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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Wildfire, Flood Disasters Add To What We Owe; Lochte Pens Apology, Does Not Admit To Lie; What Happened To That Bloodied Syrian Boy?; U.S. Special Forces In The Crosshairs In Syria?; Locally Transmitted Zika Cases On The Rise In Florida. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired August 19, 2016 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- helicopters which were dropping water and it did work and that containment number, by the way, 26 percent, it will no doubt go up again when they have a chance to compare notes and figure out just what they got to and what got at today -- Pam.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Yes, they certainly have their work cut out for them. Thanks so much, Paul Vercammen. We do appreciate it.
In natural disasters such as the wildfires in California as you just saw in the flooding in Louisiana have left so many people with nothing but ruins. They are now just starting the very long and extensive process of digging out of their grief.
A process we could be paying for, for years to come, and it's the focus of our series, "America's Debt and The Economy." California is in the beginning stages of requesting federal disaster aid for its wildfires.
And in Louisiana where flooding swallowed up homes, more than 70,000 people and small businesses are now applying for federal funding now approved for 20 counties.
That money will pay for temporary housing, repairs, even unemployment help for people who lost jobs because of that flooding. It could be weeks before we know the true price tag.
But authorities are not shy about calling this the worst flooding since Superstorm Sandy, which ran up a bill of $8.3 billion. Again, that is just the flood damage.
The only other disaster to top that, Hurricane Katrina, 11 years ago this month. The government spent $16.3 billion in flood claims alone on that one, which helped to make it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
He is being called the ugly American and now Ryan Lochte is apologizing, but is it too late now to say sorry?
[16:36:00] BROWN: We're back our Sports Lead now, and today swimmer, Ryan Lochte, is apologizing for his behavior in Rio de Janeiro. But he is not fessing up to claims he lied about getting robbed and he is also backtracking on exactly what went down at that gas station in Rio.
Lochte's apology comes a day after Brazilian police accused the swimmer and teammates of vandalizing a gas station bathroom and urinating on the property.
Well, Lochte and police do both agree there was a gun and money exchanged hands, but it wasn't a robbery. That part may be lost in translation.
Let's bring in CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He is live in Rio to help clear up all of this confusion. Nick, is this over? What is the real story here?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is remarkable, isn't it? We all still agree it seems that there was vandalism. There was urinating in an unspecified place behind the gas station.
As you mentioned, yes, there's agreement, there was a gun, discussion, and there was a discussion and there was money handed over. But it comes down to individual perception, it seems, at a pretty late time on a Saturday night, early Sunday morning after heavy celebrating to work out whether or not what happened there actually constitutes armed robbery.
WALSH (voice-over): Ryan Lochte took to Instagram today saying he apologizes, quote, "For my behavior last weekend, for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning. And for role in taking the focus away from the many athletes," unquote, fulfilling their Olympic dreams.
Lochte and three of his teammates stopped at the gas station in Rio early Sunday. Surveillance video appeared to support police accounts that at least one of them vandalized the station urinating outside and damaging property.
The men then get into their taxi and then confronted by security officers off camera. Money reportedly changed hands. Lochte had described the encounter as an armed robbery.
RYAN LOCHTE, U.S. OLYMPCI SWIMMER: They pulled us over. They pulled out their guns. They told the other swimmers to get down on the ground. The guy pulled out his gun, cocked it, put it to my forehead, and said get down.
WALSH: The police say the American swimmers reached an agreement with the armed guards to pay for damages while the gold medalist have now apologized, he's entirely changing his story, quote, "It's traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country with a language barrier, and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We obviously accept his apology.
WALSH: The International Olympic Committee chiming in as well.
MARIO ANDRADA, RIO 2016 SPOKESMAN: It's clear that the Brazilian population felt humiliated.
WALSH: Lochte has been back in the U.S. for days while his teammates bore the brunt in Brazil. Rio's mayor saying he feels, quote, "pity and contempt" for all of them. James Feigen was not allowed to leave Brazil until he paid nearly $11,000 to a national sports charity.
Civil police say Feigen and his lawyer agreed to the donation during a court appearance. Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz returned to the U.S. just this morning. The two being pulled off of their original flight by Brazilian authorities on Wednesday.
They were given their passports back only after giving statements to police. All this as the U.S. Olympic Committee tries to clean up the mess left behind.
In a statement, they said, quote, "the behavior of these athletes is not acceptable nor does it represent the values of Team USA." The USOC also stopped short of saying its athletes lied. Their security guards, quote, "displayed their weapons, ordered the athletes from their vehicle, and demanded a monetary payment," the statement reads.
WALSH: We will never really know exactly what was going through Ryan Lochte's mind at 6:00 a.m. that morning. We'll probably never know why he chose to up with this very stark public account of what occurred. But we do know his reputation is taking a pounding.
Brazilians here, many of them are furious that something like armed robbery which cost lives here quite often could be used potentially as an alibi here to some degree.
[16:35:05]It's been a mess for the U.S. Olympic team as well and really overshadowed the end of these games, already beleaguered as they were -- Pam.
BROWN: It is so unfortunate. Nick Paton Walsh in Rio, thank you so much.
And I want to bring in CNN sports analyst, Christine Brennan. She is also a columnist for "USA Today" to talk a little bit more about what we heard in Nick's reporting.
Christine, you wrote this column that posted overnight and in it you say that Lochte made up a lie to cover up alleged vandalism at the very least and in doing so, stole the heart and soul out of the second week of the 2016 Rio games.
And you said that Lochte owes Rio and the Olympics an apology. Do you think he went far enough for you in his Instagram post that we just heard about in Nick's report?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Pam, that is a great question. It is an interesting apology. There is explanations throughout it. He is also -- when he apologizes, he actually says sorry to his sponsors, names them before he names the host of the games, another interesting choice.
I think it was written more by a public relations person than certainly by him, and that is no shock. Most of these athletes don't necessarily write their own things.
We should look back at Michael Phelps who had several run-ins with the law. Each time the statement has been concise, a total apology, got it out within a day or two.
And I think as Nick mentioned, the five days lag before this came out devastating for Ryan Lochte's reputation, PR wise, even whatever you think about what happened that night.
BROWN: Right. So despite what he posted with this apology, if you want to call it that, this carefully worded apology? Could he still lose endorsements or even be banned from future competitions? What could his future hold?
BRENNAN: He will eventually be suspended by USA swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee perhaps together in concert, perhaps separately. My reporting, my sources have told me that. I think there is no doubt there will be a banishment of some length for him, and for the other three as well.
They might be different length. The sponsor thing is interesting. Lochte is really the only one of those four who has any significant endorsement money coming in.
And Pam, I think all of us would have to ask as we look at this story why would any sponsor want to be attached to this man and this story at this point?
So my sense is that he will lose the sponsors or at least they will want to go quiet for a while especially if he is serving a suspension.
BROWN: So just to be clear, Christine, did you just confirm through your sources that he will be suspended?
BRENNAN: Yes, I am saying that he will be suspended. We don't have -- I think the key point here is, Pam, there is no doubt that USA swimming, which is no nonsense, and they have thrown the book at Michael Phelps.
If you look for a clue, look at the statement that's came out last night from those two organizations. They are not happy. They're embarrassed and they said it's unacceptable, but absolutely there will be some suspensions.
We don't know the length because as a source told me, they're going to be talking about this. There is a lot of people involved. It's not just one athlete doing one thing.
So we don't expect any news of suspensions to come while we're here in Rio. My guess would be that it is sometimes next week because U.S. swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee want to get this behind them as fast as possible.
BROWN: Looking ahead, I mean, Ryan Lochte has made it clear he wants to go to the next Olympics. Will he able to? What's going to happen there?
BRENNAN: You know, he is 32 years old. So that is not exactly young in swimming. He won one gold medal but it's a relay gold medal. He did not have his best year. I think it is in doubt, Pam, whether he would even be able to make the 2020 Olympic team.
But of course, part of this as you well know, is that it is also being an ambassador for the sport. If you're banned or suspended from the sport for a year or for the rest of your career then you can't make appearances. You can't show up at big events.
And I think that's a big piece of it too and we'll see how it plays out. There is no doubt that USA swimming is going to do something. This has just been the ultimate embarrassment and hijacking really of the last week of these games.
BROWN: Right. Christine Brennan with the breaking news that she is hearing through her sources that Ryan Lochte will be suspended. We don't for how long. Christine, thank you so much.
BRENNAN: Pam, thank you.
BROWN: And switching to another big story. If you're pregnant, don't go there. That is the new Zika warning from the CDC for a section of a very popular vacation spot right here in the U.S.
Plus, he's that little boy that grabbed the world's attention, dazed, confused, and bloodied, after surviving an airstrike in Syria. Now we know what happened to him. Details of a reunion that brought tears to his eyes and probably will to you as well. We'll be right back.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. That graphic and stomach dropping video we saw emerge yesterday of a 5- year-old Syrian boy sitting silently, wiping away the blood splattered across his face after four men salvaged his life from rubble.
That video has put a renewed focus back on Syria and the seemingly (inaudible) cycle of destruction in that country. But what happened to that little boy right there? What happened to Omran?
Today, we have an answer for you. He finally got the one thing he asked doctors for over and over to see his parents. The nurse who treated Omran told ABC News that Omran never screamed or cried. In fact, he barely spoke except to ask where his mom and dad were.
It's only after his parents rushed into the hospital that Omran finally broke down in tears. Omran was eventually discharged.
[16:50:03]But the prospect of Omran being impacted yet again by another bombing is perilously high. The fighting in Syria is showing no signs of slowing down. The Syrian province of Hasakah, a Kurdish stronghold, is now under siege by the Assad regime.
And the bombardment there is a special concern to the Pentagon since the strikes sent U.S. military on the ground there scrambling.
CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Barbara, did your sources indicate how close this bombing raid came to U.S. positions?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, what they are telling us tonight is the Syrian bombing came close enough that for the first time, U.S. special operations forces had to get out of the way.
STARR (voice-over): This video is set to show Kurdish fighters in a running gun battle with Syrian regime forces in the northern Syrian city of Hasakah. Syrian fighter jets also bombing the area alarming the Pentagon which secretly then ordered the hasty withdrawal of nearby American special operations forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got aircraft flying in those areas. We've forces on the ground including the U.S. special operations forces. Certainly may well be U.S. intelligence folks on the ground. So this increases the possibility of direct conflict.
STARR: The building smoldering from the air strikes. Hasakah is normally relatively calm and largely under Kurdish control. U.S. forces are training Kurds and Arabs to fight ISIS. Until now, the Syrian regime had steered clear of where the Americans operate.
The Pentagon is furious with Damascus and Moscow. When the Syrian attack came, the U.S. military scrambled trying to contact the Syrian aircraft and there was no answer.
Warning the Russians and the Syrians, the U.S. will take whatever action is necessary to defend U.S. forces. And sending more U.S. aircraft into area to patrol the skies.
There is now a real possibility of the U.S. and Syria squaring off in the air. A senior U.S. military official telling CNN if the Syrians try this again, they are at great risk of losing an aircraft.
Dozens of additional U.S. special operation forces are still in other areas of northern Syria. To protect them, the tough U.S. line will continue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If U.S. ends up leaving because things get hot, what is meant is they were essentially coerced to pull back by a combination one would strongly suspect of Syrian, Iranian, and Russian efforts. STARR: But the Russians are stepping up their action. These cruise missiles launched at what Moscow said were al Qaeda targets. And 5- year-old Omran Daqneesh wounded by airstrikes in Aleppo now recovering. Another tiny victim of yet another bombing.
STARR: Tonight, no word from the Pentagon on when those U.S. special operation forces might move back into their positions. You can count on that piece of information remaining highly classified -- Pamela.
BROWN: Understandably. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.
Meantime, a growing Zika warning right here in the states. The Centers for Disease Control now telling pregnant women to stay away from parts of a very popular vacation destination.
BROWN: We are back with our health lead today. Zika cases in Florida are on the rise. State officials today announcing that five new locally transmitted cases of the virus have popped up just in Miami Beach alone.
That brings the number of cases in Florida up to 36 and in an unprecedented move, the CDC is warning pregnant women and their partners to not travel to two neighborhoods in the Miami area.
I'm going to get right to CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, in Miami. So what can you tell us, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, as you said this is an unprecedented warning and here is the reason. We are getting what's called local transmission here in South Florida. That means that mosquitoes in South Florida are biting people with Zika who are in Florida and then biting other people.
So the people who are ending getting zika, these new cases that you mentioned, those people didn't travel. They didn't go to Latin America or the Caribbean. They caught Zika right here in South Florida. It's the only place in the continental United States where this is happening.
BROWN: OK, so then that brings me to my next question because for people outside of that -- those two neighborhoods in Miami alone are probably wondering what does this mean for me. You know, now that the CDC is saying pregnant women should not travel to and should reconsider their plans for that county, how quickly could this spread outside of that area?
COHEN: Right. So there is only these two specific areas that the CDC is telling people don't come here. For all of Miami County, the CDC is saying consider postponing your travels here. So you know, what this means as far as spread, well, it started just in this one relatively small area called Wynwood and then it spread to a section of Miami Beach so you know, viruses spread.
We've seen this in Latin America and the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. So will it spread? No one can say for sure. It certainly seems likely according to the experts I've been talking that it will spread because that is the nature of this disease.
BROWN: That is frightening. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much for that.
BROWN: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake. I turn you over to Brianna Keilar in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for being here with us.
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