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Crisis in Syria; "Watch Out for that One"; Self-Driving Cars; Wal-Mart Promises More "Made in the USA"

Aired August 28, 2013 - 10:30   ET



COSTELLO: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, man, myth, or monsters. We'll get a rare insider's view of Syria's Bashar Al-Assad and the realities hidden behind his bland appearance. Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember very vividly telling my brother, she's trouble.


COSTELLO: A CNN exclusive. The sister of James DiMaggio says she warned her brother about Hannah Anderson. What she thinks really happened the day DiMaggio allegedly kidnapped that California teenager.

And out on the open road but no one is behind the wheels Nissan's new plan to get you in a driverless car.

NEWSROOM continues now.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me.

United Nation inspectors fanned out to Damascus's suburbs this morning searching for evidence of chemical weapons attack. The Obama administration apparently isn't waiting on the report's findings though. Vice President Joe Biden assigned blame yesterday saying there is no doubt that Syria's regime gassed its own people and he echoed the calls of the White House and its allies that President Bashar al-Assad must be punished.

So if Assad did indeed launch the chemical attack and trampled President Obama's so-called red line, how could he possibly think he'd get away with it? Well according to one man who has spent time with Assad he can be equally delusional and persuasive and charming and cold-blooded.

CNN's Brian Todd has more for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bashar al-Assad, some analysts say, may have badly misread the signals, believed it when his cronies told him President Obama wouldn't enforce his red line on chemical weapons. A staggering miscalculation, experts say, driven by Assad's own unpredictable swings of behavior.

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.

TODD: Andrew Tabler is among few westerners to gain access to Assad's inner circle. He worked with Assad's wife Asma running a charity in Syria and has met with Bashar al-Assad. He describes Assad as delusional, conspiracy-minded but also persuasive coming across in interviews as the antithesis of a murderous dictator.

When CNN's Christiane Amanpour asked him in 2005 about reports that he threatened Lebanon's Prime Minister --

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: First of all it's not my nature to threaten anybody. It's a -- I'm a very quiet person. I'm very frank, but I wouldn't threaten.

TODD: And in 2011 when ABC's Barbara Walters pressed him on whether he'd ordered his forces to fire on the opposition --

ASSAD: I love my forces, they are military forces. They belong to the government. But I don't own them I'm president -- the country.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: OK no but you have to give the order.

ASSAD: No, no, no.

WALTERS: Not by your command?

ASSAD: No, no, no. We don't have -- nobody -- no one's command. There was no command to kill or to be brutal.

TODD: What do you make of that bearing? He's so polite and soft- toned.

TABLER: That he's a master of deception. I think that the regime, the package of Assad and his wife, Asma, it's very seductive. And it draws you -- how could someone who seems so reasonable command such a horrific regime.

TODD: Illustrating what Tabler calls Assad's two faces he was trained as an ophthalmologist. He has Facebook and Instagram accounts; has enjoyed being seen with his glamorous wife out on the town from Aleppo to Paris. But from his bunker he's overseen the killings of tens of thousands of his own people. What's he thinking now?

TABLER: He's going to think about how am I going to react to these strikes? What we can see from past strikes by the Israelis it that actually Bashar does very, very little in terms of the direct response but over time he might carry out other kinds of attacks on American assets.


COSTELLO: Fascinating.

Brian Todd joins us live now. And Brian as frightening as Bashar al- Assad is, he's -- he's not as bad as his brother, right?

TODD: That's right Carol. Assad's younger brother his name Maher, analysts say is more brutal than Bashar is and very powerful. He's also a huge influence on Bashar. Maher al-Assad leads an elite military unit, the fourth division, which is accused of some of the worst atrocities in this war. Maher also controls a paramilitary unit called the Shabiha which means ghosts, that unit cracks down on opponents and patrols Syria's borders. He is a very notorious inside Syria. He is a very bad character.

Carol, he once actually shot his brother-in-law in an inner family dispute. So you've got a little bit of a Sopranos situation going on here.

COSTELLO: It's just strange but you know it's just frightening too, considering what is about to happen in Syria.

TODD: Right.

COSTELLO: Brian Todd, thanks so much. Tune in today at noon for CNN special live coverage on the crisis in Syria. For the entire hour we're going to break down the evidence, the U.S. military options and how the crisis impacts the markets and your money. That's today, noon eastern.

Checking our "Top Stories" at 35 minutes past the hour, a massive wildfire is still growing inside Yosemite National Park. Already 293 square miles have burned. More than 100 structures, including 31 homes destroyed. And now the fire is at the shore of the key reservoir for San Francisco.

Convicted Ft. Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, had just three words for the jury panel that will decide if he gets the death penalty. He said, "The defense rests." During Hasan's sentencing hearing -- he's acting as his own attorney, you know -- he did not call any witnesses and he did not present any evidence he also didn't explain why he mounted no defense at his trial. Hasan was convicted of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others.

The federal government will soon be cashing in on a Las Vegas jackpot worth more than $47 million; the pay that comes from the company behind the Venetian Hotel and Casino. The casino got the money from a high-stakes Chinese gambler who is facing drug trafficking charges in Mexico. The fed say the casino failed to report suspicious transactions by the gambler. In return for the money the government won't press charges.

I hope you got all of that.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, James DiMaggio's sister opens up saying Hannah Anderson is not so innocent and her brother is not a killer.


COSTELLO: It was a warning that went unheeded. The sister of James DiMaggio, the man who kidnapped Hannah Anderson telling CNN exclusively that she told her brother to, quote, "Watch out for the California teenager."

Now Lora DiMaggio says her brother who is also accused of killing Hannah's mother and brother could be a victim. Miguel Marquez is in Los Angeles this morning to tell us more. Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there Carol. Yes this is a woman who had previously asked for DNA samples from the Anderson family. She has dropped that desire to have those DNA samples but she is raising a heck of a lot of other claims right now.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): In a contentious interview --

LORA DIMAGGIO, JAMES DIMAGGIO'S SISTER: How do you know that he did it would be my question for you.

MARQUEZ: Speaking exclusively to CNN's Piers Morgan, the sister of James DiMaggio, the man killed in the shootout with the FBI in the Idaho wilderness after kidnapping Hannah Anderson. And investigators say he tortured and murdered her mother Christina and the eight year- old brother Ethan before setting fire to his own house.

DIMAGGIO: I would like to remind you that at this point my brother is still a suspect. He is not a killer. He is accused. And again, it is alleged.

MARQUEZ: Lora DiMaggio holds out the possibility her 40-year-old brother is a victim, casting blame on 16-year-old Hannah Anderson.

DIMAGGIO: The Hannah Anderson that I saw a few nights ago on the TV is certainly not the girl that stayed in my home three weeks prior to them disappearing.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: What do you mean? What do you mean?

DIMAGGIO: I remember very vividly telling my brother, she's -- she's trouble.

MARQUEZ: Last week Hannah Anderson broke her silence in an interview on NBC where she insisted it was all James DiMaggio's doing.

HANNAH ANDERSON, KIDNAP VICTIM: He was picking me up from cheer camp and he didn't know the address or what -- like where I was so I had to tell him the address and tell him that I was going to be in the gym and not in front of the school just so he knew where to come get me.

MARQUEZ: Lora DiMaggio, while offering no evidence, disputes that. DIMAGGIO: In my heart of hearts, I think Hannah perhaps got herself into a situation that she couldn't get herself out of and I do believe that my brother gave his life to protect her.

MARQUEZ: Finally, DiMaggio says she wants to see more evidence from investigators. Evidence not likely to come as the investigation is closed.


MARQUEZ: Now, law enforcement officials say that because there is no prosecution, there's no further investigation, they don't expect any big reports to come out of this. The Anderson family isn't responding directly to her but they released a previously released statement saying that there's no link to any DNA between James DiMaggio and the Anderson family.

They also wish miss DiMaggio well as she goes through her own recovery process -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right Miguel Marquez reporting live for us this morning.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, there is a new tennis star on the scene. And boy she is a sensation just 17 years old. But wait until you hear her back story. It's amazing.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 45 minutes past the hour. Just minutes ago, we learned that the guilty plea from the wife of George Zimmerman's, the Florida man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, Shelley Zimmerman was facing a misdemeanor charge of perjury for not telling the court about a legal defense fund set up for her husband. She was sentenced to one year probation and she did issue an apology.

An addiction expert says Michael Jackson had an extensive drug addiction. This testimony comes as concert promoter AEG Live continues its defense of the singer's wrongful death trial. AEG hired the expert who says that Jackson was so secretive about his addiction to painkillers and AEG executives had no way of knowing Jackson was in danger while he was rehearsing for a comeback tour. The trial is expected to wrap up in about a month.

A stunner at the U.S. Open: 17-year-old Victoria Duval upset former Open champ Sam Stosur in three sets. Duval only turned pro this year. She's ranked number 296 on the women's tour.

The Haitian-American has an interesting back story. As a seven-year- old she was held at gunpoint during a robbery at her aunt's home in Haiti.

Well this is a tough story to talk about any time. A teenager is on trial in the murder of a 13-month-old boy. The baby's mother took the stand crying. She described how her baby was shot in her stroller.

Ashleigh Banfield, her show "LEGAL VIEW" will be talking a lot about this case and that mother's testimony was gut wrenching.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Listen, Carol, imagine being the defense attorney for this young man because you know you have to cross-examine her, right? You also know that she's a mother who lost her baby. How would you go about it? Would you be gentle? Would you be sensitive to the notion that you're dealing with a victim's family member, not just any family member?

Or would you tear her to shreds? And, in fact, call her a crackhead and a drug addict and someone who suffers from myriad mental disorders? Carol Costello, I'm not kidding you, what this woman went through on the stand will make your blood boil.

Here's the big question. Is that a wise thing to do if you're trying to defend your guy? Because don't forget, you're supposed to defend your guy. We're going to talk all about what that strategy is about and whether it's smart, stupid, or either of the two.

COSTELLO: Wow. It will be interesting. Ashleigh Banfield, many thanks.


COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, you heard all about Wal- Mart's promise to buy more goods made in the USA. Why some people say it's just lip service.


COSTELLO: Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is promising to buy more goods that are made in the USA. It plans to commit $50 billion over ten years to buy American all for the goal of bringing manufacturing jobs back home. But critics say that's not nearly enough money to bring jobs back. I talked with a Wal-Mart senior vice president about that earlier and asked her, why not spend more money on it?


MICHELLE GLOECKLER, SENIOR VP, WAL-MART: I think what we need to do is make sure that we're conscious of the lead time that it takes to do this because manufacturing can be complicated, which is why the commitment is over ten years. I sat in meetings last week between some of our manufacturers and some of our state representatives and I can assure you that progress is being made. They are talking about specific sites. They're talking about dates. They're talking about number of workers, and that's fantastic for the U.S. Economy.


COSTELLO: Joining us now is Burt Flickinger, an expert on big retailers and the president of the retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group. Good morning, Burt. BURT FLICKINGER, STRATEGIC RESOURCE GROUP: Good morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: OK. So she sounded positive about this. She says, you know, this is the first step. We know it may not be enough in some people's eyes but at least we're doing something.

FLICKINGER: It's a good time, Carol, for Wal-Mart to do something. Wal-Mart's same-store sales were down 0.3 percent. The company is struggling versus Costco, Winco, Target, a number of key competitors in the U.S. and more competitors overseas.

So to try to get shoppers to have more confidence in the company particularly since consumer reports rated Wal-Mart the worst of the largest stores in the U.S., this is a very timely move. It should be good for the U.S. It should be good for U.S. manufacturing.

But as you reference, Carol, it's been done before. Here's my 1992 copy of Sam Walton's book "Made in America" where they did "Bring It Home America". It was supposed to create or save 100,000 jobs. Shirts, sweaters, bicycles, beach towels, toys, furniture, almost all of that stuff, Carol, went to Asia and a lot of it hasn't come back. So I salute --

COSTELLO: Well, the problem that Wal-Mart had in the '90s, it couldn't get goods made in the USA. They couldn't sell those goods cheap enough for their low-income customers to buy. So if no one buys the goods made in America, what are you going to do as a company?

FLICKINGER: Carol, you're correct. Price is paramount with a lot of shoppers. Some shoppers will pay a little bit more for made in America. Wal-Mart will not subsidize inefficiency, as you referenced. So the goods have to be of high quality, good price. I salute Wal- Mart's senior VP and merchandising manager for taking this initiative with 300 U.S. companies as well as local, state, and federal government.

Let's hope for the best for the future because America needs the jobs and it's the right time with energy prices sky high. Wal-Mart's shipping costs will be at record prices bringing goods in from China and elsewhere and with low natural gas prices, it's cheaper to manufacture in the U.S. So this could be a win-win for everybody.

Let's hope it works better this time than it did last time because it's what America needs.

COSTELLO: If it does work better and Wal-Mart over $50 billion -- Wal-Mart makes that in 42 days. So it could invest more. But as I said Wal-Mart says this is just a start. But when you're talking about creating jobs because retailers are now going to sell more goods made in America, realistically, how many jobs could that actually create in our country?

FLICKINGER: Carol, realistically it's tough, as you've referenced. Huffy bicycles went bankrupt and that plant in Dayton, Ohio is not going to come back any time soon. Furniture plants in North Carolina along with the knitting plants for Hanes and Sarah Lee knit products. That's not going to come back any time soon.

So as Michelle referenced from Wal-Mart, their long lead times, it's a slow start. But given the factory fires and collapses in Bangladesh for workers' safety, we can have those rules and regulations in the U.S. So hopefully it will be good for workers, good for jobs, good for consumers and good for all retailers.

COSTELLO: Hopefully so. Burt Flickinger, thank you so much for joining me.

FLICKINGER: Thank you, Carol. Always appreciate teaming up.

COSTELLO: You're welcome.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, imagine heading into your morning commute without ever having to touch the steering wheel? Why not have your car drive you to work? Wouldn't it be great? But is it affordable? All of the details, next.


COSTELLO: Labor Day weekend is nearly upon us. What if that last holiday road trip went by and you never had to touch the steering wheel? Nissan is hoping to make that a reality with a line of self- driving cars. Alison Kosik, I cannot wait.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The robots are taking over. Get ready. You know it makes me kind of nervous but it can apparently be pretty safe if Nissan gets this right. The goal for Nissan is to have these so-called autonomous cars on the road by 20.

Now Nissan (inaudible) announced it was going to offer a zero emission vehicle and he did that with a lease so it's got a pretty good record of following through. What Nissan is hoping to do at this point is reduce the number of accidents that drivers cause. They want to use technology instead.

Right now there is a prototype -- self-driving that uses a combination of laser guidance systems, sensors and cameras to navigate around obstacles. And what this can do and it can detect red lights. They can swerve around pedestrians.

Here's what is interesting as well. It's not just Nissan doing this. It's General Motors, Toyota, Audi, Volkswagen. They are all working on making these self-driving vehicles as well. So maybe this isn't so crazy after all.

The number of cars currently on the market, they also have features. So before you say that this is nuts, think about it, there are features on our cars that take partial control. You can parallel park or the car can do that on its own. There is cruise control. Put that blindfold on and go take that trip.

COSTELLO: I'm just wondering if you get stopped for a speeding ticket, the cop comes up and says, there's no one there.

KOSIK: It's the car's fault, officer.

COSTELLO: Alison, thanks so much. And thank you for joining us today. I'm Carol Costello.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.