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Latest Ceasefire for Aleppo Barely Hanging On; Cavs Sit LeBron, Irving, Love Last Night; Closing Arguments Expected in Dylann Roof Trial. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 15, 2016 - 06:30   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The Obama administration says three quarters of all ISIS fighters have now been killed in battle by coalition forces.

[06:30:03] So, what does that say about the president's anti-terror strategy? Is this the right time for Donald Trump to step in and change that course?

We'll take a closer look at what we know, what is a guess and what is working when NEW DAY returns.


CUOMO: Breaking overnight: attempted evacuations finally resuming from the eastern part of Aleppo. Remember, conservative estimates put the number at 50,000 -- 50,000 incidents are caught in a war zone. However, as they try to start these evacuations, there was fire directed at the civilians in these evacuation vehicles right in the middle of a devastated area.

Now, supposedly, there's a new cease-fire taking effect overnight, but the word is it's barely holding.

With us is the counterterrorism expert, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. Daveed is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

It's good to have you with us, Daveed.

We're trying to get people to connect what's going on in Syria, not simply just because, although it should be enough, that it's a humanitarian catastrophe, but there are real strategic and safety implications to the United States and other countries from what's going on there right now.

[06:35:12] I want to play you some sound that gives us context for the decision the U.S. has made to stay out. This is from President Obama, most recently talking with Fareed Zakaria about why he did it.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Do you think it is an accomplishment of your presidency that you have substantially kept the United States out of the Syrian civil war militarily?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is the smartest decision from a menu of bad options that were available to us.


CUOMO: Do you agree?

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, if you look at what Obama went on to say, I have a problem with the overall statement, but I don't disagree with avoiding intervention. What he went on to say was, you know, we can't put 150,000 troops in Syria like we did in Iraq.

And the problem I have with that is that it's a complete straw man of what the positions are. I mean, what Hillary Clinton, for example, advocated and some people who are close to Obama was humanitarian strip where no-fly zone would be enforced in the northern part of Syria, humanitarian corridors, there are other options short of putting 150,000 troops in there.

But overall, given the difficulties of the Syrian war, given how many sides there are and how many people want to target the United States and the very amorphous U.S. interest, I do think he did make the right decision.

CUOMO: All right. You just mentioned something that is going to hit on a vast field of ignorance for most of us here in the U.S. Who is involved in fighting in Syria? Most people believe it's at best Assad against those who want to be liberated from him. But it's far more complex.

We have a graphic and I want you to take us through how many different entities are taken place on the ground here. Take us through the different parties.

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: Yes, absolutely. And to be clear, I helped your producers set up this yesterday and this is a simplified map. So, over in Aleppo, you have Sunni rebels against Assad's forces. It's not just Assad's forces, it's also the Iranian government, it's the Russians, as well as Hezbollah, which is a Lebanese militant group that is sponsored by Iran.

Now, another area of concern is that the Sunni rebels do have a significant jihadist contingent among their ranks, including al Qaeda over in Aleppo.

In the Golan Heights recently, you had some ISIS fighters actually attack Israel, Israel fought back. And then that's on the Assad versus the Sunni rebel side of the equation.

Then, when you look over at the other side of the country, the eastern side of the country, you have the ISIS side of the equation, where on the one hand in Raqqah, you have -- that's the capital of ISIS so- called caliphate, and there you have ISIS fighting against hastily assembled coalition. It includes the Syrian Democratic forces or YPG, which is a Kurdish group which is also a group that is linked to the PKK, an anti-Turkey Kurdish group. And so, in addition to the pressure on Raqqah, you had the Kurds and Turks fighting each other.

The final thing looking down to the south is Palmyra, which ISIS just retook from the Russians and the Syrian forces as they beat a hasty retreat. One of the reasons they were able to do so is because of the focus on Aleppo.

So, this is a multi-sided conflict where you have basically the Assad problem set and the ISIS problem set, and that's what again, to defend the president's decision makes any intervention so dangerous. There's multiple factions fighting each other in complex ways and a lot of people who would love to kill Americans.

CUOMO: So, the president decided, let's stay out of that because it's too much of a morass, and we'll make gains against ISIS elsewhere and thus comes their reckoning that they've killed a huge fraction of ISIS fighters.

How can they know how many is fighters they've killed or how many are left?

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: The answer is that they don't. The U.S. intelligence estimates in my judgment have always been low. If you go back to 2014, U.S. intelligence was saying that there is between, some of the low-end estimates were 9,000. But the mainstream estimates within the intelligence community were about 18,000 to about 33,000 fighters.

Now, I have an article, I'm on the record critiquing that figure back then and arguing that the numbers were actually much higher and I think what I wrote at the time has born out well because if you look at the number now, 50,000 being killed, which I think is roughly accurate, that would mean that they had destroyed ISIS's forces basically two times over. Even though ISIS right now is collapsing, if they experienced that kind of attrition relative to their overall numbers, they would be collapsing much more quickly than they are.

CUOMO: Is -- last point -- is there something that the U.S. could add to its strategy that would be a definite benefit going forward in the new administration?

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: Well, with respect to ISIS, you know, as the segment began, you know, there's a lot of damage being done to them right now. They lost 43 percent of their territory. They're on the verge of losing Mosul in Iraq, which has about 11 percent of their population, which will leave them with just one major capital.

[06:40:07] I think that there's two things, though, that can be done going forward. One of them is ISIS is going to try to regroup as an insurgent movement, not just in Syria and Iraq, but also in Africa, and being able to keep pressure on and maintain counterterrorism cooperation is important. Second thing is making sure that Sunni grievances don't basically reignite another major insurgency against Iraq and, unfortunately, all the components are in place. The final thing I'll point out is that al Qaeda during all of this

staying relatively low key but they're still very dangerous and operating much more openly than ever before. So, batting back against al Qaeda's new-found ability to operate openly is also important.

CUOMO: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, this stuff is complex. And that's why we need you to help us understand the way through. Appreciate it.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Up next, Chris, the Dylann Roof murder trial. Jurors hearing chilling testimony from a woman who nearly became the tenth victim of the alleged Charleston church shooter. But she told the story of why he spared her. Their closing arguments set to begin in just hours. We'll take you there live.


CAMEROTA: Imagine living in Memphis and paying hundreds of dollars of tickets to see LeBron play. But not only does he not play, he does even come to the game.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

What happened?

[06:45:00] ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Alisyn.

The Cavs only play in Memphis once a year. So, this is arguably the Grizzlies biggest home game of the season. Now, this game was the second half of a back-to-back for the Cavs and their head coach Tyronn Lue, well, he decided to rest LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Those three didn't even make the trip to Memphis.

So, fans clearly upset about spending hundreds of dollars to not see LeBron play. There are some great signs in the stands. That one say, "LeBron, thanks for ruining my Christmas." Another said, "Michael Jordan would have been here." At least the fans in Memphis did get to see their team win. The Grizzlies beat the Cavs, 93-85.

The NBA and its players union reaching a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. The seven-year deal guarantees labor peace through the 2023-2024 season. And with the new CBA, the league's average salary is expected to jump from the $5 million range to nearly $9 million annually. Great time to be an NBA player.

All right. Finally, the Seahawks Richard Sherman not happy about playing on three days rest. But he's going to be out there tonight as Seattle hosts the L.A. Rams. This is going to be the first game for the Rams since firing Jeff Fisher. Kickoff for this one is 8:25 Eastern.

Surprisingly, Chris, the Rams have beaten the Seahawks three times in a row. I have a feeling that streak will come to an end tonight.

CUOMO: Yes, that's one of those weird stats that you're not sure why it exists.

SCHOLES: Yes, double check that one.

CUOMO: Andy Scholes, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

SCHOLES: All right.

CUOMO: So, we have news of a 911 call from the lone survivor of the Charleston church shooting. It was played in court before the prosecution rested its case. We're going to preview the closing arguments in the Roof murder trial, next.


[06:50:51] CUOMO: Closing arguments are getting under way this morning in the trial of Dylann Roof, the man accused of shooting, the shooting of the Mother Emanuel AME in South Carolina.

Now, jurors heard heart-pounding testimony from a woman who narrowly dodged death that terrible evening.

CNN's Nick Valencia has the latest from Charleston, South Carolina.


DYLANN ROOF, ACCUSED SHOOTER: Well, I had to do it because somebody had to do something because, you know, black people are killing white people every day.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before his trial began, Dylann Roof confessed, saying he was willing to plead guilty to all charges on the condition that prosecutors removed the death penalty. They refused.

In the closing week of the trial, prosecutors punctuating their case by painting Roof as a cold blooded calculated killer, obsessed with white supremacy and hateful of blacks. They said Roof hoped to start a race war when he walked into the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17th, 2015. He prayed with the bible study group for nearly an hour before removing a .45 caliber Glock handgun and fatally shooting nine people.

Evidence presented by prosecutors include this video showing Roof shooting target practice and parts of a 2,000-word manifesto calling black people "stupid," "inferior to whites" and "violent".

He says the Trayvon Martin case triggered his decision to kill, saying, "no skinheads, no real KKK are taking action. Someone must." Quote, "I guess that has to be me."

The first witness brought to the stand was Felicia Sanders, a shooting survivor forced to take a break from accounting her gut-wrenching testimony. The last witness, 72-year-old Polly Sheppard, describing how she hid under a table praying as bullet casings fell around her until Roof told her he'd let her live to tell the horrific story.

POLLY SHEPPARD, WITNESS: He's still in the building. Please help us.

VALENCIA: Newly released audio from her 911 call capturing the panic inside.

SHEPPARD: There's so many people dead, I think. Oh, my God.

DISPATCH: You said there's so many people dead?

SHEPPARD: I think they're dead. Yes.

VALENCIA: Roof listening expressionless and emotionless showing no remorse.


VALENCIA: The defense rested without calling a single witness to the stand. At the end of court yesterday, Roof's defense attorney did try to call two mental health experts to the stand but a judge denied that motion.

There has been a lot of drama surrounding Roof's defense up until about two weeks ago. The 22-year-old said he wanted to represent himself. He, however, did an about-face but for only for this portion of the trial. He is expected to represent himself during the sentencing phase. Things here this morning expected to kick off at about 9:30 this morning -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Nick, thank you very much.

We want to bring in now, CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, it's emotional just to revisit this case and to hear it all, again. I mean, it's all just so horrible.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's not a legal conclusion, but every time I think about this case, I think there is evil in the world and there's always going to be and that's what we're seeing here. I mean, it is difficult to imagine a situation of more pure evil on display.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I know this is what you call an open and shut case. Why are you so certain?

TOOBIN: Well, you have a confession here. You have video. I mean, this is not a whodunit. The only issue in this case is whether they will impose the death penalty. And since you have what you call a death qualified jury where all the jurors have acknowledged in jury selection that they could impose the death penalty, they are not philosophically opposed to it. It's very hard for me to imagine any other resolution in this case.

CAMEROTA: Is there anything that takes -- I mean, Dylann Roof had tried to avoid death penalty himself. He said, "I'll plead guilty if you take the death penalty off the table", the prosecutors weren't willing to do that.

So, is there anything that could come up during the penalty phase if he had some kind of trauma in his own background that could spare him?

[06:55:06] TOOBIN: Well, that's -- you know, there are a whole category of lawyers called mitigation specialists who specialize in presenting evidence in the death penalty phase about background, about trauma, about history that explains, if not excuses the conduct.

At least at the moment it appears that Dylann Roof himself is going to defend himself during the penalty phase. So, I think that is a virtual guarantee of a death sentence. Although, the one hope that defense always has in a death penalty case is that one person simply decides not to do it and in that case, you know, 11-1 for death is a life sentence.

CAMEROTA: So, you know, there was this testimony from this woman, Polly Sheppard, who survived because Dylann Roof told her that he wanted her to survive so that she could then tell the story of what happened. We have a little bit more of her chilling 911 call that I want to play.


SHEPPARD: Please answer. Oh, God.

OPERATOR: 911. What's the address of the emergency?

SHEPPARD: Please. Emanuel church. There's plenty of people shot down here. Please send somebody right away.

OPERATOR: Emanuel Church?

SHEPPARD: Emanuel AME, 110 Calhoun.

OPERATOR: And there's people shot?

SHEPPARD: Yes. He shot the pastor. He shot all the men in the church. Please come right away.


CAMEROTA: So, Jeffrey, when the defense attorney called that woman to the stand, his name is David Bruck, he said to her, "I am so sorry. I have no questions." I mean --

TOOBIN: You know, what could you say? I mean, what -- you know, lawyers despite evidence of the contrary are human beings, too. They recognize that, you know, how the power of this and David Bruck who is working as the defense lawyer is a very experienced, very accomplished death penalty lawyer.

But, I mean, part of what's involved here when you're trying to save a client is you don't try to insult the jury's intelligence. You don't try to pretend that the facts are something that they're not. And I don't know if it's going to help Dylann Roof. I don't know if it should help Dylann Roof.

But David Bruck is trying to make a bad situation worse. CAMEROTA: I just thought that that was so poignant and so telling that he felt for her and apologized to her, as any human being would, even though he's tasked with, obviously, defending this person.

You know, just one last thing I want to say because I was down there covering this right after it happened. Dylann Roof told police that he wanted to start a race war. And he ended up doing the opposite. You know, when we were down there, we saw blacks and whites linking arms and holding hands and singing gospel songs and there is, you know, just a beautiful message in that.

TOOBIN: You know, and if you look at the behavior of the families of the victims and the aftermath there, I mean, they have behaved with a grace and courage that is really remarkable. And I don't want to say something positive to come out of this, but it is good to see people rising to the occasion.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, they are beacons of light that light the way for all of us.

Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much.

We're following a lot of news this morning. So, let's get right to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump should do what every president has done. Set up a true, qualified blind trust.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: Everybody in this room has to like me at least a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His sons and his daughter and his son-in-law will continue to provide counsel to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conflicts are innumerable and they will tie him in knots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am going to be killed. That's what's going to happen.

CAMEROTA: Evacuations in Aleppo finally under way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To everyone who can hear me, this may be my last video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many people now are being killed and no one can help them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The real world slapped me in the face on march 22nd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Martinez family wants the world to know what ISIS took from them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I was looking away, daddy, don't you go.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.


CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

We do begin with the growing concerns over Donald Trump's family ties. The president-elect meeting Silicon Valley's titans of technology with his three grown children and his son-in-law also at the table.

CAMEROTA: The Trump White House looking more than ever like a family affair. We're going to learn that the president-elect's daughter, Ivanka, may have an office in the East Wing, with her husband Jared possibly occupying space in the West Wing.