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U.S. Prepares for Showdown in Syria; Wildfire Threatens S.F. Water, Power; Major Upset; March On Washington Remembered; Federal School Lunch Program Problems

Aired August 28, 2013 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty years ago, there was so much fear. The fear is gone. Our country is better and we are better people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just been a great life, if I could do it over again, I would do it.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. It's Wednesday, August 28th, 8:00 in the east. Coming up this hour, the whole world is watching as the U.S. prepares a potential strike against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack. The situation becoming more volatile by the minute as Iran warns the disaster if America intervenes. What will President Obama do and when? We're covering this story like only CNN can with the only western correspondent in Syria, we'll get into it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, a dangerous wildfire continues to rage out of control in and around Yosemite Park. More than 1,800 acres have burned as another threat becomes clear. San Francisco's water supply now in danger. We'll come live from the fire zone.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And an incredible upset at the U.S. Open. A 17-year-old tennis star getting her first big grand slam win, but American Victoria Duval's come-from-behind victory, not the only part. What she had to over come to get there will surely blow you away.

BOLDUAN: We'll get to that. But, first, let's get back to the big news this morning. The Assad regime in Syria could soon be looking down the barrel of U.S. military power. U.S. officials apparently feel confident the red line of chemical warfare was crossed. Vice President Biden saying very clearly there is no doubt chemical weapons were used.

But Iran is warning of a disaster in the region if the U.S. intervenes and U.N. inspectors are getting a second look at the site of the possible chemical weapons attack. We're covering this story like no other network can. CNN has the only Western network reporter on the ground in Syria, but, first, let's start with Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for latest. Good morning, Chris.


Yes, what's happening behind the scenes is giving us a real clue of what will happen, next. Officials are making private calls to key members of Congress and declassifying some of the proof that details of which may shock you.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): The latest warning to Syria comes directly from the White House.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's clear the security situation isn't safe for the team in Syria.

LAWRENCE: The defense secretary told the BBC, U.S. ships are positioned, preparations complete.


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 that 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 and satellite images of activity at chemical weapons depots and intercepted communications of Syrian forces.


LAWRENCE: You know, sources told me they intercepted calls from Syrian military leaders, but foreign policy has additional details reporting that it was a panic call directly from an official at the ministry of defense. He was calling one of the leaders at one of the chemical weapons depots and he was demanding answers for a nerve agent attack that had just killed civilians.

Chris, this raises real questions about who ultimately ordered this strike, if it happened. And even more so, as the U.S. military may target command and control targets, how much risk is that going to put individual units now, perhaps cut off from higher command.

CUOMO: Good question, Chris.

We're also learning more about who did the intercepting. We're learning that Israeli military intelligence may have provided some of these transcripts. And that further complicates the politics of the situation. But thank you very much for reporting from the Pentagon.

As Kate mentioned, CNN has the only western reporter network on the ground in Syria. That's very important in figuring out the conditions there, obviously.

So, let's bring in Fred Pleitgen joining us from Damascus.

Fred, what's the latest?


CUOMO: All right, we can't hear Fred right now. We'll get back to him as soon as we can.

Kate, take it.

BOLDUAN: All right. Thanks so much. We'll get back to Fred Pleitgen as soon as possible.

But let's ask the question now that I think everyone is wondering. What is on the path ahead and what is the global impact of U.S. action in Syria?

Let's break it down further with Christiane Amanpour, host of CNN International's "AMANPOUR," joining me now -- joining us now from France.

Christiane, thank you so much for taking the time. There's a lot to unpack here. But one of the first important issues is administration and allies continue to stress that any engagement would be limited intervention of punitive kind of strike and real risks here in being drawn further in, isn't there? Because I think the kind of single in and out in the past has not shown great success.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, here I am in France with America's allies, the French, have also said they're ready to punish those who have used chemical weapons against --


BOLDUAN: Technical difficulties this morning.

CUOMO: Two for two.

BOLDUAN: Two for the two -- the Gremlins -- I think we have Christiane back.

Christiane, are you with me again?

AMANPOUR: You're kidding. Do you have me back?

BOLDUAN: I do have you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Can you hear me?

BOLDUAN: Can you hear me? It's Kate, can you hear me?


BOLDUAN: OK. Take it away. Continue with what you were saying.

AMANPOUR: Absolutely. So, just here we are in France because the United States will not do this alone. It's pretty much a given that the United States has decided to go ahead, even though the president has not announced it yet or the timing. All the allies believe this is going to happen and have come out and said they are force square behind punishing Assad.

The French president said that we're ready to punish those who used gas against innocent civilians. The British prime minister is currently right now sharing a meeting of his national security cabinet and tomorrow will have called back parliament that have had a special recess for a special debate on this, and also a vote by the end of the day.

The British also have drafted a U.N. resolution calling for the protection of Syrian civilians and for them to be protected from the use of chemical weapons.

So, this looks like it is going to happen. The question is on what scale and what exactly will that mean? As you say, probably punitive and probably not going to last many days, as we've seen in the previous decades under Saddam Hussein's Iraq and in Afghanistan when President Clinton ordered a cruise missile attack after the east Africa bombings back in 1998.

These kinds of punitive attacks. But you're absolutely right. What does this mean? Will it completely degrade President Assad's military capability? Will it take out its air power? Will it take out his air fields and his fixed wing aircraft? Will they go off to chemical weapon sites? Kind of unlikely given the danger that might pose, although some of them probably can be taken out because of the configuration of the chemicals. But as you say, what is the general, the general sort of conclusion the U.S. wants out of this? It is not regime change, but perhaps a major slap on the wrist in order to show they can't use chemical weapons, again -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It leaves you to wonder, what will the lasting effect of that slap on the wrist, what will it be? I mean, you have met Bashar al Assad. You know his personality. Many say that a couple cruise missiles are not going to change his behavior.

What do you think?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think the Syrians have said it for themselves. They say, if we are under attack we have two choices. They said at a press conference this week and they have said it to our Fred Pleitgen. Either we surrender, which we are not going to do, or we fight back, which we will do.

Really the question, though, is what is their capability? They're not presumed to have big capability that could in any way match the United States forces and I mean standoff forces. Obviously, there are no words of any boots on the ground, but any kind of cruise missiles or U.S. and allied air power far outweigh the ability of the Syrians to respond.

And, of course, that is, you know, the question of what will happen. We spoke to the commander of the Free Syrian Army General Idris just a few months ago when the last chemical weapons attack happened and he predicted just this. If there wasn't a response then, there will be more. This is exactly what's happened.

The United States has brought itself to a point of, as many have said, no return. It is called this to be a red line. And now, here it has a massive 1,000 plus, according to all the official figures of civilians that have been killed by a chemical weapons attack.

And that is not under dispute. Everybody is saying what happened. Only the Syrians are blaming the rebels and the rebels are blaming the Assad regime.

BOLDUAN: Clearly no matter what, what is not in dispute is the next several days, critical days in what is going to be happening in Syria going forward.

Christiane, thank you so much. We'll talk to you soon.

CUOMO: All right. Let's go to California now, where the massive Rim Fire is cutting deeper into Yosemite National Park.

Meanwhile, firefighters have fewer options to control it.

Casey Wian is the fire zone.

Casey, tell us. What's the latest? CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, I got a close-up look at some of the conditions that these firefighters are having to struggle with and what they're dealing with are these things calls snags. And these are these trees that have not been damaged by the fire, but haven't been burned completely, haven't fallen yet. They are starting to fall. That is proving to be a very, very difficult, dangerous challenge for these firefighters. We heard several fall right next to us, and believe me, it was a scary situation.

The amazing thing about this Rim Fire, though, what's been going on for 11 days, 184,000 acres burned, 4,000 firefighters fighting this blaze, only two injuries, no loss of life.

Now, there have been 111 structures burned so far. About 80 of those were cabins inside one camp ground area. So, in terms of the damage to people and to physical structures, it's been very minimal. But, still, the concern remains, stopping this fire from spreading into Yosemite National Park. So far, it's only spread to about 3 percent of the park ground. It remains safe for visitors.

Officials tell us firefighters, though, are working hard to make sure it stays that way through this upcoming holiday weekend, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Casey. Obviously, starts to get more and more relevant. How many man-hours these firefighters are putting in? It's taking a toll on them, obviously, and their families.

Casey, thank you for covering it for us, stay safe.

A lot of other news developing at this hour, let's get right to Michaela -- Mick.

PEREIRA: All right. Good morning, guys. Good morning to you at home.

Making news: in less than two hours, convicted Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan will have one last chance to address the jury at his court- martial. Closing statements are set for today. Hasan rather is representing himself. He said nothing during the penalty phase, except the defense rest. Hasan could get life or be put to death.

Japan raising the alert at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant due to a toxic water leak. It is classified as a level three serious incident. The plant's operator confirms it is the worst leak at the plant since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused three reactors to meltdown.

A 16-year-old Minnesota boy is recovering from a rare wolf attack. The animal apparently bit him several times as he was seated on the ground at the camp ground. Then the wolf ran off as the young boy kicked it.

The boy's injuries are not life threatening. Wildlife officials were able to trap and then kill the wolf. It is being tested for rabies. There was never a documented case in Minnesota of a wolf seriously injuring a human until now. Facebook revealing how it handles government request, saying 74 countries sought information on more than 38,000 users in the first half of this year. Roughly half of the requests came from the U.S. Facebook says it cooperated on about 80 percent of the requests. It has 1 billion users worldwide.

American Victoria Duval takes the court today at the U.S. Open. The 17-year-old had quite an upset on Tuesday, soundly defeating 2011 champion Sam Stosur in the first round of action. That certainly raised interest in her background and it is really no wonder she is such a fierce competitor. When she was 17 years old she was held hostage in Haiti.

And in 2010, her father, a physician, was working in Haiti after the earthquake struck after he spent 11 hours buried in the rubble of his home, Dr. Duval was able to dig himself out, despite suffering broken legs and a punctures lung.

She is a survivor. She's a fighter and, boy, she provided quite an upset yesterday.

CUOMO: Talking about coming from tough stuff. Her father endured certainly tougher than the match at the U.S. Open.


CUOMO: Eleven hours buried into their house.

BOLDUAN: A win at the U.S. Open is good enough. But then when you hear everything her family has been through. Good for her.

CUOMO: Bigger triumph.

All right. Let's get over to Indra Petersons for today's forecast -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, big story still remains to the heat. Huge blocking ridge of high pressure we call blocking because it's blocking the cool air out of the area and still dealing with a huge portion of Iowa, South Dakota, even Minnesota, with heat indices up to 105 degrees. Unbearable heat is out there. And temperatures a good 15 to 20 degrees above normal, and, unfortunately, as you look at the trend going forward in time, it's actually expected to be even hotter on Friday. So, these temperatures almost 20 degrees above normal.

Looks like Des Moines expecting 100 degrees on Friday. You can already tell, the kids are having such a hard first week of school with this as it is. Into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, a completely different story. We're talking about some scattered showers throughout the area and nothing major and heavier thunderstorms are likely to be out there here and there.

Then into the Southwest, if you remember we talked about the flash flooding from monsoonal moisture and that's going to be a big threat as we go into the weekend, again. Almost like Groundhog Day here. We're talking about all the remnants of tropical storm Fernand slowly making its way a little bit to the North. So, with that, it will move right into the Southwest all over again. We're hoping this to be a little relief for Yosemite, but most likely, we're going to be dealing with flash flooding into the Southwest, where literally the ground is so dry -- anything that runs right off of it and not absorbing.

BOLDUAN: It's almost counterintuitive the way you actually think what happened, right?

PETERSONS: Totally. You'd expect it to be good right now.

BOLDUAN: All right, Indra. Thank you for that update. Thanks so much.

So, a huge celebration is planned today to commemorate the 1963 march on Washington. President Obama will be speaking from the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. stood 50 years ago and delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech.

"CNN NEWSROOM" anchor Don Lemon is live on the National Mall with all the latest.

Good morning, Don.

DON LEMON, "CNN NEWSROOM' ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Weather, of course, is going to play a part today. It has been raining in Washington, D.C., but that has taken the temperature down a bit. So, it won't be nearly as hot as it was on this day 50 years ago.

But there is a big event. The stage is set behind us. A big event scheduled to happen here very shortly in the nation's capital.

Some big speakers, of course, from Oprah Winfrey to two former presidents of the United States and, of course, the headliner will be the president of the United States who is African-American. He will look back. He will pay tribute, but he will also look forward.


LEMON (voice-over): 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, thousands 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 as the nation's first Black president will add his vision as the marquise 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 in 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.

COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'd like to see him being more passionate about race questions (ph).

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 one 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.


LEMON: So, the president giving an interview yesterday to radio host, Tom Joiner, and hosts, I should say, Tom Joyner and Sybil Wilkes and he said he had not yet completed his speech. But one thing he said, Chris and Kate, for sure he said it would not be as good as Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech. Could you imagine having to live up to that, right having to follow that?

BOLDUAN: Look, we know he's a smart man. You got to lower those expectations before going into something like that.


LEMON: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Don. Looking forward to.

CUOMO: He's going to benefit, obviously, from the point that the speech is inspiration for everybody. You don't have to match it. You just try to live up to the promise of what was in the words and behind him, you know? But it's a great day to remember and it's good that it won't be so hot. Such a big part of the story for 50 years ago.

All right. We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY.

When we come back, we have an exclusive for you. James Dimaggio's sister, her name is Lora, and she's defending her late brother shot by the FBI after allegedly kidnapping Hannah Anderson and killing her mother and brother. What would that defense be? We'll tell you. BOLDUAN: And trouble for a federal program championed by first lady, Michelle Obama, designed to provide healthy lunches in schools. Well, some schools are backing out. They say not enough kids are eating the healthy lunch.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The first lady's healthy school lunch program is causing major problems for schools across the country. Why? Well, the schools say too many kids are turning the meals down and that the program, as a result, is costing them dearly. Now, many are just wanting to drop out of the program altogether. Is that the right answer? Why is this happening?

Let's bring in CNNs Elizabeth Cohen. She's at the CNN Center with much more. Well, we know the questions, what are the answers, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it just seems that when kids are used to tacos and French fries that giving them whole wheat spaghetti and steamed broccoli just isn't cutting it.


COHEN (voice-over): The nation's new healthier school lunches championed by first lady, Michelle Obama, are packed with more fruits and vegetables, but they're getting a failing grade from some students. Several school districts are dropping out of the government subsidized lunch program after just one year because they say students are rejecting the healthier fare.

TERESA THAYER SNYDER, SUPERINTENDENT, VOORHEESVILLE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT: The children didn't have options. They had to take what was there, and it's not what they wanted to eat. So, frequently, they stop buying lunch from us.

COHEN: In upstate New York, the Voorheesville School District says it lost $30,000 in three months.

SNYDER: It began to be not cost effective for us to continue in that program.

COHEN: Across the nation, some kids say calorie limits are too harsh. Many of them bringing food from home.


COHEN: High school students in Kansas made this YouTube video complete with famed fainting. Federal health officials say the vast majority of schools are meeting the new guidelines which set limits on calorie, salt and fat.

And in the statement they said, "We also encourage the very few eligible school districts that have chosen not to participate in the program to take steps to ensure all children will still have access to healthy, affordable meals during the school day." The schools that dropped out say their lunches are healthy.

SNYDER: We feel we have attracted back many students who had stopped buying lunches and we have many students excited about eating at school.


COHEN (on-camera): Now, these dropouts are unusual in a survey fewer than one percent of schools indicated that they were dropping out of the program. Now, the concerns that I've heard aren't so much about the amount of food, the calorie count is actually pretty similar. It's the type of food. So, let's take a look at a sample menu for these new, healthier school lunches.

Oven baked fish nuggets, a whole wheat roll, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, canned peaches, and skim milk. Again, that's quite a bit of food, but if you're used to hot dog and pizza, this just may not make the grade -- Chris, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And you don't need to be an expert to know that kids, they sometimes, aren't going to eat anything you want them to eat, right?


CUOMO: Culture change is tough. It's been a lot of time to get in one direction. It's going to take a lot of time to get back the other way.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, a CNN exclusive. The sister of James Dimaggio speaking out and what she says about him and his alleged victim, Hannah Anderson, have some outraged.

BOLDUAN: Plus, provocative question, did a church discourage its members from getting measles shots for their own children? We'll take you through it.