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British Parliament Votes Down U.K. Participation in Military Strike Against Syria; U.S. Still Considering Military Actions Against Syria; Interview with General Anthony Zinni; Interview with Clinton Portis

Aired August 30, 2013 - 07:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: First the big story this morning, begin with Syria. The administration laying out its case to Congress despite skepticism from some on Capitol Hill about taking action alone, that after the British parliament voted against joining a military strike. The White House has evidence that clearly shows Assad used chemical weapons in the deadly attack on its own citizens and they could make that evidence, they could be made public as early as today.

We are following all of the latest developments as only CNN can, beginning with CNN's Dana Bash on Capitol Hill. So Dana, what's been the reaction to that conference call last night?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Congress is still on summer break, Kate. They are spread out all across the country but demanding consultation and input into the administration's strategy on Syria. So last night, Obama officials began to give them at least some answers.


BASH: CNN has told top Obama officials insisted to lawmakers on the Thursday night conference call they have no doubt Bashar Assad's regime in Syria was behind deadly chemical attacks there. Secretaries of state, defense, and others back that up by revealing to lawmakers that the U.S. intercepted communications from a high level Syrian official which clearly indicates they were responsible for these weapons, that according to Congressman Elliott Engel who participated in the call.

Though Obama official insisted no decisions have been made, CNN is also told they privately made clear to lawmakers that chemical weapons in Syria is such a threat, the U.S. could engage with or without support from critical allies like Great Britain.

One key GOP Senator, Bob Corker, emerged from briefings Thursday announcing support for what he called surgical proportional military strikes, given the strong evidence of the Assad regime's continued use of chemical warfare. Democratic Senate foreign relations chair Bob Menendez reaffirmed his support too, saying a decisive and consequential U.S. response is justified and warranted.

Others argued the president still has to come before Congress and the American people before he acts.

REP. HOWARD "BUCK" MCKEON, (R) CALIFORNIA: It's up to the president to sell this to the American people.


BASH: Last night's attempt to consult with Congress left some highly unsatisfied. Several Republicans ended the call and said that they still feel the administration is not giving enough information about their plans for potential military action, never mind goals for potential military action. Chris, there could be several reasons for that, one of which is Congress is not here. They were all in their districts and states, some of them on cellphones, so what they were told was unclassified because they were not on a secure line.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I wonder if it means enough to them, Dana, to come back and take the situation more seriously. Good segue to what happened in the U.K. In the U.K., the parliament was asked to vote on military action and they voted no. That means the U.S. could be forced to go it alone in any military action. CNN's Atika Shubert has more for us from London. Good morning.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. It is a serious setback for the United States. Basically lawmakers have said there is not enough evidence to justify a military strike at this point, and there is also no guarantee as to what would happen if Britain was involved in such a military strike.

so what that means is that Prime Minister David Cameron has not been able to deliver British military help, no air force help, no warships. And that means the United States now has to look to other allies, possibly France, for example. French president Francois Hollande says France is ready and they will make their own decisions independent of what Britain decided and they will have their own parliament debate on Wednesday on Syria, although President Hollande has also said to the "La Monde" newspaper here that there could be a strike as soon as Wednesday.

BOLDUAN: Atika, we'll follow all the developments from your angle as they continue.

Syria's leaders say the army is ready to confront any aggression from the outside. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen was the only western television network reporter in the country this week. He is now in Beirut with the latest. So Fred, what are you hearing from your angle?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. It is a very interesting day on the ground in Damascus, the last day the U.N. weapons inspectors will be able to collect evidence. And apparently they're spending that day in the government controlled part of Damascus. They visited a military hospital known as the 601 hospital, and there they spoke to Syrian soldiers who said they were subject to chemical attacks by the rebels.

The government of course is saying that it has evidence that the rebels used chemical gases. The Syrian defense minister said this on a phone call with the defense minister of Iran. Again, the Syrian government also reiterating saying if it's attacked by the U.S. it would, "retaliate" with any means that it had. It's unclear however how it intends to do that.

I got a gauge of the mood on the ground in Damascus earlier this morning, and people are saying they are nervous about these American airstrikes that are looming, a lot of people are stocking up on food. However, there doesn't seem to be that big wave of people trying to leave the Syrian capital anymore. There is, however, a lot of military movement on the ground suggesting that potentially the military is trying to move its hardware out the range of U.S. airstrikes. Chris?

CUOMO: Thank you very much, Fred, appreciate the reporting.

So if the U.S. goes it alone in Syria can we make enough of a difference for the action to be worth it? That's a big question. By the way what is the end game if we go in? We need answers to these questions and straight talk. We're going to get it right now by retired general Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of the U.S. central command or CentCom as we know it. General, thank you very much for joining thus morning.


CUOMO: All right, the obvious question is should the U.S. do what we're hearing about, take military reaction to what happened in Syria? What's your gut on it?

ZINNI: Well, I think the president has drawn a red line, and he can't back off of this now. He's tried to make a very fine point that may be lost on others that the issue of using chemical weapons should be separated from the conflict in Syria. That's tough to do certainly, but it's a matter of violating an international norm.

I think what we fail to do here is gain international support for that principle ahead of time and now we're scrambling while our ships are in place to gain that support. And that may have been lost on the Brits as well. I think if they want to play a big role on the international stage and they want to be seen as enforcing these international norms that they need to see that and separate it from what's happening on the ground. That's difficult to do admittedly, and that point has not really I think gelled with either the American people or most of the international community.

CUOMO: It's really not a question of whether or not the U.S. can do this. It's a question of whether it should. What do you think of the idea of going it alone and thinking you can do a limited surgical strike and be done?

ZINNI: Well I think if the issue is chemical weapons and their use and you're trying to deter that, it's a question of whether you can do enough harm, damage, that would make Assad back off from the use, and that is questionable. We saw with Saddam Hussein that no matter how many times we hammered him, he still repeatedly conducted and did unacceptable acts.

I would say that if you're involved in a campaign like this, much like we did in Iraq, you can't assume this will be a one and done. So what you need to do is plan a series of targeting, should he repeat this, that makes him more vulnerable, for example, taking down his integrated air defense system, destroying much of his command and control. That has a tremendous impact.

Now, you have to be careful, because you could get to a tipping point where that makes him so vulnerable that the opposition is able to topple him maybe before we are ready for that or even Syria is ready for that, because I do think there will be a second civil war after Assad is gone.

CUOMO: And obviously the political consideration is that within the rebels there is the Al Qaeda element, so the political question is, do you want them to wind up benefiting from this. But tell me, general, in your experience, have you ever heard of a situation where we go in, the United States, they punish but they don't topple? Isn't that somewhat of a kind of mixed end game?

ZINNI: No, not really. Remember the first Bush administration set a policy followed by the Clinton administration of containment. And so in dealing with Iraq at the time, the idea was we did not want to inherit Iraq and we did not want to go in there. We weren't going to topple the regime, but we were going to weaken it to the point where it wasn't a threat to his neighbors and minimize the damage that Saddam could do to his own people. Remember the no fly zones in the north protected the Kurds, no fly zones in the south were intended to protect the Shia.

CUOMO: And we wound up in a terrible war, general, that we both know very well.

ZINNI: That was a war of choice. Saddam was no threat to his neighbors. He was minimally threatening his own people. That was elective surgery. We did not need to go into Iraq. We should have focused on business against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Because we didn't do that they were allowed to escape and we went into two sets of nation buildings that cost us a tremendous amount in the end.

CUOMO: Do you believe that we'll wind up having the same conversation here if we go ahead with military action in Syria, that it shouldn't have been done, look how long we've been in, look how unlimited and nonsurgical it wound up being?

ZINNI: There has to be a more strategic question here. You know, I think one of the legacy issues out of Iraq, going in, deciding to go in there as opposed to what two previous administrations had decided, we have now become, we have started the tenth crusade, I guess, and the expectation of those in the streets in the Middle East is that if they rise up, America will come to their aid and we will take care of business.

The trouble is the cost of all this, the engagement, the involvement has been painful, costly, and we aren't necessarily going to resolve that.

I would make one another point. This isn't just a matter of the world and the opposition against the Assad regime. When you get involved, this is what we should have learned from Iraq, you take a position and you take a side, and you take a side in a religious war, an ethnic war, a tribal war, and if we haven't learned from Somalia and Beirut that once you take a side, even though you didn't intend to, you've made enemies that you didn't intend.

CUOMO: So general, let me end with this with you -- understanding what you do about what's on the table, forget about military capability, whether or not the U.S. can do it, do you believe that this looks like a good situation that we're heading into, if there's military action? Do you think you could recommend what you believe to be on the table right now?

ZINNI: I think this is a matter of choice of the best of a lot of bad options. We are now in a position where the president has drawn a red line of what is unacceptable, and we have to do something now or we will be discredited and we will open the door to Assad and others to have free reign and do whatever they want, to include the continued use of chemical weapons.

CUOMO: General Zinni, thank you very much for the perspective. I wish you the best for the Labor Day weekend.

ZINNI: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Back here at home, more Americans are doing some driving, more driving this holiday weekend than years past. According to AAA, 34 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home, a four percent increase over 2012. We've got Indra Petersons here with your labor day forecast as well as Christine Romans tracking gas prices, which could see a bit of a spike. Let's begin with Indra, what is the forecast looking like for the weekend, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Once again we're still dealing with a lot of the heat in the Midwest. We look at the temperatures, still 15, even 20 degrees above normal, Des Moines possibly breaking a record. The forecast is 100. The record is 99, so likely they will break that.

There is good news, though. we'll see relief, a cold front will push through between Saturday and Sunday, so we still have a little ways to go but eventually temperature also moderate and go back to 70s and 80s. It's been feeling about 100 for a week long.

Unfortunately, a cold front moving through does mean rain. You have the warmer air up against the colder air so you'll start triggering showers. A couple of systems are in the forecast. Notice by Friday we'll be looking at the Ohio valley, Saturday in through Sunday we'll be looking at the northeast, the mid-Atlantic talking about rain and notice the two systems once we get into Sunday and Monday those two merge together, talking about showers from the northeast, Midwest, and down even into the southeast.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Indra.

CUOMO: So we know the weather now. What about the traveling? The cost of gas is set to spike as this long holiday weekend comes. Let's bring Christine back in with more. We hear that gas is going up. We don't like that, hopefully not coordinated with the holiday weekend.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: No, it will be after the holiday weekend. A gallon of regular up about two cents today according to AAA, but when you look at gas prices last year, Chris, they were 20 cents higher than they were right now. That's why there are more people expected to travel this weekend because gas prices are a little bit better.

But that's right now. I say fill it up, don't wait for lower gas prices tomorrow because you won't get them. A strike on Syria could boost gas prices in the short term. Oil at a two-year high because of tensions in the Middle East, and a potential U.S. strike on Syria would boost oil and gasoline prices according to analysts.

So you've also got this fall hurricane season. Very, very important there, if you get a big hurricane or refinery shutdowns you will see a spike in gas ahead. So a lot of factors here that are risks down the road. A little bit of a break now for gas but you're going to pay more next week. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Christine, thank you very much for that. Let's get to other news that's developing right now. Michaela has that.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We're watching the situation in California, the fire burning there. We have some encouraging news about the rim fire burning in and around Yosemite National Park. Firefighters say it has slowed down and they have it one-third contained. They expect to have full containment within two or three weeks. The fire has burned an area roughly the size of New York City over the last couple of weeks, still unclear how it started though.

Convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky criticizing Penn State's settlements with his victims. Sandusky of course the former defensive coordinator for the Penn State football team. In a letter from prison, Sandusky tells filmmaker John Zeigler that the university was simply protecting its image without questioning the allegations against him. He calls the settlements insane.

Three Florida teens sentenced to indefinite probation after admitting they brutally beat a classmate on a bus, it was caught on the surveillance video. The trio, all 15 years old, beat and kicked a 13- year-old boy leaving him bruised and with a broken hand. The victim reportedly became a target after telling school officials some of his summer school classmates tried to sell him marijuana. We're going to hear from one of the defendant's guardians later in our program.

The federal government will not challenge state law legalizing marijuana, that according to Attorney General Eric Holder who notified Colorado and Washington state that their new laws are safe for now. Instead the Justice Department says it will focus on trafficking and keeping pot away from kids, but it reserves the right to target the laws if they find evidence of abuse.

First lady Michelle Obama is switching it up a little saying bye to the dramatic bangs and hello subtle highlights. Mrs. Obama calling the bangs her mid life crisis. Nine months later, the caramel colored highlights are a subtle change and I think she looks fabulous as always. Of course we'll now be seeing many women replicating the look. She is a fashion leader.

BOLDUAN: Okay, what are you going to bring on Monday?

PEREIRA: I'm going to leave it a surprise. No bangs with this, doesn't work.

BOLDUAN: You look fabulous no matter what.

PEREIRA: Thank you, darling.

CUOMO: Beautiful hair.

PEREIRA: I pay them handsomely.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. My check is in the mail.

CUOMO: I always tell Michaela when she gets haircuts, save it. Put it in a bag for me. Plug that bad boy right in there.

PEREIRA: We'd be pretty much a match.

CUOMO: I'll take whatever it is, I'll take it.


CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY a big settlement, three-quarters of a billion dollars what some former pro-football players are getting because of the injuries to their head. However, accusations the league covered up the dangers of hard hits. Now the NFL is paying up, promising more research. Is that enough? You're going to hear from one of the former NFL greats who sued the league.

BOLDUAN: And also controversy continues in Montana where there are more calls now for a judge to step down his seat (ph) after the judge sentenced a man who admitted raping a teenage student of his to just 30 days in jail. It's what the judge said about the victim that really has protesters upset.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. A blockbuster settlement. The NFL agreeing to pay $ 765 million to thousands of NFL players and their families, all dealing with the aftermath of traumatic brain injuries. The Bleacher Report's Andy Scholes is here to break this down for us. Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Good morning, Kate. This case could have dragged out for years but by settling it now, this dark cloud that's been hanging over the NFL is going to go away and the players who have concussion-related injuries will get the help they need.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice play and a drive.

SCHOLES: For years the NFL and its retired players have been at odds how to address head injuries that may have occurred on the field. Thursday the sides reached a landmark agreement that will end the fighting and put money towards medical exams, injury compensation, legal fees, and medical research.

Here's how the money will be allocated: $75 million for medical exams, $675 million in compensation for cognitive injuries, $10 million for research plus legal fees and other expenses related to the lawsuit.

JAMAL ANDERSON, FORMER NFL RUNNINGBACK: I think it's a good day for thousands of football players who are dealing with different afflictions from playing the game of football.

SCHOLES: Numerous prominent players like hall of famer Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, and the family of Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year are a all involved in this case. A major part of this settlement centered around clearing the NFL from having to admit any liability or that brain-related injuries were caused by football. Many consider that a huge win for the NFL and its owners.

PETER KING, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED NFL WRITER: They're almost certainly going to be able to eliminate any future lawsuit from former players about head injuries.

SCHOLES: While $765 million seems like a big number some think the players could have done better considering last year alone the NFL had a revenue of $9.2 billion.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: 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.

SCHOLES: The agreement is now in the hands of U.S. district judge Anita Brody who must approve the deal. Former players can still voice their opposition.


SCHOLES: Only players who have retired by the time the concussion settlement is approved will be eligible for compensation, but all retired players, whether they were involved in the lawsuit or not can take a baseline test, and those test results that will be used to determine the amount of money they will receive from this settlement now and in the future. Chris?

CUOMO: Thanks a lot, Andy. Joining us is one of the plaintiffs in the case, former NFL running back and one of the best running backs of all-time, pro bowler Clinton Portis. Thank you for joining us. Great pleasure to have you on NEW DAY.

CLINTON PORTIS, FORMER NFL RUNNING BACK: No problem, thanks for having me.

CUOMO: So it's a big number, this settlement, but let me ask you, do you believe that the league got off easy? Do you think this will push them to do the right thing?

PORTIS: I don't think it was about the numbers or money going out. I think the league was making the stride to further the study of this case, and that's what's wanted. I think a lot of players, or a lot of people would love to get the money rewards from this, but it's a give and take situation because you can't blame everything on the NFL.

CUOMO: People are very concerned. We want our athletes to be healthy, we want our kids to be okay to play the game, but are we fooling ourselves a little bit about the nature of football? Do you think you can change the game in a way that head injuries will no longer be an issue?

PORTIS: Yes, we are fooling ourselves. I think football is just a dangerous game. We knew it signing up for it. Everyone wants their kids to succeed, it's like the highest level of competition. But I don't think you could take the injuries way from the game. I really don't think no matter what the NFL do as far as the play on the field, as you see lately, the concussion (INAUDIBLE) has been heightened, so much attention paid to it now that what's the safety? I think when you used to get blasted coming across the middle and guys used to be all jacked up, I think it was safer than it is now because we're not prepared mentally.

CUOMO: Explain that to me. Why do you think that even though it was more fierce, it was in a way safer back in the older days before all of the rule changes?

PORTIS: Well I think if you knew you were going into a war zone, you kind of prepare for war. You know? You don't go into the bathed field and not have a strategy or not be prepared for battle and now when you step on the battlefield, the preparation is totally different because you feel like there's so many things that can't be done, I can't get hit by a safety flying in, the linebacker can't smash me coming across the middle of the field, and there's so many things that can't be done that the guys who used to not make the team because they say this guy is not tough enough to run across the middle of the field or this guy can't take a hit, now you know they're making the game easier and saying well you can't be hit so I think that's making a lot of guys brave.

CUOMO: Clinton, for those who don't know, you were just a beast on the field. I mean you could take hits like few running backs ever could, you had that scary shield over your eyes so he could never see where you were looking but you know what it's like to get concussions, and over time what do you think it does to a player? PORTIS: I'm not sure. You know, I think in my day, the idea was a statement, you know, shake it off. I can recall games where now what would be considered a concussion, I had, and all of a sudden you shake it off for a series or two, come back madder, you run harder. I can go all the way back to the Sugar Bowl in college when we played the University of Florida and right before halftime I was knocked out, and I came out in the second half and had like 98 yards after shaking it off and had some pretty nice runs so you don't know. All of a sudden we're not paying attention to what's going to happen down the line so it's going to take guys from my generation, some of the older guys who always made a stance for it to do the study.

CUOMO: You think that the players on the field now know it's a rough game but don't know what can happen down the line and it's the league's place to put protections in place so that they save them for the future?

PORTIS: I think the players on the field at all times know it's a rough game. I don't think it takes today's society to come up and say football is physical or football is rough. I think it's always been a rough game for everybody, so like I said, the NFL tried to do everything it can to protect this shield, to protect the players but it's football. Injuries are going to happen, stuff happens. I think in this case where you look and say there's been a reward given out to players who already went through it, I can't assess the rewards. You don't know the study like you all were speaking of, some players or some families' lost loved ones when you look at Junior Seau, Dave Dorsett, the receiver up in Minnesota, the kid in Tampa, you never know what a guy is going through or what ignites what is going on, so you just have to wonder, like if this is was paid attention to an early age, would the family still have had the loved one?

CUOMO: It's interesting how many former players don't let their own kids play versus those who do. It's always interesting to see that. Thank you so much for joining us. I wish you the best going forward. You look like you could hit the field right now.

PORTIS: Yes, but the heart's not in it, so it would be great, you know, I think I had a great time playing and enjoying and loving the game, like you said, to give it all on your field, on the field was a pleasure to me. So thank you.

CUOMO: God bless. Good luck going forward. Thanks for joining us.

PORTIS: All right, appreciate it.

CUOMO; Kate?

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Chris.

Come up next on NEW DAY, more anger in Montana over a judge's sentence for a teacher convicted of rape and what he said, the judge said, about the victim. Protesters taking to the streets, they want the judge gone and the sentence changed.

Also you're looking live inside the panda habitat at the Atlanta Zoo. Get ready for some extreme cuteness. Newborn pandas times two. We're going to go inside their nursery to see how they're doing.