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CNN NEWSROOM

Making the Case For Syria Strikes; Hagel to Testify On Syria Tomorrow; Arab League Calls for "Deterrent Action"; Taliban Attack U.S. Base in Afghanistan; Nelson Mandela Out of the Hospital; Woman Baby Pulled from Stranded Car; Ford Recalls 370,000 Cars; Jobs Report Out Friday; Russia: Syria Evidence is Inconclusive; Candidate's Son Steals Spotlight; De Blasio Surges to Top of New York Polls

Aired September 2, 2013 - 10:00   ET

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


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CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, U.S. Navy ships move closer to Syria. The Defense Secretary heading to the Hill tomorrow and the president lobbying Congress.

Plus, Secretary Kerry says signatures of sarin gas found in Syria. What exactly does that mean?

Also, radiation levels around the tanks at Fukushima 18 times worse than previously thought.

Plus when the radiation plume from the original is expected to hit the U.S. West Coast.

The second hour of NEWSROOM starts now.

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COSTELLO: Good morning from Washington. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for being with me. We begin with the crisis in Syria. New developments holding the world's attention, this morning the U.S. Navy bolsters military might in the region and sends a warship into the Red Sea. Today U.N. inspectors sent to a lab the evidence that could prove chemical weapons were unleashed in Syria. In Washington, the results are viewed as a mere formality.

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JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It has tested positive for signatures of sarin. So each day that goes by, this case is even stronger.

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COSTELLO: And making the case to Congress, President Obama faces pushback from both parties in his call to authorize military strikes. The president now faces two major hurdles though, the political skepticism of lawmakers and questions over whether he would be defying international law. We're going to break those issues down for you this morning. Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill and CNN's Evan Perez will look at the legal case for striking Syria. Let's begin with you, Dana. Good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, we just got word from a U.S. official that Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, is going to be the one who is going to testify in public hearings that are going to happen tomorrow. That's interesting and I think significant based on what we heard from countless lawmakers after a classified briefing yesterday, which is that they are most concerned at this point not necessarily with the evidence, intelligence but with what exactly the military plans are.

A lot of concern and scepticism as I said that they are not exactly explained right and they haven't been drawn out properly to reassure members of Congress that they actually are going to see a very limited strike. So it's very interesting that Chuck Hagel is going to be the one to come and testify publically. That's going to be tomorrow.

COSTELLO: I thought you were going to throw to a package. I apologize to you, Dana Bash. But let me ask a question instead then --

BASH: Please.

COSTELLO: Are the votes there right now? I mean, how much work does President Obama need to do?

BASH: The votes are not there and he has a lot of work to do. That is an understatement. You know, the White House is saying that they are going to flood the zone and they are going to need to flood it big time. They are having a conference call with Democrats unclassified in about an hour and a half. We're going to see a very important meeting at the White House today with John McCain and Lindsey Graham who, of course, have been among the most aggressive Republicans -- aggressive of many politicians in terms of action in Syria.

If they can get them on board with this authorization -- passing authorization that could help get these votes. But I have to tell you, talking to so many lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, some of them say, flatly no, they are not there at all. Some of them say that they are still on the fence and they need a lot of convincing, but the votes are not there as we speak.

COSTELLO: Well, let's see what happens after Tuesday when Chuck Hagel testifies. Dana Bash, thanks so much. Now let's turn to the thorny issue of legalities. Technically, international law would require that President Obama receive approval from the U.N. Security Council before launching any attack. But Syria's key allies, Russia and China, won't let it happen.

CNN's justice reporter, Evan Perez, is here to break it all down. Good morning, Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Good morning, Carol. Well, this is a very big issue for the president. As you know, President Obama has based his entire administration on this idea that the U.S. is going to abide by international rules, which he viewed as much different from the way President Bush did business. So for President Obama to now launch an attack, which is clearly under international law, illegal because there is no provision in the U.N. charter for the U.S. to attack another nation unless it is in self-defense or if it has the approval of the U.N. Security Council, it's a very, very difficult decision for the president.

Clearly, he's been working with lawyers in the last few days. They have come up with a way to essentially excuse this idea that the U.S. must act on humanitarian grounds and on national security grounds. The idea being that the U.S. and allies are under threat from the Syrian regime. As you know, this is sort of a different way to go about it -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Different, indeed. Some lawmakers are also complaining the White House proposal for military authorization is too broad. Could this lead us to a broader war with Lebanon or Iran, for instance?

PEREZ: Well, you know, that is a very big issue. I think a lot of people think that there are two problems with the authorization that the president sent to Congress, which is one of the things -- there is no time limit on it. This could sit on the books for years. And then the other issue is that, you know, you don't know exactly where this ends, what are the geographical limitations on this.

Now I've been talking to administration officials in the last few days and they said they have to make it broad because for instance, if there is any sign that chemical weapons are being transferred to Iran, for instance, and the only place to stop that is on Iranian territory then they have to do something about that or in Lebanon where Hezbollah is supporting the Syrian regime.

So it has to be broad they say. We are getting pushback from lawmakers in Congress who say they want a lot more narrow restrictions on this. They want to make sure that we are not led into something much bigger that is unintended.

COSTELLO: Evan Perez reporting from Washington. A powerful call for international action on Syria coming from the Arab League, during a meeting on Sunday in Cairo the group called for the United Nations and the international community to take deterrent and necessary measures against the Syrian regime. Earlier, Saudi Arabia's a foreign minister used stronger language saying, quote, "The Syrian regime crossed all lines with tyranny. It is time for us to ask international community to carry its responsibility and put an end to this tragedy."

So how a big deal are these statements? Here's CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is significant. Saudi diplomats I've been talking to say the statement by the Saudi foreign minister has been choreographed over the past ten days. Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, all helping at the Arab League to try and get as strong a statement as possible from the Arab League. The Saudis believe they have 70 percent to 80 percent support within the Arab world.

They have been pushing as hard as they can for intervention in Syria. They have been realizing intervention because there isn't a political capability and will the United States, European countries not capable of doing it right now. But they have really been pushing hard. So the fact that the Saudis are weighing in as strongly as they are, this is the Arab nation that will carry the most weight in the region to carry this issue forward.

COSTELLO: Nic Robertson reporting. As strong as the Arab League statement is it falls short of an explicit endorsement of military strikes.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Russia says the United States doesn't have enough evidence to call for military intervention in Syria. We're going to take you live to Moscow next.

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COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 11 past the hour. Nearly two- hour-long fire fight is over at a U.S. military base in Eastern Afghanistan. An Afghan official says Taliban attackers detonated explosives at the base near the Pakistani border and opened fire. NATO and Afghan troops fought back killing all of the insurgents. NATO troops say no troops were killed. Taliban disputes that.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela is back at home this morning. The 95-year-old anti-apartheid icon was released from the hospital this weekend after a nearly three-month-long stay for a lung infection. His condition is said to be critical and at times unstable according to the South African President's Office.

Fast moving flood waters prove too much for several drivers in a Las Vegas area. They became trapped and had to wait for help. Here a woman and her baby are pulled to safety. They were stranded there for 45 minutes. Police thought they would have to do a swift water rescue but a break allowed them to spring to action.

Ford is recalling 370,000 cars because of potential corrosion that could cause a loss of steering. The recall includes the 2005 to 2011 models of the Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquise and Lincoln Town cars. In the United States, there are approximately 355,000 of the recalled vehicles and 15,000 in Canada. No injuries or incidents have been reported.

On Wall Street the markets are closed for Labor Day. It doesn't mean traders aren't keeping their eyes on the markets. The September jobs report is due on Friday. Of course, it could have impact on interest and mortgage rates.

CNN's Alison Kosik is in New York. Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. This jobs report for August it comes out Friday. It's really being considered the last hurdle for the economy to jump before the Federal Reserve really feels free to begin scaling back its latest massive bond buying program that's been happening over the past year.

Of course, the numbers have to be what the fed expects. Now analysts expect the jobs report to show that 177,000 jobs were created and that the unemployment rate stayed at 7.4 percent. So what you are going to see play out this week is any headline coming out about Syria that could move the market and then kind of the wait for Friday to see what the jobs are going to be -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Alison Kosik reporting live this morning. Thanks so much.

Russia's top diplomat is saying the United States has not made its case that the Syrian government was behind last month's chemical attack on its own citizens. The Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, today said the evidence the U.S. has provided Russia is inconclusive and has no facts. The response comes at a sensitive time, not just related to Syria, but because President Obama is heading to Russia this week.

CNN's Phil Black is in Moscow. This is sure to be awkward.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Carol. So Russia's foreign minister said he's seen information provided by the United States and its allies, which they believe makes the case pretty powerfully that the Assad government was responsible for using chemical weapons against the Syrian people. But Foreign Minister Lavrov says the information was lacking in detail, pretty limited.

He says the Russians are absolutely unconvinced by what they are seeing. They have asked for more information, more detail and are being told by the U.S. administration that it's a secret are and cannot be shared. So the Russian view is that's not credible. The American version of events that the Russian government is to blame, the Russian theory says it is the Syrian opposition that used these weapons on its own people in order to manipulate international feeling and trigger some sort of international military intervention -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So what if the United Nations weapons inspectors come back and say, yes, it was the Syrian government. Would that change Russia's mind?

BLACK: It's difficult to say. The mandate of the U.N. inspectors on the ground is a little limited. They are not able to assign blame in that way. They will confirm whether or not in their investigations they believe chemical weapons were used. Russia, for its part, isn't disputing that necessarily. But it is disputing that there is enough evidence to blame the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons.

So that is why it has another theory that says the other theory, which blames the Syrian opposition, supported by evidence, supported by logic. It's accused the United States and allies of trying to manipulate available evidence to mount an illegal military campaign and is drawing comparisons between what's being said now by the United States and what was being said ten years ago when the U.S. was arguing for military intervention in Iraq -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Phil Black reporting live from Moscow this morning. Thank you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, he's suddenly at the top of the polls in the race for New York City mayor, but he may have a secret weapon, it's an afro. We'll be right back.

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COSTELLO: In New York, he's the breakout star in a crowded mayoral field and he's not even running for office.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to tell you about Bill de Blasio. He's the only Democrat who will raise taxes on the rich to fund early childhood and after school programs. He has the boldest plan for affordable housing and is the only one to end a stop and frisk era that targets people offer color. Bill de Blasio is the mayor for every New Yorker. I would say that even if he weren't my dad.

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COSTELLO: There you have it, 15-year-old Dante de Blasio and his hair, grabbing nearly as many headlines as his father. Dad clearly recognizes the power of Dante's coif. Last week, he urged Twitter followers to, quote, "Re-tweet if you go with the fro."

Joining me now from New York is CNN's political commentator at New York 1 political anchor, Errol Louis. Good morning, Aarol.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: It's hard to believe that one afro could have this much power.

LOUIS: Well, you know, memories are a powerful thing. Those of us who remember the 1970s and all that went with it, who had picks and hair back then, a welcome kind of reminder, but he's a very appealing kid. He's got a lot of charisma. Some complained that Bill de Blasio is maybe exploiting his son. But the reality is politicians have been doing it since time in memorial. Go to JFK, the Bush family, the Obamas. He's doing what any politician would naturally do which is put forward what is an appealing and charismatic family he has.

COSTELLO: It's working because De Blasio is leading in the polls now. Earlier this month the daily beast said Dante's appeal goes beyond his hair saying here is the opposite of scandal. Here is what the future looks like. Here is what true New York looks like. If you love the city, you have to love this kid.

LOUIS: There is truth to that. We have never had a mayoral candidate who was part of a multi racial family. That's where the country and city is going. It strikes a chord with New Yorkers. You know, just as Italians have loved to see a candidate who was Italian or an Irish candidate or even a lesbian candidate, there are a lot of New Yorkers who like to see a multi racial family that reflects the nature of life in New York. This is a very powerful gut check for people. It gets to them emotionally in a way that's reminiscent of the appeal of Barack Obama about what the city could look like, could be. He has eight days and very well funded candidates pounding away at everything except Dante and the afro and the multi racial family.

COSTELLO: What do you think will happen?

LOUIS: I am not in the prediction business. Even if I were I must tell you I have moderated something like 13 debates between the candidates. I have looked at the poll nubs and reported on them. All I can tell you is I don't know. There are three top contenders fighting for two slots in the run-off. The furthest I would go is to say it's likely that there will be a run-off.

Nobody will get 40 percent under New York rules. Then you have the top two finishers in a run-off. I couldn't tell you who will be in the run-off. We have seen the lead change hands three or four times in the last 60 days. There is no telling whether or not the lead will change again in the last week.

COSTELLO: Anthony Weiner?

LOUIS: Still very much in the hunt. He has millions of dollars. He's putting adds up all over. It wasn't long ago he was in the lead. Anything can happen. Here is the rough numbers. Something between 400,000 and maybe 700 and some estimate 800,000 Democrats will vote in the primary next week. That's a big variation. What it means is that most people will stay home. You have people in this like John Liu.

He's polling at 3 percent, but he makes the point that he's the first Asian-American candidate to come this far in the race for mayor, excitement in the community. They have grown over the years. So there is a lot of room for the unexpected. As a journalist I could not be more delighted.

COSTELLO: I bet so. Thank you so much, CNN political commentator and New York One political anchor, Errol Louis, a pleasure as always.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Washington slows down. The fighting in Syria ratchets up. We'll have the latest on possible military action in Syria and how we get there -- maybe.

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