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Back to Iraq; Finding a Middle Ground in Iraq; George Will Under Fire For Sexual Assault Comments

Aired June 20, 2014 - 08:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Back to Iraq. President Obama ordering as many as 300 U.S. forces back to Baghdad.

And more troubling news. The terror group ISIS has taken control of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons plant. How dangerous is it?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Under fire. The columnist George Will dropped from one newspaper after suggesting that sexual assault victims on college campuses enjoy a privileged status. More newspapers now under pressure to follow suit. Did he go too far?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Can they handle the heat? The U.S. set to take on Portugal this weekend. The location, in the middle of a hot steamy rain forest. Are they ready? Your World Cup cheat sheet, straight ahead.

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome once again to NEW DAY. It is June 20th, everyone. Friday, 8:00 in the East.

And we're learning more this morning about the U.S. strategy against ISIS in Iraq. President Obama has announced that he's sending hundreds of military advisers to the conflict zone. He's still, he's still not ruling out airstrikes on ISIS in that country, now that they have their hands on some of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons.

We're all over the story for you. But let's begin with Michelle Kosinski live at the White House -- Michelle.


The administration emphasizes this is not combat, but we are talking up to 300 special forces sent to Iraq soon to advise and gather intelligence. A very measured step, but a necessary one if the U.S. is later going to conduct things like air strikes. Again, the president says this is all done only from the perspective of protecting America's national security interests. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): No boots on the ground, but boots on the ground. President Obama and his national security team opt for a sort of middle ground in Iraq. Another step to gaining that sorely needed real intel around the clock on how best to counter ISIS fighters. First, up to 300 military advisors and teams of about a dozen each from American troops already based in the region.

Starting around the perimeter of Baghdad, they will establish joint operations centers with Iraqi Security Forces, gather intelligence that could also be used for potentially U.S. airstrikes in Iraq or in Syria not being ruled out. Also on the agenda, more funding and equipment for the Iraqis.

On the home front, the president is barraged daily for not having done more in Syria, the speed of Iraq's deterioration, by Speaker Boehner.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The spread of terrorism has increased exponentially under this president's leadership.

KOSINSKI: And Senator McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president of the United States goes for fundraising and golfing, and now is fiddling while Iraq burns.

KOSINSKI: The president said it's time to vindicate those soldiers who sacrificed in Iraq. Thousands of lives lost and he'll give Iraq a chance at stability, a long-term problem for which a necessary solution is for that country to form an inclusive government now.

OBAMA: Rather than trying to play whack a mole wherever these terrorist organizations may pop up, what we have to do is to be able to build effective partnerships, actual governments on the ground that we can partner with.


KOSINSKI: Well, that's been criticized some too, questioning, is the president basing future military force too much on what happens within Iraq's government. For now, though, President Obama is sending the secretary of state to Iraq this weekend and he did say that, yes, Iran could play a constructive role in this process.

The key to what happens in Iraq or Syria is what happens in those governments as well as building an effective anti-terror platform -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much for the update from the White House. An important note for all of you -- I'll be sitting down with

President Obama to get his perspective on the situation in Iraq. We'll also be talking about much more. We're going to hear some of what he has to say tonight on CNN. We'll also have the full interview and much more on Monday morning, right here on NEW DAY -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Let's get to the experts, Kate.

We have Philip Mudd, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and former CIA counter-terrorism official. And retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, he's the former commanding general of the Army Intelligence Center and a CNN military analyst. He was the top Army intelligence officer during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

You two could not be better qualified for this conversation. So I hope you have all the right answers.

General, I begin with you. So, we hear that ISIS is in control of a major chemical weapons plant. We need to know what that means in terms of their capabilities. But first, how are there still a big cache of chemical weapons in Iraq after a decade of us supposedly being there to get rid of all of them?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Chris, that facility specifically was rendered safe during the initial phases of the invasion of Iraq. It still exists. I mean, it is there, but it is not an active plant. But clearly there are remnants, there are precursors there are capabilities within that facility that might be able to be used. ISIS now ostensibly owns it. I would not put it in the high category, you know, upper right of the chart, that gives us largest concerns.

But, clearly, what this demonstrates is ISIS has the ability to gain momentum. It now controls some ground. I think as Phil has pointed out before, terrorists organizations like this, insurgencies like this do a very good job of gaining momentum, they don't do a good job of holding onto things. So, were we to assess that that was a really big threat, I think ISF, with the assistance of the United States, could move them off that facility very quickly.

CUOMO: All right. Phil, I'm going to get to you in a second about what this mean, these ODAs, these 300 advisers that are going to be put on the ground. What that means.

But just, General, follow up with me on one thing, because it's so hard to understand. Do they now have control of chemical weapons or do they not and just have control of a place where they were once made? It's an important distinction for the American people.

MARKS: Roger. I think it's the -- I think your first question, Chris, is they do not own chemical weapons that can be used against our forces.


MARKS: They have their arms around a facility. If they worked on it, they might have an increasing capability, but they can't deliver that stuff.

CUOMO: All right. Good. Good to know, General. Thank you very much.

So, talk about your muddy situations. No boots on the ground, 300 Special Forces on the ground, they're just advisers. They will be advising men who are in combat situations.

How is this not boots on the ground? How is this not putting Americans back in Iraq and in danger?

PHILIP MUDD, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: This is not boots on the ground because these are not forces involved in combat. In addition to providing assistance to the Iraqis, think of something that's critically important. If you want to target a regular military, tanks, aircraft, major military formations, that's a pretty big target to with a drone or a satellite.

If you want to look at insurgent groups as they're moving town to town, irregular groups, they're operating in-houses, they're operating when men, women, and children are co-located. To build target packages against that kind of soft target, you need an intelligence picture over time.

So, my guess is these forces are not just there to provide assistance or boots on the ground, they're there to get pattern of life on insurgents. So if the president says go, they can pull the trigger.

CUOMO: I totally get it. It totally makes sense. Everybody knows we have the best capabilities in the world at this. But to say there's no boots on the ground, I mean, what am I missing? Don't you think you're going to get into the fight at some point? I mean, is this just common sense? What am I missing?

MUDD: Heck, no, I don't see it that way. To me, the difference between sitting in a command center or providing, for example, planning assistance or watching the feed, live feed from a drone is a lot different than sitting there with an AK-47 or an American weapon at that chemical facility trying to weed out insurgents. To me, in my world, where I came from, that's night and day.

For example, in Pakistan, when I was at CIA, we were running operations against insurgents side by side with the Pakistanis. That is a heck of a lot different than going to North Waziristan where the insurgents are in Pakistan right now and fighting side by side with the Pakistani special forces.

CUOMO: Fair point.

So, General, can you give comfort to the American people that these guys will be safe there, as safe as you can be. They won't be engaged in the fight? This isn't mission creep potentially?

MARKS: Well, I would say that it clearly is a notion of mission creep. But the motion of using the term boots on the ground is a term I think we need to walk away from very quickly because we get into discussions like this, and as we've been chatting just now, these Americans that are on the ground in Iraq certainly are at risk. They are not at risk when their mission is to close with and destroy the enemy, to engage targets.

Their number one mission is to assist the ISF do their job, which clearly the ISF has demonstrated it is not capable of to this point based on the fighting that we've seen.

So, the advisers have to be able to target folders, still talk about. They have to be very precise. And what we have is a very large capability. It's access. More importantly, it's access to a very large capability called our intelligence community.

So, at very specific points on the ground through these teams, we can access an entire array of capabilities, national intelligence collection capabilities and can generate more intelligence on the ground, fuse it, present target folders, ISIF can do something about it. And also, we reserve the right to strike those targets as well.

CUOMO: Because, obviously, the intention here is not to trip up politicians. That's easy enough to do. We just care about these men and women being put in harm's way.

You know, these ODA teams, you got a lot of media, including the one you're talking to right now. I want to be there with them. I think there should be journalist embeds to make sure that this mission is safe for them and that they're providing the guidance that's needed to be done there. I think the American people need to see it.

The question is, is this the right tactic at the right time?

Philip Mudd, if everybody is saying, well, the problem is Maliki, he's got to get out man, he can't form a coalition, he's got to step down.

Well, the problem is, ISIS's base is really in Syria, so you better do something there. Are we addressing just one stomach here when the cause is a political fix and a Syria fix? What do you take on that?

MUDD: That's about half true. Look, we can't solve the political problem in Iraq. We have a leadership in Iraq that doesn't represent the Iraqi people. In other words, has not developed a democracy that the Sunnis and the Kurds respect. To my mind, test going to sit here and say, look, I was elected, what are you going to do about it?

There is one aspect of this that we're seeing play out now and that is, if you can affect the battle field, but you can't affect the political scene, there's one aspect of the battle field that my experience with insurgencies that we can really have a major impact on. And that is leadership of the insurgent groups we're watching now.

Three characteristics, does the government have the will to fight these guys? Do these guys have the safe haven to build a terrorist network in Iraq? And three, what we're seeing now, can we develop the intelligence to start picking off leadership targets in the battlefield because insurgent groups aren't going to be able to replace them very quickly.

We can watch them take cities. That's the media focus is on. That's not what I focus on. Are we going to start taking out leadership? Because those guys are the ones who are driving ISIS?

CUOMO: Certainly, if you want to take out leadership, you're going to have the right kinds of fighting men and women on the ground with Special Forces there.

Philip Mudd, General Spider Marks, you guys are like the dream team of perspective on what's going on over there. So, thank you for helping us understand it. As you are well aware, the American concerns are very high. Thank you for this.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, Chris.

The IRS commissioner set to face an angry House committee today. He's going to answer questions about lost e-mails at the center of a congressional probe. The agency has been under fire for quite some time now for allegedly targeting conservative groups.

CNN's Dana Bash is live from Washington this morning with much more.

So, we've got Lois Lerner, the former official who's under fire really at the center of this. This -- she's really lost her job. But this is about lost e-mails that cannot be recovered, they think, from her account.

Dana, this is kind of -- this isn't even looking at the main problem that Congress is trying to probe whether or not they targeted these conservative groups. This is just looking for e-mails. Unbelievable.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, of course, the lawmakers think that the e-mails could help answer the question about whether there was any politics behind the targeting. So, many people are just not buying the fact that these e-mails are lost. And it's understandable, Kate, when in this day and age, the government can collect massive amounts of data on all of us. It is kind of mind boggling that the IRS can't recover emails from its own system.

But what we're talking about are e-mails over a two-year period from 2009 to 2011, precisely the time frame Congress has been trying to get to the bottom of why the Tea Party and other groups were inappropriately targeted by Lerner's group. The IRS says that back then, when employee's inbox was full -- I know that's happened to me or certainly back then -- they were asked to archive all of the e- mails on a hard drive.

And that her hard drive crashed and that these e-mails are not recoverable and not held on any kind of outside system. But I'm told by a Republican source that the central question is really basic. Where is that hard drive? Apparently, Kate, it's gone for good. Either, It's recycled, they're destroyed and that, of course, leads GOP claim that this is just about a cover-up.

BOLDUAN: Well, whether intentional or not, this just does not look good when it comes out during the key period they are looking into, the computer crashes and the hard drive is not recoverable. And she's not even going to be there to answer these questions. The IRS commissioner that's going to be testifying, who's going to be talking to Congress, this is a person that's been put in place to try to fix this problem, right?

BASH: Right. And that also is what is making matters even worse, if you can imagine that even being possible. And Congress because the IRS knew about these problems, getting the e-mail, didn't tell Congress until last week.

Now, today's hearing is going to be in front of the House, which is Republican-led. But the Senate -- in the Senate, a bipartisan effort in the finance committee, they were about to finish their report and then they found out about these missing e-mails. So you can manual they were quite upset.

All right. We should say that the IRS has retrieved 24,000 of the lost e-mails. They have done it by searching other people that she corresponded with. This is going to be a hot, hot hearing which starts at the top of the hour.

BOLDUAN: Twenty-four thousand e-mails they've recovered it. It makes you wonder how many are lost that they're still looking for.

Dana, there's going to be fireworks on the Hill yet again today. Thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course.


PEREIRA: An anthrax scare rocking the centers for disease control in Atlanta. The FBI is now investigation just how about 75 staffers may have been exposed when their lab failed to handle dangerous samples properly. Officials now are racing to find out what went wrong.

We're going to bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. on this Friday. He's at our CNN Center.

It seems like a blast from the past. What do we know about how this all happened, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to put it delicately, I guess, Michaela, somebody or a group of people screwed up. I mean, there was a bunch of mistakes it sound like happened here. It's quite extraordinary given that this is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's the exact sort of place that's designed to handle the sort of thing, and it didn't work in this case.

What we know is that there's different bio safety labs. They have different levels. So, higher level one is going to have more protections in place. They were supposed to move this anthrax bacteria to a higher bio safety lab, to a lower bio safety lab. Before doing that, they were supposed to inactivate it and then wait 48 hours to make sure it actually worked.

Neither one of those steps happened. They inactivated it, but it didn't work. They did not wait the 48 hours. So, what they did is they handed a lower bio safety lab a bunch of live bacteria. That's the exact thing they were trying to avoid and that's what's raised all the concern.

PEREIRA: And thus the exposure.

Look, we know that anthrax can be lethal. What kind of symptoms are these people seeing or what could they see?

GUPTA: Yes. You know, so far, thankfully, no one has become ill. They're hoping it stays that way. But we're talking about a very potentially deadly pathogen here. Most people remember talking about this back in 2001. They talk about 70 percent to 80 percent mortality for what is known as the inhalational, the anthrax that you breathe into your lungs. That type is particularly deadly.

What they've done in these situations, they've offered all the people who may have been exposed antibiotics. And the antibiotic is Cipro. They say take 60 days of it because it could be two months before you develop symptoms. So, take the antibiotics for 60 days. They also offered the anthrax vaccine. Typically you take the vaccine before an illness to prevent it, but in this case, they think the vaccine could have some benefit as well. But they're doing anything they can to try and protect these workers.

PEREIRA: Is that enough? I mean, they're going to have to watch them for several months then.

GUPTA: Yes. You know, I was thinking about that last night, Michaela. Can you imagine you're one of these workers and you feel totally fine right now. But every time you have a cough, every time you feel unwell, you think, well, is this just normal cold or am I developing anthrax infection? That's sort of just the psychological sort of toll that's going to take is, you know, pretty considerable.

But in terms of medications, the antibiotics, the vaccine, that's really all there is. The antibiotic can be pretty effective though. So, people are not being mandated to take these things. If they do, they should have good results.

PEREIRA: Well, I'm sure there's going to be investigation into why it went in the first place. Hopefully, those people will be in the clear. Not the kind of mistake the CDC is wanting to have happen. Sanjay, thanks for walking us through it.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, controversy is heating up this morning over "Washington Post" columnist disparaging comments about rape. What he said that has critics calling for his termination. Got the debate, ahead.

CUOMO: Plus, World Cup fever heating up as the U.S. preparing to take on Portugal. What are the chances for Team USA? They do have a major player sitting out on their team. Maybe one on the other team as well. We're going to preview the match-up for you. What it could mean for the US of A.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Fallout this morning for "Washington Post" columnist and FOX News contributor George Will. In a controversial piece, the conservative columnist refers to sexual assault on college campuses as the quote, "supposed campus epidemic of rape," and he says being a victim of sexual assault has become a coveted status that confers privileges.

"The St. Louis Post-Dispatch" has now cut ties with Will and more are calling for "The Washington Post" now to fire him.

Let's discuss with Mel Robbins, CNN legal commentator and analyst. And Ben Ferguson, CNN political commentator and host of "The Ben Ferguson Show".

Good morning to both of you. This is always a sensitive issue.


BOLDUAN: But important to discuss nonetheless.

Mel, first to you. What do you make of what George Will said? Is he being taken out of context? Or did he go way too far?

MEL ROBBINS, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: You know, honestly, I kind of feel like having a serious conversation about what George Will thinks about sexuality assault is akin to having a serious conversation with Donald Sterling about racism. He is so out of bounce in this article and so offensive and off the mark, that frankly, I didn't know where to begin, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Ben, you think this is political correctness run amuck.

FERGUSON: I do. I think he was trying to have a blunt conversation about a specific case. If you read the entire article, I don't think it was as out of bounds as some are trying to make it with a headline. And I think a lot of people that are attacking him are just trying to ruin his career instead of actually reading the entire article and looking at it.

Sexual assault's a very serious issue. But at the same time, it can be very damaging if you have a false claim and there are a significant number of people that are using it as a false claim. I think his point was, let's be careful before we jump on the bandwagon. If you remember the Duke lacrosse players, those guys lives were basically ruined because of a false claim.


BOLDUAN: Mel, before you jump. Ben, I cover that case. Yes, it was very tough for those guys. I was there the entire time that case was covered. But also, that girl's life was ruined as well. Everyone's life was ruined.


BOLDUAN: I don't think that is a good -- don't apply that to the entire problem of sexual assault on college campuses.

FERGUSON: And I'm not implying to the entire problem. The thing is there are people that are victims of sexual assault that deserve to have a safe place to come forward on college campuses. But if you look at the case that he was talking about in his article, there are certainly red flags there on is this where we want to continue to go with this issue and does it take away from the actual victims that actually do have a case?

BOLDUAN: Doesn't -- Mel, you've worked with sexual assault victims. When you were in college, you worked specifically trying to help sexual assault victims. Does this, though, move to silence victims because they don't think anyone's going to believe them?

ROBBINS: Of course it does. What George Will says in his column is that first of all the statistics on rape and sexual assault and college aren't true. He also says that those women that are victims of sexual assault or attempted actual assault are now enjoying a privileged status.

The only people that have enjoyed a privileged status around sexual assault are the people that have perpetrated it because universities have covered it up. You know, here's the thing, I think George Will's seething had red for the Obama administration is what's driving all of this.

The fact of the matter is, it's not the federal government that has started this awareness movement. It's students. In 2011, a student sued Yale under Title 9. There are now 55 universities under investigation under Title 9 because of how they mishandle sexual assault allegations.

Why do they mishandle them? Because it's not in their best interest for parents of incoming students to know the truth about what is actually going on. And, you know, case in point: my own alma mater, Dartmouth College, experienced a significant drop in applications this year because of the exposure of the sexual assault problem on campus.

BOLDUAN: Ben, I want to get in two things because George Will should be able to have his say when we're talking about George Will. "The Washington Post", they are defending him saying that this is what op- ed pages are about, to elicit debate, not to silence debate. We'll talk about that.

George Will responded to senators who wrote him to criticize him saying this, "I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you do. Which is why I worry about definitions of that category of crime that might by they're breadth tend to trivialize it. And why I think sexual assault is a felony that should be dealt by the criminal justice system, not be adjudicated by improvised campus processes."

Ben, get in here. But here's my question to you about it. We know recently Republicans have had a big problem in elections when candidates decide to go candid, if you will, in talking about sexual assault and rape, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, even leading John Boehner to come out and acknowledge that there was some form of sensitivity training needed for some of his members because they need to realize when to simply shut their mouths.

What's going on?

FERGUSON: Some of those comments were incredibly -- some of those comments were incredibly idiotic and I criticized Akin for example with what he said.

BOLDUAN: Doesn't this feed that, though?

FERGUSON: But it doesn't if you're an op-ed columnist trying to have a blunt conversation about something you shouldn't be afraid to have a debate other and talk about. And that's exactly what George Will is paid to do. And this is where it does become political and he does have a point against these senators.

You're not coming after me because what you really think I said is out of bounds. You're coming after me because I'm a conservative columnist that is influential. You're seeing an opportunity to try to destroy my career, and that's what you really care about. You're not actually really fighting on this issue of the victims here.

BOLDUAN: Yes, George Will is.

FERGUSON: You're really just trying to silence me because I'm a conservative columnist.


BOLDUAN: OK, really quick. Final take from both of you. "The Washington Post", people are calling for them to drop him. "The Washington Post", should FOX News drop George Will?

Mel, first to you.

ROBBINS: No. He's selling papers right now and he has the right to say what he wants to say no matter how horrible it is. As far as I'm concerned, he's a pig with a pen, just like Sterling is racist with a basketball team.

BOLDUAN: And, Mel, you have a lot of (INAUDIBLE) voice on both of them which I like.

What do you think, Ben? Should FOX News and "The Washington Post" drop? FERGUSON: No, he shouldn't be. Just because you're conservative or liberal, you shouldn't be dropped when your whole job is to have a blunt conversation without all the PC-ness in it, and that's exactly why he's been so successful.

BOLDUAN: I do agree with you, but then I pose this question, where is the line? I don't know where the line is, when you actually cross it and pc doesn't come a bad term. At some point political correctness was put in place when we talk about it, because it was a good thing. There were things that were out of bounds that you shouldn't be taking on. Clearly, we don't know if we reach it here.

Ben, Mel, thank you very much. Let's continue this conversation.


CUOMO: All right, Kate. Thank you very much.

Coming up on NEW DAY, how far can Team USA go in the World Cup. The Americans are taking on Portugal Sunday. We have the inside scoop for you, coming up.