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Bob McCulloch Not Trusted by Ferguson Community; Obama Speaks About Beheading of American Journalist

Aired August 20, 2014 - 12:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump says that he's concerned about the secrecy proceedings that grand juries effectively are. They're operated in secret.

Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor assigned to the case, is drawing calls that he should step aside, but the Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, seems to be dodging the question over whether he wants McCulloch to step down, saying -- I quote -- "I'm not asking St. Louis County prosecutor Bo McCulloch to recuse himself from this case. There's a well-established process by which a prosecutor can recuse themselves from a pending investigation and a special prosecutor be appointed.

"Departing from this established process could unnecessarily inject legal uncertainty into this matter and potentially jeopardize the prosecution."

So, strangely enough, earlier this morning, McCulloch called in to a St. Louis radio show and responded to Governor Nixon's statement, but perhaps not in the way you might expect. Have a listen.


BOB MCULLOCH, PROSECUTOR ASSIGNED TO BROWN CASE (voice over): It's the typical Nixon double-speak. He says nothing, and he's ducking it.

I caught a bit of Senator Chappelle-Nadal's statement, and she's right on the money, saying, he's ducking the issue. He doesn't want to answer the question.

Even Attorney General Koster, I asked him directly, straight up, and if anybody asks him that, I assume he'll have the same answer. And I said, look, having declared a state of emergency, does the governor have the authority to remove the prosecutor?

And his answer is simple, one word, yes. And so Nixon needs to step up and say, yes, I'm going to do that, or, no, I'm not, and anyone who wants me off the case needs to call the governor and express their opinion to him.


BANFIELD: There you go, Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor in this case saying if you don't want me, just say the word.

CNN's Jean Casarez is reporting now on why Mr. McCulloch may not have the entire trust of the African-American community in Ferguson.


MCCULLOCH: Every witness who has anything at all to say will be presented to the grand jury.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the man, St. Louis county prosecutor, Robert McCullough, who will be responsible if there is a prosecution in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

MCCULLOCH: I can't guarantee and won't guarantee and nobody can any particular outcome on this investigation. We don't know where the investigation is going to end up.

CASAREZ: And some in the community want this lead prosecutor out because they feel he'll be biased.

JAMILAH NASHEED, MISSOURI STATE SENATOR Bob McCulloch, if you're listening, voluntarily recuse yourself from this investigation. The people and the African-American community, they do not have the confidence that you will be fair and impartial.

CASAREZ: The outcry caused by McCullough's deep die ties to the police in this community. His own father, a police officer was murdered while on duty in 1964 by a black man. Missouri state senator Jamilah Nasheed is calling for special prosecutor to replace McCulloch. She spelled out her concerns in a letter to him.

If you should decide to not indict this police officer, this rioting we witnessed this past week, will seem like a picnic compared to the havoc that will likely occur.

Protesters at his office demanded that he recuse himself. And an online petition calling for his removal from the investigation has garnered tens of thousands of signatures.

McCulloch has been the chief prosecutor for St. Louis county for 23 years dealing with hundreds of prosecutions. He made a name for himself early on this 1991 prosecuting Axel Rose of Guns n' Roses fame when rioting broke out after their concert. The case ended with a plea deal.

And McCulloch is no stranger to controversy. In 2000 a grand jury did not return an indictment against two police officers for shooting two drug suspects in a drug raid who were unarmed but at the wheel of a vehicle officers said was coming right for them. McCulloch made this controversial statement at the time.

MCCULLOCH: It's what I said then. I think that they were bums then. I think they're bums now.

CASAREZ: His office released this statement to CNN. The people have fate in Mr. McCulloch and he will continue to do his duties.

The St. Louis district attorneys' office tells me they want to begin to present witness testimony before the grand jury on Wednesday One question is whether the officer, Darren Wilson, will take the stand to testify before that grand jury, a right he has under Missouri law.

Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.


BANFIELD: And joining me now to talk about the controversy swirling around the prosecution of the Michael Brown case is CNN legal analyst Paul Callan and criminal defense attorney Midwin Charles.

So, Midwin, let me ask you first, it's never a simple case when you're dealing with this much media scrutiny, when all eyes are upon you. Every move has its critics.

In this particular case, the background of the prosecutor, should it matter as much as people are saying it should?

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it should matter as much, particularly since in this case you already have a built-in distrust of elected officials.

When you're talking about apathy, when you're talking about Ferguson, and you look at how many people came out in the last local election. I think less than 15 percent of people from Ferguson voted in the last election, so that statement that comes from the prosecutor's office that he was a reelected four times by an overwhelming majority of the St. Louis community, not by the 20,000 people in Ferguson. So that's one issue.

BANFIELD: Sixty-seven percent African-American.

CHARLES: Exactly. And, as you know, prosecutors have a lot of discretion, a wide latitude, when they prosecute cases, so their fairness depends a lot on their integrity and their judgment.

So the community is concerned. So I do think his background should play a role. And it would be good if the governor make the decision either way.

BANFIELD: Seemed like he was giving a lot of latitude.

CHARLES: A bit of tit-for-tat between the two of them.

BANFIELD: What is the downside? Is there something about setting a precedent for having certain parts of the community make a demand and ultimately a government official just backs down immediately?

What's the problem -- even if it is about the optics. Let's just say that, OK? Let's just say it's about the optics. What's the problem for this prosecutor to recuse himself and say, this will be easier on everybody if somebody else handles the case?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: A lot of people have asked me that question, saying, why doesn't he get off the case? I mean, God, it's a horrible case to handle in the first place.

BANFIELD: What's the downside?

CALLAN: Here's the downside. A prosecutor gets elected because he wants to handle cases like this. He wants to take the tough cases. He wants to handle the controversial cases. That's the nature of the job.

And he, I'm sure, in his own heart, is offended by the fact people think he's not suitable for it, that he's biased in some way, and frankly, just because of his father's situation and his family background, that's not a legal disqualification.

I don't think he could be --

BANFIELD: Socially, it might be --

CALLAN: He could not be forced off the case. He's got to go voluntarily.

BANFIELD: I have to leave it there, only because we're awaiting the president.

Paul Callan, Midwin Charles, thank you for that.

When we come back after the break, we're expecting to hear the president speaking live. We've got the live cameras ready to go. More right after this.


BANFIELD: I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

In just a few moments, President Obama is due to interrupt his summer holiday yet again, this time to speak about the ghastly execution of an American journalist by jihadi fighters known as ISIS, or Islamic State.

The president on Martha's Vineyard. My CNN colleague Anderson Cooper is live with me. He picks up our special coverage from Ferguson, Missouri. Anderson?

I think we may have lost Anderson's IF feed.

But in the meantime, if you haven't seen the coverage this morning, James Foley, an American journalist who has been missing after being captured almost two years ago in Syria, appeared on a YouTube video.

It was a ghastly video of a beheading by someone claiming to be an ISIS fighter, giving an ultimatum to the president of the United States that another journalist that's being held will be next, shortly before James Foley was executed.

Our Barbara Starr, Pentagon correspondent, is live with me now to talk about the implication, of this, not only for the president but also the Department of Defense, which is engaged right now in a concerted effort to stop ISIS positions through air strikes.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Those air strikes of course occurring in Iraq against ISIS position there.

I think what we're talking about with Foley is a terrible murder that took place most likely, officials believe, inside Syria, and that's where the starting point of the problem is for the Obama administration.

If they want to strike back at ISIS inside Syria, one of the biggest problems is Syria has very hefty air defenses. You cannot fly U.S. aircraft, manned or unmanned, into Syria, without the risk of being shot down, if you want to launch strikes against ISIS.

One of the things they're doing right now, though, U.S. and British intelligence experts, they're scanning every frame of this video, every shred of the audio, because the executioner, the man in black, speaks with a British accent, and there is urgent concern about who he is.

Is he possibly a British citizen? Is he someone with a passport that could return to Europe and carry out more attacks? So they're looking at every frame, every bit of this, for every clue they can.

What is his accent? What do the terrain features in the video, the sand, the sun, the dust -- what does that say maybe about where the location is? Really looking at it, frame by frame.

If they can match the audio of the executioner's voice to perhaps an intercept that either the British or U.S. intelligence services have in hand from previous intercepts, that may go a long way to telling them who was responsible for this.

BANFIELD: Our Atika Shubert already, Barbara, has suggested that British intelligence officials have noticed what they felt was a South London accent, so perhaps zeroing in just on that issue alone.

I want to go back out to our Anderson Cooper, who is standing by live, to pick up our special coverage of the president's live address. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC360": Ashleigh, thanks very much.

And all this obviously is happening at a time when Attorney General Eric holder has arrived in Ferguson to meet with community leaders. That meeting, if it hasn't already started, is set to begin shortly.

He's also going to be meeting with other political leaders as well as the parents of Michael Brown, sent obviously by President Obama here to talk about the federal investigation that is ongoing, a lot of FBI agents on the ground here.

We don't believe the president's going to be speaking about the situation here in Ferguson. This address, we're told, is about James Foley and the horrific situation which we have seen play out in that video released by ISIS, also threatening the life of another American journalist, threatening to kill him as well.

I want to bring in our Michelle Kosinski, White House correspondent, who is standing by.

This is obviously a very difficult statement for the president to make. We don't know precisely what he's going to be saying, but they certainly don't want to elevate this to make it sound as if he is responding directly to this video.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right. Yeah, or even some statement or negotiation.

But it seems likely that the president will want to send a message, make a statement that will likely be a strong one about what U.S. air strikes have already done, the progress that has been made, as he has said in two prior statements just in the last week, and also possibly the need for those air strikes to continue.

I mean analysts that we spoke to throughout the day all seem to be in agreement, that this just ups the ante. It makes it more necessary and really sends a message to the world that that kind of force is necessary against this group in particular.

The question that you alluded to is, will he address the American journalist that is still in custody. Obviously, a difficult situation and it's quite possible that he will not mention that, especially since, in the guidance that we've gotten so far, only James Foley is mentioned.

We've also just learned that James Foley's family received a call from the president just now. So I think the president will talk about that phone call. But I think -- I'm curious myself to know whether this will be something like a statement of condolence and also possibly condemning this level of violence. I mean kind of mirroring what his national security team has said already in a statement, calling this the appalling brutal murder of an innocent American journalist. Or will he take it a step further, possibly even alluding to the fact that another American's life hangs in the balance, Anderson.

COOPER: We anticipate the president to come out really any moment now. We're, of course, going to bring that to you live.

I do want to go to our Nick Paton Walsh, who's standing by in Irbil, in northern Iraq, Kurdish-controlled Irbil.

Nick, the situation on the ground, in terms against ISIS, how has the involvement of the United States, how has that changed the dynamic on the ground over last week or so?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly checked things in terms of the advances they're making against the Kurdish-controlled areas where I'm standing now, this city which felt threatened in the past few weeks or so, now breathing a little more easily. We've been to some of the front lines around Kirkuk, another key town held by the Peshmerga Kurdish militants. Now they are very concerned. You can see ISIS flags literally meters away from Kurdish trenches, a checkpoint waving locals through.

These airstrikes, though, have also pushed them back away from a key dam near Mosul. That was a vital part of the infrastructure as well. So the airstrikes, yes, holding on to some checks certainly.

But now, Anderson, comes the complex part. Now a U.S. citizen has been so grotesquely and publicly executed by ISIS. A lot of pressure will be for them to stop what the State Department spokesman Marie Harf referred to as a need to dismantle their leadership, go after their finance and sponsorship. Sounds like Washington has a more extensive campaign already underway or perhaps planned to degrade ISIS, many in which the ways they did (ph) degrade al Qaeda in the last decade.

The question really is, how compatible is that with just airstrikes. They are hidden in many heavily populated areas here in Iraq and in Syria as well. As you heard Barbara say, bombing in Syria is a very complex task. It, potentially, is a lengthy and messy procedure to go after ISIS properly. Now you have an American hostage very much in the full focus here. And, of course, the real complex question, do you have to put boots on the ground to do this effectively? Do you have to use special operations forces to actually move after these ISIS leadership in the key towns around Syria and Iraq?


COOPER: The savagery of this video, of the execution of James Foley, obviously has shocked the conscience of the entire world, but it really comes as no surprise, Nick, given what we have seen from ISIS over the last several months. I mean not just fighting in Syria, and their gains on the battlefield there, but the videos that they have put out executing large numbers of Muslims, executing large numbers of Iraqi prisoners.

WALSH: Yes, I mean, it's (INAUDIBLE) in the last 10 months since ISIS really kind of got underway in northern Syria. The trail of videos they've released on their Twitter (ph) feeds (ph), often remarkable production quality, high definition, but horrifying. One we reported on just last week involves the mass execution of potentially 1,700 Iraqi military cadets near Tikrit, the Camp (INAUDIBLE) Military Academy. That was unbelievably shocking. There was one sequence there in which men are simply brought in a queue to the edge of the river and shot one by one in the head. Just absolutely savage, but intended that way to terrify the future opponents, sort of like a vanguard of fear almost as they advance.

Their numbers, not that great. Their weaponry increasing in its potency, but it's really that notion that they're willing to die in committing their military offenses and want to show to their enemies how brutal they're capable of being as they advance. That's one of the advantages they seem to be playing on heavily, certainly here in Syria and Iraq. But, yes, it's remarkable, Anderson, just to see the sheer volume of gross material they're prepared to put out there to try and increase that sense of apprehension and fear about them.


COOPER: We are told the president will be speaking about two minutes from now. The so-called two-minute warning.

Nick, so I may have to interrupt you in the middle of this answer, but the other aspect of this video, which has maybe surprised some people who have not been following ISIS closely, is the British accent of the man who appears in the video as killing James Foley, beheading him. We should not be surprised to hear somebody with a British accent under the banner of ISIS. There have been a number of reports of British citizens, of French citizens, citizens throughout western Europe, and we know even from the United States, fighting for ISIS.

WALSH: Absolutely. In many way, western officials have been advertising this but trying to keep it not quiet but recognizing the world doesn't really have an appetite for an extensive war against another major militant organization like ISIS. About 500 potentially Britons have traveled to Syria or are there now fighting alongside jihadists. That could be ISIS or the other affiliated group that span the radical fringes of Syria and rebel movements and also in Iraq too.

The French are very worried. They have hundreds potentially there as well. Potentially a number of thousands foreign jihadists there. I mean we saw them coming in ourselves in November. You go to Hatai (ph) Airport in southern Turkey and just see men from Benghazi, four or five backpacks, very large guy, saying they're off to cross the border. I heard two gentlemen there with British accents turning (ph) up (ph), very unwilling to speak to us, but clearly they knew where they were headed.

It's been open for a while in southern Turkey, northern Syria. They've crossed over. Some, they say, just going to fight jihad, to assist other Muslims. But others clearer, especially on Twitter as well, that they are there to assist ISIS because that's their broader vision for the caliphate they have self-declared in northern Syria and Iraq, Anderson.

COOPER: And, of course, as you intimated, flying in from Turkey, some from Lebanon, which makes it all the more difficult for U.S. intelligence, for western intelligence to actually track their movements. It's not as if they're flying directly into Iraq, flying directly into Syria. They're crossing over the border. Here's the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody. Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL. Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend. He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away.

He was taken hostage nearly two years ago in Syria, and he was courageously reporting at the time on the conflict there. Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world. He was 40 years old. One of five siblings, the son of a mom and dad who worked tirelessly for his release. Earlier today, I spoke to the Foleys and told them that we are all heartbroken at their loss, and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did.

Now, Jim Foley's life stands in stark contrast to his killers. Let's be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declare their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim, out of expediency, that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is, they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

And people like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy, and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.

The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what's necessary to see that justice is done.

And we act against ISIL standing alongside others. The people of Iraq who, with our support, are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.

From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies.

One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.

Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday, and we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility.

That's what Jim Foley stood for, a man who lived his work, who courageously told the stories of his fellow human beings and who was liked and loved by friends and family. Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim. All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss.

We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

Maybe God bless and keep Jim's memory and may God bless the United States of America.

COOPER: President Obama speaking in Martha's Vineyard on the life and the death of journalist James Foley. Poignant, stern comments, somber comments, befitting the moment, from the president who, we're told, also spoke to the Foley family shortly before making those comments. James Foley's mother put out a statement yesterday saying that she's never been more proud of her son, her son who went over to Syria to tell the stories of the Syrian people struggling against the tyranny of Bashar al Assad, struggling in the midst of war to tell the story of Muslims who ISIL does not believe are Muslim enough. ISIL, as you know, in Iraq, in Syria, has killed, target Muslims as well as foreigners as well.

There's obviously great concern about the foreign element in ISIL, western Europeans, British citizens, French, even American citizens who are fighting under the banner of ISIS. We're going to talk about that a little bit later on.

I want to go to our Barbara Starr, though, at the Pentagon.

Barbara, can you just review what U.S. efforts have been against ISIS over the last several weeks, since President Obama has ramped up the efforts, particularly with air strikes, after sending in some 500 military advisers?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Anderson. Most of that, in fact all of it really, has been inside of Iraq against the ISIS elements operating in Iraq. The goal of these airstrikes has been very limited to protect facilities that could, if they were destroyed, such as the dam in Mosul, that could impact the U.S. presence in Iraq, to protect those Yazidi civilians, the thousands of them that were on top of Mt. Sinjar. That's the Iraq side of the border for ISIS. And the U.S. is there, the U.S. military's there, at the invitation of the Iraqi government. So the path is fairly clear for the U.S. military to move in and do those air strikes.

But what we're talking about now perhaps is across the border in Syria, which is hostile to the United States at the moment and very difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. military or U.S. agents, for you will, CIA operatives, to get into Syria and act. I thought the president chose his words very precisely, however, as a commander in chief. He said that the U.S. would remain vigilant, relentless and do what is necessary to see justice done. We're told those words, you know, are what you would see a commander in chief say when American lives are at risk and basically sort of sign posting for the rest of the world that the U.S. will look for the man who can -- and the people who conducted this murder. And that's what the U.S. intelligence community is already doing. They're looking at the video. They're looking for clues about who this was, trying to identify who the person was, who the people were behind it all.