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Two Japanese Journalists Held by ISIS for Ransom; U.S. Embassy Remains Open in Yemen; Interview with General Wesley Clark; Obama Approval Rating Hits 50 Percent

Aired January 20, 2015 - 08:00   ET



LINDSEY VONN, AMERICAN WORLD CUP ALPINE SKI RACER: If I learned anything from the last two knee surgeries is that I love skiing. When I'm starting it I'm not thinking about winning. I'm thinking about pushing myself.


ANNOUCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Alisyn Camerota, and Michaela Pereira.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. This is your NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, January 20th, 8:00 in the east. And wWe are following breaking news for you this morning. ISIS releases a new video threatening to behead two Japanese hostages unless Japan hands over a staggering $200 million. In the video a masked man wearing all black, as usual, and holding a knife, as usual, stands over two kneeling hostages wearing orange jump suits.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A jihadist in the video is speaking with that familiar British accent that we've heard before. He tells Japan's prime minister that Tokyo has 72 hours to comply or the men will be killed. The prime minister is now responding. CNN's Will Ripley is following the latest for us live from Beijing. What do we know, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, we know that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is demanding that the hostages be returned immediately, but as we heard in this new ISIS video that won't happen unless Japan is willing to pay ISIS the same amount that it has pledged to contribute to the coalition against ISIS. And keep in mind, this is not money to pay for bombs to kill innocents as what Jihadi John alleges in the video. This is funding that is intended to help the refugees, the people whose lives are in turmoil because of ISIS.

But nonetheless Japan in the center of this and two lives hanging in the balance this morning, Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist who disappeared sometime after his last tweet on October 23rd. He was in the Middle East. He has been covering war zones for years and is a well-respected journalist in Japan. And Haruna Yukawa, a little less known about him other than that he had some very serious personal tragedies, including the death of his wife, before he went to the Middle East. But now both of these men captured, one in August, one we believe sometime in October by ISIS. And now listen to jihadi John saying what Japan has to do next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the prime minister of Japan, although you are more than 8,500 kilometers away from the Islamic State, you have willingly taken part in this crusade.


RIPLEY: What we will be watching in the next 72 hours is Japan's next move. We know that officially at least Japan has never paid a ransom for the release of hostages. However, when prime minister Abe was questioned whether they would consider negotiating to secure the release, he did not say that he would not, in fact, pay. He fell short of that, Chris. So while nothing officially has ever been paid, there have been incidents in the past, in Iraq most recently, when three hostages were released. There was some speculation that perhaps a deal under the table had been worked out. We'll be watching closely to see what happens in the coming hours and days.

CUOMO: It's a dangerous situation any way you look at it. Will Ripley, thank you very much for the reporting.

Also breaking this morning, a U.S. embassy car fired on in Yemen's capital. We have senior international correspond debt Nick Paton Walsh. Remember, he is the only western TV journalist in Yemen because of how dicey the situation is. Nick, give us the latest, and call you tell us if it's true that the U.S. is not ready to evacuate any embassy workers yet?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this stage we understand the U.S. embassy are not withdrawing staff, have not significantly changed the number of individuals in the embassy. They say they're always on heightened alert because of course this is Yemen. They're linked to a controversial done program targeting al Qaeda leaders here. But this incident occurred last night at a checkpoint near the embassy. We understand there were a couple of U.S. embassy vehicles traveling normally as they do in a convoy, instantly recognizable because of the black SUVs that they use. It appears that this vehicle, armored SUV, was containing U.S. diplomats, U.S. citizens, but we don't quite know why or who carried out the shooting. But initially they shot in the air, we understand, and then focused their guns on the actual vehicle itself.

Now an embassy statement says these were not warning shots, there was intent here. So a very stark incident certainly for diplomats. We understand that they potentially drove on into the embassy away from that incident there. The embassy wasn't too far away. We don't know if shots were exchanged, in fact, still unclear who the gunmen were at this point. But obviously this will be raising an awful lot of concern in the State Department given how volatile the situation already is here in Yemen. We had the presidential administration being shelled yesterday by Houthi rebels. And of course that will have many in Washington concerned about the safety of U.S. diplomats here. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Nick, thank you very much. Michaela, over to you.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, CNN has learned the terror cell that was targeted last week in Belgium does, indeed, have ties to ISIS. Also, there are new concerns this morning that the surviving members may seek revenge. Let's turn to Ivan Watson who is live from Brussels with the latest. Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, that's right. You've got Belgian officials saying that the believed mastermind of the suspected jihadi plot that police raided last week is a man named Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Now, that's a name that is pretty well known here in Belgium. He's a notorious figure, perhaps one of Belgium's most notorious jihadis, coming from Brussels, the capital of Belgium, the city I'm in, the capital of Europe himself. He's believed to be of Moroccan descent, and he's also believed to be have been filmed with ISIS in Syria at one point driving a pickup truck dragging at least a half a dozen corpses through a field. Belgian counterterrorism officials telling CNN that he was believed to have last been tracked to Greece.

Now, Greek police arrested one man in connection with this alleged jihadi plot to attack Belgian police officers, but the man that was arrested we're told is an Algerian national. So the alleged mastermind, Mr. Abaaoud, who is also believed to have brought his teenaged younger brother, only 13 years old, a boy named Younes now described in the Belgian press as the youngest jihadi in ISIS, that man is still at large right now as Belgian authorities continue to try to find the other suspects in this alleged plot. Recall that they're awaiting the extradition of this one Algerian citizen from Greece as well as two more Belgian suspects who have been arrested in France. Chris?

CUOMO: Ivan, a lot of threats to follow. Thank you for doing it for us. We'll check with you back later in the show.

Let's bring in retired general Wesley Clark. He's the author of "Don't Wait for the Next War, Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership." He's also a senior leader at UCLA's Burkle Center and the former NATO supreme allied commander. General, thank you very much for joining us. Not only do you have expertise but you have information about these situations that many don't, so, please, let everybody benefit from them. Let's start with what's going on in Yemen. Firing on a U.S. vehicle, not that unusual, but given the circumstances there, could that be a tipping point in your estimation to take some action in protecting the U.S. personnel on the ground?

RET. GEN. WESLEY CLARK, SENIOR FELLOW, UCLA BURKLE CENTER: Well, we have lots of means to protect people on the ground. We're not going pull out of Yemen. It's a very important listening post for us. It's a very important means of containing Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And so we're going to make the adjustments that are necessary to stay there and protect the safety of our people. We may pull out some nonessential personnel, but that embassy will remain open. It's critically important.

CUOMO: Lessons of Benghazi learned, because that's going to be the concern obviously.

CLARK: There's no doubt about it. But we know and we've had other situations over the years on how to protect embassies. When we get this kind of threat level we've got all the tools we need and all the resources we need to protect the essential functions of that embassy.

CUOMO: ISIS, a perverse play on their own principles that they're going to kill these people in cowardly fashion with their hands tied behind their head unless you pay them $200 million. The U.S. doesn't do it. Some countries do. Is it a good exchange in terms of what it brings you with dealing with ISIS?

CLARK: Well, of course it isn't a good exchange, Chris. You can be sure that Japan's government's going to come under a lot of pressure from the west not to pay this ransom money. I mean, we're doing a lot of things behind the scenes to try to contain and cut off the resources that are feeding is. We're bombing oil, we're checking bank accounts, we're looking at individuals, we're going against banks in countries that they have money leaking into ISIS. So we certainly wouldn't want Japan to put $200 million in there. This is a Japanese domestic issue. They're going to have to work this.

But for ISIS it's probably a can't-lose. I mean, they're going to demonstrate their principles by killing innocent people on the one hand or they're going to get $200 million. We have to anticipate, this is a play by ISIS. This is a tactic. They'd love to inflame opinions. They'd love to have more U.S. troops on the ground. That would strengthen their recruiting appeal among the disaffected youth in Islam around the world.

And so we have to be really careful how we handle this. This is a long-term problem. We've got to contain it, work against it, erode their power, bring allies to bear, alert the Islamic community, have the Islamic community condemn murder. It's the murder of innocent people. There's no god that does that. But we have to have people of the Islamic faith say it.

CUOMO: I remember that from your book, that's why we put it in the title of who you are. There's a lot of ideas in there for people. The dilemma is exactly what you put your finger on, though, general, isn't it, that they do such terrible things that they force against them, and then they use the fact that they're being attacked militarily or combatted to make themselves victims to appeal to the disenfranchised. That's how it works.

CLARK: That's exactly how it works. And what they would like to do by executing terrorist attacks in Europe, they would like to alienate the Islamic communities in Europe from the countries in which they live. They'd like to draw sharper lines. They want to create a religious war in which they can then serve as the leadership and further radicalize the Islamic communities around the world. They're aimed at Saudi Arabia. That's what they're aimed at. The Saudis know it.

CUOMO: The irony that the Saudis often refer to as the biggest funders of extremism and terrorism around the world would now be the target of the biggest terrorist organization that's being combatted. Certainly that's not lost in what we're dealing with right now.

Now, one of the things that we've seen happen is you're all about ISIS. All of a sudden AQAP comes back, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Al Qaeda in Yemen. So now we're focused on AQAP, and ISIS, and Al Qaeda in Yemen, and now what happens in Ukraine, an area you know very well, general. It seems that the Russians have come back in. They're fomenting more war. The reports from the ground are that Donetsk, the main city there where this is going on, is becoming close to unlivable. What do you know?

CLARK: Well, I'm glad you brought up Ukraine, Chris, because this is really the urgent major threat that we're facing. This is hybrid war executed by Vladimir Putin against a sovereign state. So he sent in his people and they took buildings. They recruited people, thugs. They brought in Russian troops. There's about 8,000 troops on the ground now. Two battalions crossed yesterday according to Ukrainian information, two additional Russian battalions, and of course Russia denies all of this. And what they're trying to do is paint the Ukrainians into a corner.

If they succeed with this and continuing to put forces in there, pressure on Ukraine, it'll -- it will erode confidence and security and safety throughout eastern Europe. And that's bad for the world economy, it's bad for us.

And behind those battalions of Russian troops you have Vladimir Putin talking about a new class of nuclear weapons. So he hasn't been afraid to rattle the nuclear sabre. We haven't said much about this publicly, but our leadership in Washington is taking this seriously and they should because this is a very, very significant threat to the structure of the order in Europe and world peace as we've known it since the end of the cold war.

CUOMO: You'd like to dismiss him as all talk from someone who's struggling at home with his recent poll numbers because of the economy, but he's got the troops there. It seems that he has annexation on his mind and he's getting close to NATO held territories. And then if you start messing with NATO, then you have a different obviously order of magnitude in terms of the response that will be required. General, we look forward to calling on you in the future to help us understand these situations that are happening all around us. Thank you, General Wesley Clark.

CLARK: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Michaela?

PEREIRA: All right, Chris, thank you. Protests broke out across the country as the U.S. paused to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. And 68 people arrested for blocking traffic on the San Mateo Bridge in northern California. Demonstrations also affecting celebrations for Dr. King in Atlanta, hundreds there blocking a parade near the annual Martin Luther King birthday commemoration at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A mysterious inferno in Maryland. Six family members missing after a raging fire guts this $9 million mansion just outside of Annapolis. Believed to be inside, a technology executive and his wife and four of their grandchildren. The four alarm fire was so intense the roof and floors gave way making the home too unstable to search. Fire crews are bringing in heavy equipment today to look for bodies. This fire has been deemed suspicious.

CUOMO: Fire of a different kind. Filmmaker Michael Moore backpedaling after the backlash. He called military snipers, quote, "Cowards" on Twitter. The controversial remark comes after the flick "American Sniper" which follows the life of Chris Kyle, a former NAVY Seal and sharpshooter. The movie just shattered box office records. Moore took to Facebook clarifying his comments, insisting it wasn't a jab at the movie, it was just purely based on the fact that his uncle was killed by a sniper in World War II. Thoughts? Comments? Reactions?

CAMEROTA: Michael Moore always stirs the pot and always gets himself in trouble in that way.

CUOMO: Deserved backlash?

PEREIRA: I think because the way he backtracked from it. Our own experiences, our family experiences will flavor our opinions on things and that certainly has his, I would assume, I'm not sure where his stance on war came from, if that was generated by his own family. But it's interesting. I don't know that necessarily clarifies his Facebook response --

CUOMO: More of an excuse than an explanation?

PEREIRA: Maybe. I don't know.

CUOMO: I remember he said the same thing about journalists imbeds during the war.

CAMEROTA: Cowards?

CUOMO: He said that -- you know, it was pejorative what he was doing. You've sold out to the government. They control you.

CAMEROTA: He's on record of being against war and the whole machinery that operates it so it's not surprising.

CUOMO: You've got to own what you say.

CAMEROTA: There you go.

All right. Speaking of which, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal backing down from no-go zones in France and Britain for Muslims. Will his comments help or hurt his chances if he decides on a presidential run in 2016?

CUOMO: Skier Lindsey Vonn, she's amazing, celebrating her history making run despite crippling knee injuries, and just a great story. We're going to talk to her about it all.

Look at her. Zip, zip, zip. I'm not hurt. That's a record. Guess who's at the finish line, too? That's in there.


CAMEROTA: President Obama delivers his State of the Union Address tonight before a Republican-controlled Congress. His big message, a middle class economic plan.

And the speech comes just as the president's approval rating hits 50 percent. In a new poll, this is the first time it has seen that number since 2013.

This also comes at the same time some Republicans find themselves in trouble for claiming there are no-go zones in Britain and France for non-Muslims.

Let's break all of this down with CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Paul Begala. Paul is also a senior adviser for the super PAC Priorities USA Action; and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Ana Navarro.

Great to see you both of you this morning.

Ana, let me start with you.


CAMEROTA: So, the president's poll numbers have ticked up in the past six months, now at 50 percent as he goes into the State of the Union. To what do you attribute that?

NAVARRO: To him having woken up from the deep slumber. It's like President Rip Van Winkle. You know, for the last six months, before the elections, that guy was in a bad mood. He was in a funk. He was kind depressed. He wasn't engaged.

When President Obama isn't engaged, I think the American people can tell. It's very obvious. We have seen a President Obama who instead of playing dead, instead of playing, you know, lame duck after the elections despite the big Republican wins has come out swinging and has come out doing executive actions, and I think he's actually engaged and happy about it again. It shows.

CAMEROTA: Paul, President Rip Van Winkle, you agree?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: President Red Bull more like it. As a Democrat, the Democrats love it.

If you look at the polling, he is doing better, 50 percent is terrific in these very difficult times. The congressional Republicans, by the way, they've just been given the majority to run the Congress, are at 23. The president's at 50, 46 in another poll.

He is acting. People like that. The recovery in his poll numbers tracks the recovery in the economy. It's mostly among his fellow Democrats. He had sort of lost a lot of the folks that voted for him. He's bringing them back as Ana points out. Democrats have loved his bold action on immigration, very bold action

on starting to normalize relations with Cuba. Now, they are going to love the State of the Union Address. I have talked to folks in the White House. This is going to be tailor-made for the people who believe that the economy has been rigged against the middle class and they want their president to do something about it.

CAMEROTA: You are selling the State of the Union and making it almost sound sexy. Wow, Paul. That is quite a fete.

BEGALA: In fact, exactly. We're going to cover it. It's going to be so sexy maybe we'll have to actually give Cuomo something to control, a cold shower or something.

CAMEROTA: Wow. You are going there.

NAVARRO: You're stuck with us until -- you're stuck with us through midnight tonight covering the State of the Union. We're going to be -- we're making it sexy.

CAMEROTA: We will look forward to that.

Meanwhile, I want to show you another new poll, Ana. This is about two of the Republican alleged front-runners, this is Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Their numbers have dropped in the last four months. They were -- Mitt Romney was at 33 percent, this is according to NBC. Today he's at 27 percent approval rating. Jeb Bush was at 22 percent in September, today at 19 percent.

How do you analyze this, Ana?

NAVARRO: Well, let me tell you what happens when you are the perceived front-runner. It's like having a big, huge target on your back. And all of a sudden the press, all the scrutiny comes down on you.

It's almost better to go under the radar for a while before the campaign actually starts. So, I think a lot of it has to do with that. There's been a lot of attention, some of it has been favorable, some of it has been not so favorable and a lot of scrutiny. And it's the difference of seeing somebody as a potential and seeing them take more concrete steps towards a run. You begin to look at them differently.


NAVARRO: There's a reason why Hillary Clinton is hold up in Chappaqua. She doesn't want to have big target on her back yet.

CAMEROTA: Paul, is Hillary intentionally going under the radar?

BEGALA: I certainly hope so. I think Ana is right. I mean, it's a very, very long wait to 2016.

The Republicans have to start earlier because they don't have a clear front-runner. I wouldn't get too upset if I am Jeb Bush. Romney has lost a couple of times. I do think the bloom is off that.

If I were advising him honestly, not trying to be partisan, I would tell him to get out there quickly, the way Jeb I think is trying to with ideas. No, seriously, the ideas primary. Jeb or Mitt will win the money primary. That's important.

I would advise them to get out there with ideas. So, it's not just name ID, or do we want another Bush, or we want Romney to run again, give us some ideas that you would run on, and that's what people are looking for.

CAMEROTA: Guys, we need to talk about what's happening with the so called no-go zone controversy. A couple of people on cable news have said that there are these alleged no-go zones in France and in Britain where non-Muslims would not feel comfortable to go, even police, they claimed, would not feel comfortable going. Bobby Jindal was asked about this by CNN's Max Foster. He is doubling down on the no-go zone that has been discredited in other places.

Let me play for you what he just told our Max Foster.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: There are neighborhoods where women don't feel safe walking through those neighborhoods without veils. There are neighborhoods where the police are less likely to go. That's a dangerous thing.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You make an assertion like that, you need to give me the area so we can look at it, because I haven't heard of one.

JINDAL: I will look.


CAMEROTA: He ended, I don't know if you could hear that, Ana, he says, I will look. He wasn't able to give an actual neighborhood.

What's your response to hearing Bobby Jindal thread into this territory? Anna?

NAVARRO: I was a little surprised that he didn't have the specifics because Bobby Jindal is known as the wonky guy, the wonk within the political -- you know, Republican Party. So I was surprised he didn't have the specific information at his fingertips if he's going to make an allegation of this type.

I'm not surprised that he's making it. Frankly, Bobby Jindal has been shifting further right in the last few months. He used to be one of the staunch supporters of Common Core. He's now one of the staunch opponents of Common Core.

So, I think as he tries desperately to break through the potential 2016 field, which is dominated by some of the big boys, by the Jeb Bushes and Romneys and Chris Christies, Huckabees, he's having a hard time doing that.

So, the mere fact that we're talking about him and that he's saying this, I think appeals to some in the base and it's a good thing because we're actually talking about Bobby Jindal which we wouldn't be otherwise doing.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Paul, you disagree that talking about him in this vein is a good thing.

BEGALA: Yes, you know, he's a smart guy who keeps saying stupid things. He's a Rhodes scholar. He went to school in England. He should have his facts on this and he doesn't.

The prime minister of England, a conservative, David Cameron, said the analysts who Mr. Jindal is relying on is -- I'm quoting the prime minister of Great Britain, "a complete idiot".

The guy -- as Ana points out -- he has, Governor Jindal, an Ivy League degree on biology, and yet now, he says, you know, I'm not sure I believe in evolution. It's really depressing. Jindal, a couple of years ago said, I don't want the Republicans to be the stupid party.

Well, he's running for like class dunce. It's really embarrassing to see a guy that bright just embarrassed himself this way.

CAMEROTA: Ana Navarro, Paul Begala, thanks so much. We will look forward to seeing you both tonight for the State of the Union.

BEGALA: Can't wait.

CAMEROTA: Us, too.

NAVARRO: You've got to stay awake, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, I'm setting my alarm for that. Thanks so much, guys. See you then.

NAVARRO: Go take a nap.


All right. Let's go to Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. Ahead, sources telling CNN, French authorities missed some major red flags leading up to the terror attack at "Charlie Hebdo." What can we learn to prevent another attack like this?