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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

U.S. Closer to Military Attack in Syria; David Kay Discusses Syria; Zimmerman's Attorneys Want State to Pay; "Battle of Sexes" Maybe Rigged; Victims Confront Convicted Hasan; Hasan Faces Death Penalty; Union Fighting for Hernandez's Bonus; Government Wins Chicago Housing Suit

Aired August 27, 2013 - 11:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: American warships with cruise missiles aimed at Syria awaiting possibly orders to go ahead and strike. Are the U.S. and its allies justified even obligated to take immediate action over chemical weapons attacks in that country?

Also this hour, talk about disorder in the court. Wow. What would you do if you heard your brother was stabbed 69 times?

And say it isn't so. The battle of the sexes that took the nation by storm in the 70s, a sham, rigged? A bombshell report alleging that Bobby Riggs threw the match with Billie Jean King.

Hello everyone and welcome to the LEGAL VIEW. I'm Ashleigh Banfield and it is Tuesday, August 27 and our very big top story this hour. The president appears to be on the verge of ordering military action against Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own civilians.

The secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, said as much this morning in an interview with the BBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if the order comes, you're ready to go like that?

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are ready to go, like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: The White House says that President Obama has not yet made a final decision on launching any kind of an attack, but his national security team will present him with its final options within days.

Take a look at the map that shows where Syria has allegedly used the chemical weapons against civilians there, the latest alleged attack happening last week on the outskirts of a Syrian capital of Damascus.

Opposition leaders say as many as 1,300 people were killed. And this just into CNN. We've now obtained this cell phone video from one of the areas allegedly hit by chemical weapons, and this is distressing. You can see a mass grave. This was filmed several days after the attack.

What you are not seeing in this particular part of the video is what we can't show you, the dead bodies, lots of dead bodies in those mass graves. And we have confirmed that some of those bodies are, in fact, children.

If President Obama does order an attack, a senior defense official says that Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea could fire cruise missiles within hours.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is the only Western television journalist in Syria right now, and he's got the latest for us from Damascus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As many Western powers seem to be inching closer toward intervention here in Syria, the message from the Syrian government is one that they have understood and they're getting the message, but also one of a lot of defiance.

There was a press conference earlier today by Syria's foreign minister Waled Muallem where he reiterated, saying that the Syrian government did not use chemical weapons on the battlefield here in the outskirts of Damascus.

And he also said that Syria was not responsible for the delays of U.N. weapons inspectors getting on the ground and being able to start their investigation.

Now, of course, that investigation was delayed one more time today when the weapons inspectors said they simply felt the security situation was not right for their team to get back on the ground.

That, of course, also has to do with the fact that their convoy was shot at by a sniper yesterday. And one vehicle was so badly damaged it had to be replaced.

Now the U.S., of course, is not buying anything of what the Syrian government says. It said especially the fact that the Syrian government has been shelling the outskirts of Damascus in a major way could tamper with possible evidence that might still be on the ground there in those areas that were allegedly subject to those chemical nerve agents.

The Syrian government for their part said that the only reason why they keep shelling the outskirts of Damascus, and there's been there's been a lot of shelling going on in the past couple of hours -- they say the only reason why they are doing that is because they want to stop opposition forces from trying to advance on central Damascus. They say otherwise they believe they might be overrun.

Again, the U.S. says that they do not buy that line of argumentation.

The Syrian government also, though, remaining defiant, saying that if it is attacked by Western powers, especially the United States, it will retaliate in any way it sees fit. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Damascus.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: All right, thank you, Fred. And, again, our only Western journalist, television journalist, inside Syria, so a critical report from Fred today.

The United States military is ready to move against Syria if ordered by the president. Along with the possibility of giving that order, the president would apparently need some solid legal ground, or at least some legal ground for taking that kind of an action.

The secretary of state John Kerry, and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, say that they're convinced that Syria carried out last week's apparent chemical attack. That is the government, not the opposition forces.

The opposition is saying that as many as 1,300 people, again, were killed, so we're not talking about a small attack.

Joining us more to talk about those possible legal aspects and implications of attacking Syria is the former U.N. chief weapons inspector. David Kay. He's currently a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

Dr. Kay thank you so much for being with us. You are such a critical voice at this time.

Could you tell me, from your experience, being in-country in these kinds of circumstances as a chief weapons inspector, what kind of evidence can be found on the ground that the United Nations team would be prepared to actually articulate as being at the hands of the Assad regime?

DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: First, realize that the Security Council mandate did not mandate the team to find out who used the chemical weapons. They mandated it to determine if chemical weapons were used.

And in many ways, that's a far easier task. It's not easy because of the security situation and the continued shelling, but you look for soil samples. You're certainly going to take blood samples from the survivors, other environmental samples.

If there are any warheads around possibly contained the chemical weapons, you'll do that. You'll swab down buildings.

But this takes time, particularly in an area that's been heavily bombarded, continues to be bombarded, as you reported at the top of the show, so it's difficult to do and it's not something you're going to do really very quickly.

BANFIELD: Dr. Kay, it just seems to be a fool's errand to think that it's needed to prove that a chemical attack happened. It feels as though almost the entire globe at this point, including Bashar al Assad, says a chemical attack happened.

The issue is who did it? Was it Assad or was it the insurgents, as he calls them? Isn't that the critical question? And could we ever actually get language from the U.N. inspectors that might lead us in the direction of who did it as opposed to whether it was done?

KAY: Well, I think the circumstantial evidence will certainly build a strong case as to who did it. No one believes that the rebels have the capability to launch a large-scale chemical attack using aircraft and missiles. It's just beyond their inventory.

These are AK-47 and RPG guys, not missile and pilots. On the other hand, look, we're coming out of 2003 in Iraq. At that time and in fact in many ways, it's like the administration is almost channeling Dick Cheney, who said, as vice president, we didn't need to wait for the U.N. inspectors. We knew Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Candidate and Senator Obama also said it was a rush to judgment and the administration, President Bush, should have waited for the U.N. inspectors. So the administration is in a tough position here.

BANFIELD: But let me just quickly asking, just to follow up. The secretary says -- the secretary of state says right now it might not even matter what the inspectors say at this point because apparently U.S. officials telling CNN that we have signal intercepts and other kinds of evidence that are good enough to prove the case of why perhaps the United States could make a legal basis for attacking Syria.

But then I just wanted to ask you about this whole notion of the R2P responsibility to protect. It's sort of widely accepted among the United Nations member states that we all have a duty to protect other member states who may be hurting their own.

Can't we just make the case based on R2P to go in and rescue, for instance, the civilians who are being slaughtered?

KAY: Ashleigh, there are two responses to that that we have to consider. One is, you certainly remember Colin Powell who spoke to the Security Council, citing signal intelligence, photo intelligence and a lot of other evidences which turned out not to be true.

That's a burden we are going to be carrying for a long time. The right to protect is -- I would not say it's widely supported by all members of the U.N. Certainly there are at least two members of the Security Council, Russia and China, that have not articulated support for that doctrine.

That's too bad. I think they should, but they haven't. And we requested the -- we were a strong supporter of the Security Council resolution sending inspectors into Syria. Now to say, it's not necessary we're going when we know that, in fact, if we went back to the council and asked for support to interact with the Syrians military, we would have vetoes from at least two countries.

BANFIELD: Dr. David Kay, it's great to see you again. And thank you for your insight. I have a feeling we may be speaking with you as this week progresses. Dr. Kay, thanks again.

George Zimmerman's attorneys want some of his legal fees to be paid, and they're expected to ask the state of Florida to pay up as much as $300,000, and the state has a law that says it has to do so.

It's not the fees for the lawyers; make no mistake. They say they worked almost pro bono on this, but since Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, the defense can ask to be reimbursed for some of the expenses of trial, like reports and experts, et cetera.

A stunning report says the iconic 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs could have in fact been rigged.

Fifty million people tuned in to watch King defeat Riggs. An ESPN report says that Riggs may have thrown that match to settle a gambling debt with the Mob.

Billie Jean King says the report is ridiculous and simply sour grapes.

Victims and family members of those killed in the Fort Hood shooting rampage are getting their chance to face down their killer, their family's killers and their assailant and tell them exactly what they think, as the man convicted of the crime listens, one survivor telling the court he's angrier and darker than he used to be.

We're going to take you live to Texas, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: In "Crime and Punishment," the jury could begin deliberating as early as today in Fort Hood on the fate of Army Major Nidal Hasan. He, of course, was found guilty last week in the deadliest soldier-on- soldier attack in recent U.S. military history.

Our Ed Lavandera has more on Hasan's sentencing and the emotional testimony from the shooting victims and their families.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was the immediate aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre. Emergency crews scrambled to save lives, but the real impact of that horrific day is only now coming into full view.

The jury in the trial of Nidal Hasan is hearing testimony from a dozen witnesses, including relatives of those killed and victims who survived.

Staff Sergeant Patrick Ziegler was shot four times, once in the head. Doctors had to remove 20 percent of his brain.

Zeigler says he's retiring from the Army in October and fears he'll never be able to hold a regular job. He told the jury, "It's affected every facet of my personality. I'm a lot angrier, a lot darker than I used to be."

Twenty-one-year-old Private Francheska Velez was pregnant when Hasan gunned her down inside the Fort Hood medical processing building. Other survivors said they could hearing her screaming, "My baby, my baby," before her voice went silent.

Her father, Juan Velez, testified, "This man did not just kill just 13 people. He killed my grandson and he killed me slowly."

For the first time in court, Nidal Hasan appeared flustered, repeatedly asking the judge for breaks during the testimony.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Our Ed Lavandera is live now from Fort Hood.

So, Ed, once these witnesses get a chance to finish up their statements in court, presumably it turns to the defense and Nidal Hasan would be able to stand up and make some kind of allocution.

Do we expect him to do that? And if he does that, can he say things now that he couldn't say during the trial?

LAVANDERA: Well, I think he has a little bit more leeway. We're kind of reading tea leaves at this point. Nidal Hasan has asked on Friday that, when the prosecution is done presenting its witnesses, that he get the rest of the day to be able to prepare for what he wants to do, so that kind of implies there that he seems to be ready to say something. Exactly what, we don't know.

So if that does happen and the prosecution wraps up -- it has several more witnesses to call throughout the rest of the morning here -- we anticipate that the judge -- the judge will perhaps give him the rest of the day and then come back tomorrow morning and then prepare for what he may or may not say. So that's the best we can tell you at this point, just kind of reading in the tea leaves on what we've seen in the courtroom for the last few days.

BANFIELD: Well, if he decides to spout off on the "in defense of others," which he wasn't allowed to do before -- I have seen judges shut people down, regardless of whether they're defendants or not and these might be their last words. I've seen judges shut them down. And you never know if that's going to happen here. You've got your work cut out for you.

Ed, thank you. Ed Lavandera live for us.

So coming up, Aaron Hernandez has gone from an NFL star to a suspected murderer. So why does the football players' union want to get him an $82,000 bonus? Find out the legal implications and why this may not be such a bad request.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A former football star accused of murder might end up getting paid a sweet bonus. That's if the NFL players' union gets its way.

Aaron Hernandez, you probably know by now, is sitting in a jail cell. He was cut from the New England Patriots in June right after he was charged with that first-degree premeditated murder. Yesterday the NFL Players' Association came to bat for him, filing a grievance on his behalf, saying that the team, the Patriots, owe him $82,000 in off- season workout bonuses.

Andy Scholes with "The Bleacher Report" is here.

Andy, at first I thought this was soulless. I couldn't believe this was happening. But it turns out there may be a pretty good reason. Can you explain this?

ANDY SCHOLES, "THE BLEACHER REPORT": Yes, yes, yes. See, well, they're doing this, because they say they don't want to set a precedent of a player not getting what is contractually owed to them. So even though Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder, he was at those off-season workouts, so the NFLPA said he should be paid for being there.

Now, we reached out to the players' association for comment, and they gave us this statement: "We are obligated to defend the clauses in a player's contract and CBA regardless of what did or didn't do. We know the allegations and his incarceration is serious stuff, but what happens to his grievance can impact other players."

Now, a rep from the NFLPA also told us that, since July 2012, they've filed about 70 cases claiming some type of payment. So actually, while Hernandez's case is rare, the fact that a club did not pay a player and they filed a grievance is pretty routine.

BANFIELD: Well, OK. That sounds about right, except for there's a lot of other layers to this. Andy Scholes, thank you for that.

I want to bring in our legal team, because it just screams for a lawyer, doesn't it? CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos; CNN legal analyst Paul Callan; and HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson. Got the A- Team here, guys.

We start with you, Danny. So first of all, the average guy out there might think that's insane. How can you pay a guy who's sitting in a jail cell? Does it just come down to the simple notion that you are innocent until proven guilty?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, it actually comes down to a contract. When two parties -- no matter how much money is involved, when two parties enter into a contract, they agree to the terms.

And as I understand it, this contract may have provided for what we call a failure to perform, the part that would have denied him his compensation really may only apply to the $82,000 workout bonus.

BANFIELD: OK.

CEVALLOS: There appears to be no such clause in the remainder of the base salary. So he may get the big bucks.

BANFIELD: OK. So I just want to note, there's a statement that Andy was reading from the players' association. I want to add to it as well, because if you're feeling like this is just awful stuff, the players' association expected you to be feeling that way, and they've also said, "Look, we're not tone-deaf to what the allegations are in this case, but for the benefit of all players, there are important precedents here that we must protect."

Paul, does it come down to dates? As in when was the crime alleged at the point committed? When might the conviction or exoneration actually happen? And when do the contract dates kick in for all these layers of these fancy sports contracts?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It most definitely does. I mean, the back story also is that they negotiate an agreement that applies to all of these high-paid players. And they don't want somebody who's got a marijuana conviction of a crime or in jail on a marijuana charge to forfeit a $20 million bonus.

So it's kind of the same rule applies to that case as a murder case. And here the question is, when did he allegedly commit the murder, and does reasonable doubt and presumption of innocence apply?

BANFIELD: How come morals don't come in here, Joey Jackson? You know, there are a lot of people, public figures -- I've actually signed a contract in my 25-year history that had a morality clause in it.

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.

BANFIELD: I'm a public figure. I don't want to bring this place down because I'm out doing bad things. What about a morals issue and a morality part of the contract?

JACKSON: Moral clauses absolutely are relevant. They're important, because a morals clause, just backing up, says if you do something that offends moral turpitude or brings the team in ill repute, then of course, they can void the contract.

However, there's an important distinction, Ashleigh, and that's this. He already earned that by virtue of his off-season workouts. And so as a matter of contract interpretation, contracts are made to make you whole. And so as a matter of equity and fairness, to the extent that he performed the off-season workout, give him the money.

CALLAN: So he was plotting a homicide while he was working out...

BANFIELD: Allegedly. Allegedly.

JACKSON: Give him the money. Innocent until proven guilty.

BANFIELD: I'm not the lawyer on this channel, and I'm the one adding "allegedly"?

JACKSON: But you're smarter than all the rest of us anyway. BANFIELD: Not even close. I depend on you regularly. Gents, thank you, all three of you. And you're all sports fans, too, which I am not, at all. Thank you.

JACKSON: You're missing out big.

BANFIELD: I know. So I'm told.

OK. So don't go anywhere, because I want to put you guys to work a little bit later on.

You know that place in your city or your town, that neighborhood with the foreclosed or dilapidated houses? A total eyesore and the neighbors are so mad, because it's bringing down their values? In Chicago, the city leaders have heard the words that they don't want to hear. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don't have to cut the grass or upkeep their rundown properties. Are you kidding me? They don't? How did they win this?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Today, in the city of Detroit, they're starting to knock down abandoned homes there. It's all part of this neighborhood stabilization project, and it was backed by a lot of money, $52 million worth of money, straight from the coffers of the federal government.

In Chicago, on the other hand, it is almost exactly the opposite story, because the federal government there is refusing to pay a fee for vacant homes in that city. In fact, a judge has ruled that the Federal Housing Finance Agency -- that's the agency overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- does not have to obey the city ordinance that demands that mortgage holders have to pay a fee and pay to keep up the vacant buildings, lest they fall into disrepair and really annoy the neighbors and bring down the value of the neighborhood.

I want to bring in in our legal team: CNN's legal analysts Paul Callan and Danny Cevallos; and HLN's legal analyst, Joey Jackson.

OK. First of all, are you kidding me, Danny, that I would have to upkeep a home like that, but the feds, if they own the home next door, don't have to? Is that really what this is?

CEVALLOS: This is fascinating, because it implicates some real constitutional fundamental principles, and one of those is that state and municipal governments can't tax the federal government. We can't -- a municipalities can't walk down to the post office or down to the Navy and start taxing them on their activities.

But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are different. They are parties that engaged in these contracts, these mortgages which went sour. So this is a very interesting thing, because we have a federal government as a contract participator that has now been exempt from these transactions, where just like you said, you would be obligated.

BANFIELD: OK. Paul, lest anybody who's watching right now think, "OK, that's a Chicago problem. Whew, thank God I live in L.A.," this could be precedent setting, because after all, it's the feds, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and they've got properties and mortgages all over the country.

CALLAN: And think about the thousands of mortgages that are underwater. These are -- these are abandoned homes in big cities across the country, and the local government says, "Hey, clean it up, you know? Let's make sure that the property is kept up in proper form."

BANFIELD: They've got ordinances to keep it clean.

CALLAN: Now there's a way around this, and without getting too -- you know, lawyering this up too much...

JACKSON: But you will.

CALLAN: ... there's a doctrine. It's called concurrent jurisdiction. The federal government may have the final say here, because they're the feds, OK?

But they can yield to the state and they can say, "You know, Chicago, you have this ordinance. We're willing to abide by it." And the feds frequently do that.