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Fire Threatens San Francisco's Water; More Flooding Possible in Desert Areas; Syrian Snipers Fire on U.N. Team; U.S. Considers Action Against Syria; Second Teen Arrested in Vet's Murder; Jodi Arias Returns to Court; Donald Trump Accused of Fraud; New Exit Test for College Students; Jury Weighs Death for Fort Hood Killer; Lung Transplant Girl Going Home; "The Butler" Wins Weekend Box Office; Police: 8-Year-Old Boy Killed Caregiver; Miley Cyrus' Wild Night

Aired August 26, 2013 - 10:00   ET




CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, firestorm in Yosemite National Park.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was cooking. It was moving fast.

COSTELLO: An American treasure is threatened minute by minute.

Plus --

MAYOR BOB FILNER, SAN DIEGO: I started my political career facing lynch mobs. And I think we have just faced one here in San Diego.

COSTELLO: San Diego's mayor in denial until the bitter end. He resigned this Friday but will that be enough for his accusers.

Goodbye GPA, hello College Exit Exam? Companies now say they want a better way to see how graduates measure up.

Plus --


COSTELLO: Miley Cyrus isn't Hannah Montana anymore. Nude colored underwear with Robin Thicke. What just happened? The second hour of NEWSROOM starts now.



COSTELLO: Good morning. Thank you very much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. Yosemite on fire, San Francisco on alert, a 144,000- acre wildfire is threatening Yosemite National Park and communities surrounding it. Fire has burned to the northwest section of the park, a remote wilderness area. It's also raising concerns for one of the nation's largest cities. San Francisco's main water supply is in the path of that monster fire.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in Groveland, California, with more. Good morning, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. We're just outside of Groveland just near Yosemite National Park where the fire is raging on the western boundary of Yosemite National Park. It's still about 30 or 40 miles away from the heavily visited areas. Anyone who's been to the iconic park, you might know what I'm talking about. Anyway, this here is a part here is where the flames up and clearly did a lot of damage.

It did things like this to the leaves. It's completely scorching the ends of these leaves and you want to pan around here and take a look. This goes back hundreds and hundreds of yards. Those flames went all the way up the top of the trees somewhat about 30, 40 feet up in the air. Part of what's making so difficult for firefighters to get a handle on this thing is the dry conditions. Extremely dry conditions.

If you just take a look at this ground, it could have been much worse. You pull it back, pull those layers back and you see some dirt here. You see brown dirt. On the edge, it's a little crispier. If this burned through hotter, it would have been charred completely to the ground. But, as I mentioned, it's been extremely difficult for firefighters to get a handle on this thing. Just in the days that we've been here, Carol, the fire has grown more than 20,000 acres. Right now, fire officials are telling us it's just 7 percent contained -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Such dramatic pictures you're showing us, Nick. Tell us about San Francisco's water supply. Why is there fear that the fire might contaminate it?

VALENCIA: So this is an interesting point to give context to our viewers. San Francisco gets 85 percent of its municipal power and water from this area, just nearby where I'm standing so two hydroelectric generators have been shut down. We understand though that there is still power going into the city, but San Francisco is famous also for its very pure water. Fire officials are concerned that some of the ash from the smoke in this area, not sure if you can tell how smoky it is out here, but they're concerned that the ash could get into the water supply.

Right now, though, still under a state of emergency. The California governor, Jerry Brown, a few days ago declared a state of emergency for the county and the city because it's very important this part of the state, it's very important to San Francisco which is more than 200 miles away. That gives you a scope of how impactful this fire has been for the northern part of the state -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Nick Valencia reporting live this morning.

While fire crews face bone-dry conditions in Northern California, parts of Southern California have been under water. Streets were transformed into rivers in the Palm Springs area after weekend thunderstorms dumped heavy rain. High winds brought down dozens of power poles in Eastern Riverside County, knocking out electricity to more than 300 homes and businesses. Flash floods shocked motorists, too. The driver of this car getting stuck in the high water and relying on fire crews to get it out so the driver could get out safely. There you see it.

Police closed several intersections in the town of La Quinta after downpours left the streets covered in several feet of water. As the storm waters passed, the waters did recede. Jennifer Delgado is in the weather center to tell us more. Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Carol. You saw the rain coming down through parts of Palm Springs. Unfortunately, we can't k get it across parts where it's desperately needed. We're talking about Yosemite where the fires are burning. We're still looking at rain moving through southern parts of California as well as into regions like Nevada. This is all monsoonal moisture. It's also leftover moisture from a tropical storm that we had last week.

But unfortunately, none of that is going to make its way into northern parts of California. Right now, we are dealing with flood warnings in place. Anywhere you're seeing in green. That means we're going to be looking at the potential for some of these areas to have some flash flooding especially areas still recovering from previous fires like what they're battling in Yosemite.

Now as we go through the next 24 to 48 hours, this is where we're going to have the heaviest rainfall. In locations including parts of Las Vegas, we are talking one to three inches of rainfall. But unfortunately, none of that making it in to Northern California where we desperately need the relief, Carol, just a bad situation across parts of the southwest.

COSTELLO: Jennifer, thank you very much.

Also this morning, a startling new outburst of violence in Syria, concerns that it could nudge the United States ever closer to military action. Happened minutes after this team of United Nations inspectors headed to the site of last week's suspected chemical weapons attack. As the inspectors drew closer, sniper fire riddled one of their vehicles.

The attack coming as the United States scrambles four more ships to the right wing and waits for confirm -- to the region and waits for confirmation that Syria crossed President Obama's so-called red line.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, joins us from Amman, Jordan, where military leaders from the United States and its allies will meet to talk options. Tell us more, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're coming here over the next day or so amid a lot of secrecy, precisely where's the meeting, how long will it last. We're told not to expect a press conference afterwards. The United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, all sending military chiefs here. We're told they're going to discuss the regional situation and the crisis inside Syria. But for Jordan, this is a major concern, this huge escalation, the conflict, the chemical attack just over its border. And Jordan here not the stablest of nations right now, concerned that if this country is seen as somehow getting directly involved in the fight, being a place where intervention is planned or being used for some kind of intervention, then there could be strikes back here.

So Jordan really trying to downplay this meeting out of concerns for its own security. But no doubt a response to that chemical, alleged chemical attack, is going to be the table for debate -- Carol.

COSTELLO: What options, you know, from a United States standpoint, are completely off the table?

ROBERTSON: Well, it certainly seems that any sort of large-scale ground intervention would be off the table. The Saudis I'm told would love to put together a large coalition of international forces, 50,000 people. I've been told they say they're not getting any traction on that. Certainly on the ground, you do have U.S. forces training with Jordanian forces right now. Potentially Special Forces trained in chemical warfare alongside U.S. Special Forces alongside Jordanian Special Forces, potentially could sneak across the border.

Has that been ruled out, we don't know. The four warships brought into the region carrying cruise missiles. That's still potentially in the mix. But when you look at that, if you strike chemical weapons' sites with large missiles, are you going to expose toxins on a civilian population? So potentially that could be ruled out for that reason. At the moment, though, we're not hearing that there is going to be some sort of intervention indeed. If you sort of read the mood music here, it's perhaps steering away that from at the moment -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Nic Robertson, many thanks to you live from Amman, Jordan this morning.

Checking our top stories at 8 minutes past the hour, a second teenager has been arrested in the beating death of a World War II veteran. The 16-year-old was taken into custody this morning on charges of first- degree murder and first-degree robbery. Last week, 88-year-old Delbert Belton was killed while he was waiting for a ride in Spokane, Washington. Police say they think the attack was a botched robbery and not racially motivated.

Jodi Arias will be back in a Phoenix courtroom later this morning where she hopes a judge will set a date for her sentencing. Arias was convicted back in May of first degree murder in the death of her former boyfriend Travis Alexander. The jury could not decide whether or not to give Arias the death penalty so a second jury must decide her fate.

And Donald Trump faces a $40 million lawsuit over his school, Trump University. The New York attorney general accuses Trump of fraud saying he used bait-and-switch tactics to get thousands of dollars out of students. Trump says Trump University has a 98 percent approval rating. Trump's attorney says the lawsuit is nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt.

Remember studying for the dreaded SAT to get into college? Well, if you're getting ready to graduate, your test-taking days may not be over. Next spring, 200 colleges across the country plan to launch a new test for students nearing graduation. The test is designed to help employers determine a student's real value in the workplace.

CNN's Alison Kosik joins us live to discuss this. So explain this.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is interesting. You're going to love this part, Carol. You know, many employers really don't trust the grades that students are presenting once they graduate college. That must feel good for the parents who are spending tens of thousands of dollars on their education. So this is a way for universities to try to benefit their students, to give them a new tool to go out and market themselves when they're trying to find a job. What this is called is the collegiate learning assessment, CLA-Plus for short.

The idea is to give a better, broader picture of a student's skills beyond just what their GPA is. Since many employers apparently think grades can be misleading, this could be helpful. And like the SAT, it's scored on a 1,600-point scale since everyone is familiar with that. It assesses things like critical thinking and reasoning, literacy, writing, and communication.

Here's one example for you. There's an executive at an architectural company. He tells the "Wall Street Journal" that even students who come out with good grades from top schools, they may not be able to communicate well. Something that's really masked by their good grades so what this essentially does, Carol, it helps employers better identify skills that could be hidden if you're just looking at that GPA alone -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yet another test.

KOSIK: So much fun.

COSTELLO: Yes, I loved taking tests. Not!

KOSIK: Me, too.

COSTELLO: Yes. Alison Kosik, thank you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, more on Miley Cyrus who twirked her way into controversy with her barely there outfit. And let's, how shall we put it -- her over-the-top performance at the MTV Music Video Awards.


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 15 minutes past the hour, today a military jury begins the sentencing phase for U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan. He could face death for the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. Hasan, who represented himself, admitted in court that he did indeed kill the 13 people and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood. It's the beginning of a new life for 11-year-old Sarah Murnaghan. The Pennsylvania youngster is ready to go home after her second double lung transplant appears to have been a success. She can now breathe without an oxygen machine. Her case, you might remember, inspired new national policy. The under-12 rule gives children priority when lungs on adult transplant lists become available.

For the second weekend in a row, "The Butler" won at the Box Office. Earnings for the civil rights drama have already doubled the costs to make it. The movie was inspired by the real-life African-American man who served eight presidents in the White House.

The issue of violence, kids, and video games back front and center this morning after a deadly shooting involving an 8-year-old boy in Louisiana. Police say he killed his 87-year-old caregiver with the woman's own gun. CNN's Sara Sidner has more.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A neighborhood is stunned after investigators say an 8-year-old shot and killed his 87- year-old caregiver Maurice Smothers.

GERALD METHVIN, OWNER, COUNTRY BREEZE TRAILER PARK: It is a shock to me as much as everything else because everything has been so peaceful.

SIDNER: The little boy told sheriff's deputies it was an accident. But in a statement to the media, the sheriff's department said their evidence, quote, "has led investigators to believe the 8-year-old juvenile intentionally Mrs. Smothers in the back of the head as she sat in her living room watching television." Police say the boy pulled trigger minutes after playing the very popular and very violent video game "Grand Theft Auto 4," which awards points for killing people.

DR. CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST/ATTORNEY: In this particular instance, the direct correlation of the video game playing during the shooting and even still on the television when police arrived cannot be overlooked. Can you say it caused him to shoot? We don't know. There are simply too many variables that work in a child's mind.

SIDNER: Videogame makers say it is unfair and unjustified to blame this tragedy on a game, a statement sent to CNN by the makers of "Grand Theft Auto" said this is about access to guns and not video games and explaining a connection to entertainment, a theory that has been disproven repeatedly by multiple independent studies both minimizes this moment and side steps the real issues at hand.


COSTELLO: Sara Sidner joins me now. So first off, where is this 8- year-old?

SIDNER: Well, the police said that they went ahead and let him go back to his parents' home. He's with his parents in Louisiana. The law is pretty clear that a child under the age of 10 can't be held criminally responsible. He could go through the juvenile courts. We're talking about an 8-year-old child. Apparently, he had a very good and loving, a normal relationship with his caregiver.

There's a lot of questions as to why, why, why has this happened. Police say they don't know what the motive is but they knew he was playing a violent video game. The video game companies upset saying, wait a minute. He had access to a gun. Why was an 8-year-old allowed to sit and play this game -- police said it was still on when they came in? There are a lot of questions surrounding this particular case.

COSTELLO: As for what police said about the little boy's motive, the police, it seemed to me, were careful to say he didn't have any hatred toward his caregiver. He's not a mean little boy. It's just a tragedy that happened.

SIDNER: They do believe that he did it on purpose as opposed to what he initially told him was he did it on accident. So something must have led police to believe that this child duel this on purpose. Did he understand the consequences and did he understand right from wrong? That is the big question and that's what the juvenile courts will certainly probably look at.

COSTELLO: Does an 8-year-old know what a gun can do? I mean --

SIDNER: You'd think they would, you would think at 8 years old. You know, each case has to be taken individually.

COSTELLO: Sara Sidner, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a stunning crime in Oklahoma committed by three teenagers who claimed to be bored. Now some people want President Obama to say more about this tragedy, but should he? We'll talk about that next.


COSTELLO: The show famous for its surprises did it again. Just look at Will Smith and his family. Take a look. Here it is. Will Smith and his family, look at their faces. That is pure shock and awe all in reaction to Miley Cyrus' outrageous performance last night at the MTV Music Video Awards. So what happened?

If you haven't heard and if you live in a cave, the 20-year-old artist took the stage in a barely there outfit and she had these big dancing bears surrounding her. See? OK, a little weird, but then things got really freaky. Robin Thicke joined her on stage for more twerking, stripping, and touching than some viewers could handle.

I know. Don't you feel like smoking after that? CNN entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner is live in New York.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: You can't do that in front of me, Carol. Don't you feel like smoking?

COSTELLO: I'm watching last night and thinking to myself -- I mean, I was in shock because -- I've seen worse, frankly, but I was kind of like -- it was stupid. It was dumb. I wanted her to do something more clever.

TURNER: I kind of felt like showering after. Not smoking but showering and here's -- here's the thing. I felt a little creeped out by watching it if I'm honest. I don't know if that's our issues as a society because Miley Cyrus is a grown woman. She's not Hannah Montana anymore. But I still think of her in that vein right or wrong. I love to live a twerk-free life.

I'm breaking the rules talking about this. When you look at Miley and look at this performance with her and Robin Thicke, you can't see anything but a grown woman. You know. MTV VMAs, their motto is expect the unexpected. We all should have went in prepped for whatever and prepped for seeing that. But it does seem like none of us were ready for Hannah Montana to die and Miley to start twerking in front of our faces.

COSTELLO: I don't know. I mean, I understand what she was trying to do. I've never watched Hannah Montana so I don't have the image seared in my brain. I totally get it, but I just -- I don't know. She's a talented young woman, and does she really need to twerk a married guy on stage?

TURNER: Look, twerking is all the rage these days. We have to take ourselves out of that vein. Miley is still young. So that is something that the young folks do when they're playing music and the hip-hop songs, twerking is a dance. A lot of kids do it these days. If she was trying to provoke a reaction, she is getting one today. She's getting one there all areas. Actually the Parents' Television Council has reacted. They just sent us a statement, if I can read a little of it.

They said, "MTV has once again succeeded in marketing sexually charged messages to young children, using former child stars and condom commercials while falsely rating this program as appropriate for kids as young as 14. How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds?" I think, you know, it's a good question. A lot of people don't always agree with what the parents' television council has to say, but in this case I think a lot of people this morning are asking that question. How is this appropriate for the younger kids?

COSTELLO: I'm going to ponder that all day.

TURNER: I'm just going to have that twerk video in my head all day. I can't get it out.

COSTELLO: I know. I can't get her tong and her bears anyway --

TURNER: The tongue was -- can we say, there were good moments of the show last night? I thought Lady Gaga was really fantastic. She's just back from hip surgery. She gave a really great performance. I loved Justin Timberlake. I thought he was fantastic, although I needed more --

COSTELLO: He was completely dressed in a suit and everything.

TURNER: And who would have thunk it. A good performance and he had his clothes on.

COSTELLO: Thanks so much, Nischelle Turner, always fun.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, for the city of San Diego, it's a time for heal. Mayor Bob Filner says he will walk away this week following a great big sexual harassment scandal. But is his resignation enough for his 18 accusers?