Return to Transcripts main page


No Decision Yet on Military Strike; U.N. Begins Third Day of Inspection; Congress Versus Obama; Syrian Crisis Hits Cyberspace; Fort Hood Shooter Sentencing; George Zimmerman's Wife Speaks Out; Britain: Likely Syria Used Chemical Weapons

Aired August 29, 2013 - 08:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And we love the good stuff, don't we? We've got an update for you on a group of honest shoppers. They thought a store was open and went shopping, only realized later it was not. Leaving money behind to make up for the mistake.

Well, guess what? We found them. We will have their story coming up in the good stuff.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That, but first, let's start with the big story this morning.

Let's get right to the looming decision on Syria. President Obama says he's looked at all the evidence in that deadly chemical weapons attack and it points clearly to the Assad regime. Still, he says he has not made a decision yet on the U.S. response to the attack. Instead, the White House will take its options and evidence to key members of Congress today while the British government plans to go public with their own intelligence.

We're covering all the angles this morning, beginning with CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Good morning, Barbara.


Well, the Obama administration is expected to make its evidence public in the coming hours. The big question, however, will they be able to pin this attack directly on Bashar al Assad.


STARR (voice-over): President Obama says he hasn't decided what to do but is determined to hold Syria accountable.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people, against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you are also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected. And that needs to stop.

STARR: In an interview with the PBS "NewsHour," the president left no doubt who the U.S. believes ordered the chemical weapons attacks.

OBAMA: We have concluded that the Syrian government, in fact, carried this out.

STARR: Among the evidence, intercepts of Syrian commanders discussing the movement of chemical weapons to the area of attack, provided by Israel intelligence.

The potential next step, cruise missile strikes has put the U.S. at direct odds with Russia.

MARIE HARF, DEPUTY STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We do not believe that the Syrian regime should be able to hide behind the fact that the Russians continue to block action on Syria at the U.N.

STARR: But behind the scenes, officials are signaling the U.S. may not wait for the United Nations to act. The U.S. military is strengthening its position in the eastern Mediterranean, with the addition of two more submarines. And the Syrian regime is also getting ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in the state of war right now, preparing ourselves for the worst scenario.


STARR: So, why did the Syrians do this? Why undertake this devastating attack? One theory being discussed, possible retaliation for a failed assassination attempt against Assad earlier this month, or possibly they were planning a smaller chemical attack and something got out of hand -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Barbara, now speculation from "The A.P." reporting maybe it wasn't Assad specifically or the regime. Maybe it was an outlier. So, there's a lot to be developed here.

The British government said an attack on Syria would be justified on humanitarian grounds. And Bashar al-Assad saying Syria will defend itself against any military intervention.

So, let's go to Beirut. That's where CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He was the only Western television journalist in Damascus and he left just hours ago.

Fred, what's the latest?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL: Well, the latest is that the Syrian military is getting ready or preparing for the U.S. air strikes. The news that we're getting from several agencies that apparently, they are evacuating some of the main control buildings, headquarter buildings that they have in Damascus and the headquarters of the air force and possibly the headquarters of the army, as well -- moving out a lot of the senior military personnel there.

The other thing we're hearing from the ground, a lot of hardware being moved around. Among them, also artillery canyons that are being used to shoot from the mountains around Damascus, on the suburbs of Damascus, which is the rebel-controlled territory. Clearly, also, the government there fearing that air strikes could hit those assets, as well.

Meanwhile, Chris, the weapon inspectors of the U.N. are on the ground, again. They are out in the Damascus suburbs, gathering new evidence in the eastern part of the Damascus suburbs. That is where there was the highest death toll from that alleged chemical weapons attack.

We managed to get exclusive video from that areas and shows horrific stuff like a mass grave and a lot of unidentified bodies that can't be buried because nobody can tell who these people actually are. But there are also miraculous tales of escape. There's one man who showed us a gas mask that he made out of coal and cotton -- Chris.

BOLDUAN: I'll take it, Fred. Amazing what those people are going through and it is only going to get worse. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

So, with the situation in Syria developing so quickly, some members of Congress here at home are asking President Obama to slow down. They need information, they say. They want to have their say in any U.S. military involvement, any U.S. military action.

So, let's get more on this from CNN's Athena Jones on Capitol Hill.

Good morning, Athena.


That's right. The chief concern here on Capitol Hill is that Congress won't be sufficiently consulted before President Obama orders any sort of military action against Syria. You have folks like Republican Senator John McCain who said they want to see a robust response to this chemical weapons attack, at the same time, 116 members of Congress, most of them Republicans but also 16 Democrats, have now signed on to a letter urging the president to consult and receive authorization from Congress before taking military action.

That letter is in addition to a letter from House Speaker John Boehner calling on the president to personally make the case to the American people and to the Congress for why military action in Syria were served U.S. national security interests.

Now, there is some debate here on Capitol Hill about just what the president can do before consulting Congress. Some Republican senators have said they believe the War Powers Act allows the president to order limited missile strikes and then consult with Congress or report to Congress afterwards.

Nevertheless, the White House says the views of Congress is important and the White House plans to brief congressional leadership, as well as the chairs and ranking members of national security committees today via conference call.

Back to you, Chris. CUOMO: All right. Athena, there's no question that they're relevant, they may be required. So, we're going to have to see how that situation goes down, especially with all the concerns about potential fallout. For instance, there could be another front in the showdown with Syria, cyberspace.

Experts say hackers loyal to the Assad regime could launch more Internet attacks like the ones that took down "The New York Times" and the Twitter Web sites this weekend.

So, let's bring in CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She has more on that.

What exactly happened? What do we know about "The Times" hacking?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, this is like a digital theater of war, for all intents and purposes. The Syrian Electronic Army is claiming responsibility for the attack. It was both simple and sophisticated.

Simple because this was a result of a targeted fishing attack. You know those e-mails we're told not to open because someone is trying to steal our personal information? Well, the hacker was able to get a valid user name and password and log into a "New York Times" account to redirect and block readers away from the Web site.

The reason it's sophisticated is because the hacker didn't hit "The New York Times" directly. They targeted the supply chains, specifically the domain name register. The company that operates the site told us that the reason some people are now getting and others are not is because it takes 48 hours for all of the changes to reach all Internet users.

The Syrian Electronic Army has also targeted "The Washington Post", "Time" magazine, even CNN, not compromising the sites, just our ability to get to them. Part of the problem is they're going after the search engines, they're going to after domain registrars, they're going not the actual site, but all those ways that we get into those sites. So, it's kind of interesting.

CUOMO: So, it's difficult on a technological perspective, but also let you know, there is no easy answer here. There is -- you don't know what's going to happen because of what actions taken by the U.S.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Layers upon layers, upon layers, always.

CUOMO: Deborah Feyerick, thank you very much.

FEYERICK: Of course.

BOLDUAN: The ripple effect.

All right. Let's turn to Texas now where army major, Nidal Hasan, he has really admitted to the 2009 -- to being behind the 2009 massacre at Ft. Hood.

Well, now, a military jury has sentenced him to death. It took the 13-member panel an hour to return that sentence, but there has not been a military execution in over 50 years. But many say this could be the case that changes that.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Killeen, Texas. He's been following this court martial from the very beginning.

Good morning, Ed.


Well, as this verdict approached, many families were struggling with what kind of verdict they wanted to see. They knew that Nidal Hasan wanted to get the death penalty and they struggled with whether they wanted this jury to give him what he wanted.

But in the end, many families saying justice was served.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Nidal Hasan sat unfazed as a military jury sentenced him to death. The Islamic radical Army psychiatrist might see the death penalty as a twisted path to martyrdom, but prosecutors say Hasan will never be a martyr because he has nothing to give.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The best thing for that man is to be forgotten.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A weight has been lifted off of my shoulder.

LAVANDERA: The wife and daughters of Michael Cahill sat through nearly four weeks of excruciating testimony hearing the gruesome details how Cahill, a retired Army veteran, came within a few feet of stopping Hasan with a chair. He was shot six times. The fatal shot pierced his neck.

KEELY VANACKER, VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: Today's sentencing does not bring my father home, his laughter to our ears and his smile to our eyes.

LAVANDERA: Hasan will soon be transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His case will start winding its way through the complex military justice system appeals process. Ultimately, the president must sign off on Hasan's execution and that could take years.

There hasn't been a military execution since 1961, but some legal experts say the brutality of Hasan's crimes will change that.

GEOFFREY CORN, SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE OF LAW: If it doesn't make sense to use it here, when does it? I think that president is going to have a hard time not signing that death warrant in this case, and I think Major Hasan may very well be the first military defendant in a long time to be put to death.


LAVANDERA: And what struck me throughout all of this is that many of these families, these victims' families and survivors are now spread out across the country. They don't live here in the Ft. Hood area. They're all over the country.

And several family members say this court-martial proceeding was the first time that they had really gotten to spend time together and share their stories of anguish and all of the struggles they've been through trying to cope with all of this during the last four years -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, thank you, Ed. We both remember how all those family husband to come in when this tragedy first happened from all over the country. So, thank you for closing the circle for us this morning.

A stifling Mideast heat wave is taking its toll on teachers and students. Some schools are being forced to shut down because of the heat.

Indra Petersons has all the details for us this morning.

Indra, what do we know?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, Chris, when we look at heat, there's two things we're concerned with. One is how warm are these temperatures, but secondly, how long are they dealing with these heat?

Well, in the Mideast, they are talking about temperatures 15 if 20 degrees above normal. And on top of that, they've been dealing with it all week-long.


PETERSONS (voice-over): It's been three days of near record-breaking temperatures in parts of Minnesota. The temperature refusing to dip below the 90s, reaching a burning 92 degrees yesterday, but feeling like it's passed the 100 degree mark.

Now, some schools across Minneapolis are being closed for the rest of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my gosh. Friday's canceled, too?

PETERSONS: It's just too hot and these schools don't have any air conditioning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, with our situation, we feel like the best thing to do and the safest thing to do is to stop school for two days. We have more people that are feeling tired and sluggish.

PETERSONS: And these temperatures aren't just affecting Minnesota, a giant heat dome has been perched over the Midwest since Sunday, lingering there and keeping that hot air locked in.


PETERSONS: Oh, yes, take a look at these temperatures right now. We're still looking at 15 to 20 degrees above normal across the area. The big question everyone is saying, when are we going to see relief? Well, I can take you forward in time the next several days and you can still, we still have some time to go. In fact, the record in Des Moines is just 99. By tomorrow, they're expected to warm even further and break that record.

So, again, when are we finally going to see this relief? Well, finally, we do have an answer for you. We are seeing a system move through today. It will produce some chances for severe weather right through Minnesota and Wisconsin.

But more importantly, behind it, here comes the relief. Saturday, still looks hot. You can see those numbers. Des Moines still at 97. Notice Minneapolis still in the 90s. But eventually those 70s and 80s come your way by Sunday. At least in time for Labor Day weekend.

BOLDUAN: There you go.

PETERSONS: Good timing, right?

BOLDUAN: Hold on for a little bit longer. Thanks so much, Indra.

There has a lot of news developing at this hour. So, let's get straight to Michaela for the latest.

PEREIRA: All right, guys. Good morning.

Here are your headlines. We'll start with the giant fire near Yosemite National Park. Fire crews in the air reporting some progress in the fight. Containment now up to 30 percent. They believe the fire is slowing down, but still threatens thousands of homes.

So far, that fire has burned more than 300 square miles.

A 10-year-old girl, an Amish girl with leukemia must keep getting chemotherapy. That's the ruling from an Ohio appeals court. Sarah Hershberger's parents wanted to stop the chemo because it made her really sick. But Akron's Children Hospital say she'll die without it and they fought to continue those treatments. The family might take their case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Pennsylvania police chief who got himself in hot water and suspended after posting a profanity-laced video rant that featured him firing off his gun. Well, he's back at it. Gilberton Police Chief Mark Kessler got out the camera, once again, started shooting videos and guns just days before his 30-day suspension is set to end.

On his latest YouTube video, Kessler took aim at a target that he calls "Eric". That also happens to be the first name of a borough councilman who wants him fired.

Not hard to guess why this painting of Russian President Vladimir Putin was seized by police. That's also the prime minister there as well, both depicted in drag. We've seen the president without a shirt on, but apparently, cross-dressing crosses some sort of line. The artist has painted a series lampooning leaders for alleged anti-gay policies. He has now fled the country to avoid prosecution.

You know, they say if you blow on a dandelion, your wish may come true. This baby girl getting her first chance. It doesn't work the first time. Tries it again, digging the shades, by the way. She took her best shot of blowing this dandelion away without any luck. So, she just ate it, but then she's really not happy about --

CUOMO: I respect that she ate it. Is that a dandelion?


CUOMO: I thought it was a pussy (ph) willow -- one of those that you blow off.

PEREIRA: Dandelions start out yellow and then they turn that way when they go to seed.

CUOMO: Really? I did not know that.

PEREIRA: Really?

CUOMO: I didn't know that those -- so, those are dandelions?


CUOMO: Forty-three years old. I had no idea. That's the same flower. The dandelion becomes that.

PEREIRA: Yes. And that's how it goes to seed and then it propagates --

BOLDUAN: Or goes right into your mouth.

PEREIRA: Did you know that he didn't know this?

CUOMO: I had no clue.

BOLDUAN: Of all the things that you need to know, this is not one of them. So, it's OK.

CUOMO: But I lived in complete denial of this in my entire life thinking that they were two different flowers.

PEREIRA: That is a lie that you've been telling yourself.

CUOMO: That little child knew better than i. I will go now.

BOLDUAN: -- you're going to question everything.

CUOMO: I will eat a field of dandelions.


BOLDUAN: No, that should not be your take away. Should not be the take away.


CUOMO: I did not know that.

BOLDUAN: I love you, you're so funny.

PEREIRA: You learn things here on NEW DAY.

CUOMO: I got to take a break. I need to Google this whole dandelion thing.


PEREIRA: Are you going to co-conspiracy on the dandelion?

CUOMO: I am not suspicious. It's a conspiracy of my stupidity --


CUOMO: Anyway, George Zimmerman's wife is breaking her silence. She's talking about her problems with her husband and what his acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin has done to their marriage. Also, why she fears for her life? We'll tell you all of it.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, those three teenagers charged in the brutal beating of a classmate on a school bus that was caught on video. They're going to face a juvenile court judge today. Ahead, an exclusive interview with the victim's grandmother.


CUOMO: This morning we're finally hearing from the woman who lied for George Zimmerman. It's his wife, Shellie. She pled guilty yesterday to a perjury charge for lying in court about how much money was donated for her husband's defense. Well, in the interview, Shellie Zimmerman talks about strains in her marriage and her life now after the trial that captivated the nation.

Jeffrey Toobin is CNN's senior legal analyst joins us now. Interesting to hear from this woman, why?


CUOMO: From a legal perspective.

TOOBIN: No, I Mean, what was odd about this situation is that she got caught up in the whole matter because when he was about to be released on bail, she was asked about his assets, and they had actually conspired with each other to cover up the fact that he had about $100,000 in contributions, which they put into family bank accounts and she denied he had any money to the judge.

CUOMO: Perjury prosecutions happen, not all the time. This was a little bit of them being strict, but the sentence, I guess, balanced it out because she didn't get -- obviously, she didn't get charged with a felony, went to a misdemeanor and she hasn't been hit with a punishment. TOOBIN: And she's not going to have any prison time, but she's going to have a criminal judge as she should. You can't go in to a judge and just lie completely.

CUOMO: Right.

TOOBIN: Because I mean, there's no doubt that this was a complete lie.

CUOMO: All right. So, here's the good stuff, right, because there's a lot of intrigue about who this man was and what the life was like. Let's play some sound right now from the interview. And this is Shellie Zimmerman talking about her future with her husband.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you want him to be in court to support you?

SHELLIE ZIMMERMAN, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S WIFE: I always want my husband's support.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you together?

ZIMMERMAN: I'm not going to answer that. Of course, I want to have children and stay married.


ZIMMERMAN: That's something I'm going to have to think about.


CUOMO: You don't have to be a legal analyst to know, Mr. Toobin, when somebody asks you about your marriage and you say you don't want to talk about it. Not good, fair point?

TOOBIN: It's a fair point. And everyone involved in, you know, these huge public controversies, you know, has strains in their life and, obviously, the Zimmermans do, too. My reaction on hearing that is, you know, compared to what the Martin Family went through, this, know, it's pretty small potatoes.

CUOMO: And also, I want to play some more sound for you that give some context to why Shellie Zimmerman feels the way she does and also her thoughts about the Martin Family. Take a listen.


ZIMMERMAN: We have been pretty much gypsies for the past year and a half. We lived in a 20-foot trailer in the woods. Scared every night that someone was going to find us and that it would be horrific.


CUOMO: And as for Trayvon Martin's parents and how she feels, do we have that sound ready? No. OK, I'll read it to you. To Trayvon's parents, "I'm so deeply sorry for their loss. I can't even understand the grief that a parent faces." So, she does have the empathy for the Martin Family. That's somewhat important.

TOOBIN: Yes. You know, she is -- George Zimmerman, you know, he won this case. So, I guess, I just don't have the sympathy I probably should for the whole Zimmerman clan. I mean, here you have this woman who lied in a bail application. You have George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin, was acquitted and that was certainly an understandable verdict.

But, you know, in the rank of sympathy in the world, I got to say, mine is very much with the Martin Family.

CUOMO: Of course, because they lost a loved one. However, I mean, Jeffrey, why not give a little bit of credence to the idea that if you felt you didn't do anything wrong, that somebody was trying to kill you, you did what you had to do. It's recognized by the law. You then got called every type of horrible name in existence and the law wound up finding you justified. Well, why wouldn't you be somewhat sympathetic?

TOOBIN: Well, because I'm just -- I guess because you're a better person than i am.

CUOMO: No, look, it's not about my opinion.

TOOBIN: She worked with the Zimmerman Family, especially George worked within the system. I mean, he showed up for trial. He had a lawyer, he got acquitted. And undoubtedly, that put a tremendous amount of strain and there was a lot of public criticism of them, too. I guess, I just -- in weighing the equities here and weighing, you know, where you're going to spend the limited amount of sympathy you have in your life, they don't get a lot of mine.

But, you know, look, no one should harass them. No one should bother them. They should live a peaceful life. But --

CUOMO: But they will. And the stain is always there and this is proof of it. Even his own wife, you know, this has, obviously, put strains on their relationships George Zimmerman will have going forward.

TOOBIN: Any sort of public controversy, especially this -- one this intense has innocent or semi-innocent bystanders and, surely, she's one of them.

CUOMO: Appreciate the perspective, Mr. Jeffrey Toobin.

TOOBIN: All right.

CUOMO: As always. Kate, over to you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Chris.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, we're hearing for the first time from the six-year-old boy who was pulled from a sink hole as the Indian -- in an Indiana sand dune. He's saying thank you to the rescuers who saved his life. You do not want to miss that.

And then, there's this. The last time we heard from actress, Valerie Harper, she was announcing that she had terminal brain cancer. But this beloved actress is now said to be making plans to be back on TV. We're going to tell you her newest project, coming up.


ANNOUNCER: You're watching NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. It's Thursday, August 29th.

Coming up this half hour, those three teens charged with the horrific beating of a classmate onboard a school bus, they'll go before a judge today and you'll hear what the family of the victims want to see happen. His grandmother is speaking exclusively to CNN.

CUOMO: A lot of big questions surrounding that story that really haven't been answered yet about the school, the parents of the kids who did the beating. So, we're going to take that on.

Plus, actress, Valerie Harper, defying the odds. The 74-year-old was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, but now, she's rumored to be joining the cast of "Dancing with the Stars." Her inspiring story ahead.

A lot of news for you this morning, so let's get right to Michaela with the five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

PEREIRA: Let's start with number one, the British government now agreeing with the president that Syria likely did use chemical weapons on its own people and, in fact, has used them 14 times since 2012. We are seeing the first pictures of Syrian President Assad since the attack. He's vowed to block any action against his country.

California's rim fire still growing now in its 13th day. The fire has burned through more than 193,000 acres in and around the national park of Yosemite. Firefighters report 30 percent containment.

Thousands of fast food workers nationwide walking out today for higher wages. The restaurant industry says it pays above minimum wage and gives workers valuable skills.

The Midwest is melting. A massive heat wave forcing schools to close in Minnesota. The blistering temperatures not expected to let up until next week.

And, at number five, two-time U.S. Open champ, Venus Williams, is out of this year's tournament. It's the third year in a row that Venus has lost in the second round of Flushing Meadows.