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CNN NEWSROOM

Hagel: U.S. Strikes "Ready to Go"; New Intel on Chemical Weapons; Russia Rips U.S. Accusations; Wildfire Threatens Water, Power Supply; Heat Wave Hits Midwest; Starbucks CEO Talks Obamacare; "I Did It To Be Funny"; Serena Wins Opening Match at U.S. Open; One Direction Talks to CNN

Aired August 27, 2013 - 10:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, Syria attacks are heating up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am totally convinced that Bashar Al-Assad has used chemical weapons.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: There must be accountability.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I believe we should use maximum use of cruise missiles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Obama orders a report to justify a strike as Assad tells America you will fail.

Plus George Zimmerman wants his money back nearly 300 grand in lawyers' fee. Should Florida taxpayers foot the bill?

Fires, floods and dust storms like this one, what's up with the weather in the southwest?

Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If President Obama turns out, I would be honored to shake his hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: An invitation to the president from a man who says he's not a Republican or a Democrat. He's just a rodeo clown. The second hour of NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me. We begin in Syria and late developments on the possibility of U.S. military strikes. Just last hour, we learned that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the United States is ready to go if President Obama orders attacks on Syria. Listen to Hagel's interview with the BBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, as I've said and I think Prime Minister Cameron has said, president -- our allies, our partners, leaders all over the world have said let's get the facts, let's get the intelligence and then a decision will be made on whether action should be action if action should be taken, what action or no action --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if you would come, you are ready to go like that.

HAGEL: We are ready to go like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Also this morning, we've learned of a U.S. intelligence report that's about to go public as early as today, we may learn what the decision makers now knew about the apparent chemical weapons attacks and who's behind them. In the meantime today in Syria, United Nations inspectors are stopped in their tracks. They had left for a second day of examining suspected attack sites, but were turned back because of security concerns.

Syria's government blames that violence on the rebels. We have a team of reporters on this story, of course, but let's begin with Jill Dougherty at the White House. Good morning, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, you mentioned that intelligence report. We are told by U.S. officials that the plan is for -- to be released publicly today, and that would lay out the case for any type of military action that the president could order. Now, what would be in that intelligent report? It will include, we're told, signal intercepts from the Syrian military, that would be communications among the Syrian military.

That is what the administration has been hinting at that it would be direct evidence that not only were chemical weapons used, but that they were used by the Syrian regime. Also that report, we're told, is expected to have forensic evidence. We've been reporting on that for a while. That could be tissue samples, other physical evidence that chemical weapons were used.

Then the next stop, you just heard from the Defense Secretary Hagel, they are ready to carry out any type of order that the president would issue. We are also told by officials that this is expected, if there is an operation that it would be limited and it could actually be over in just several days -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jill Dougherty, reporting live from the White House. One of the Syria's most loyal allies, of course, is also the strongest critic of the United States and its allegations against the Assad regime. Russia's foreign ministry says Washington is just trying to make up excuses to justify any military strike on Syria. CNN's Phil Black is in Moscow with that part of the story. Good morning, Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Yes, another day, another very strongly worded message from the Russian government condemning the very notion of military strikes against Syria. This one warns against what it sees as the latest attempt to, in its words to bypass the United Nations Security Council and create excuses, ones that it says are unfounded and artificial to launch some sort of military intervention.

It warns that this could create more suffering for Syria and its words have catastrophic consequences across the region. What really triggered this message today was the United States' decision to postpone a meeting between U.S. and Russian officials that was due to take place tomorrow in the Dutch city of The Hague. That meeting was supposed to work out the nuts and bolts of a big international conference that Russia, the U.S. and other parties have been trying to get together for some time to try to come up with a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict.

But the United States has postponed that meeting because it says, well, it's a little busy working out how to respond to this chemical weapons incident. Russia says it is seriously disappointed by that decision because it believes that right now that sort of coordinated diplomatic effort is what is really needed to settle this conflict -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Phil Black reporting live from Moscow this morning. We're going to have the very latest on this deepening crisis in Syria. The military options and CNN's view from within the embattled country, we have some exclusive pictures to show you at the bottom of the hour.

New concerns that Yosemite National Park has a growing wildfire and now threatens two of San Francisco's most basic needs. The fires coming dangerously close to a reservoir that supplying the city with water and it could soon threaten the hydroelectric generators that keep the lights on. Some 3,700 firefighters now on the scene. Two dozen aircraft are dropping water and fire retardant. A big worry are the giant sequoia trees that could go up in flames. More than 179,000 acres have already burned. Take a look at that car's hood. The fire was so intense, part of that car's hood actually melted.

Nick Valencia is in Yosemite this morning. Good morning, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. The sun has just come up here a short time ago and it really gives us a new perspective of what people are dealing with. All that stuff behind me, that's not fog. That's not smog. That's all smoke. That's the road back into Groveland, California about 10 to 15 miles up that way. That is where the fire is burning. That heads towards Yosemite National Park and usually on a normal week, this road is filled with tourists. It's filled with cars heading towards Yosemite National Park to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the beautiful view.

Right now only credentialed media and firefighters are allowed in here and if you take a look at what the fire did to this area, completely devastated it. These were trees that were once alive. None of these are going to make it, Carol. It all looks like this one photo that's monochromatic. This earth here is all charred. This is what it's been reduced to. It used to be a beautiful getaway. For residents I have spoken to in Groveland are heartbroken by what's happened to their community -- Carol.

COSTELLO: How difficult is it to breathe there, Nick?

VALENCIA: It's very difficult to breathe out here. You know, earlier we had to use masks to breathe out here. The smoke is the worst in the morning. We've been getting up around 2:00 a.m. and coming out here to set up for our reporting. That's been the most difficult part to breathe during those hours. The wind comes through, and as the afternoon develops and the sun comes up, it's a little easier. That's the conditions the firefighters are working with. You can only imagine what it's like for them on the front lines -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Nick Valencia reporting live from Yosemite this morning.

Temperatures are heating up across the Midwest. Many school districts closing classrooms early and cancelling sports practices because of a late-season heat wave. Officials say temperatures in the region are 20 degrees higher than normal. At least seven states are under advisories and warnings.

Another bright sign for the U.S. economy, a new report out this morning shows the U.S. home prices in 20 cities continue to rise. The S&P Case-Schiller index shows prices up 12.1 percent in June from a year ago. And that may be due to rising mortgage rates.

Good news for air travelers who don't like sitting next to children. Asia's Scoot Airlines now offering no-child zones. No more crying babies or screaming toddlers or kick seats. The price of silence is an extra $15. Malaysia and others are already offering similar seating options.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is going down the road less traveled. In the last hour, he told CNN he will not, repeat not, use Obamacare as an excuse to lower benefits for his workers. As you may know, UPS is cutting benefits to employees' spouses because of the high costs of Obamacare.

Other companies adjusting or thinking of making changes include Forever 21, Fatburger and perhaps Delta. The airline says health care will cost them an extra $100 million next year although Delta did not specifically cite Obamacare as a reason. Alison Kosik has much more. Tell us, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We did speak with CEO Howard Schultz just a few moments ago, and he pointed out he's not criticizing other companies, but did say that Starbucks' success over the years is directly tied to recognizing that success is best when shared. He went on to say that health care benefits are about self- esteem for employees and their families. So it seems in this case that it's not just goodwill for him that he recognizes that it does go back to the business. He says that shareholder value is directly tied to employer value that happier employees tend to be better workers. They stick around longer. That's important because there is generally a high turnover in kind of fast food establishments like Starbucks, and this consistency helps maintain the quality of the product.

But Shultz says the health care costs are likely going to rise because of this. He doesn't say if he was sure about how much, but he did acknowledged a rise. The interesting question mark is we'll see if the company can absorb the costs or pass it on to consumers through higher prices. Though Starbucks does tell us that there's no direct correlation between the health care costs and prices, that lots of input into what they call their cost structure.

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

He caused a political controversy by dressing up as a rodeo clown. Now the man behind that infamous Obama mask is speaking out explaining his costume and what he would do if he ever met President Obama. Athena Jones has more for you.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't do this to do any hating on anyone. I did it to be funny. I did it to be a joke.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a joke that caused an uproar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama. I know the clown, he's just running around acting like one, doesn't know he is one.

JONES: This is Tuffy Gessling, the rodeo clown whose act mocking President Obama ignited controversy, an act some called racist. That got him banned from the Missouri state fair for life. Now he's talking to CNN affiliate KCTV about the controversy.

TUFFY GESSLING, RODEO CLOWN: I've had somebody threaten to run me over. One of them wanted to burn the house down. This clown bit has been around for generations, and I didn't think anything more of it than what we have done 15 years ago, so years ago, 5 years ago, when we've done it with Bush and Clinton, and Ronald Reagan.

JONES: Some conservative talk show hosts who came to Gessling's defense agreed.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": This is infantile. This is childish. This is worse than political correctness.

JONES: The president hasn't commented but a spokesman did.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you as a native Missourian, certainly not one of the finer moments for our state.

JONES: Now that the dust has settled over his rodeo routine, Gessling would like to clear a few things up.

GESSLING: I never did anything because of anybody's race. I don't care what anybody's color is. It doesn't bother me one bit.

JONES: Gessling says he'll bet at another rodeo coming up in Missouri and --

GESSLING: If President Obama turns out, I would be honored to shake his hand.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, beware of the haboob. Arizona gets hit again.

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COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 16 minutes past the hour, a Massachusetts driver in big, big trouble after driving his pickup truck into a convenience store, and then fleeing the scene. Police tracked the suspect by following the trail of debris his truck left along the road.

Remember the stunning pictures showing earth from Saturn? Yes, we are that tiny dot nearly a billion miles away, knowing our planet would be part of a photo shoot back on July 19th, NASA asked us to take pictures of ourselves waving back. Here is the result. A mosaic of earth made up of pictures around the for globe saying hello together to our distant neighbor. That's pretty awesome, isn't it?

Let's talk sports for a second. No sweat for Serena. Serena Williams began defense of her U.S. Open title by beating Francesca Schiavone. It took Serena an hour to dispatch the former French Open champion. Look at the ball boy, she needed a hug, and the ball boy obliged. After the match, she told reporters the gesture was a joke. What she really needed was more points.

A question for you, what's a haboob? Let me show you. Here's a haboob, a violent dust storm or sand storm. It comes from the Arabic word hab meaning wind. This haboob was captured on video hitting Phoenix. CNN's Indra Petersons joins me with more on an education about haboob. Hi, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Take a look at this. This huge dust storm is rolling through. It's like mud coming in your mouth. Let's talk about what causes so much dust out there. You can see visibility less than a quarter mile. That was Yuma, Arizona. What you actually deal with monsoonal thunderstorms, typical especially in the summer time in the area. All you need is one of those stronger downdraft and that leading edge will kind of take all that dust and carry it right there, right along with the cloud. That's pretty much it.

Typical this time of year in Arizona, they're still seeing the moisture. In fact the tropical moisture is still in place. They continue to see some of these into the forecast. One of the things were watching, though, is all that moisture making its way toward Yosemite. P In fact, they do have a threat of thunderstorms in the area potential there as you see those thunderstorms right over the burn area. You could actually have flooding.

Once again you want the rain, but never too much in the wrong place. The complete opposite, we're talking about heat in the Midwest. We're talking about temperatures that feel like 100, even 110 degrees out there. That's a good 20 degrees above normal. That heat looks like it will stay with them for a couple of days -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Poor kids. Indra Petersons, thank you so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, time to call or text your twine? The boy band One Direction is next, talking about the rise to fame and the success of their summer hit "Best Song Ever."

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COSTELLO: The "Best Song Ever?" That was One Direction's hit music video, which took home a top honor at this weekend's MTV Video Music Awards, the quote -- best song of the summer. The boy band opened up to CNN about their rise to fame.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a few days before, where it was just kind of normal, normal, and then boom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It definitely opened quickly for us. That first year was, you know, we definitely had to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not like we adjusted to it like a big slug. Especially at the start, it was so exciting. It didn't feel like doing a job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still haven't felt like we've made it. I think when it hit us was when we got number one over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the VMA's as well. You can see -- all of it like --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seemed like Katie Perry and Michelle Obama singing the song seemed like a strange moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We tried --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, I still haven't seen --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, probably that we get to do -- we get to share the experience of being on stage. That's school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fun to look at. Five idiots, that's the simple way of putting it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: They are charming. Let's bring in CNN entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner. She is in New York. I don't think that people realize just how big this boy band is.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. People kind of scoff sometimes when they see the young girls and this can't stop because I was this way about new edition in my day. They could be the first ever billion dollar boy band. On the show the British X Factor just three years ago. It's really actually pretty crazy. It's been a rapid rise for them. They've got a huge following for young people. In fact, I went out for dinner Friday night here in New York City. And across the street I said what are all these 10 and 12-year- old girls doing standing around? It was One Direction's hotel. They were all camped out, hoping to get a glimpse of these guys.

COSTELLO: They are awfully cute surprisingly they were booed at the MTV Video Music Awards. Why?

TURNER: That was interesting. When their song won "Best Song Ever" for the song of the summer, the fans voted on that song. Maybe not everyone in the room actually agreed with the choice from the fans because there were other songs that were up, some of us that think make may be the song of the summer. The fans definitely did. Lady Gaga was one of the people who stood up for the band in the wake of the booing, telling them directly they deserve all of the success they have gotten. By the way, this movie of theirs requests, "This is us." There's a certain scene in a certain entertainment correspondent's voice -- I'm just saying.

COSTELLO: I can't wait to see just for that.

TURNER: If someone told me I could have picked out that voice three theaters over. I don't know if it was a compliment or a diss.

COSTELLO: I'm sure it was a compliment. Nischelle Turner, always fun, thanks.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, now that he's been acquitted George Zimmerman's defense team is asking the state of Florida to pay up. How much it will cost taxpayers.

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