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The Case Against Syria; Yosemite Wildfire; Heat, Floods, Dust From Coast To Coast; Fort Hood Massacre; Missing Teen's Body Found; Zimmerman's Lawyers Ask For Court Costs; Megachurch Measles; Strike From The Skies; Painful Reminders at Newtown; Timeline for U.S. Action in Syria Revealed

Aired August 27, 2013 - 06:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But first this morning, U.N. inspectors in Syria are checking a suspected chemical weapon site in Damascus, but the U.S. isn't waiting for a report. The White House and Secretary of State Kerry no longer cautious about saying they believe the Assad government is using chemical weapons.

The question now, will Syria pay a price for crossing the infamous red line set by Obama? We have this story covered like no one else including the only western network reporter inside Syria. But first, let's get to CNNs Chris Lawrence live at the Pentagon -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, basically the White House has ruled out ground troops and a no fly zone, but a presidential decision on a limited action could be eminent. The question is at what cost because this morning there is a new warning from Russia, warning the U.S. of catastrophic consequences if it strikes Syria.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Within days, President Obama's national security team will present him with its final detailed options. The administration is already making the case for taking action against Syria.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people.

LAWRENCE: Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Assad regime of gassing its own people and called it --

KERRY: Moral obscenity.

LAWRENCE: If the president gives the order a senior defense officials says four Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea could execute a mission within hours. U.S. and British submarines are also likely nearby, all armed with cruise missiles. The extremely accurate Tomahawks can be fired from 500 miles away, with an ability to change course in mid flight. The potential targets include the delivery systems that can be used to launch weapons, militia training camps being run by Bashar Al-Assad and most importantly, the Syrian government's command and control centers.

The options are not designed to overthrow Assad's government, but send a message to deter any further use of chemical weapons, President Obama's red line.

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Any time you throw down a diplomatic gauntlet your words have repercussions.


LAWRENCE: Now the president is under some pressure to back up his own ultimatum. While the U.S. is consulting with its allies officials tell us the U.S. does not feel it may be under any pressure to sort of go ahead without a formal coalition and execute an action. Meanwhile, in terms of Russia, the U.S. has canceled a meeting with Russia on Syria and the time frame of all of these strikes have to be weighed against the president's supposed visit to Russia coming next week -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The time line is definitely interesting. That's for sure. Thank you so much, Chris.

Let's go from Washington straight to the ground on Syria where today weapons inspectors are expected to return to one of the sites of that suspected chemical weapons attack in Damascus to look for evidence. CNN is the only western network now reporting from Damascus and that is where Fred Pleitgen is standing by.

So Fred, any word yet on what the weapons inspectors have learned so far?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the weapons inspectors haven't said exactly what they found, but they did say, Kate, that their first day yesterday of looking for things was quite productive. They say they managed to get a lot of samples. It's unclear what that is. There was some video that came out that the opposition put online of a couple of weapons inspectors standing in front of some plastic bags. It's unclear what was in there

They also said that they managed to speak to some victims of the alleged attack and also some of the doctors at the field hospitals who are of course the ones who collected that initial information and as that attack was going on, on Wednesday. The Syrian government for its part is clearly hearing the message from the United States. The country's foreign minister is currently right now on Syrian state TV talking about the matter.

He said that he was in contact with Secretary of State Kerry on Thursday and told Kerry to wait for the weapons inspectors to do their work and that the Syrian government, quote, "also has interest of getting to the bottom of this." However, what we're seeing on the ground seems to paint a very different picture.

The Syrian government at this point is absolutely pounding the area outside of Damascus with artillery right now as we speak and of course, the administration has said that that kind of artillery fire can lead to evidence being compromised in those areas where chemical weapons were allegedly used -- Kate, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Fred, thank you very much. Stay safe over there. We are going to return back home now to one of the largest wildfires in California history and it is threatening more of Yosemite National Park. Some 3,600 firefighters are battling the blaze. It's consumed more than 160,000 acres. Crews are determined to keep it from spreading further into Yosemite. The question is will they?

CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Brooklyn, California -- Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, good news this morning, containment is up 20 percent. It's still very difficult to breathe this morning. We're all wearing masks which lets us know this fire is still raging.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Huge plumes of smoke fill the sky as the rim fire continues to rage nearly out of control. Firefighters made small progress on Monday saying the fire is still less than a quarter contained, but the dangerous inferno is still rated to have extreme growth potential as massive flames ignite groves of trees and dry brush.

The fire is in inch near Yosemite National Park growing to an area now roughly the size of Chicago. More than two dozen aircraft are being used to fight the fire, the steep terrain making it nearly impossible to access some of the forest by land. Campgrounds turned into ashes, this car completely charred.

But the flames are still miles from one of the biggest Yosemite landmarks, Yosemite Valley, home of the half dome, a rock formation that attracts thousands of tourists every year.

LEE BENTLEY, SPOKESMAN FOR THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Visitors are thrown here by the thousands going in the north interest of the park. This year that's not going to happen.

VALENCIA: The fire also threatens the reservoir that supplies both water and power sources for San Francisco.

JERRY BROWN, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: Move all the ash and loose debris onto the water, and the water gets contaminated that's bad.

VALENCIA: As well as several groves of towering sequoias, some of the oldest living things on the planet. Groveland, California, is looking more like a ghost town. The owner of this bar says it's peak season leaded into labor day. When the highway business closed her business is down a staggering 98 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody who lives here, who owns businesses here is terrified.

VALENCIA: The economic impact yet to be seen, but businesses and residents are grateful for the 3,700 firefighters risking their lives to try and contain the inferno. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: For as much personnel as there is out here this morning, Kate, there are only been two injuries reported among those firefighters. They are minor injuries. It's also remarkable to note for as large as this fire is, no one has died. Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: Important to point out. Thanks so much, Nick, for that update this morning.

Meantime, much of the Midwest and the plains states are baking in a late summer heat wave and torrential rain and flooding is causing major problems in the west and southwest. Indra Petersons is following all of the severe weather for us this morning. Indra, what is going on?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Just imagine temperatures 20 degrees above normal as you're starting the school week and in the southwest the opposite problem, we have all that tropical moisture producing flash flooding.


PETERSONS (voice-over): One of the first lessons of the new school year how to beat the heat. Students huddle around fans just to stay cool. Water bottles, popsicles and ice are small pieces of relief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Parents brought in fans. Students brought in fans, my friend brought in ice.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: We'll stay hydrated, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's just really hot and it's just hard because we're sweating you an all that stuff like that.

PETERSONS: Temperatures across parts of the Midwest are soaring into the upper 90s with heat indices in the triple digits. Many of the schools aren't equipped with air conditioners, causing some to call for early dismissals and others to cancel the day all together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't dismiss just cause kids are hot. We dismiss because learning suffers.

PETERSONS: Parents say it's the right move.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the right call. It's hot. There's no air conditioning.

PETERSONS: It may be a heat wave in the heartland, but in the desert it was a wave of dust, a monstrous dust storm called a haboob swept through Southern Arizona Monday evening with visibility less than a quarter of a mile. In Southern California, residents are recovering from this weekend's flash floods that waterlogged stores and neighborhoods. The rising water stranded drivers and claimed one life. The National Weather Service reported a 77-year-old California woman was swept away in her car. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PETERSONS: Unfortunately this huge dome of high pressure will continue to bring heat well above normal for days to come. Minneapolis, Minnesota, looking for heat warnings there, we're talking about temperatures that feel like 110 degrees. Let's talk about the temperatures, that dome of high pressure bringing them 20 degrees above normal and this isn't a dry heat. This is the warm, humid, hot air that makes it difficult to breathe, 103 expected in Des Moines. Minneapolis, 96, that's 18 degrees above normal.

That's today. Let me take you forward in time into tomorrow, barely a change, maybe one degree of cooling so still, 15 to 20 degrees above normal even all the way in through Thursday so this heat is here to stay and unfortunately that means for these poor children very tough start to the school week.

BOLDUAN: All right, thanks so much for the update, Indra.

CUOMO: All right, we heard very emotional testimony from survivors and family members who were left behind following the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood. Army Major Nidal Hasan convicted in the attack is now facing the death penalty. Witnesses told the military court how Hasan's actions turned their lives upside down. CNN's Ed Lavandera has more from Fort Hood, Texas.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 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 emotional testimony from a dozen witnesses including relatives of those killed and victims who survived.

Staff Sergeant Patrick Zeigler 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 am a lot angrier, a lot darker than I used to be.

The 21-year-old Private Francesca Velez was pregnant when Hasan gunned her down inside the Fort Hood Medical Processing Building. Other survivors said they could hear her screaming "My baby! My baby!" before her voice went silent. Her father, Juan Velez, testified this man did not just kill 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. Prosecutors will be calling more victims relatives and survivors to testify on Tuesday then it will be Nidal Hasan's final chance to speak and then the jury will have to decide if the Army psychiatrist will be sentenced to die or spend the rest of his life in prison. Ed Lavandera, CNN, Fort Hood, Texas.


BOLDUAN: Thank you, Ed, for that.

There is a lot of news developing at this hour so let's get straight to Michaela for the latest.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, guys, we begin with sad news, a sad update to a story we've been watching. The body of an Arizona teenager who had gone missing last week in Oregon has been found. The 18-year-old Jonathan Croom's body was spotted a short distance from his SUV. His death is now being investigated as a suicide. His father said he was grieving the end of a relationship and talked about running away from society, like in the book "Into The Wild."

Now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in the death of the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman's legal team plans to ask the state of Florida to pay up to $300,000 of his legal expenses, that would cover some of the money spent on expert witnesses, travel expenses and transcription fees. Under a Florida law an acquitted defendant can ask the court to pay some of the costs in the case.

An outbreak of measles at a Texas mega-church has now sickened 21 people including at least 10 children. A 4-month-old infant is among those infected. All of the cases have been linked to the Eagle Mountain International Church, which is about 20 miles north of Forth Worth. State health officials say most of the people who had gotten sick had not been vaccinated against measles. The church is offering vaccination to its members.

A small drone aircraft that was capturing video of the event dropped suddenly from the sky into the stands. Remarkably officials say just four or five people suffered minor injuries.

Finally, who is that goat in the mirror? This baby goat named Charlotte didn't care for what she saw, felt that goat was disrespecting her. Head butted her in the mirror. Charlotte, sometimes I feel like doing the same thing.

BOLDUAN: Like on Monday, no, no, no!

PEREIRA: Here is a bigger question, why is a goat in the house?

CUOMO: Pet goat, can they be house trained?

BOLDUAN: I don't know.

PEREIRA: Not mirror trained.

CUOMO: That's good.

BOLDUAN: Not mirror trained, think about that one. It worked.

CUOMO: We're ending it there. That was good. Let's take a break everybody and we'll rejoin after this. Back to school means a lot of things for a lot of kids, but the students in Newtown, Connecticut, have a very unique experience returning to class after eight months since the big massacre. Who does it mean for them? What's it like being back at school, new safety and the same fears.

BOLDUAN: Plus, would you pay extra for a child-free flight? There's a price for that on one budget airline and we're going to bring you the details.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Students in Newtown, Connecticut, return to school this morning for the first time since the December massacre that left 26 people dead, most of them children. Parents and children are on edge despite new safety measures and many are wondering what it will take for these kids to feel safe again.

CNN's Pamela Brown is taking a look at this for us.

Good morning, Pamela.


Well, needless to say, Chris, this is certainly not your typical back- to-school in Newtown, Connecticut. First off, kids who would have attended Sandy Hook elementary will be going to another school instead. And students at all the schools in Newtown will be greeted not only by their teachers, but also more armed guards. And for many families there, this time of year is a solemn reminder.


JACKIE BARDEN, DANIEL BARDEN'S MOM: It's still day to day and we have better days than others.

BROWN (voice-over): As Mark and Jackie Bardens and their two children, 11-year-old Natalie and 13-year-old James, back to school in Newtown, Connecticut, it's yet another painful reminder of what's missing.

MARK BARDEN, DANIEL BARDEN'S DAD: This will be our first time back to school without Daniel.

BROWN: Daniel was one of 20 children and six educators killed during the horrific shooting spree inside Sandy Hook elementary last December. The Bardens still struggling with what were once joyous occasions.

M. BARDEN: We don't know how we'll deal with Thanksgiving this year. And then, of course, all of December, all of that is just coming and I'm not even want to think about it.

BROWN (on camera): One of the big milestones is back to school.

M. BARDEN: Right.

J. BARDEN: Imagine him going to second grade.

BROWN (voice-over): As the Newtown school system welcomes back more than 5,000 kids today, the school board says it's doing everything it can to put families at ease in the wake of Newtown and the recent school shooting scare in Georgia.

(on camera): This is no normal back-to-school on Tuesday.

DEBBIE LEIDLEIN, CHAIR, BOARD OF EDUCATION: No, it's not a normal back to school but we're trying to put the resources in place.

BROWN (voice-over): Resources like better locks on doors, real time monitoring systems and more armed guards at every school.

LEIDLIN: Parents will definitely see armed security at each school and there will be additional guards at multiple schools.

BROWN: The Bardens say they want to see changes like more kindness toward others, to make sure the tragedy that took their son's life never happens again.

M. BARDEN: We have to try to do the good work that he was supposed to do here. We're going to try our best to do it for him.


BROWN: And talking about the good work, the Barden family gave me this bracelet here, "What would Daniel do", and the whole idea of that is to show acts of kindness day to day for people. And we talked about safety changes and more are expected to take place in Newtown schools over the course of the year.

It's not just Newtown, by the way. School districts across the country are adding more armed security guards to their schools especially elementary schools. Three states have recently pass laws allowing teachers to carry handguns on campus and, of course, Chris, some of these changes are controversial.

CUOMO: Yes, the armed guards, we have them in colleges, we know they have them in high schools and on the elementary level. That's the question. What did you get the sense there in terms of how the community feels about having the armed presence?

BROWN: Well, I can tell you, there's definitely mixed reaction to this. The Barden family for one said they're concerned having more armed guards especially at the elementary schools might alarm the kids, might just be a reminder of why they have to be there.

So, there was some concern among the parents. I did ask the school board chair about that. And she told me that these officers have been trained to talk with the kids so that they are not too alarming when they show up for school today but certainly there's mixed reaction. The Barden family for one thinks they need to start within the school, talking about showing acts of kindness and more social awareness. That's the biggest change they want to see. CUOMO: Obviously, it's controversial but they had enough votes there. We're seeing other states. They move in that direction because there's pressure to keep our kids safe.

BROWN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Pamela, thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you.

CUOMO: Touching story. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right. Thanks, Chris.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, the brewing political fight over raising the debt ceiling. Deja vu all over again? We're going to talk to John King about that. He's going to break it down for us in the political gut check.

Plus, would you pay extra to make sure children were not sitting next to you on a plane? At least one airline is now giving you that option.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, August 27th.

Coming up, a rodeo clown running scared. Why? He says he's gotten death threats over a bid he did about President Obama. It's gone viral and now, he's speaking about the controversial ordeal.

BOLDUAN: Talk about possible controversy or maybe not at all. One airline isn't kidding around. It's created a no kid zone for travelers who don't want to deal with potentially unruly children during their flight. But is it really helpful? Is it helping passengers or is it just another way for the airlines to charge you?

CUOMO: Or both. First, let's get to Michaela for your top stories right now -- Mick.

PEREIRA: Taking a look at Syria, it is our top story at this hour. U.N. inspectors expected to examine alleged chemical weapons attack sites around Damascus now for a second day. The Obama administration making it clear, believes chemical weapons were used and it blames the Assad regime. Secretary of State John Kerry calls the evidence undeniable. He says President Obama will be making an informed decision on a response in the coming days.

To California where the massive Rim Fire keeps spreading North and Northeast. Firefighters have made some progress in containing it. The fires devoured a staggering 161,000 acres, including part of Yosemite National Park. The fire itself is 20 percent contained right now. There is an army of 3,600 firefighters furiously trying to get the upper hand on that blaze.

Convicted killer Jodi Arias will have to wait a little bit longer to find out when her sentencing retrial will begin. The judge put off setting a date in order to give prosecutors time to respond to monitor the activity of jurors on Twitter. Arias was convicted last year of murdering her boyfriend Travis Alexander but jurors deadlocked on whether she should get the death penalty.

A man from Yarmuth, Massachusetts, facing a list of charges after he did this, drove a pickup truck into a convenience store. You saw a customer had to jump over the counter to avoid getting hit. Then he tries to back up, striking a post several times before finally getting out and driving off. Police caught up with him eventually about three miles away.

And I want to show you this, this is quite some video. The city of Nara, Japan, being overrun by Sika deer. And nobody seems to mind. This apparently happens every year. The deer apparently visit Nara to cool down during the hot summer months, this type of spotted deer. Their name is Cervus Nippon, which is their Latin because I know Chris likes that, is the national treasure in Japan.

Drivers generally get out of the way and sometimes they see some of the potted plants in the area get nibbled on. But otherwise folks take pictures and carry on their way. They're not spooked at all.

BOLDUAN: Like the middle of the city, beautiful.

CUOMO: Flash mob. Deer style.

BOLDUAN: There we go.

All right. Michaela, thanks so much.

Let's move now to our political gut check -- all the news you need to know coming out of Washington.

First up, the big story this morning, the White House telling CNN that President Obama will be presented with final options for possible military action against Syria in the next few days. Here to break it all down for us is CNN's chief national correspondent John King.

It's amazing how the priorities before the administration and Congress can change seemingly overnight. The president indicated telling Chris that it's an abbreviated time frame that he is looking at.

What are the factors that he's taking into consideration and the pressures that the president is facing in terms of how to, what to announce and when?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, number one, they're trying to look and scrub these military options, Kate, to get a sense of what would be most effective. They want to deliver a blow to the Assad regime. They want to make sure they get the regime's attention. They want to make sure that they do it in a way that does not cause any damage in terms of the chemical stockpiles, you don't want collateral damage on the group and you're trying to decapitate the regime's ability to launch any further attacks.

Number two, they're trying to build an international coalition, they don't believe they could go to the United Nations because Russia and China will object in the Security Council. So the president and Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel at the Defense Department and others reaching out to traditional NATO allies like Britain and France and Arab league countries, as well.

Will they get a formal endorsement from an organization? They say that's not necessarily. Will they like one? Yes. Do they think they'll get one? They said that's not necessary but they're trying to reach a broad consensus for action.

And to your point on the time table, I was told that this is -- the urgency here is to get to a decision point about what to do, within a matter of days, not weeks.

BOLDUAN: You really do sense that it is kicking into high gear, that this is the focal point for the administration. How does it also play into this, the fact that the president is set to leave for Russia next week for the G-20 Summit?

KING: Well, you're going to have a large international gathering with a number of nations who will support the president, even if we're -- let's say, in the early days, or with the military action under way or just completed.