Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

NATO Arms Troops at Afghan Headquarters; 34 Killed In Mine Bloodbath; Questions About Ryan's Record

Aired August 17, 2012 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: There wasn't any internet, and Rodriguez didn't even own a phone for years. Now, with YouTube videos going viral, it's really not very likely that phenomenon could be repeated.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a bold security move at NATO headquarters in Afghanistan as two more U.S. troops are gunned down by insurgents dressed in Afghan uniform.

Plus, President Obama's interviews with "People" magazine and "Entertainment Tonight" fueling GOP allegations he's dodging the tough questions on the campaign trail.

And an Air France flight is forced to land in the middle of a Syrian war zone. And passengers are asked for cash desperately needed to refuel.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Joe Johns, and you're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Extraordinary measures are being taken by the U.S. NATO commander at NATO headquarters following a deadly string of attacks on coalition forces by insurgents dressed in Afghan uniforms. The latest incidents occurred just today when two U.S. Special Forces were shot and killed by an Afghan police officer.

CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is at the Pentagon. Barbara, tell us about this latest move.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Joe, General John Allen, the U.S. NATO commander in Afghanistan now starting with his own headquarters, but at all bases across the country ordering all troops to carry a magazine of ammunition in their weapon. This puts them about two seconds away to slide it back and they can drop a round in the chamber ready to fire.

Everyone will carry their weapon loaded at all times at NATO headquarters and at bases around the country. You might think you know it's a war zone, isn't everybody already carrying a loaded weapon? But on the basis on these major bases like NATO headquarters, generally, it's only the security forces that carry their weapons loaded.

Now everybody, every job, no matter what they do, the crisis now over this whole issue of Afghans killing U.S. troops, it's affecting morale. It may be a small number of troops involved on the afghan side, but there's just a lot of concern that this is simply getting out of hand, Joe.

JOHNS: Well, is there any way to sort of gauge or measure the effect on the morale of the troops?

STARR: You know, I talked to one U.S. military officer today in Kabul, Afghanistan, and what he said is, now, he's sitting at his desk with his weapon loaded. That's the order. And he said what you're seeing is everybody's just sort of watching everybody else. It didn't used to be that way. So, you are seeing a wariness. You're seeing a certain level of concern and caution.

U.S. troops are in the field make no mistake with Afghans across the country. The majority of them serve honorably. But this whole issue is now beginning to seep, if you will, throughout the whole organization. And it is beginning to have some impact on everybody's level of confidence in everybody else -- Joe.

JOHNS: Potentially troubling trend there. Thanks so much for that, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

And joining me now is Peter Bergen. And Peter, give me some sense of what you're hearing on the ground about these latest security measures?

VOICE OF PETER BERGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I talked to NATO military officials, and they're obviously very concerned about the so- called green on blue incidence which are Afghan army or police shooting U.S. and/or other NATO country soldiers. We've seen seven incidents of this kind in just over a week in Afghanistan.

And the death toll now for American soldiers, about 10 percent of American soldiers who are dying in Afghanistan now are dying at the hands of Afghan soldiers or police, which is, Joe, very worrisome, obviously, particularly as United States and NATO start drawing down and more and more, you know, probably (ph) advisors are embedded with Afghan armed units, which is what is likely to happen here in the future.

JOHNS: Any sense of what can be done to prevent these attacks? Is this just an issue of intelligence gathering, for instance?

BERGEN: Well, NATO military officials say, first of all, that they're going to put more counterintelligence agents in the field to kind of winkle out either Taliban sympathizers or people with beef because, you know, they also say that only nine percent of these attacks can definitely a tricky (ph). The Taliban, often, the attacker dies in the attack or escapes.

And so, to determine motivation definitively is tricky. And a lot of these attacks aren't really anything to do with the Taliban. They're just Afghan soldiers or police with a personal beef of some kind, a personal grievance. And that, of course, is, you know, that's quite hard to detect.

JOHNS: How much damage would you say attacks like this are having on the larger war effort?

BERGEN: I think it's quite damaging, because, you know, there's nothing more damaging to morale than, you know, going on a joint operation with an Afghan armed unit and being quite concerned that, you know, there's a relatively good chance that something might go awry. I mean, if the present rate of attacks kept up, it would be, I think, you know, very, very problematic for the Afghan war effort.

JOHNS: Peter Bergen in Kabul. Thanks so much. Good talking to you and please stay safe there.

BERGEN: Thank you, Joe. Thank you.

JOHNS: Turning now to the dozens of wildfires scorching the western United States where firefighters are expected to gain some ground today battling the blazes before the winds whip up again. CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is tracking the progress and the latest forecast. Chad, looking at some of these pictures, doesn't look good.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No. Getting a handle a little bit on some of the fire lines, 20 percent, 30 percent containment on some of these fires. But every dot that you see here, everything that looks like a fire, that is one fire that is still not contained somewhere. I can't find a state anywhere west of the Rockies that doesn't have at least one fire burning right now. And it's hot.

This is the issue. It's not that windy today. I saw some pictures maybe winds are around 10 miles per hour, 15 miles per hour, that would be about it. We are seeing the hot conditions, though, from Seattle down through Portland. Temperatures well over 100. Now, you have to think, OK, that's not going to make the fire get any bigger any faster just because it's hot.

But you have firefighters on the line trying to work at 101 degrees trying to work, somewhere, some of these spots have been well over 110 on the fire lines the past couple of days. Portland stays about the same right where you are. Now, it isn't that dry out here. You think all the drought must be the problem.

No, it actually isn't the drought problem. There's not much drought at all where the most of these fires are in Washington, Oregon, Northern California. It's an old drought that happened years ago that killed so many trees because of these pine beetles getting into these trees killing the trees. Now, they're just standing up just waiting to catch on fire -- Joe.

JOHNS: So, what about those temperatures? Are they going to go down any time soon?

MYERS: This ridge of high pressure has really been sitting here for quite some time. Comes off the coast of California, up over here, and it's hot. And that's -- you're seeing a cool down in the east a little bit. Not a lot. But it's not 100 in the east anymore.

And this high pressure that's sitting right here is the sunshine beating on the ground, beating on it all day long. And that has no forecast for to move. No chance of it moving in the next ten to 14 days. That's as far as our forecasts really go out.

JOHNS: The next 10 to 14 days. That's a long time.

MYERS: It is.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks so much, Chad Myers.

MYERS: You're welcome.

JOHNS: The raging wildfires are not only taking a toll on the residents. Hundreds of animals are suffering, too. CNN's Dan Simon is in Washington State where a makeshift relief center has been set up for those who've been displaced.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Joe. You can see some of the smoke behind me as crews try to continue battling this wildfire. They're dumping water on it right now with helicopters. We should tell you that no humans have been injured in this fire. The same cannot be said about the animals and treating those that have been displaced has been quite an effort.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (voice-over): From sheep to (INAUDIBLE) to turkeys to pigs, the Kittitas County Washington fairground has turn into a giant animal refuge center. It all began when people were forced to flee their homes. While they went to shelters or to stay with friends or family, the animals, too, needed a place to go.

So, the county said they could come here. And since the fire broke out, it's been a temporary home to as many as 400 animals.

How big of an event has this fire been for this community?

MARK KINSEL, VETERINARIAN: It's -- I can't put it in words. I've never seen anything like it in my nearly 50 years. People have asked me have you ever done this before? I've gone through training and simulated exercises, but doing the real thing is a whole different learning process.

SIMON: Mark Kinsel is the lead veterinarian whose skills became vital in saving some of the injured animals.

KINSEL: We had reports of large number of burn victims coming to our triage. We had set up a triage center. And I had to go take a walk and kind of regroup. And, you know, I was starting to tear up and say, OK, you got to deal with this and put your emotions aside and, you know, get ready to go. SIMON: These are the lucky ones. Authorities believe many, possibly hundreds of animals, died in the fire. Some owners racing to cut their fences to give their livestock or pets a fighting chance.

KINSEL: There are probably still a large number of animals, horses, and cattle are running around the county. And there's a lot of Good Samaritans that are finding the animals just out in the field or out on the road. And we have the sheriff's department report them in. And we send crews out to go get them.

SIMON: Kim Collucci just moved to town two weeks ago and was frantic to get her horses to safety. Also at stake, her livelihood raising goats.

KIM COLLUCCI, EVACUEE: We're with them from the time they're born. We attend their births. We are there, you know, through the whole pregnancy, and then, we milk morning and night.

SIMON: Kinsel says the animals can stay here indefinitely, and the community has stepped up with tons of donations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (on-camera): Well, this is a community that depends on its livestock. As you saw, there are many different kinds. Now, some of those animals have been able to go back home as the evacuation orders get lifted. But still, some evacuation orders remain in place as crews continue working this fire, Joe.

JOHNS: So, Dan, do we know numbers? The number of people evacuated who are going to be heading back to their homes?

SIMON: Well, at one point, you had as many as 500 people evacuated. That number has gone down significantly as some of these evacuation orders end. Right now, the fire, we should tell you, is about a third contained. But there are still some hot spots, and one of the big concerns this weekend, Joe, is lightning.

And so, there are more resources being put in place to deal with that kind of thing or be allocated elsewhere. So, crews are going to be watching it very closely this weekend.

JOHNS: All right. So, and just for our viewers who aren't familiar with the area, this is an area that is rural. Is that the reason why we just have so many animals running around? Or give us some sense of that.

SIMON: That's exactly right. You're talking about many acres of farmland. And as I said, this is a community that really is dependent on its livestock for the local economy. Just about everyone you meet, you know, either has a herd of goats or a herd of pigs or chickens. And so, that's why there are so many animals. And when you saw those flames get very close to the homes, a lot of people really had no choice but to, you know, cut their animals loose to give them a shot at surviving. And you had people basically on the roads, Good Samaritans and crews looking for animals and then bringing them to the fairgrounds trying to get them, you know, in a decent place and get them some shelter, Joe.

JOHNS: It's really quite a thought. Somebody just taking the horse that they've had on the farm for who knows how many years and setting it free because there's no other choice. Thanks so much for that.

Paul Ryan's first week in review as Mitt Romney's new VP pick makes his way across key swing states. His record is catching up with him.

Plus, a nine-year-old convinced he saw his father shot dead by police on TV. A woman's desperate search to find her husband in the wake of South Africa's deadly police shooting.

And could a car trunk be a possible means of escape from extradition for the notorious WikiLeaks founder? Our Brian Todd gets inside one to find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: In South Africa, outrage today over one of the bloodiest protest since the end of apartheid in 1994. Dozens of people were killed when police opened fire on a miner strike northwest of Johannesburg. Police say it was self-defense. CNN Nkepile Mabuse has the story and this warning, her report contains very disturbing images.

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, the situation here at Lonmin Platinum Mine is still extremely tense. The police maintaining a very heavy presence. The community still very shocked and angry at what transpired in this field where I'm standing with 34 people were gunned down.

So, questions are being asked about who fired first. But still family members who don't even know what has become of their loved ones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MABUSE (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) is desperate. Her husband, a worker at Lonmin mine is missing. "My children are asking about their father," she tells me. "He hasn't come back home." Nabantus (ph) husband was among the striking South African miners whose confrontation with the police on Thursday left 34 dead and some 80 injured.

She says her nine-year-old son is convinced he saw his father being shot dead on TV. We went with her to the local hospital, like many families looking for husbands, brothers and fathers. Tension at Lonmin mine began to build a week ago when miners stopped work demanding more pay. By Thursday, authorities were no longer prepared to accept the occupation of the mine. XOLI MNGAMBI, REPORTER: We saw a whole group of them, police officers, carrying massive guns, R-5s, we understand. And they just moved in immediately.

MABUSE: Were they provoked?

MNGAMBI: We cannot say to you that the police were provoked.

MABUSE: What followed was killing reminiscent of the apartheid era. The mine's owner, Lonmin, blames the violence which had already claimed ten lives on labor union rivalry. Many of the striking miners had armed themselves with knives, clubs, and according to police, some guns. But one of them denies that workers were behind the violence saying all they want is more money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In South Africa, we are supposed to be free. But people who are fighting for their rights are being killed. Whether what they did was legal or illegal, they should not have died. All they want is a wage increase.

MABUSE: The National Police Commissioner says police used live ammunition as the last resort.

COMMISSIONER RIAH PHIYEGA, SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL POLICE: This is no time for blaming. This is no time for finger-pointing. It is a time for us to mourn the sad moment with (INAUDIBLE) as a country.

MABUSE: Nabantus Kusis' (ph) search for her husband takes her to two hospitals. Finally, she discovers her husband is listed among the injured. "I'm very happy," she says. A rare moment of relief among the mourning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MABUSE (on-camera): Mine management is not expecting miners to go back to work. They're saying that this whole area needs to be declared safe first by the police -- Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks for that, Nkepile Mabuse in Johannesburg.

He's been out of sight since last spring. In fact, this might be the way you remember Illinois congressman, Jesse Jackson Jr. But now, the first pictures of him at the clinic where he's being treated for depression.

And, you might find Paul Ryan's list of favorites on Facebook surprising. One of his musical picks sure did. We'll explain why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The first wave of charges filed in a pair of shootings. Brianna Keilar is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Brianna, what do you have?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, state police say seven people are facing charges connected to the shooting of a Louisiana sheriff's deputy during the first of two shootings that left two deputies dead and another deputy wounded. Five of those arrested are in jail. Two others are hospitalized for gunshot wounds.

Officials say the attempted murder charges are for the initial shooting. They say the investigation is continuing, and more charges are possible.

Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. hasn't been seen on Capitol Hill since May. And now, CNN has obtained photos of the Illinois Democrat meeting yesterday at the Mayo Clinic with former congressman, Patrick Kennedy, whose office released the pictures. Jackson has been at the Rochester, Minnesota facility undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder.

And rage against the machine guitarist. Tom Morello is raging against Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan. Ryan lists the rap metal group as one of his favorite bands. And in a "Rolling Stone" opinion piece today, Morello says Ryan's message runs counter to what the bandstands for.

Morello supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and is well- known for supporting union rights.

And I love this next story. Britney Spears is apparently a fan of the Mars rover Curiosity. The pop star recently tweeted "So Mars Curiosity. Does Mars look the same as it did in 2000?" And Curiosity did not take very long to respond tweeting back, "Hey, Brit-Brit, Mars is still looking good."

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: "Maybe someday, an astronaut will bring me a gift, too. Drill bits cross (ph)."

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: Isn't that hilarious?

JOHNS: That's awesome.

KEILAR: So, in her tweet, Joe, she included this link to he video for "Oops, I Did It Again." That's what the rover or whoever was tweeting for it was referencing it because in it, she plays out this kind of inner planetary love story and it takes her to Mars. Hilarious.

JOHNS: Oh, that's amazing. I love that. You're right. That's like the best story of the week.

KEILAR: I agree.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNS: Great. Thanks for that, Brianna.

KEILAR: Thanks, Joe. JOHNS: Too much face and not enough substance. Critics say President Obama is keeping his press availabilities too campaign light.

And later, Julian Assange may be asking himself what good is asylum if you can't get to your host country? Our Brian Todd looks at the WikiLeaks' founders escape options.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: As Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, campaigns through the swing states, his record is catching up with him. Not only is it making for some pointed questions on a range of issues from China to the stimulus, it's also been inspiring a few hecklers like this one at the Ryan rally this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are people just in this building who have epitomized what the American idea's all about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you lie about your --

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

RYAN: I know. He's over there making me feel at home. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser is keeping track of what Ryan's saying now and what he's said in the past.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Joe, it's been nearly a week since Paul Ryan's life dramatically changed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN: I am deeply honored and excited to join you as your running mate.

STEINHAUSER: His first solo act in the national spotlight was a noisy one with the house budget chairman from Wisconsin getting a taste of the often ruckus Iowa state fair. He faced some tough questions in his first solo interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: I get that, but what about balance?

RYAN: Well, I don't know exactly when it balances is because I don't want to get wonky on you but we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan.

STEINHAUSER: After criticizing the president's stimulus program.

RYAN: I oppose the stimulus because it doesn't work. It didn't work. It brought us deeper into debt.

STEINHAUSER: He had to admit that his office had in fact requested stimulus funds and after slamming Mr. Obama over China.

RYAN: He said he'd go to the mat with China. Instead, they're treating him like a door mat. We're not going to let that happen.

STEINHAUSER: Reports highlighted his past vote against the bill that would have taken a tougher stand against Beijing. Ryan's plans to alter Medicare put that combustible issue in the spotlight. With the Romney campaign quickly fighting back what could be a negative into a positive.

RYAN: The president was talking about Medicare yesterday. I'm excited about this. This is a debate we want to have. This is a debate we need to have. And this is a debate we're going to win.

STEINHAUSER: Ryan drew big crowds at stops in Colorado and Nevada and threw big cheers at a rally at Miami University in Ohio where he went to college.

RYAN: It is really good to be back here on campus.

STEINHAUSER: He ended this week where he began his new journey.

RYAN: Virginia is a very important state.

STEINHAUSER: Where he got to show off once again that he's just a regular guy.

RYAN: I've caught some big bass here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEINHAUSER: While they went their separate ways this week, they reunite next week teaming up at a town hall Monday in New Hampshire -- Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks, Paul Steinhauser for that.

Joining us now to talk about that and more "Time" deputy bureau chief Michael Crowley.

And when you look at this campaign, we're only a week in now with Ryan. Do you think the campaign is getting the bounce that they expected to get from Ryan?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, you know, there's good energy at the events and on the trail and you have people inside the campaign and outside of it say that Mitt Romney is really energized and seems to have some new life in him. The numbers aren't really bearing it out yet. But you know, traditionally, you don't get a gigantic bounce from your running mate. So, I think that you know it's probably not their finest hopes, but it's somewhat still playing out.

JOHNS: OK. I want to play a clip for you from a Republican national committee web ad and then talk about it.

CROWLEY: OK.

JOHNS: Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: When is he going to be accessible for questions other than to "People" magazine and "Entertainment Tonight?"

BEN LABOLT, PRESIDENT OBAMA'S CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: I would assume in a local market the reporters' questions will be any less serious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States of America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's it going, guys?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our big question, red or green.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Red. Although, every once in a while green is solid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNS: OK. So, right, a lot of different stuff there. The essential question among others is whether the president is giving too many fluff interviews. Do you think he's mixing it up in a serious way with reporters enough?

CROWLEY: I think he probably ought to take some tougher questions, ought to face the White House press corp. The White House press corps is not perfect, heaven knows. But I think they ask pretty good substantiate questions. Local media interviews can be tough. I think they tend to be gentler. These are people frequently doing the interviews who get a little dazzled by the president coming in. The White House press corps, they are little more jaded. They deal with the guy every day. And I have to think that it's an effective ad. Republicans really like to promote the theme the media is soft on Obama and then he's in there because he's not being asked the hard questions. So, there's a larger points they are making out that this guy is not really getting vetted.

JOHNS: And the other question would be about Mitt Romney himself. I know when I was on the campaign trail during the primaries it seemed he didn't do very many availabilities at all. Is he talking to the media enough about serious sustentative issues?

CROWLEY: He's quite wary of the media also. He did do one yesterday, but then, you see what happened. You see why politicians are wary of doing these things. So, Romney came out with his whiteboard to explain his Medicare policy and thought I'm going to do a real sustentative thing and explain my position on Medicare and drive the news on that. He got asked a question on his taxes, a perfectly legitimate question, but he gave an answer on his taxes and it led all three network news broadcasts and was kind of political story of the morning. And I think the Romney campaign probably felt like we didn't get what we wanted out of that. I do think these guys have an obligation to talk to the press, but that's an example of why they don't like to do it.

JOHNS: Do you think the public give them credit for mixing it up with the media? Or is it easier to give a speech and hope your whole message gets through unfiltered?

CROWLEY: Well, I think by and large the public is not paying too much attention to how many questions are being asked. The public doesn't like the press very much.

I will say Joe, there are some examples. John McCain is one where certain politicians, they make a big deal about how willing they are to take tough questions, fire away, ask me anything. I think they're rewarded for it.

John McCain really was rewarded for it during that period of time when he did it. So, there is a model where it can be successful. By and large I think these guys feel like it's easier not to deal with it.

JOHNS: Another headline we've had going for some time now is about the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. All the money he put in the campaign and whether the Romney campaign is doing the right thing by working with him.

Listen to this, a careful presidential campaign would put distance between itself and a businessman like Mr. Adelson; instead this one is cultivating him. Mr. Romney recently met with him in Israel. Mr. Ryan this week paid homage to him and other donors at a private casino on the 36th floor of his hotel by allowing him to have such an outsized role in the race the candidates themselves are placing a very risky bet.

That's a "New York Times" editorial. Do you think there's a danger for Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney to get too close to Sheldon Adelson right now?

CROWLEY: Well, I'm not sure how much voters are aware of Adelson himself as an individual figure. But I do think in general people are realizing how much millionaires and billionaires are pouring into this campaign through super PACs through kind of dark money. And I do think -- and more of that money is coming on the Republican side. I think there could be some danger if Ryan -- if Romney and Ryan are perceived as being working in league with these billionaires, generally speaking, people may not know everything about their backgrounds. It does fit into the Obama narrative that this is a campaign to cut taxes for the wealthy and benefit the wealthy.

I have to say in fairness Obama's done more than 200 fundraisers and those are not nickel and dime events. Those are wealthy people also. But I think optically it does look like the Republicans are cozier with these big ultra-rich guys. And I think that that could be problematic for them.

JOHNS: So it cuts both ways. Thanks so much for that, Michael Crowley.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Joe.

JOHNS: Controversial voter ID laws gaining ground across the country could impact whether you're allowed to vote. Is it legal? I'll ask our Jeffrey Toobin just ahead.

And, an air France flight is forced to land in the middle of the Syrian war zone and passengers are asked for cash to refuel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: This week's court ruling allowing a controversial voter ID law to be implemented in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania is reviving the emotional battle over voting rights just months before the presidential election. Democrats argue it could disenfranchise up to 100,000 people especially minorities. And they're outraged. They say over Republicans in the state who say this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE TURZAI (R), MAJORITY LEADER, PENNSYLVANIA STATE HOUSE: Voter ID which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only people that disenfranchises are those individual who is are trying to perpetrate election fraud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Pennsylvania is just one of more than a dozen states requiring people to show voter id. Six of them are being investigated by the justice department.

Joining us to talk about that now senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, he's the author of the new book "the oath, the Obama White House versus the Supreme Court," which is due out next month.

And Jeff, when you look at these voter id laws that are sort of in various states around the country, you ask one thing, what's the intent of them? What's your view of that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's the $64 question, Joe. And you get very different answers. The Democrats of course say this is a cure for which there is no disease. Voter fraud is not a major problem. Very few people have been caught trying to vote who are not entitled to vote. And they say the purpose is, as you heard that Republican legislator say, is simply to elect Republicans. To disenfranchise poor people, older people, black people who tend on the average not to have photo ids. That is -- the Republicans who sponsor these laws say, no, we are just imposing ordinary rules that same as you need to cash a check at the store, you need to show somebody a photo ID. And that is nothing unreasonable about that.

JOHNS: So do the states have any kind of a duty, if you will, actually to sort of prove that voter fraud is a problem or can they just say, we think voter fraud could be a problem?

TOOBIN: Well you know, it's interesting, Joe. Not a lot of people know this. There is no constitutional right to vote in the United States. There is not an amendment, there's not a provision of the constitution that says everyone has the right to vote. You can't be prevented from voting on the basis of race, but there is no affirmative right to vote. And the Supreme Court in 2008 and the decision by John Paul Stephens, one of the more liberal members of the court at the time, said that the photo ID rule in Indiana was constitutional, that at least on its face it did not discriminate against any group. And it was simply a way of maintaining security at the polls that the Supreme Court upheld. That has led most courts who have looked at this issue so far to defer to the legislators and these laws so far have been upheld.

JOHNS: So what is the justice department's interest if there's no constitutional right to vote? What's the justice department's interest in taking a look at these laws?

TOOBIN: Well, the justice department has a couple routes into this. First of all there's the voting rights act. The voting rights act says states that have histories of discrimination, mostly in the south. They have a special duty to prove that any changes they make in their electoral system including these photo ID laws don't discriminate against African-Americans. That is a very active investigation certainly in Florida, which is covered by the voting rights act.

In other states like Pennsylvania which is not covered by the voting rights act, the justice department has less of an obvious interest. But if they can prove that this was simply designed to hurt African-Americans, poor people, people who tend to vote democratically, then the justice department could step in. But so far all of these rules have been upheld except for Wisconsin. Wisconsin's courts have put it on hold. Michigan, it has not been implemented. The governor actually stopped it. But most of the states that went Republican in the 2010 election as you pointed out on the chart have put in these rules.

JOHNS: Well, Jeff Toobin, thanks so much for that. Hope to talk to you a little bit more on that. I'm working on a documentary about the whole story. TOOBIN: Big subject, big stakes.

JOHNS: We'll see you again.

TOOBIN: OK.

JOHNS: Can Julian Assange slip out of London without getting caught? Our Brian Todd tests some ideas as the British authorities keep a close eye on the embassy where he's holed up.

And, the battle over tax returns turns into an e-mail tit for tat between both presidential campaigns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: He may have been granted asylum, but Julian Assange is still stuck in Ecuador's embassy in London. The British government does not recognize the asylum if the Wikileaks founder were to leave his safe haven, he would most certainly be captured and sent off to face rape charges in Sweden. Could he escape to Ecuador?

CNN's Brian Todd joins me now. Is it possible he could get out of there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Possible, Joe, but very risky. Julian Assange might want to find good books to read, maybe subscribe to a good cable TV package. His chances for using some slight of hand to escape the British police are slim and dwindling.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He's reported to be tense and going a bit stir crazy. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holed up inside the Ecuador in embassy in London. He's been there for about two months. Now that Ecuador's granted him asylum and Britain's refused to honor it, a classic standoff is underway if Assange takes one step outside the embassy.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, CHAIRMAN, THE COUNCIL OF THE AMERICA: My understanding is that the British would arrest him and extradite him to Sweden.

That's where Assange is wanted for questioning over sexual assault claims. With the fugitive inside in what's at the moment considered Ecuadoran territory and with British police outside ready to pounce, scenarios are being debated over a possible escape.

Is this an option getting smuggled out in the trunk of a diplomatic car? A former British diplomat says the car would be considered Ecuadoran domain. British police he says could stop it, but not search it, couldn't necessarily pull Assange out. But there's a hitch in that plan.

The hitch, apparently there's no garage available to the Ecuadoran embassy. We are told there's only one entrance to the embassy right here and obviously, that is not an option. The building is completely surrounded by British police. They're in the streets, the alleys, the side streets, if anyone was going to try to take Assange from the building to a waiting car, the police would get him.

The police are also reported to be monitoring the so-called communal areas of the building, the hallways and elevators preventing Assange from taking an elevator up to the roof where a helicopter could pick him up.

Police could monitor the hallways and elevators because it occupies only one floor, the first floor and not even all of that. It's here right where this window is. And Assange can barely step into a hallway without risking apprehension.

If he did somehow get to a car, there are airports large and small in every direction. But experts say once he got to one of those, he could easily be captured. He could, actually, be smuggled out in a crate or large bag. If it's labeled a diplomatic parcel, the British police can't open it. But --

OLIVER MILES, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO LIBYA (voice-over): I think they could delay it, I think they can hold it, I think they can keep it in a -- in a very cold or very hot place or something like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But former British ambassador Oliver Miles doesn't see that happening either. One thing that could happen, he says, Assange could simply take refuge inside the Ecuadoran embassy but indefinitely. It's happened before, in 1956 when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, Cardinal Joseph Mensenti, a top Catholic official there, took refuge inside the American embassy in Budapest. He was granted asylum, the good cardinal was, and he lived in the American embassy for 15 years.

JOHNS: That's just amazing.

TODD: I want to see the look on Julian Assange's face when someone says you may have to be here for 15 years.

JOHNS: Right. So, what happens here? I mean, is it possible they could sort of force some of the issue and then create a big international blow-up or whatever?

TODD: That's right. The British really hold most if not all of the cards here. If this drags on too long for them, they could cut off diplomatic relations or simply kick the Ecuadoran in that embassy out of the country at least temporarily. Oliver Miles says the immunity of the premises depends on the immunity of the diplomat. If the diplomats are gone, the premise isn't protected. That means they can go in and get Julian Assange. It will cost a big diplomatic route with Ecuador.

JOHNS: That's for sure because the sanctity of embassies is sort of shared and important all over the world.

TODD: It is. It is. It has happened before, so they could do it. How badly do they want him?

JOHNS: Brian Todd. Thanks for that.

TODD: Sure.

JOHNS: Beirut, too dangerous for an air France flight to land so it's diverted to the Syrian war zone? And get this, the passengers are asked for cash to refuel.

And in our next hour, three members of a popular Russian punk band sentenced to prison for singing a song about the country's president. Now the White House is responding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The Passenger jet bound for Beirut, Lebanon changed course because of mounting tensions spilling over from Syria. The plan was to land in Jordan, but the plane and its passengers wound up laying over in of all places Damascus.

CNN's Sandra Endo joins me now. Why did that happen, Sandra? What's next?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John as you know, that region is very tense. There's a lot of conflict and sometimes flights get redirected, but now air France is apologizing to passengers onboard a flight from Paris to Beirut this week when the flight took a scary diversion, the airlines started asking passengers for cash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO (voice-over): A pit stop in a war-torn country after running low on fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We stayed there for a couple of hours and we were really afraid.

ENDO: An air France flight was forced to divert because of this unrest. Their first choice was to land in Jordan, but the crew couldn't get a secure flight path. Desperately in need of fuel, the plane was forced to land in Syria's capital, Damascus. Of course the country is in the midst of an uprising, and air France says the airport wouldn't take credit for the fuel only cash, leaving the airline to ask those onboard to dig deep into their pockets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They asked the passengers who had money in order to refuel because they didn't have an account there.

ENDO: Adding to the tension, diplomatic relations between France and Syria are sour. Along with much of the world, French officials are demanding Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad to step down. Air France stopped all flights in Damascus in March so the plane was sitting in unfriendly territory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We landed and they told us quickly to close all the window shades and then told us not to take photos or video and if they did, they had to be deleted immediately or we risk prison.

ENDO: Flight expert says this type of diversion doesn't happen that often.

What do you think happened in this case? How did they get out of this situation?

KEVIN HIATT, FLIGHT SAFETY FOUNDATION: Well, I believe what probably took place is that the right people got to talk to each other in the higher level between the governments and the airline and there were guarantees of payments made through wire transfers or something of that nature.

ENDO: Finally, despite tense moments on the tarmac, the flight was refueled and headed to nearby Cypress arriving in Lebanon the next day. The airline said in a statement, ultimately Air France could pay the full amount itself and passengers did not have to advance any cash.

(END VIDEOTAPE)