in Australia?

BEAZLEY: Well, our hearts bleed for the Lane family.

Every Australian heart bleeds for the Lane family. This will have and has had an enormous impact because of the horror of it, the sheer, unmitigated horror that this could occur.

And you see -- you just see -- I know Australian families. I have one. And, you know, when you have got a boy like Chris, it is such a joy to you. A scholarship to the U.S., an American girlfriend, Sarah Harper. Mrs. Lane, Mr. Lane, at their workplace, at the bars, in the hairdressing salons, that would be the topic of conversation. How's Chris doing? How it's going? Ripped away from them. It's the saddest, saddest thing.

TAPPER: But I understand that the Lane family is not behind this boycott that many Australians are proposing of the U.S.

BEAZLEY: No. And the government certainly isn't. And nobody in political authority has called for that. Nobody in political authority now has called for that.

And the Lane family themselves, because people -- Americans are very generous, and people have been saying, I want to contribute. Well, they are contributing. They're contributing to the funeral, of course. But any surplus to that, the Lane family has said -- what do they want to do with it? Well, what they want to do with it is put it into scholarships for Australian kids to get baseball scholarships in the U.S.

TAPPER: The new details have emerged about one of the suspects, 15-year-old James Edwards Jr. He tweeted three days before Lane's murder, "With my N-words, when it's time to start taking lives." Back in April, he tweeted, "90 percent of white people are nasty, hate them."

Some in this country have been talking about the murder through a racial lens. Two of the three suspects are African-American, the victim obviously white. You know race in this country. You have seen a lot of evolution in racial attitudes, having lived with an African- American family on the South Side of Chicago back in 1969. Do you view it that way? Do you see this as racial in any way?

BEAZLEY: Nobody in Australia would see it as that. See, they're not looking at the perpetrators or alleged perpetrators. They're looking at the Lanes. It's empathizing with them. That's the main point for Australians.

TAPPER: Obviously, guns are another focus when people talk about this murder and how easy it is to get guns in this country. In 1996, there was a horrible slaughter in Australia. You were the opposition leader at the time.

And Australia took an unusual step of, basically -- guns aren't all gone, but most of them are gone. How much do Australians view what happened in Oklahoma as part of the gun culture in this country?

BEAZLEY: Well, look, firstly, what you do with your gun laws is your business, not ours. That's the first.

The second thing is, most Australians, and not just Australians, would be amazed by the American gun culture and the state of American law in that regard.

TAPPER: What was the rate of gun death last year? Obviously, there's still guns there. There are still illegal guns.

BEAZLEY: Right. They're illegal. Of course, there will be illegal guns. I mean, it's part of...

TAPPER: The criminal culture.

BEAZLEY: ... criminality and criminal culture.

TAPPER: What was the number last year?

BEAZLEY: There were 40 deaths last year in Australia.

TAPPER: Forty?

BEAZLEY: Forty. And previous to the laws, there had been about 100, so there's a substantial cut there.

TAPPER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for your time, and our deepest condolences from our country to yours on the death of this magnificent young man.

BEAZLEY: Thank you for passing that on, and I do hope people go and take a look at the Lane family Web site to see what they can do.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir.

BEAZLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the lieutenant governor of Texas accused of abusing his power. He says he was just helping a relative in trouble.

And President Obama has a new idea to make college more affordable. We will dip into his remarks live coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The Texas lieutenant governor is being accused of arrogance and misusing his power after he personally called police to try to get a relative out of jail.

Republican David Dewhurst is denying any wrongdoing, but his phone call was taped. It's public now, and it's definitely a political problem for him.

CNN's Athena Jones has more on the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LT. GOV. DAVID DEWHURST (R), TEXAS: I just want to build little bit on what Governor Perry said.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Abuse of power or just a high-ranking politician trying to help a relative in trouble?

DEWHURST: This is David Dewhurst, lieutenant governor of the state of Texas. And I want to talk to the senior officer who is there at your department right now.

JONES: That's the question facing Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst after he called police August 3 on behalf of his nephew's wife, who had been arrested for shoplifting.

Ellen Bevers, a schoolteacher, was accused of stealing $57 worth of groceries from this Kroger's outside Dallas. Dewhurst said the alleged theft was inadvertent.

DEWHURST: I would like to find out what I need to do to get her out of jail, post bond, whatever. That's the sweetest woman in the world. Sergeant, you don't know me, but I am every year the number one pick of all of the law enforcement agencies within Texas.

JONES: The lieutenant governor asked for cell phone numbers for the county judge, the sheriff and the police sergeant's immediate supervisor, numbers the sergeant wouldn't provide. Dewhurst, a Republican who's running for reelection next year, insisted he wanted to follow the law and -- quote -- "not circumvent anything."

DEWHURST: I intend to jump into this and see what can be done to prevent this very nice lady through a miscarriage of justice to spend a night in jail. But I may not be able to do anything, all right, but it's whatever the law says.

JONES: Dewhurst's spokesman said: "David acted as a concerned family member in an attempt to acquire information on how to post bail for his niece while reiterating multiple times in the full conversation that law enforcement follow their normal protocols and procedures."

Todd Staples, a Republican agriculture commissioner who is running against Dewhurst, compared him to Will Ferrell's "Anchorman" character, Ron Burgundy, tweeting: "Dew's call to Allen P.D. sounds like anchorman Ron Burgundy. I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal. People know me."

Dewhurst wasn't able to secure Bevers' release that night. She was booked on a misdemeanor and released on $500 bond the next morning. The Allen Police Department said Dewhurst crossed no lines.

SGT. JOHN FELTY, ALLEN, TEXAS, POLICE: He didn't threaten anybody, he didn't demand anything. He didn't ask for anything that was above and beyond what any normal citizen would.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: So, did Dewhurst act inappropriately? It depends on who you ask. Sergeant Felty, the police department spokesman I talked to, said, yes, the lieutenant governor identified himself, but that's who he is. He didn't do anything illegal. Felty also said, I would want an uncle like that if I were in jail. Wouldn't you?

TAPPER: Thanks, Athena. I have a feeling this story's not quite over yet.

Still ahead, he's rich and famous and he stars on a hit TV show, but now Ashton Kutcher has something else. Some top Republicans think he's a role model.

And President Obama's on a two-day bus tour. He's got a message about the cost of college, and we will go to him live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Now to the new claims of a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of Syrians, many of them children.

The U.S. and the U.N. are investigating the allegations, but that's not satisfying some of President Obama's critics. They say his red line for taking military action against the Syrian regime clearly has been crossed. Here's our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jake.

You know, this attack was very well documented, and we have to warn our viewers, the video and the photographs are very disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): At least 1,000 victims, many of them women and children, are reported dead in a possible chemical weapons attack, this time near Damascus, raising questions once more about President Barack Obama's red line.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: The president has directed the intel community here in the United States to urgently gather additional information. That is our focus on this end.

DOUGHERTY: The U.N. is asking the Syrian government to allow a chemical weapons inspection team to investigate. U.S. officials say, so far, they cannot conclusively determine whether chemical weapons were used and they're not saying exactly what President Obama would do if they were.

PSAKI: This would be an outrageous escalation of chemical weapons use, if we are -- if the facts are found to be true, and the president has a range of options to consider.

DOUGHERTY: A year ago this month, Obama drew his red line.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

DOUGHERTY: But that means nothing to Syrian President Bashar al- Assad, argues Senator John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president of the United States says that if he uses these weapons, that it would be -- quote -- "a red line" and a game changer. He now sees that as a green light, and that is the word of the president of the United States can no longer be taken seriously.

DOUGHERTY: McCain says it's time to take military action. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, cautions, "The use of U.S. military force can change the military balance, but it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict."

(on camera): And you're also checking the actual pictures on YouTube?

NAJIB GHADBIAN, SYRIAN OPPOSITION REPRESENTATIVE: Yes.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In Washington, the U.S. representative of the Syrian opposition studies the gruesome photos of families killed in the attack. There should be consequences, he says.

GHADBIAN: You need to at least have the credible threat of the use of force, which has been lacking. And Bashar al-Assad takes that very seriously. He's been given all of the wrong signals in the past. And, so, all of those wrong signals meant to him a license to kill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: Now, the State Department is saying that if this is determined to be a chemical weapons attack, it would be an outrageous escalation, but they're not saying whether the president would escalate his response -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jill Dougherty at the State Department, thank you.

Next: candid talk about terror and government surveillance from the head of the FBI.

And Ashton Kutcher finds some unlikely fans in Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh? Details of what the actor said that was music to conservative ears.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Happening now: an ousted leader out of prison. Are Egyptians angry about the fate of Hosni Mubarak?

Plus, a new role for actor Ashton Kutcher -- why he's getting applause from high-profile conservatives like Sarah Palin.

And imagine you're hanging out on the beach when you see this motorized monster coming your way.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Jake Tapper. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak walked out of prison today, two years after his ouster during the Arab spring revolution, but he's still not yet a free man.

CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from Cairo.

Nick, tell us about Mubarak's release.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's technical reasons why he was let out, which is the last of three corruption charges he was facing. There's a court hearing. The lawyer said he's paid the money back and he's been in the jail longer than Egyptian law would allow without a conviction.

That's why he was physically allowed out and there is a political reason why we had these incredible scenes today of a blue and white helicopter landing in Tora prison, where he's languished for over a year, moving him to Maadi military hospital, much better conditions for an 85-year-old infirm man.

That helicopter lands. An ambulance whisks him inside, soldiers running in behind like the army s embracing almost its old figurehead from so many decades. But, politically, it seems that the military feels this move was possible at this time. Cairo is deadly silent right now because of the curfew and strong security forces present.

So, even if people were wanting to protest, they may have been reticent. And, of course, people could also have been tired of the brutality and unrest of the past week. It was strange, Jake, really that one of the first things the army and interim administration do once they have cleared the protest of their opposition is ameliorate the circumstances for Hosni Mubarak -- Jake.

TAPPER: No, it's interesting.

And, Nick, I know the streets are empty because of the curfew, but have you seen any evidence of outrage on the part of the Egyptian people? We all remember two years ago the ecstasy, the delight once Mubarak was toppled. Are people upset? Is there any evidence they're upset that he's now free, to a degree?

WALSH: Well, almost as remarkable as the timing of the military's decision to do this right now in this period of such volatility is the apathy we seem to have noticed in Cairo.

There have been practically no, as far as I'm aware of, demonstrations against this decision. Tamarod, the rebellion movement that pushed out the Morsy Brotherhood administration, they came out and said they were angry about it, but they thought Egypt had a lot of other problems to worry about, and also blamed the previous Brotherhood administration for not pressing the charges against him fast enough.

I saw some people outside the prison themselves protesting, but they were all holding signs of Hosni Mubarak and celebrating his release by throwing candy into the crowd; 30 men turning up with a huge Egyptian flag they waved.

So what is interesting is whatever anger there is at the potential turning back of the clock many see by the army and proving the circumstances of kind of the foremost authoritarian dictator to fall when the Arab Spring began 2 1/2 years ago. They're keeping that anger private, perhaps, and certainly not letting it turn into protests at this point, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you and please stay safe.

He took over the FBI just days before the 9/11 terror attacks changed everything. But now, as Robert Mueller serves his final days as FBI director, he's talking candidly about terrorism and the massive government surveillance programs designed, he says, to prevent it. Mueller talked to CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: If we had the kind of intelligence that we were collecting through the NSA before September 11, the kind of intelligence collection that we have now, do you think 9/11 would have been prevented?

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I think there's a good chance that we would have prevented at least a part of 9/11. In other words there were four planes. There were almost 20, 19 persons involved, but I think we would have had a much better chance of identifying those individuals who were contemplating that attack.

JOHNS: By this mass collection of information?

MUELLER: By the various programs that have been put in place since then.

JOHNS: Do you foresee the day when the United States arms drones to take out individuals who are posing threats to Americans on American soil?

MUELLER: No, I do not.

JOHNS: You rule it out?

MUELLER: I do not see that day. And I will tell you that as well, when you talk about UAVs, there's been some discussion recently about the FBI's use of it. We have used it a handful of times to provide surveillance in tactical situations, where, for instance, we have a hostage rescue operation undergoing, and for very narrow tactical purposes in limited situations.

JOHNS: Do you foresee the day when most Americans are surveilled by drones at one time or another?

MUELLER: No. No. No, I do not.

JOHNS: Not realistic, even though the technology's there?

MUELLER: No, no, no. I do not think that.

JOHNS: Are we at the day where Big Brother is now present in Americans' lives?

MUELLER: I wouldn't go so far as to say that at all, no. I would think the programs that have come -- come under scrutiny recently are designed to pick up, for the most part, meta data, or to extent that there is more than meta data, you have to do it by court order, and they're tailored to do that.

JOHNS: We've given up some civil liberties, though.

MUELLER: Well, I would query about what you mean in terms of civil liberties and what we have given up.

Yes, do we exchange information in ways we did not before? Absolutely. You can say, well, that is a, to the extent that you exchange information between CIA, FBI, NSA and the like, you could characterize that as somehow giving up liberties, but the fact of the matter is, it's understandable and absolutely necessary if you want to protect the security of the United States.

JOHNS: Edward Snowden, sensitive topic, I would take it.

MUELLER: Yes.

JOHNS: One question about him is whether the government botched the situation with him, at least getting him back. Do you think the government botched the...

MUELLER: I'm not certain what you would be alluding to. I don't think in any way...

JOHNS: Well, he slipped out of the country.

MUELLER: No. I don't think there is any opportunity to -- that would -- you would look back and say, look, we botched something like that, no. I just -- I don't think that's accurate at all.

JOHNS: What about just detecting what he was doing?

MUELLER: Well, I think you will see, without getting into details, ourselves, NSA and others are putting into place measures that would perhaps stop an individual such as this in the future undertaking the same activity.

JOHNS: Do you think the Benghazi investigation was a failure?

MUELLER: No, absolutely not.

JOHNS: Getting people on the ground so late?

MUELLER: No, no, no, no. It is not a failure, has not been...

JOHNS: It was hard to get people on the ground, though.

MUELLER: It is. It's a unique situation. I'm not going to say it's not, because it is a unique situation and very difficult for us to operate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And Joe Johns joins me now.

Joe, Mueller worked closely with two very different presidents. What was his take on working with Bush and Obama?

JOHNS: Well, surprisingly, and perhaps for some not, he said they're very similar. George W. Bush and President Obama have a similar commitment on national security issues, as well as criminal justice issues.

But what he said is different is the approach. George W. Bush approached things much more like a CEO would, and Obama approaches things with a legal perspective, and that's really not that surprising when you consider their personal backgrounds.

TAPPER: Interesting. Joe Johns, thanks so much. Great work.

President Obama is in New York to talk about reducing college costs. We're going to dip into his remarks live, coming up.

But first, a moment of classic "CROSSFIRE" with one of the hosts of the new "CROSSFIRE," Van Jones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN JONES, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": When they say the more things change, the more they stay the same, right now our do-nothing Congress is on vacation, but back in 1998, we had a future speaker of the House on "CROSSFIRE," and he was defending the record of another do-nothing Congress. Check this out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's projected you're going to work 89 days max this year. Why should we pay you for more than 89 when you're only working 89?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, that's 89 days here in Washington, but as you know, we've got constituents at home. We've got issues in our district that we need to deal with, and the fact is, this is classic Washington thinking, that if we're not passing some new, big government program or issuing new regulations, getting into the pockets of our constituents, then we're not working.

Unfortunately, most Americans don't agree with your premise that this is a do-nothing Congress. (END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Happening right now, President Obama's in Syracuse, New York. He's on a two-day bus tour to address the problem of skyrocketing college costs and crippling student debt. He's unveiling a plan to help students make smarter choices by creating a federal system to rate colleges' efforts to keep expenses down. Let's listen in.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... at a certain point aren't going to be able to send their kids to school.

And state legislatures, they can't just keep cutting support for public colleges and universities. Colleges can't just keep on raising tuition year after year and pushing these state cutbacks onto students and families, and federal taxpayers are not going to be able to make up all the difference.

Our economy can't afford the trillion dollars -- $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, because when young people have that much debt, that means they can't buy a home. It means they can't start the business that maybe they've got a great idea for.

And we can't price the middle class and everybody working to get in the middle class out of a college education. It will put our young generation of workers at a competitive disadvantage for years.

So, if higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America -- and it is -- then we've got to make sure it's within reach. We've got to make sure that we are improving economic mobility, not making it worse. Higher education should not be a luxury. It is a necessity, an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

So -- now, so, what are we going to do about it? Today, what I've done is proposed major, new reforms that will shake up the current system. We want to create better incentives for colleges to do more with less and to deliver better value for our students and their families. And some of these reforms will require action from Congress, which is always difficult. Some of these changes, though, I can make on my own.

And we want to work -- we want to work with colleges to keep costs down. States are going to need to make higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And, by the way, we're going to ask more from students, as well, if they're receiving financial aid.

And some of these reforms won't be popular for -- with everybody, because some folks are making out just fine under the status quo, but my concern is not to look out just for the institutions. I want to look out for the students who these institutions exist to serve. And I think -- I've got confidence that our country's colleges and universities will step up to the plate if they're given the right incentives. They, too, should want to do the right thing for students.

So, let me be specific. Here are three things we're going to do. No. 1, I'm directing my administration to come up with a new ratings system for colleges that will score colleges on opportunity, whether they're helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed, and on outcomes, whether students are graduating with manageable debt, whether they're actually graduating in the first place, whether they have strong career potential when they graduate. That's the kind of information that will help students and parents figure out how much value a particular college truly offers.

Right now, all these ranking systems, they rank you higher if you charge more and you let in fewer students. But you should have a better sense of who's actually graduating students and giving you a good deal.

So, down the road, we're going to use these ratings. We hope, by working with Congress, to change how we allocate federal aid for colleges.

And we're going to deliver on a promise that I made last year -- colleges that keep their tuition down are the ones that will see their taxpayer funding go up. We've got to stop subsidizing schools that are not getting good results. Start rewarding schools that deliver for the students and deliver for America's future. That's our goal.

Our second goal: we want to encourage more colleges to embrace innovation, to try new ways of providing a great education without breaking the bank.

A growing number of colleges across the country are testing some new approaches, so they're finding new ways, for example, to use online education to save time and money. Some are trying what you're doing right here in Syracuse, creating partnerships between high school and colleges so students can get an early jump on their degree; they can graduate faster. That means they're paying less in tuition.

I want to see more schools and states get in the game so more students can get an education that costs less but still maintains high quality. And we know it can be done. It's just we've got to get everybody doing it, not just a few schools or a few cities around the country. That's the second goal.

Somebody screamed, and I thought somebody fell, but they were just excited.

No. 3, we're going to make sure that if you've taken on debt to earn your degree, that you can manage and afford it. You know, nobody wants to take on debt, but even if we do a good job controlling tuition costs, you know, some young people are still going to have to take out some loans. But, you know, we think of that as a good investment because it pays off in time, as long as it stays manageable, as long as you can pay it back.

And remember, again, Michelle and I, we went through this. It took us a long time to pay off our student loans, but we could always manage it. It didn't get out of hand. And I don't want debt to keep young people, some who are here today, from going into professions like teaching, for example that may not pay as much money but are of huge value to the country. And I sure don't want young people not being able to buy a home or get married or start a business because they're so loaded down with debt. So, what we've done is we've...

TAPPER: I want to bring in our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's with the president right now in Syracuse.

Jim, are you there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I am here, Jake.

This was very much, you know -- the president has said, as you know, Jake, that he's run for his last election, but this felt very much like a campaign swing across upstate New York today, starting in Buffalo, now in Syracuse, talking about this higher education plan that would set up this new ratings system for colleges and universities.

But you know, Jake, he also took time out to try to set the stage for these debates that are coming up in the fall in Washington on the debt ceiling and the budget. He even took time out to call out Republicans who have said that the government should be shut down if Obama care is not defunded.

But these foreign crises, Jake, just keep creeping in. They keep creeping into the conversation for this president and for this administration. Administration officials saying earlier today that the president has ordered his intelligence advisers to review what has happened in Syria, reviewing those reports of chemical attacks around Damascus; and a senior defense official has told CNN that the military is now reviewing options for the president, should he decide to take some sort of course of action in the coming days.

Now, the president will get back on that bus tomorrow. He's going to hit Binghamton and then Scranton, Pennsylvania where the vice president, who has been through a pretty tough time this week because of his ailing son, the vice president will be with the president, we have confirmed, for tomorrow, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta with the president.

We should note that CNN's Chris Cuomo is getting a rare interview with President Obama on the problem of student debt, and of course, much, much more. Be sure to watch that tomorrow on CNN's "NEW DAY," beginning at 6 a.m. Eastern.

Up next, Ashton Kutcher adds Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh to his list of fans, and we'll tell you why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Now, when you think of Ashton Kutcher, the words "conservative" darling might not have come to mind until now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A record is real and takes hard work.

MICHELE BACHMANN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The value of hard work and the work ethic.

TAPPER (voice-over): Hard work, effort, a favorite conservative applause line.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Values of hard work.

TAPPER: And a classic mantra for success, recently championed by Ashton Kutcher.

ASHTON KUTCHER, ACTOR: But I never quit my job until I had my next job.

TAPPER: The Hollywood star gave this speech at the Nickelodeon Teen Choice Awards earlier this month.

KUTCHER: And so opportunities look a lot like work.

TAPPER: And to some viewers his words looked a lot like a golden ticket to the GOP's good side.

Cue Rush Limbaugh.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: What he said could have been written by me.

TAPPER: And Glenn Beck on "The Blaze."

GLENN BECK, TALK RADIO HOST: What he's saying here is the American position.

TAPPER: Sarah Palin put this tribute to Kutcher on her Facebook page, adding a logo for her PAC Web site, of course.

KUTCHER: Look, a gun says to look at FOX (ph).

TAPPER: Are we being punked? Kutcher, the trucker hat trendsetter who created the aptly named M-TV show "Punk'd," is hardly famous as a conservative icon. He's best known for pranks. And his role as Kelso on "That '70s Show."

KUTCHER: Twenty-three beers.

TAPPER: Despite his early dimwitted roles, Kutcher now reigns as primetime television's highest-paid actor.

KUTCHER: I'm worth, like, a billion dollars.

TAPPER: A title he earned for his role in "Two and a Half Men."

Unfortunately for his newest fans, Kutcher gave $50,000 of those earnings to Democratic campaigns last year.

But that's not all. The Iowa native, who separated from Demi Moore in 2011, is also a successful investor. His past support of the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign didn't reap rewards, but his backing of new-tech start-ups has.

KUTCHER: One of the things I try to do is invest in companies that solve problems for real people.

TAPPER: In 2011 Kutcher started A-Grade investments and has since been an early investor in growing companies like Skype, Spotify and Foursquare.

His other business, Katalyst, is a media content creator and wound up on "Fast Company's" top ten list in 2010. This year alone the actor has earned $24 million, according to "Forbes," and it's only August, so maybe we should all listen up.

KUTCHER: And I've never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job.

TAPPER: Study up, work hard, good advice whether you're liberal or conservative.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Coming up, a day at the beach takes a shocking turn.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Wait until you see what washed up on the beach. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not since Bubba Watson's Bubba-craft golf cart zipped through a water hazard has a hovercraft made such a smash.

Imagine you're frolicking in the sand when this thing comes ashore like a motorized whale beaching itself. On this Baltic Sea beach there seemed to be no panic. The cell phones captured the surreal scene from various angles.

This class of Russian navy hovercraft is the largest in the world, but what's it doing among all those sunbathers?

Normally we expect our beaches to be terrorized by "Jaws." Or the Montauk Monster.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ew, what is that?

MOOS: Either a decomposed raccoon or a prank. But this was no prank. The Russians have confirmed the training exercise. Internet posters cracked, "Only in Russia," "Too much vodka."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Soviet Russia boat rides you!

MOOS: After all, this is a country where a dash board cam can catch a tank interrupting the daily commute. Actually the tank's manufacturer says it had the light as it went from the factory to the test range.

From gigantic hovercraft to mini submersible, that's Russian President Vladimir Putin going for a dive last month. One British tabloid dubbed it "From Russia with sub."

And now from Russia, this.

(on camera): The Russian defense ministry says the beach is used for military training and that it's the people who shouldn't have been there, that there were signs prohibiting passage.

(voice-over): The giant hovercraft didn't mow down anyone like the one in "Rumble in the Bronx." One Web jokester couldn't resist...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that? It's everywhere!

MOOS: ... adding a soundtrack worthy of a horror movie.

(SCREAMS)

MOOS (on camera): Like they say in "Moby Dick," "Thar there she blows!"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thar she blows.

MOOS (voice-over): But Moby Dick is so 1800s. Now it's Moby hovercraft. Instead of that famous line from "Jaws"...

ROY SCHEIDER, ACTOR: You're going to need a bigger boat.

MOOS: In Russia you're going to need a bigger beach.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(SCREAMS)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.