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More U.S. Advisers Now in Iraq; Interview with Rear Admiral John Kirby; Details Emerge in Robin Williams' Suicide; Interview with Mayor James Knowles of Ferguson, Missouri

Aired August 13, 2014 - 08:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome once again to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, August 11th. Eight o'clock in the East. Chris is off today.

Breaking news in Iraq to tell you about this hour. We're learning more about the 130 U.S. Marines and Special Forces that are now on the ground in Iraq in an advisory role. We're hearing a small number of those forces may go to help rescue tens of thousands of civilians that are still trapped by ISIS militants on that barren mountain there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It really does seem that this increases the possibility that U.S. troops could be face to face with these is militants.

We're going to speak with the Pentagon's chief spokesman in just a moment. But, first, let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon right now with the latest on this -- Barbara.


A U.S. official is now telling me that the focus is, in fact, on an air evacuation mission to get those stranded people off that mountain top.

This obviously is going require the president's approval. The U.S. wants to work with other countries to do this but it is only the U.S. military that really has the capability to move large numbers of people in a quick fashion.

The work now is focusing on can you land enough helicopters and aircraft on that mountain top to get those people out. It is going to require, I am told, a small number of U.S. personnel making the journey to the mountain top to directly look at the terrain there, look at where and how they can land helicopters, look at the situation, get a better count of how many people are actually there.

What does this mean for the U.S. confronting ISIS? Of course the question is, does this put the U.S. in a combat role which the president says it will not be. U.S. troops will have the right to defend themselves. They are not

looking we're told for an offensive combat mission by any stretch. Strictly defense if they come under attack by ISIS. But if this happens, if it's approved by the president, look for U.S. airstrikes also to be stepped up to keep pushing ISIS back away from that mountain, get there, those ISIS positions destroyed so this evacuation operation can happen.

Again it would require the president's approval and U.S. wants to do it, in conjunction with the Kurds, with Iraqi forces and other countries that may lend help -- John.

BERMAN: Barbara, make no mistake: if you're reporting bears out, that does put U.S. boots on the ground, on that mountain. So, this is an interesting development.

Barbara Starr in the Pentagon, thanks so much.


BOLDUAN: Barbara's great reporting. Let's get straight over to Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, spokesman for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Rear Admiral, it's great to see you.

You just heard, I'm sure, what Barbara is reporting. I want to get your take on it. So, what - tell us what the very latest is. Is the focus now on an air evacuation option and what does it mean for needing to send some troops to that mountain?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Right now, the focus of this team that Secretary Hagel sent into Irbil yesterday is to offer a broad assessment of the entire humanitarian situation there in northern Iraq. Also, of course, on Mount Sinjar.

No decisions have been made what we may or may not do. So, it'd be difficult for me and I think imprudent to speculate about whatever future operations might be conducted.

What I tell you is we wanted to get a better sense of the humanitarian situation up there, to run through the options, to take a look at what might be possible and what might be feasible, and certainly, to work with partners in the area, interagency partners inside the U.S. government but also some international partners as well.

BOLDUAN: From what we're hearing the options are pretty simple. It's either an air evacuation or by land. Both pose many risks and many challenges.

Is the leading possibility right now an air evacuation?

KIRBY: There's nothing simple about the situation on Mountain Sinjar. There's nothing simple about the situation in Iraq, writ large, and certainly in there in the north and we don't look at it that way. And I would be loathe to kind of get into specific options right now.

We're going to take a look at the situation on the mountain. We're going to take a look at the situation up there in the north. And this team is going to come back and offer some recommendations and some options for the secretary of defense and for the military leadership to then propose to the commander-in-chief.

So, I don't want to get too far out in front of this thing. And I don't want to -- we shouldn't be jumping to a conclusion right now that there is or there won't be a rescue operation in particular.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not. No one wants to jump to any conclusions. But time is running out. We've seen it. Our correspondents have seen it firsthand of what a dire situation it is on top of that mountain. When you say you got to get up there and see exactly what the situation is on that mountain, doesn't that mean that the United States is going to be putting boots on the ground?

KIRBY: Well, look, the president has been very clear there's not going to be boots on the ground in a combat role. We -- that's very, very clear direction.

But what he also told us to do was to take, to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis there in northern Iraq and in and around Mount Sinjar. And we've been doing that, largely through airstrikes on ISIL targets that are around the mountain that are continuing to harass and kill the refugees up there.

So, we got a mandate here to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. We also are looking forward to doing that with partners, with other international partners. The Brits are now involved in helping with some of these airdrops. I just came from Sidney, Australia, the Australians have said that they want to chip in. The French want to chip in.

So, there's going to be an international effort.

BOLDUAN: Admiral, it seems, though, at this point, as conditions are changing on the ground and as dire a situation as it is on Mount Sinjar, you can't have it both ways. You can't get in there and help alleviate this humanitarian crisis without putting boots on the ground, which -- I mean, you have to acknowledge does raise the risk substantially of U.S. troops getting in direct contact or under direct fire from ISIS.

KIRBY: Well, look, first of all, everybody shares the same sense of urgency and purpose here. We understand our people dying. We understand the desperate situation they are in. That's why quite frankly Secretary Hagel ordered this team to Irbil two days ago and that's why they are there and they are helping to assess the situation. We're all trying to move with a very keen sense of purpose.

But look, let's not get ahead of operations that haven't been conducted yet. So, there is no rescue operation in the works right now. We got the team there. They're going to tell us what they see, what they think, what we can possibly do and then we'll go from there.

The other thing I would say is regardless of whether they mount some operation or not, our troops always have the right of self-defense and force protection is our number one priority where we put troops anywhere. But the president has been clear there's not going to be U.S. troops on the ground in a combat role.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, what's your timetable on when these decisions have to be made if a rescue mission is going to happen?

KIRBY: Well, we don't have a specific timetable right now, Kate. Again we're getting a look at this. I would be loathed to get on speculating on time.

BOLDUAN: OK. I do want to make a transition, though, if we can, as we obviously keep our focus on Iraq but we also are talking about big news here in the United States, losing a great, Robin Williams.

You had a unique opportunity of getting to know him, I probably venture to guess pretty well. You went on two USO trips with him. And he -- many that are close with him talk about how important this kind of charity, this giving back work was to him.

What did you see? What was the side of Robin Williams that you saw and what did it mean to the troops?

KIRBY: I'll tell you. He was amazing. I mean, not just funny amazing, but he was amazing with the troops.

I honestly can say, I had a chance through many USO troops travel with many celebrities, many Hollywood celebrities. I've never known one, not a single on, who was more modest, and more humble and more genuine when he was around the troops. He -- they loved him and he loved them and it was very, very obvious.

And I'll tell you the other thing that when he performed for them, it was obviously very funny but he kept the politics out of it. Never once when I saw him do a show overseas did he make any -- any political reference to the wars at all.

I mean, I don't know how he felt about the wars. Nobody did. He just told jokes. He just wanted to make them laugh. He just wanted to take them a little bit out of their element for about 30 minutes where they could relax and enjoy themselves and kind of forget they were in a war zone. It's just an amazing man.

And I feel very blessed -- and I know a lot of people in the military feel the same way. Just that we had a chance to brush up against him for a little while.

Our thoughts and prayers go family. Secretary Hagel issued condolences as well.

BOLDUAN: It's quite something to hear you say that. And I also thought I should point out a tweet that we all read from you, that you sent out, you wrote, "I once asked Robin Williams to offer advice to my son who would soon be turning 18. Follow your heart, he said. The head is sometimes wrong."

What did you take from that?

KIRBY: Yes. It was amazing. I didn't have room in 140 characters to say everything that he said. The first thing -- the first thing that he said to my son, he wrote it in this book I collected for my son, a book of advice. And the first thing he said when I told my dad what I wanted to be, to do for a living, he told me I should get a real job like being a plumber.

And then he wrote, follow your heart and the head is sometimes wrong.

Just -- but that really kind of captures that essence of Robin Williams. That little line he wrote for my son. First, it was a joke, it was a little something funny, and then it was something very sincere and very serious and very thoughtful and that's Robin Williams.

I honestly -- I really feel blessed and lucky to have had just a little chance to know him.

BOLDUAN: Rear Admiral, well, thank you for sharing that perspective. It's always difficult to try to get the important serious news of the day and then a little bit of this. But thanks for doing that for us.

KIRBY: My pleasure. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course. We'll talk to you very soon. Thank you.

BERMAN: Did you see him light up -- light up at the mere mention of Robin Williams and what it meant to him and those troops over the years?

BOLDUAN: Yes, it's nice to see that side of the rear admiral that we have on a lot. He's always talking about very serious --

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Replicate that about a thousand times for every moment that anybody has ever had with that great guy.

BERMAN: What an impression he must have made on Admiral Kirby and those troops to get that kind of reaction. Never seen anything like that.

We do have new details about the death of Robin Williams. Officials in Marin County confirmed he hanged himself inside his home. But were officials wrong to share some of the details on live television, especially after his family's request for privacy?

Dan Simon is live in California with more this morning.

Good morning, Dan.


Well, the level of detail disclosed by the Marin County sheriff's office was surprising and shocking to some during that news conference, and it's leading to an impassionate debate online. But the bottom line is, is that Williams' body was discovered by a personal assistant after he failed to respond to repeated knocks on his bedroom door.


LT. KEITH BOYD, ASSISTANT CHIEF DEPUTY CORONER: Our indication is that it is a suicide due to asphyxia, due to hanging.

SIMON (voice-over): Upsetting details released by the coroner revealed comedic legend Robin Williams hanged himself with a belt inside his San Francisco area home.

BOYD: The personal assistant entered the bedroom to find Mr. Williams clothed, in a seated position, unresponsive, with a belt secured around his neck with the other end of the belt wedged between the clothes closet door and the door frame.

SIMON: Williams, who was recently battling severe depression, may have also tried to slit his wrist with a pocketknife, according to the coroner. The 20-minute long press conference was deemed inappropriate by many taking to Twitter, outraged over its gruesome level of detail about the death of the beloved star.

Williams' wife Susan Schneider was the last to see the comedic icon alive. The couple retired to different rooms around 10:30 p.m. Sunday night. The next morning, believing Williams was asleep, Schneider left the house just an hour before his body was discovered.

Tributes extending across the country from fans grateful for all the laughter he brought.

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: There was a time that I found myself funny.

SIMON: The San Francisco Giants holding a moment of silence at last night's game for whom they called one of their most loyal fans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he will be deeply missed by all of us.

SIMON: All three of the comedian's children released statements Tuesday. One of his sons describing his father a best friend who was gentle, kind and generous.

Zelda Williams, the actor's only daughter, wrote, "There's minor comfort in knowing our grief and loss in some small way is shared with millions. To those who are touched who are sending kind words know that one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh."


SIMON: Investigators won't say whether or not Williams left a suicide note. They are saying that toxicology results or the chemical substances that may have been in his body, those details won't be known for up to six weeks -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Dan, we appreciate your reporting on this.

BOLDUAN: Let's get over to Michaela to get a look at our many other headlines we're watching.

PEREIRA: Yes, another busy day in the news for sure.

In Middle East, Gaza peace talks continuing this morning, with the current truce set to expire this evening. "The Associated Press" reports a plan is on the table to bring an end to the month-long war between Israel and Hamas. Negotiators in Egypt are calling on Israel to ease parts of its blockade of Gaza, with the border being open gradually over time.

In the meantime, an Israeli official will investigate whether any international laws were broken during that Gaza operation.

Officials in Kiev say a join from Russia will not be allowed to cross into Ukraine. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov calls out Vladimir Putin, saying provocation by cynical aggressor is simply not acceptable. The Russians say 250 trucks are heading to the Ukraine on a humanitarian mission but there have been widespread concerns about President Putin's intentions.

Canada will provide 1,000 doses of a experimental vaccine to help fight against the Ebola outbreak and virus in West Africa. This donation comes after the World Health Organization said it was ethical to use the drugs against the virus. Nigerian officials announcing a third death connected to a Liberian-American man who was infected in the virus died in Nigeria last month. The outbreak has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa.

BERMAN: All right. Next up for us on NEW DAY, more violence in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown's family demands to know the name of the officer who shot him. We'll speak with the mayor in Ferguson for the latest on the situation there.

BOLDUAN: And also, Hollywood loses another legend, a leading lady from the golden age of cinema. We're going to look back at the life and long career of Lauren Bacall.


BERMAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone.

Overnight, more anger over the death of an unarmed black teenager shot in broad daylight by a police officer. Authorities have refused to identify the officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, citing concerns for the officer's safety. This is sparking outrage in Ferguson, Missouri, and really nationwide.

President Obama has since called Brown's death heartbreaking.

Now, the teenager's family is asking the officer to take responsibility for their son's death. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LESLEY MCSPADDEN, MICHAEL BROWN'S MOTHER: If he did something wrong, he know he did something wrong. You take your punishment. And if you're a man, stand up and be a man. You say, "I was wrong".


BERMAN: I want to bring in the mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, James Knowles.

Mayor, thank you so much for being with us.

Before we get to tissue of Michael Brown. I do want to ask you about news about another incident overnight in Ferguson where a police officer in this case shot a suspect . Can you tell me what happened?

MAYOR JAMES W. KNOWLES, FERGUSON, MISSOURI: I know not a whole lot about it. I do know that it did not happen in Ferguson. It happened in an outlying community outside of Ferguson, and it was St. Louis police officer who was assisting in keeping control in the area, actually had an armed confrontation with a gentleman who did have a weapon.

Actually I believe there were several involved. The one that did have a weapon, unfortunately, the use of force was required to stop him. He is in the hospital, I understand, at the moment.

BERMAN: I appreciate you clearing that up for us, Mayor.

We're now four days after this incident which the president has called heartbreaking which I know you find heartbreaking as well. Four days in now. And the name of the officer involved has not been released. Very unusual in a shooting incident like this anywhere, to keep identities like this secret.


KNOWLES: Well, actually that's up to the St. Louis county prosecutor's office and actually it is standard protocol in St. Louis, at least, that we do not release the information related to subjects who have not been charged with a crime. Right now, there's an ongoing investigation.

I believe last night the prosecuting attorney did address this issue, and stated, of course, that it is protocol that we would not release that information until this individual is charged.

Obviously, there's also concern for the officer's life and there has been death threats to many of our officers, hackers have tried to find personal information and display it online on social media asking people to target myself, council members, our police chief's -- county police chief's own home was put up on Instagram and told people to go there and assault him.

So, this is, you know, an issue of safety as well.

BERMAN: And we know as mayor, you're concerned of the safety of everyone in this community and we do appreciate that.

KNOWLES: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Also as mayor, I think part of your charge is to oversee the environment and the feelings within that community. And right now, there is a sense that there isn't perfect transparency in this case. There's tissue of the officer's name. You explained your feelings on that.

But there's also some of the details of this case, which usually by this point again, might be made public. The coroner's office saying only that Michael Brown was shot several times, refusing to say how many. The police likewise not saying how many.

Do you think this lack of transparency has contributed to the frustration that we are still so clearly seeing on the ground there?

KNOWLES: Well, absolutely. I'm sure people are very frustrated with not being able to know. But I think we all want to see a fair and impartial examination of the facts. And first. we have to find out what those facts are.

And so, a lot of the information that's out there on social media, a lot of people who claim to be eyewitnesses, a lot of it is contradictory. So, we do want to make sure that the information, the physical evidence, the information we know to be factual lines up with the witnesses.

And so, we can't let that information out. This was all explained by the prosecuting attorney last night. This is his call. His concern that we want to make sure that the information that we know factual, physical evidence, lines up with the information that we're hearing from eyewitnesses and then we can vet that out and add to it the investigation.

So, again, this is all coming from the prosecuting attorney last night at the forum we attended and, again, it is his call.

BERMAN: One of those eyewitnesses, Dorian Johnson, he's the other young man with Michael Brown at the time. He did speak to CNN last night.

Let's listen to what he had to say about the incident.


DORIAN JOHNSON, FRIEND OF MICHAEL BROWN, WITNESS TO SHOOTING: We were both unarmed, sir. We didn't have a sharp object on us, nothing. I didn't even have pockets on my shorts that I had on. We had nothing on us, no.

But the police did not interview me at the scene. It's almost like he wasn't paying attention to me anymore. It was like he was in shock himself. And his vision wasn't on anything but my friend Big Mike.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: This young man said he was not interviewed at the scene last night. He told us he still had not interviewed by police. He just told part of the concern in the effort to get as much information as possible from the people there.

Does it worry you that this eyewitness centrally involved eyewitness hasn't been spoken to as of last night?

KNOWLES: You know, if that's true that is very concerning, but I'm sure that, you know, the county and the FBI, the Justice Department who are all here looking into this case will examine everyone involved. As far as, you know, the officer on scene it was a volatile situation when the officers arrived and our chief on the way to the scene called St. Louis County Police Department asking for detectives to examine this immediately.

So we've been out of this investigation from the start because we want there to be no question that there's been no impropriety, no tainting by our department or our officers. We are out of the loop on purpose on this because we wanted it to be fair and impartial.

BERMAN: We know what you want is to get through this as a community. When you see the pictures -- well, we see the pictures here of what's going on in the streets there of the demonstrations and also what appears to be heavily armed law enforcement trying to keep the streets safe, they say. When you see this in person, what has it been like to go through this for you as a resident of this town and as its leader?

KNOWLES: Well it's very disheartening and very heartbreaking, actually. I've told many people who are not familiar with the Ferguson community for many years I've been proud to grow up here -- a community in transition that's become increasingly African-American over the years. I've lived here 35 years. There's always been a strong African-American presence. I went to a school that was predominantly African-American.

And so, we've never seen this kind of violence, never seen this kind of frustration or tension between the races. I've always been proud to say that to people. But, unfortunately, you know, we see this now and it's heartbreaking to think that a community that I know we've always gotten along and our community still gets along very well, you know, to be torn apart by this.

BERMAN: Mayor, we wish you the best of luck in helping this community heal. You have your work cut-out for you, I think, based on what we're seeing. Thanks so much.

KNOWLES: Thank you.

BERMAN: Next up for us on NEW DAY: Hollywood reeling this morning, just a day after losing Robin Williams. Mourning now an iconic leading lady, screen legend Lauren Bacall, we're going to take a look back at her stunning life.