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U.S. Considers Military Strike Against Syria; Kids Wish Network Investigated; Yosemite Wildfire Nears San Francisco's Water Supply; Arias Trial Part Two: Life Or Death?

Aired August 26, 2013 - 20:00   ET



Good evening, everyone.

Tonight, breaking news -- with American warships able to strike at a moment's notice, and President Obama vowed to make a big decision, are we on the brink of a military attack on Syria over the suspected use of chemical weapons? The latest from Washington tonight. We're also live in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Also tonight, why is this woman avoiding our cameras? You might too if your charity were raising millions as hers is for children with cancer and other deadly illnesses, but spending 97 percent of it on everything but those children. Tonight, a whistleblower explains how the operation spends your money -- keeping them honest.

Plus, stopping the epic fire that's stopping America's scenic treasures and the water supply for a major city. Incredible scenes from the battleground.

We begin tonight with the breaking news.

The growing possible military action against Syria with strike options going to the president within the next few days. Another clear sign of where things are headed when America's top diplomat abandons the language of diplomacy and speaks bluntly like this.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we saw in Syria last week, should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality.

Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard it is inexcusable and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.


COOPER: Secretary of State Kerry this afternoon, blaming in no uncertain terms the Assad regime for the suspected gas attack that may have killed upwards of 1300 men, women and children. Now over the weekend new video surfaced, it's deeply disturbing to watch, but arguably, deeply necessary for the world to see.

In one utterly heartbreaking clip, a father grieves over the bodies of his two young daughters. His nightmare come to pass.

Doctors Without Borders has already said it has found signs of a poison attack among victims. Today Secretary Kerry said the U.S. has additional evidence it plans to make public soon. Also today a U.N. inspection team gained access to the attack site after initially coming under sniper fire.

Meantime out in the Mediterranean, four American destroyers wait for orders able to launch a cruise missile strike on short notice.

And back home a senior administration official tells us President Obama will be presented with final options in the next few days. While House Speaker John Boehner warns that Congress should be consulted before any action is taken.

We'll talk about the military and diplomatic possibilities and capability shortly. But first let's go straight to Fred Pleitgen, the only Western network correspondent right now in Syria. He's in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

What's the latest, Fred, and has there been any reaction from the Assad regime?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Well, there hasn't been any statement or anything from the Assad regime. However they have reacted and they clearly are hearing the message. The foreign minister of the country, Walid al-Muallem, has called for a press conference for 1:00 p.m. local time.

And Assad himself earlier today did give some sort of a reaction in general to the rhetoric that of course is getting more and more tough towards the Syrians. Assad said in an interview with a Russian newspaper that he denies all the claims of Syrian -- the Syrian military using any sort of chemical weapons on the battlefield.

He said, quote, "That it would be ludicrous for the Syrian military to do that, considering that in itself has forces on the front line and they would gas themselves if they use chemical weapons." He also warned the United States about any sort of possible intervention and to the United States had started wars in the past and had never achieved its political objectives.

Of course, the United States by no means buying that. We heard those statements from John Kerry.

One of the other things, Anderson, that's also going on, and this is sort of a serious show of force, they have been absolutely pounding the outskirts of Damascus with artillery all day. And of course those are exactly the areas where the rebels say those chemical attacks took place -- Anderson.

COOPER: And what do we know about the U.N. inspection team? Any sense as to when they'll report their results?

PLEITGEN: Well, we're not sure when exactly the final report is going to be issued, but clearly they said that they got some good evidence today and they also said that they've been evaluating that evidence. So one of the things that we're hearing from them is they're going to send that team out again tomorrow.

It's unclear whether or not they're going to go to the same area that they visited today or whether they're trying to -- they're going to get to some of the other sites where also chemical weapons have allegedly been used.

The place that they went to today in Mouadamiya is a very hot zone. There's been a lot of fighting there in the past couple of months. It was obviously very difficult for them to get there, but they did manage to spend a good couple of hours on the ground getting samples and especially talking to people. That's sometimes -- something that's very underrated. Sort of in the public's fear.

But they say it's very important to get the story from people, what exactly happened on that night and what happened to them. What were the effects that they were feeling. So the U.N. says they're actually very happy with the way things went even after that amazingly rocky start that they had.

First of all, the hotel they're in was mortared early in the morning and then their convoy came under sniper fire -- Anderson.

COOPER: And we mentioned this earlier, Fred, there are four American destroyers in the Mediterranean ready to launch missiles if the order is given. A growing coalition of allies. What is the sense you're getting on the ground. Are people preparing for military action there?

PLEITGEN: You know what, that's such an interesting question because the mood here I get the feeling is really changing. I've been here four times reporting on the ground, and what you hear from people in this government-controlled part of Damascus, where many people are sympathetic to the regime, is that you'll hear that those people on the other side, the people on the rebel-controlled side are all terrorists, they're all staging this.

But you really see that people are starting to doubt that. There's many people that you talk to who say that they're not sure who launched these chemical weapons attacks. When we got here earlier, people were saying, it must have been the rebels who did this, if anyone did this. But now it really seems that people are thinking about this differently.

And, of course, they're afraid of the U.S. getting involved and more involved in this war and somehow tipping the balance in all of this. It clearly is a fear that's going on. These people have been living in this sort of civil war situation for a very long time, but they also know that the U.S. could change things on the ground very quickly if they choose to do so -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Fred. Stay safe.

Fred Pleitgen reporting from Damascus.

More now on what happens next, with national security analyst and former Bush Homeland Security adviser, Fran Townsend. Fran currently sits on the DHS and CIA External Advisory Boards. Also former CIA officer Bob Baer joins us, Mike Doran, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, and chief national correspondent John King as well.

Fran, listening to Secretary Kerry today, I mean, it certainly seems like the U.S. is determined to do something?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Let's remember, Anderson, there were reports in the spring that there had been a small-scale use of chemical weapons.

COOPER: Right.

TOWNSEND: And the Assad regime very much in keeping with their sort of method of operation tests and then nothing happened, and so then we see this large scale attack, and frankly atrocity.

I don't think there's any doubt, when you hear the language Secretary Kerry uses that they're talking -- they're looking at one of the options as being one of these missile strikes, (INAUDIBLE), destroyers in Med, in order to try and take out the delivery systems, that the systems used to actually deliver the chemical weapons. But that's really only a first step, and the question is, will they be able to put together a coalition that includes our Arab allies, so that there's international support for this that would allow you to actually take it further?

One strike of TLAM missiles we know is not enough.

COOPER: That's not going to do -- right.

TOWNSEND: That's right. After the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998, the Clinton administration did that and it didn't do much to stop the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

COOPER: Right.

John, your sources are actually telling you, expect a military operation within a week?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Within days. They say this will not be a weeks-in-a-month calculation. Not weeks plural calculations.

I wouldn't say within days, but I would say days plus. Looking inside the time frame of a week. What's that based on? Conversations within the administration, as you noted. The president has asked for a fine-tuned set of options and he is told he will have that within a matter of days. His phone calls to the leaders of France and Great Britain. Other calls from the Pentagon and from Secretary Kerry, to the allies France is talking about. To Turkey, to Arab allies, saying that they want to move very quickly. They want to know what the others are willing to bring to the table.

They do not want Assad to think this is a bluff by any means, which is why you see those war ships moving into the region and all indications are, Anderson, they're moving on a very quick time table. And again, to Fran's point, will we see an emergency meeting of the NATO allies? Will we see an emergency meeting of the Arab League or of the administration just trying to make sure it gets the blessings after an attack? That's the big question tonight.

COOPER: Bob, what do you expect the military operation to look like?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's going to hit the obvious targets, armored units, artillery positions, maybe presidential palace in Damascus which is an easy target. I think it's going to be more of a deterrence. Let Bashar al-Assad know if he continues to use these weapons we're going to keep hitting. And frankly, I agree with the policy, otherwise they would just -- they would just run with this and keep on using chemical weapons against the population.

This is a nasty civil war, and unfortunately, and I don't think this administration wants to get into it, but we pretty have to.

COOPER: Bob, do you believe that there's any chance -- I mean, the Assad regime is saying, well, you know, it's the rebels who are using chemical weapons, if anybody? Do you believe there's any chance of that?

BAER: You know, I know some of these people, I just couldn't imagine them combining the chemicals, you know, delivering the stuff, these kind of casualties have to be, you know, done by military units. No, I don't believe it at all.

COOPER: Mike, a senior administration official told CNN that the goal of an operation wouldn't be to dramatically change the situation on the ground but to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons. Is that enough in your opinion? I mean, does that make sense to not change the calculus on the ground?

MICHAEL DORAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: No. I think it's a mistake. I mean, one of the striking things here is that the president has been very reluctant to get involved. Public opinion has been against it, there's not a lot of support on the hill. And yet here we are again, time and time again, we get dragged further and further in.

What we have to see, as Bob just said, that we don't really have a lot of choice, we are involved whether we want to be or not. The problem -- this could be a Vietnam type problem where we kind of back our way into this, if we don't come up with a plan about how to win. So it can't just be one and done, we have to come up with a larger plan to topple Assad. It has to be part of a regime change plan.

COOPER: But, Fran, that's part of the concern about the capabilities of anybody who would replace Assad. I mean, we've seen there's obviously al Qaeda groups in Syria, the opposition is fragmented in a lot of ways and a lot of the most effective opposition fighters are these al Qaeda linked groups.

So is a regime change something that this administration really wants to provoke?

TOWNSEND: Well, look, let's go back to the example of Libya. We had the same concerns, remember, with the rebels in Libya. That they were fractured, they weren't well organized. But the answer was, it was important enough to topple Gadhafi that we came in and by the way we hesitated. We did initial strikes. And then we hesitated after we took out the Integrated Air Defense System. It was not a very sophisticated one, before we went after the mechanized units. Those units, those military units that would deliver weapons.

And we saw the rebels in Libya suffer from that. So it can't be a one and done, as Mike Doran, just said. You've got to go in. the TLAM strike -- a cruise missile strike is worth doing to buy some time, you then need to come in behind that and take out the Integrated Air Defense System, a much more complicated mission in Syria, so that you can then target the mechanized units.

COOPER: But I mean is your -- do you have any concern that the rebel movement that's in Syria, that's fighting, is a lot more -- I mean, it's a lot more diverse than it was in Libya?

TOWNSEND: I do, but Anderson, you know, my bigger concern, and that you are right to raise that. I think it is a legitimate concern. But the fact is, we've got to remember, the only people who really benefit from the current chaos in Syria is al Qaeda. The longer you have this ungoverned space, we know from the example of Afghanistan with the Taliban going back to the late '90s, al Qaeda can take advantage of these situations, not only to get access to weapons, but in order to plan, train, equip and fund-raise, to then project their power outside of Syria.

COOPER: Bob, you also have the concern, though, say, if Assad does fall, say the military collapses there, you have some rebel groups to take over, if you have the slaughtering of Alawites who have been supportive of the Assad regime, then the administration and the rest of the world is faced with a question of OK, well, what do you do now to stop a slaughter?

BAER: You know, you're exactly right, Anderson. We need a peacekeeping force, a U.N. peacekeeping force to go in there once the regime falls to separate these people. Because we also can't stand by while the Salafist slaughter the Alawites and the Christians as well. We need to separate these people. But I think to add that Fran is absolutely right. The longer we let this go on, the nastier it gets, the more it will spread, and it will take down Lebanon. It will move into Jordan and it could move into the Gulf. It's just -- it's just the way it's been going for the last year.

COOPER: And Mike, we've already seen that spread. And we've seen car bombings in Tripoli and Lebanon. Obviously Beirut. Although we're not sure if that's directly linked. But we've already seen the spread of it?

DORAN: Yes, actually, those bombings that you mentioned, I point the finger more at Hezbollah than at -- than at the al Qaeda in Syria.

COOPER: Right.

DORAN: But it's our -- it's our job, as everybody is saying. It's our job to build up the moderate Syrian opposition. We, together with our allies. That's what -- that's what we should see as our goal here. Whether we put boots on the ground, don't put boots on the ground. Every step we take should be designed to build up the moderate opposition.

COOPER: John, this is certainly not the first time we're seeing pretty good evidence of chemical attacks in Syria. Why is it different for the president this time around? Is it the scale of it?

KING: The last time it happened the administration said it was a relatively small scale attack, and the president, my words, used some verbal gymnastics to try to say he didn't have to cross that line or Assad had not fully crossed or they didn't have the international coalition to enforce him crossing that red line.

And many, including members of the United States Congress, called the president's credibility into question, saying, you can't draw a line and then not enforce it.

This time, Anderson, when you look at these pictures, the scale of this attack, because of the fact the president's credibility has been questioned in the past, because of the circumstances on the ground, and because, in part, because of the frustration with the Russians, you have Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel, two Vietnam veterans, they know personally what it's like to be in a war.

They know personally what it's like to have their government tell them, this is a very limited intervention. They are reluctant warriors, but you have a new interventionist national security adviser. A new more aggressive United Nations ambassador. And because of all their frustrations and then because of the size and the scope of the evidence they're looking at, this president -- look at Secretary Kerry's rhetoric today. A complete turn of events from where this administration has been. And the president, I'm told, will be pretty soon behind him.

COOPER: Bob, very briefly, though. I mean, there are no good options here. This is not -- I mean, this can be -- this can go wrong in so many different ways.

BAER: You know, Anderson, I'm really pessimistic about Syria. I lived there a couple of years, and the hate that's built up all these years are all coming out. Like -- and this is -- we've never seen anything like this in the Levant. Even the Lebanese civil war isn't approaching this with the amount of destruction we're seeing there.

And this is going to be, you know, a long term problem and it's going to take a lot of resources. Normally I would say, just stay away, let it burn. But in this case, as I said, we've all said it's going to spread if we don't stop it now.

COOPER: Bob Baer, appreciate you being on. Mike Doran, good to have you. Fran Townsend, John King as well.

Let us know what you think, follow me on Twitter @andersoncooper. Let's talk about it during the commercial break.

What do you think the U.S. should do if anything?

Also tonight we are chasing another charity. We've been doing a lot of reporting on so-called charities that claim to raise money for good causes and really little of the money actually goes to where it's supposed to.

This charity raising money allegedly for granting wishes for dying children. So why is it spent -- get this -- less than 3 cents of every dollar it raises on those kids? A whistleblower exposes their operation. We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight. Stick around for that.

And later, life or death for Jodi Arias. We'll tell you why the murdering girlfriend was back in court today and when she's going to face a jury again. Mark Geragos and Jeff Toobin join us.


COOPER: Welcome back. "Keeping Them Honest" tonight. The latest in a rogues gallery of charities that raise big money from donor, from people like you, but only spend a small change on the people they claim to be helping.

Now in the past we've exposed charities that raise money for veterans but may only benefit themselves. We've shown you some examples that, frankly, will turn your stomach. And if your tweets and e-mails are any indication, certainly it's outraged a lot of people.

This time, along with the "Tampa Bay Times" ad Center for Investigative Reporting, we've identified the absolute worst. The rock bottom when it comes to how little out of each dollar raised it spends actually helping those it claims to be raising money for.

In this case, children dying of cancer and other deadly illnesses. That's right, dying children.

Drew Griffin and producer David Fitzpatrick tonight "Keeping Them Honest."


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three former employees of the Kids Wish Network say to work here at the charity we rated as America's worst, it appears you have to know how to lie. We found that out the moment we knocked on the charity's door.

(On camera): Is Miss Lanzatella in?


GRIFFIN: She is not?


GRIFFIN: Really? Because that's her car right there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's true, but she's not here.

GRIFFIN: She's not here? All right.

(Voice-over): Anna Lanzatella runs Kids Wish Network. That is her car. And after waiting in the parking lot for two hours, it turns out she was at work after all.

(On camera): Hi, Miss Lanzatella? Drew Griffin with CNN.


GRIFFIN: Nice to see you. Can we just ask you some questions about all the ratings that have come out?

LANZATELLA: No, I'm sorry, there's been so many misleading reports that have been made that we've asked our attorneys to take a look into everything and I'm not going to be doing any interviews.

GRIFFIN: Well, we --

LANZATELLA: But thank you.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It is perhaps with good reason Lanzatella and the Kids Wish Network don't wish to answer any of our questions because they all involve how this tiny charity with a sympathetic name has taken in $127 million of your donations over the last 10 years. Yet according to the charities' own tax filings, it has used less than 3 percent of that money to fulfill the wishes of sick children.

You heard right. Less than 3 percent.

(On camera): We've looked at your own tax returns and determined that, you know, less than 3 cents of every dollar raised in cash goes to actual programs or children. Can you at least tell us if your own tax filings are true? And that's the case? LANZATELLA: I'm not going to interview and I'm not going to discuss that. We've made a statement and it's on our Web site, and we've answered all the questions.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In fact, Anna Lanzatella has never given an interview. The charity's Web site statement says, in part, "We are very aware of the high costs involved with fund-raising and are doing everything we can to allocate more and more dollars to programs and services every year. While exploring the lowest cost fund-raising opportunities."

But less than 3 cents out of every dollar?

LANZATELLA: That's not true. We're very --

GRIFFIN (on camera): Well, what is the truth?


LANZATELLA: We're very proud --

GRIFFIN: Because that's what it's on the tax returns.

LANZATELLA: We're very proud of the good work that Kids Wish Network has done over the last 15 years. We've helped hundreds of thousands of children and that's what we're going to continue to do.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Year after year, Kids Wish Network continues to collect millions of dollars in donations, $22.8 million in one year, according to its most recent tax filing.

How do they raise so much money? Most of it comes from paid telemarketers, most but not all.

MEANDA DUBAY, FORMER CHARITY EMPLOYEE: My main focus was to grant wishes for children who were suffering from life threatening illnesses.

GRIFFIN: Meanda Dubay spent six months as a wish coordinator with Kids Wish Network.

(On camera): And how did you do that? You just dipped into the funds that everybody --


GRIFFIN: -- had donated to Kids Wish Network and made it happen, right?

DUBAY: Nope. I would call and I would get people to grant me parts of the wish.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): She says she would call hotels, airlines, amusement parks, get freebies, even rental cars and meals, all donated while at the same time at another desk in this same building, someone else was also making calls to get money to pay for the wish. DUBAY: We would have one person call to get the actual services donated while another person is calling to get money donated for things that I was already getting for free.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So if you have this entire wish, let's say, a trip to Disneyland or Disney World, donated, where was this money going?

DUBAY: That I don't know. I have no idea where that money would go.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It turns out now we do. Records reviewed by CNN and the "Tampa Bay Times" show of the $127 million raised in the past 10 years, $109 million was paid right back to those professional fundraisers. And you'll want to hear about one of those fundraisers in particular.

He is Mark Bryner, the person who actually started Kids Wish Network. In the past five years, the charity he started has paid almost $5 million to fundraising companies owned or controlled by him. That includes more than $3 million after Mr. Bryner left Kids Wish Network.

DUBAY: My research found that they were in business with their founder, Mark Bryner, and that they had lied on several occasions on their 990s, their tax returns. And I wanted to make sure that people knew, so I brought the information to the Board of Directors.

GRIFFIN (on camera): That they have, in fact, forgot to mention the fact that they had paid the former operator of the charity more than a million dollars?

DUBAY: Yes. I took that information to the board. And I was let go. I was fired about 45 minutes after sending my concerns to the board.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): And not just fired. It turns out the Kids Wish Network reported Dubay to the FBI, claiming she had stolen privileged electronic information from company files and illegally accessed employee credit card data. Two months after she was fired, Dubay's home was raided.

DUBAY: There was close to 16 or 17 FBI agents that stormed my home with guns drawn on my husband. Called all of us out of our home, guns pointing at us. Myself, my children. I'm crying because I have two dogs, not knowing what was going on. Had no idea why they were at my house.

GRIFFIN (on camera): The FBI came to your house with guns?

DUBAY: Yes, with guns in front of my children.

GRIFFIN: Because --

DUBAY: Because I had a complaint against a charity that was lying. Lying on their tax returns because they didn't want for people to find out exactly what they were doing.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The FBI's case was closed and Dubay's confiscated computers returned. Kids Wish Network says it was planning on firing Dubay anyway and accused her of stealing documents, even filing a defamation case against her.

An attorney for the charity told CNN, there was nothing illegal unethical or immoral about the charities fundraising. In the meantime, though, the charity admits it did pay the founder of Kids Wish Network millions and says forgetting to list most of those payments on its tax returns was an error.

Just one more thing, the current CEO didn't want to talk about.

LANZATELLA: I'm not going to --

GRIFFIN (on camera): Why do Kids -- Kids Wish Network give $5 million to your founder, Mr. Bryner, or his associated companies?

LANZATELLA: I'm sorry, I've already made a statement and it's on our Web site. Thank you.

GRIFFIN: Well, what about the $109 million --


COOPER: Drew griffin joins me now.

I mean, these people run away like cockroaches. These people who run these charities. And they make all these promises, they claim they're doing good work. And then they won't answer any questions about it. If you're doing nothing wrong, if you're actually running a legitimate charity, you would want the attention, you would want to be able to answer all these questions.

It's just so infuriating, Drew, and I mean, you've seen this time and time again in all the reporting. What is the Mark Bryner guy, the founder of this so-called charity have to say about all this?

GRIFFIN: Well, to your point, he told us, Anderson, he was willing to be interviewed by you, but only if he could do that interview live.

COOPER: Great.

GRIFFIN: Of course we agreed.

COOPER: Totally.

GRIFFIN: And then he backed out. He said he wasn't feeling well, he sent in a statement instead, saying in part, that failure to list those payments of his companies was an omission. He said, just because his companies got paid doesn't mean he got any money, in fact he says he personally hasn't gotten one dollar from the charity since he left three years ago, and right now he says his businesses aren't doing business with Kids Wish Network. COOPER: And what about the -- I mean, that FBI raid is incredible. Why did the FBI get involved in all this?

GRIFFIN: You know, I don't know, Anderson. And frankly, we've been trying to figure that out, we've been doing these kind of stories a long time. This is the first time I've ever heard of a charity, you know, basically seeking the FBI on what is a whistleblower. We'd like to find out what the FBI was told by this charity that led them to this woman's house, guns drawn.

The FBI won't tell us, the U.S. Attorney's Office won't tell us, they obviously have no criminal case going on there. We've filed a Freedom of Information Act to find out exactly what was behind this because that really to us is troubling.

COOPER: It's incredible. I know obviously the FBI -- I mean, they found -- they found nothing there, right?

GRIFFIN: Found nothing. The Sheriff's Department found nothing to substantiate any of these allegations, so the question is, what did this charity, what information did this charity share, and was that accurate information that they gave law enforcement?

COOPER: And again, I mean -- it's the kids -- what's it called, the Kids Wish Network?

GRIFFIN: Kids Wish Network.

COOPER: Wish Network. Their Twitter handle is @kidswishnetwork. I just started to tweet them. And -- I mean, I just can't believe these people won't ask any questions. Three cents on every dollar is outrageous. I mean, people should know this.

Drew, appreciate it. We'll continue to follow up.

And by the way, if anyone from this alleged charity is watching, we'd be happy to do an interview with you any time even if you're not feeling good. You know, I'm not feeling good often but I do the show anyway. So we'd like you to come on. If you're raising money, you should answer questions.

Don't miss part two of Drew's report tomorrow on 360. For more on this story, go to

Just ahead tonight, thousands of firefighters working around the clock, risking their lives to keep that massive California wildfire from spreading further into the Yosemite National Park. We'll show you the battle up close.

Also in "Crime and Punishment," convicted killer Jodi Arias showed up in court today in shackles. We'll hear what her lawyers want before her new sentencing trial begins.


COOPER: Just ahead, a national treasure in danger tonight, the battle to save Yosemite National Park from a raging wildfire. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. In Northern California, a giant wildfire that has been raging for nearly 10 days is nowhere close to being contained. Thousands of firefighters are battling the inferno, now the largest ever in the Sierra Nevadas. It's already destroyed more than 150,000 acres, 11 homes. It's only 15 percent contained tonight. Now, Yosemite National Park is in its crosshairs. The blaze is spread to a remote area of the park and is threatening a reservoir that's a crucial part of San Francisco's water supply.

Our Gary Tuchman is on the ground. He spent the day watching the battle up close.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the midst of what is some of America's most beautiful wilderness, dangerous flames continue to spread and they are spreading haphazardly dangerously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think with this job, everyone gets scared. You don't have a little bit of fear, something's wrong with you, I believe. Courage is having the fear and still going in there and getting the job done.

TUCHMAN: This fire has entered the north western portion of Yosemite National Park. The most tourist heavy southern end has escaped the flames for now, roughly 235 square miles of forest land burned.

(on camera): To put it into some sort of context, this fire has now destroyed an area that is larger than one and a half times the size of the city of Denver.

(voice-over): This popular campground just west of Yosemite was overwhelmed by a sudden rush of flames. This area utterly devastated. Wooden cabins burned to the ground. You can see the charred beds in those cabins. Tourists were forced to flee quickly. This incinerated car shows how devastating the flames have been.

(on camera): When firefighters come across something like this, their greatest fear is what they'll find inside. Fortunately, nobody was found inside this vehicle. And fortunately, no one has died so far from these fires and there have been no serious injuries.

(voice-over): So what is the most extreme concern right now.

LEE BENTLEY, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: The winds coming back up, the strong winds, the heat coming back up, increasing, low humidities, and the fire itself, creating its own winds, it's been a monster.

TUCHMAN: It's indeed been a monster, one of California's largest wildfires in recorded history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just come out here and try to be as safe as we can.

TUCHMAN: As usual, the firefighters have been heroic in this battle. That is nowhere near over.


COOPER: Those pictures are incredible. Gary, the fire is not a concern obviously for residents and tourists near Yosemite. It's also a potential problem for the people in the San Francisco Bay area, right?

TUCHMAN: That's right. We're about 130 miles east of San Francisco, and there are 2.4 million people in the San Francisco Bay area who get their water from a reservoir that's in the northwest corner of the park. It's a great Native American name. But right now the fire hasn't gotten to the reservoir, but the ash and the smoke is above it so authorities are keeping a careful eye on it to make sure it doesn't get contaminated.

In addition, there's hydroelectric facilities out there that provides electricity for the San Francisco Bay area, that's a great concern also. One thing I want to show you above my shoulder, a closer look, it's not a weather cloud behind us. That is the smoke from a fire. When you're under that, it's completely gray, that smoke turns daylight into night time when you're standing right under it.

COOPER: That is incredible. I've never seen anything like that. Gary, appreciate it. We'll continue to follow it. Do our best to follow it.

Coming up in Crime and Punishment tonight, Jodi Arias back in court in prison stripes and shackles. What her defense wants before a new jury tries to decide whether she should live or die next.

Also later, the VMA performance that everyone is still talking about, starring Miley Cyrus and a giant foam finger, we're breaking down on the "Ridiculist."


COOPER: In Crime and Punishment tonight, Jodi Arias was back in court today, this time in shackles and a striped jail uniform for another step toward learning whether she'll be sentenced to death. Remember Arias was convicted of murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, after a sensational trial full of details about their relationship.

During the penalty phase, the jury couldn't agree on whether she should spend life in prison or die by lethal injection. Well, not a judge is delaying setting the date for the re-trial of the penalty phase while she considers two motions by the defense.

Now those motions are very much a sign of the times for one thing the defense wants access to prospective jurors Twitter accounts. The defense is also asking the judge to limit or ban live TV coverage of the retrial. Joining me now are CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Geragos, who is the author of "Mistrial, An Inside Look At How The Criminal Justice System Works And Sometimes Doesn't." Not only does this jury have to accept the guilt of Jodi Arias, but they have to accept -- they have to come up with the penalty?


COOPER: How unusual is this?

TOOBIN: Arizona has an unusual system. Think about how difficult and expensive this is going to be. You know, a lot of people find it counter intuitive that the death penalty is more expensive than life in prison. But this case is a perfect demonstration, the government is going to have to put on basically all its evidence again because they're going to have to show this jury why they think Jodi Arias deserves the death penalty. The defense will put on its case. This thing could go on for weeks again and it may not have a resolution as well. It is just an endless process that should have ended in a plea bargain.

COOPER: But this doesn't always happen. It's usually the jury comes up with the penalty?

TOOBIN: Yes, it usually is, and Arizona has this unusual system of one redo. If this jury doesn't reach a death penalty decision, it will be life in prison. It won't go to a third jury, but this is going to be a huge undertaking to try this case.

COOPER: Mark, this motion for the defense calling for cameras to be banned in court, I can hear howls from the world of cable TV, court watchers and HLN. But given the number of jailhouse interviews that Jodi Arias did including the one right after the verdict was read, do you think the judge is going to grant that request?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't know if she's going to grant the request to keep cameras out. I think that, you know, this is a case that's drawn all kinds of interest and she's going to have a very difficult time trying to empanel any kind of a jury. I would echo what Jeff said. If there was a test case for why you should just have life without, this would be it. Why go through this thing again, other than to get ratings on TV.

Why put everyone through it, why put Travis Alexander's family through it, why not just give her -- you give the defense a choice. If you will waive your appeals we will take the death penalty off the table. That gives you some finality. You don't have to go through 10 or 20 years of endless appeals. Death penalty is gone, and you're done with it.

As far as cameras, I think one of the things this judge did is postpone it because she would like to try to encourage both sides to get together and cut a disposition in this case.

COOPER: Also the idea, Jeff, that the defense wants access to the prospective jurors Twitter accounts.

TOOBIN: I've never heard of that before, it makes sense. Absolutely, people are very candid on Twitter, people get information on Twitter. They also put forth their own feelings. So if you have jurors that have expressed some sort of opinion about this case or even criminal justice issues in general. It does make sense to me that you would want access to it.

COOPER: In cases you've heard about, have you ever heard about as part of voir dire, jury selection, people's Twitter accounts being opened up?

GERAGOS: No, I've never asked about it, but for years now, we've been doing during jury selection, we look for Facebook and Twitter accounts, we look for anything, any kind of social media we can find, and it becomes an issue, a lot of times because you'll see people tweeting and doing other things during the trial, in fact. Clearly for jury selection, if you don't look at the Twitter accounts, I think it's malpractice per se because you glean so much information about who the jurors are.

COOPER: Interesting, Mark Geragos, thanks very much. Jeff Toobin as well.

Up next, a shocking crime, a boy kills his grandmother, moments after playing a violent video game. Why he will not face charges.

Plus Amanda Knox decides if she will return to Italy to face retrial of the murder of her roommate. We'll be right back.


COOPER: The gasp heard around the world. Miley Cyrus at the VMA's, but come on, was it really all that shocking? I ponder the question on the "Ridiculist" coming up.


COOPER: Let's get an update on some of the stories we're following tonight. Isha is here with the 360 Bulletin -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a Louisiana judge ruled today that an 8-year-old boy who shot and killed his grandmother can remain with his parents. Police say the child was playing a video game, "Grand Theft Auto" and accidentally fired a weapon he thought was a toy gun. They say he's distraught and getting counseling.

Amanda Knox is not going back to Italy for a new murder trial. She was convicted in 2009 in the death of her roommate, but that conviction was overturned in 2011 for lack of evidence. A family spokesman says Knox has no obligation to return to Italy for the retrial of the case.

Johnson Cruise' father is desperate to hear from his son. The 18-year-old was apparently enamored by the movie "Into The Wild" and may have mimic the plot by heading into the wilderness to escape life. Cruise's car was found abandoned in the Oregon Mountains.

Anderson, the panda cub born Friday at the National Zoo is doing just fine. A medical check up finds the cub is robust, has a good heartbeat and is nursing well. It will be a few weeks before the gender is known. It is very pink and for some reason kind of reminds me of you.

COOPER: Really?

SESAY: I just --

COOPER: Thank you. Isha, congratulations you are back. You got married, and you had your honeymoon, where was your honeymoon?

SESAY: We went to Turks & Caicos.

COOPER: I'm looking at some of the pictures.

SESAY: My goodness, really?

COOPER: That's so beautiful.

SESAY: Thank you. We practiced the formal ballroom dance. It's hard to do in a big dress.

COOPER: Congratulations and we're happy you're back.

SESAY: Thank you. It's good to be back.

COOPER: Coming up, a shocking, shocking performance on the "Ridiculist" next.


COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." I hesitate to even bring this up, but look, it's been everywhere today so at this point it's the elephant in the "Ridiculist" room, the twisting, twerking, tongue flashing elephant. Ladies and gentlemen, Miley Cyrus did something positively shocking at the NPR awards last night. It wasn't the NRP awards, it was the MTV Video Music Awards, the kids call them the VMA's.

It's an affront to stuffed animals everywhere, that's what people are upset about right? That was just the beginning. The VMA's are known for their magnificent duets, matching up artists and unexpected and breathtaking ways. It's kind of like when Salvador Dali did the illustrations for limited edition printing of Cervantes' Don Quixote. In this case it's Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke.

Never seen the finger used quite like that. That's right. Miley Cyrus pretty much flipped the bird, a giant foam one if you will, to all that is decent and proper. It was provocative, shocking. People are outraged, outraged I tell you. That, of course, is the whole point. It's all so formulaic.

Frankly the only way Miley Cyrus could shock me at the VMA performance would be to play a heartfelt original composition on the guitar and to actually sing. Remember her performance at the Teen Choice Awards five years ago. People lost their minds over that as well. Personally, I prefer this version of the song.

Now, that is a collaboration. Look, to be honest, I missed the whole VMA's because I was watching "Breaking Bad," then I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out the Ricin. I still don't understand what happened. I had to pop an Ambien to get to sleep I was so worked up about it.

But I watched Miley's performance today, yes, I think I can her Miley now and the truth is if it actually got your goat. Maybe it's time to stop watching the VMA's, they're not going to change their shtick, trust me. If next year Miley Cyrus is still performing, she's going to get up there and have a live colonoscopy or something.

I ask you, who is getting the last laugh? That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour from now at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.