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Snipers Fire on U.N. Team in Syria; Fighting Yosemite fire from the Air. Donald Trump Accused of Fraud; Miley Cyrus Twerks, Stuns VMA Crowd; Friday is Filner's Last Day as Mayor; Jodi Arias Returns to Court

Aired August 26, 2013 - 09:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now in the NEWSROOM, firestorm in Yosemite.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was astounding to see the power of what I witnessed earlier.

COSTELLO: An American treasure threatened minute by minute. This morning, a brand-new perspective.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is unreal.

COSTELLO: Go with Air National Guard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the Yosemite Valley to the right.

COSTELLO: As they fight the flames from the air.

Also, the red line. Syria and a turning point. Inspectors on the ground and America on alert. Is the U.S. closer to launching an attack?

Plus, Trump sued for fraud. Claims that his university is phony, ripping off students. This morning the Donald responds.

And show stunner. Miley Cyrus ain't Hannah Montana any more. Nude colored underwear, twerking with Robin Thicke. What just happened?

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Good morning to you, I'm Carol Costello. We begin with something quite serious. We begin with a startling new outburst of violence in Syria and whether it could nudge the United States ever closer to military action there. Happened minutes after this team of United Nations inspectors headed to the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack. As the inspectors grew closer, sniper fire riddled one of their vehicles.

The attack comes as the United States scrambles four warships to the region and waits for confirmation that Syria crossed President Obama's so-called red line.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in the Syrian capital of Damascus to tell us more.

Good morning, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Yes, and it happened shortly after the U.N. weapons inspectors left the hotel that they are staying at. And what they have to do then is they go -- into downtown Damascus, they go through the government-held areas and then they have to cross the front line into rebel-held territory here on the outskirts of Damascus.

And apparently, when their convoy was in the buffer zone between the rebel area and the government-held area, that's when the sniper opened fire on their vehicle, disabling the lead vehicle of their convoy. That vehicle then had to be brought back. But now it appears as though the weapon inspectors are on the ground.

And on a side note, Carol, the -- both sides agreed that there would be a ceasefire going on as the weapons inspectors are on the ground. But I want to show you what's going on behind me because there is still very heavy artillery fire going on right now in the outskirts of Damascus.

That is, of course, the area, or some of the areas where these alleged chemical weapons attacks took place -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So we don't know who is responsible for the sniper fire?

PLEITGEN: No, we're not sure who's responsible for the sniper fire. The government blames, quote-unquote, "terrorists" but they referred to everyone who's fighting against them as a terrorist. So far we have not heard from the opposition as to who they exactly blame for it. But this comes on a day when the mission was almost derailed on several accounts. Before the weapons inspectors even got going, there was a mortar that dropped very close to the hotel where they're staying, only about four blocks away.

There was a loud bang here in central Damascus and it seems it held up the mission by maybe half an hour or so. But now the weapons inspectors are on the ground and even after that sniper incident, they went back into the area and apparently are at work right now trying to take samples to, obviously, get to the bottom of what sort of chemical might be -- have might been used on Wednesday in that attack, and, also, what sort of delivery mechanism it might have been used to deliver it.

Was it an artillery shell or was it something else that released those chemicals to help the international community, of course, get to the bottom of who might be behind all of this -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Frederik Pleitgen, reporting live from Damascus, Syria, this morning.

Massive fire. A fire the size of Chicago is now threatening Yosemite National Park. Crews are taking to the air attacking one of the biggest wildfires in California's history. Check out this rare view from inside a firefighting plane.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of coverage are you looking for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's keep it at a six.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six it is. Coverage level six.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's kind of creepy.


COSTELLO: Wow. The California Air National Guard is making retardant drops at the astonishing rate of 3,000 gallons in five seconds. The Air War supporting boots on the ground against the Rim Fire, which has burned into the northwest section of Yosemite.

In the meantime, 200 miles west, the city of San Francisco is keeping a close eye on this fire as it threatens a reservoir which supplies more than two million customers with water.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in the Yosemite gateway community of Groveland, which is also threatened by this monster fire.

Good morning.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, this massive fire has completely reshaped the lives and landscape of this community and day after day, it's been extremely difficult for these firefighters to keep the fire from growing.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Thousands of firefighters are battling this massive blaze raging out of control in California's Sierra Foothills. Tens of thousands of acres scorched, none more iconic than the Yosemite National Park. The so-called Rim Fire has encroached its western inch.

VICKIE WRIGHT, U.S. FOREST SERVICE, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: It was astounding to see the power of what I witnessed earlier. So our main objectives right now, structure protection, just making sure that we keep everyone safe and we protect that park at all costs.

VALENCIA (on camera): Bucket drops from these aircraft is a crucial way that firefighters are battling this blaze. Because of the steep terrain, parts of the fire are only accessible by air.

(Voice-over): On the ground, firefighters like Harold Cook get little rest between shifts on the front lines.

(On camera): So how does this one compare to others you fought?

HAROLD COOK, U.S. FOREST SERVICE FIREFIGHTER: You know, this is probably one of the worst ones that I've been on, if not one of the more extreme fires that I've been on since 2001 when I started.

VALENCIA (voice-over): The fire has threatened small communities including Groveland just on the outskirts of the fire line.

Susan Loesch and Curtis Evans wait for news about their vacation home.

SUSAN LOESCH, RESIDENT: It was a little nerve-wracking when they came knocking on my door because, you know, this is new for us. So I've never been in an area where they had bad fires. So I just wanted to get out. And then we came up here yesterday morning it was very thick coming through the valley and then it cleared and I thought maybe we're still OK. So we're hoping.

VALENCIA: More than 200 miles away, San Francisco also impacted. Power generators that feed things like cable cars and street lights in the city threatened by the wildfire that shows no signs of stopping soon.


VALENCIA: And, Carol, speaking of San Francisco, two hydroelectric generators that feed into the city have been shut down. Eighty-five percent of the city's municipal power and water comes from near this area where we're standing. Famous for its pure drinking water, San Francisco, the fire officials here are concerned that ash might get into that water.

So far, though, it's worth noting that there has not been a disruption in power to the city. We understand that the city is getting it from somewhere else -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Nick Valencia, reporting live this morning.

Donald Trump may know real estate but according to the attorney general of New York, Trump doesn't know a thing about business school.


DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: If you're going to achieve anything, you have to take action and action is what Trump University is all about. But action is just a small part of Trump University. Trump University is about knowledge, about a lot of different things. Above all, it's about how to become successful.


COSTELLO: It's about a lawsuit now. Trump now faces a $40 million lawsuit accused of scamming students out of thousands of dollars. Those students don't want to hear the words Trump is famous for saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: You are a wise guy. There's no question about it. You know what, Aaron, you're fired.


COSTELLO: Yes, well, they want Trump fired.

Alison Kosik joins us now with reaction from Donald Trump and New York's attorney general.

Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. So this is quite the bombshell lawsuit who was filed on Saturday and in a nutshell, it accuses Trump of fraud. The New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says students who went to Trump Investment School were essentially given empty promises. So the state is suing Trump for $40 million for what it says the school wrongly took from people who attended classes.

Part of what the lawsuit alleges this kind of bait-and-switch with Trump using his well-known name to mislead perspective students. Then after being lured, for example, into a 90-minute free seminar, they were told if they wanted to get rich, they'd have to pay at least $1500 for another seminar, a three-day seminar. Once there, then came the push for a year-long course at as much as $35,000.

The lawsuit even said that instructors urged students during the breaks and during these seminars to go ahead and call their credit card companies to get their credit limit increased so they can sink even more money into classes.

Now both Eric Schneiderman and Donald Trump were on "NEW DAY" hitting back.


ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: We've had the testimony, sworn testimony of the former president of Trump University who says -- I mean, Mr. Trump claims he wrote the curriculum and was very involved. So he said it himself. But the president said that he insisted on seeing all the promotional materials, Trump, and he was the pitchman. He was in all the videos. People came to the seminars they were thinking to meet him, in fact, all they got was the chance to stand next to a life-size poster of Mr. Trump to make it appear as, though, they had met him.

TRUMP: We have and had a great school. The school did a terrific job, 98 percent approval. Of course, he doesn't mention this. We sort of gave a report card on ourselves to every student that took the course. We had a 98 percent -- if you go to Warden, if you go to Harvard, they don't have a 98 percent approval rating. We had a 98 percent approval rating -- Chris.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KOSIK: And on "NEW DAY" throughout that interview Donald Trump was pretty fired up about it. Even on Twitter, he had quite the president over the weekend, explaining why he thinks, Carol, that this lawsuit has no merit -- Carol.

COSTELLO: It's getting a little political, too. Didn't he suggest that maybe, you know, as a Democratic attorney general and Donald Trump as a well-known conservative, et cetera, et cetera?

KOSIK: Yes. If you ask Trump, especially when he was tweeting, you know, he is pretty much saying that this is politically motivated. What the lawyer -- his lawyer is saying that this is a cheap publicity stunt and what they're referring to is something that was actually reported in "New York Times" that in the past, Trump has given to Schneiderman's campaign and trump is claiming that Schneiderman asked for more money, Trump said no and Trump says that Schneiderman is upset about that.

But you know if you ask Schneiderman about this, he would say different. He said this case is real and he also said, as far as where this case is going, whether there be a plea, he said, we're always open to discussion. Carol?


COSTELLO: Alison Kosik reporting live from New York Stock Exchange.

The MTV Video Music Awards have been making headlines and sparking controversy for three decades. But this year, well, just look at Will Smith and his family. And the looks on their faces. Pure shock and awe.

That's the actor and his family reacting to Miley Cyrus' outrageous performance last night.

Yes, the 20-year-old artist took to the stage in a barely-there outfit with dancing bears. It's a little weird. But the lines between right and wrong, so wrong got blurred when Robin Thicke joined her on stage for some twerking and touching and, oh, lorny (ph), take a look.

Nischelle Turner is live in New York to talk a lot more about this.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, to borrow a line from Robin Thicke, "Lord Have Mercy." But I'm saying it a little different than he was saying this morning.

You know, I think we just need to isolate Jayden Smith's face and it tells the whole story. It was like, I don't understand.


His face there is like, I just don't understand. And, you know, Carol, I usually declare my life a twerk-free zone, you know, but I'm breaking the rules this morning. It's not my fault because I'm putting this all on Miley Cyrus. You know, MTV's VMA's motto is expect the unexpected. So I thought I'd prep myself for whatever was going to happen, but it seems like no one today is ready for Hannah Montana to die and Miley Cyrus to twerk her way right into my Twitter timeline, #wow.


TURNER (voice-over): A beloved boy band got a big welcome back. The hotly rumored 'N Sync reunion became reality, finally, at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards.

(On camera): You might be a little excited about 'N Sync?

SELENA GOMEZ, SINGER/ACTRESS: A little too excited.

TURNER (voice-over): It was a night full of memorable moments for Justin Timberlake. The singer capped off a near 20-minute medley of his hits by receiving the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award from his pal Jimmy Fallon.

The show famous for its surprises had a few more to offer. Lady Gaga returning to live performing after hip surgery in April opened the broadcast with four costume changes while performing "Applause."

And somehow seemed tame when compared to Miley Cyrus. While singing "Blurred Lines" with Robin Thicke, a stripped down Cyrus got R-rated with a foam finger.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were the night's top winners taking home best hip hop video for "Can't Hold Us" and Best Video with a Social Message for "Same Love", a marriage equality anthem.

(On camera): And not only were you making fun music, you were kind of making socially conscious music, too, you know.

MACKLEMORE, HIP HOP ARTIST: At the same damn time.

RYAN LEWIS, HIP HOP ARTIST: At the same damn time.

TURNER (voice-over): Taylor Swift lit up Twitter after appearing to other an expletive when One Direction and rumored former love interest Harry Styles appeared on stage.

The more-than-two-hour show wrapped with a live Katy Perry concert under the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.


TURNER: I do love that song. I do love "Roar." OK, so, here's my take. Gaga deserves applause definitely after that performance just back from hip surgery. Miley probably needs hip surgery after her twerk fest last night and there wasn't near enough 'N Sync for me, Carol. I didn't think it was possible either but I think I became an even bigger fan of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis after their performance of "Same Love" with Jennifer Hudson special guesting. I thought it was fantastic.

COSTELLO: One thing that Miley Cyrus did accomplish, every parent in America now knows what twerking is.

TURNER: Oh, somebody tweeted me last night, would Alan Thicke and Billy Ray Cyrus, please get their children, please? Somebody --


COSTELLO: Nischelle Turner, thank you.

TURNER: All right.


COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM: changing her tune. A former Paula Deen accuser doing an about faced, now saying the silver-haired Southerner is a woman of compassion and kindness.

Plus, flash flood danger. Interstates shut down and drivers stranded, where the storm will hit, next.

NEWSROOM back after a break.



COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 20 minutes past the hour.

Friday will be the last day on the job for the embattled San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. He agreed to step down after reaching a deal with the city to help with his legal fees. Filner's resignation follows allegations by 18 women that he sexually harassed them. City is moving ahead with plans to hold a special election to fill the last three years left in Filner's term.

A 12-year-old Texas boy who was home alone when burglars broke in did the only thing he knew to do. He called 911 while hiding in a closet. And all the time, he kept his calm. Listen.


CALLER: They just broke the window now.

911 OPERATOR: They just broke the window. What room are you in?

CALLER: I'm on my mother's room right now. Please --

911 OPERATOR: Is your house -- I am, stay on the phone with me.

CALLER: They're right there.

911 OPERATOR: They're inside the room right now. They're inside the bedroom where he's at.

CALLER: So the police officer outside the house? 911 OPERATOR: Yes, but stay inside, inside the closet because they're trying to find the bad guys. You're doing good. You're doing real good. You're doing perfect. Your mom's going to be so proud of you.


COSTELLO: Police eventually caught both burglars and the boy was not hurt.

The Southwest could see more flooding today. The threat is from moisture still lingering from tropical storm Ivo in the Pacific while no one is looking forward to more flooding, all the rain could help alleviate wildfire conditions in some areas.

And we're hearing from the slain baseball player gunned down by three teenagers more than a week ago. Christopher Lane of Australia was shot and killed while jogging in an Oklahoma community. His death sparked international outrage after police said his killers were motivated by boredom.

In 2010, Lane told Australian sports program why he had moved to the United States.


CHRISTOPHER LANE: So, basically studying and going to school at the moment while also playing on the baseball team. So, getting the best of both worlds right now.

HOST: What an amazing opportunity. I can kind of hear the excitement in your voice. You're actually enjoying just kind of talking about it now, aren't you?

LANE: Oh, yes. I've only been here for about two months now and I can honestly say I've enjoyed every minute of it.

HOST: Are they pretty accepting of Australians over there, the Americans?

LANE: Oh, yes, they love us over here.


COSTELLO: On Friday, hundreds of people gathered in Dunklin, Oklahoma, where Lane was killed, to remember him.

Still to come, nearly four months after her murder conviction, Jodi Arias waits for her sentence. The first jury could not decide. Well, now, Arias is heading back to court.


COSTELLO: Jodi Arias could find out today when a new jury will decide her fate. Arias and her attorneys will be back in court where a judge could set a date for the sentencing phase of her trial. Back in May, as you well know, Arias was convicted of first degree murder in the death of her boyfriend Travis Alexander. But that first jury could not reach a decision over whether Arias should be put to death.

Ted Rowlands is live in Phoenix to tell us more.

Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Today's hearing is twofold. First, a date set for the retrial and there's also a chance that the judge could limit the television coverage during the retrial because the defense says the first time around it got out of hand.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn in the above entitled action upon our oath do find the defendant as to count one first degree murder, guilty.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): After listening to four months of testimony, it took three days for the first jury to find Jodi Arias guilty of first degree murder. But they couldn't decide between the death penalty or life in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No unanimous agreement.

ROWLANDS: Arizona law allows prosecutors one more chance at death. If a new jury still can't decide, Arias will get life in prison and a judge will determine whether or not she's eligible for parole. The new trial won't be as long because the original first-degree guilty verdict still holds.

DWANE CATES, ARIZONA ATTORNEY: This new jury isn't going to have nearly the information that the old jury did. And the jury that made this decision saw every gruesome detail, saw all the lies, saw everything.

ROWLANDS: Finding new jurors who haven't heard of the Arias case will be difficult given the intense media coverage of the first trial. Finding witnesses that will stand-up for Jodi Arias will also be tough.


ROWLANDS: Defense domestic violence expert, Alyce LaViolette says after she testified, she was inundated with online abuse, including death threats. She has no intention of going through that again, even though her testimony could make a difference.

(on camera): Why don't you want to go back?

LAVIOLETTE: Threats to my life. Threats to my family. My family doesn't want me to go back. ROWLANDS: In the end, Jodi Arias may end up being her own best chance for avoiding the death penalty.

JODI ARIAS, CONVICTED FOR FIRST DEGREE MURDER: Either way, I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison, either a life that is shortened or not. If it's shortened, the people who will hurt the most are my family. I'm asking you, please, please don't do that to them.

ROWLANDS: Arias pled for her life during the penalty phase of her first trial this after spending 18 days on the witness stand during the trial. What, if anything, she says to the new jury may determine if she lives or dies.


ROWLANDS: And, Carol, in the defense motion to limit the amount of television coverage they cite Alyce LaViolette saying she's not coming back because of the abuse she encountered. We should find out today which way the judge will rule -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Ted Rowlands reporting live from Phoenix this morning.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: the chemical weapons crisis in Syria. Inspectors move in, shots rang out, and the United States says its military options are open.