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"State of the Union" Preview; Ryan Ferguson's New Mission; Interview with Ryan Ferguson; Cruise Ship Heads Home

Aired January 28, 2014 - 08:30   ET



Here are the five things you need to know for your new day.

Subzero temperature, snow, ice hitting the Midwest and the East, even the Deep South. Schools are closed in several major cities. Thousands of flights have already been canceled.

When President Obama delivers his State of the Union Address tonight, he'll announce he's going around Congress to raise the minimum wage himself for new federal contractors and he's challenging lawmakers to do the same for all workers.

The Sochi games now just 10 days away. Today, the Olympic torch will make its way through the capital of the Chechen Republic. Back in the U.S., the NHL says it could rethink sending hockey players to Sochi if, quote, "something significant happens."

New Jersey lawmakers have formed a bipartisan committee to investigate Governor Chris Christie's office in the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal. Christie's aides are accused of closing access lanes to punish a Democratic mayor.

Smashing new video this morning. Turkish ship demolition specialists crashed a decommissioned ferry into a scrapyard on purpose. Wow. It was broken down for scraps and for recycling. Quite a site.

We always update those five things to know. So be sure to visit for the very latest.

Chris, let's head back to you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Mich, that video makes me wonder if it's a metaphor for what's happening down here in D.C. That one ship just crashing into all the others, hoping for some type of progress forward.

New this morning, as Michaela mentioned, President Obama is going to use an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. New ones at least. He is going it alone. Is this a thumb in the eye to many on the Republican side of Congress because it comes ahead of what could be another one, his State of the Union Address, in which he's expected to announce even more ways that he's going to work around Congress if necessary.

So, with an approval rating still in the low 40s, midterm elections looming, this could be the president's last best chance to set the tone for his own second term. Let's bring in CNN "Crossfire" hosts Mr. Newt Gingrich and Mr. Van Jones.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here.

VAN JONES, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": A pleasure to be here.

CUOMO: This is the state of play. The executive order has come down. He's going to do it himself. Van, you make the case for why this is encouraging for compromise.

JONES: Well, good. Well, first of all, you've got a bunch of federal workers who are doing a great job and who are not making enough money and president could do something about it, he should do something about it.

Big picture, he has a choice. He can hand his legacy over to a Congress that is dysfunctional and has not been able to get anything done this year, or he can use every power he has to make America better. He's going the right thing. Why should he sit here and let a dysfunctional Congress hold back progress for America, give his legacy, give the country over to that when he could do things to make America better and stronger? He's doing the right thing.

CUOMO: Short term fix, long term pain?

NEWT GINGRICH, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": Well, that's right (ph). You know, we had Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat, on "Crossfire" last night and he made the point as a Democrat that somehow the president ought to be part of leading the Congress, not just fighting the Congress. And I think the president timing it this way just makes no sense at all.

I mean, you come up here tonight, you have a chance to lead the legislative branch. You might want to eventually reluctantly do certain things. But to deliberately announce certain things the morning of the event is to sort of put your thumb in their eye and say, now what are you going to do? And I think it just further poisons relations.

JONES: I see it really differently. First of all, Republicans loved Ronald Reagan. You know, you can't talk about George W. Bush. You can talk about Reagan forever, OK. But Reagan, in his first term, 200 executive orders. Obama, about 100. So Reagan used executive orders way more than Obama ever has. This president is doing something that --

CUOMO: It's about what and when, too, though, right, Van?


JONES: OK. Listen, you can definitely quibble with timing. But at the same time, at -- when he doesn't lead, they say he's a weak, ineffective (ph) leader.

GINGRICH: Wait a second. Wait a second.

JONES: When he does lead, they say he's a dictator, but they never said that about Reagan.

GINGRICH: And I was there.


GINGRICH: OK. Reagan worked -- was able to muscle things through with Tip O'Neill, with Damion (INAUDIBLE), leading (ph) Democrats. Reagan was very good because he'd been governor like Bill Clinton. He understood, to really get big things done, you have to have the legislative branch go along with you. This president almost has announced the last three years of his presidency he's not going to have any legislative leadership. I think that's a huge long term mistake psychologically.

JONES: Part - but part of the thing is, you talk about a Reagan, you talk about a Clinton. You know what Bill Clinton had? Bill Clinton had you. You actually were able to get things done. Boehner, who is he supposed to negotiate with? You've got a Republican Party that today will have three different responses. You've got a Rand Paul response, a Tea Party response, a Republican Party response. The Republican Party's in chaos. They're completely dysfunctional. He has no negotiating partner. He needs to move forward.

GINGRICH: No, that's -- you also have a John Boehner who's been greatly strengthened and Boehner recently has delivered on a trillion dollar bill in terms of paying the bills. I think he's going to deliver on immigration reform this spring.

JONES: Fair enough.

GINGRICH: There's something to build on there if the president decided he wanted to be a builder rather than just an instructor.

CUOMO: You don't believe that the Republicans are set up to just obstruct every way they can?

GINGRICH: No, absolutely not.

CUOMO: And kind of sprint to the election?

GINGRICH: Just the opposite. I think the lesson they look out of last year is that they need to be an alternative governing party, not an opposition party. I think they're - and I (INAUDIBLE) met with a lot of people in the last two weeks -- I think they are determined to move forward on a series of ideas. Senator Lamar Alexander and Tim Scott today, for example, are at the American Enterprise Institute introducing two huge bills to help poor children with better education. I think you'll see a lot of that kind of stuff. And there's an opening for the president if he would like to actually meet with people and talk with people instead of just insult them.

CUOMO: Fair criticism that now he is using the fist, but he also has to open the hand?

JONES: I think he has to do both. It shouldn't be either or. It's never been either or for any president. The president has an array of tools to use.

Here, he's not a prime minister. A prime minister has to govern through the legislator. He's the president. He ran in every country, every precinct, every state of this country and he has a responsibility to every American -

CUOMO: This is his last best chance to get them to work together though, Van.

JONES: Hey, well, listen, he - I tell you what, when he leads, people follow. He's been leading on immigration. They're following. He's going to lead on - on minimum wage and, guess what, they're going to follow. He led on immigration. They're going to follow. He - what - you cannot attack the president for opposite things every day. Either he's a weak, effectless (ph) leader who doesn't do anything, or he's a dictator. Pick one.

CUOMO: Well, I'll tell you what, he is setting the bar on the minimum wage, Newt.


CUOMO: And now you know where the people are on it.


CUOMO: You know where half your party is on it.

GINGRICH: My prediction is, the minimum wage is going to pass at some point this spring but -

CUOMO: At $10?

GINGRICH: But - but, yes. But the key is not passing minimum wage. The key is having - the key is having jobs. I mean if you don't have a job, the minimum wage doesn't help you any because you ain't getting any wage.

JONES: True (ph).

GINGRICH: So I think that what you're going to see is a real effort among the Republicans to say, let's look at the lessons of North Dakota where they now have way above the minimum wage because they have a labor shortage. Let's look at how we can rev up the economy. And that will be the big debate also. The two big debates this spring will be Obamacare not working and the economy not working. And the polling numbers this morning for president on both those are not very good.

CUOMO: Not great for the other side either though.

JONES: Exactly. CUOMO: Nobody's doing well polls wise.

JONES: Yes. Right now, because of the dysfunction in Congress, the president cannot even get Republican ideas through. The president put forward infrastructure, stuff that has been bipartisan for 100 years and the Republicans wouldn't even pass infrastructure for this president. And so he has to do what he can to get America working again.

And if you want to have an argument about what's going to create jobs, the president's focus now on the middle class collapsing because we've got this widening gap between the rich and the poor, I think is a good conversation. Republicans have good answers for that. Democrats have good answers for that. But he's got to frame the conversation so we can talk about things that matter.


GINGRICH: You know, the president coming to Congress in the fifth year of his presidency -


GINGRICH: To explain that under his -

JONES: A 30 year problem. These (ph) plans are his problem.

GINGRICH: To explain under his economic policies we have the worst unemployment numbers over a long period since the Great Depression.

JONES: He hasn't -

GINGRICH: That's a challenge.

JONES: What policy - what economic policy would (ph) be able to pass with these (INAUDIBLE) dysfunction (ph).

CUOMO: All right, guys, let's hold until we see what the real battleground is tonight.

GINGRICH: Welcome - welcome to "Crossfire."

CUOMO: You know, listen, you know what, I love it. I love it. I love being in the belly of the beast. But let's see what gets laid out tonight. Let's see what all 15 responses are. And then we'll regroup tomorrow and figure out what the battle lines are.

JONES: Looking forward to it.

CUOMO: Newt, thank you very much.


CUOMO: Van, always a pleasure.

JONES: Thank you. Appreciate you. CUOMO: Van Jones has a - he's got on Superman cuff links -

JONES: That's right.

CUOMO: Which is intimidating (INAUDIBLE).

Newt has an "s" on his chest, so that's - that's the balance of power down here, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And what cuff links are you wearing?

CUOMO: I have no cuff links. I have no power.

BOLDUAN: All right, guys, we'll get back to you.

We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY. Coming up next, you may call it - you may call them unlikely friends. Ryan Ferguson recently released from years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murder. He's now talking with Amanda Knox. Why he's coming to her defense as she waits for an Italian jury to determine her fate. Once again, Ryan will be joining us live.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

For 10 year, 29-year-old Ryan Ferguson sat in prison wrongly convicted of murder. But that nightmare finally ended just a few months ago when his conviction was overturned. And now he has a new mission to advocate for others that he believes are falsely accused of crimes. And one of the - one person that he has been fighting for is another well-known name you know well, Amanda Knox. This week Knox is expecting a verdict from an Italian jury in a retrial of the murder of Meredith Kercher. Joining us to discuss really all of this is Ryan Ferguson himself.

It's great to see you in person finally, Ryan.

RYAN FERGUSON, FREED AFTER 10 YEARS IN PRISON: Thank you so much. Good morning.

BOLDUAN: Good morning.

So you've been out since November, two plus months. Before we talk about the other cases that you're advocating, I know a lot of people want to know, how would you describe the transition back?

FERGUSON: Oh, it's been incredible. Fortunately I had so many amazing people in my life. My family, my girlfriend. A lot of supporters that have been there from, you know, the middle of whenever I got arrested. So it's been very amazing. It's been very uplifting knowing that these people are all there to help me and, you know, help us get a long life. So it's good and we're moving forward and continuing to do everything that we can to spread awareness.

BOLDUAN: What would you say is the most -- the thing that has most surprised you since finally being back in society after 10 years behind bars?

FERGUSON: Definitely the thing that surprised me the most is how amazing people are. Because, in prison, you're around a lot of less than amazing people, right? They're somewhat (INAUDIBLE) -

BOLDUAN: I think that's a kind way of putting it, yes.

FERGUSON: Yes, indeed. So, out here, there's just - there's a lot of negative people, but you surround yourself with positivity and the people that you know are good in your live. And I'm so amazed with the people that I have around me. I'm so very fortunate. And it shocks me every day just knowing that there's so many good people out there.

BOLDUAN: And it hasn't lost that luster of freedom yet?

FERGUSON: Not at all. Not at all. I mean the supporters that have been there on Facebook, my family, I'm so grateful then, I'm so grateful now for what they continue to do and, you know, I just -- big shout out to them. Thank you so much. (INAUDIBLE).

BOLDUAN: And you haven't been sitting back having a vacation and sipping pina coladas. You've been very busy. You're not only working on a book -


BOLDUAN: But you're also advocating for others who you believe have been wrongly accused, wrongly convicted of crimes.

FERGUSON: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: And Amanda Knox is one of those people?


BOLDUAN: How did that friendship start?

FERGUSON: I've known about her for quite some time. And whenever I got out, she, obviously, you know, on (ph) Free Ryan Ferguson, you know.

BOLDUAN: Yes, she - I think we have the picture that she posted of saying, welcome home, welcome back, Ryan. Yes.

FERGUSON: Yes. And she wrote a letter. And so we kind of had this connection in the sense that we've been through this justice system, although hers was in Perugia, mine's here, is relatively the same. And we've been through this and there's not a whole lot of people in this world who have dealt with wrongful convictions. So, it's cool. We could just kind of talk to each other and really she wanted to reach out and just say, look, if you need to talk to anybody, if you need any help, I'm here for you. If not, I completely understand. And so that's how we began communicating.

BOLDUAN: And things aren't over for her. Right now is a very important week for her. She's facing retrial. A jury could be handing down its verdict, really her fate once again, even though she has not gone back to Italy to - when the jury is going to hand down this decision. You've spoken with her. How is she? Where is her head on this? How's she doing?

FERGUSON: She's very positive. She seems to be doing very well. I'm impressed with her. It's so daunting at this time. And within 48 hours she should know her fate. You can't start living life until they actually clear you, until you're free essentially.

So I'm amazed at how she's doing. She's working really hard on school and continuing life the best she can. She believes the courts are going to do the right thing based on the facts. I agree.

BOLDUAN: Why do you think winning -- winning here for her matters? You understand this more than anything. She's not-- it's unlikely she'll be extradited to Italy no matter the verdict. Why does it matter so much then for her to win?

FERGUSON: It's huge because of public perception. She would be essentially a prisoner in the United States. It would affect her job. It affects her social life. It affects everything. She cannot begin to live life until this is behind her. So you're a prisoner even though you're free.

And I think that's one of the things people forget. Because they're like she's out and she's able to do whatever she likes. That's not freedom, you know. You're held back, you're held down and your opportunities are limited. And you can never decide what I'm going to do next year and the year after that because you don't know how the justice system is going to operate and how it's going to affect you.

BOLDUAN: This is not the only case that you're advocating. There are a couple of other cases. One notable is Mark Woodworth, another person who has convicted of murdering a neighbor who has spent 17 years behind bars.


BOLDUAN: And you're also taking on other cases. Why are you taking these cases on?

FERGUSON: I knew about Woodworth as well. When we were investigating our case and looking into it and all the legalities, we came across Woodworth's case. And a lot of the same things that happened with the prosecutor and they were missed, withholding evidence essentially. It's really about what happened to him. So we could see exactly how it played out.

It's just sad how this guy has been dragged through the justice system for 20 years. We believe we have to support him. We know it's a wrong. The evidence is there. The facts are there. I went to a hearing on Friday and the judge seems pretty amazing. He seems like he's very fair and balanced. He seems as though he wants to do the right thing.

And it seems like that's the first time this has happened for him. So I'm very happy about that. They threw out the ballistics evidence which was completely suspect.

BOLDUAN: You're really into these cases. You really study these before you decide to advocate them which I think a lot of people respect. It's interesting as I'm sitting here listening to you.

I was looking back at the last interview when you had just gotten out. When we last talked, you didn't know what was next for Ryan Ferguson. You were just ready to breathe fresh air.

FERGUSON: I still don't.

BOLDUAN: But it seems like now that I'm listening, you may have figured out what's next for you. Do you think -- is this your future -- advocating?

FERGUSON: I would love it to be my future depending on the financial aspect of it.

BOLDUAN: I understand that.

FERGUSON: I've been putting a lot of money out of my own pocket. Now is the time that these people are dealing with things and now is the time I have to be there to support them. I would like it to be next year, but it's not. And I'm going to take the opportunity to help them out when it's available.

I wish I could help more people right now. A lot of people have sent cases to us. We just don't know enough about those cases yet. So when we have the time and resources to investigate them, we're going to look into them. And we're going to try to help other people. But we want to be 110 percent sure about who we're supporting.

BOLDUAN: I know you probably didn't think you were going to have a second chance. And it's going to be really fun to watch you living this second chance now that you're back and free see what happens. The book coming out? Go ahead

FERGUSON: You'll be able to watch us on Facebook at facebook/freeryanferguson. And on Twitter the handle is LifeAfter10. We're going to be talking about a lot of other cases. And a lot just my life and getting back into society, you know, and dealing with the fun things that come with life.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And you're quickly learning exactly what we know -- we learned out here. No one is going to promote you unless you promote yourself.

FERGUSON: Exactly. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Nice to see you Ryan. Thanks so much for coming.

FERGUSON: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: All right. Michaela.

PEREIRA: Tremendous young man. Thanks Kate. Thanks Ryan. Next up on NEW DAY, hundreds of people are sick aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship. They're sick with a mysterious illness. But here's the question. What about the healthy people that are currently on board. How are they coping?


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

A cruise ship with 600 sick people on board is slowly making its way back home. Here's the question, what about the healthy passengers and the crew that are trapped aboard with the sick people?

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has more.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Michaela it was supposed to be a ten day cruise to the Caribbean, a break from winter weather. Well, they may have gotten that break, but many got something else too.


COHEN: Royal Caribbean's "Explorer of the Seas" voyage has been cut short; the vessel to return home early to New Jersey Wednesday. Now one in five of its more than 3,000 passengers have fallen sick -- a wave of illness with symptoms similar to the highly contagious norovirus.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Under the best of circumstances, these kinds of outbreaks are bound to happen.

Cruise ships are a concentration of passengers that are in a confined space where they have a lot of constant interaction. And that close interaction promotes the transmission of this virus which is transmitted very, very readily from person to person.

COHEN: To help prevent transmission, sick passengers have been asked to stay confined to their rooms; encouraged to call for complimentary room service to stay fed and hydrated. Back in the dining room, one passenger tells us there's no more self-service buffets.

ARNEE DODD, PASSENGER: We are no longer allowed to touch anything. They serve us everything. They hand us our plates. They hand us our silverware. They hand us our cups, our forks, our food. You're not allowed to touch a thing.

COHEN: Washing hands is critical. The virus can contaminate a surface for days, landing on hands then traveling to the mouth and causing infection. When the ship finally arrives home on Wednesday, Royal Caribbean says staff will make certain that any remaining traces of the illness are eliminated and will additionally provide a window of more than 24 days where there are no persons aboard the ship.

For their Caribbean cruise gone wrong, the company says passengers will get a 50 percent refund and a 50 percent credit towards their next cruise ship booking.


COHEN: That was interesting. They're sanitizing stations all over cruise ships. But here's the thing. Alcohol based sanitizers don't do a great job of killing norovirus. You really need to wash your hands.

Back to you guys.

BOLDUAN: You definitely do. Good reminder for all of us.

PEREIRA: For all of us, yes.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

All right. Coming up, the Deep South about to be paralyzed by the deep freeze. Just how bad are things going to get? We'll tell you.


BOLDUAN: Well, I thought Chris was going to start. Chris -- I'm waiting for you.

PEREIRA: He usually does.

CUOMO: I was. I was. I was being polite.

PEREIRA: We're all being deferential.

CUOMO: It's great being down here because everything is magnified right now. This is a big moment. I'm not one for political hype ordinarily but the "State of the Union" matters tonight. The president has to figure out how to balance using the fist to get things done with his executive orders and how to reach out a hand to this congress which so far has been set up to oppose him. It's a big test tonight, important to watch.

BOLDUAN: Big test tonight. We're going to be following that very, very closely.

And we're also going to be continuing to follow the other big story. The arctic temperatures hitting half of the country -- it is cold, folks.

For that and more let's start the "NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. Hi Carol.

CAROL COSTELO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, I think that's an understatement -- Kate. Have a great day. Thanks so much.

"NEWSROOM" starts now.