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U.S. Prepares for Possible Strike on Syria; Wildfire Continues to Burn in California; 50th Anniversary of March on Washington;

Aired August 28, 2013 - 07:00   ET



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I think it's very obvious that Bashar Assad has committed war crimes.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Ready to strike. The U.S. military in place ready to hit Syria at any moment. Their foreign minister vowing to strike back, a Syrian group already crashing a major U.S. website. We're the only network live inside Syria.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: High-speed chase caught on camera. Two alleged criminals on the run, the daring move cops had to pull off in order to stop them.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Boiling point. Alec Baldwin manhandling the paparazzi again. Both sides calling the police, the photographers that won't leave him alone. What is he to do?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: What you need to know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope (INAUDIBLE) to keep these guys from getting back out on the road and hurting somebody else.

ANNOUNCER: What you just have to see.

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


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, August 28th, 7:00 in the East.

Coming this up hour, U.S. warships are at the ready and President Obama is working the phones with allies to develop a plan of action in Syria. How soon could the U.S. strike, and if it does, what are the implications? We're going to cover all the angles of this critical story.

BOLDUAN: And we're also remembering the dream, marking the 50 year anniversary of the historic march on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech. Thousands of people are set to gather in the nation's capital today, including three presidents, all to honor that momentous day. We'll be live at the National Mall. PEREIRA: Also ahead in the news, George Zimmerman's wife is in court today for perjury. She's accused of lying about the couple's finances during a bond hearing this year, this as Zimmerman plans to ask Florida's taxpayers cover his legal costs during his murder trial.

CUOMO: We start with the momentum building in the White House for a military response to Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons against its own people. Less than a week ago there was a caution tone from the White House, but now Vice President Biden says there's no doubt chemical weapons were used. Iran is also weighing in, warning of a disaster in the region if the U.S. intervenes. Meanwhile U.N. inspectors are getting a second look at the site of that suspected gas attack.

We are going to cover this story like no one else can. We have the only person western network reporter on the ground in Damascus, Syria. But first let's go to CNN's Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, what's happening behind the scenes is giving us a real clue as to what will happen next. Officials declassifying some of the proof and making private calls to key members of congress. If the president were to order an air strike it would likely come at night but not for the reason that you might think.


LAWRENCE: The latest warning to Syria comes directly from the White House.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable.

LAWRENCE: Another sign to expect action, U.S. officials all but telling U.N. inspectors get out of the area. The defense secretary told the BBC U.S. ships are positioned, preparations complete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are ready to go.

LAWRENCE: And a defense official tells CNN if the president chooses the most limited option, it could be over in two to three days. Cruise missiles could target Syria's weapons launchers and command and control facilities, but that's it.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The options we are considering are not about regime change.

LAWRENCE: And this some say could backfire on the White House.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: It may give Bashar al Assad a propaganda advantage by saying he was able to resist the United States' attacks.

LAWRENCE: The administration continues to accuse Bashar al Assad of gassing his own people. BIDEN: There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons.

LAWRENCE: But so far, they've offered no hard evidence.

CARNEY: The intelligence community is working on an assessment.

LAWRENCE: U.S. officials tell CNN that assessment includes forensic evidence that chemical weapons were used, satellite images of activity at chemical weapons depots, and intercepted communications of Syrian forces.


LAWRENCE: And we're told by a U.S. official that a lot of that proof will be declassified sometime very, very soon. As for an airstrike, the military would likely conduct it at night but it has nothing to do with evasion or stealth. The Syrian air defense radars would either intercept the missile or it would not day or night, but there are fewer people on the street at midnight compared to say 9:00 in the morning and it might minimize the chances of having civilian casualties. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon starting us off this hour thank you so much, Chris.

Let's go from the Pentagon to on the ground in Syria. Syria's foreign minister says the country will defend itself if attacked by the U.S. CNN is the only western network with a reporter inside the country right now, where Fred Pleitgen is live in Damascus. Fred, what is the latest from your angle?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. I've been going around Damascus and the traffic is moving normally. On the face it doesn't seem as different as it was before. When you talk to people on the ground they tell you they are nervous about what the U.S. might do next. It's not that they fear for their own safety because of the airstrikes but they fear the momentum could be changed on the battlefield if the U.S. enters the equation more than it has before, so people are very much afraid of that.

When you talk to Syrian officials they are urging the United States to give them extra time and give the weapons inspectors that are on the ground extra time to finish and to conduct their operations that they're doing now. The weapons inspectors are on the ground as we speak in an eastern suburb of Damascus where many, many people were allegedly killed in that chemical gas attack.

As you said, the Syrian government is still threatening retaliation. However, it's unclear what exactly that retaliation could look like. The Syrian air force, most of its planes are from the 1970s and 1980s. And while it has fairly up to date air defenses, they are, of course, no match for the hardware that the United States has. Chris?

CUOMO: Fred, thank you very much. Fred Pleitgen there in Syria. Let's bring in CNN chief national correspondent John King, Fran Townsend, CNN national security analyst and member of both the DHS and CIA external advisory boards. Fran, I'll start with you. Simple question, does the U.S. have to take military action?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think what's at stake at the moment is the president's credibility. You can't draw red lines unless you're willing to enforce them. There are these small scale chemical attacks in the last year leading up to this, but with such a mass atrocity it really can't go unanswered. So the question is, what do you do as part of a larger strategic plan, because of course just a missile retaliatory attack in and of itself we know won't be effective. That was tried after the east Africa embassy bombings by the Clinton administration and we saw 9/11. You can't have a single in and out missile strike and think that's going to solve the problem.

CUOMO: You haven't heard of we going to come and strike you but we don't want to topple you.

TOWNSEND: No. And while that may be the strategy, I wouldn't signal it in advance. I can see why the president doesn't want to get involved in a protracted engagement, but you can't decide how long your engagement is going to be before you've even begun military operations.

CUOMO: We intercepted a phone call where they're talking about chemical attacks. Do we know that was a regime strategy and not a rogue individual overstepping their own bounds within the Assad regime?

TOWNSEND: Chris we don't know that yet. This one report last night at, we know, there was this one intercept. We understand it was confused and it's not clear. I think that's why you're hearing the administration declassifying intelligence about the proof of the regime being behind this attack.

CUOMO: Now let's bring in John King. Another reason to bring in proof is blast from the past, John King, the Iraq war, in the aftermath, a lot of discussion about the constitutionality of the president going preemptively without getting Congressional approval. What are we seeing now? There's a little political talk, but is the case being made the president should slow down because we don't want a repeat of that. He has to make the case to Congress.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And most of that is coming from Republicans saying consult the Congress, some Republican saying you seek congressional authorization first. More and more Democrats are joining that, including some members of the Democratic leadership in the House.

Chris, the legacy of the Iraq war rings large here. Remember, Senator Obama made his name on the national political stage because he was a Democrat in 2008 who was against the war when the others had voted in favor of it. Not only that, release the intelligence, that is the skepticism not only of the American people but governments around the world. We've heard the United States say it has proof before. Let's see that proof.

And so as we want this play out -- and regime change, another key point. This president, remember that first speech in Cairo when he traveled just after being elected, he wasn't going to be George W. Bush. He was going to improve relationships with the Muslim and Arab world. Now he's trying to say I'm going to have a military strike but it's not about regime change because that was the negative of the Iraq war.

But the biggest challenge for the president is when does he make that decision. And we should know more about that today after the president's speech at the march on Washington event, he has an interview on PBS. So we should directly from the president today a little bit more about the thought process.

CUOMO: Many people bringing up constitutionality last time. Let's finish on this, Fran, the Syrian electronic army, they're getting credit, if you want to call it, for hacking into "The Times" maybe twitter, Instagram. What do we know about this organization? Are they Syrian?

TOWNSEND: They are certainly Syrian, Assad regime supporters. It may also diaspora who support the Assad regime.

CUOMO: People outside the country but still support inside.

TOWNSEND: Exactly right. It's interesting because they have an historical relationship to the Syrian computer society which Bashar al Assad before he was president headed. They made very clear that they're not an arm of the government but they're clearly regime supporters. Assad has made public statements supporting them. But they clearly have a capability to be disruptive, and I think the signal of these attacks over the last 24 hours is we will retaliate if action is taken against the is Assad regime.

CUOMO: Where is the administration in terms of what do you do if the attacks continue? Do we have a response?

TOWNSEND: The U.S. government has tremendous cyber capability. The question is, how are you going to use that capability? Will it just be in partnership with the private sector to protect themselves or would you consider something more offensive? I expect they'll try work with the private sector on defensive measures.

CUOMO: As we're seeing with the markets and the human loss, any move that is made here inside Syria will have many ramifications inside and out.

TOWNSEND: Absolutely. Let's not forget, Hezbollah has a strong presence inside Syria and has been responsible for attacks against civilians including in Argentina, will likely be the asymmetric threat, the non-state actor that will be used in retaliation.

CUOMO: Fran Townsend, thank you very much. John King, appreciate the perspective as always my friend. Kate, over to you. BOLDUAN: We're tracking a story at home, California's massive rim fire still growing, and 184,000 acres have burned so far. That's bigger than the city of San Francisco, making it the seventh largest wildfire in the state's history. And the flames are threatening San Francisco's water supply. The fire is fast approaching, a key reservoir there which provides water to millions of people in the Bay Area. Let's get straight to CNN's Casey Wian in Groveland, California, for the latest. Good morning, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. The good news is that reservoir has not been directly affected in terms of the drinking water supply to the city of San Francisco. There has been some ash detected on the top of the reservoir but the water comes from the bottom. So city officials say the water supply has not been tainted at this point.

The fire spread to 184,000 acres. It's 20 percent contained, which fire officials say it's a good number, they feel confidence about stopping the spread into Yosemite. Yosemite National Park is 800,000 acres, and 24,000 acres of Yosemite burned so far, just about three percent of the park.

One change since yesterday and over the last camel of days, it's been so smoky out here because of a really intense inversion layer making it very, very difficult for firefighters to move the equipment around and making it very, very difficult for us and local residents to breathe. Right now I can dock up and see the moon in the sky. Yesterday morning I couldn't even see the sun because the smoke was so thick. So the smoke is beginning to clear a little bit, but they have not, they still have a big firefighting effort ahead of them. Kate and Chris?

BOLDUAN: They could use some help from mother nature right now. Thanks so much, Casey.

CUOMO: We're following a lot of stories right now, so let's get to Michaela.

PEREIRA: Here are your headlines this hour. Closing arguments in the penalty fails of Nidal Hasan's court-martial get underway today at the court in Texas. The army major, who is representing himself, did nothing during the sentencing except to say "The Defense Rests." Hasan could get the death penalty for killing 13 people in that Fort Hood massacre in 2009.

Former NFL star and murder suspect Aaron Hernandez reportedly surrounded himself with gangster types and was a heavy user of PCP. An upcoming article in "Rolling Stone" magazine also say Hernandez infuriated Patriots coach Bill Belichick with missed practices and thuggish behavior, was nearly cut from the team. Hernandez now faces a first-degree murder charge in the shooting of a former friend Oden Lloyd.

The family of a teenage graffiti artist allegedly tasered to death by police is now suing. They claim Miami Beach police violated 18-year- old Israel Hernandez's civil rights, used excessive force, and failed to give him proper medical attention afterward. They're seeking damages of more than $15,000. Miami Beach police declined to comment on that lawsuit.

The Obama administration reportedly delays a crucial step in the launch of Obamacare health plans, citing final agreements with insurance plans. The signings were originally set for September 5th and 9th. But insurance industry sources say they'll happen in mid- September. A Health and Human Services spokeswoman says the department is still on track to open the marketplaces on time, October 1st.

We want to show you some credible video form inside a dirt modified race car. The driver rolled his ride and waiting for crews to get him up. You can see fuel leaking and guess what happens next. Seconds later all you see is flames. It is a terrifying piece of video. We can tell you the driver got out OK, went on to finish the race. He came in fifth. He's posted on Facebook that he's OK and thanked everybody for the concern. His neck is a little stiff but he's doing just fine. He's thinking of maybe putting on the head sock that prevents the fire from burning.

CUOMO: It's a very dangerous sport, we all know that, but the safety advances they've made have people walk away from things, never would have happened 10 years ago.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Michaela.

We've been watching the wildfires out west, but there's also a lot of weather to talk about this morning, so let's get straight to Indra Petersons in the Weather Center. Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. We're still really concerned with all the heat in the Midwest. One of the problems is not how hot it is, but how many days consecutively we are seeing the heat. Look at these heat indices up to about 105. This is South Dakota. Looks like Minnesota, even Iowa still dealing with the heat. As far as how hot is it? This blocking high is producing temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above normal. We talked about consecutive days, I'm taking you out through Friday here. We're still talking about these temperatures. Again, a good 15, 20 degrees above normal. Unfortunately it's not changing any time soon so all precautions should be taken.

BOLDUAN: All right, Indra, thanks for that.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, it's been 50 years since the march on Washington, if you can believe it. How far have we come? How much further is there to go? We'll take you live to the National Mall.

CUOMO: And Alec Baldwin, great on the screen, has some troubles on the streets. These are pics of his latest fight with the paparazzi. Question, is this an anger problem or one man saying enough is enough? We'll take a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Martin Luther King and his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech belong to the world, and today it seems a big chunk of that world is converging on the nation's capital to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. The president will speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same spot where Martin Luther King gave his speech 50 years ago today. CNN "NEWSROOM" anchor Don Lemon is live on the National Mall with more. Good morning Don.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, you said the president and it should not go unnoticed 50 years later the first African-American president of the United States will give his speech up there in the same place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech 50 years ago.

There are big names as well that are expected to speak, and that is Oprah Winfrey, and two former presidents, President Clinton and President Carter, and the man, one men, who was here who gave a speech there 50 years ago, Congressman John Lewis. The day begins shortly but of course the headliner is the president.


LEMON: Fifty years ago today. about a quarter million people marched on the National Mall on Washington to demand change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sharing his dream for America from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His indelible words a watershed moment in the civil rights movement.

Today, thousand will gather once again to commemorate those now-famous words that forever changed our country.

REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) GEORGIA: Our country is better, and we are better people. We still have a distance to go.

LEMON: That distance front and center today and the nation's first black president will add his vision as the marquee speaker at the anniversary celebration. President Obama acknowledges that, while a lot of progress has been made, King would not be satisfied.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we've made, and that it's not enough just to have a black president.

LEMON: There are renewed calls for addressing socioeconomic and racial disparities. The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin drew many to the streets across the country in protest. The president reacting with personal candor.

OBAMA: There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

LEMON: This from a president criticized by some in the black community for not being more outspoken about race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I'd like to see him be more passionate about race questions.

LEMON: Last week in New York, Mr. Obama may have given a glimpse into his address today honoring the civil rights leader.

OBAMA: Each generation seems wiser in terms of wanting to treat people fairly and do the right thing and not discriminate and that's a great victory that we should all be very proud of.


LEMONS: So, there will be some looking back and some soul searching as well but mostly looking forward to see how the King dream can be achieved. Before this service starts here on the Mall of course there is a prayer service as Dr. King would have wanted it at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest Washington. We'll be here for the entire thing. Back to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. A big day ahead, Don, thank you for setting that up for us. Let's talk more about today's special 50th anniversary event with CNN political commentator Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. Donna, it is great to see you, especially on this very special day.

I know you have been working to help to pull this event together and the president will be speaking, will be making the concluding speech at the end of today's events. What do you want to hear from the president today?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Last night at the White House, the president hosted a reception with civil rights leaders from -- that spanned the generations. It was such a very remarkable occasion to see so many of those who braved with their lives to -- not just celebrate this moment but to also remind the country that we still have some ways to go.

President Obama said last night -- he told us not to have elevated expectations of what he might say today. Of course he has a time frame, like all of the other speakers and prior to the president of course we will also hear from Martin Luther King's children, Reverend Dr. Bernice King and Marty King III and Dexter King. This will be a very important moment.

He is going to talk about I believe the way forward. President Obama last night acknowledged the progress we've made. He also paid tribute to those who have sacrificed with their own lives, but I think he's going to talk about the way forward in terms of where Dr. King would have taken us today had he lived, clearly jobs, employment, ensuring that we enforce our civil rights laws, immigration reform, this is a big coalition not just of African-Americans but Latinas and gays and lesbians and women and others. This is a wonderful, remarkable occasion. I'm glad to be a part of it.

BOLDUAN: Of course. And John King actually brought up an interesting point last hour that I wanted to ask you about. He said how he's looking forward to see how personally the president speaks in his remarks today. We have noticed since this past election the president you've seen in some remarks especially on race issues speaking more personally about his experiences, his daughter's experiences, his family experiences. How important do you think it is for the president to speak personally in his remarks today?

BRAZILE: He's the president of the entire United States of America. He speaks for so many when he says he stands on the shoulders of giants. Men and women of ordinary means and backgrounds who, again, risked their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom we have today.

Prior to the 1963 march, we didn't have significant civil rights laws on the books, voting rights laws on the books. So the march had a real visible impact immediately on the country so the president will talk again about the journey, but also I think the way forward.

BOLDUAN: And let's talk about real quickly that way forward. The president in the last election cycle especially faced criticism from the African-American community that he had not done enough to advance the cause. What are the new challenges, the near-term challenges of the American civil rights movement you'd like to see the president talk about and you think the country should focus on.

BRAZILE: There's no question that the great recession really took away the assets of African-Americans; 55 percent of African-Americans lost many of their major assets including their homes, and so black unemployment remained very high. Youth unemployment remained high. I think the American dream is an inclusive dream and clearly the president I hope will address the issues of jobs, job creation, because that is important, to not just African-Americans but all Americans, raising the minimum wage. Had Dr. King lived, he would have been marching to ensure that we had a living wage.

He will I hope address all the issues but not just President Obama. I hope all the other speakers address immigration reform I mentioned as well, enforce our civil rights laws and of course restore the Voting Rights Act of America. That's so important. Republicans call upon Congress as well to ensure that we have a strong and vigorous voting rights law in this country.

BOLDUAN: Important to talk about it every day, but it's a great day to talk about it especially on this 50th anniversary. Thank you so much.

BRAZILE: I want to show you -- I brought my posters. I did --

BOLDUAN: You love a prop.

BRAZILE: I love props. The most important one is in my heart. I am grateful to all of those who sacrificed who made this possible and thank God many of them are still alive to see this wonderful moment in American history.

BOLDUAN: Donna, great to see you. Talk to you soon.

BRAZILE: Thank you.


CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, more legal drama for George Zimmerman and his wife, this time it's their money under the microscope.

And speaking of drama, actor Alec Baldwin caught in another scuffle with a photographer as both men blame the other. That's not unusual. But who is the real culprit out here in the paparazzi culture? Dr. Drew will be here to hash it out with us. There he is.