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Fort Hood Shooter Convicted; San Diego Mayor Set to Resign; WWII Vet Beaten to Death; Logging Deadlier Than "Deadliest Catch"; Obama Discusses Crisis in Syria

Aired August 23, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So what will Bob Filner do for his next job? Wet T-shirt contest judge? Is Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce hiring?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, this could be Mayor Bob Filner's last hour in office. The city council its meeting at this moment to decide the fate of the San Diego Democrat. But will taxpayers be stuck with the bill?

In other national news, the Fort Hood shooter was today convicted on all counts. Now the question before the court, should he be put to death? Isn't that exactly what he wanted in the first place? How his victims are reacting coming right up.

Plus, senseless and shocking -- an arrest made after two teens allegedly pummelled an elderly World War II vet to death for simply minding his own business. Why all these random acts of violence?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead and a moment some people have been waiting for for weeks. Right now, we are waiting to here if San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is official out of a job. Filner has been under pressure for weeks to step down after being publicly accused of sexually harassing, if not assaulting 18 women.

We are watching as the San Diego City Council is reviewing a proposed mediation deal for Filner's resignation. Those are live shots from inside the City Council. We will know the details of the agreement soon.

But "The Los Angeles Times" is already reporting that one sticking point would leave the city, in other words, taxpayers, picking up the tab for Filner's legal fees.

CNN's Casey Wian is inside City Hall right now, where that meeting is taking place. He joins us by phone.

Casey, have you learned anything more about the terms of this agreement?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have not, Jake. Those terms will be revealed to the members of the City Council once they go into their closed session. Right now, what you are seeing is them preparing for an open session. There's a couple hundred people who have gathered in the City Council chambers, both supporters and opponents of Mayor Filner's. Some have been arguing in the past hour or so in preparation of this meeting. They want their voices to be heard before the City Council makes its decision whether to accept this proposed settlement or not.

One thing we do know, though, is one of the members of the City Council, Kevin Faulconer, who is involved in the negotiations, put out a statement saying that his intention in this mediation process has been to get the best deal he could for San Diego taxpayers. So, clearly, there will be a financial component to this proposed settlement.

Also, he talked about San Diego needing to end this gridlock that the city is in, this nightmare that the city has been going through. So obviously that includes the proposed resignation of Mayor Filner. Beyond that, the specific details, we do not know. We are expecting to hear those after the closed session and the City Council comes out and talks about it.

TAPPER: Casey, how long is this closed session expected to last?

WIAN: We just have no idea. It could be a rubber-stamp kind of thing, because all nine members of the City Council have publicly said they want Mayor Filner to resign.

But if there are members who have concerns about the financial implications of this settlement, how much taxpayers might be on the hook for in terms of proposed settlements or sexual harassment lawsuits, there could be some discussion. My sense is, it's not going to last a very long time and we should have some answer within an hour or so.

But that is just a guess, Jake.

TAPPER: We learned today Filner met with some of his staff members on Wednesday. Do we know was the a goodbye meeting and did he apologize?

WIAN: The way it was described to me by a staff member who was in that meeting was very awkward and the staffers were very disappointed. They had expected more from Mayor Filner.

They had expected some sort of an apology for letting them down, for what he has put the city through. They did not get that. All he said basically to them according to the staffer I spoke with was, we will see you Friday. Friday is now here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Casey Wian, thank you so much.

Casey will stay in that meeting and we will let you know as soon as the deal is reached. And we will bring it to you live what the deal is. Major Nidal Hasan wanted to plead guilty right off the bat. The justice system in a military he turned against, well, that is what got in the way. But today a jury finally convicted the Army psychiatrist on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in the November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, a massacre in which Hasan targeted soldiers who were set to deploy to Afghanistan with him.

Hasan represented himself in the case. He did not mount a defense at all after the prosecution called nearly 90 witnesses and presented hundreds of pieces of evidence. His standby attorneys tried to bail halfway through the trial, saying it was morally wrong to represent someone who is essentially on a suicide mission.

In fact, Hasan started the trial by telling the jury -- quote -- "I am the shooter."

Joining us on the phone is Joshua Gadlin. His wife, Amber was shot and wounded by Hasan.

Joshua, thanks for being with us.

What's you and your wife's reaction to this verdict?

JOSHUA GADLIN, HUSBAND OF VICTIM: I mean, to be honest, Jake, we're very happy. We're very pleased with it.

TAPPER: Obviously, the sentencing comes next, and the death penalty is on the table. Do you want him to get the death penalty, even though that is what Hasan wants? He wants to be a martyr.

GADLIN: Well, I myself, personally, Jake, I don't think he should get the death penalty, because that's what he wants.

It's what the victims and the deceased family members want.

TAPPER: Does this bring any closure, today's verdict?

GADLIN: Yes. I think it brings a lot of closure to the surviving victims and the family members of the deceased. I think it brings a lot of closure

COOPER: And, Joshua, how is your wife, before you go? How is she doing?

GADLIN: She is doing OK.

She's not 100 percent. She suffers from PTSD from the shooting. And right now, she needs a lot of counseling, professional help right now. She needs medication. She needs the assistance that the VA is trying to give her, but they're not really following through with everything. But she's doing fairly well.

TAPPER: She testified against Hasan. Before you go, I just want to ask you one more thing. There was a lot of debate about the military considering this workplace violence. The Pentagon says they did this, they call it workplace violence because they didn't want to give Hasan an excuse to say he wasn't getting a fair trial.

Do you want the Pentagon, now that verdict is in, after the sentencing is done, do you want the Pentagon to call this an act of terrorism?

GADLIN: Yes. It was an act of terrorism. He attacked military soldiers. And even if they don't call it terrorism, it's domestic terrorism.

Any kind of act that is committed like that, it is a terrorist attack.

TAPPER: All right, Joshua, thank you so much. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your wife.

Let's bring in Reed Rubinstein. He's an attorney for about 150 Fort Hood victims and their families.

Reid, thank you for being here. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: How do the families you have spoken to feel about this verdict?

RUBINSTEIN: Pretty much like Josh.

They're pleased. It is certainly not the end of their search for justice. But to paraphrase, it is the end of the beginning. And now that the government has twisted itself into pretzels over these past almost four years to ensure that Major Hasan gets his due process, we're looking forward to making sure the same thing is done for his victims.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the death penalty that is on the table with the verdict. He wants the death penalty. He wants to be a martyr.

Is that a consideration at all for the victims and their families that you speak with?

RUBINSTEIN: It is split. For some, it is. For some, it isn't. There are quite a number who would look to see him pay the ultimate price and go wherever he is going to go.

Others, as you heard, take a slightly different view. From our standpoint, though, we are focused on the victims and caring for them. Hasan made it clear what he was going to do for years before he did it. He has made it clear in documents that he has released during the trial why he did it. The Army knew. The government knew. The FBI knew within moments after he was identified as the shooter why he did what he did. There is no doubt.

And the charade about workplace violence is over. It is time to move on and take care of the victims.

TAPPER: Explain to me why you think it is that the military ignored taking any serious action even though they knew of his belief in jihad and other things leading to this incident? RUBINSTEIN: It is interesting. The Senate did an investigation, a very extensive investigation in 2011, issued a report. The Senate blamed political correctness for the Army's fail your to act.

The Webster Commission report which was done on the FBI's failure came out in August of 2012. And it also intimates that political correctness was the FBI's failure to notify the Army of Hasan's communications with Anwar al-Awlaki. That's the evidence that we have in front of us. We anticipate that there's more, but it's certainly enough to give a pretty good indication of why this happened.

TAPPER: When people say political correctness, I don't even understand what that means. I know plenty of Muslims. Not any of them would engage in anything like what he was doing. I don't know what there is to tiptoe around. If somebody is looking at chat rooms that call for jihad, that is a whole separator issue.

But I want to move on to one thing, because we only have a minute left, which is this issue whether or not the Pentagon should now take a second look and classify this as an act of terrorism, as opposed to workplace violence. What does that mean tangibly to the victims? What's the difference, other than obviously they would get Purple Hearts?

RUBINSTEIN: That is a big difference, because that has, first of all, the recognition they have been denied up to now.

It also has certain benefits that go with it. There are other certain benefits. And a letter that was sent by some congressmen to the Pentagon lays out in very clear detail the difference in benefits that they receive. But at the end of the day, this is about recognizing their sacrifice and admitting that this was a terrorist act.

Look, the government has acknowledged it's terrorism. The National Counterterrorism Center called this a mass terrorist attack.

TAPPER: Of course. I don't think there is any question it was an act of terrorism.

RUBINSTEIN: There's no question.

It's time for the government to play straight. It's time for them to tell the truth. It's time for them to tell the victims the truth and be straight with the American people. This was terrorism. It should be treated as such. And the victims should be treated accordingly.

TAPPER: All right. Attorney Reed Rubinstein, thank you so much for being here.

RUBINSTEIN: Thank you so much for having us.

TAPPER: And we hope that your clients achieve the closure that they need.

RUBINSTEIN: We're going to work for it. Thank you.

TAPPER: I hope so.

Coming up next on THE LEAD: An 88-year-old World War II veteran was beaten and left for dead allegedly by two teenagers. The motive? Police say there wasn't one. I will speak with the man's daughter-in- law about how her family is coping with the senseless murder.

Plus, ESPN backs out of a film project on head injuries in professional football. Did the NFL commissioner have anything to do with ESPN changing its mind?


TAPPER: In other national news, yet another senseless and sickening attack. Police in Spokane, Washington, say they have made an arrest after an 88-year-old World War II veteran was beaten to death allegedly by two teenagers.

The man, Delbert Belton, was a retired aluminum worker who had been shot in the leg during the battle of Okinawa, one of the longest and costliest battles of the Pacific war. The medical examiner's officer confirmed today that he died from blunt head injuries. This appears to be another random attack right on the heels of the murder of an Australian baseball player in Oklahoma just because the attackers were bored, according to police.

Joining us by phone is Bobbie Belton. She's the daughter-in-law of Delbert Belton, the victim.

Bobbie, thanks for joining us.

First of all, this must be a terrible time for your family. Our thoughts, and our prayers, and condolences are with you. How is your family holding up?

BOBBIE BELTON, DAUGHTER-IN-LAW VICTIM: Well, as well as can be expected, part of it because my husband has been ill and in the hospital. He's paralyzed from a cancer on the spine.

So we have been dealing with that. And then to have this happen, and we come to the hospital and have to tell him that his father was brutally beaten, it was difficult. But...


TAPPER: How did you find out what happened to your father-in-law?

BELTON: A friend of his that was with him that night called me from the hospital. And then the doctor that was in the ICU called and was -- gave me more information about, you know, the injuries. And probably wouldn't survive the night. And so --

TAPPER: Tell us --

BELTON: That is how we found out about it.

TAPPER: Tell us about your father-in-law. We know he was a World War II veteran. What would you look people at home to know about him?

BELTON: Well, he had lots of friends. Bill and Delbert weren't that close. But he lived here, you know we live in the same town. And we saw them off and on.

TAPPER: Have you been given any sense of why this happened to your father-in-law? Why he was beaten? What the motivation was for the attackers?

BELTON: Speculation was because the kids wanted money. And, of course, my feeling is about -- many teenagers today is they feel like they can do or take anything from anybody and do whatever they want no matter the consequences or whatever. And I just think that's so sad that -- and he was not a person -- if you came up to him that looked like he had a lot of money. So, I don't know how much money they thought they were going to get from him.

So, it's just a sad, sad situation.

TAPPER: What have the police or investigators told you about the alleged perpetrators?

BELTON: Nothing. I haven't talked to them at all. They told me nothing.

TAPPER: All right, Bobbie Belton. Thank you, our thoughts and prayers with your family once again.

BELTON: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next on THE LEAD: what job is 40 times more deadly than the average? The latest government rankings are out and we'll tell you what topped the list.

And he has won Golden Globes and at least two Oscars. But that doesn't mean Batman fans want Ben Affleck to actually play Batman. What's behind the Bat-fleck backlash?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Money lead now. Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, heads up our money lead. He says he will retire in the next 12 months. Ballmer, he's one of those people who is in the right place at right time, friends with Bill Gates when Microsoft was still a little upstart tech firm. Ballmer was named CEO in the year 2000.

Microsoft had a few wins during his tenure but it also had rough times, losing more than half its market value, putting out a buggy operating system and falling behind Apple and Google in the mobile market. Company shares actually went up 7 percent when he announced his retirement.

It's a dubious distinction to say the least -- the deadliest job in the U.S. right now logging. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says so. Sixty-four loggers were killed on the job last year.

And the overall percentage of fatalities in the industry is up. In fact, if you are a logger, your job is 40 more times likely to kill you than the average job. Experts believe one reason logging is so risky is because of the boom in new home construction. Companies might be hiring inexperienced workers to meet the demand.

And the movie "Norma Rae" comes to mind, except this is about quick meals and not textile mills. Fast food workers in the South plan to demand higher wages since the bigger campaign began last year. Next week, they'll serve up protests in Memphis, Raleigh, Tampa and other cities. They want $15 an hour and the right to organize without a fear of getting sacked like a bag of fries.

Right now, most folks who take your orders and serve up your burgers make about $9 an hour. Over a year, it's nearly $5,000 below the government defined poverty level for a family of four.

Coming up -- the evidence points to a massacre. Will it be enough off to change the president's calculus this time? CNN's one-on-one interview with President Obama coming up next.

And later, they're training for the battlefield kicks in on the home front and saves a life.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The world lead -- the situation in Syria reaches a new level of horrific. A video that shows streets lined with the bodies of children may be the most powerful proof yet of a chemical weapons attack. But is it not enough to spur the U.S. into action?

CNN goes one-on-one with President Obama in an exclusive interview.

The sports lead -- talk about getting the stiff arm, ESPN is under fire for backing out of an in-depth investigation into the league's concussion problem. Some suspect it's because the NFL commish put the kibosh on the network's plans.

And the pop culture lead -- he may have won an Oscar for best picture of the year, but apparently, that's still not enough to watch away the stain of "Gigli". Why to cast Ben Affleck as Batman isn't flying with some fans.


TAPPER: The world lead -- the red line may have just wavered. This week, the world was forced to come to terms with images and allegations of what looks to be another chemical weapon attack in Syria. The size and scope of the violence we are talking about is enormous. According to activist groups, as many as 1,300 people are reported dead. If true, it is the most horrific chemical weapon attack since the days of Saddam Hussein. It's also the largest one day casualty report since the bloody war began in Syria.

A warning to our viewers, the video we are about to show you is deeply disturbing, but whether we're talking about Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan, or, yes, Syria, powerful images have the ability to change the perspective of both the people and their presidents. So, we show them to you now.

Many of the dead we're talking about are children. Their bodies were lined up beside their mothers. As evidence of the brutality, more disturbing video now and potentially more evidence. Britain's ITV News obtained video from what they say is a credibility, independent Syrian filmmaker and journalist, showing more victims, and again, women and children lying where they fell, seemingly suffocated.

Syrian rebels say Assad's forces launched the attack. The government as usual denies it.

President Obama is now responding to the allegations in an exclusive interview with CNN "NEW DAY's" Chris Cuomo.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are right now gathering information about this particular event. But I can say that unlike some of the evidence that we were trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria, what we have seen indicates this is clearly a big event, of grave concern. And, you know, we are already in communications with the entire international community. We are moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action from them.

And we have called on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site because U.N. inspectors are on the ground right now. We don't expect cooperation, given their past history.

And, you know, what I do believe is that although the situation in Syria is very difficult. And the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But delay can be deadly, right, Mr. President?

OBAMA: There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale -- and again we are still gathering information about this particular event -- but it is very troublesome.

CUOMO: There is strong proof they used them already, though, in the past.

OBAMA: Then, that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases, in the region.

This is something that is going to require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention.

CUOMO: Senator McCain came on NEW DAY very strong on this. He believes that the U.S. credibility in the region has been hurt. That a situation like Syria, that he believes there has been delay and it has led to a boldness by the regime there. That in Egypt, that what many believe was a coup wasn't called a coup, that led to the problems we are seeing there now.

Do you think that's fair criticism?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I am sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking situation.