Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with California Congresswoman Barbara Lee; U.N. Debates Syria Response; Historic NFL Settlement

Aired August 29, 2013 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: BALDWIN: Syria vows to defend itself should the U.S. attack. And as tensions rise, some experts say taking action could be a huge mistake. You'll hear why. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now. The five reasons the U.S. always feels compelled to intervene in the Middle East.

And the victim in this horrific bus beating gets an apology from one of the suspects' dads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My heart for my son, because I know I ain't raise him like that.

BALDWIN: Plus, fast food workers across America demanding 15 bucks an hour. Question is, will they get it?

And live during this hour, protests over a judge's decision to sentence a rapist to just 30 days behind bars.


BALDWIN: Here we go, hour two. Great to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Behind closed doors, a meeting of the U.N. Security Council now under way. Diplomats from the world's most powerful countries, Britain, China, France, Russia, and the U.S., they're sitting around. They're debating what to do about Syria, a response to the accusations that President Bashar al-Assad used nerve gas on his own people, children. U.S. intel says there is no doubt he did it, and they have a report to prove it.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We have discussed our commitment to producing for you and for the American public to review an unclassified version of an intelligence assessment about the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons in Syria.

It's my understanding that that -- that that report has not been finalized as of this moment, but that we are still on track to produce that report before the end of the week.

QUESTION: So not today?

(CROSSTALK) EARNEST: I'm not ruling out today.


BALDWIN: We can tell you in just a couple hours from now the White House officials will be briefing members of Congress at 6:00 Eastern time, teleconference. We hear the line is not secure. It will not be classified information.

But, already, dozens of members have signed this letter to the president saying -- let me quote -- "While the ongoing human rights violations and continued loss of life are horrific, they should not draw us into an unwise war. Before weighing the use of military force, Congress must fully debate and consider the facts and every alternative."

The woman who wrote that letter is Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California Democrat who actually famously became the one no vote against the war in Afghanistan.

The congresswoman joins me live now from California.

Nice to see you, Congresswoman. Welcome to the show.

I know in a couple hours the president will be briefing you tonight. What would you like to hear from President Obama?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let me first say thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you to discuss this.

What we need to do, not only hearing from the president, but conducting a debate on the floor of Congress as it relates to the use of military force. As you said, the violations of human rights, the use of chemical weapons, we need to condemn this unequivocally. There is no place for this type of action against humanity.

These are crimes against humanity. We cannot, however, be drawn into a regional conflict, which could happen, and more lives could be taken. You know, so before any military action is conducted by the United States, we need to have a full congressional debate.

The people in our country deserve to hear the facts. They deserve to know how their tax dollars are going to be used. They deserve to know what the fallout, the implications, the ramifications are of such strikes. And, in fact, I believe that we need to provide those alternatives. There's got to be a negotiated settlement, because there's no military solution. And I think history shows us that. And so we need to be very careful in how we exercise the use of military force.

BALDWIN: On this subject of this debate that you would like to have happen in Congress, you were actually on the side with a number of Republicans, in fact, specifically Senator Rand Paul saying yesterday U.S. -- quote -- "has no clear national security connection to the war in Syria," also calling for debate.

But the question is, and you talk about alternatives, negotiating -- what is the biggest risk in your opinion if the U.S. does not act?

LEE: Let me say that the U.S. must act. But it does not necessarily...

BALDWIN: Militarily.

LEE: ... mean act in a military capacity.

We have to engage in a regional diplomatic effort. We need to make sure that we put all of the regional players in place to seek a negotiated settlement. The inspectors are still there. You know, when the Iraq war occurred, I offered a resolution that said, minimally, let's let the inspections process move forward before any action is considered.

Well, I got 72 votes on that amendment. And so we need to come up with a strategy that makes sense, that does not create any more carnage, any more violence, and really try to move towards seeking a negotiated solution.

BALDWIN: According to reports, the U.N. weapons inspectors will be out of country on Saturday. And I just hear this word negotiation. And we have seen, we have seen body after body. We have seen the carnage, as you describe it, in Damascus from this most recent attack. I just have to ask, do you think President al-Assad will negotiate?

LEE: Let me say, first of all, I think that we need to make sure we continue to engage with the United Nations. We need to make sure that the world community is with us in whatever actions that we take.

And we need to isolate the Assad regime. We're smart enough and we know what to do and how to do this. But I really believe that military strikes, and I think the majority of the American people understand that a three-day or a two-day surgical strike may or may not work. But the potential of an outbreak of another war is very, very great.

And so we need to do whatever it takes to mitigate against this and to save lives and to move towards some semblance of stability in the region. That does not allow for the use of military force, I do not believe. But, minimally, the Congress should come back in session. We should debate this. We should look at the facts. And our commander in chief, of course, the president has a grave responsibility to act in the United States' national security interest.

But Congress also has its constitutional responsibility and authority to debate matters when it comes to war and peace, and we should do that and we should do that immediately.

BALDWIN: OK. Congresswoman Lee, we appreciate you. And we appreciate you sharing your perspective. I know many of your colleagues share the same. Thank you.

And I want to talk Syria. I want to continue talking Syria here. Gloria Borger is our chief political analyst and Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent "TIME" magazine. "TIME"'s cover portrays the president as -- quote -- "the unhappy warrior."

Welcome to both of you.

Gloria, let me just begin with you, because these calls -- you were just hearing my conversation with the congresswoman. The calls for congressional approval, is this really any different from politics, turf battles pretty much any time the president is considering use of force overseas?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a constitutional issue. I think it's a constitutional issue that where you stand depends on where you sit.

And as you know very well, you have been talking about this for days, Brooke, that when Barack Obama was a senator, he believed that George W. Bush needed to go back to Congress for reauthorization of the war in Iraq. But as president of the United States, he intervened in Libya. He had a surge in Afghanistan. And he didn't go to Congress for permission on either of those.

So I think it's a real interpretation of how -- of how you interpret presidential power and whether he has the constitutional authority to do this on his own. But if history is any guide, I would have to say that president after president does act without congressional authorization.

I mean, the last time we really did this was in 2002. And so I think that this president's going to say he's on he's on firm ground. What he needs to get is public opinion.

BALDWIN: Right, which seems to have evolved since our polling really in May, right, so the numbers are dwindling when it comes to support.

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: And, Jay, Gloria mentioned Iraq. We heard the president make a big distinction on this. He said it would not be like Iraq. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about.


BALDWIN: Jay, you wrote an entire piece "TIME" magazine, "Six Ways Syria 2013 Is Not Iraq 2003."

Give me a couple examples.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Well, first of all, when President George W. Bush finally made his case to go to war to the American people in 2003 in Iraq, he already had 130,000 U.S. troops mustered along Iraq's borders.

In this case, we're not talking about any boots on the ground. We're not talking about putting basically any lives, American lives at risk. We're talking about a very short-term, two- or three-day limited engagement where we're going to essentially punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his people and show him that when you cross red lines, there are -- there is punishment.

BALDWIN: Consequences.

NEWTON-SMALL: There's consequences, yes, and America will not stand by and allow that to happen.


BALDWIN: Go ahead. No, give me another example.

NEWTON-SMALL: And the other example is essentially that there are actually chemical weapons here this time. We have seen ample evidence of that being used. We have seen hundreds of dead bodies. Apparently, almost 1,300 are dead in Syria in this case.

Last time around, there was this whole sort of dog and pony show about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and how it was very serious. And there ended up being nothing in Iraq. And so I think that really is almost a problem for Obama because there's a hangover now that has happened where people are very leery of going into any kind of engagement in the Middle East because last time around, the evidence, the intelligence was fabricated.


BALDWIN: The collective consciousness, the collective memory, right, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, the American public doesn't really believe that there's anything called a limited engagement anymore. There is this worry. If you put the issue of the chemical weapons aside, there really is this worry that no matter what you do, the law of unintended consequences will take over and that if you -- no matter what your intentions are for a surgical strike, lobbing a few cruise missiles, whatever, that in the end, there can be a reaction, whether Assad responds, whether Iran responds, whether Israel gets attacked.

There's all these kind of things that could evolve as a result of this. And so the American public is like, wait a minute. We think this is bad. But could this end up being worse?

BALDWIN: And thus the quagmire and thus the reason why we continue to debate and we wait and we decide and we see what happens when it comes to a possible strike. Jay Newton-Small, "TIME" magazine, Gloria Borger, thank you ladies both very much.

Coming up next, the fallout from a controversial sentence for a former high school teacher who admitted raping a 14-year-old student. A protest against the judge here in this case who said that this teen rape victim was as much in control as the teacher, and then sentenced him to 31 days. We will have that for you from Montana.

Plus, a landmark decision today for the NFL, 4,500 players accusing the league of hiding information about concussions, today, this historic settlement worth hundreds of millions of dollars. That's coming up.


BALDWIN: There is -- here it is huge protests right now. This is outside the courthouse. This is Billings, Montana. Hundreds of people are calling for this one particular judge to quit. Here he is. This is the judge.

His name is G. Todd Baugh. On Monday, he sentenced a 49-year-old man, former teacher no less, for raping a 14-year-old girl. That girl ended up killing herself. The teacher who raped her, this man, got 30 days in jail. Outrageous? Yes, most people think so. But they are just as upset about what the judge said as he handed down the sentence.

He basically blamed the victim. Judge G. Todd Baugh said this girl, remember, she was 14 -- quote -- "seemed older than her chronological age" and was -- quote -- "as much in control of the situation as the teacher."

Here is the judge now apologizing.


JUDGE G. TODD BAUGH, YELLOWSTONE COUNTY DISTRICT COURT: In the Rambold sentencing, I made some references to the victim's age and control. I'm not sure just what I was attempting to say at that point. But it didn't come out correct. What I said was demeaning to all women, not what I believe in, and irrelevant to the sentencing. I owe all our fellow citizens an apology.


BALDWIN: So he apologized for his words. But he did not apologize for that short jail sentence.

Here's the girl's mother. She was on CNN's "NEW DAY" this morning.


AULIEA HANLON, MOTHER OF VICTIM: Chronological age? Who is he to decide what her chronological -- or, you know, that she's older than her chronological age? She was 14 chronologically. And that's what is relevant. How could she be in control of this situation? He was a teacher. She was a student. She wasn't in control of anything. She was 14.


BALDWIN: I want to take you now straight to Billings, Montana, to our affiliate reporter there, Drew Trafton with KTVQ. Drew, set the scene for me. And tell me what these protesters, what are they telling you?

DREW TRAFTON, KTVQ REPORTER: All right, Brooke. Yes, so we had about 500 people show up on our courthouse lawn today. And in Billings, Montana, that's a big deal. Usually, we see about 50 to 100 people come out for one of those things.

You know, people had signs. They were signing a petition and the event organizers said that they actually had 30,000 signatures on the petition they have going online, which is at A few of the people that I spoke with came out because they themselves were rape victims. And it was the first time that they were ever talking about their experience being sexually assaulted.

And they thought that this was the opportune moment to come out and share their story to support the victim and to seek what they perceive as justice in the sentence.

BALDWIN: So what specifically justice-wise are they asking for?

TRAFTON: Well, they're asking for three things, Brooke. First of all, they're asking for his resignation. They said that this cannot stand. The event organizers got up and they spoke briefly and said this is the sort of thing that just cannot stand in Billings, Montana. It cannot stand anywhere in the nation.

Second of all, they want this sentence to be appealed to the Montana Supreme Court. And they want to see some judicial action come from somewhere to right this perceived wrong. And, thirdly, they would like a judicial review committee which comes from the Montana Supreme Court to look at Judge Baugh's caseload in the past and to see if there are any perceived injustices from the past as well.

BALDWIN: We will follow it to see if they get any of that. Drew Trafton, KTVQ, Drew, thank you very much for us in Billings.

More now on one of our breaking stories this afternoon, huge, huge doings when it comes to the National Football League. Former NFL players, they have now officially agreed to settle this lawsuit over on-field concussions. You have more than 4,500 ex-players. They are the ones who accused the league of decades upon decades of deception, hiding the fact the players risked permanent brain damage if they returned to football too soon after concussion.

Attorney and former prosecutor Faith Jenkins and CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos joining me once again here to talk about the settlement. This is a big deal. When you look at the numbers here, Danny, let me begin with you -- $75 million for medical exams, $675 million in compensation for concussion injuries, $10 million medical and safety research, legal fees, other expenses related to the lawsuit. Right? When you look at all of that, does that sound fair to you, Danny?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to understand fairness when we talk about something like in this multi-district litigation where you have so many plaintiffs.

But keep in mind that each of those are going to need medical -- significant medical treatment in varying amounts. And when you also consider the potential risk the NFL had of going to trial on each of these individually complex claims, the potential exposure here was in the billions, I think.

And that's a conservative estimate. It's always hard to wrap your mind around these multiple -- multiple-plaintiff lawsuits, because each individual plaintiffs, when you're looking at the sum, it looks like, oh, there's many, many millions of dollars. But we're talking about actual medical damages that have to be covered by this settlement.

So I think in any settlement, each side walks away giving something up. This is not the total exposure the NFL was exposed to, but it represents a detente. It represents a compromise.

BALDWIN: Yes. I was talking to Jamal Anderson, former Atlanta Falcon. He was involved in this particular suit. And he said, listen, Brooke, it's not about the money. For me, it's about just raising awareness of what's been an issue in the most popular sport in the country.

But, Faith, beyond the potential billions as Danny points out that could have been had this thing gone on, the fact of the matter is, the NFL, they do not have to now reveal important medical concussion, brain damage information. Correct?

FAITH JENKINS, FORMER PROSECUTOR: This settlement is a win for the NFL for two reasons, mainly, one, no admission of liability whatsoever. These players accused the NFL of knowingly hiding the long-term effects of concussions and encouraging them to go back into the game to protect the image of the game.

And also look at the number, $765 million. The NFL had over $9 billion in revenue last year alone. So this is a win for them. Going forward, yes, players who are now retired will be able to tap into a compensation fund that they set up. But in the end, this is a win. They want to get this settled before the season starts, because they don't want these players continuously talking in the media, bad press.

One even died last year while trying to get money from the NFL to pay for his medical expenses.

BALDWIN: Well, this is done, raising awareness and hopefully present players are protected. Faith Jenkins, Danny Cevallos, thank you two very much.

In a show of strength in 50 cities across the country, fast food workers walking off the job, demanding higher pay. Coming up next, we are live at one of the biggest rallies in the country.


BALDWIN: Fast food chains probably not loving it today. Workers in 60 cities are striking today against the places you know, McDonald's, Burger King, KFC among them. Some are protesting inside businesses like this McD's in Saint Louis.

All eyes are on Syria. The international community watches to see how the United States and other countries will respond to the use of chemical weapons there. Next, we're giving you five specific reasons why the U.S. may feel obligated to take action.


BALDWIN: Bottom of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And debates all around the world and right here in the United States as countries weigh the options when it comes to Syria and how to respond to the belief that Bashar al-Assad used toxic nerve gas on his own people, women. You see them here. Children. A U.S. intel report says it is sure of it, but the U.N. has not even wrapped up its tests yet.

We see these inspectors here wearing their gas masks. They are still inside Syria. They're collecting blood samples. They're interviewing survivors. And while many countries, Britain among them, say they are waiting on a report from these inspectors, the U.S. says it has its own timeline. But questions still remain. What is the timeline? What does the military plan look like?

And, for many, why get involved at all?

Tom Foreman joins me now from Washington.

And I know, Tom, there are several reasons why the U.S. government may feel obligated to get involved here in Syria. Walk me through your top five pressure points.


There are plenty of reasons not to get involved as well. But if you're looking for those that they have to consider right now, one is simply the notion that this is about the Middle East and our own ally Israel over here, the notion that this is already spreading beyond the limits of that country. They have had refugees flooding by the millions into other places.

It threatens the stability of an area that the whole world relies on for energy. And, of course, we do have an old ally there in Israel that we would not want to be hurt if it got out of control. China and Russia are also one of the reasons that the U.S. might feel obligated to be involved here, simply because China and Russia in their own way are also involved.