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CNN NEWSROOM

Beating Back Yosemite Fire; U.S. Closer To Attacking Syria; Nation Marks March On Washington, Interview with Jamie Rubin; James DiMaggio's Sister Speaks Out; Interview with Ben Jealous

Aired August 28, 2013 - 13:00   ET

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


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SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. is making the case for military intervention in Syria, as the U.N. investigates alleged chemical attacks. So what does it mean for American troops? We'll investigate.

Plus, right now, thousands are gathered on the National Mall. Events are underway to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. We'll take you there live.

And 184,000 acres burned, plus 4,000 firefighters equals one of the worst wildfires in California state history. We're going to have a live report.

This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

U.S. officials are all but telling U.N. inspectors to get out of Syria, get out of the way. It is not an if but when the U.S. will launch an attack. The U.N. teams are carrying on nevertheless. Inspectors back out today collecting evidence from last week's alleged chemical weapons' attack. Now, these pictures were posted online showing inspectors talking to survivors at a medical facility near Damascus.

U.S. warships, they are ready, but there are warnings here at home and around the world that the United States could create inextricable mess by conducting a military strike on Syria.

CNN is the only U.S. network broadcasting live from inside of the country, inside Syria. Our Fred Pleitgen is on the ground in Damascus with the very latest. Fred, essentially what is it like to be there with people thinking and believing that a strike is imminent?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to tell you, people really do seem to be nervous here. There's a lot of people that we speak to and, obviously, because we're in the government- controlled part of Damascus, many people are sympathetic to the government and they will tell you out front that they have no fear, that god is on their side and that they believe that the regime will fight back.

But there are certainly people that we've also been speaking to off camera that say that, yes, of course they're nervous as to what exactly this will bring. There's people who are buying canned food and dried food thinking that all of this might escalate and things might get worse for them, because one of the things we have to keep in mind is that while there's been a civil war going on, there has been somewhat of a military balance with both sides.

And so, a lot of people here in Damascus can actually lead fairly normal lives. Now, many people think that might be in jeopardy. We don't get the sense that people are fearing for their safety because of the U.S. airstrikes, but they are fearing what sort of ripple effects this might have on the battlefield and whether or not things might escalate here in Damascus -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, do they believe that it's actually a good idea -- either side that they might be on, do they think that something long term is going to be accomplished if the U.S. actually hits some of these military sites?

PLEITGEN: I don't think anybody believes anything long term is going to be it. I mean, when you look at the opposition side, they've been saying for a long time that they want an air campaign. They've been asking for a no-fly zone, similar to, for instance, what Senator John McCain has been asking for.

But when you call on the government side, obviously they don't think anything of this at all. They think this is a big mistake. The Assad government has come forward and says they believe that only innocent civilians will be killed because of that and the prime minister of Syria has come out today and said he believes that the U.S. is simply trying to use false facts to create a pretext to try and attack Syria.

So certainly, if you look at the side of the government, they obviously think nothing of this, and they keep calling for the U.S. to give the U.N. weapons inspectors more time. But, of course, the way things are going right now, it doesn't look like that is the case -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: It certainly looks like time is running out. Fred, thank you. We appreciate it.

Well, any type of military operation in Syria would be extremely complex. And what would the potential targets be? Later this hour, we're going to ask former assistant secretary of state, the U.S. State Department, Jamie Rubie -- Rubin, rather, about that issue.

And the weather might finally help thousands of firefighters struggling to contain -- this is the giant rim fire in California. Just in time, the fire has scorched a huge area of land. It has burned its way into Yosemite National Park. For now, the Yosemite Valley and its iconic attractions, they are safe as long as that wind doesn't change.

Our Casey Wian is near Yosemite National Park in California. And, Casey, what is on the -- what's the situation on the ground right now?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, you talk about the big rim fire. It really is big. You're looking here at some of the 187,000 acres of fire at the Yosemite area that has burned because of the rim fire. We're talking nearly 300 square miles. The good news though is that it is now at 23 percent containment which means that 23 percent of the perimeter of this fire is pretty much under firefighters' control.

But there are still a lot of areas that are troublesome. There's some hot spots, we saw them late yesterday, where there are trees still burning. And some of these large trees, when they get weakened by fire, they can provide a lot of danger for firefighters because they'll fall down without warning.

Firefighters are spending most of their time now on structure protection, building fire lines, and later today, they're going to be sending some backfires to stop the fire from spreading down into Yosemite National Park -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And do we know if they -- if people are going to have to cancel their vacations or postpone their vacations for Yosemite National Park, those areas where those -- the campers will be for the holiday weekend?

WIAN: The short answer is, no. If you look over here to my left, you can see that guardrail. That's one of the roads into Yosemite National Park. Highway 120, this road has been closed to everything except emergency vehicles. That's so they can continue to fight some of these hot spots that are popping up alongside the road from here to Yosemite. But there are still two other roads that are open to allow visitors to come into the park. And officials tell us that it remains safe to do so, just by matter of perspective, Yosemite National Park, 800,000 acres. Only about 24,000 acres of the park proper have actually burned. That's about three percent so most of it remains still in good shape -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Casey, thank you. Appreciate it.

Exactly 50 years ago today, hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington and heard the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Well, today, thousands are returning to the National Mall to commemorate that day and the words that inspired a nation.

President Obama will speak along with former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. And in just about an hour, Oprah Winfrey set to take the stage as well. We'll also hear from the King family, including Martin Luther King III and the Reverend Bernice King. Civil rights leader and former U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, spoke to the crowd earlier today and then broke into song.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke up this morning with my (INAUDIBLE) -- come on, help me.

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MALVEAUX: A pretty festive atmosphere out there. Joining us from the National Mall CNN Political Contributor Donna Brazile and also joined by "CROSSFIRE" host, Van Jones, two good friends of mine here. You know, we just saw Andrew Young, we talked to him just the other day. I didn't realize he was such a beautiful singer. Donna, give us a sense of what this is like to be there.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this is a historic occasion. This is a reminder of not just a journey that we traveled over the last 50 years, but it's also a call to action to continue to fight for those issues and those concerns that Dr. King laid before us 50 years ago. The march for jobs, the march to raise the minimum wage, the march for freedom and economic justice. This dream continues. And today, you can see despite the weather, people are here because they want to celebrate but they also would like to recommit themselves to the fight for freedom for all.

MALVEAUX: And, Van, you know, we've been talking about this all day, thinking about it, what life would have been like for us if we hadn't had this moment, if we hadn't had this civil rights movement. You know, my own family, my grandparents, you know, didn't finish an elementary school education. My parents grew up in the south in New Orleans, segregation, drank at colored fountains. Can you imagine a day, could you imagine what your life would have been like if this hadn't taken place?

VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I really can't. You know, I think sometimes people don't understand how emotional this is for many Americans. I mean, the cab driver that was driving me over here broke down crying talking about his family and the struggles that he's gone through. I tried to pay him, he wouldn't even take money from me. He said just go and tell the truth about what this means for us. It's such an emotional day to imagine that at the same spot that Dr. King was standing there, he couldn't drink from a water fountain in parts of this country.

And then, 50 years later, to have a black president to stand on that same spot, it's so emotional. My mother grew up under segregation. My mother was mistreated. My father. My mother is not even 70 years old. She's still in her 60s and to see this is so emotional for people. And you can be in this crowd, I mean, people are crying. People are hugging each other. It's just an emotional day for everybody here.

MALVEAUX: And Donna, you really -- you wear so many hats, but obviously is -- this affects you personally as well. If you have a personal story. I know you also believe very much in the president and seeing the first African-American president in terms of just how far we've come.

BRAZILE: Well, as you know, Suzanne, it was about 30 years ago that I coordinated the national mobilization and directed the 20th anniversary of the historic march. I was 23. And back then, Mrs. King hired me to work on the campaign to make Dr. King's birthday a holiday. So, I spent part of the morning just reliving that moment with Andy Young and Dr. Lowery, C.T. Vivian, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Otis Moss so many others. And I was with them last night at the white house for a very wonderful ceremony. This is a remarkable day. But this is not just a day where we march today, we're going to continue to march and continue to march until we have freedom and justice for all in this society.

MALVEAUX: All right. Donna, you --

JONES: You know, and what --

MALVEAUX: Go ahead, Van. Real quick.

JONES: I just -- I just -- I just wanted to add, you know, Dr. King has almost been elevated to founding father status, because he took the founding reality of America which was very ugly when it came to race but he held on to that founding dream that was in the Declaration of Independence, and he brought that to the country

And, you know, I just think that for him to be elevated to almost a founding father status in such a short period of time is just extraordinary. He took us from the founding reality which was ugly but he held on to that founding dream which was beautiful and we thank him for it -- thank him for it.

MALVEAUX: All right. Van, Donna, you don't look a day over 23. You're looking good. Donna and Van, thank you, again.

BRAZILE: Oh, I feel good. Thank you.

MALVEAUX: All right. Here's also what we're work on for this hour.

A stunning upset at the U.S. Open ranks 296. Victoria Duval had an amazing come from-behind-victory. We'll have a live report up next.

And a Syrian group launches a cyber attack on the "New York Times" Web site. That story up ahead.

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MALVEAUX: Some supporters of the Syrian government say that they are behind a cyber attack on "the New York Times." For more than 18 hours, the paper's Web site was down. The Syrian electronic army is now claiming responsibility. Now, in a message on "The New York Times'" official twitter account, the paper said the attack was affecting readers in Europe and Asia. Well, two weeks ago, the group went after other news sites, including CNN and "The Washington Post."

Well, any type of military operation in Syria would be, of course, extremely complex. The White House makes it clear that regime change is not the goal of any possible U.S. strike. So, what would the potential targets be? What would the objective be? My next guest can help explain all the possible strategies. Jamie Ruben, he is former assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department. He is now a visiting scholar at Oxford University. He joins us from France.

So, Jamie, good to see you. We've got a lot of ground to cover here. One of the things that you mentioned was in the "New Yorker" recently. This is May 13, 2013 article. It's called "The Thin Red Line." It refers to the president's foreign policy. And in it you say, there's a quote, "In foreign affairs," regarding Obama, "he seems risk averse at using force and even diplomacy. There are no big diplomacy initiatives. There is little peace effort in the Middle East. We used to have a whole part of our foreign policy we called the America as Peacemaker. We don't do that anymore."

Do you believe that the president, if he decides to order a military strike to take out some of Assad's military targets, do you still believe that there's not a big peace objective when it comes to this administration?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER ASST. SECY. OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: No, I don't think there will be a large peace initiative in Syria. The situation that the president faces is that he threatened the leader of Syria, Bashar Assad, not to use chemical weapons. Said that that would cross a red line. Assad didn't believe him. He used chemical weapons several months ago. And now he's used chemical weapons again.

So President Obama is taking what I think may be called the minimum necessary course of action here, which is to respond militarily, but in a punitive way, and probably not in a large way, but rather to attack a set of targets associated with perhaps the launching of chemical weapons like missile launchers or airfields where chemical bombs can be launched.

And so I don't think the president is engaged in what you might call diplomacy backed by force, where he's trying to bring peace to the war in Syria, try to end the conflict there, or indeed achieve what he said should be the objective, which is to get rid of Bashar al Assad. So this is the minimum course that I think the president could take, and that's why I've regarded him as generally risk-averse.

MALVEAUX: Do you think it's a good idea taking the minimal amount of action, as you would say, or do you think he needs to do something more deliberate?

RUBIN: Well, if we don't want to see the kind of mass murder continue in Syria that we've seen over the last two years -- remember, we're well over 100,000 people have been slaughtered in that country, and we're about to take military action because the last thousand were slaughtered by chemical weapons. If this military operation is successful, and I hope and pray it will be, a certain number of targets will be taken out. A strong message will be sent to Bashar Assad not to use chemical weapons. I expect that he probably won't use chemical weapons again after this attack.

But he will continue the slaughter of his own people, and will probably go from 100 to 120 and soon 150,000 people in this terrible civil war. So I think it's long past time for President Obama to make the kind of tough decision that's necessary in a place this important to the world with this kind of mass slaughter going on. This is the worst, according to the United Nations, the worst humanitarian disaster in the modern era, with millions of refugees and over 100,000 people now dead. MALVEAUX: All right. Let's see what the president decides to do. Jamie, I wish we had more time, but we'll be talking about this throughout the week as that window approaches. Jamie Rubin, thank you. Ahead on the NEWSROOM --

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

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MALVEAUX: The sister of James DiMaggio opens up saying Hannah Anderson is not so innocent and her brother is not a killer.

And it's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. You're looking at live pictures out of Washington. Later in the show, we're going to talk to Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP.

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MALVEAUX: We're actually getting a different view of a man police say is a kidnapper and a killer. James DiMaggio, who allegedly abducted 16-year-old Hannah Anderson, murdered her brother and mother, and then died in a shootout with FBI agents in the mountains of Idaho. His sister wants to know if he was a victim. In an exclusive interview, she told our Piers Morgan that she warned her brother about Hannah Anderson. Here's Miguel Marquez.

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MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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 a shootout with the FBI in the Idaho wilderness after kidnapping Hannah Anderson. And the investigators say he tortured and murdered her mother Christina (ph) and brother Ethan before setting fire to the 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 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, ALLEGED KIDNAPPING VICTIM: He was picking me up from cheer camp and he didn't know the address or, 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 that 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.

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MALVEAUX: Miguel Marquez joins us from Los Angeles. So I imagine that Hannah Anderson's family are reacting to this in some way. What did they say about the interview?

MARQUEZ: They're not reacting. That's sort of their reaction. It's very telling. The family has sort of been through it. They don't want to say anything more. They did release a previously released statement saying there is no evidence of any DNA linking DiMaggio and the Andersons. He came into their lives after Hannah was born and Ethan's DNA was linked to his father after his death. They also wish ms. DiMaggio well as she and her family continues to heal as well.

MALVEAUX: All right, Miguel, thank you.

Ahead on the NEWSROOM, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. You're looking at live pictures from Washington. After the break, we're going to talk to Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation.

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MALVEAUX: Thousands of people are flocking to the National Mall in Washington today to commemorate a pivotal point in the fight for civil rights. The 1963 March on Washington, led be the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. happened exactly 50 years ago today.

Well, the head of the NAACP spoke to the crowd earlier today. Ben Jealous talked about economic justice and referred specifically to a planned strike tomorrow by some minimum wage workers. Let's listen.

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BEN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT OF THE NAACP: And so as we go home today, let us remember that the dreamer was also a doer. And as we turn on our TVs tomorrow and see people walking out of places where they're being forced to survive on $7.25 by the thousands, let us commit to join them in fighting to lift up the bottom, because as the top of that ladder has extended, the tethers at the bottom must be unleashed.

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MALVEAUX: Ben Jealous joins us from Washington. Ben, good to see you, as always. Tell us a little bit about the doing part of this. What needs to be done? In your estimation, what's most important moving forward tomorrow, starting with the planned strikes?

JEALOUS: Well, you know, I stepped out here and I actually had a speech that I had composed and that was not the one that I gave. As I looked out this crowd of tens of thousands of people in the rain, bringing kids, many of them coming from not too far from here. Many coming from across the river in the southeast, where the average family income is about $21,000.