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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Obama Makes Appeal at G-20 In Russia; Uncertainty in Syria; Congressional Support; Embassy Personnel Leave Lebanon; Iran Warns U.S. Against Strike; Pentagon Warns of Possible Retaliation from Iran; Man Confesses to Murder in Online Video; Interview with Alex Sheen

Aired September 6, 2013 - 11:00   ET

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


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, some of the worst injuries being cared for here. It is not easy.

And now, Jake, I'll tell you what we're hearing and seeing is a concern that the numbers are just going to go up.

They're sort of at their limit right now in terms of staffing, in terms of supplies, so there's a lot of nervousness here.

But, again, Jake, fascinating that this makeshift clinic, this makeshift hospital, completely run by Syrians, part of the coalition of the Free Syrian Army.

The patients being cared for here as well as the staff, despite the fact that we're in Lebanon, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much.

Thank you for joining me today.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Iran warns America, attack Syria and suffer the consequences. Is Tehran plotting retaliation and targeting U.S. embassies? New threats and new evidence.

Plus, with or without strikes and counterstrikes, 2 million Syrian refugees and counting, this is a catastrophe, an international crisis.

Also stunning confession, posted online, he drank, he drove, and he killed someone, and he's saying so before he's even charged. Is this a smart move? Is it a legal maneuver? Or is it just magnanimous?

Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, September the 6th.

President Obama, making an international appeal for a strike on Syria right after an unexpected meeting this morning with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the headline, their differences over Syria's use of chemical weapons remains just that, differences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

We discussed Syria, and that was primarily the topic of conversation. Mr. Snowden did not come up. Beyond me saying that, re-emphasizing, that where we have common interests, I think it's important for the two of us to work together.

And 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. A

As I said last night, I was elected to end wars and not start them. I've spent the last four-and-a-half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people.

But what I also know is, is that there are times where we have to make hard choices if we're going to stand up for the things that we care about. And I believe that this is one of those times.

And if we end up using the U.N. Security Council not as a means of enforcing international norms and international law but, rather, as a barrier to acting on behalf of international norms and international law, then I think people rightly are going to be pretty skeptical about the system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And another developments this morning, all non-essential United States personnel, diplomatic personnel, and their family members, are being ordered to leave the embassy in Lebanon.

Officials are saying this is a move because of the situation in neighboring Syria and the unspecified potential threats to those people.

Also, Iran's supreme leader is warning the U.S. will, quote, "definitely suffer" if President Obama orders a military strike against Syria.

And "The Wall Street Journal" is continuing with that report saying that the U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants who are in neighboring Iraq, yes, Iraq, to attack the U.S. embassy in Iraq and other interests in had Baghdad as well in the event of an American attack on Syria.

U.S. officials are now saying a strike on Syria could involve long- range bombers like the B-1, the B-2, and the B-52. That would be in addition to what you've already heard as one of the main armaments and that is cruise missiles.

In Washington, President Obama is facing an uphill battle in winning congressional support for attacking Syria. Sources say the Senate vote is really up in the air at this point and could go either way.

And also at his news conference, President Obama admitted that he knew this was going to be tough, an uphill battle, to convince congress about acting in Syria.

Our senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is live in St. Petersburg, she's traveling with the president.

And, Brianna, you actually had a very tough one-on-one it seemed with the president, back and forth with him, in that news conference.

I want to hear just quickly that question you had for the president from just moments ago. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One of the big challenges right now isn't just Republicans, but it's from some of your loyal Democrats. It seems that the more they hear from classified briefings, that the less likely they are to support you.

If the full Congress doesn't pass this, will you go ahead with the strike?

And also, Senator Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans who breaks with her party to give you support at times, she says what if we execute this strike and then Assad decides to use chemical weapons again, do we strike again?

And many Democrats are asking that as well. How do you answer her question?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, in terms of the votes and the process in Congress, I knew this was going to be a heavy lift. I said that on Saturday when I said we're going to take it to Congress.

You know, our polling operations are pretty good. You know, I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is.

And for the American people who have been through over a decade of war now with enormous sacrifice in blood and treasure, any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicious and that suspicion will be probably even stronger in my party than in the Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: All right. So, here's where things get complicated, Brianna.

While you're there and you're heading into the afternoon, over here on NPR's "Morning Edition," Tony Blinken, who is President Obama's deputy national security adviser, was asked the very question about going it alone if Congress votes him down.

And he actually said this, quote, "It's neither his desire nor intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him."

That made a lot of us shake our heads, and I'm not sure I got any clarity after the president was posed that question.

Where exactly does the president stand on this?

KEILAR: Yes, that's what's unclear at least publicly at this point, Ashleigh, he was asked about that and he sort of dodged it by saying that he wasn't sure that was exactly what was said.

But basically when you look at Blinken's comments, it's basically to say if the president doesn't get congressional approval, he's not going to do it. Does the president agree? We don't know.

Here's the other question. What if just the Senate agrees, which is why I asked the question I did? What if just the Senate agrees, because it does seem to be an easier lift than the House, but the House votes no, and we've seen it before?

Does he see that as legitimizing his desire to act enough to move forward? He wouldn't answer that for us, but I will tell you when you talk to a lot of observers who have been watching this very carefully now for months, even years, they do feel that that is a very real possibility, that President Obama if he doesn't have at least some sort of backing, that he isn't going to go ahead and strike.

And I'll tell you, Ashleigh, there's a lot at stake here. The president has made an argument, a very firm, aggressive argument, about why military action is so important.

He has said that this is an assault on human dignity. He said it presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition of the use of chemical weapons.

This is what he said on Saturday in the Rose Garden and he said, "This menace must be confronted," so the question remains, as commander-in- chief, if he doesn't have backing of Congress and obviously he doesn't have international support, will he go ahead?

And that's hopefully what we're going to be learning here in the next few days.

BANFIELD: And so I'm trying to read a lot of tea leaves while there's a lot of movement where you are, and earlier the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, made an accusation that Syrian militants are the ones who used the chemical weapons in order to get aid and support from outside forces like the United States.

It didn't seem that that was the tenor of the meeting between the president of the United States and the president of Russia, or is that all just something they're not discussing publicly?

KEILAR: No, I think you hear exactly what -- I imagine, actually, that their discussions, judging from what you heard Putin say and judging from what you heard Obama say, that what they say to each other on a personal level, at least maybe what they said to each other today, we heard President Obama say they are pretty straightforward in their interactions, I think their public interactions might be pretty similar -- or their private interactions might be pretty similar to their public interactions.

President Obama stating his case, President Putin is stating his opposing case, and they don't expect to agree. They kind of leave it at that and move on.

Now this obviously was a 20-minute discussion, but as you heard Putin saying this is not the Syrian regime, that this is not Bashar al Assad.

The White House says basically that that is nonsense, that these weapons, especially in the volume with which they are used, are held by the government, that that's a proven fact, and they're very confident with that.

Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Well, Brianna, if anyone expected more clarity from this international visit, that's not seemingly happening, but keep at it.

You were great in that news conference. I saw you, and I think everybody was very appreciative that you wouldn't let that question go, Brianna Keilar, live for us, our senior White House correspondent, traveling with the president.

And we were just telling you about Iran and the warning to the United States if, in fact, the United States goes ahead with an attack. We're going to give you far greater details on that, where those details come from.

Then we also have another developing story. It's really quite remarkable. Listen to these bone-chilling words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW CORDLE, ADMITS DRIVING DRUNK: I ended up going the wrong way down the highway directly into oncoming traffic, and I struck a car. I killed a man.

My name is --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So pixilated no more, that man confesses before he's even charged with a crime and it is a serious crime, killing a man on a DUI.

All the details as to why he's doing this in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: As you just heard, President Obama certainly isn't mincing any words about Syria and he's repeating his argument as to why a military strike has to be carried out to deter what he calls Syria's outrageous behavior.

There are a lot of possible repercussions if the United States does attack the Assad regime and one of the most serious, a possible retaliation by this man and his nation. The country's supreme leader, Iran, is now warning the United States that it would suffer if Syria is attacked, and "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that Iran has actually ordered militants next door in Iraq to attack the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and other U.S. interests in Iraq if the U.S. goes ahead and strikes Syria. So, a lot of fighting words going on right now and not just in Syria.

Our Chris Lawrence, Pentagon correspondent, joining me now. So, this is getting very ugly, very complicated and when early on people began to say the Middle East and central Asia is complicated, it's all started to bear out with actual evidence and actual words, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's actual words more than evidence at this point, Ashleigh, because from the Journal's report this threat would be in retaliation, in other words, only if the U.S. were to actually carry out a strike on Syria.

But, you're right, it has put the embassy and its staff on very high alert. I've been to the Baghdad embassy while it was getting shelled by mortars and attacked by other weapons. It happens actually quite often. But the place is a huge city. It's like a fortress, but the State Department has issued a new warning to Americans who are living and working outside that compound to be especially cautious at this point.

I know from speaking with officials here that that has been a recurring theme. They have told us over and over again that one of the ways in which Syria might retaliate against any air strike would be to go after American and western interests in the region, or to have their allies, like Hezbollah, go after U.S. interests in the region.

It's one of the reasons a ship like the USS San Antonio was told to hang around that area. It doesn't have any tomahawk missiles, it wouldn't be involved in an actual strike, but it had about 300 marines on board. It had helicopters. It could be used in case there need to be an emergency evacuation.

BANFIELD: I read that report that they moved that ship out of the -- out of the same area as the destroyers to the port of Haifa, but that is a spitting distance from where those destroyers are right now. Chris Lawrence, keep an eye on this if you will, this ever-changing Pentagon plan that must be underway right now for all of the options.

Another story that's been hitting the radar, an Ohio man has taken to the internet to make what can only be called a shocking confession to the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm begging you, please don't drink and drive. Don't make the same excuses that I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: He says he is doing this hopes that other people won't make the same mistake. But is there perhaps an ulterior motive like getting a lighter sentence? Hear the pluses and the minuses of what you're seeing on your screen next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: An Ohio man makes a stunning confession in the most public way possible. Twenty-two-year-old Matthew Cordle posted a video online, not just any video. It was one where he admitted for the very first time that he killed a man while driving drunk after a night of bar hopping. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW CORDLE, CONFESSED TO HIT AND RUN: I killed a man. I was out with some friends. We were all drinking really heavily. Just hopping from bar to bar. Just trying to have a good time and I lost control.

You know, sometimes I drink because I have depression that I struggle with every day. And I just drink to get out of my head for a few hours, you know, I really don't like the person I become when I drink. I've ruined relationships in the past. I start fights. You know, I just generally become a person that people don't like being around.

On that particular night, I made a mistake and got in my truck, completely blacked out and decided to try to drive home. I ended up going the wrong way down the highway directly into oncoming traffic, and I struck a car. I killed a man.

Immediately following that, I consulted some high-powered attorneys who told me stories about similar cases where the drivers got off. They were convinced that they could get my blood test thrown out and all I would have to do for that was lie. Well, I won't go down that path.

My name is Matthew Cordle and on June 22nd, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession.

When I get charged, I will plead guilty and take full responsibility for everything I've done to Vincent and his family. If I took a different route, maybe I would get a reduced sentence and maybe I would get off. But I won't dishonor Vincent's memory by lying about what happened.

By releasing this video, I know exactly what it means. I handed the prosecution everything they need to put me away for a very long time.

I'm willing to take that sentence for just one reason, and that reason is so I can pass this message on to you. I beg you, and I say the word beg specifically, I'm begging you please don't drink and drive. Don't make the same excuses that I did. Don't say it's only a few miles or you've only had a few beers or you do it all the time, it will never happen to you. Because it happened to me, and all of those are just excuses to make yourself feel better about a decision that you know is wrong and could cost lives.

I can't bring Mr. Canzani back and I can't erase what I've done. But you can still be saved. Your victims can still be saved. So, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So, Matthew posted that video through a website that's called "becauseisaidiwould," that's the website. And joining me is the founder of that website, Alex Sheen.

Alex, thank you so much for taking the time to come on live with me to talk about this. First of all, how did this come to your desk? How did you ever find out about Matt, what he did, and what he wanted to do on your website?

ALEX SHEEN, FOUNDER, BECAUSEISAIDIWOULD.COM: Sure. You know, we have people who follow us on Facebook like a lot of Facebook pages, and we received messages about people's promises, the promises that they make, and Matt heard about becauseisaidiwould. I don't know Matt at all outside of this. And he just sent a message to me confessing that guilt so that's how it started.

BANFIELD: And as I understand it, you helped him, that video was quite professionally done, usually you see people sitting in our rooms at their computer cams and making their testimonials, but this one was very professionally done. Why did you help him create the video?

SHEEN: The whole goal of this video is to convince people to not drink and drive, to come to that realization that a lot of people make the same excuses that Matt makes in his life about drinking and driving. And to come to that point in your life to make the promise to never, ever drink and drive and to make that message compelling we made this video.

BANFIELD: So, alex, did you ever think, I think I need to call the police, I think I need to at least alert the authorities what I'm up to since I'm working with someone who hasn't even been charged but was suspected in this crime?

SHEEN: Yes, I looked and saw news reports that he was the primary suspect and they knew that. They were just gathering the evidence. Even still today with this video being out, they have not pressed charges yet. I am not going to pretend to understand the legal system, but my understanding -- what I do know is that they're putting together that case to make sure that when they press charges that they have had the evidence that they need to sentence him to a reasonable and fair punishment. So, I think that's part of the legal system, and they know that he's the suspect.

BANFIELD: Well, Alex, we would love to also speak with your now colleague, Matt, please pass the message on to him that we'd welcome him on the program any hour, any day if he wants to talk a little bit more about what he's done and what he's expecting, certainly if he wants this message to get out, not to drink and drive, it's a great venue. We reach a lot of homes at CNN. Thanks, Alex.

SHEEN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: It's good to talk to you. We do appreciate it.

What do you suppose the motivation could be? Is it simply the magnanimous effort to say, look, I did this crime and I'm going to do the time and take the responsibility for it? Or is there something more calculated to this? Maybe a decision to work within the system, to mitigate a sentence?

Believe it or not this plays into sentencing, whether you are sorry, whether you don't cost the state money to prosecute you and whether you actually offer your contrition.

Joining me now is CNN's brand-new legal analyst and defense attorney Mark O'Mara. Good to see you again. This time I can actually talk to you in person and not follow you in the Zimmerman trial, great to have you on board.

So your first assignment is not to talk about George Zimmerman today but to talk about this. I started to posing that question: did Matt possibly do this for another reason because there is another possibility.

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: When I first saw it, my cynical prosecutor side came out and I looked at it and said, well, he's doing that to try to gain some favor because we know that things like this are relevant. Contrition, like you say, is relevant. Remorse is relevant. But I've got to say, by the time I looked through the video and by the time I got to the end of it, I think he's being sincere. I think it was a good honest move with a lot of integrity and I think I'll give him a thumbs-up on the whole why he did it. I hope that his future actions follow what he started here today.

BANFIELD: And the other element of, you know, the entire system of jurisprudence is if you take account and you take responsibility for what you did and you sign a deal so that you don't put people through the expensive cost in money and emotion of a trial, that also counts, doesn't it?

O'MARA: And it should. Because after all, he did something even though drinking and driving is intentional, the act of what he did wasn't really intentional. The idea that he came forward before he was charged and said I killed somebody, I'm responsible, I am taking responsibility. After all, that's really what we want our children to do, our residents to do. We really want to say when you do something wrong, acknowledge it, and got to give him credit for doing just that.

BANFIELD: And ultimately Alex had mentioned in some of the reporting to CNN that he doesn't want people calling him courageous. In fact, he is sort of buckling at the notion that people are looking at this video and say it's courageous. It may seem courageous, but he killed a man.