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Russian President Publishes Op-Ed in "New York Times"; Flash Floods Threaten Colorado; Secretary of State to Meet with Russian Foreign Minister; Prince William to Leave Airforce; Midwestern States Reignite Gun Debate

Aired September 12, 2013 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, September 12th, 7:00 in the east. Coming up this hour, it sounds like it's made up, this headline, but Vladimir Putin writing an op-ed, speaking to the American people directly, scolding them about spreading terrorism, on 9/11, of all days. In this op-ed he warns Washington, a military strike against Syria will only lead to trouble. Now the U.S. is firing back, putting the Russian president on the spot. We'll tell you about it.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, the debate gun control raging in three states and it's getting ugly. One state even allowing the legally blind to own guns. That is stirring controversy. We're going to talk about it.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We've also got the inspirational story of 12-year-old Kali Hardig. She's the Arkansas girl who became just the third known person to survive a brain-eating amoeba infection. Doctors initially had her chance of survival at one percent. But she is here with us today. We'll talk to her. Can't wait to hear her story.

CUOMO: That is going to be a great one.

Let's begin, though, with this story about Russian president Vladimir Putin warning the U.S. not to carry out a strike on Syria. He lays out his arguments in a "New York Times" op-ed piece, this as Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Geneva for talks with Russia's prime minister about a plant to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons. Meanwhile, CNN has learned that weapons paid for by the U.S. are now making their way into the hands of Syria rebels.

A lot going on here. We're going to cover this story like no other network can. Let's go first to Brianna Keilar at the White House this morning. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Chris. A U.S. official seeming to respond to this Putin op-ed by calling it irrelevant and kind of setting the stage to blame Russia if this process falls through, saying Russia, President Putin put forward this proposal. He's invested, he, quote, "owns this." But at this time, I will tell you, there are politicians who these comments do not sit well with.


KEILAR: Secretary of state John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's high stakes meetings come as pressure grows on how to handle Syria's chemical weapons, President Obama pitching his plans to the American public Tuesday night.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it.

KEILAR: But this morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin is criticizing U.S. policy in an op-ed in "The New York Times," saying U.S. military action in Syria will hurt civilians and spread conflict. He says a strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. Putin also suggests the U.S. is being duped by the rebels, and that Bashar al Assad may not be responsible for recent chemical attacks, saying there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian army but by opposition forces to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.

Putin has emerged as a sort of peacemaker in these negotiations, and the Obama administration has cautiously backed his proposal for Syria to surrender their chemical weapons stockpiles to international control.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It needs to be credible. It needs to be verifiable.

KEILAR: But now Putin is taking aim at Obama's claims that America is an exceptional nation, stating "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional whatever the motivation. We are all different, but when we ask for the lord's blessings, we must not forget that god created us equal." And the leader of a country who has been accused of using force to get his way is now criticizing the U.S. He writes "It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States." One American lawmaker's reaction on CNN.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: I have to be honest. I was at dinner and I almost wanted to vomit.


KEILAR: Now, one official here saying that you need to focus instead on whether Russia is actually serious about removing chemical weapons, that up until now that is what they've been saying that they're doing, Chris. But it just shows you the sort of unenviable position the White House is in at this point, trusting a man to take care or help in this problem, a man who many politicians here in Washington, quite frankly, their stomachs turn because of him.

BOLDUAN: All right, Brianna, thanks for starting us off this hour. In just a few hours Secretary of State John Kerry will sit down with Russia's foreign minister in Geneva to begin two days of talks, critical talks on a plan to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control so they can be destroyed. CNN's Jim Sciutto is live in Geneva with the latest. Good morning, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. If I can, first about that Putin editorial, we asked senior administration officials about it on the flight, in particular, this charge in the editorial that the Assad regime may not have been responsible for last month's chemical weapons attack. And the administration's response is that all of their conversations leading up to these talks have been about removing Assad's chemical weapons. As long as that's the topic of the conversation, here in Geneva, they don't mind what Putin is writing in "The New York Times."

But I think it's safe to say they're coming into these talks with a healthy dose of skepticism. In their view, this is a chance for the Russians and Syrians to show their cards. And they very quickly, the U.S. side, wants to move this from the 30,000-foot level to the ground level. They have experts with them, their chemical weapons experts, their security experts. They want to talk about the nitty-gritty of cataloging these weapons, collecting them, and destroying them to see if this is real.

As one U.S. official told us on the flight, he said "We can test if the Russians mean what they're saying, and more importantly, if the Syrians mean what they're saying."

Now, what outcome are they looking for from these talks? They're not looking for a written agreement, but they are looking for what this deal might look like so that when they leave here, they can go back to the British, the French and Chinese and so on to say we have something here we can move forward on. And the first test of whether this is real is going to be how open the Syrians are about chemical weapons, cataloging them, saying where all these things are hidden so they could find them and get rid of them.

One more thing, the Syrian opposition not happy about these talks. Senior administration officials honest, saying they're upset, that they don't believe there's much here. The U.S. encouraging them not to prejudge, Chris, but to give it time.

CUOMO: Jim Sciutto, thank you very much, in Geneva with the secretary of state.

Joining us now to break down these developments, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, the host of "CNN Eyes Amanpour." Always great to have you. Your first key instruction here is separate the message from the messenger.

CHRISTINE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think so. Look, Putin is Putin. And what he's done, though, in this op-ed in the "New York Times" is put himself squarely behind owning this diplomatic initiative. And that's just where the U.S. wants him to be. This is your idea, Mr. Putin. You want to save Assad from military strikes, you want to have this diplomatic initiative, so show us the money.

I think that's a position of some security now for the United States, particularly if the president can then say if this fails, well, I've done all I can to do this peacefully, and then I will have to reconsider my options.

I think where Putin goes off on these crazy tangents is when he writes in "The New York Times" that he thinks that the rebels have used these chemical weapons, and not only that, that they're planning another chemical weapons attack against Israel. This kind of stuff is simply not based on any kind of evidence that we've ever seen them produce.

CUOMO: Now, what does it say about how the Russian president perceives the U.S. president that he does speak directly to the American people, that he tried to send parliament to meet directly with Congress?

AMANPOUR: Everybody has been doing lobbying ahead of what had been thought to be a Congressional vote to authorize strikes. Yes, they were sending their ministers. The Syrians were as well. He said in this op-ed that I'm having a better relationship with President Obama personally. But then again, he gets into a twisty thing at the end. He says, but, I don't understand this thing about American exceptionalism. Nobody's exceptional. We're all created equal under god. So he slaps away that idea.

But of course the idea, of course, is that the United States does stand up for the highest moral principles, or it should, that's what we expect of the United States, and that's why it is standing against the idea of using weapons of mass destruction.

CUOMO: Which takes me to the next point about perception. You have their Senator Menendez saying it made him want to vomit when he read this. Now, is that a sign of political immaturity given the perspective internationally of the U.S. actions so far in Syria?

AMANPOUR: I think everybody plays to their base. I'm sorry that the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee felt like he wanted to vomit. Some people think that actually Putin has stepped in to help President Obama and the Democrats from facing a defeat in Congress over this vote, which would have been a president defining defeat if that had happened, according to all the analysts.

Now it seems that Putin has stepped forward, and the real pressure is to keep the pressure on Putin. And let's not be at all questioning why this is happening. The credible threat of military force has brought Putin in great part to this place where we see Putin admitting they have weapons of mass destruction. He said nobody doubts chemical weapons were used in Syria. He hasn't said that as strongly up until now. And it has brought Syria to say, yes, we have chemical weapons. Yesterday, the most extraordinary interview by a Syrian cabinet minister, they are falling over themselves trying to explain their chemical weapons. He said our chemical weapons are the poor man's nukes. And then he said we had them to try to create strategic balance with Israel. You know, so they're admitting it. And the Russians have said to me, yes, the same is to destroy them.

CUOMO: What he didn't mention, of course, is Russia is very heavy on arming the Syria regime also, which gives them a little bit of interest where peace is involved. AMANPOUR: It has been throughout, yes, Assad is a client state. But you know what, it's not good for Russia if this thing came to a military confrontation. And of course one thing Putin does say, and this is his major bugaboo. He believes, contrary to what many others believe, that the entire Syrian opposition are jihadi maniacs, are Al Qaeda affiliated jihadi maniacs.

CUOMO: Which may resonate with the American public.

AMANPOUR: It does, but the thing is, it's not true. A certain group are, there's no doubt about it. And guess what, they're getting super-funded by these nations in the Arab world because the west has not stepped up to fund the moderate opposition. We are reaping what we have sown by inaction. That is the problem.

CUOMO: Christiane Amanpour, thank you for the perspective.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Chris.

BOLDUAN: Now breaking news, deadly flooding in Colorado this morning. The National Weather Service has issued flash flood emergencies for Boulder and Jefferson Counties. At least one death is reported so far in Boulder County. CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons is tracking this extreme weather, and if you look at that flooding, it is extreme, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We have seen an incredible amount of rain out there, Kate, especially last evening. We saw about four inches of rain near Boulder in four hours. Whenever you see rain that heavy you'll see the threat of flash flooding.


PETERSONS: At this hour, parts of Colorado under water. It happened suddenly, massive flooding from Boulder to Jefferson County.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just another woman being rescued and moving very slowly.

PETERSONS: Watch this rescues as three people were cherry picked from their balcony as high-rushing waters flooded their home. At the University of Colorado Boulder, students played in the rushing waters. And just two days ago near Denver, watch this cell phone video as a flash flood almost swept away this young mom and her six-year-old daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the most terrifying moment of my life.

PETERSONS: A good Samaritan drove through nearly four feet of water to save the family, the mom shielding her daughter from the tormenting hail.

MCKENNA LIDDICK, SIX YEAR OLD DAUGHTER TRAPPED IN FLASH FLOOD: It was hailing. My feet got hurt, my whole body got hurt.

PETERSONS: And it isn't over. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at the size of those rain drops.

PETERSONS: Parts of the southwest are expected to get three to five inches of rain. In the Midwest, Chicago's intense heat wave forced several schools to close on Tuesday.

STEVE STEC, PRINCIPAL, TRINITY LUTHERAN SCHOOL: The humidity and warm weather was making it uncomfortable for kids to learn.

PETERSONS: Fans in the hallway weren't enough for the 95 degree heat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like, you couldn't really concentrate, it was that hot.

PETERSONS: In downtown Detroit, the sweltering heat played a role in a major power outage. In the northeast, relief is in sight. Friday's forecast calls for an incredible 30 degree drop in temperatures in just two days. However, the strong cold front is expected to bring severe thunderstorms right along with it.


PETERSONS: Let's take a look at the southwest and explain what is going on, why are they seeing heavy rainfall in the Denver area. Keep in mind, winds go counterclockwise around a low. It's important because winds go clockwise around a high. You put the winds together and you get very strong winds coming out of the south. All that tropical moisture is enhancing the threat for thunderstorms. A little bit of cold air from that low triggers the thunderstorms and the flooding concern.

Another three to five inches of rain are still possible. It's still possible within those thunderstorms. And about the only place we just mentioned, we have thunderstorms also to the northeast today as a cold front moves through. Look for severe weather anywhere from Maine all the way down through Pennsylvania. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Indra. Thank you very much. There's a lot of other news developing at this hour, so let's get right to Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right, Chris, Kate, good morning to all of you. With the Syria vote off the table for now, Congress is getting back to work and back to gridlock. House Republican leaders have postponed a vote on a bill to fund the government and avoid a shutdown at the end of the month. CNN's Athena Jones is following developments live from Capitol Hill.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michaela. Syria had been getting a lot of attention on Capitol Hill in recent days, but there are plenty of issues for folks here to fight about. One big source of contention within the Republican Party is how far to go to try to block the health care law. Conservative Republicans don't want to approve any spending that would go to implementing Obamacare, and so they wouldn't go along with this vote yesterday because it doesn't link the spending to defunding Obamacare. Now this vote in the House gets pushed off till next week so party leaders can try to hash out an agreement within the Republican Party. Some Republicans are worried if they push this issue, it will end up leading to a government shutdown, which could hurt Republicans. Our new poll, look at this poll here, shows nearly three-quarters of Americans believe a government shutdown it will lead to a crisis or major problems. More than half of those, 51 percent, would blame Republicans, just a third would blame the president. And so this morning Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate will be meeting to start talking about all of these upcoming fights.

PEREIRA: Athena Jones reporting from the Hill, thank you so much.

To the wildfire situation in the west, the Clover fire has claimed the life of at least one person in northern California. The body of 56- year-old Brian Henry was found inside his home. Sheriff's investigators say Henry was ordered to evacuate but chose to defy those orders. The fire burned some 8,000 acres and is 50 percent contained.

It appears North Korea is close to restarting a nuclear reactor that can produce weapons-grade plutonium. American researchers say a recent satellite photo you're seeing here appears to show steam coming from a building at a Yongbyon complex. That indicates the electrical system is ready to go online. That reactor was shut down in 2007 as part of an agreement to send aid to the north.

A former TSA screener at Los Angeles International Airport arrested and facing up to 15 years in prison. Authorities say this man, a 29- year-old, called in threats on the same day he quit his job. They say they also found a threatening note in his apartment that referenced the 9/11 attacks. The man was suspended earlier this summer for chastising a teen about her clothing.

A woman from Hawaii says she's under pressure from county officials there because her long last name doesn't fit on a standard driver's license. Take a look at it. I'm not going to try and say it. It is 36 letters long. Janice had to carry two pieces of I.D., a driver's license which has only a shortened version of her last name, and a state I.D. card with her full name. But when the state I.D. expired in May, the new one featured the same abbreviation as her driver's license. Janice says she doesn't want to change her name and she won't out of respect for her late husband's Hawaiian heritage.

It's a really interesting thing to come up.

BOLDUAN: Have you attempted to pronounce it?

PEREIRA: I tried to back there and I just knew I was going to butcher it, and I didn't want to do that. It's just, you know, I would feel disrespectful --


BOLDUAN: You always wonder when you see sports jerseys how they fit the name on the back. PEREIRA: They have to curve around a little bit.

BOLDUAN: Have you been wondering recently what's up with the royals?


BOLDUAN: I know you have. Prince William's three-year stint as a search and rescue pilot in Britain's Royal Airforce, it has officially come to an end. Kensington Palace just releasing the new father's plans for the future, and this morning it looks like William has made very important life decisions. Who else would we go to for this, our royal correspondent, Max Foster, live in London this morning. Good morning, Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. He said in the past that he's got fed up with this really long drive from here, London where his home is up to Anglesey. He does it every week. It takes hours and hours. And his tour of duty was coming to the end. A search and rescue pilot, he's been involved in missions over the years which have saved 149 lives. His colleagues are really sort of singing his praises, saying he was a very good pilot, a very good search and rescue member of the team.

He had to decide what to do and he's decided to leave the military altogether, which was a surprise for a lot of people because he loves the military, he loves that sense of normalcy he gets from the military. But for the next year, he's going to become a full-time royal. After that, he may take on another public service job of some sort, but I think basically his flat will be ready, his apartment at Kensington Palace in the next few weeks. He's going to move there with his young son, spend time with him, do more charity work. A big moment for him, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. But royal duties are calling. I think many people expected this because especially not only the long commute but it was demanding on his schedule. We will watch it all unfold. Thank you so much, Max. And a programming note for all of you, this Sunday, "PRINCE WILLIAM'S PASSION, NEW FATHER, NEW HOPE," airing Sunday night on CNN, 10:00 p.m. eastern and pacific. You don't want to miss it.

CUOMO: Let's take a quick break here. On NEW DAY, when we come back, should you have to be able to see reasonably well to own a gun? Think it's an obvious answer? Well, don't, because it isn't to many people as the legally blind are allowed to own guns in one state. We'll break down a debate for you.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, a bail hearing today for the Montana newlywed accused of pushing her husband off a cliff. Prosecutors say she tried to cover up her crime but could she be allowed to go home?


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The gun control debate reignited in several states with controversial measures that have sparked fiery reaction. Two states, Missouri and Colorado, held key votes this week that could shift the national discussion. CNN's George Howell has some of the details from Chicago. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, good morning. We're talking about the wild week in the swing states here of the Midwest, like Colorado, where voters reminded politicians they are on thin ice when it comes to gun rights laws. But in Missouri, similar efforts to try to override a governor's veto of a controversial gun rights law fell short.


HOWELL: A controversial measure attempting to nullify federal gun control laws in the state of Missouri failed to become law, this after a push by some legislators to override the governor's veto fell short by one vote in the state Senate.

DOUG FUNDERBURK, MISSOURI STATE HOUSE: This bill does not eliminate our ability to put reasonable regulations in place. But it does prevent the federal government from enforcing unconstitutional infringements on Missourians of their second amendment rights.

HOWELL: The proposed law would have given citizens the right to take legal action against law enforcement officers who enforce federal gun laws and make it illegal to publish the names and addresses of gun owners in the state.

SAM DOTSON, CHIEF OF POLICE, MET. POLICE DEPARTMENT, ST. LOUIS: Basically putting a sign on Missouri that says, okay criminals, it's okay to come to Missouri, criminals, we won't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, like Illinois, like Kansas, like Arkansas, like every other state in the union.

HOWELL: In the state of Colorado, it was a different story. Gun rights activists are celebrating the unprecedented recall of two Democratic state senators who got the boot this week for backing some of the nation's strictest gun laws.

JOHN MORSE, FMR. COLORADO SENATE PRESIDENT: What we did was the right thing. I said months ago if doing this costs me my political career, that's a very small price to pay.

HOWELL: Still scarred by the mass shootings in Columbine and Aurora, it was a huge blow for gun control advocates in Colorado who vastly outspent the competition and still lost.


HOWELL: So when it comes to spending, keep this in mine. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave more than $300,000 to help fight that recall effort in Colorado. The NRA, though, in a tweet gloated in a way, saying, quote, "The mayor wasted his money." Kate?

CUOMO: All right, George, I'll pick it up there. Thank you very much. The last thing you said about Bloomberg spending 300,000 may be a clue as to why this happened in Colorado. Let's bring in CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson to go a little deeper here. Ben, thank you very much. BEN FERGUSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.

CUOMO: Let's start in Colorado. Is this about gun theory and gun debate, or is the clue into what was about there the place where we had Columbine and Aurora, not so much about guns, but about politics? What happened there.

FERGUSEN: I think in the end this had everything to do with politics. A lot of people that may not have gone to the polls to vote and recall these people or vote in this election normally showed up, and I think a lot of it is because they felt like there was too much outside influence in this election.

When you have Bloomberg as an individual coming in to Colorado where he's not a resident, where he has no jurisdiction, where he's never been elected, and spends $300,000 plus of his own money to interfere, as many people looked at it, as a local state election, this is not running for U.S. Congress. And a lot of people, I think it was a reprimand on him as much as it was on the issue of guns, because they're sitting there going why are you coming in, trying to tell us what we should do? We can decide this on our own.

CUOMO: Right. This isn't a referendum necessarily on how they feel about what happened in Columbine and Aurora, more about the process. Maybe Missouri is more instructive of what we may be seeing as a trend here. What's your take on the move to, at the state level, say what the federal laws say, we don't care?

FERGUSEN: Yes. I'm not surprised by this new trend, because they learned the people that use this and tried to do what they were going to do in Missouri learned it from Eric Holder in the way that the federal government has said to states, here's the laws that we are and WE are not going to enforce. Look at the letter that was sent by the Justice Department about marijuana use, that we're not going to prosecute it in these states, and we're not going to also do things with illegal immigrants in Arizona and other states. States look at this and go if they're going to pick and choose what's laws, they're going to enforce it. They have they're supposed to be doing, then fine, we'll flip it the other way and decide what federal laws we're against and we don't like and we'll just do the exact same thing you did, which I tell you, precedent is everything with law. Supreme Court says that. And when Eric Holder sent out those letters saying what laws he's going to choose to enforce and not enforce, he opened up a very big can of worms that I don't think he was prepared for.

CUOMO: Okay. We get now, I want to bring in Iowa. Okay?


CUOMO: Because now we get to where this seems to be an odd situation. They had a law in Iowa that physical disability can't exempt you from gun ownership, right? That was the basis of it.


CUOMO: In physical disability we have people that are legally blind. Now in Iowa, you can be legally blind and own a gun. Intuitively, that just seems wrong, Ben. What's your take?

FERGUSEN: Well, I think one of the issues here is the majority of people that are declared legally blind in this country are in fact not totally blind to the point where they cannot see anything. And that's where you have to really look deeper into this.

I went to school and one of my classmates is legally blind, however, she was able to see things that were on the board. She had to sit at the front of the class. She was able to have almost a completely normal life. For someone like that, if someone breaks in her house, she knows if a bad guy is kicking in her back door, for example, I think that's where the state was saying, you can't have this overreaching that anyone that's declared legally blind doesn't have a right to defend themselves, because a lot of legally blind people can see images, can see certain things and should be able too protect themselves.

CUOMO: That has to be the line, though, right? That has to be the line, It can't be that if you can't see you can still have a gun, right? That would be too far, don't you think?

FERGUSON: I think you have to clarify that. We talked about this issue. I had someone that called in and said, Ben, I cannot see anything but if I'm laying in bed, I live alone, she was actually 60 years old, and she said I know when my alarm goes off and someone kicks in my back door where to aim the gun and I can't see anything. Because I'm blind, should I be less able to protect myself in my home at night? And if I was blind, and I was in the middle of the home at night and someone is kicking into my back door I'd want to defend myself rather than having a stick or baseball bat when I can't see.

CUOMO: Right, but we do have to make some determination about requirements for owning a dangerous weapon, right?

FERGUSON: Sure. No doubt. But I can't imagine in that situation not being able to see and then the state telling you you have no right to be able to protect yourself in your home with a firearm. I would look at that as being set up for failure. You're already living in this life of fear because you cannot see everything. I think we have to be very careful with that, because if a lot of people watching today lost their vision, does that mean you should lose your right to protect yourself?

CUOMO: Interesting question. Ben Ferguson, thank you for your take on this, this morning.

FERGUSON: Good to be here.

CUOMO: Kate, over to you.

BOLDUAN: All right, Chris. Thanks so much. Coming up next on NEW DAY, the newlywed accused of pushing her husband, her new husband, off a cliff will make another appearance in court. Could she get out of jail in favor of home confinement?

Also coming up, terrible timing of fire drill at Logan airport. The site where two of the 9/11 planes took off from? What were they thinking?