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Flooding in Boulder, Colorado; Kerry Meets Lavrov in Switzerland; Putin Criticizes Obama, American Exceptionalism, in Times Op-Ed; Live Coverage of President Obama's Cabinet Meeting

Aired September 12, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: So this is diplomacy? The president of Syria, the president of Russia -- both taking swipes at the President of the United States of America? We're going to hear from both of them this hour on CNN.

Plus, Americans arming Syrian rebels, but are they, in fact, allies with so many accusations of war crimes on both sides and, by the way, haven't we done this before with disastrous results?

And here in the United States, floodwaters surging in Colorado, people dying, people trapped, evacuations, rescues, all happening right now.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the LEGAL VIEW. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Thursday, September 12th.

And absolutely heart-pounding video out of Colorado this morning, three vehicles swept into a rain-swollen creek when a road washed out beneath them, this happened near the town of Lafayette northern of Denver.

Right in the middle of your screen, the first-responders are risking their own lives in an extremely dangerous situation. They don't know what they're dealing with at this point in what happened.

And I wish I could tell you it was textbook, but it was anything but textbook. You're about to see how this played out actually live on the air with a dramatic ending that no one saw coming.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, you can see the culvert that used to go under the bridge there, but yeah. Just hold the camera.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The body -- hey, guys, if you're listening to this, the body may pop out. That's why I'm staying wide.

There's somebody alive in there. There's somebody alive in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so, too. That's amazing. Oh, my god. Oh, the poor guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: If that does not underscore the intense bravery of those first-responders, I don't know what does.

Here's the bad news. At least two people have died from the flash flooding in that state.

CNN's Ana Cabrera is live in Boulder, Colorado. The campus of the University of Colorado has shut down and people have had to flee to higher grounds. The condition of the people seen in that remarkable video, get us up to date, please.


Three people were taken to the hospital with what we're told are moderate injuries.

We've just learned within the last couple of minutes as you were watching that dramatic rescue video, the sheriff of Boulder County now saying that they have lost lives, plural, here in Boulder County, so we expect that official death toll to be climbing and we're looking to get the latest numbers for you.

This is, again, in the city of Boulder. This is a roadway that's one of the main drags inside Boulder and this is very far down the hill from where the worst of the flooding has been happening.

Right now emergency crews, the police officers just putting up some barricades trying to prevent anybody from driving on these roads and that's been the key message right now.

If you don't have to be out and about for any reason, stay inside your house because situations like this are popping up quickly and they are happening widespread across the state, not just in Boulder County.

But I want to tell you what I've learned about happening here in Boulder County where they have seen some of the worst flash flooding in the last several hours.

They saw inches of rain within a couple hour time period overnight, and we have reports that they have been receiving calls left and right from people who are trapped, and that's just a little bit north and northwest of where we are standing.

They blocked that area off. Residents were not allowed to that area but they have seen walls of mud, houses collapse.

At least one death in that area and that's in Jamestown where a house collapsed killing one person.

So those are the scenes that we're seeing and hearing about across Colorado, specifically in Boulder County where we are.

But, again, this is widespread and you can see the rain is still falling and it's not expected to let up any time soon, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Ana Cabrera for us, it's incredible just looking behind you. It looks like rapids are forming on the street where people are still driving.

I don't know if we can still roll some of those pictures that we were showing during Ana's live shot of the campus at the University of Boulder. The officials there have had a crisis on their hands, trying to get students out.

Take a look at this YouTube video, just remarkable overnight images of the flash flooding that rolled through campus.

And let's not forget, it's just the beginning of the school year, whether they have their emergency warning systems in place or whether the students even know about these emergency warning systems.

Just listen to some of those sounds as the students make their way through that. That's just harrowing.

Our Chad Myers has been watching a lot of this as well. It may look like fun and games on that campus, but, Chad, what we showed in that rescue, that was a vehicle that just went over that bridge.

But under that bridge, that flooding was so severe it just gave out. This is the crisis that they face.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Washed the entire roadway bed away, Ashleigh.

So this is what we talk about when we say don't drive into water because you don't know whether the road is going to be there or not when you drive over it.

This water was so deep today it appeared that the road was there, but clearly you can see some of the sewer pipes there where the road used to be as the road used to go over where we're looking at now.

This was just a normal creek, but Boulder, Estes, all the way up into the Estes Park and front range picked up five, six, seven inches of rain overnight and that caused all of this overnight flooding and the roadways literally washed away.

Record flooding in Boulder, this reminds me an awful lot, back when I was in school, of the big Thompson Canyon flood where an awful lot of water went up into Estes Park and it all rained right down.

It came down, 15, 16 inches of rainfall came down in just a few hours, and that wall of water came down Big Thompson Canyon. This isn't a canyon, but there's so much topography here that the water is rushing down.

Even if it didn't rain where you were, that doesn't mean you're not going to get flooding. The water still has to run downhill.

BANFIELD: And that topography literally, as you said, washing away.

By the way, Chad, did you know that that man who was ultimately rescued in that vehicle, and they were quite surprised to see him in that vehicle, apparently his vehicle had been upside down and partially submerged for about 35 -- look at this.

How did he survive that? He was under there for 35 minutes before those rescuers got there.

MYERS: You know, we went through this frame by frame as it was happening. Because the entire car wasn't submerged, there was still air in that vehicle. There was still an air pocket in that vehicle.

Had that vehicle gone completely underwater, all of that air would have escaped. Those water would have just seeped in through where the throttle goes through the firewall, where your heater gets fresh air from outside.

And the lucky part of that, that car never went completely submerged or that car would have been filled up. He couldn't get the door opened by himself. The first-responders had to get in there and pull him out.

BANFIELD: And let's not forget those people, you know, just going right up to a car that could have released at any time and crushed them as well, so a remarkable story.

MYERS: And more and more flooding is still happening right now. Rain is still happening in Boulder, an inch in 45 minutes expected.

We are seeing rain from Boulder to Denver and it's not over by any means. And there's another tropical system maybe even in the Gulf of Mexico that could bring more flooding in the next three to five days.

This is a big-time story. We're going to stay on it.

BANFIELD: It's so dangerous. And thanks for the advice. Don't drive over water. You're right. You can never be sure the road's there. I mean, it looked like it, and it often isn't.

Thank you, Chad Myers, doing the emergency duty in the Emergency Weather Center for us.

We want to get you up to speed on today's other major stories.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Switzerland at this hour for talks with his Russian counterpart on Russia's plan to bring Syria's vast stockpile of chemical weapons under international control.

We're going to dig deeper into this very difficult issue a little later on in the program.

And also today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is telling a Russian television channel that he agreed to this plan because of Russia, not because of the threat of United States military action. Think about that for a while.

On a battlefield in Syria, in the meantime, Washington says the United States-funded weapons are now flowing to the Syrian rebels. The two major rebel groups say they have yet to get weapons, and what about this notion, arming one side?

At the United Nations, waiting for a U.N. report that is expected to implicate the Assad regime for the last month.

And also President Obama is meeting with his cabinet this hour. Syria, of course, expected to be fairly high, if not the highest, on the agenda.

And as U.S. and Russian leaders meet to discuss Syria's chemical weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin was busy writing. He penned an op-ed blasting President Obama for calling America "exceptional." There are unique definitions for exceptional.

And also the United States giving the Syrian rebels some fire power. As we just mentioned, isn't this quite a delicate, diplomatic dance, helping one side of the civil war with artillery while at the same time asking the other side to turn over chemical weapons?

We're going to take you to Washington for this conversation, and it is controversial, to say the least, next.


BENFIELD: If Russian president Vladimir Putin is looking to gain friends here in the United States, he has an odd way of going about it. In an op-ed article in today's "New York Times," President Putin says recent events in Syria prompted him to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders, and at times, in his writing, it certainly does appear to be mocking President Obama and again claims that the Syrian regime did not carry out last month's chemical weapon attack, while at the same time making that overture to bargain a deal to get rid of chemical weapons.

So, here's a little part of what President Putin said, quote, "it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional. Whatever the motivation. We are all different but when ask for the Lord's pleasing, we must not forget that God created us equal."

For more on this, we go to the United Nations and senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. So, obviously, this is a slam at the reference that the president made to Americans exceptionalism. It doesn't just mean we're awesome, it actually means that Americans have a notion that freedom and democracy around the world is what this country stands for, and what this country works towards. And those words from the Russian president must be seen as quite a slam to the American president, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly. It gets you a real insight into the mindset of Vladimir Putin. This was probably written for him by many of the different western advisers that often assist the Kremlin in their messaging, and it's a very rare attempt to appeal directly to the American people and try to hit at some of the weakness, perhaps, in the Obama administration's argument.

But this is a guy who worked in the KGB who considered the former Soviet Union to be the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in history. He longs for that old era, and perhaps his hurrah (ph) for individuals not to consider themselves to be exceptional, pretty much betrays what the Soviet system stood for in many ways, kind of that repression or harnessing for the state's benefit of the individual's ability to get things done or stand out.

It's an interesting article to go through because you also, while you're reading it, have to keep reminding yourself that this isn't really a guy many critics say presiding over an enormously equal society himself. There are many who criticize a recent strain of very virulent homophobia from the Russian government. When you live in Russia, racism is pretty evident in a lot of society. Many minorities feeling targeted, so I think many who see Russia on a regular basis would look at him odd that he would remind everyone that people is created equal. But at the end of the day, this is simply about Moscow trying to put itself back in center stage here. In many ways they're better diplomats to some degree than the U.S., the U.S. term in office is so much shorter while a lot of these guys have been in the same job for a decade plus, and they often have out-maneuvered the U.S. simply because they have this great veto system here at the U.N. that let's them get their way in the security council.

BANFIELD: Aside from the actual definition of exceptionalism, American exceptionalism referring to freedom and democracy. I do want to just point out that a Pew research poll recently, actually done in September 2011 asked people is the United States the greatest country in the world? 48 percent of Americans said yes, 42 percent said one of the greatest. So, I think Americans think that they are exceptional regardless of what Putin says. Nick Paton Walsh live for us at the United Nations. Thank you for that.

And just ahead, the Syrian rebels getting ammunition and light firepower from the United States. I'm going to take you live to the Pentagon for details of how this works and whether it's a good idea.


BANFIELD: You know, in a war we like knowing who the good guys and the bad guys are, but in Syria it's just not that simple. Many rebel groups are aligned with the United States but several are aligned with al Qaeda, a sworn enemy of the United States. So as America sends weapons to Syria, how can we be so sure that they don't end up in the wrong hands and maybe even worse, how can we be sure that the good guys don't eventually end up as the bad guys?

Our Chris Lawrence joins us live from the Pentagon, and also military analyst Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, a former U.S. military attache in Syria, is live with us in Washington. First to you, Chris, this is such a critical issue. It's the CIS's job usually to get the weapons where they need to go and to actually make that happen, but the Pentagon has to be involved in some way because we have history showing those weapons have often ended up turned on American soldiers.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And I think that's one of the reasons you saw the holdup. Back in April they started sending things like body armor and night vision goggles to the rebels, but the actual light weapons, the ammunition, the actual weapons that you would use for actual fighting has been held up first by lawmakers who were unsure if this was the right thing to do and then by making sure they could get some secure pipelines. In other words, to make sure that the weapons that they wanted to get if there were not going to end up in the hands of al Nusra or some of the more extremist elements of the opposition. That's why you saw the holdup. Now it looks like the weapons are just now starting to flow to some of the rebel groups.

BANFIELD: So, Colonel Francona, I want to just show our audience some photographs that we dug up from the '80s just for fun because there was a group called the Mujahideen (ph) and that used to be a pretty nice term in our foreign policy. Representative from Texas, Charlie Wilson, went on a great campaign to arm them. You can see some of the ballistics they were supplied with. Those the were '80s. And then in the 2000s, those ended up as the al Qaeda and Taliban enemy and some of those weapons are still there and being trained on U.S. soldiers. Are we somehow better at this now because we have a template or are we repeating the same mistake?

LT. COL. RICH FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I hope so. That last series of pictures you showed was the stinger, one of the best shoulder fired air defense systems in the world and it really bothers American airmen when we see this being sent out to help these groups because, as you say, years later they turn up in hands of the wrong people. So, I hope we're getting better at this.

Now, there's no reason to give that quality of a weapon to the Syrian rebels. They don't need that. To hit what the Syrians are flying, they can get by with some Chinese or Russian-made systems. We're starting to see them show up. We're starting to see Chinese systems that are knocking down Syrian airplanes that are not in the Syrian inventory. They didn't steal them. Somebody provided them. I think I know where they're coming from. I think they are coming via the Saudis in through Turkey. So the stuff is getting there. It's not ours yet.

BANFIELD: So at the same time as this whole plan is in motion, Chris Lawrence, to arm one side of a civil war there's another diplomatic channel that we're fueling. How does this work when on one side of a conflict you're helping an enemy and on another side of a conflict you're asking the regime to give up its chemical weapons?

LAWRENCE: Well, there's an interesting dichotomy going on right on one sense (ph), Ashleigh, where the U.S. and Russia seem to be working together along diplomatic channels to try to figure out how it may be possible to try to secure some of the chemical weapons there in Syria to sort of put them under international control while at the same time, from the military side, the U.S. is arming the rebels while the Russians continue to arm Bashar al Assad's regime.

So in some ways, working together diplomatically but militarily still very much at odds and I will say just to the colonel's point, none of these weapons that the CIA is providing to the rebels are American- made. It wouldn't do them very much good anyway. They don't have a way to prepare American weapons. They don't have the right kind of ammo. So these are all foreign-made, Russian-made weapons. They are being financed and funneled by the CIA but they are not coming from U.S. military supply, so to speak. BANFIELD: All right. Chris Lawrence, thanks for that. I have one other question. It's a little bit -- it's not much of a sequitor but it's important in this conversation colonel, and that is this, the general who is effectively, if there is one, in charge of the largest elements of those rebels, he says that the perpetrators of this crime have to go to the international criminal court. That would be the Assad regime. In 30 seconds or less, if you could, is that ever going to happen since none of these parties are civil court?

FRANCONA: Yeah, that's the problem. General Idris wants to see the Assad regime taking to the ICC. I don't think that'll happen as you said, but it's possible to set up a special tribunal in the U.N. But, here again, Ashleigh, we have to --

BANFIELS: Oh, Colonel Francona? I'm sorry. Let me interrupt you only for the president. I want to listen in to his cabinet meeting.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're missing a few members of our cabinet here today. In particular, John Kerry is overseas meeting on a topic that we've been spending a lot of time on over the last several weeks, the situation in Syria and how we can make sure that chemical weapons are for the used against innocent people.

I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry had with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as the other players in this can yield a concrete result, and I know that he is going to be working very hard over the next several days to see what possibilities are there. But even as we have been spending a lot of time on the Syria issue and making sure that international attention is focused on the horrible tragedy that occurred there, it is still important to recognize that we got a lot more stuff to do here in this government.

You know, the American people are still interested in making sure that our kids are getting the kind of education that they deserve, that we're putting people back to work, that we are dealing properly with a federal budget, that bills are getting paid on time, that the full faith and credibility of the United States is preserved and that the federal government itself is in every single agency running the way it should and making sure that our constituents and the American people are getting a good deal.

So we're going to spend some time here today talking about, you know, all of the efforts that have been made by many of these cabinet secretaries to streamline operations, to cut out waste, to improve performance, to improve customer satisfaction.