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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Crisis in Syria; Montanans Protests Rape Ruling; Juveniles Sentenced in School Bus Beating; NFL Announces Payout

Aired August 30, 2013 - 11:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Making their case: the White House is set to reveal new evidence any moment on Syria's chemical weapons use. This, as the debate over military action reaches a boiling point.

A Montana judge may have made his state a laughing stock and the protesters you see want him to pay for it. They also want to overturn the surprisingly light sentence that he handed out to a convicted child rapist.

And the NFL settles a massive lawsuit with former players over concussions. We're going to talk with one of those players in what seems to be a pretty modest payout and the greater effect on football's future.

Hi everybody and welcome to the LEGAL VIEW. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's Friday, August 30th.

Our top story, a U.S. military strike in Syria against Syria could be imminent because a senior U.S. official now says President Obama is prepared to go it alone, this after that stunning rejection by our major ally, Britain, not to take part in any kind of assault.

The secretary of state, John Kerry is expected to discuss the Syrian crisis at the State Department live in about 90 minutes, and we're going to bring that to you just as soon as it gets under way right here on CNN.

This may be when officials release the declassified intelligence on Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons last week. A U.S. official who has seen the intel report says that Syrian President Bashar al- Assad was in fact behind that attack on the civilians.

We've got this rapidly developing story covered on all angles. We're going to start at the White House with Jim Acosta.

The president has been busy and in meetings this morning with the National Security Council. What exactly do we know from these meetings?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We do know that the president is meeting with his National Security Council this morning here at the White House.

We saw Secretary of State John Kerry arrive here at the White House earlier this morning and then, as you mentioned, Ashleigh, he will be making -- Kerry will be making that statement over at the State Department at 12:30 this afternoon.

He's expected to talk about the intelligence report, that unclassified intelligence report that we're expecting to be released to the public by the White House at some point today.

That intelligence report, as you mentioned, Ashleigh, is expected to include some sort of information pinpointing blame and responsibility for last week's chemical weapons attack on the Assad regime, senior officials in the Assad regime.

And, so, the White House is starting to make their case, but that statement from John Kerry that we're expecting at 12:30 this afternoon, that's a big sign as to where events may be headed.

We should also point out that later on this afternoon, the president -- and this may sound unrelated, but it might not -- is going to be sitting down with the presidents of Latvia and Estonia.

I only mention that because for a brief portion of that meeting they are going to be opening up that up to what we call the press pool here for a pool spray where they are going to allow us to get some video of the president meeting with those leaders.

It's possible at this point, although not guaranteed, that we might hear the president make some comments on Syria at that point. That would be the only opportunity on the schedule, his public schedule, at this point where we might hear that, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Jim Acosta, live for us at the White House, thank you.

President Obama has been struggling to make this case for striking Syria, make this case to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and White House officials were in fact back on the Hill yesterday, doing just that.

Both Republicans and some Democrats have been demanding that the president seek their approval, congressional approval for any possible action against Syria.

Wolf Blitzer joins me live in our Washington, D.C., studios. Wolf, it seems that a lot of people are on board that this attack was, in fact, horrific, that Bashar al Assad needs to be taught a lesson, but it comes to what kind of lesson and who actually delivers that lesson, it doesn't seem to be quite that simple.

Can you explain exactly what Congress is asking and why?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": A lot of members of Congress want -- before the U.S. launches any military strikes against targets in Syria, they would like to, A, be fully briefed on that, but, B, have a nice debate in the House and the Senate and have formal resolutions, either approving or disapproving the use of force in Syria.

That's unlikely to happen over the next few days. Congress isn't even in session right now. They are in recess for another week or 10 days or so before they come back to Washington.

There's no indication the leadership in the Senate or the House or the president is asking anyone to come back to Washington for such a formal discussion.

One of the concerns that the Obama administration has, Ashleigh, if there were a vote, for example, in the House of Representatives, there's no guarantee it would succeed, it would pass, giving the president that kind of authority.

And the president and his top officials are making clear they are ready to go without formal congressional authorization, without formal United Nations' authorization, NATO authorization.

Yesterday, they couldn't even get British approval for a military strike. The other allies are all pretty lukewarm about a military strike. So this could be a very small coalition the president is putting together if he plans on doing it over the next few days.

BANFIELD: Wolf, yesterday we heard from the former secretary defense, Don Rumsfeld, who said, essentially -- and I'm going to paraphrase -- stop talking about the intelligence. There's no need to share this much intelligence.

And yet, again today, we're going to be hearing, possibly, exactly what more of this declassified intelligence is.

Is this a sign, Wolf, that it is just -- that the American people are demanding to know exactly why it's us that has to do this job?

BLITZER: It's a sign that after the blunders leading into the Iraq war back in 2003 when the secretary of state, Colin Powell, went before the United Nations and he insisted that there was hard evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, evidence that was later proved to be faulty, they want to make sure that they are 100 percent right this time.

It's interesting to listen to what the former president, George W. Bush, he was asked on Fox earlier today about what's going on and he was very, very discrete. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can comment about this.

The president's got a tough choice to make, and if he decides to use our military, he'll have the greatest military ever backing him up.

I was not a fan of Mr. Assad. He's an ally of Iran, and he's made mischief.

The president has to make a tough call, Brian. I know you're trying to subtly rope me into the issues of the day. I refuse to be roped in.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: In contrast, by the way, to President Bush, Jimmy Carter, his center in Atlanta issued a very, very blunt statement, saying this, among other things, "A punitive military response without a United Nations Security Council mandate or broad support from NATO and the Arab League would be illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war."

So you have a blunt statement from Jimmy Carter, much more discrete statement from President Bush, giving advice from two former presidents.

BANFIELD: I've heard that, but then I've also heard as long as you don't call them hostilities, you get a lot of leeway. You get at least 60 days leeway, so it will be interesting to see how this case is argued as we move forward.

Wolf Blitzer, thank you for your reporting today.

Some of the U.N. weapons inspectors are remaining, actually, in Syria this morning, this despite this whole ramp-up talking about an attack that's impending possibly.

A U.N. spokesman says that they are completing their work today and that they will have left the country by tomorrow morning. Once that happens, of course, any attack could follow, although U.S. officials have not said whether it matters, whether they are there or not, which is pretty astounding, if you think about it.

Barbara Starr joins us now from the Pentagon. What exactly are your sources at the Pentagon saying about the existence of the inspectors there, whether they're actually in the country or not at any time these very targeted attacks might take place, and then also whether what they find matters in this whole equation, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, I think first, on the question of the inspectors still being in Syria, regardless of the public statements, the U.S. is going to want to see those U.N. inspectors out of the country.

And the general language we are hearing is that they would be out by Saturday morning Syrian time, that, of course, being later tonight, East Coast time, in the United States, about seven hours time difference.

So they are going to want to see them out of there. They are bringing out additional information, additional samples, but there are some samples that are already out of the country, we are told by our sources, and being analyzed, tissue and other samples.

Those kinds of forensics are the most definitive evidence that they can come up with, but not necessarily would an attack have to wait for that. The U.S. intelligence that we expect Secretary of State John Kerry to talk about centers around a different legal case, which is that they have intercepts, that they have communications among Syrian regime leaders before and after the attack talking about Syrian participation in the attack, and the U.S. feels that that is solid enough evidence to make a move.

That's what we're told by our sources. It doesn't even matter if Bashar al-Assad's hand was on the button, so to speak. They feel that they have a very solid case the regime was behind it.

STARR: Barbara, this is a very hard question to ask and to answer, I think, and that is this. Do we have any idea, if there's a strike launched, that Bashar al-Assad wouldn't consider a scorched campaign?

He holds the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world. What's to say he won't just say, if you're taking me out, I'm taking them all out with me?

STARR: You're right, Ashleigh. That's a very tough question to answer.

Look, I mean, the U.S. intelligence community -- let me approach it this way with everyone. The U.S. intelligence community maintains 24/7 coverage over Syria right now using satellites. This is publicly known information. We're not disclosing anything.

I think everyone can safely assume Israeli intelligence is watching around the clock. The Jordanian intelligence services are very capable and have their own methods of understanding what is going on inside of Syria.

So you have intelligence services looking at command-and-control centers, chemical weapons stockpiles, any movement of Syrian forces or regime elements.

One of -- you're raising a very important point because one of the things that the U.S. intelligence community is doing right now with those eyes on Syria is seeing if anything is moving around and what is different.

BANFIELD: Oh, God forbid. It's just a chilling thought.

And, Barbara Starr, thank you for your excellent reporting as well at the Pentagon.

Coming up later this hour, I'll have a chance to speak to the former U.N. inspector, Dr. David Kay, about the intelligence that we have and just how good it might be.

Also, CNN military analyst, retired General -- Major General "Spider" Marks is going to join us on the possible unintended consequences of a U.S. attack on Syria, and believe me there could be so many.

We're covering all of the legal news this hour, and one big case comes from the National Football League. It settles a class-action lawsuit from former players suffering from concussions, Alzheimer's and other debilitating illnesses.

First, though, we're going to take you to Montana where there is growing outrage over a judge sentenced a child rapist to just 30 days in jail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A Montana judge offered an apology to his fellow citizens for controversial comments aimed at a 14-year-old rape victim.

As our Miguel Marquez reports, those fellow citizens are outraged over this law and disorder and they're embracing their opportunity to sound off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are here today to say that our community will not stand for victim-blaming language anymore.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Protests and anger in Montana, spreading, rallies planned across the state as anger over District Judge G. Todd Baugh's comment about a rape victim and a light sentence for a rapist incensed Montanans and the nation.

SHEENA RICE, RALLY ORGANIZER: It's about Montana and it's about our nation and it's about rape victims all over the world, and the world is watching us.

MARQUEZ: Sheena Rice, an organizer, revealed this week she, too, was a victim of assault, her fear of embarrassment outweighed by her anger after Judge Baugh sentenced this man, former high school teacher, Stacey Rambold, to 30 days in jail after he broke the terms of parole for the 2008 rape of then 14-year-old Charice Morales.

SHEENA RICE, RALLY ORGANIZER: We're really creating a pretty big movement here in Billings about victim blaming and about rape sentencing, which is very exciting.

MAEQUEZ: In handing down his sentence, Judge Baugh said the 14-year- old Morales was in as much control as her then-49-year-old rapist and that she acted older than her chronological age. Morales took her own life shortly before the trial in 2010. Baugh has since apologized for his words, but the sentende stands.

Kate Olp started the Moveon.org petition urging Judge Baugh to step down. It now has tens of thousands of signatures.

KATE OLP, STARTED PETITION: He is a person who fails so deeply to understand the experience of victims. We feel that he ought to step down from his position as district court judge.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Colorado and Washington, you can keep your dope. The attorney general, Eric Holder, says the federal government will not challenge state laws in your state that legalize recreational use of marijuana. Mr. Holder said the feds will focus instead on going after track traffickers, money laundering and keeping pot away from kids.

A legal win for people on the no-fly list. A federal judge in Oregon has ruled that banned flyers have the right to be told why they are on the list or they can have their names removed. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of 13 people who say that they were placed on the no-fly list and it was unfair.

Still to come, a husband says his wife begged him to end her pain from terminal cancer. He admits he did shoot her but you will not believe how many times and where he shot her.

First, though, they took hard hits and now face serious medical consequences. The NFL shells out more than $750 million to former players with concussions and other ailments. But is it enough money? Is it too much? The answer coming from a former player next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A landmark decision to tell you about regarding the NFL and concussions, but before I do that I just need to show you something first. Look at this hit. Last night in Denver, a spectacular hit by the Bronco's Kayvon Webster. It's also an illegal hit, and it's hits like that one you just saw that led to more than 4,500 former players to sue the league over concussion-related injuries they received from hits like that.

Hours before that hit, the NFL struck a $765 million deal with all of those ex-players who sued over the issue of brain injuries. I want to break the deal down so you know how this payout -- it's a lot of money, three quarters of a billion dollars, 675 million, that goes to injury compensation, 75 million goes for medical exams and 10 million goes towards medical research.

Listen to this: the NFL in this deal is cleared from admitting liability for the brain injuries or the other injuries that resulted from these football hits. What about the future?

Joining me now, an ex-NFL player, Lamar Campbell, who was forced to retire because of concussions. Thanks for being with me. Good deal? Bad deal. It's not a lot of money if you break it down per player and then no admission of guilt.

LAMAR CAMPBELL, FORMER NFL PLAYER: No admission of guilt, and that's what most of these (ph) settlements are. It's a win-win situation, but no one gets everything that they want. If you look at it numbers- wise, NFL averages $9.2 billion last year. This settlement is actually less than a tenth of their yearly salary bringing into the NFL.

When you look at the core of the case, the core of the case was to provide funding and provide medial research for former players that have been hit with repeated head trauma and also to provide medical monitoring for players that are currently showing those signs and so in the core of everything we did get what we want, especially for the families of the Junior Seaus, The Dave Duersons, and Ray Easterlings, those fans will be immediately compensated over the next three years, and as you know it's a 20-year deal , has to be paid in the first three years and next paid in the next 17 years. BANFIELD: So, this is a hard question for me so ask you because you actually suffered in your career form these concussions. As someone who has been ill, I feel bad, but I do have to ask you this, and that is on average, players get paid so much money. I think in 2013 the average was $405,000 a year. Could it not be -- and that's the minimum, by the way. Could it not be argued by those who are critical of this decision, y'all got paid up front and you knew the job was bang them up. Do you see that argument playing in?

CAMPBELL: I see the argument playing in, but I think the thing about not going to litigation is we don't know what the NFL knew and since that stance (ph) I've been more solution-based on what we can do to advance the advocacy of concussions. People say that $405,000 let's go ahead and hit that Where Uncle Sam, as you will, compare with the lifestyle to compare with the average NFL career. Even if you play two years in the NFL, you have $400,000 that's nothing to retire on.

BANFIELD: I hear you. And actually speaking of retiring, this is a suit that only covers the retired players. Again, without that admission of guilt, what does that say for the players on the field like the guy last night and everybody going forward?

CAMPBELL: Well, one of the things that --one of the quotes from one of the -- yesterday was that we hope that this doesn't bring more litigation to the concussion lawsuit and while this does help the current retired players and recently retired players, we're still looking at an NFL where safety still has to be in the forefront, and one of the most important things is that moving forward, we have to make sure that this trickles down to the NCAA and Pop Warner (ph) football. When you look at even the current highschool deaths that we've had this first week of high school football, the NFL still has to be a leader in concussion awareness and mental health awareness moving forward, as we begin to develop this next generation of football players.

BANFIELD: I hear you, Lamar. I have two boys, six and seven years old, and I don't want them to play football. I'm so scared of what could happen to them. Listen, I hope you do well and I hope you're feeling good and I really appreciate you talking to us.

CAMPBELL: I appreciate you for having me on. Thank you.

BANFIELD: You take care. Have a good Labor Day weekend.

CAMPBELL: You, too.

BANFIELD: Just ahead, United Nations' weapons inspectors are getting ready to leave Syria. We're going to have a chance to speak with someone who did that very job. In fact, he was a leader, a former weapons inspector, about what you're going to find when you do this job, and whether the evidence really matters when you get into the politics of it all.

Also later, three Florida teenagers face a judge. In this video that just blew people away, a school bus beat-down. In court, we blurred their images because they're juvies. But the emotional toll the video took on this courtroom is something we have to tell you, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Welcome back to THE LEGAL VIEW. We're going to focus on the crisis in Syria and the case that is being put together as we speak. In fact, officials here at the White House are expected to release some of the evidence that is being put together in this case for an attack. And that evidence is intelligence. Because now the United States is prepared to say we've got intelligence of senior level administration officials in Syria before and after this chemical attack discussing it and even discussing that they need to lay low because it's not going over well around the world.

Pretty intense stuff. We had already heard that the Israelis had found intelligence of moving weapons throughout and towards that zone where the attacks actually happened. So what about the evidence and the intelligence? How good is it? It's interesting. But is it good?

CNN military analyst Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks joins me now and former U.N. weapons inspector Dr. David Kay is with me as well.

Dr. Kay, let me begin with you. As a weapons inspector, the job is not just picking things up on the ground and looking about an actual zone or theater. Isn't it also dealing with these kinds of intercepts, listening where you can, gathering evidence like this, and what do you make, thus, of this evidence we're hearing about on that part of the American administration?

DR. DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: You have to realize in this case the inspectors don't have access to that type of information. I was very lucky in Iraq both in 1991 and 2003 of having pretty broad access to any intelligence that had been collected. In that case, you certainly make use of it although I will say in 2003 I found the actual intelligence, when we reviewed it carefully and compared it to what it was on the ground, it did not match what we had been told prior to the war the intelligence said.