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Islamist Group that has Taken Iraqi Territory Threatens Baghdad; Interview with Former U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte; Bergdahl Back on U.S. Soil; Interview with Fmr. Navy SEAL Chris Heben; Inside Politics of the Republican Leadership

Aired June 13, 2014 - 07:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the makings of an Iraqi civil war now a full blown foreign policy crisis, President Obama huddled with his national security team to talk options. What was once unthinkable for this anti-Iraq war president is on the table.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't rule out anything because we do have a state of making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.

ACOSTA: To prevent Islamist militant group ISIS from taking Baghdad, White House officials say the president is now considering drone or airstrikes on the Sunni-backed fighters, but no boots on the ground. The U.S. is prepared to ramp up military aid and is boosting humanitarian assistance. With ISIS seizing more Iraqi ground and some U.S. contractors being evacuated from the country, decisions could come quickly.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Options are on the table right now, and at the appropriate time I'm sure you will hear from the president.

ACOSTA: Acting as a foreign policy fireman, Vice President Joe Biden was on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and briefing lawmakers. But that isn't putting out the flames on Capitol Hill.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: We're 100 miles from Baghdad. And what's the president doing? Taking a nap.

ACOSTA: Arizona Senator John McCain demanded that the president fire his entire national security team.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I believe that history will judge this president's leadership with the scorn and disdain that it deserves.

ACOSTA: Republicans are all but say I guess told you so.

OBAMA: After nearly nine years America's war in Iraq will be over. ACOSTA: After predicting the president's full withdrawal from Iraq

would backfire. But for Mr. Obama it was about fulfilling a campaign promise. Former secretary of state and perspective 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton argued it was hard to see this crisis coming.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I could not have predicted, however, the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create an Islamic state.


ACOSTA: And as the president weighs his options it's important to point out he and the national security team is frustrated with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. They believe Maliki's failure to unite the warring factions were a key contributor to this current crisis. That is why officials are cautioning at this point that these military options are on the table may only go so far. Any actions that might be taken would be very short lived. That's what officials are saying at this point, Brianna and Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jim, let's get perspective from where it goes from here. John Negroponte, he's former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the former director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush. Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us.


CUOMO: Do you believe that we are in the if or the when stage of wondering about Iraq's future and falling to these militants?

NEGROPONTE: Oh, I think they're a long way from that. There's no question this has been an alarming and rather abrupt development, but I think they will get pushback as they go further south. I think the situation is very urgent. I think the president is right to be considering his options, and I hope he makes his decisions soon. I think he was also right to say that the politicians in Baghdad have got to now rally around their country instead of perpetuating their partisan bickering.

And lastly, I would say this is also in addition to being important to Iraq and to ourselves, it's a major regional issue because of the unification of these extremist groups across borders between Iraq and Syria, and I think there are other countries in the region like Turkey that have a deep-seeded interest in this situation.

CUOMO: There's something strange going on here. You have Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the United States all sharing a joint purpose of wanting to stop ISIS. Isn't that true?

NEGROPONTE: Well, in a way, yes, and it shows that politics sometimes makes very strange bedfellows. But I think we have a particular interest in the stability of Iraq. I think if it were to fall into if hands of ISIS that would be maybe just a bridge too far in terms of Middle East stability. I could visualize it throwing the entire region of the Middle East into complete turmoil.

CUOMO: So what do we do?

NEGROPONTE: Well, the president's considering offering some military assistance. I would assume he's considering either air strikes or drone strikes. I think we need to keep the military aid flowing. This situation can be reversed. At the moment they've had some spectacular victories, but they can be stopped, and I don't think if under the proper political leadership in Baghdad, I think that the Iraqi forces can turn this situation around. It looks dire at the moment, but that isn't necessarily the way it's going to look a week or two weeks or a month from now.

CUOMO: What is your source of confidence in Iraqi leadership coming together and finding a way to present a formidable opposition?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I'm not saying formidable. I think they just have to put up resistance. And my source of confidence, if you look at a politician like Mr. Maliki, he's been prime minister for eight years. There's been a political process going on out there. Perhaps one of the things where we can fault ourselves -- it would have been desirable if possible to have left behind a residual force when we withdrew the last combat forces from Iraq, and I think perhaps our departure, our military departure from Iraq, was a bit too abrupt. But we can repair some of that damage now if we rally to the assistance of Iraq and if we work with some of the other regional powers to do that.

CUOMO: Do we have to put boots back on the ground to make this stop? And is this a lesson for us somewhat of a ghost of Christmas future of Afghanistan as a message there that you just can't leave?

NEGROPONTE: Well, first of all, I cannot see us putting boots on the ground other than to man a few drone sites or something like that. But in terms of combat troops, in terms of organized units and so forth, no.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, yes, it's definitely a lesson. And I would hope as time goes on we are able to find ways to maintain a presence in Afghanistan for a longer period of time. Institutions in these countries that have suffered the kinds of earthquakes that they have, political and military earthquakes, cannot be rebuilt overnight. And once we get committed in there, I think it behooves us to try and stay as long as we can with them to help them restore their institutions to political health.

CUOMO: What is the percentage chance that you would place on ISIS overtaking control of Iraq?

NEGROPONTE: Low. I mean, certainly -- yes, I'm not going to assign a number to it but I would have great difficulty conceiving that outcome.

CUOMO: What do you think the percentage chance is the U.S. does airstrikes?

NEGROPONTE: I would consider that quite high, airstrikes or drone strikes and beefed up military assistance.

CUOMO: Has that ever been enough for the U.S. to control a situation on the ground?

NEGROPONTE: No, but it's not us who are going to have to control it. It's going to be the Iraqis. But I think it would be -- it might be enough in terms of giving a real morale boost to the government of Iraq in terms of people having confidence that we stand behind them. I think at the moment the political and psychological impact would be as important as the military impact.

CUOMO: All right, Ambassador Negroponte, thank you very much for the perspective and the look forward because we could be easily facing the same situation in Afghanistan. Not from ISIS, that's not part of their control plan right now, but there are pretty of other groups out there looking to take land and opportunity. Thank you for the perspective on that.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

CUOMO: Let's get over to John Berman. He's in for Michaela, as I said earlier. There's a lot of news to start your NEW DAY, and he has it. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take a look, Chris. Ukrainian officials this morning claiming Russian tanks and other military vehicles have entered the country. Ukraine's acting interior minister said the vehicles entered eastern Ukraine by crossing the border at a checkpoint controlled by pro-Russian separatists. He said the country's military forces attacked two tanks. Russia's top diplomat has denied the charges, claiming the country is ready for a pause in this conflict.

New this morning, Donald Sterling is trying to play offense. Multiple media reports say the L.A. Clippers owner's attorneys have hired four private investigation firms to look into former and current NBA commissioners and other team owners. Sources say the primary targets are former commissioner David Stern and current NBA Chief Adam Silver who hit Sterling with a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine for Sterling's racist comments.

U.S. embassies abroad are at risk because security contractors are failing to fully screen local guards. That's the word from an internal audit by the State Department's inspector general that's due out today. The review found contractors that sent local guards to six embassies to improve security did not thoroughly perform all the vetting specified in their contracts.

And legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee has passed away. For seven decades she graced the stage and screen and really the entire country, earning an Oscar nomination for 2007's "American Gangster" playing the mother of a drug lord. But more than being a trailblazing actress, Dee and her husband Ozzy Davis were center stage of almost every civil rights battle over the last half-century or more. They emceed the march on Washington. Ruby Dee once said "You only appreciate freedom when you find yourself in a position to fight for someone else's." Ruby Dee was 91 years old.

Let's go to meteorologist Indra Petersons keeping track of the latest forecast for us. Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I had a look at this hail from yesterday, right, Abilene, Texas. No biggie, right. Some baseball, even reports of some grapefruit size hail. Look at that. Look at the back of your windshield. No thank you. That was the story, and of course there is still a threat for severe weather out there today more likely down into the south.

But in the northeast, so close to the weekend. No one is happy that they're talking about rain, but don't worry. It's here for one day. Let's talk about it. Still seeing the showers out there this morning, but by tonight we still have a cold front out there, so yes, you may see a hint of a break as the warm front passes. You still have to get to the cold front as it all clears out of here. Another way to look at it, warm front, right? Morning, light showers. Cold front, heavier showers, sunshine making it very simple. That's what comes in for the rest of the weekend. So by Saturday and Sunday, things only get better, very key as we get closer towards father's day.

So rain, that's one side of the equation, but how about the sticky factor? Is it hot and humid? Behind the warm front, that's the reason we're seeing all that moisture coming out of the Gulf. As soon as that cold front swings through overnight and tomorrow, these numbers drop. Look at these, 60s and 70s by tomorrow, 30s and 40s is going to feel better out. The big thing is Father's Day. It's going to beautiful in the northeast. Southeast, scattered showers. There is a threat for severe weather in the Midwest, so watch out that, a little bit cool out towards the Pacific Northwest. A couple of dads out here, hopefully you will get something nice out there.

BERMAN: Hammock and beer, longing for the hammock and beer.

PETERSONS: I hope your wife hears. I'll tweet her.


CUOMO: I hear that.

PETERSONS: That's very easy.

CUOMO: I'll make sure it happens. I'm on it.

Coming up on NEW DAY, Bowe Bergdahl, he wrote letters in captivity, and we have them. The main question, did he desert? There are clues for us to follow, and we have a former Navy SEAL talking to us about what these letters can tell us about his disappearance and his time in captivity.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And coming up on "INSIDE POLITICS," Hillary Clinton got a little hot under the collar. What were the questions from a radio host on NPR that frustrated the former secretary of state? We'll tell you.


KEILAR: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl back on U.S. soil this morning for the first time in five years, flown in overnight to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas after nearly two weeks under treatment at military hospital in Germany. This is new letters, obtained by "The Daily Beast", is offering new insights into Bergdahl's mind while in captivity.

Joining us now is Chris Heben, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, and Navy SEAL medical professional. Chris, thanks for joining us. Also, give us a sense of what Bowe Bergdahl is going through right now that he is back on U.S. soil.

CHRIS HEBEN, FORMER NAVY SEAL: You know, emotionally it's probably almost surreal for him. He's back in the U.S. and he's no longer under that intense microscope where he was at Landstuhl from a medical stand point, psychiatric evaluation, and just being quasi-interrogated by the Army there. So the heat is probably off of him a little bit right now, which is a good thing.

They're going to try to see if he can, kind of transition him back into regular Army life. They're probably going to ascertain what to do with him. Bowe, do you want to stay in the Army? Are we going to release you? Do you want to get released? They're going to talk about things like that. And I believe he's also going to -- the investigation is probably going to start on what happened on that day he left post and they're going to take a look at all of these letters, and the evidence and hopefully a clearer picture will come out from this point going forward.

KEILAR: You mentioned these letters that we have seen through this piece in "The Daily Beast." His first letter in 2012 kind of goes off in a bit of a strange diatribe, at one point he is sort of rambling about faith in the universe. He says, "Just because we cannot understand the master equation does not mean it is not there. Math is God's code for this universe and beyond. I miss you all."

When you're looking at that, what are you taking away from that and his state of mind?

HEBEN: Well, you know, I think there's a little bit of a fatalist commentary, inner commentary coming out in the letters. There's a reason why the written word has never faded from history, from time, present day, common day. People love the written word. We tend to be more prosaic and more insightful. So this is probably what's happening in his mind. He doesn't know if he's ever going to see his family again. He may think he's going to be -- could die at any given day.

So I think his mentation is coming out in his letters. He has got lofty thoughts. It's prosaic, it's sometimes very cryptic. The flood of emotions that you go through day in and day out being in captivity is very substantial, and I think we are seeing that in some of these letters.

KEILAR: We saw some of that kind of thinking, I think, leading up do his disappearance as well. He complains about there being a lack in leadership in one of these entries. Do you think that we can take that to the bank considering the conditions? I mean, this is when he was under captivity.

HEBEN: Yes, he does have a comment in there that things were very -- very much unstable at the top, the leaders he felt were not leading the men as they should have. He is currently listed -- He was listed as AWOL by the Army. He was taken into captivity and listed as being AWOL, absent without leave.

So, you know, I think the letter that -- where he is stating that is basically his attempt to let the Army know that, you know, look, things were not good a that post. Then he also goes on to say, hey, please look at all the facts before you make a judgment. I think he kind of was -- he knew he was in trouble.

KEILAR: Chris, I want to pull that out real quick just so we can see his words. He said, "If this letter makes it to the USA, tell those involved in the investigation that there are more sides to the situation," misspelled," please tell D.C. to wait for all evidence to come in."

Now, the Army fact finding investigation had found he left his outpost deliberately and of his own free will. What do you make of that excerpt?

HEBEN: Well, I think he knew that he at some point in time he was going to be held accountable for his actions if he ever made it out of there alive. I think he knew in his heart of hearts that, hey you know what, I did a very stupid thing by walking away. And I'm going to have to pay the man, as we say, or answer to that at some point in time if I'm ever out of here alive.

KEILAR: And how should we react to that? He's asking for people to kind of hold off on judgment. How do you think people should relate to that?

HEBEN: Well, I think he's looking -- He's kind of planting a seed of justification for why he went AWOL and why he abandoned his post. At the end of the day, you never leave the man to the left and to the right of you. There are ways to handle that situation. You run things up the chain of command at the very least you get 15, 20, 30 guys together and approach your leaders and say, look, we're not happy with the way things are going right now and things have to change.

A couple of the command -- the commanders in that platoon were relieved during his rotation there, which isn't uncommon. It happens all the time. So, yes, there's always some derision in the ranks but certainly I think for him to walk away, I think he realizes in his heart of hearts he was wrong.

KEILAR: That wouldn't have been the way to handle it. Chris Heben, thanks so much for your insights. We really appreciate it.

HEBEN: You are very welcome.

KEILAR: Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO: All right, Brianna. We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, thousands of undocumented children have been caught crossing the border. They are stuck in holding centers. We're hearing the dangerous conditions are there. A top Obama administration official is going to weigh in. His take on the immigration debate. But is there any debate on how to take care of kids?

Also, this is the video of the day. Chris Christie busting a move on late night TV. Inside Politics will ask the big question, can he move? Yes, he can


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Let's get right to John Berman, in for Michaela. He's got the to be stories that are beginning your NEW DAY.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Mr. Cuomo. Starting in Iraq, radicalism is toppling key Iraqi cities and moving closer and closer to the capital in Baghdad. President Obama saying he will not rule anything out. But CNN has learned a decision to take action could come by this weekend. White House spokesman Jay Carney says air strikes are possible, as well as sharing intelligence, but he says U.S. ground troops not an option.

The bodies of three U.S. soldiers killed in a friendly fire attack in southern Afghanistan back in America. Dignified transfer of remains for the soldiers took place at Dover Air Force base in Delaware on Thursday. CNN has identified four of the five soldiers killed Monday when a coalition jet accidentally bombed U.S. special forces who had called for help fighting the Taliban.

Tracy Morgan is on the mend according to a spokesman who says the comedian is improving and doctors are optimistic now about his recovery. Morgan, who broke a leg and several ribs when his limo was slammed by a tractor trailer, remains in critical but stable condition. Comedian James McNair died in the crash. Several others were injured. The truck driver pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide and auto assault.


CUOMO: Thank you very much, JB. There is a lot going on in the political world right now. Perhaps, Brianna, no question more pressing, as someone who covers the White House, than whether Chris Christie can dance. So who better to answer this question than the man known for his samba, John King, Inside Politics on NEW DAY.

I hope I didn't reveal something that you are keeping close to the vest my fancy footed friend.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: John King and dancing skills will never be in the same sentence, Mr. Cuomo, I can assure you of that. CUOMO: It just was.

KING: TGIF. Well, let's get into politics today, it is a very busy morning. With me to share the reporting and their insight, The Atlantic's Molly Ball, POLITICO's Maggie Haberman.

Let's get first to what we thought could be a very bloody, very divisive fight to replace Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader. It seems, at least as we speak today, that the No. 3 will move up to the No. 2 and that's a big question. John Boehner is the speaker. Kevin McCarthy is now the No. 3, a Californian. The Tea Party wanted somebody from the south. They wanted -- Texans wanted somebody from Texas. Maggie, what happened here? How was it so easy, at least at the moment, for Kevin McCarthy to clear the field?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICO: I've been covering Hillary Clinton's issues a bit more than the parliamentary maneuvers here. But as I can see there was a lot of consensus around McCarthy. He built a very smart team very early, and remember he actually is somebody who has allegiances in both camps, Tea Party and the establishment. I think that made it very, very easy for him. Boehner has also signaled clearly that he wants this done fast. I do think that that came down, a message heard very, very clearly by other members.

KING: And the who matters because he is more open, Kevin McCarthy, to immigration reform. He is viewed as more friendly to Wall Street and some of the Tea Party folks have said, we have the pitchfork guy in there. Somebody that will be -- Draw the line on immigration. Fight the big banks. He won't like the comparison at all, Molly, but I'm going to say he's a lot like Nancy Pelosi, in the sense that these elections are often like class president's elections. Nancy Pelosi keeps a file of index cards, she knows when everybody's birthday is, she knows the names of the grandchildren, she helps them raise money.

That is what Kevin McCarthy does, he checks in on everybody. So he is a little bit of Frank Underwood, but a lot of Nancy Pelosi.

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: There's not a lot of Frank Underwood. And that is the criticism of McCarthy, right? Is that he is very good at making everyone like him, he's not very good at bringing the hammer down. So there has been some questions about, as whip, whether he was actually good at his job of whipping votes? Because the house Republicans have lost a lot of votes. And that's an embarrassing thing when you're in the majority in the house.

But as majority leader he is expected to coast to it now, which is terribly ironic for all Republican primary voters in Eric Cantor's district who wanted to send a message that they were against immigration reform and against the sort of Wall Street establishment. And now you have a guy who is the establishment's guy and who is pro immigration reform and he's going to be the one who ascends as a result of Cantor getting booted.

KING: So the grumbling will conclude from the back bench. Doesn't look like they will have a seat at the leadership table. Let's move on to a very difficult issue for the president of the

United States. Barack Obama is president. Won the Democratic nomination because he was the candidate who opposed the Iraq war. He promised to get the United States out as soon as possible. Here he is, in the Oval Office, yesterday considering restoring a U.S. military combat role in Iraq.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria.


KING: Now, his press secretary came out quickly to say no boots on the ground. But we are told to look for air strikes as early as this weekend. If you're Barack Obama and this was the definition of your presidency, get out of Iraq, get out of Afghanistan, it's a pretty delegate moment, Maggie, even though they are trying to say they it will be limited.

HABERMAN: This is a very difficult moment to handle while they are saying that it will be very limited. This is a very messy time in that region. This is a totally destabilizing moment. The only person, I think, who wants to talk about this less than Barack Obama is probably Hillary Clinton, who recently in her book for the first time, said she was wrong, plain and simple, to vote for the Iraq war. She is now going to have to talk about it, and she talked about it a bit yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations, how she would deal with it.