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Fort Hood Gunman Guilty on all Counts; Rim Fire Burning Inside Yosemite; Aftermath of Alleged Chemical Attack; San Diego Will Know Soon if Mayor Out; Ben Affleck to Star as Next Batman

Aired August 23, 2013 - 14:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin.

We're beginning with breaking news out of Texas. A jury has found Major Nidal Hasan guilty in the Ft. Hood massacre, a rampage that took the lives of 13 of his fellow soldiers back in 2009. Frankly, it's the verdict that Hasan wanted.

CNN's Ed Lavandera just left the courtroom.

Ed, describe the scene there for us.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was an intense scene for the family members inside that courtroom as this verdict was read. In many ways, it's a verdict that everyone knew was coming but, nonetheless, still very difficult for the family members who have had to endure the pain of almost the last three weeks of listening to the testimony. And I think even more difficult yesterday during the closing arguments that prosecutors put on, watching the videotape from inside the room where the massacre occurred and everything that was left behind and the blood-stained floors, and just that difficult scene in there was very difficult for those family members who have been sitting inside that courtroom for so long.

Nidal Hasan simply stared at the soldier that read the verdict, had no reaction, just sat there stoically stroking his beard. And that was about all of the reaction we got. He has passed up on very opportunity, virtually, to make any kind of statements, testify himself. Ask -- he's only asked a handful of questions of the witnesses, many who were - many of the witnesses who were his very own victims in this case.

So it is - it will be interesting to see how Nidal Hasan continues to react throughout the remainder of this because, Brianna, we now move on to the sentencing phase and the punishment. Because of these guilty verdicts of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of premeditated attempted murder, 45 counts in all, Nidal Hasan is eligible for the death penalty here in this military justice system. So that part begins on Monday. Prosecutors are expected to call family members from each of the victims who were killed. It is not clear what Nidal Hasan will do, if he will take the opportunity to kind of make any statements. The only time he's talked was at the very beginning during the opening statements where right out of the gate he admitted he was the shooter, and then started talking about how he was, as a U.S. soldier, on the wrong side of the war and then he switched sides and that he -- that's all he said basically at this point. So many people agree that this is exactly what he wants and that he wants to be put to death.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Ed Lavandera for us there. Thank you so much.

And let's bring in Paul Callan, he is a legal expert here at CNN, to talk a little bit about this.

As you heard Ed say, Paul, you know, this isn't necessarily a surprise. But we look now to the sentencing phase. Do you have any sense what we're expecting?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, it's not a surprise. I mean, obviously, this is what he wanted. And this verdict has been give to him.

Now we begin really an elaborate process. There will be, of course, a trial on the sentence (ph) and whether the death penalty will be recommended. But, you know, then, after that, Brianna, because this is a military case, we go through a rather elaborate appellate procedure that's very different from what happens in civilian cases. The general who's in charge basically of the base in question will have the right to review the verdict and the sentence, and he could set it aside if he wanted to or he can uphold it. And then it goes into the military appellate process on its way eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court.

KEILAR: And, Paul, Hasan served as his own lawyer here. This was an unusual case. He also did not take the stand on his behalf and he didn't call witnesses. Did that surprise you?

CALLAN: It did surprise me a little bit he didn't take the stand and testify. Normally when someone chooses to represent themselves, they're doing it because they want to be able to communicate directly to the jury. He may have decided that he was able to get his message across in other ways.

The other thing that occurred to me as I watched the trial, you always worry that a defendant who represents himself in this situation, not only will do a terrible job and probably wind up with the death penalty, and he seems to be heading down that road, but that he may demonstrate himself to be mentally ill in some way and cause a situation where appellate court would look to overturn the conviction based on incompetence of the defendant in defending himself. So that's going to complicate the appellate process, the fact that he was his own counsel.

KEILAR: And this all picks up again on Monday. Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst, thank you for that.

And now we're going to move on to another breaking story. This is one out of California where a state of emergency has been declared as a massive wildfire invades one of the country's premiere national parks. This is the so-called Rim Fire which has now spread into Yosemite. It blew up overnight to cover a mind-boggling 100,000 acres. Let's go right to Nick Janes of Sacramento affiliate KOVR.

So, Nick, any mandatory evacuations underway in the park?

NICK JANES, KOVR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we haven't heard of anything involving Yosemite at this point. There are some homes to the west of the fire that have been evacuated at this point. About 300 homes, 2,500 more homes under an evacuation advisory. But that number is expected to grow here as flames continue to spread.

Behind us you can see some of the aftermath of the Rim Fire, but, of course, quite unfortunately the flames are still spreading at this hour. For the second straight night, it really blew up in the overnight hours. As you said, over 100,000 aches now, containment just at 2 percent as the fire is growing aggressively pretty much in every direction.

New this morning, we've learned, of course, it has crossed into Yosemite National Park. But also burning strongly to the west where there is a small community by the name of Pine Mountain Lake. And so there are some homes that have been evacuated there as yesterday sheriff's deputies went door-to-door and said, that's it, it's time to go. And for the rest of the folks that are under the evacuate advisory, many of them haven't left just yet but are packed and ready to do so at a moment's notice.

As far as conditions, they really are not cooperating for firefighters. This is burning in an area that is incredibly difficult, if not impossible for them to reach. Some of those rugged canyons just incredibly steep. No roads there, so they've had to attack this from the air. In fact, they had two DC 10s here yesterday performing drops, but barely made a dent in this fire. It's also burned right along Highway 120, which is the way into Yosemite from the west side, and a stretch of 120 remains closed today.

And so they've really had a multi-front fire to attack. They are struggling to do so. They have more than 2,000 firefighting personnel here on this fire, which is more than any other fire in the nation. And, Brianna, there are more firefighters on the way, more equipment as well, from all across the country as they are trying desperately to get this under control. Right now it is burning out of control.

KEILAR: And they will need it with those conditions for sure. Nick Janes of KOVR, thank you so much.

Let's go ahead now and bring in Chad Myers.

So, Chad, you heard Nick and you saw those pictures. Unbelievable. When people think of Yosemite, they think, of course, of all of those beautiful sights, those waterfalls on the valley floor. How close, now that it's in the park, do you think it is to sort of the area that people really know as Yosemite? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's about 15 miles away. Fifteen from the valley floor from Half Dome. But moving up toward Granite Dome. And if you want to look at a map, you can kind of see where it's going. San Francisco, Yosemite, the Rim Fire, right here.

And let me take you through the last five days of the Rim Fire. As it heads on up into a Granite Dome area, not going to be a lot more burning through here. There's a lot more granite than there is trees.

But here we go. Right here. This red is Monday. Then Tuesday. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.. So overnight last night, 64 square miles of new forest burned in this fire. And we'll take you down -- all the way down into the valley first and show you how close we are. About 15 miles down toward the valley. The smoke is traveling to the north, but we'll go this way.

Here is the Half Dome. And we're not blowing any smoke this way. It's all going to the north. This is what the valley looks like. A beautiful deep valley here just carved out through all of this granite. But what the reporter there talked about was the people that are being evacuated on this side, I know we're talking about Yosemite, but there are many homes from Twin Heart (ph) all the way down to the south, and even all the way down to Highway 120 that are going to have to be evacuated if this gets any closer. Right now, the fire, about four to six miles from all of these homes here. If it charges or eats a little bit away, very, very rugged terrain here. Hard for the forest fires to get to.

KEILAR: All right, Chad, thank you so much for that update.

In Lebanon, horrifying video suggests the civil war in neighboring Syria may be spilling across the border. Officials say at least 50 people were killed and 600 wounded in blasts at two mosques during Friday prayers. The mosques are in the coastal city of Tripoli. That's north of Beirut. And state-run media in Lebanon say the mosques may have had ties to rebels in Syria who are waging war against the Syrian government. One of the mosques was near the homes of Lebanon's acting prime minister and other prominent political figures. Damage was extensive in the areas around the mosques. Residents tell CNN the blasts were followed by gunfire. And state media report more than 60 vehicles were destroyed by the explosions.

A whole lot of news coming out of Syria today. U.S. military officials updating options for a forceful intervention in Syria. One plan even exploring ways to take out President Assad's capability to deliver chemical weapons.

And then there's this. It is a rare thing here at CNN for us to come across a video so graphic, so disturbing and raw that we decide to just play it raw, unedited, and we are going to be silent. I want to give you adequate warning here. You're going to want to get your kids out of the room. If you cannot watch, I urge you at least to stay with us as we talk about this footage. ITV News claims that it was obtained from what it says is a credible, independent Syrian filmmaker and journalist. And here it is.


KEILAR: Rebel fighters say their government did this, claiming more than 1,300 people died, many of them children, as you see there, in this alleged chemical weapons attack. And Ivan Watson is here. He's our senior international correspondent.

Ivan, you've reported extensively from inside of Syria. You've met with people on both sides of the fighting. What do you make of what we're seeing in these pictures?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These are haunting images, Brianna. And we're not showing them because we're - because we love these gruesome images, but because they could be evidence that they could make a case that weapons of mass destruction, that chemical weapons were used, as has been alleged, but not verified thus far in these communities around the capital Damascus. And if the casualty figures that the opposition are claiming are anywhere close to the figures that we're hearing, 1,300 or more, this would be the deadliest use of chemical weapons in the region and in the world since 1988 when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in the northern town of Halabja.

And what is very disturbing, I've been to that town of Halabja before, is that the iconic images of the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds in Halabja are quite similar to these images that we're seeing from the neighborhoods and suburbs around Damascus. It's very striking that there is this similarity here. Of course, it's very important to note that we have not confirmed this. Nobody has confirmed, in fact, whether chemical weapons were used for killing these civilians. And also the strange images that we've seen of piles of sheep, for instance, dead, of cats and dogs dead in the street. That also suggests perhaps they inhaled something terrible and poisonous.


KEILAR: And now, Ivan, people want to know, what is the U.S. going to do? So I want to play you this sound. It's from a CNN exclusive interview with President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, you know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account. Now - now this --

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": You don't believe you've seen enough?

OBAMA: Well, this latest event is something that we've got to take a look at. But keep in mind also, Chris, because I know the American people keep this in mind, we've still got a war going on in Afghanistan. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Preoccupied with the war in Afghanistan. It really seems like he's sort of cautioning against the U.S. getting involved here. What do you make of his reasoning, Ivan?

WATSON: Well, it's very clear that the Obama administration has been very reluctant to get involved in the Syrian conflict, which has been going on for more than two years, which has led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people and at least close to 2 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Today, the United Nations saying the millionth child refugee has fled the country.

Now, here we have allegations of again what could be one of the worst chemical weapons attacks really in decades taking place in Syria. The question is, what can the U.S. do? Can it use force? And what will that accomplish? It can punish the Assad regime, which has been in an all-out war with Syrian rebels now for several years. An Assad regime that has been willing to use scud missiles against other Syrian cities and towns. What could potentially cruise missile strikes or air strikes accomplish? And that's a question I can't really answer because so much of Syria has been destroyed already over the course of the past two years.

A defense official has been talking to our Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon and saying that one of the options being looked at would be potentially trying to hit potential areas where these chemical weapons are being stored by the Syrian military.


KEILAR: All right. And we will continue to pursue more information on what those options are. Ivan Watson, thank you.

Coming up, very soon the mayor of - the mayor who was accused of sexual harassment by now 18 different woman may be calling it quits. This is a source tells CNN about Bob Filner's awkward staff meeting this week.

Plus, a major scare involving Jennifer Lopez. We are getting word that a man lived on the grounds of her mansion for six days without anybody knowing. And it's not the first time that he's had contact with the star.


KEILAR: For weeks he has refused to step down. Now in less than two hours, we may know if the mayor of San Diego will give up his office. This video shows Bob Filner leaving his office from a rear exit. And there's been no comment from the 70-year-old Democrat while he's been in mediation talks with the city. This, of course, all stems from a torrent of sexual harassment claims from 18 women now. At 4:00 p.m. Eastern, the city is to make an announcement. And it's expected that's when we will hear that Filner is resigning. CNN's Casey Wian is at the San Diego City Hall.

Casey, do you know any other detail about this scheduled announcement?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) then a little bit after 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time. What's going to happen then is there will -- at 4:00 p.m., there will be a brief public comment period. And then the city council will go behind closed doors, into closed session, to consider this mediation agreement that was released -- that was reached on Wednesday night after three days of mediation involving city officials, attorneys for Bob Filner, and Gloria Allred, at least initially, the attorney for one of his accusers.

They will not release details of that negotiated settlement, that proposed settlement, but what one of the participants has said gives a very clear picture of what they've been talking about. Kevin Faulkner (ph), who is a city councilman involved in those negotiations, said, "I joined these mediation discussions to ensure the city gets the best possible deal for taxpayers. We must put this civic dysfunction behind us."

That speaks to two things. As long as Bob Filner remains in office as mayor, the city business is at a virtual standstill. A lot of things are not getting done. The best deal for taxpayers, obviously there's going to be some sort of a financial settlement that will protect Bob Filner's interests. We don't know what those are. A lot of people, including Gloria Allred, saying they do not want any taxpayer money going toward paying any settlements for Bob Filner. But it sure seems as if city leaders think that they're going to need to pay something to make this problem go away, Brianna.

KEILAR: So, Casey, Filner attended a staff meeting on Wednesday. And we heard that it was pretty awkward.

WIAN: Yes, that's what I'm hearing as well. In fact, someone who was at that meeting, a city hall employee, said that it was, in fact, awkward and they were very disappointed because Filner did not apologize for what he has put the employees of this city through over the last several weeks. They were expecting, this person told me, something more. All he said was, "we'll see you today." So we're expecting to hear from Mayor Filner later this afternoon, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, we'll be watching. Casey Wian, thank you.

And coming up next, Ben Affleck as Batman. He is set to play the dark knight in the new film. Some people are not happy. I kind of am, but I feel like I'm in the minority. So I want to know what you think. Will Ben Affleck make a good Batman or is this a huge mistake? We have that story, next.


KEILAR: Actress Jennifer Lopez may want to upgrade the security at her south Hampton, New York, mansion, because a man who Lopez already had filed an order of protection against reportedly lived in her pool house for six days this month before being caught. The man, a former Rhode Island firefighter, even posted photos of the $10 million home on FaceBook. J-lo was not at home, but security guards were on duty, or they were supposed to be, and someone on her staff finally challenged the man who claimed that he was Lopez's husband. He was arrested and held on $100,000 bail.

Well, now to a man who was almost Jennifer Lopez's real husband. We're talking about Ben Affleck. And a lot of you have heard that big announcement from Warner Brothers that he'll star as the next Batman in the sequel to "Man of Steel." But judging by a lot of angry tweets and even now a petition on, that word says it all, many of you don't think that Affleck compares to his Batman predecessors.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much do you weigh?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About 108, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man's got to go his own way. A friend taught me that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are all the gorgeous ones homicidal maniacs? Is it me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enough sweet talk (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You made a serious mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not as serious as yours, I fear.


KEILAR: So I want to bring in Ryan Broderick. He is a reporter at Buzzfeed.

And, Ryan, this announcement is not going over so well with folks, especially on Twitter. Were you surprised by this?

RYAN BRODERICK, REPORTER, BUZZFEED: I wasn't too surprised. Ben Affleck is a questionable choice. He's already been a superhero before. He was Daredevil. And if you're not familiar, it was a massive flop. And a pretty bad movie. So a lot of people were pretty surprised that he would be chosen for another role.

KEILAR: OK. But - and let me ask you this, because -- well, first off, let me tell you, I'm kind of a fan. I think he's cute. I think he's got a good jaw line. I think that's like half the battle when it comes to Batman.

But, you know, we've seen him recently in some pretty respectable flicks. You could say some more serious flicks. "The Town." We saw him in "Argo." And he seems to be gaining a lot of respect in the film industry behind the camera as a director. Do you think that he's going in the right direction by kind of throwing himself into these, I guess you could say, a new acting role and maybe not the most serious of flicks?

BRODERICK: Well, I agree with you, he has a fantastic jaw line. And I also agree with you that he's been doing a lot of really important work. I mean, his directing is terrific. "Argo" was a lot of fun. And he was definitely the right choice for that role. It was a fun action flick and he was very grizzled looking. And this might be part of a bigger plan for him to get back into acting. But Batman is sacred to a lot of people, as Twitter would show you, and it just -- a lot of people were a little put off and concerned that their favorite character wasn't being treated as well as they'd like.

KEILAR: I see. Well, I mean, in my opinion, I think it's all kind of been downhill since Michael Keaton, personally. But let's be honest, Ryan, people are still going to go see it, I think.

BRODERICK: Yes. And we all agree that George Clooney's Batman is probably the least favorite universally. So it would be tough to get any worse than that.


BRODERICK: But, I mean, who knows? Ben Affleck could knock it out of the park. He's not a terrible actor, he's just hard to take seriously. And Batman is kind of a serious role, especially after Christian Bale turned it around from this goofy family film into this really intense movie franchise. So people, I think, want more of that and are worried it might go away.

KEILAR: Yes, it really is the dark knight now. Ryan Broderick, thank you so much for joining us.

BRODERICK: Thank you.

KEILAR: Well, coming up, President Obama weighing in on the high cost of a college education. He spoke exclusively with CNN's Chris Cuomo about what he plans to do about it. And critics are skeptical of the government's motives.