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Striking Syria without Congress; Ex-NFL Star in Court; Many Americans Resist Action in Syria

Aired September 6, 2013 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Brooke Baldwin. Happy Friday to you. Thank you so much for joining me.

Let me tell you, huge, huge day of news and an even bigger hour of live events. See the two boxes over my shoulder. Let me tell you about these two people we are watching for any minute now.

So hours after the NFL season kicked off last night, one of its former stars is right now appearing in a courtroom -- this is near Boston -- on murder charges. You know I'm talking about former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. Today, part of this arraignment, expected to plead, as we have heard him before, plead not guilty in the murder of his friend. So we are watching and waiting for that.

Also we're watching this other picture in Washington, D.C., because as reaction is pouring in to President Obama's news conference from St. Petersburg, Russia, earlier today, particularly his words on the next step against Syria, his ambassador to the United Nations, she is new to the job, she is Samantha Power. She is speaking live. As we take it, we are guessing here - so this is a woman who was likely not to mince words. Already she is accusing the United Nations Security Council of letting Russia hold them hostage. So she'll be talking today at this liberal think tank in Washington. We are expecting her, basically, to lay out America's case against the Bashar al Assad regime. We will take that live in just a moment here.

But, first, I want to continue with Syria. President Obama will address the nation Tuesday. We learned this today. So he'll be addressing the nation Tuesday on the crisis in Syria and what he hopes to do about it. He calls the task ahead of him, and I'm quoting, "a heavy lift" to get Congress on board with his plans for a military strike. And we're about to get some behind the scenes insight on his careful response to a question about what he will do if and when Congress says no.

But, first, let me show you the aftermath of the surprise meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here you have these two adversaries with two very different opinions on Syria. Take a listen to how each man says this exchange went down.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): We understand each other. We hear - we listen to each other. We understand arguments. We do not agree with those arguments, but still we can hear them. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a candid and constructive conversation, which characterizes my relationship with him. I know, as I've said before, everybody's always trying to look for body language and all that. But the truth of the matter is, is that my interactions with him tend to be very straightforward. On Syria, I said, listen, I don't expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use. Although it is possible that after the U.N. inspectors' report, it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current position about the evidence.


BALDWIN: So you saw the president there. He's addressing members of the media. It took an interesting turn. You see her back. This is our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, asking the president this question. Would you go it alone if Congress voted against you? Here is President Obama's response.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not put this before Congress just as a political ploy or as symbolism. I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad's use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States. In that situation, obviously, I don't worry about Congress. We do what we have to do to keep the American people safe.


BALDWIN: Great question. I didn't quite hear an answer. Chief political analyst Gloria Borger listening along as well.

No big surprise there, but I know, as you know, and you're talking to sources in Washington, there's a heck of a lot happening behind the scenes right now. I know publicly the president can't, you know, entertain the idea that Congress may vote no. So talk to me about some possible scenarios here as we move forward.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: (INAUDIBLE) do is they have to say, and they've been saying it since this last weekend when John Kerry said it, they have to say that they have the authority to act alone, just to keep that there, but that it is their desire to go to Congress and, of course, they say they believe that Congress will go along with them. They don't want to get too far out over their skis, as the president might say. This morning on NPR, the deputy national security adviser seemed to do a little bit of that when he said, "it's neither our desire nor our intention" to use that authority absent Congress. So there seemed to be a little wiggle room there.

BALDWIN: That opens the door, doesn't it?

BORGER: Well -- so I went to a senior administration official asking exactly your question.


BORGER: And the answer came back to me, which was, here's a clarification. And their clarification was, "it's POTUS's (president of the United States) POTUS's intention to act with congressional authorization. And we believe they're going to give it to us." So we're kind of talking in a bit of a circle right now. But they have to keep saying they have the authority, because they don't want to create some kind of constitutional crisis if they then decide to act and say, OK, we don't -- we never had the authority. So they have to be very, very firm on that.

BALDWIN: What about this, in listening to the president's speaking in St. Petersburg, Gloria, one thing stood out to me and I want to just sort of juxtapose it with sound we have from California Congressman Janice Hahn, which directly contradicts what the president said. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I dispute a little bit, Brianna, the notion that people come out of classified briefings and they're less in favor of it.

REP. JANICE HAHN (D), CALIFORNIA: I've seen all the evidence, I've read the classified documents and I don't believe there's anything at this point will - that will convince me to vote in favor of military force at this time.


BALDWIN: So, Gloria Borger, which is it?

BORGER: Well, I think that you talk to lots of members of Congress and they are opposing it for different reasons. And she may not have any justification that the chain of custody of these chemical weapons goes directory to Assad. I will say there's going to be a super briefing in the White House for House - I mean up on The Hill for House members on Monday by, you know, the key people from the administration on the evidence. But I think a lot of people are coming at this really more in terms of just what's the mission here.

So, say it's a pinprick. Will a pinprick be enough? What do we need to do to keep our credibility? Is a pinprick not enough? You know, the president's trying to sort of thread the needle here between the hawks and the doves and that's really hard to do. There may not be any way to thread that needle. It's very difficult because you can't come up with a military plan that doesn't have a direct goal and a mission. And is it to degrade and deter Assad? Well, if you do that, it has to be more than a pinprick some say.

BALDWIN: How persuadable will they be? This next - this next week --

BORGER: Very fluid.

BALDWIN: Very - go ahead.

BORGER: All I can tell you is, it's very fluid. You can't count votes on this one yet. It's just too up in the air.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger, thank you very much.


BALDWIN: Let me switch gears and talk Aaron Hernandez because, happening right now, former New England Patriots' star here is moments away from being arraigned on first-degree murder here. He is expected to formally plead not guilty to killing his friend, 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's girlfriend. Police say Hernandez orchestrated the shooting of Lloyd at that industrial park. That was back in June. Lloyd's body was found that day -- guys, are these live pictures? Here we go. Yes, these are live pictures. So here he is being walked into court, presumably handcuffs around his hands. So as we watch this together, let me just lay this out for you.

Among the evidence prosecutors plan to present, they have the home video surveillance showing Hernandez going back to his home that very night back in June carrying what appears to be -- you see this, spotlighted for you on the right hand side of the screen, appears to be a gun. That gun, the murder weapon here, still hasn't been found. Let me bring in CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin.

And, Sunny, as we sit on these live pictures, just set the stage for me, because, you know, we know that Aaron Hernandez here, he has already pleaded not guilty in district court, but he has to do so here in superior court as well.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right because a jury, a grand jury, has already indicted him. And that really raised the stakes in this case because I think we all knew he was likely looking at some sort of murder charge, perhaps a first-degree murder charge. But it's when the indictment is filed by the grand jury and agreed upon by the grand jury when the arraignment process starts.

And many people, Brooke, believe the arraignment process is really when the criminal process starts because that is when you are formally informed of the charges against you. You enter your plea of guilty or not guilty. And, typically, bail is discussed. We know Aaron Hernandez has been held without bail, which really must be a very difficult thing, you would imagine, for someone who was a former NFL superstar, right?


HOSTIN: But I suspect that perhaps bail is not going to be discussed again. He is likely to be held without bail until a trial in this matter, unless, of course, there's a plea.

BALDWIN: And, ultimately, presumably, he will plead not guilty here in this arraignment. This could, then, lead to a concrete trial date, correct?

HOSTIN: That's correct. That's correct. Usually the next step after this is some sort of pretrial conference. But we may even get trial date.

BALDWIN: Let's just pause and take a listen here. This is superior court.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 2013-983-4 (ph), charging you with unlawful possession of a large capacity weapon, a large capacity beating device. How do you plead?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Indictment 2013-983-5, charging you with unlawful possession of ammunition without an FID (ph) card (ph). How do you plead?

HERNANDEZ: Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Indictment 2013-983-6, charging you with unlawful possession of ammunition without an FID (ph) card (ph). How do you plead?

HERNANDEZ: Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Then, counsel, understanding that there's been an agreement, there's not a necessity to go into the background or any statement of facts here, isn't that right, Mr. Mcally (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Then, counsel, I've received from you, Mr. Sultan (ph), and your colleagues, a motion to preclude statements that have been at the arraignment. I don't think I need to take any action on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you don't, your honor, given the final position (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. And i also had a motion to preserve evidence. Is there any objection to that motion, (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is, your honor. And I did briefly speak to Mr. Sultan. We just received this. Some provisions of the motion require the commonwealth to essentially preserve evidence that's beyond our jurisdiction and beyond our -- potentially our capability to do that. I'm asking that this motion, because as I had indicated we'd just received it, be put over for a further date and hearing on that to the extent that what limitations or requirements that we'll be able to preserve evidence. That, again, is in the hands of third parties and outside of the borders of the commonwealth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I understand that, but in order to stabilize the situation and to preserve the situation, it would seem to make sense for you to notify those other agencies of the existence of this request and that they preserve what they have in hand to date. There should be some (INAUDIBLE), don't you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd be glad to do that, your honor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be glad to give notice then at this time that the defendant has filed a motion and is requesting that these -- these items or any evidence be preserved. But in terms of the ability to order somebody in a jurisdiction, I would suggest, respectfully, the procedure would be the defendant would file an order with the court, who would then serve it on a justice in another -- in the other state. And then that would then be -- have the weight of law. I mean right now I can make a request and I would anticipate compliance. But, again, part of this talks about then -- if there's spoilation of evidence, and to the extent that we have the power to prevent evidence from being altered and destroyed, at this time things outside our borders, I don't see that we do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Sultan, a comment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, your honor, (INAUDIBLE) two requests. Number one, I think that the court is absolutely right, that these -- any out of state agencies that have been involved in the investigation of this case should be put on notice as of today, if they haven't been before, that the commonwealth requests that they not destroy or alter any physical evidence or any notes and subject to further order of the court. So I think it should be more than the defendant's filed a motion. It should be a specific request. If not from - and, frankly, I don't see why that request should not be made at this point with the impremitor (ph) of the court. But if the court is not prepared to go that far, it should certainly be -- the commonwealth should make that request.

Number two, your honor, there's a well-established body of case law going back, Commonwealth versus Donahue, I think it's 30 years old, to the extent that there is joint effort between --

BALDWIN: OK, so you're listening to a little bit of back and forth between the prosecution and defense here inside the superior courthouse, Fall River, Massachusetts. And if you can see him, on the right hand side of your screen, suit jacket, white button down shirt is the person for which we show you the live pictures. This is Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriot, who we just heard the two words, "not guilty," that he uttered, "not guilty," facing weapons and murder charges.

Sunny Hostin, walk me through what's happening here.

HOSTIN: You know, it's interesting because they're arguing about the preservation of evidence. The defense here is saying, listen, we need access to this evidence. We want to make sure that the prosecution and third parties do not get rid of this evidence. And that means they're really gearing up to prepare for trial.

And this is the kind of case, I suspect, that does lead to a trial. You've got a former superstar NFL player facing a first-degree murder charge. That penalty is life - you know, a life sentence. And so absent some sort of plea deal, and I don't really know what kind of plea deal the government can offer someone like this, accused of this type of heinous crime, they're trying to make sure that they will be ready for trial.

BALDWIN: And as I mentioned, because of this arraignment, and now officially this plea, we could have a trial date today, maybe tomorrow, as this thing moves forward in Massachusetts.

Sunny Hostin, thank you very much.

Coming up next, President Obama says he is listening to ideas, different ideas, on how to punish Syria. So what are the alternatives to military action, to force? We're going to discuss that.

Plus this --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what I think of Congress. They are a bunch of marshmallows. That's what they are. That's what they've become. Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria?


BALDWIN: Outrage is growing against U.S. lawmakers over a possible strike on Syria. So to debate where this anger goes from here, let's bring these two guys back who are happy to disagree. That debate, next.


BALDWIN: Senator John McCain, one of the earliest and loudest advocates of a U.S. military strike in Syria, got an earful from the people who should count the most to him in the job. I'm talking about the leaders in his party. Not talking about that. I'm talking about the people who put him in office. The people of the state of Arizona. And some even brought props to make their point loud and clear.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you really realize what you're getting our -- what you're getting our country into with this war in Syria? You attack the Syrians, who do you think they're going to take it out on? Israel. Why are you not supporting Israel on this one? This is what I think of Congress. They are a bunch of marshmallows. That's what they are! That's what they've become! Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It's not our fight. Back Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me to listen to you saying there's no good option, I refuse to believe that. The good option right now is to take Saudi Arabia and Iran and force them to stop supporting the two sides in Syria. And you could do it. You can do it by - by diplomacy and negotiations, not bombs, Senator McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bashar al Assad is a criminal. And everybody knows. How can we support him? Hezbollah is a criminal organization and they sported him. Iran supported him. we have to stop this madness. We have to stop Bashar al Assad at any price. I'm Syrian-American and I'm proud of it. My family in Syria and I want to protect them. If Bashar stay there, he will kill half of the nation. He already did. Seven million people left their home. Do you think when they go back home he will leave them alone? He will kill them all.


BALDWIN: Let's talk about this with conservative radio talk show host and CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson, and Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.

Guys, I didn't get enough yesterday. We're bringing you back.

Putting this in perspective here, you know, it was just a couple days ago leaders from both parties standing behind the president's move for military action. And now we're having these marshmallow moments. This backlash from, you know, constituents.

Chris, let me just begin with you. We know the president addresses the nation Tuesday. That came out today. It appears his momentum has stalled. How does he get it back?

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I mean, I'm not sure stalled is the right way to put it. I think, to some extent, it's gotten worse, at least with public opinion. I mean, you know, I'll just give you one example. Senator Manchin's office right now, the calls for and against, well, against, it's about 100-1. That tells you all you need to know and I don't think his office is any kind of rare example.

There's a lot of concern in this country about this and I think you're seeing that in those town halls and I think there are going to be a lot of members who are going to go back home to their districts or their states this weekend and they're going to see it again. So I think the president, in that address on Tuesday, is going to have to make a very impassioned case about why this is necessary, why it's in the national security interest of the country, and why we need to strike and strike now. And to be honest, I think it's going to be a really difficult argument to make considering where we are today.

BALDWIN: Ben, do you think it's too late?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he's in serious, serious trouble, because rarely do you see issues like this where Republicans and Democrats from Congress are both taking heat at the same amount with the same momentum from the American people. It's usually either one congressman saying, well, all my constituents are in favor of it and then the other side saying, well, all mine are against it.

BALDWIN: Not this time.

FERGUSON: This seems to be going overwhelming for both parties in a bad way. And I think that's one of the reasons why Barack Obama should have never gone to Congress on this one if he felt it was an issue of national security because the polls were overwhelming. And he knows this because he ran on it and won on it, which was to be the guy that was going to get us out of wars. And now he's trying to put us in a war.

And it also doesn't help when your top leaders, like John Kerry, are now trying to tell people, we wouldn't even classify this as war. Well, when you bomb someone, the American people, Republican and Democrat, both know that that is exactly what it is. It's war. You can try to rename it. That's not going to help your case with the American people. And we're seeing both sides hearing that right now.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about these members of Congress, though. And I think to quote Gloria Borger, she just called this murky, when you try to, you know, put your head around a vote count. We've tried here. So take a look at this graphic and you're going to see all of the gray. There's a lot of gray. That means undecided. You have six more House members now saying no to a strike. That brings the total, you see, to 115. On the flip side, in the Senate, you know, A Democratic senator has joined the no side. So the total there is 19.

You know, and I know some of this changes after classified briefings. Ben, what about, you know, if you think about it, American voters put these guys and gals in office. Do you think this is a sign of they're listening to and responding to constituents or is this weakness, this back and forth?

FERGUSON: I think they're - I think they're listening and I think a lot of these people are going to be up for re-election very soon and they're sitting there thinking, do I really want to have all of these people call me and then I just -- my best response is, well, I'm smarter than you are because I've been in briefings, even though the president specifically went to Congress to get their approval, which is listening to the American people. It's a really hard defense, whether you're a Republican or you're a Democrat.

And the other issue that's come up today is, I've never seen so many people look into the money side of this. The average senator that was voted in favor of using military in Syria received 80 percent more in campaign donations from contractors that deal with military contracts. And when you see Republicans and Democrats using that argument of that type of influence, it's something, as I've been watching politics, I can't name another issue where I've seen this much of a compromise from both extremes of two parties saying no to this war.

BALDWIN: What about this example, Chris? I'm sure you've seen the interview. Michael Grimm (ph), congressman, New York, Republican, first said on Monday, the president of the United States committed us when he drew the red line. So the idea that we should or we shouldn't strike, I think that ship sailed a long time ago if we want to keep the credibility of the United States.

Ben, I hear you laugh. You know what I'm about to say.

Yesterday, quote, "I am no longer convinced that a U.S. strike on Syria will yield a benefit to the U.S. that will not be greatly outweighed by the extreme cost of war."

Ben, I hear you on politics. But, Chris, not everyone is up for re- election but there is a possibility that even after these members of Congress, you know, come out of these classified briefings, they still don't know what to think.

KOFINIS: Well, I mean, I think this is obviously a very complex issue. I think we've all kind of accepted that reality. I think what makes this more difficult is, you know, with respect to people look at this and they say, well, do we really want another Middle East war, you know, and this notion of who is the opposition, is there an opposition that we can get behind? I mean those, I think, make it very difficult for these members of Congress, I think, to come to some kind of clear, defining position.

Now, when you add in the element, and I can tell you having worked up, you know, on The Hill, and sat there every day waiting and wondering what the phone count was on a particular issue, you do not get these kind of phone call counts. You just don't. And they're never this lopsided. And these aren't -- these are organic.


KOFINIS: This is not a call campaign. And so when you're a member of Congress or a senator and you're getting this kind of a barrage, it really -- whether you're up for re-election or not -


KOFINIS: You have to pause. And it may - and it becomes a very critical factor in your calculation. That's why, I think, you're seeing a lot of hesitation.

FERGUSON: And, Brooke -

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Ben.

FERGUSON: I also think one other thing that's got to be brought up in this is, as the Obama administration and as Senator Kerry gave their testimony, I think a lot of members of Congress looked at this and said, what is even the goal here, because we're not even sure what your goal is. One minute it's war. Then it's not even called war. One minute you're saying it's limited. Then you're telling me there's no way boots are going to be on the ground. But when you go to war, you can't guarantee those things.

And so then we hear, well, this isn't about overthrowing Assad, but we don't want Assad. We just want to punish him for using chemical weapons. And when you put all that out there, I think a lot of people are scratching their heads going, what is the even objective here because it's been so diluted with you taking back things that you said 24 and 48 hours ago, is this really worth it and is it going to have any impact at all in Syria? And a lot of people I think now think it will have no impact on Assad at all.

BALDWIN: Point well taken. KOFINIS: You know -

BALDWIN: Point well taken.

KOFINIS: You know -

BALDWIN: Chris, Chris, jump in. I want you to have the final word here.

KOFINIS: Well, you know, I would say, listen, in fairness to the president on this one, you know, Republicans and, you know, Ben and others can sit there and criticize him for bringing it to Congress, but that was, I think, the right thing to do.

In terms of how getting members of Congress on board, the public on board, he's going to have his opportunity on Tuesday. I think the president, as I said, is going to have to make a very impassioned, clear case as to why this is in the national security interest of the country. And if that doesn't happen on Tuesday, I'll tell you, I don't think this vote is going to be a good one for the president.

BALDWIN: Chris Kofinis and Ben Ferguson, thank you both. We'll see you back here.

FERGUSON: Thanks for having us.

KOFINIS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is speaking. Here she is speaking live in Washington on Syria this afternoon. She is not one to mince words. We will dip in, in just a moment here.

Also, this --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ended up going the wrong way down the highway directly into oncoming traffic and I struck a car. I killed a man.


BALDWIN: This is stunning. This man says he was driving drunk. Hasn't been charged. So why do this? What's his motive here to go public? That's coming up.