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Proof of U.S. Claims Against Syria; Labor Day Weekend Travel

Aired August 31, 2013 - 09:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I am Brianna Keilar.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I am Victor Blackwell. You are watching NEW DAY SATURDAY.

KEILAR: Now, we also have some breaking news on the crisis in Syria, the White House now confirms that it is briefing both Republican and Democratic senators today regarding the situation in Syria. A White House official says that the following officials will participate -- a senior administration official says this.

Susan Rice will participate -- she is obviously the national security advisor; John Kerry, Secretary of State; Chuck Hagel, the Defense Secretary. And CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty is at the White House. These are some of the folks Jill who had been in such with members of Congress already.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, they have. And they are continuing to make their case. The White House officials do think that they made that case, at least on the Intel front yesterday when they released the assessment and now they, of course, have to present this. It's again, unclassified. They want to present it to these members, both Republicans and Democrats.

And also the rationale or what the President wants to do -- the type of action that he wants to take, and as we know it's supposed to be limited. Also on this intel assessment, they feel that they made their case, even though it's brought with high confidence. High confidence actually is a technical term in the intelligence business, and it means one step below confirmation, however they believe that it is compelling.

Now what did they bring forward? Well, some of the most important points were that there were rocket launches by the Syrian forces the White House says 90 minutes before that chemical attack took place; that the hospitals treated nerve gas symptoms; also that there were hundreds of victims and they were brought very quickly into the hospital. Medical personnel looking at them and confirming that they were the results of chemical weapons or chemicals in general.

And then, also, I think one of the most compelling that they are alleging happened was the intercept of communications from a senior official who confirmed in this overheard conversation that there was chemical weapons use and that they were concerned that the U.N. inspectors might see it. So that's the information, that's the intelligence that the White House brought yesterday. There's more, of course. But those are some of the most important points.

The president again making that point that he believes that if you don't take action, that is a problem in and of itself, that there has to be some type of action.

Let's listen to what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Part of the challenge that we end up with here is that a lot of people think something should be done, but nobody wants to do it. And that's not an unusual situation. And that's part of what allows, over time, the erosion of these kinds of international prohibitions, unless somebody says no. When the world says we're not going to use chemical weapons, we mean it.


DOUGHERTY: And the president uses the word "paralysis." He believes that there is some type of paralysis. Obviously, he seems to be determined to break that paralysis -- Victor, Bri.

BLACKWELL: Jo, could you put into context the possible complications or challenges for the president if he does not strike before he leaves for Stockholm and then on to Moscow?

DOUGHERTY: Well, there are many, you know, in terms of taking that action. But if you're talking about what happens when he gets to the G-20, which is where a lot of international leaders will be, that was already going to be a hotbed of comments about Syria, whether he took the action -- does take the action or does not. It's going to be overshadowed by that.

Now, the host of that -- it's going to be in St. Petersburg, Russia. And the host is Russia, of course, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And he is saying, well, we know it's about economics, but as long as everybody is there, let's discuss Syria.

The White House has made it very clear that they don't expect a one- on-one between the president and Putin.

But there could -- it could be a very interesting conference to watch, precisely because we don't know, from moment to moment, what's going to happen there. And the state of play at that point could be very different from right now.

KEILAR: Is there a sense, Jill, I guess, if he were, say, to -- let's say, hypothetically, if he were to strike but were to wait until after the G-20, it seems like that would create a whole host of other complications for the president than doing it before then.

DOUGHERTY: It does. And, you know, as our Pentagon team has been reporting, some of the problems would be the Syrians obviously know what's going on. They know, at least publicly, what's being said by the United States, what's being said by the president. And they could be moving chemical weapons around. They could be moving troops around. They could be preparing, as they must be, and they say they are, for any type of action.

And that calls into question, you know, if you're taking military action, what do you strike, where is it, has it moved, etc.?

So the longer you wait, the more complicated it becomes. And the president has made it very clear that the timetable that he's setting is his own timetable and it's not going to be dictated by any other country or anything else.

KEILAR: Jill Dougherty, thank you so much.

Now some members of Congress are now calling on President Obama to allow for a full debate before striking Syria. Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee will be joining us in just a few minutes to talk about that.

And we've also gotten word that the U.N. weapons inspectors are out of Syria. They're onto a plane to Europe. They are carrying with them evidence of a chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21st.

Why is that so critical, that the inspectors have left Syria?

Well, it is thought that with the U.N. team out, perhaps the window is now open for a possible U.S. military strike. The administration indicates it will act without a U.N. mandate if it comes to that.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: By the definition of their own mandate, the U.N. can't tell us anything that we haven't shared with you this afternoon or that we don't already know. And because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act, as it should.


BLACKWELL: Let's talk with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh at the U.N.

You know, there are some who would then, after hearing that, ask, well, then why not wait for a U.N. mandate?

Detail, if you would, why that is simply out of reach for the US.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I see you've outlined there John Kerry saying simply there is a Russian veto that has historically always been brought into play when a resolution could be passed that would be critical of the Syrian Assad regime.

Now, we have a complicated timetable ahead of us here, and one which I think, if you listen to John Kerry and the choreography of him and Barack Obama yesterday, may be relevant to the U.S. decision to launch a strike.

Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, will hear from his arms inspector, Angela Kane, who arrived back in New York late last night at JFK Airport. She will brief him in this building, we anticipate, at some point later on today.

There had been expectations from, actually, Ban Ki-moon himself, saying he would then pass on initial findings to the U.N. Security Council. I understand from a Western diplomat, that briefing at the Security Council will now not happen.

And so I think many really are waiting to see, in the weeks, potentially, or certainly days ahead, when the final U.N. inspectors' report will come forward.

The German Foreign Ministry Tweeting that they've charted a plane to go from the Middle East to Germany, to take some of the weapon inspectors with samples they've taken from alleged chemical sites inside Syria to conduct testing. Those results could take a number of weeks to come forward. That's when the U.N. will put forward their final report.

Is the United States going to wait for that?

That seems probably unlikely at this point, given, as you just heard John Kerry say that at the end of the day, they decided chemical weapons were used, they decided the regime did it. And -- and this is a fact -- when the U.N. put their report forward, it's simply going to say whether or not weapons were used, not assign blame -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, CNN correspondent Nick Paton Walsh at the U.N. for us.

Thank you.

KEILAR: So while the president makes his case for war, his critics are explaining why this is a bad idea.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the past week has seen a furious debate over whether war is the right thing to do, or at least the military action is the right thing to do.

Take a listen.


KERRY: The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children.

OBAMA: We're not considering any open-ended commitment. We're not considering any boots on the ground approach.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There is credibility in this that will impact our country and our national security for generations if we do not get it right.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: 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.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: We stand for something in the United States. We stand for democracy and we stand for human rights. We stand for not allowing innocent civilians, including children, to be gassed.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER IN CHIEF, CENTCOM: I think what we failed 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.

KERRY: We know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.



KEILAR: Congress wants its say on Syria and any U.S. response to chemical weapons attack. Almost a third of members are urging President Obama to get their approval before any strike.

One of those lawmakers is joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

She represents California's Ninth District.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us so early, on the West Coast especially.

LEE: Pleased to be with you.

KEILAR: So, Congresswoman, explain to us your position on a military strike in -- on Syria.

LEE: First, let me say that the world cannot stand by and watch the gassing of innocent civilians and children. Chemical attacks and assaults on people anywhere in the world must be dealt with, and must be dealt with in a very forceful way.

And I am saying, with regard to the issue around military strikes, that it's very important to recognize that as the secretary of State said, that there is no military solution to this, that this requires a negotiated settlement. And what I am concerned about is that Congress has not had that full debate, nor a vote. If, in fact, the administration is going to use force, we have to look at what the implications and the unintended consequences could be.

What are the ramifications of, unfortunately, the possibility of a regional conflict, a regional war?

Will more innocent people get killed?

Will commit -- chemical attacks continue?

And so we have to look and weigh all of the options before any type of a military attack is taken. And I believe Congress and the American people really should have that information, should debate it and should cast a vote as to whether or not this is the correct strategy.

Some would vote for it. Some would vote against it. But I tell you, the ramifications are grave and we have to do something, but we have to do it in a way...


LEE: -- that does not create more chaos and more carnage.

KEILAR: And Congresswoman, I think one of the reasons you are a leading voice on this is because in 2001, just a few days after 9/11, you were the only member of Congress to vote against giving President Bush sweeping powers to respond to the 9/11 attacks. This was, obviously, very much a moment where I think people looked back a few years later and said, you know, when public opinion had changed, they looked at sort of what you said, many more people would say as a more informed decision than they thought it to be at the time.

Now, here we are, this much later. And it's -- I wonder, though -- I want to play devil's advocate with you here.

If the U.S. does not act, if President Obama does not make good on his word, what kind of message does that send to other foes of the U.S., like Iran?

LEE: You know, we have to really recognize that, especially in the Middle East, the region is in chaos. There are civil wars taking place, especially in Syria. And the United States has to exercise its leadership and try to bring together an international coalition to move toward some form of a negotiated settlement.

What the signal and the -- I think the communication to the rest of the world should be is that we are going to condemn and hold those accountable who have engaged in this terrible, terrible slaughter.

But we're also going to move to try to achieve some semblance of regional stability and lead toward a negotiated settlement, as the secretary of State said.

This is not Afghanistan, Iraq nor Libya. In 2001, the resolution that I voted against was a blank check. It's been used, I know, over 30 times to engage in some form of conflict and hostility. And, in fact, that resolution needs to be repealed, because that is a resolution that allowed for an open-ended war. In this instance, the president said that should force be used, it's going to be targeted, it's going to be limited, it's not going to be open-ended. We have to believe that.

What I'm concerned about and what many of us said in our letter -- and there are about 64 now who have signed that letter -- is that we should consider the implications and the impact and the ramifications of such a strike and is this the most prudent way to hold the Assad regime accountable, and, in fact, will this stop the use of chemical weapons and create less hostility, which will allow us to move to a negotiated settlement?

KEILAR: And Congresswoman, very...

LEE: That's the debate we need to have...

KEILAR: -- very quickly, because I'm running out of time here, if -- you have some strange bedfellows, between liberal Democrats and some Republicans who want consultation here.

If this were to go for a vote before the House, authorization of force, would it pass?

LEE: That's hard to say, because we have not had a debate. There is bipartisan at least consideration of wanting to do an analysis, a debate, and understand the full implications. And the American people, I think, really deserve that debate. And so I think there's some bipartisan consensus that there should be a debate and a vote.

I'm not sure what that vote would be. But minimally, we should really afford the American people the opportunity to know the pros and cons and to really understand that if we take military action, what the ramifications and what the unintended consequences could be, so that the country is prepared. And if the president is moving forward on this, he'll have the backing, you know, of the majority of the American people and the Congress. I think that needs to happen.


Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California Democrat, thanks for getting up so early with us.

We really appreciate it.

LEE: Happy to be with you.

KEILAR: Now, let's take a turn now.

You go on the road for Labor Day -- is that you this weekend?

Do you know what you'll be paying for gas?

Prices are actually lower than last year, but if you plan to drive to your destination, you might want to fill up fast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: Well, summer isn't over just yet.

BLACKWELL: It isn't?


BLACKWELL: I've got my fall face on.

KEILAR: I know, right?

Just keep warm.


KEILAR: But if your Labor Day weekend plans call for one last picnic, well, beware, because a widespread cold front could mean a little rain depending on where you are.


KEILAR: We know if you want to get away for Labor Day, there's still actually a little time here.

BLACKWELL: With gas prices cheaper than last year, you might want to hit the road. But fill up fast, because experts say oil and gas prices are set to rise.

KEILAR: And CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is in Ridgefield, New Jersey -- so, Susan, what can people expect to pay at the pump?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, those prices haven't risen just yet. I tell you, whether you're living here in New Jersey and taking the New Jersey Turnpike, it's not bad nationwide. The prices have actually gone down compared to this time last year.

Let's go straight to the numbers. Compared to last year, Labor Day weekend, the price for -- a national average for a gallon of gas was $3.83. And this year, it is down to $3.69. That's a drop of 14 cents. And here, where I am, it's only $3.45.

The big travel day was yesterday, actually. And the next time, of course, it's going to be Labor Day, when everyone is coming on home.

Why are the prices down?

Analysts say a few things are in play. For example, the -- there's a good supply. Also, this time last year, Hurricane Isaac was churning around in the Gulf and that kept a hold on production just a bit. It slowed it down.

But also this year, a bit of a drop in demand. People are using cars that are more fuel-efficient.

So for now, everyone is filling up to take advantage of these good prices as long as they can for this last summer holiday of the season. Back to you -- Brianna and Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Susan Candiotti, thank you.

Coming up at 10:00 Eastern, does the president have to ask Congress before a military strike on Syria?

We'll talk with lawmakers on both sides. Congressman Elliott Engel, a Democrat from New York, and Congressman Scott Rigell, a Republican from Virginia.

Stay with us.


KEILAR: More than 40 percent of young people released from California's juvenile justice system end up back in jail within a year. This week's CNN Hero saw that revolving door firsthand as a corrections office.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to get into trouble and I was selling drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was domestic violence in my home. I didn't see a future for myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once I had a record, I thought I wasn't going to be able to get a job. All right, well, I'll just go back to doing what I used to do.

TERESA GOINES, CNN HERO: You guys are the ones that know better than anybody, you're the ones that have to change.

I worked as a juvenile corrections officer (INAUDIBLE) young people to get out and ready to start a new life. We put them back in the exact same environment and they would come back to jail.

Witnessing that over and over, I couldn't not do something about it.

I'm Teresa Goines. I started the Old School Cafe, a supper club run by at-risk youth that gives them the skills and the opportunity to change their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody needs to be paying attention. Deani (ph) is going to start off serving.

GOINES: Our program provides four months of hands-on training.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is when you can say, all right, excuse my reach.

GOINES: Our motto here is jump in and learn. If they complete that successfully, they get a chance to apply for an employee position. So we're excited to have you on the team. I'm really proud of you. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do the hiring. We do firing. We do reviews. You know what -- that we have a sense of urgency. You're a team player.

GOINES: I want them to keep rising up in leadership and management. (INAUDIBLE) restaurant the '20s, '40s Harlem Renaissance. I see my role as being support staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to just make top ramen and grilled cheese. And now I'm cooking everything on the menu.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a lot of opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I know this will help me stay out of trouble.

GOINES: The core of it is giving them hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to be my own boss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to be an entrepreneur.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to be successful.

GOINES: Once that light goes on, what ever they do, they're on their way to fly.


BLACKWELL: We're are back at the top of the hour.

But up next, a year ago, President Obama offered a warning on the use of chemical weapons. so now, is the president's red line blurred by red ink?

YOUR MONEY starts now.