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Assad Unstable; Debate Over U.S. Action in Syria; Biden Addresses American Legion; Video of President Ford in Fromme Trial; Wife Carries Amputee Husband; Father Loses Custody Fight; Sarah Murnaghan Home from Hospital

Aired August 27, 2013 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Just into CNN: The defense has rested in the sentencing phase of the trial of Army Major Nidal Hasan, really the defense being himself because he's representing himself in court there.

He has been convicted already, found guilty of premeditated murder for killing 13 people in that 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, also 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He rested. And it was just a matter of 20 seconds where he said the defense rests. There were questions about whether he might take the stand. Ultimately, he did not and he also didn't do that in the first phase of the trial.

We will be looking at closing arguments starting tomorrow and then the jury will get the case and determine his fate because he is eligible for the death sentence.

Unpredictable, moody, that is how one man describes the president that the whole world is now talking go. Syria's Bashar al-Assad has long been an enigma. He's the son of one of history's most infamous dictators. Assad has been in power now for 13 years. And over that time, he's become a recluse, his reputation shaped largely by the brutality of his regime.

CNN's Brian Todd just sat down with one of the only Americans to be given personal access to not just Assad but his wife, Brian, someone you could argue a person who knows Assad best.

So how did he get this access and what did he tell you?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this gentleman's name is Andrew Tabler. He's an analyst for the Washington Institute here.

He got access because he worked for a charity that he and Assad's wife, Asma Assad, ran a few years back.

We've been speaking to him and other analysts who have studied the Assad family over the years. In this situation, they say Bashar al- Assad has badly miscalculated.

He got advice from people who told him that President Obama would not enforce his red line against chemical weapons use and a huge part of this miscalculation is driven by Assad's own personality.

Experts say he's partly delusional, that he and those around him are conspiracy-minded. They believe they're not doing anything wrong, that it's outside forces, namely the U.S. and Israel, setting them up.

As I mentioned, I spoke with Andrew Tabler. He's an analyst who's one of only a handful of Westerners to gain access to the Assad family inner circle.

Here's what he had to say about Bashar al-Assad's personality.


ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Bashar al- Assad, unlike his father, is quite erratic. He's quite moody.

He goes from one side to the other, bouts of rationality and irrationality, and that confounded all of our attempts to deal with Bashar over the years.


TODD: Now Tabler couldn't say whether he thinks Assad is bipolar or not. he says even those close to him find it very difficult to read him.

And so his calculations in the current crisis may be even tougher to predict. You have got an erratic personality who's now under a great deal of stress. Brianna?

KEILAR: Very interesting report. Brian Todd, thank you for that. You can see more of Brian's report on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is among the voices here in this country calling for caution in Syria. He writes this today at

Quote, "Before bombing Syria over the regime's latest crimes, we should stand back and ask, and then what?"

Gingrich writes that Iran is a far bigger threat to the United States' interests given its purported nuclear weapons program.

And joining us now from New York to talk about this, CNN political commentator Will Cain here in Washington, Donna Brazile, also a CNN political commentator.

What do you make -- let me start with you, Will. What do you make of what Gingrich is saying? Is there any way for considering that the U.S. has said this is a red line for there not to be a response here?

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the problem, Brianna. We have created a situation where we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. And the Obama administration put itself in this position. Any kind of military action in Syria makes absolutely no sense. What do we do? We lob a few missiles over there to create a symbol to say, you must not do what we tell you to do. Do you go take out chemical weapons storage?

You don't really launch weapons on -- launch a war on chemical weapons. You launch a war on regimes, on people. That means a greater escalation.

The point is, this makes sense to no one and it's reflective not only in the Obama administration's lack of action for two years, but the fact that 60 percent of the American people do not want to see action in Syria.

However, because the Obama administration created this red line, because they created this false scenario that, if you launch chemical weapons, we must act, our credibility is at stake.

And nations like North Korea and Iran are watching. Obama himself through his own words, through running his mouth has created a situation now where we must go to war.

KEILAR: Donna, what do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Mr. Assad, if these allegations are true and what Secretary Kerry pointed out yesterday in giving us a little bit of what I think is an update that we'll get from the intelligence community, we cannot allow Mr. Assad to violate international law, to use these weapons against his own people.

And I think it's extremely important that we --

KEILAR: Hey, guys, just a moment. I'm going to revisit with you in just a moment, but we have Vice President Joe Biden who is speaking in Houston before the American Legion Convention.

Let's listen in.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everyone acknowledges their use.

No one doubts that innocent men, women and children have been the victims of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and there is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Syrian regime.

For we know that the Syrian regime are the only ones who have the weapons, have used chemical weapons multiple times in the past, have the means of delivering those weapons, have been determined to wipe out exactly the places that were attacked by chemical weapons, and, instead of allowing U.N. inspectors immediate access, the government has repeatedly shelled the sites of the attack and blocked the investigation for five days.

At President Obama's direction, all of us and his national security team have been in close touch with our foreign counterparts. The president believes, and I believe, that those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable.

No one -- no one -- knows better the depths of this country's commitment to universal principles than the American Legion, the very people we've asked in the past to defend those principles.

What a remarkable group of women and men you are, what a remarkable group of Americans in this room today.

As I look out, I see the faces of veterans of wars going back to World War I, Korea --


KEILAR: All right, we're going to dip out of this now. This is vice president Joe Biden speaking at what was a planned speech that he was to give there in Houston before the American Legion. He's the keynote speaker there.

Let's go ahead bring in Donna Brazile and Will Cain to talk about this.

So now you've had Chuck Hagel talking about this. John Kerry has talked about this. And now we see Vice President Joe Biden, really the highest level envoy of President Obama's here, laying the groundwork for a justification for a use of force in Syria.

I mean, that's how I read it, Donna.

BRAZILE: Well, look, they also must exhaust every other legal means to go to the U.N., NATO, the Arab League. There are clearly steps being taken now to consult with our allies and to ensure that our response is appropriate.

But I simply cannot believe that we're going to have a partisan petty fight over what the response should be.

What the president is doing is consulting with members of Congress. He's consulting with our allies, and we cannot simply allow the Syrian regime to use these chemical weapons, and who knows, to let them out to others who clearly hate America that might use them against us at some point.

So I think the administration is doing the right thing and proceeding cautiously.

KEILAR: And, Will, I want to ask you about this. You brought up the poll numbers that show Americans, they're very war-weary. They don't want to see the U.S. engaged in this front.

You said it's more than 50 percent who say they don't want this, but let me ask you this. There's a difference between a military engagement where U.S. troops lives are in jeopardy and something like lobbing Tomahawk missiles from the Mediterranean Sea where you're talking about at a great distance.

Do you think that if Americans were asked in a different way, now that they've seen these pictures which are just heart-wrenching, don't you think that that changes those poll numbers?

CAIN: I think somewhat we're playing a semantic game over the definition of war, whether or not that's American pilots flying over Syrian air space and dropping bombs or cruise missiles launching off an American aircraft is a little bit besides the point.

The question is, should the United States go to war? The images of that war, the nature of that war, are the secondary question. And the question is, should we go to war? Over what? Over the use of chemical weapons?

It's abhorrent. The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, but you know what else is, killing people with bullets and bombs, and that's what Bashar al-Assad has been doing for two years to the tune of a hundred thousand deaths.

I just can't sit here and accept the premise that somehow that's moral and that's tolerable, and chemical weapons, that's over the line, that's immoral and that is a predicate to action. That requires us to do something.

The only reason that this is predicate, the only reason this requires action is because the president said it with his own words, the irresponsibility of his own words.

He's committed us to it because now Iran and North Korea will respond to whatever actions are. And by the way, to Donna's point about this being partisan, let me tell you something. Disagreement is the most important thing when it comes to war. And I think the Democratic Party made sure of that voice over the last 10 years.

KEILAR: Donna, I want to give you --

BRAZILE: There are many Democrats who oppose war.

KEILAR: Donna, I want to give you the final word on this though, on what he says about President Obama painting himself into a box here.

BRAZILE: No, the president is going to use every diplomatic tool in the toolkit and the president is going to reach out and make sure as John Kerry said the other day, that our allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and others are with us in terms of our response.

But this is a very important region of the country. We've shed a lot of blood in the Middle East, but we have a lot of interest in a part of the world and the United States cannot simply turn a blind eye to what's going on in Syria.

There's a humanitarian crisis. We cannot simply run and hide when we're not ready for what the consequences may be.

Iran, that situation, we could spend more time, Will, talking about the consequences of inaction. I think we all know what that is.

KEILAR: Donna and Will, we will spend more time talking about this in the days going forward. It's goings to be a very busy week on this topic for sure.

Thanks to both of you for being with us.

Coming up, decades ago a follower of Charles Manson tried to kill President Gerald ford. Now brand-new, never-before-seen video of Ford talking about what he saw during the assassination attempt.


GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I saw a hand come through the crowd in the first row.



KEILAR: It is a rare firsthand account of a presidential assassination attempt, this account by the president himself.

Gerald Ford answers questions on video about the day a woman named Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme pointed a loaded pistol at him outside the California state capitol.

The weapon didn't fire and she was arrested. The video of Ford's testimony has just been released. Check it out.


FORD: As I indicated a moment ago, I noticed this lady, brightly colored dress, who wanted to apparently move closer toward me, and I assumed to shake hands, and so I hesitated.

Instead of keeping -- moving as I normally do and as I stopped, I saw a hand come through a crowd in the first row, and that was the only active gesture that I saw.

In the hand was a weapon.


KEILAR: John Berman, tell us where this video came from and why are we only seeing it now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a fascinating piece of American history, Brianna. This tape -- this video taken of President Ford has been in a vault sealed in a federal courthouse in Sacramento since 1975.

The tape was made here in Washington about two months after the assassination attempt. It was a deposition for the assassination attempt trial of "Squeaky" Fromme. President Gerald Ford gave this testimony for that trial and, at the time, there were many people in the government who did not think it was a good idea for a president to testify.

He was the first sitting president ever to give such testimony in a case, but President Ford felt it was important. He felt it was important to send the message no one was above the law.

KEILAR: Fascinating stuff. I remember looking into this, and it was a secret service agent I think who managed to stop the hammer from coming down. That's how close of a call it was. Fascinating.

John Berman, thank you very much. He's going to be anchoring "THE LEAD," so tune in.

By now, everyone has an opinion, I have one, too, on Sunday's Miley Cyrus' what do we call it? We'll call it an exhibition.

One thing is for sure. It was a social media phenomenon. It generated 306,000 tweets per minute.

What does her dad, singer Billy Ray Cyrus think about it. Our Piers Morgan will ask him tonight on CNN.

It was a normal family photo of a Marine, but it's gone viral all because of what his wife was doing for him. We'll be showing you the picture, next.


KEILAR: Now to a photograph going viral online. That is Jesse and Kelly Cottle. He is a Marine Corps veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan in 2009. And they were taking family photos in Idaho recently when the photographer suggested they get in the water.

Well, they had a better idea.


KELLY COTTLE, WIFE OF MARINE CORPS VETERAN: So we said, well, you could just pop your legs off and then get on one of our backs and we'll take you in.

And so because that's just how we get around sometimes, like at the beach or wherever.


K. COTTLE: Yeah, we do it all the time. It's just pretty normal, so he hopped back on my back and then Sarah is like, oh, we'll take some couple shots.

J. COTTLE: I'm glad you can have that insight when you don't expect it.

K. COTTLE: No, it's just kind of normal for us, but it's cool because I think we represent a lot of people that are going through and a lot of couples are going through the same thing, so it's an honor to be able to represent that.


KEILAR: The photographer says that her Facebook page has been overwhelmed from messages from people looking at these pictures.

Next we have a unique custody fight. The father didn't know that she was born, never even met her and just found out an adoptive family was raising her.

Now, though, he's fighting back. Does he have a case? We're back in 60 seconds.


KEILAR: Now to an unusual custody case out of Kentucky, a father is fighting for his baby girl. She's not with the woman who gave birth to her, but with the parents who adopted her.

The dad, Tyler Trevino, didn't have a change of heart. He never even consented to the adoption, telling our affiliate WLKY that his ex- girlfriend told him that she had an abortion.

He found out about his daughter through a friend, so Trevino then petitioned the family court, but despite his blood ties, WLKY says a Jefferson County judge has denied Trevino not only custody but visitation.


TYLER TREVINO, DAD SEEKING CUSTODY OF ADOPTED CHILD: This is something I helped create and I want to step up and take care of her.


KEILAR: Want to go ahead now and bring our lawyers back, legal analyst for, Lisa bloom, HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson.

So, Joey, to you, is this birth dad eventually going to win custody, do you think?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: It's kind of dicey, Brianna. We might have the reaction generally of saying, are you kidding me? Of course he deserves custody. This is outrageous. He had no idea. There was misrepresentation.

The problem, though, is that the law always gets in the way, and apparently under Kentucky law, you have a 60-day period in which to assert your rights as a father.

Now obviously, the argument is going to be that she misled him, she said she wasn't pregnant, he had no reason or basis to know, but the reason for the 60 days is so that you do have a basis to know and you can affirmatively act upon your rights. And so while he does have a case, Brianna, it may not be as simple of a case as we may imagine.

KEILAR: And the reason is to as well protect those adoptive parents as well.

So, Lisa, CNN wasn't able to identify the mom. She declined an on- camera interview with WLKY, but court documents show she says she thought another boyfriend was actually the father when she put the baby up for adoption.

Now, reportedly, DNA tests show that Trevino is the father. Do you think the blood relation would get a priority and maybe at least to maybe get visitation?

LISA BLOOM, LEGAL ANALYST, AVVO.COM: He has a constitutional right to raise his own child.

And I think this is an absolutely outrageous law that a father who allegedly has been lied to only has 60 days to find out about that, get a lawyer and file, otherwise he has no access to his own child, presumably for the next 18 years?

That's completely outrageous. I'm tired of seeing cases like this, like the Baby Veronica case where there were similar allegations.

You know, at a time when there are so many deadbeat dads and a lot of people, including me, are railing against fathers who are not present in their children's lives, here's a father fighting to be present in his own baby's life.

I would think the law would stand behind him.

KEILAR: Yeah, it's a very sad story.

JACKSON: That's a good point, Lisa.

KEILAR: That is a good point. It's a very sad story and this isn't going to be the last of it, I think.

Lisa Bloom, Joey Jackson, thank you so much.

Now next find out what caused one former governor to get emotional in a courtroom.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These kids only get one shot. Elementary school, they only get one shot.


KEILAR: I want to take you real quick to Pennsylvania where the parents of Sarah Murnaghan, that 11-year-old whose lung transplant patient whose case changed the rules for children's transplants, are now speaking. FRAN MURNAGHAN, SARAH'S FATHER: It's all just muscle buildup. She's off of oxygen, so what's happening now is she's building up her muscles again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her breathing muscles?

JANET MURNAGHAN, SARAH'S FATHER: Yeah, her breathing muscles, so basically all of her muscles.

She's having trouble walking. She walks with a walker, and with assistance. But it's not effortless. It's really huge and hard.

So we walk from the couch to the bathroom with a walker and that's a huge challenge and huge ordeal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the first thing she wanted to do?

J. MURNAGHAN: She just wanted to be with her brothers and sister. She really just wants to be with her family. It's been hard being separated as a family for six months.


J. MURNAGHAN: I mean, awesome obviously. And, you know, we didn't obviously do it alone.

We did it with all of you and with our wonderful friends who, you know, stood up with us and, you know, really made this all happen, you know, and really fought for Sarah.

So, you know, we're the ones that everybody's taking pictures of, but it was a huge team. I mean, our whole family really stood behind us and really did this for Sarah and our friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please take us back to when you had very little hope to the day when she came back from the hospital. Can you tell us about the journey?

F. MURNAGHAN: It's a long journey.

MURNAGHAN: Yeah, June was really hard. So, June was an awful place to be. Obviously we didn't know if she would live. Around the 8th of June she was intubated and sedated and, you know, we didn't have --

KEILAR: Sarah Murnaghan, now home from the hospital and at home. So good to hear from her parents, and best of luck to her, of course.

That's it for me.

"THE LEAD" starts right now. John Berman, take it away.