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Making the Case Against Syria; Yosemite Wildfire; Late Summer Heat Wave; Fort Hood Massacre Survivors, Family Members Take the Stand; Newtown Students Back In Class; Top U.S. Speed Skate Banned

Aired August 27, 2013 - 08:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- who lives here and owns businesses here is terrified.

ANNOUNCER: What you just have to see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'd love for them to come forward and tell who they are so we could give them some gift certificates.

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


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. It is Tuesday, August 27th, 8:00 in the East.

Coming up this hour, Florida taxpayers may have to cover George Zimmerman's legal fees. He was acquitted in Trayvon Martin's shooting death and now may get to recoup some costs. His lawyers plan to ask for up to $300,000 to cover courtroom experts, travel expenses, among other things. We have all the details on this latest twist, coming up.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, take a look at this video. This is an enormous dust storm called haboob. Arabic word that means blowing or drafting. It's swallowing parts of Arizona, including Phoenix, just one example of the wild weather battering the country this week.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And we have a NEW DAY exclusive today. We're going to introduce you to a man who has one undeniable will to leave. First, he told you about Steve. Lat week, he's a fisherman who fell overboard during a storm, he was forced to tread waters for nearly 24 hours without a life vest. Nice man, fought against the elements until he was rescued.

We're going to talk to him live. His wife will join him. We have questions for her, like is she going to let him go out on a fishing boat any time soon?

CUOMO: Oh, come on.

BOLDUAN: First question out of the gate. Thanks so much.

Up first, though, this hour, some sort of military action against Syria is looking more and more likely as the Obama administration canvass allied for support. The British military is said to be making contingency plans for a strike on Syria, but Syria remains defiant. The country's foreign minister says they won't be deterred by the threat of U.S.-led military action and the government denies they use chemical weapons on their own people.

We have the story covered live only CNN can, including with the only Western network reporter in Syria right now.

Let's start, though, with Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon this morning.

Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate, we're getting some new information here. In just the last few minutes, a U.S. official telling us that the U.S. may be releasing an intelligence report as soon as later today with proof, what the U.S. says is proof, that the Syrians were behind a chemical weapons attack. The official says that the information has already been shared with senior Obama administration officials and that a declassified version of the report was being prepared.

The official says that the information has already been shared with senior Obama administration officials and that a declassified version of the report was being prepared. The official says the report will include intercepted communications among senior military commanders in Syria, as well as what he calls forensic evidence.

Within days, President Obama's national security team will present him with its final detailed options and the administration is already making the case for taking action against Syria.


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

JOHN KERRY, U.S. 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 official 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 system that can be used to launch weapons, militia training camps being run by Bashar 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 and deter any further use of chemical weapons, President Obama's red line.

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


LAWRENCE: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is traveling in Asia right now and he told the BBC today that there doesn't need to be anymore military planning, that the military is ready to go on the president's order, and that really fits into what a defense official was telling me, basically saying once that order is given, those units could execute the mission within hours -- Chris.

CUOMO: Of course, Chris, the question isn't whether or not the United States can do it, it's what will they do, what will the impact be, better and how, these are all big questions we're trying to chase down.

Chris, thank you for helping us with your part of it. Now, we go to Syria itself, that's where U.N. inspectors will not be working at the site of last week's suspected chemical attack. Why? Well, they cancelled today's inspection over security concerns.

CNN is the only Western network reporting from Damascus.

Here's Fred Pleitgen with more.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the Syrian government seems to be hearing the messages out of Washington, but they are sending back a message of defiance of their own. The military here is pounding the outskirts of Damascus, which is, of course, exactly the area where the opposition said those chemical weapons attacks allegedly took place.

The Syrian government, for their part, says the only reason why they are shelling these areas continuously is because they are afraid they'll get overrun by the opposition otherwise. That, of course, is something that the U.S. doesn't buy at all. They believe that the Syrians are trying to destroy possible evidence of the chemical attack on the ground.

In a press conference by the foreign minister, he also addressed those remarks that John Kerry made last night in that very emotional speech. He said the message to the U.S. administration is that the Syrian government is not the one that's trying to hold up this investigation. In fact, they asked for the weapons inspectors to come to this country a long, long time ago.

However, today there's been another setback. The weapons inspectors are not going to be able to get on the ground to the suburbs of Damascus to collect further evidence. The Syrian government says it's out of safety concerns. We're waiting to see what the U.S. has to say about this.

But once again, a message of defiance from the Syrian government. They said, if the United States decides to attack them, the Syrian government will retaliate -- Kate.


BOLDUAN: All right, Fred Pleitgen in Damascus for us this morning. Fred, thank you o much. That's a developing story, we'll be watching closely throughout the day.

Also happening right now here at home, slowly but surely fire crews are making some headway against a monster wildfire that's burning near Yosemite National Park. Some 3,600 firefighters have 20 percent containment on the blaze that's been threatening the northern California landmark.

Nick Valencia is live in Groveland, California, with more on this.

Good morning, Nick.


Some very good news this morning in that the containment is up to 20 percent, that's up 5 percent from 15 percent yesterday. But there's still a lot of thick smoke this morning, and that is a constant reminder there is a wildfire 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 less than a quarter contained. But the dangerous inferno is still rated to have extreme growth potential, as massive flames ignite rows of trees and dry brush.

The fire has inched 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, stiff terrain making it nearly impossible to access some of the forest by land.

Camp grounds now 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 SERVICES: Visitors are through here by the thousands, going to the north edges (ph) of the park. This year, it's not going to happen.

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

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: Move all the ash and loose debris out of 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, leading into Labor Day. But with the highway closed into Yosemite, she says her business in Groveland is down a staggering 98 percent.

CORINNA LOH, OWNER OF IRON DOOR SALOON: Everybody who lives here and 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 to contain the inferno.


VALENCIA: And, Chris, fire officials pointed out to us yesterday that there is a lot of personnel fighting this fire, but for all the personnel fighting it, there's only been two minor reported injuries. So, this is to say it could be much worse.

Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: True, Nick, silver lining there to be sure.

Now, it is downright steamy in parts of the Midwest, and in the Plains States, heat warnings there and advisories in effect for the seven states in that area.

CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons is tracking that late summer heat wave. What's going on with that, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: When you think about these poor kids, you think about going back to school, you'd like to think fall and maybe some cooler temperatures. But instead, we're talking about temperatures 20 degrees above normal, that means heat indexes anywhere from 100 to 115 degrees for the start of the school year.


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. I brought in fans. My brought in ice, so, we're going to pass out ice.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: You do have water bottles like right up there. so, we'll stay hydrated, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: It's just really hot and it's just hard because we're sweating and 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: And 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.


PETERSONS: One look at the map and you can see how many people are dealing with extreme heat. We're talking about Minnesota. We're talking about Iowa. We go in through Nebraska, South Dakota, even through Michigan. So many people dealing with temperatures that feel like 105 to 110 degrees.

Let's talk about this. Even without the humidity factor, this is what your stand-alone temperatures are. Des Moines, 103 today, 20 degree above normal. Ninety-six in Minneapolis. You think Minnesota, they should be cold. No, 18 degrees above normal. Chicago, 96 degrees, and that is just today.

Unfortunately, everyone's asking, well, is it here to stay? And it looks like as we go forward in time, at least for another two days, we're still dealing with the heat. These temperatures aren't changing.

In fact, it will take another day, out through Thursday, and we're still talking about this triple digit heat, again, that's without the humidity. Throw in the humidity and it is hotter than that just that. And we know what that feels like, we almost can't even breath. It's just stuffy.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely right.

All right, Indra. Thanks for that update.

Let's head now to Texas where the court martial of Major Nidal Hasan, continues. Emotional testimony from survivors and family members who are left behind, following the massacre at Fort Hood.

Hasan, convicted in the attack, is now facing the death penalty. Witnesses told a military court Monday how Hasan's actions turned their lives upside-down.

We go live now to CNN's Ed Lavandera in Killeen, Texas.

Good morning, Ed.


Well, four years has not even come close to healing the wounds of the Fort Hood massacre and people are still dealing with the ramifications of everything, families talking about depression, thoughts of suicide. The wounds from that day just aren't physical.


LAVANDERA (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.


LAVANDERA: And it's possible that at some point today, Nidal Hasan gets his chance to speak to the jury. It's not clear if he will do that or what he might say if he does choose to do that, then it's up to this jury to decide whether or not Nidal Hasan lives or dies -- Kate and Chris.

BOLDUAN: Wow. All right. Ed, thanks for the update.

CUOMO: A lot of other news to tell you right now, let's get to Michaela -- Mick.

PEREIRA: All right. Good morning, everyone.

The attorney for George Zimmerman acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, says Zimmerman will ask the state of Florida to cover up to $300,000 of his legal expenses. Because Zimmerman was cleared, Florida law allows him to apply for repayment of legal fees. This will cover some of the money spent on hiring courtroom experts and some travel expenses.

A sad end to a story we have been following here at CNN. The body of an Arizona teenager who had gone missing last week in Oregon has been found. Eighteen-year-old's Jonathan Croom's body was spotted a short distance from his SUV and 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, much like the book "Into the Wild."

The 8-year-old Louisiana boy who shot and killed his grandmother after playing video games will go back to his family and he will not be charged because he's too young. Eighty-seven-year-old Marie Smothers was taking care of the young boy when he found a gun in her purse after playing Grand Theft Auto 4. He shot Smothers from three or four feet away. The D.A. says the boy thought it was a toy gun.

The treasury department putting Congress on notice saying, unless, lawmakers raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. government may lose its ability to pay all of its bills in October. That means Congress will face two huge budget deadlines just two weeks apart since the -- consuming resolutions that fund the federal government runs out the end of September.

Let's show you a kitten that was looking for trouble when it attacked this pit bull. The dog, though, takes it all in stride. It's on his back in the most submissive position and almost kind of has the cat climb right into his mouth, just daring him to take a bite. In fact, he keeps kind of going for his mouth. This is a very, very, very patient dog.

Oftentimes, this breed gets a lot of, you know, criticism. We've seen them in the news a lot, so we thought we'd show you a different side of a pit bull being very, very, very, very gentle and submissive to this cat who clearly runs this house.

CUOMO (voice-over): Indra Petersons is a pit bull owner. She says that this the true pit bull.


BOLDUAN: I want to clarify something, because it sounded a little strange coming out of the -- Indra Petersons is not a pit bull, she's a pit bull owner.


BOLDUAN: You swallow the owner.


CUOMO (on-camera): Let me give you some confidence. Only you think that I just called Indra Petersons a pit bull.

(LAUGHTER) CUOMO: I don't know why. I don't know what's going on. Maybe it's the hairspray. Only you. No one is at home -- I didn't know, wow, she's good at the weather for a pit bull.

BOLDUAN: I give up.


CUOMO: She says that they do get a bad rep.

BOLDUAN: Indra, I love you.

PEREIRA (on-camera): They do.

CUOMO: She sent me that video.

PEREIRA: Yes. It's really cute video --

CUOMO: Also shows how crazy cats are.

PEREIRA: I like cats and I'm the defender of cats.

BOLDUAN: We're the cat bias on this desk.

PEREIRA: You, him, I will defend the cats.

BOLDUAN: It's going to happen. It's going to throw down.

All right. Moving on, because I ruined that. Coming up next on NEW DAY, when you think of speed skating, the word scandal doesn't immediately come to mind or at least it shouldn't, but we're going to talk with one of the rising U.S. star who's been hit with a two-year suspension.

CUOMO: And plus, we all see back to school as a great day for kids, but not for the survivors of last year's massacre in Newton. We're going to take a look at the extraordinary measures in place to help make them feel safe.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Today is a somber first day of school for the students of Sandy Hook Elementary. They head back to a different school building than where last December's massacre took place, but the scars of that shooting, of course, remain. CNN's Pamela Brown joins us now with more on this. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. You know, this is still very much a community in healing. It's the time of year the kids board the bus, head back to school, but for students in Newton, Connecticut, this year's back to school is anything but ordinary. They'll be greeted not only by teachers, but also, more armed guards. And for at least one family we spoke with, this time of year is a solemn reminder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 Barden send their two children, 11-year-old Natalie and 13-year-old James back to school in Newton, 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.

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

BROWN: And of course, one of those big milestones is back to school.


JACKIE BARDEN: Imagining him going to second grade.

BROWN: As the Newton 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 Newton and the recent school shooting scare in Georgia.

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

LEIDLEIN: 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 towards others to make sure the tragedy that took their son's life never happens again.

MARK 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 (on-camera): Well, Sandy Hook Elementary is being torn down and kids will head to Talk (ph) Hills Elementary School instead. More safety changes are expected to take place in Newtown schools over the course of the year, but officials could not elaborate on exactly what that will entail for security reasons, obviously. But you know, Kate, we're seeing these security measures in schools across the country, especially armed guards at more elementary schools. It used to be uncommon, but in the wake of Newton, the wake of what happened in Georgia, we're seeing more of that.

BOLDUAN: And it's part of the debate and the wake of these massacres. I was looking back, because after this massacre, when I was on ground, I was looking back at some of the tributes of the families that put together and we put out there of all the children that were killed, the one with Daniel is just so cute.

When you see his picture, they had written that Daniel earned those two missing front teeth and also his fearless pursuit of happiness and his life -- fearless pursuit of happiness and life also earned him many ripped jeans. It's so sweet. You remember those little faces when we talk about this moment. Thanks so much, Pamela.

BROWN: Thank you.


CUOMO: All right. Kate, thanks very much.

When we come back here on NEW DAY, an athletic scandal you need to pay attention to. Doesn't involve performance-enhancing drugs just old- fashioned cheating? An American Olympic medalist banned from speed skating for two years after tampering with the competitor's skates. He says he has a reason that he did. We want you to judge it for yourself. He joins with us that.

And, an amazing tale of survivor. We're going to talk live with the fisherman who had no choice but to tread water for nearly 24 hours, no life vest. He made it. How'd he do it? He'll tell us.


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

CUOMO: Can't get enough of that James Earl Jones. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, August 27th. Coming up this half hour, an American Olympic speed skater banned for two years for tampering with a competitor's skates. He says he did it, but he has an explanation for why that you're going to want to hear.

BOLDUAN: Plus, a NEW DAY exclusive ahead, we're going to meet the fisherman who survived after treading water in the Gulf of Mexico for nearly 24 hours. How did he do this? He has an incredible story and he's going to share it with us.

CUOMO: First, let's get to Michaela for the five things to know for your NEW DAY.

PEREIRA: All right. Let's take a look at number one. The Obama administration says all options are on the table for Syria and an intelligence report about the suspected chemical attack is expected out today. The country's foreign minister denies using chemical weapons.

Slow and deliberate progress on the fire lines in California. The Yosemite wildfire now 20 percent contained. There's less concern now about ash in the reservoir that feeds San Francisco's water supply.

More heart wrenching testimony expected today in the second day of the Fort Hood shooter's sentencing phase. A judge could decide today if he gets the death penalty.

Little Sarah Murnaghan, the 11-year-old double lung transplant survivor expected to go home today. She has been at the children's hospital of Philadelphia since February.

And the newborn giant panda who has captured hearts at the National Zoo will get a second exam today. Researchers got their first look at the cub on Sunday and deemed it healthy, a nice bright pink color. Nice and healthy.

We're always updating those five things to know, so be sure to go to for the latest. I edited ".com" in there. CNNNEWDAY.


PEREIRA: You got it.

BOLDUAN: OK. Thanks, Michaela.

PEREIRA: Back to you, guys.

BOLDUAN: To a shocking announcement out from the world of speed skating. A top U.S. skater has been banned for two years for tampering with an opponent's skates. We will speak with the suspended bronze medalist, Simon Cho, live in just a moment. But first, CNN's Rachel Nichols is here with more on this story. Hey, Rachel.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Twenty-one-year-old Simon Cho has been skating since he was a toddler and as he grew up, he turned into a real star in the Olympic movement. He won a bronze medal at the Vancouver Olympics when he was just 18 and he since won at the World Championships. As the Sochi Olympics approached, he was already being billed as the next Apolo Ohno, except now, he won't be at the Sochi Olympics.


NICHOLS (voice-over): The Olympic sport of speed skating is not exactly the first place you'd expect to hear tales of sabotage or scandal, but American Simon Cho was suspended this week for tampering with the skates of a Canadian rival.