Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Says He Doesn't Need Congress To Act; Two Texans Arrested On Terror Charges; Benghazi Suspect Captured Quickly, No Shots Fired

Aired June 19, 2014 - 06:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is June 19th, 6:00 in the east. This morning, Iraq's largest oil refinery is up for grabs. The militant group, ISIS, is battling for control of it as it presses closer to Baghdad, and now the group's influence may have spread to the U.S. Two men have been arrested on terror charges in Texas.

One of them interested in ISIS activity in Syria and joining the fight himself. The Iraq crisis is weighing heavily on the White House, President Obama telling congressional leaders he'll keep them in the loop, but doesn't think he needs their authority to act. CNN is covering this story like no one else can. We begin with White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what do we know?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Chris, well, the question has been what is going on, and the administration has been repeating since last week options are being discussed. Now we know a little bit more about their thinking and what went on in that meeting with congressional leaders, an hour long closed-door discussion.

Now we know that some top U.S. officials feel that the Iraqi prime minister has to go. Are we any closer to hearing a decision? Maybe.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): America's four top lawmakers called to the White House on one of the several decisions facing this country right now, what to do or not about Iraq. But this was not, it turns out, a session for the president to lay each option on the table and start choosing but more an assessment. Nancy Pelosi called it informative, interesting.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell less enthused. The president briefed us on the approach he's taking towards developing a strategy. On a day that one analyst called Iraq the start of the possibly the worst of both worlds. A deep division into two terror states, one dominated by al Qaeda and the other by Iran.

The administration had to grapple with potential outcomes of U.S. action there and some fierce words at home. Former Vice President Dick Cheney in cowboy hat with daughter, Liz.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Empty threats, meaningless red lines, leading from behind and an engagement with rogue regimes have put America on a path of decline.

KOSINSKI: On the same day, they launched a new PAC and wrote an excoriating op-ed piece. Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many to which the administration now replies.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: About which president was he talking?

KOSINSKI: Other Democrats have not been so oblique in that reference calling out Cheney himself.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV, MAJORITY LEADER: If there's one thing that this country does not need is that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars.


KOSINSKI: So the administration will not answer questions on virtually any detail. Are air strikes off the table right now, even though Iraq has been asking for them? Does Maliki need to go? What they are saying is Iraq needs to show something politically, militarily and that this decision-making process will only be done through the lens of protecting American national security interests -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Michelle, thank you so much. You wonder though, what is the timing in his decision-making. Continue to get questions at the White House for sure today. Michelle at the White House for us.

Now to a troubling new details and potentially a new angle in all of this about the arrest of those two Texas men on terror-related charges. Federal officials say the men wanted to travel overseas to wage violent Jihad, one of them accused of even wanting to join ISIS, the group we're talking about in Iraq right now. CNN's Ed Lavandera has much more on this from Dallas. Ed, what more are we learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. Well, this is a disturbing story, the news of these arrests, but it highlights an even more disturbing trend as well.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): These two American men arrested in Texas have been charged with supporting terrorist groups in Syria and Somalia. A SWAT team surrounded 23-year-old Kahn's home in Austin. According to a complaint Kahn used internet chat rooms to spot and assess potential recruits for committing violent Jihad overseas.

Michael Todd Wolf also 23 was arrested at Houston George H.W. Bush Airport before boarding the flight to Europe where you allegedly planned to later enter into Syria through Turkey and provide his services to radical groups. Wolf referred to al Qaeda representatives as righteous brothers according to the criminal complaint. Even showing an undercover FBI agent, a YouTube video of foreign fighters in Syria. Wolf discussed which militant groups he should join including the brutal Islamist group ISIS, currently staging an offensive against Iraq.

The Texas native also told undercover officers he had been physically preparing to join Jihad by practicing martial arts, running and cross- fit, the competitive sport which uses military-style techniques.

STEVE MOORE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: This is something that has been going on for a while and since even the early 2000s people from America have gone over to terrorist camps overseas, but sites like YouTube can be used to recruit people, even in the United States very easily where before they were -- they were out of reach.

LAVANDERA: Analysts believe as many as 100 American citizens have made the trek to fight in Syria. Last month, an American suicide bomber who grew up in Florida set off a massive truck bomb at a Syrian military checkpoint.

Syrian Jihadists tweeted several photos of the American before he took his life with bombs strapped to his chest. Social media has now become one of the many ways al Qaeda recruits westerners to fight alongside radical Islamists.


LAVANDERA: Both men have been charged separately. They do not appear to have be working together. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in federal prison, and they will be making their first court appearance Friday afternoon in Austin, Texas -- Chris.

CUOMO: Of course, if they were acting separately, it's even more troubling on some level. Thank you very much for the report. Cross- fit has nothing to do with terrorism. This is just about what the motivations are for these men involved so let's get into that.

We have Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, CNN military analyst, and former military liason officer to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He was also assigned to the CIA for operations in Northern Iraq. In other words, you are the right man for the job today.

Let's talk about this first. As we get education on how this works, we think terrorism, this is about the feds. This is about the intelligence community. They do this. You say no. That's not who finds home grown terrorists.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's the work of the local FBI and the local law enforcement, NYPD is excellent at this, a large effort devoted just to sort of finding these guys before they travel overseas.

CUOMO: So it becomes a little bit of a coordination job also because if you have law enforcement doing it at some point, they have to communicate to the terrorism side, right, because they have to coordinate efforts here and there. FRANCONA: Absolutely. And they run the sting operations and they are very effective. These guys generally are self-radicalized and they are looking for a way to get into the fight. That's the breakdown because they have to contact somebody and that's where they come to the surface.

CUOMO: Now the new here is it used to be that mainly recruiting here at home was limited to either rogue mosques or a harsh brand of Wahabism that was being taught in prisons. Now with the internet, you can self-radicalize, that's what we believe is going on with this man Wolfe, yes?

FRANCONA: Exactly. The internet is a great medium for this and ISIS has spent a lot of money. The Jihadi organizations have a lot of money. They produce very slick videos. I watched a lot of these. They were well produced. They are very almost romantic. They draw you in.

CUOMO: Draw you in on what basis? Like what tells Michael Todd Wolfe who has what we believe a pretty stable life in the U.S. I want to throw that all away and go and do the worst thing imaginable.

FRANCONA: It was surprising when I read his background. He didn't look like the kind of guy that would do this, but then he was reading the Jihad, the romance of it, the fighting, and they show these slick videos, and it's almost like we used to say joining the French foreign legion, like going off and doing battle for your religion.

CUOMO: Now do we know was this part and parcel of all the same thing, I want to fight and become a Muslim or was he a Muslim that became self-radicalized?

FRANCONA: The way this usually works is they become a Muslim first and then they get into Jihad. It could mean struggle or holy war. It determines how you choose to self-radicalize. That you choose this particular path.

CUOMO: Because learning about being a Muslim and Islam as a culture has nothing to do with wanting to become a terrorist.

FRANCONA: No, absolutely not. Jihad is a holy word. It's also an inner struggle.

CUOMO: It's been perverted to become something that's an instrument for violence.


CUOMO: Now we get to Khan. Khan is -- was someone who was raised as Muslim, but something changed. What do we know about him?

FRANCONA: Well, he's actually from Bangladesh. Kind of strange because he wasn't raised as a devout Muslim, a Muslim, of course, and then at some point he became more radicalized and I believe was through someone in his mosque. CUOMO: OK, so this was a little bit more of a typical thing we're seeing, not as if the guy had to come up with his own ideas. Someone was inculcating, someone was teaching him here at home.

FRANCONA: He fits the pattern we normally see, someone with a background and the South Asians find them to be easy prey because they don't find life they wanted here in the United States and they say there's a better life for you out there and you're being discriminated because you're Muslim and you should fight back.

CUOMO: They play on disenchantment. Even if it seems obvious it's difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate because these are often happening, these situations, in religious places, right.

FRANCONA: Very closed communities, a lot of family and you have to be very careful. Most of them tend to be American citizens and you have to be very careful how they are approached and everything has to be done by the book because you're trying to build a case.

FRANCONA: Well, we've had problems with that in the past. Remember the NYPD came under a lot of scrutiny because of their activities in mosque situations.

CUOMO: Now, why are we worried about these guys because of this guy, an American holding a kitten there, obviously it's a juxtaposition because he wound up taking it to the next level. He's dead now because of his actions.

FRANCONA: He's from Florida. He joined the Jihad and converted to Islam, went to Syria and he was involved with the rival group to ISIS. He drove a truck full of tank munitions into a restaurant, which was actually an officer's club on a Syrian military installation. Slick videos that are put together. He made his statement that he was going to do this. Got in the truck and you see this massive detonation and killed everybody in the restaurant and, of course, himself.

CUOMO: And al Amriki means the American, that's a common title or no?

FRANCONA: Very common, when these guys join the Jihad, they adopt a nom du guerre. These all say I'm a Libyan, I'm a Tunisian, be careful not to draw conclusions that they are related.

CUOMO: Right. So it becomes very significant because we actually see, Mich, one of each of these things as Rick explains it. One guy who is self-radicalized through the internet shows the power of the propaganda, one who didn't find enchantment in America who came from Bangladesh and the last kid, the one who killed himself, went abroad and learned about the world and wound up being radicalized while he was there. Rick, thank you very much for getting into the new threat against terrorism.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: More of your headlines right now. Bowe Bergdahl's former comrades opening up at a House hearing on the army sergeant's capture by the Taliban and the deal that secured his release. His former roommate, Cody Full, says Bergdahl was a deserter and committed the ultimate betrayal putting his fellow soldiers at risk. Bergdahl is currently recovering at a military hospital while the army investigates his 2009 disappearance.

An 89-year-old Philadelphia man has been arrested on Nazi death camp charges and he is now facing possible extradition to Germany. Johan Briere was an armed guard at Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II. German authorities say he was complicit in the killing of 216,000 Jews from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany in 1944. He's lived in the U.S. since about the '50s. His extradition hearing is now set for August.

More dangerous weather in the Midwest. A twister touched down in South Dakota taking aim at a small town briefly trapping some folks in their homes. The tornado ran right through the heart of Wessington Springs. Extensive damage there, many homes and businesses literally torn apart. In another part of the state, looks like twin tornadoes from the same storm system.

You can see the white vortex twisting around itself on the ground ripping apart what appears to be a barn. Want to get straight to our meteorologist, Karen Maginnis. She is in for Indra Petersons. Let's talk more about these wild tornadoes. Rare that we're seeing them in the first place and now we're seeing them again.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's made them explain for a couple of years. The double tornado that we saw in Nebraska, let's go ahead and show you the video from several days ago. Turned out to be a deadly tornado. This was so spectacular because meteorologists photographed it and it's quite unique to see the two cells together.

Here are the dynamics of that. A super cell, that's a large rotating thunderstorm, spawns one tornado. Enough energy in the atmosphere so there's another tornado spawned so there's two tornadoes spawned. In North Dakota, there was one tornado with multiple vortices. It's unusual when you see it because it is spectacular.

The little vortices can produce damage in themselves, but it's the primary Maine tornado that produced the damage. We see the flare-up of thunderstorms across the Midwest, Great Lakes and not to be outdone. Washington, D.C., a slight risk for this afternoon so watch for the potential for there to be delays at the international airport there.

Here's a strong to severe storm, about 41 million people in the line for severe weather today, mostly in the form of severe thunderstorms with hail, high winds and very heavy downpours. Looking at Minnesota and Wisconsin and South Dakota, they have seen three and four inches of rainfall already.

Back to you guys, Chris and Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Karen, keeping on eye it, thank you very much for that.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, we're going to be learning more about the Special Forces raid that led to the capture of the alleged Benghazi mastermind, including that he tried to fight back. We're live with new details. CUOMO: Plus, it could be just what the doctor order for the U.S.

World Cup soccer team. An injury could force Portugal's star player Cristiano Ronaldo to the bench. So what does this misfortune mean for Team USA's chances? Yes, when it comes down to winning, something bad for the opponent is good for you.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

We're learning new details this morning about the operation that led to the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattalah, the alleged mastermind of the deadly attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. He was grabbed in a raid by U.S. Special Forces last weekend without a single shot being fired. Right now, Khattalah is on a slow boat ride back to the United States, undergoing interrogation all along the way.

Let's get over to CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what more are we learning this morning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kate. This was a secret mission in the works for days. Intelligence agents on the ground, commandos on the beach, but as our justice reporter Evan Perez has found out, in the end, the bad guy really didn't have a chance.


STARR (voice-over): New details emerging about the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattalah. A senior law enforcement official tells CNN, U.S. Special Operations Forces, including members of the FBI, arrived by sea over the weekend. The officials tell CNN Khattalah was lured to a villa south of Benghazi where he was apparently expecting someone else when U.S. forces swooped in Sunday. We're told Khattalah tried to wrestle with the troops.

The key operative in Ansar al Sharia, the group the U.S. blames for the 2012 compound on the attack on the compound in Benghazi, was quickly apprehended and were told no shots fired, no one hurt. The official also tells CNN U.S. Special Forces did recover some form of media at the villa. Investigators are analyzing it. After the capture, Special Forces whisked Khattalah to the USS New York in the Mediterranean where he's undergoing questioning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The main thing is to get the detainee, the subject, to a safe environment with a minimum of distractions. In this case, in likely international waters.

STARR: Khattalah will be brought into the United States via helicopter once the ship is within range of the mainland, according to the official. It is unclear where he will be held before facing trial.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: And, of course, the big question for U.S. investigators will be, what intelligence does he have and can he point them to any other perpetrators in those 2012 attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And that might be your answer to my next question, Barbara, because you've been able to pull out some new details about the raid. But, quite honestly, it's relatively little that we're learning of the specifics of this raid, compared to other Special Forces operations in recent past. Are they giving you any reason why?

STARR: Well, you know, that's what's so fascinate begun this. You know, the world knew more about the raid that got Osama bin Laden, a much bigger fish, than this guy. Why is this one so secret? The Pentagon saying nothing really officially.

All the indications are we getting is it's all about the intelligence and the tactics that the commandos used on the ground. It seems pretty clear what is emerging behind the scenes. If they didn't have direct help on the ground, they at least had some intelligence from Libyan sources on the ground, what they call human intelligence, something very sensitive that made them feel very confident they could pull this off -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Need to protect those intelligence sources in order to continue to look for the other perpetrators of the Benghazi mission attack.

Barbara, thank you so much. Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon for us.

STARR: Sure.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, will he play or won't he? Apparently, only Portugal star player, the handsome Cristiano Ronaldo, knows for sure whether he'll suit up against the U.S.

Now, what will it mean if he didn't play? He had the ice bag on the knee. Is this gamesmanship? Is it precautionary? We have people on the inside who knows. Stay with us.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, Shelly Sterling on offense, trying to protect her people from being harassed or intimidated by her estranged husband in their legal battle over the sale of the L.A. Clippers. What's going on there?


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Good to have you back with us here on NEW DAY.

Here's a look at your headlines.

President Obama says he will consult with Congress but doesn't need their permission to take action against ISIS in Iraq. President Obama discussed options with top House and Senate leaders, but has not decided just how yet to help Iraq through its latest crisis. Calls are growing for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to step down for the belief he won't be able to end sectarian violence.

More trouble for General Motors after the release of an e-mail that warned of a second ignition switch defect back in 2005. A G.M. engineer told colleagues the switch in the Chevy Impala that she was driving popped out of the run position and caused the engine of that vehicle to shut down. She then urged a massive recall at the time. But G.M. didn't issue the recall of over 3 million vehicles until recently.

The families of three missing Israeli teenagers got quite a surprise visit, from '70s pop singer Tony Orlando. He tied three yellow ribbons to the tree outside one of the family's homes in Israel. Orlando, of course, famous for his song, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree." Those three teens disappeared last week returning home from a Jewish seminary on the West Bank.

He has already won two Cy Young Awards. Now, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw has had a no-hitter on his resume. He struck out 15 Colorado Rockies, walked no one in the 8-0 win. Almost had a perfect game in the seventh but missed it due to a throwing error by the shortstop Hanley Ramirez. This was Kershaw's first no-hitter but the second of the entire MLB season this year. Josh Beckett, also a Dodger, did it against the Phillies last month.

Yes, I'm reveling in this. It's awesome. He is a stand-up guy.

BOLDUAN: How many no-hitters are accomplished in a season? Two have already happened. I have no idea.

PEREIRA: Two already this season and both are Dodgers. I think it's not common. It's a near perfect game.

CUOMO: They are highly uncommon, which is why we celebrate them.

BOLDUAN: Celebrating.

PEREIRA: And he was celebrating, as he should.

BOLDUAN: OK. Thank you, Michaela.

CUOMO: OK. Let's stick with sports, but it's bigger than sports. This is about -- you know, it's big. It's big culture. It's big world.

BOLDUAN: What's bigger than -- what?

CUOMO: World Cup is bigger than world sports, because it's culture, right? And the big question now, especially if you're a fan of the USA and, of course, you are, is whether or not in the match against Portugal, the supposedly best player in the world may be out.

He is Cristiano Ronaldo. He plays for Portugal, and he has a big old ice bag on his left knee. Gamesmanship, brinkmanship, or does he got a real problem? Andy Scholes joins us for this morning's "Bleacher Report".

What's the latest? He's got a nice set of thighs. He's got his shorts rolled up.

BOLDUAN: I didn't even have to say it.

CUOMO: Ice bag on it. What do we make of it?

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Well, I don't know if we should make much of the ice bag, as you said, another big one on his knee, and left practice yesterday seven minutes early. He did the same thing before Portugal played Germany.