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Calls Grow for Iraq's Maliki to Go; Two Texans Arrested on Terror Charges; Benghazi Suspect Captured Quickly, No Shots Fired

Aired June 19, 2014 - 08:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome once again to NEW DAY. It's June 19th, 8:00 in the East.

Growing calls for political change and leadership in Iraq as fighting rages on there. The Obama administration is signaling now this morning the Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki should go and that Iraq needs new unifying leadership to defuse the crisis. ISIS militants and Iraqi forces are reportedly locked in a fight for control of the country's largest oil refinery, and now the militant group's influence may be spreading to the United States.

Two men have been arrested on terror charges in Texas. One of them accused of being interested in joining ISIS.

CNN is covering this story like no one else can.

Let's begin at the White House once again with White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

Good morning, Michelle.


The White House won't answer that question. Does al Maliki need to go, and would it be better if he did. In response to virtually every other question, they tend to put it on the Iraqis saying they need to step up politically, as well as militarily. The U.S. action won't work unless there's that inclusive political framework in place so obviously the White House doesn't want to be publicly calling for a regime change here but some are now doing that.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Senior U.S. officials say the administration thinks Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has to go if the country hopes to unify and defeat ISIS. It's a sentiment shared on Capitol Hill.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Maliki has to be convinced that it is in the greater interests of his country to retire and to, for this newly elected government to put together a new government, because that's the one place where Iran can be of help if they want to.

KOSINSKI: America's four top lawmakers called to the White House on one of the thorniest 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 toward developing a strategy."

On a day that one analyst called Iraq possibly the worst of both worlds, a deep division into two terrorist states, one dominated by al Qaeda, 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 VICE PRESIDENT: Empty threats, meaningless red lines, leading from behind and 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 excruciating 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: Which president was he talking about?

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 this country does not need is that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars.


KOSINSKI: Iraqis have been asking for help, asking for airstrikes, but one thing the White House will say is that this ongoing decision- making process will only be done through the lens of protecting America's national security interests -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Michelle, thank you very much.

Now, we want to go to the two Texas men charged with conspiring to aid terrorists overseas. According to federal officials, both of the men had plans to travel overseas and join militant groups. One is accused of wanting to join ISIS.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Dallas with more.

Ed, what do we know about this? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Chris.

Both of these men have been charged separately. They don't appear to have been working together, but it highlights a disturbing trend in what's going on in this region.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): These two men, Americans, arrested in Texas are charged with supporting terrorist groups in Syria and Somalia. A SWAT team surrounded 23-year-old Rahatul Khan's home in Austin. According to a criminal complaint, Khan used Internet chat rooms to spot and assess potential recruits for committing violent jihad overseas.

Michael Todd Wolfe, also 23, was arrested at Houston's George H.W. Bush Airport before boarding a flight to Europe, where he allegedly plan to later enter Syria, through Turkey, providing his services to radical groups. Wolfe 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. Wolfe discussed which militant group he should join, including the brutal Islamist group ISIS, currently staging an offensive against Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allahu Akbar (ph)!

LAVANDERA: The Texas native also told undercover officers he'd been physically preparing to join jihad 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's 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 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 woman at a Syrian military checkpoint. Syrian jihadist 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.


CUOMO: All right, our thanks to Ed Lavandera there. So, how is this being done and what are we doing to stop it?

Let's bring in someone who knows. His name is Philip Mudd, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, former CIA a counter-terrorism official.

Mr. Mudd, thank you for joining us as always. PHILIP MUDD, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Good morning.

CUOMO: So, it used to be we were worried about what was happening in prisons with an extreme brand of Wahhabism, and that's how this happened. But now, in the Internet age, it seems that there's a whole new wave of reach for bad guys to turn Americans against America or just to include them in the fight. Tell us what we know.

MUDD: When you look at what we've seen in terms of extremism and terrorism in the United States, three quick phases. After 9/11, when I was at CIA, we had al Qaeda guys sent from Pakistan. Then, you go a few years later, you see extremist groups in countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, who become centers of terrorism.

Now, starting, I'm going to guess in about 2008, we see kids or young people like what we just saw in Texas who say via YouTube, via friends of theirs, hey, I'm not part of the group but I want to join up because I believe in the fight and I want to go protect women and children. What's happening now is that Syria is serving as an accelerant to expand the pool of these extremists who want to go fight. It's a magnet for him.

CUOMO: So, is this a real threat? Is the media overhyping it or are we dealing with home grown terrorism?

MUDD: No, this is a significant threat, because in my world, let's say you get 100 kids go over, 200 kids go over. Couple things are going to happen. One, even if 20 percent of them comes back home, the priority for the FBI and state and local police is that you cannot miss one of them if you have 98 percent success, that's not good enough because you'll get another Boston. But one of the tragedies here, not only for these kids but for their families, is most of them, believe it or not, are going to come home in a box or they're going to die on the battlefield. They're going to fight with ISIS and they're going to die in a trench.

CUOMO: Now, it's not easy to find these guys, as I understand it, because you're not the one looking for them. This is local law enforcement. Why is it that way and how do we deal with the coordination without slowing down the process of finding these guys?

MUDD: Boy, this one's really tough. Let me give you a contrast between 2001 and 2014. The problem with al Qaeda was that it's a strategically powerful group with a global reach, but it's a good target for intelligence because you know where the nerve center is. You know where to go with the satellites. We know where to go with the human informants.

If you got young people in Dallas, or Houston, or L.A. or Miami who sit there among three people in a basement and figure out how to put together an explosive device and they're radicalized by something they saw on YouTube, let me tell you something as a former practitioner, those guys have less capability than the guys we chased 13 years ago, but they're harder to find because they're not connected to a broader network.

CUOMO: So, how do we stop this?

MUDD: One of the reasons -- one of the ways you stop it is first cooperation with foreign security services in places like Turkey and Jordan. We need people on the border who say every time I see somebody cross that border, I'm going to collect information on them. For example, biometric information, things like fingerprints.

We also need help from families and communities across America. They're going to see people 17, 20, 23 years old who separate out from the community and who start talking about extremism. It's not people in groups I worry about. It's people who separate out.

At that point, somebody needs to make a phone call before there's a federal violation of terrorist statutes and say there's a bad kid, we need to talk to him

CUOMO: So, when the guy says to his wife, yes, I'm getting into cross-fit because I want to get in good shape so I can fight jihad, say something about it. Don't just write him off as another dumb husband

MUDD: Yes, say something. That's correct. Most of these situations, there's a misunderstanding among a lot of your viewers, the Internet is an accelerant for radicals. It is not usually the cause. Human beings don't take acts like this without another human being who persuades them, an older brother figure, somebody they meet on the Internet, a husband, a wife who persuades them that going down a path of extremism is OK.

Then they start looking at the Internet and saying hey, I'm seeing kids die. I've got to go do something about it. Those human beings in that sort of cycle of terrorism, they've got to make a phone call.

CUOMO: All right. So, another muddy situation I need to you help me with, what is going on in Iraq right now with ISIS? We're having some trouble getting traction on this story, getting Americans to pay attention, because there are no Americans fighting it right now. The concern is that if ISIS gets into control and gets more reach, there's no reason they couldn't extend their fight here at home.

Is that a fair point? Or am I exaggerating the significance of what's happening there?

MUDD: I'd worry more about Syria right now than I would about Iraq, for the simple reason that the jihadists, the militants in Iraq are spending more time fighting government troops -- fighting government troops than they are thinking about an attack in New York City.

Let me give you one quick thing to understand about threats to the United States. When terrorist groups get comfortable because they've gained territory and they can spend less time worrying about fighting government forces, that's when terrorist leaders start to say, OK, I've got a bigger cause. My cause isn't just Baghdad. It extends from New York City. Right now, I'd be thinking and worried about Iraq if I were in the chair in D.C. but I expect the jihadists right now are figuring out how to use an AK-47 against the government troop, no the in Times Square, New York.

CUOMO: For now, they're dealing with a more local battle but you never know what happens next.

MUDD: Well for the moment, but remember, what's happening next door in Syria is you are getting that sense of safe haven among the jihadists. That's I'd be worried about. Too much time and space to plot without worry being a drone and without worrying about government troops. That's what I'd be worried about.

CUOMO: Philip Mudd, thank you very much.

MUDD: Sure.

CUOMO: Muddy situation, I'm thinking of branding that when you come on, when things are difficult, they're not really clear, it's a muddy situation, you bring in Philip Mudd.

MUDD: Well, try to grow up as a sixth grader and have your name as Mudd be a fact. That's a tough life, man. I'm happy to be here. Take care.

CUOMO: Hey, listen, you've clearly overcome, you've clearly overcome. It's great to have you.

MUDD: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Let's get to the other headlines this morning. There are plenty of them -- Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: He's a warrior to be sure. All right. Chris, thanks so much.

Here is a look at more headlines at 13 past the hour:

Another round of tornadoes, dangerous ones touching down in the Midwest, taking aim at the heart of the town in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, extensive damage there. Look at this -- homes, businesses, all torn apart. We're told some people were briefly trapped in their homes.

In another part of the state, what looks like twin tornadoes from the same storm system, white vortex twisting around itself on the ground ripping apart what appears to be a barn.

Texas Governor Rick Perry launching a law enforcement surge along the border to combat a stream of undocumented immigrants. State officials authorized the extra security at a cost of more than $1 million a week. Perry says this move was triggered by lack of federal resources to secure the border. He says Texas couldn't afford to wait for Washington to address this ongoing crisis.

Breaking overnight, Donald Sterling's estranged wife Shelly is headed to court today to ask for an order to protect witnesses from possible intimidation by Mr. Sterling. A CNN source, there are, quote, "clear indications of threatening behavior." Shelly recently reached an agreement to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, but Donald Sterling as you know is suing to block that deal.

Some really wild video to show you. Police in Moorhead, chasing a suspect right into a golf course. He was eventually taken down at a busy mall which was locked down for a period of time. Across state lines in North Dakota, Moorhead officials received some help from Fargo police. Fargo police however did not drive onto the golf course. Moorhead police are now reviewing chase policies to make sure they ensure public safety.

Looks like something out of a film. But that's real life right there, people. Caused some damage to the greens there as you can imagine.

CUOMO: There is the concern.

BOLDUAN: Honestly looked like there is a guy with his head down and getting ready to tee off at the bottom of the picture.

PEREIRA: Yes, when you're on your game, right? You're focused, not really paying attention.

I don't golf, so, so I'm told.

BOLDUAN: I only putt-putt.

PEREIRA: Different kind of focus required.

BOLDUAN: You still focus.

PEREIRA: Absolutely. We take that seriously

CUOMO: That windmill can come and get you any time, send you down and screw you up for the clown's mouth.

BOLDUAN: There you go.

PEREIRA: You've had a lot of experience with putt-putts.

CUOMO: Boy, oh, boy, a combo putt-putt place to use your beautiful little term and soft ice cream place called Slow Jacks --

BOLDUAN: Coming.

PEREIRA: Coming.


CUOMO: Woo. Out at the beach. Bad for (INAUDIBLE). Good for the soul.

BOLDUAN: We're OK with that for now.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, new details on the dramatic capture of the man behind the deadly Benghazi attack, how did officials lure him in and what did they find during the takedown? We're going to take you inside that raid.

CUOMO: And the CEO of American apparel finally let go, why do I say finally? A dozen sexual harassment lawsuits. So, what was it that finally got him canned?


CUOMO: Welcome back.

We have new details about the takedown of the alleged mastermind of Benghazi without a single shot being fired.

So, right now, Ahmed Abu Khattalah is being interrogated aboard a Navy ship as it makes its way slowly to the U.S.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon.

You heard me dragging out the word slowly all morning because time is a valuable commodity to those speaking to this man, yes?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Chris, they want to talk to Khattalah and find out everything he knows about everything. But this mission, this was a secret mission in the works for days, intelligence agents on the ground, commandos on the beach, but in the end, they got Khattalah with very little drama.


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, as he is on that boat one of the big questions is will they be able to get any intelligence out of him about other perpetrators in the Benghazi attacks -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- Barbara, thank you so much.

And as Barbara has mentioned, Khattalah is on his way to the United States. So where then will he be tried? That is quickly become a source of much debate especially in Washington.

Let's bring in Mel Robbins, CNN legal commentator and analyst to discuss.

So, Mel, I want to get your take on this. For a lot of our viewers who don't understand the American civilian judicial system versus the military justice system. Despite calls from many Republican lawmakers otherwise, the administration has plans at least at this point to try him in federal court.

What is the concern? They've had success with this in the past. What's the concern that folks have then?

MEL ROBBINS, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there are a couple concerns and we've been debating this topic since 2001 when we tried four terrorists for bombing the embassies in Libya -- excuse me, bombing the embassies that killed 224 people, one in Kenya, one in Tanzania.

And what the concern is that there are very different rules of evidence between a military commission, Kate, and civilian courts. In military commissions, you can introduce hearsay evidence. You can introduce evidence that was coerced, in other words, without an attorney present, without Miranda rights being read. You can also have greater protections for classified information.

But I think the real reason why many people, including myself, really don't like the fact that we try terrorists in civilian courts --

BOLDUAN: Why not?

ROBBINS: Well, it doesn't feel right. I don't think that when you have somebody that is the subject of a manhunt overseas for committing an act of war against one of our embassies that results in not only our ambassador but three other people being killed, that they deserve the protections of our civilian justice system.

Yes, we have tried terrorists, many with success, but going back to that bombing case, Kate, from 2001, where 224 people were killed, including 12 Americans, that was a case where four defendants were convicted, and at the very end of the day, one juror out of 12 decided that he didn't want to deliver the death penalty, so it can have also a significant impact on the sentence that's delivered.

BOLDUAN: Then what do you make, Mel, because you're laying out your position why he should be taken to Gitmo. What do you make then? Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Pat Leahy, he was asked about this yesterday, he said, "We go to Guantanamo, the rest of the world says how do you lecture us about secret prisons." He goes on to say, "You go to our federal courts we show the rest of the world we're brave, we can do it, we don't have to run and hide. I like our justice system."

ROBBINS: I just completely disagree. I completely disagree with it because we're also setting precedents, by the way, because when they brought in the main guy behind orchestrating those bombings back in 2001, they didn't even seek the death penalty. So for me, I think that we're taking too soft of a stance, and that there are consequences.

By the way, breaking news yesterday, one of those four terrorists that was convicted for the bombings in 2001 of the two embassies is now getting looser restrictions on who he can talk to in prison. So, I just don't believe that terrorists have the same rights that somebody that's a U.S. citizen has, when they commit a crime. I don't believe it.

BOLDUAN: There still seems to be a little bit of debate what rights he may have while he's on this boat, if there are any rights at all on his way to the you state. Lot of legal folks looking at that right now as well.

Mel, great to see you. Thank you.

ROBBINS: You're welcome. Great to see you.

BOLDUAN: Of course, we understand why it's a big source of debate and has been for a long time.

CUOMO: It is much more difficult to make cases like this because they're remote, you don't have access to things like that and civil court has a higher standard of proof.

BOLDUAN: But they say they've got the evidence and they can do it, why not?

CUOMO: That's fine. I mean, certainly, it winds up making a more clear case but they have two systems for a reason as well.

Coming up on NEW DAY, Olympian Amy Van Dyken speaking out for the first time since her devastating injury. Find out why she's calling it the toughest competition of her life.

Plus, he is out. The controversial CEO of American Apparel finally fired after a stack of sexual harassment suits and showing up to meetings in his underwear. I hope it was American Apparel, among other things. We're going to tell you what finally made the board snap.