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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Speaks Out on Syria; California Fires; Obama on Turmoil, Violence in Egypt; Video Shows Aftermath of Alleged Poison Gas Attack; San Diego Mayor Resigns Amid Scandal

Aired August 23, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm John King. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One of the most disgraced politicians in America right now may be just moments away from publicly announcing his resignation.

The San Diego mayor, Bob Filner, has been under enormous pressure to step down after 18 women stepped forward accusing him of sexual harassment. The City Council is now meeting behind closed doors. We're told they are reviewing a tentative deal with Filner that would get his resignation.

CNN's Casey Wian joins us now live from San Diego's City Hall.

Casey, what is the latest and do we expect this deal to be accepted and the mayor to be gone?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's the expectation.

The City Council has been behind closed doors for almost an hour now after listening to public comments for about an hour. They had 40 different speakers weighing in on this proposed deal, which it was interesting, because no one really knows what the deal is. We do know it provides for Mayor Filner to step down. We suspect and presume that the deal includes some sort of financial settlement with the mayor, whether that would be indemnity against claims of sexual harassment.

One of those has already been filed by a former employee. We don't know. A lot of speakers who addressed the council urged them to approve this deal to get the mayor away and out of town and have him stop being a distraction to the city and an impediment to the city moving forward with its business. But a large number of the speakers also said they did not want the City Council to accept any kind of deal that would hold taxpayers responsible for any of Filner's legal fees

They said they would prefer to allow the recall process, that has been ongoing for over a week now, to go forward. Let the city residents of San Diego show the world they can actually remove Filner at the ballot box rather than having the City Council do it behind closed doors. They could come out anytime. Once they do, they will give us the details of this proposed settlement, if in fact they did settle

We also expect Mayor Filner, himself, will address the media and the public after this is all wrapped up as welcome, John.

KING: Casey Wian on the scene for us at San Diego City Hall, we will return when there is breaking news. Casey, thank you so much.

Now let's move on, though, new questions about the killing of a Australian man in Oklahoma. We repeatedly heard it was a random shooting by teenage suspects who allegedly wanted to kill for sport, but some additional motives now being suggested, including racism, and a possible gang connection.

Let's get the very latest on the case that has prompted so much outrage and talk of an Australian boycott of the United States.

Joining me now is Jason Hicks, and he's the district attorney in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Mr. Hicks, thank you so much for your time. A lot of people are trying to understand this case. What can you tell us about the moments leading up to the shooting? We have seen reports saying these three suspects were just bored, and other say this is a racial crime. What were they doing? What motivated them?

JASON HICKS, PROSECUTOR: Well, I'm not necessarily going to get into a whole a lot of details as what I believe motivated him.

I know there were comments made earlier that one of the suspects made a comment they did this out of boredom. I know I have been asked a lot with respect to the race issue. I don't believe it's a racial crime at all. I have nothing in any of my files, any of the paperwork or any of other audio recordings that we have that would suggest that Christopher Lane was killed either because of his race or his nationality.

I tend to think that the police chief's comments that they did this out of boredom are probably accurate. With respect to the race issue, again, we don't have anything that is going to lead us to believe this was a racially motivated crime. The suspects, the three we have in custody at this time, one of them is a white male, one of them is a black male and the third is a biracial male. His mother is white and his dad is black.

We don't have a situation here where this was three blacks who killed a white. This is a mix with respect to the suspects. I don't believe race played any part in this.

KING: If you look though at the tweets of one of the suspects, James Edwards Jr., he tweeted out back a couple months ago, "With my" used the N-word, "when it's time to start taking lives."

Also tweeted, "90 percent of white people are nasty. Hate them."

You say you don't see the three of them as racially motivated. Is it perhaps one of them could have been? HICKS: I have seen some of those tweets.

I don't necessarily want to say that those tweets played anything in the role of the death of Christopher Lane, because the investigation that has been done doesn't suggest that that's why Christopher Lane lost his life.

KING: I understand there's a surveillance tape that shows the suspects' car. Can you tell us -- it hasn't been released yet. Can you tell us how important that is as the evidence and does it show you anything else that will be important in the prosecution?

HICKS: Well, it's crucial in the prosecution because it establishes a time frame from the time that the suspects left the scene of the crime to the time they get to a restaurant approximately a mile away.

It establishes that they were there, and with the cooperation we have from one of the defendants at this time, we can put them there and then we can put them back at the Stephens County Courthouse a few minutes later. It's crucial to our case to have that piece of evidence.

KING: As you know, this case has attracted worldwide attention because the victim of course was from Australia. I want you to listen to the Australian ambassador to the United States here on this program yesterday talking about what he believes to be one of the key causes here, an American gun culture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: most Australians, and not just Australians, would be amazed by the American gun culture and the state of American law in that regard.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: A different gun culture, access to guns, is that a factor here?

HICKS: Well I don't -- I don't believe that one more law inside the United States would have changed the outcome of this particular case.

It's already illegal in this state for a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old to have possession of a .22-caliber revolver. One more law would not have prevented them from having a gun and taking the life of Christopher Lane on the side of the road.

KING: Jason Hicks is the prosecutor, the district attorney in Duncan, Oklahoma. Sir, appreciate your time today.

HICKS: Thank you.

KING: Up next, a California wildfire doubles size in just a day. And now it's scorching Yosemite National Park. A state fire official is standing by to tell us just how bad it is right now.

And stand by for the first video of a baby panda born just minutes ago at the National Zoo right here in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A fast-moving California wildfire now is burning in one of America's most popular national parks, a remote section of Yosemite being scorched by a fire that has roughly doubled size in just a day.

We're joined now on the phone country Cal Fire information officer Daniel Berlant.

Daniel, let me just start with the basic question. In terms of containment, where are you in that fight and do you see any end in sight here?

DANIEL BERLANT, CAL FIRE: This has been a very fast-moving wildfire.

This morning, the wildfire only 2 percent contained. Just in the fact that it's been able to double in size the last couple days has made our job very difficult. We have a lot of resources though battling this fire, over 2,000 firefighters on the front lines as we speak.

But it's unfortunately the dry conditions and the gusty winds that are making this such a difficult firefight.

KING: It's a huge tourist attraction, obviously.

How close is this to the major tourist sights in the park and how worried are you it will impact its role as a big destination at the end of the summer here?

BERLANT: The fire has burned into the boundaries of the national park, it is not affecting the areas where most of the visitors go to.

However, Highway 120, which is one of the major highways that does go into the park, has been closed for the last several days. So, obviously, visitors to the park are going to have to find alternative routes.

KING: And what are you being told about weather forecasters and other experts -- you say it doubled in a day. Are they optimistic looking forward or do they think we could see it grow even more?

BERLANT: Well, this week throughout Northern California, we have had thunderstorms over much of the state. Those thunderstorms bring in dry lightning and gusty winds. It's definitely been a very busy couple of days for us. In fact, we have several hundred new lightning-sparked fires and the wind caused by these thunderstorms making our job more difficult.

Those systems though have moved out of California. Unfortunately, as that is good news, it's also though is bringing a return to the warm and dry conditions we would typically have for this time of year.

KING: Fresh in our memory, sir, is the tragedy in July in Arizona where 19 firefighters lost their lives. Anything unique about this terrain or anything -- any lessons learned from Arizona that are determining how this one is fought?

BERLANT: This fire is burning in a very remote river canyon where access is very difficult.

The mountainsides are steep and very difficult to get our equipment through. It's very dangerous country. In years past, we have seen firefighter fatalities in this area. That's always priority for us making sure our firefighter safety is paramount, even though we are still going to continue to aggressively attack this fire. But we are definitely using aircraft as well from the air trying to get into the areas where it does take ground crews just is little bit harder to get to.

KING: Cal Fire's Daniel Berlant, we wish your crews the best of luck, sir, and we appreciate your time. We will stay in touch as this plays out.

BERLANT: Thank you.

KING: In the midst of this very destructive wildfire season, we're told the U.S. Forest Service is running out of money to fight fires.

CNN's Tom Foreman looking at that for us. He is in our virtual studio -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey, John.

It's really a matter of looking at time and money as you look at the fire season right now and the numbers really tell the tale. Let's bring it in here and take a look at it right now.

What we have currently and what they are dealing with is they have had so far about 33,000 fires, about three million acres burned. Their budget is about $1.7 billion. It's been reduced by sequestration and other budget concerns and they have about 10,000 firefighters out there. Last year, they had about 10,500.

The simple truth is several factors have come to play here. Because we have suppressed fires so effectively for really generations now, many firefighters will say the intensity of many of these fires burning all the brush that we saved in the past is really profound. It's been exacerbated by global warming according to many scientists.

And because we have built almost a third of our homes into the interface between the wildlands and the cities, there's more pressure on these agencies to try to stop these fires. All of that is burning up money as they try to deal with these, John.

KING: Tom, some out there might be saying this has a little sense of deja vu. It seems we hear about this just about every summer. Is that the case?

FOREMAN: Yes, we do and we are going to hear more of it.

Look at this for historic reference here. Back in 1985, if you took all the fires they were out there fighting that were a big deal out there, it was about the size of Connecticut. Most of them are in the West but about that size. And let me bring it in here and show you, this is the cost of fighting fires back then. 1985, that same budget we were talking about came out to be, oh, about $240 million.

That's how much it costs to fight those fires the size of Connecticut, roughly. Last year, 2012, let's go back to our big board here. We had about three Connecticuts worth of fires burning up out there, three times as much.

So, let's come back to our number over here. If you wanted to compare it, you could say we would expect this number to be three times as much for fighting it, about there. Let's increase this to allow for inflation, all the way up to here. Maybe you are going to spend this much to have the same amount of firefighting.

But look what's actually happened with the number. Because of the intensity of the fire, the demands to protect homes and everything else, it's actually up pushing almost $2 billion. It's well more than triple the amount we were spending back then. And unless something changes in the conditions where we build our homes, how intense these fires are or the way we go about fighting them, this is going to continue into coming summers.

It's not just the feds that are feeling this pressure, John, but also local municipalities when they get involved in firefighting are also dealing with this problem.

KING: Excellent perspective from our Tom Foreman. Tom, thank you so much. Up next here, the hero of the Georgia school shooting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Now to a heartwarming story you will see only here on CNN, two sides of an incredible phone conversation playing out right in front of our cameras, one end of the line, Antoinette Tuff. She's the Georgia bookkeeper, now a national hero, for putting her life on the line to stop a desperate gunman in an elementary school.

On the other side of the line, the president of the United States.

Here is how it played out just moments before Tuff sat down exclusively with Anderson Cooper to talk about the ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: ... before you came out --

ANTOINETTE TUFF, GEORGIA SCHOOL SHOOTING HERO: Yes.

COOPER: -- here tonight.

TUFF: I did.

COOPER: Who called you?

TUFF: President Obama.

KENDRA MCCRAY, 911 OPERATOR: Oh, wow.

COOPER: Is that right?

TUFF: Yes.

COOPER: How was that?

TUFF: In the makeup room. Awesome. Oh, God, it was awesome.

COOPER: What's that like when you suddenly hear the president is on the phone?

TUFF: I was like, President Obama, it's really you? You know, you get the call and somebody tells you the president is going to call and it's the White House, I'm like, OK.

MCCRAY: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

TUFF: But when you really hear the voice you know it's the president. So it was the best voice that I could ever hear. Couldn't have a better leader in place at this time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TUFF: I appreciate you, too, but I learned from the best, the best president in the world. No, that's me.

(LAUGHTER)

You can't get any better when you got a great leader in front of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And what did he say to you?

TUFF: He just wanted me to let me know that him and his wife and his family was very proud of what I did and everybody wanted to thank me, and they were, you know, happy and glad for what I did and that it was, you know, for me being a hero and that hopefully that one day he would be able to get to meet me. So that was -- that would be -- oh, just to see his face was awesome -- to hear his voice but to see his face would be even more awesome.

COOPER: Well, I think if the president wants to meet you --

TUFF: Yes.

COOPER: -- he will figure out a way to make that happen.

TUFF: Yes. Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And it sounds like the president is going to figure out a way to make that happen.

The president talked about his chat with Antoinette in an exclusive conversation with our own Chris Cuomo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I heard the 911 call and read the sequence of events, I thought, here's somebody whose, not just courage, and not just cool under pressure, but also had enough heart that somehow she could convince somebody that was really troubled that she cared about him.

And I told her, I said that not only did she make Michelle and me proud, but she probably saved a lot of lives, including the life of the potential perpetrator.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. She was calm in the face of the gunman. Did she keep it calm when she got a call from the president of the United States?

OBAMA: She was pretty cool, too.

CUOMO: Was she?

OBAMA: She was happy about it.

TUFF: Thank you, too. I greatly appreciate it. And I hope I get a chance to meet you also.

OBAMA: I think we might have to have her make maybe a visit to the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, we reached out to the White House to see just when that visit might happen. We're told the date has not been set. We promise will try to get a camera there.

Up next, more of that exclusive conversation, President Obama's first public comments about a massive alleged chemical strike in Syria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Happening now: new images from an alleged poison gas attack in Syria, these images far more graphic than what you are seeing so far. We will show you the video and talk about whether it's a game changer.

Plus, CNN's Chris Cuomo presses President Obama on whether his red line has now been crossed in Syria. Stand by for an extended portion of that exclusive interview.

And a rare event and a happy event, the birth of a panda just moments ago at the National Zoo. You will see the first baby pictures.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama is calling an alleged chemical weapons strike a big event of grave concern. The president spoke about it publicly for the first time in an exclusive and wide-ranging conversation with "CNN NEW DAY" anchor Chris Cuomo.

Chris pressed the president about whether his red line for military action has now been crossed. And while the president appeared to sound more urgent in responding to these new allegations, he also was quite cautious.

Here is an extended portion of that exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: Let me ask you about some of the emerging situations, most recently, Syria. You've seen the images; you know the situation very well. Do you believe at this point you need to investigate in order to say what seems obvious, which is, we need to do more to stop the violence in Syria, that the U.S. needs to do more?

OBAMA: Well, 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've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern. And, you know, we are already in communications with the entire international community.

We're moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action from them. And we've 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...

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

(CROSSTALK)

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

CUOMO: There's 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's 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 that we're 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.

But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of, what is in our long-term national interests? Sometimes, what we've seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that doesn't turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region. We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests even as we work cooperatively internationally to do everything we can to put pressure on those who would kill innocent civilians.

CUOMO: The red line comment that you made was about a year ago this week.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: We know since then there have been things that should qualify for crossing that red line.

OBAMA: Well, Chris, I've got to say this. The -- when we take action -- let's just take the example of Syria. There are rules of international law. 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.

CUOMO: You don't believe we'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 it in mind. We've still got a war going on in Afghanistan. You know, we're still spending tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan. I will be ending that war by the end of 2014. But, every time I go to Walter Reed and visit wounded troops and every time I sign a letter for a casualty of that war, I'm reminded that there are costs.

And we have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted, somebody who's lost credibility, and to try to restore a sense of a Democratic process and stability inside of Egypt.

CUOMO: Doesn't have to be military, of course. I take your point, Mr. President. When you look at Egypt, it's an example of that. Senator McConnell is saying, "Hey, I think it's time to vote on the aid..."

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: "... and whether or not you give it." That's a nonmilitary measure that could make a difference.

OBAMA: You know, my sense is with Egypt is that the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does, but I think what most Americans would say is that we have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideals.

So what we're doing right now is doing a full evaluation of the U.S./Egyptian relationship. We care deeply about the Egyptian people. There was a space right after Mr. Morsy was removed in which we did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move in a path of reconciliation. They did not take that opportunity. It was worth it for us to try that. Despite folk who wanted more immediate black-and-white action or statements. Because ultimately, what we want is a good outcome there.

CUOMO: Is it safe to say that we have a shorter time frame now in terms of what the U.S. can use as a period of decision in Syria and Egypt?

OBAMA: Yes.

CUOMO: It's a more abbreviated time frame now?

OBAMA: Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Up next, graphic and disturbing new video from the aftermath of that alleged poison attack in Syria. The images and the impact.

But first, as we countdown to the debut here of the new "CROSSFIRE" here on CNN, co-host Stephanie Cutter brings us a "CROSSFIRE" classic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": This classic CROSSFIRE is from the day after the 2000 presidential election. Florida was obviously the center of attention and two of the state's own congressmen were on CROSSFIRE.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many dead men voted in Florida yesterday and how do you know?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: I can report to you -- and I've got the information here -- that all the dead men and all the convicted felons voted for Bob Wexler. And I think he got, like, 75 percent. Congratulations on that, by the way. Those are two good constituencies.

But again, you can say this about any state. But let's just see how it turns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe -- I was beginning, Joe, to respect your demeanor, because this is a serious issue. Let's not play politics, and let's not play games.

SCARBOROUGH: I'm laughing with you, Bob. Don't lose your sense of humor tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We have some new and some very graphic video to show you from Syria. We're told it was shot shortly after an alleged chemical attack that's now under investigation. We think it's important for the world to see these images. But we must warn you, they're disturbing.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us now, live from Damascus.

Fred, it's very rare for a western reporter to get into Syria. You're going to show us this video. Tell us where it came from.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it came from, apparently, an independent filmmaker. It was obtained by ITV of Great Britain. And they say that the person who shot it is someone who they say is independent and, quote, "trustworthy."

Now, you're absolutely right: the video is very gruesome. It shows many killed, women and children. One of the things that we always have to say is we need to be very careful with this kind of video. It doesn't prove or disprove anything on the ground. However, John, the evidence seems to be mounting that there, indeed, was a chemical attack here in the Damascus suburbs. Let's have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): This is said to be the first independent video of the alleged chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus. It was obtained by British broadcaster ITV News, saying they got it from a trustworthy independent Syrian filmmaker.

Its content is extremely graphic, the shots allegedly taken in the town of Zemalka shortly after the incident on Wednesday morning.

I managed to speak to this woman, who didn't want to be identified. She has relatives in Zemalka and said she got there a few hours after it was allegedly hit by chemical weapons. Several of her relatives were killed, she told me. Others remain gravely sick.

"They have very bad pain and their legs cannot carry them," she said. "If they want to go to the bathroom, they have to crawl on the floor. They try to drink water because they feel they have to throw up all the time. They have bad headaches and can barely see."

The woman says it's impossible to tell which side used the alleged chemicals. Both the Syrian government and the opposition are accusing each other of staging the attacks.

There is little doubt that there was a large military operation under way by Syrian government forces on Wednesday morning.

We managed to get to an area in Damascus very close to where the incidents reportedly happened. People we spoke to here told us they didn't feel any effects of possible nerve agents.

"In this area here, there were no chemicals. I didn't smell anything or feel anything," this man said. "Otherwise, we would all not be here."

(on camera): I'm in the Jiarmana (ph) district and right behind me, that is the last checkpoint before you reach the district of Ruta (ph), where allegedly, these chemical weapons attacks took place. The military won't allow us to go any further than we are right now. So all we can do is be right here and try and get people who are coming out of that area to try and get as many eyewitness accounts as we can.

(voice-over): Even the United Nations weapons inspectors who are in Damascus can't get close to the alleged site, still waiting for permission from the Syrian government.

With 1,300 people allegedly killed in the attack and the U.N. saying time is of the essence, calls for an independent investigation are mounting in the international community.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And John, of course, only an independent investigation can actually get to the bottom or try to get to the bottom of what exactly happened here on Wednesday. It still seems to be unclear when the U.N. investigators will be able to go out to that site, which, of course is somewhat strange, considering that the place they were staying at are only about five miles away from where all of this allegedly happened, John.

KING: Fred Pleitgen, doing some great reporting for us in Damascus. Fred, thanks so much.

Let's continue the conversation now with Vali Nasr. He's the dean for the School of International Studies at John Hopkins University. Vali, thanks for joining us.

You see these horrific images. And you heard the president in the exclusive interview with CNN. On the one hand, he sounded more aggressive. He said it's a big event; it's a grave concern; we want to move quickly. But then he also talked about international law, going to the United Nations, getting the evidence in, a war-weary nation after Afghanistan and Iraq. What's your take?

VALI NASR, DEAN, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Well, I think both are true. Something great has happened in Syria whether the government is responsible or the opposition is responsible. More likely, it is the government.

KING: He laid out a clear red line a year ago. Did you get the sense now he's willing to do more or that he's trying to step back from that one?

NASR: I think he's still cautious, but I think the events are forcing his hand. We reached a point where the United States cannot ignore what has happened. There's not much more evidence that somebody used chemical agents, and that requires a very strong reaction from the international community, not only because it's important to Syria, but also because if we don't act, it's a very bad signal to the rest of the countries around the world who potentially could use this -- this sort of thing in settling issues.

KING: I need you to just stand by for a second. I just want to tell our viewers, and we'll go there live as soon as we can. CNN is now told that the embattled mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, is resigning. He is planning to resign.

You see here, there's the mayor, I believe. OK, these are live pictures. We do not have audio transmission from this event yet, but I just want to show you this here. We are told San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has resigned. We told you at the top of the program. Let's listen in.

MAYOR BOB FILNER, SAN DIEGO MAYOR: For those who represent and for my own part in causing all of this, I offer a deep apology, certainly to the citizens of San Diego and through you to the citizens that you represent.

The city should not have been put through this. And my own personal failures were responsible. I apologize to the city. I have a lot of supporters out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes! Yes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Bob.

FILNER: I apologize -- I apologize to all of you. I think I let you down.

We have -- we had a chance to do a progressive vision in this city for the first time in 50 years. As I'll say later, we need you to carry that vision forward. This is not a time to let it die. But, I apologize to all of you.

I would like to say, especially to my former fiance, Bronwyn, I love you very much. You came to love San Diego as much as I did. And you did memorable things in the short time that you were first lady. And I personally apologize for the hurt that I have caused you, Bronwyn.

To all the women that I offended, I had no intention to be offensive; to violate any physical or emotional space. I was trying to establish personal relationships, but the combination of awkwardness and hubris, I think, led to behavior that many found offensive. Again, as I have in the past, sincerely apologize to all of you, and I will try to make amends in any suitable manner.

So for any -- I should say for the part that I have played, and I take responsibility for putting this city through a very bad time, again, I apologize to all of you. Certainly was never my intention to be a mayor who went out like this.

Now I have to caution the council about one thing, and I guess the city. I started my political career facing lynch mobs. And I think we have just faced one here in San Diego. And you're going to have to deal with that. In a lynch-mob mentality, rumors become allegations; allegations become facts; facts become evidence of sexual harassment, which have led to the demands of my resignation and recall.

Not one allegation, members of the council, has ever been independently verified or proven in court. I have never sexually harassed anyone. But the hysteria that has been created and many of you helped defeat is the hysteria of a lynch mob.

Now, as I said, I faced lynch mobs many times when I was younger. No evidence was needed. The mob knew who was guilty, who needed due process. Well, ladies and gentlemen, democracy needs due process. San Diego needs due process.

Those of you in the media and politics who fed this hysteria, I think need to look at what you have created, because you have unleashed a monster. And I think we'll be paying for this affront to democracy for a long time.

Now the hysteria ended up playing into the hands of those who wanted a political coup: the removal of a Democratically-elected mayor purely by rumor and innuendo.

Now I am responsible for providing the ammunition. I did that. And I take full responsibility. But there are well-organized interests who have run this city for 50 years who pointed the gun. And the media and their political agents pulled the trigger. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not what democracy is about.

I was elected to make changes. People opposed me from the beginning. They found the weapons they needed in my own failures as a human being, but they found those weapons and they used them in a bloody and vicious way. So, you're going to have to deal with that, if you care about democracy.

What I would like to leave you with is what I started my campaign on, and that is a vision of what this city ought to be and what we can become.

You've watched, most of you supported as we looked at Balboa Park and prepared for the centennial. We got the cars out of Plaza de Panama for the first time ever. If you haven't been by there, go by. It's an incredible canvas on which we can all paint what the future of Balboa Park will be.

We protected seals, and we protected La Jolla from the poop from the seals and others. We negotiated tens of millions of dollars in savings for you all in our leases of our buildings. We had a structurally balanced budget, and we joined in a five-year labor agreement, which for the first time gives us an ability to help our employees without further vilification of them for those who run our city.

As you know, I ran on a platform of neighborhoods, of making them livable, walkable, bikeable. We've hired world-class people to help in that: our department -- our planning director Bill Fulton, the incubator that we have established now on the fourth floor with world- class urban thinkers will help prepare the way for really exciting neighborhood adventures. With many of you, we put the stress back on public safety. We've had a terrible, terrible downward spiral in the ability of this city to provide adequate fire and police protection. We've started to reverse it. I hope you will continue to do that.

Our economy is still fragile. But we work together to prevent a vision for our port and the expansion of trade and thousands of jobs. We started to solarize or use alternative energy on all the public buildings that are owned by not only the city but the county and the school district, which will not only do our part for the environment but create, again, hundreds if not thousands of jobs.

We tried to make the border more efficient which will put billions of dollars in our economy.

And through all this I've tried to look at the working people of San Diego, those who struggle every day to make this city great. And I have to particularly thank the leaders of our working community, the labor community, for helping me not only in the first seven months but last few weeks. I needed both the time and the support to reflect on what matters to me personally as well as the confidence to know the city will move forward, and labor leaders helped me on both fronts.

They encouraged me to seek professional help, which I did and I'm continuing. They allowed me to focus on what's best for everyone whose lives I have to influence.

And when it seemed that a lot of the political structure was paralyzed and distracted by my personal situation, labor leaders worked with my staff and with the city council. And you guys passed a prevailing wage measure, which will provide a real boost to working families and to our local economy and to taxpayers.

I ran for office to advance these types of policies, and I can leave confident that labor will continue to pull our community together as we need them.

I hope you will look at the book I recommended to all of you called "The First Industrial Revolution." It says what we have to do as a city, a region, a state and a nation to deal with climate change and the loss of fossil fuel future. We have introduced -- I hope you will pass -- a climate action plan. But we wanted to be the first city in North America to accomplish the first industrial revolution. And I hope you will look at that.

We've excluded -- we've extended, as you have all helped with, our support for the arts and culture in this community to really help the homeless and unemployed veterans get their self-respect back.

And as you know, as a city, our particular, particular strength comes from our position as part of the biggest bi-national metropolitan area in the world. We've had a tremendous acceleration of our relationships with Tijuana and with Mexico, which I hope you will continue. We have an office there now.

The planning for a bi-national Olympic bid is in the works. I hope you will not be put off by gloom and doom about that ability. It is the most exciting thing that we can do as a region, and I hope -- and just the planning of it will be exciting for us to pull forward -- to move forward.

And through this all, as I have done through my whole life, we've stressed that the strength of this city is on its diversity. And I don't have to tell you. You know. This city is a majority of people of color. And yet, if you look at any economic or political group in this city, you can't tell that. We have not tapped the full strength of the diversity of this community. We are all in this together, ladies and gentlemen, and we are stronger when we include everybody at the table, everybody at the economic table, everybody at the political table. We're all in this together.

Obviously, this is the toughest decision of my life. You all know me to be a fighter. I made promises to the people of San Diego to give everyone an equal opportunity, a chance to be heard, a chance to have that seat at the table. That vision terrified a lot of folks. And the fight for control of this city has become, as I said, vicious and bloody.

Unfortunately, on my own -- and you all helped cut off any support for that -- I can't afford to continue this battle. Even though I know, if given due process, I would be vindicated.

It's not my nature to walk away from a fight, and I want the people of San Diego to know my vision that you voted for in the mayoral election will not die.

Now, Lord knows, I am not perfect. I made a lot of mistakes. But in my heart, my desire for a progressive world will drive me to keep going. I will not give up.

And in the final analysis, of course, politics is not about any of us as individuals. It should not be about me, but ideas that move us forward. Whoever will be the next mayor, my hope is that these ideas that have resonated with our San Diego communities are continued and respected.

I was at Madison Square Garden when Ted Kennedy said in 1980, as he conceded to President Carter in the nomination for the Democratic president, "The work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives. And the dream shall never die."

Thank you, members of the council.

KING: You're watching a dramatic picture: the Democratic mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, at times contrite, at times defiant, announcing his resignation, effective one week from today.

The mayor has been accused by 18 women of sexual harassment, this after a deal brokered with the city council. We don't have the financial details of that deal, but the mayor saying he had no choice but to resign. You see pictures there of some of the women who accused the mayor of physically sexually assaulting them. The mayor apologized to them. He said he did not mean to offend anyone. He apologized to the residents of the city. He apologized to his staff. He apologized to his former fiance.

But then his tone shifted. He said he had been the victim of a political lynch mob, a political coup, he called it. Mayor Bob Filner, though, saying that he has decided he had no choice but to step down.

Again, this a process brokered. The mayor, of course, said he would not leave. He said he was going to get some financial counseling and therapy. He did that for a short period of time. But in the end this deal brokered with the San Diego City Council, Bob Filner after weeks and weeks of controversy, decided he will step down, although saying, he says defiantly, that he believes, if given due process, he would be vindicated. He said he never meant to offend anyone, a combination he said, of awkwardness and hubris.

CNN will continue our coverage of this story. Again, breaking news: the dramatic resignation of the Democratic mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.