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THE SITUATION ROOM
Appeal From Family of American Held in North Korea; Iranian Nuclear Deal; Deadly Storms; New Report on Sandy Hook Massacre
Aired November 25, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, snow, heavy rain and holiday misery. We're tracking a deadly storm that's threatening millions of Americans' Thanksgiving travel plans. You're going to find out when you may get walloped.
Plus some Iranians are cheering a historic by controversial nuclear deal with the West. CNN has new details of the secret communications that led to the breakthrough.
And the wife of an 85-year-old American is standing by along with her son to plead for her husband's release. He's been mysteriously held in North Korea now for a month. They're scared, they're worried, and they want him home now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
An early and deadly winter storm is now on the move, barreling across the south and leaving behind snow, rain, sleet and bitter cold. It's making a mess of holiday travel, and it's likely to get worse, as the storm moves east, and Thanksgiving gets closer.
Hundreds of flights already have been cancelled at the start of one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. Our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is tracking the storm for us.
Let's go to our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh first. She is over at Reagan National Airport right outside Washington, D.C.
Rene, what's the latest?
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as the storm makes its approach, airports and airlines both say they're prepared, but here's the reality check.
If you're going to be traveling this holiday season, they say you should definitely expect delays.
MARSH (voice-over): As the holiday travel ramps up, a perfect storm of foul weather and increased traffic is making for treacherous conditions on the road and frustration in the airports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang on. I have got to let you go.
MARSH (voice-over): A massive arctic front is moving across the country, wreaking havoc in the Midwest and putting the East Coast on alert.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was ready for it, but there's a point where there's just nothing you can do. It's just clear ice and you're just a passenger in your own car.
MARSH: A dozen deaths and over 100 car accidents so far, just as millions of Americans prepare to head home for Thanksgiving.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our first flight was canceled. We had to call and get back on and luckily we got on in the 9:20.
MARSH: Nearly 500 flights have been canceled out of Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport in the past two days. And while some are taking it in stride...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's three different updates, so we're not sure if it's 9:40, 10:40 or 11:00 that we're going out, so we just came for the early one.
MARSH: ... others say an abundance of caution has led to abundant headaches.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We drive through snow, sleet, everything, every day. And for me, I just don't see why it's been so impacted here.
MARSH: All right, well, so far, Wolf, American Airlines the only one to have so many, a significant number of pre-cancellations. Other airlines at this point just waiting to see exactly what the weather does before they make a move -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Rene Marsh over at Reagan National, thank you.
BLITZER: Other news we're following, President Obama pushing back on his critics on the new nuclear deal with Iran, saying that tough talk and bluster won't protect America's security. He's touting the U.S. role and sealing the historic agreement in Geneva over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the first time in a decade we have halted the progress on Iran's nuclear program. Key parts of the program will be rolled back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Just a little while ago, I spoke with the president's deputy national security adviser, Anthony Blinken, and he revealed to me that the process of easing sanctions against Iran will begin around the new year.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, and he's in Geneva right now, where the negotiations were taking place over the last several days.
But we have also learned, Jim, there have been secret negotiations that the U.S. was involved with at a high level with the Iranians for many, many months. Tell us about that.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. These talks did not just begin weeks ago here in Geneva, but months back in March in Oman, secret talks between U.S. and Iranian officials, but in fact that the first contacts between the U.S. and Iran go back even further than that.
Secretary of State John Kerry back when he was still a senator, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in December 2011 flying to Oman to explore the possibility of interest on the part of Iran in talks, so Secretary Kerry can say that he was involved from the very beginning, Wolf, and a long time, almost two years in the making.
BLITZER: It's interesting that Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, just told me a little while ago, he didn't know, he was not officially informed of these secret negotiations. He said the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, wasn't informed by the administration either.
They're upset about that. There's a lighter side to these talks as well. Right? Tell us about that.
SCIUTTO: You always wonder what fuels these talks, as they go into the early morning hours. But we now know that pizza was one of those fuels. U.S. and Iranian negotiators bringing in pizza in the final hours when they were trying to get this deal finalized. We also know that Secretary Kerry shared his chocolates with the negotiating team.
It's interesting, actually, Wolf, because on Saturday we got a note from the press pool saying that Secretary Kerry went out to buy chocolates for his wife, so I have to wonder if he raided his chocolate supply to help get this deal through.
BLITZER: Pizza and chocolate, who knew. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, reporting for us from Geneva.
Still ahead, he's been mysteriously detailed in North Korea now for a month. And now his wife and son, they are more worried than ever. They're standing by to tell us what they know about his fate.
And nearly a year after the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, police reveal disturbing new details about the gunman and his very troubled life.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Authorities in Connecticut have released a new report on the shooting massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary nearly a year ago and it includes some very disturbing new details about the gunman who killed 20 first-graders and six adults.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.
Susan, one thing we didn't learn was a motive, right?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
The prosecutor who put together this report says for him he was unable to find any clear motive or why he even chose to target, Adam Lanza, the shooter in this case, his old school, Sandy Hook, and why at that part time.
But for the first time we are seeing some inside photographs of actually the entrance to the school when he initially approached on that day nearly a year ago in December, where when he came in, he blasted out the front window. You can see the shattered glass there. That's how he got inside the school, because the doors had been locked. There are no crime scene photographs of the classrooms that have been released at this time, but we also got a look at the Bushmaster, the assault-style rifle that he used, all of these guns legally purchased business his mother according to authorities.
At the same time we're seeing photographs for the first time inside that beautiful home where Adam Lanza lived with his mother. There's a picture of his bedroom. Oddly, all the windows had plastic bags over them, black bags to darken the room so he couldn't see out, no one could see in. We learned at the same time about other odd behaviors that they said he displayed. His mother was never allowed inside the room.
He never wanted to be touched. He changed his clothes constantly. We also learned about other video games that he played. We have had talked about some of these in the past, one called "Call For Duty," one called "School Shootings," and also they found that his hard drive had been smashed into a million pieces, so the FBI was unable to retrieve information from it.
But they also found a game called "Dance Revolution." You saw that pad on the floor there. He liked to, according to authorities, play that for hours. He would even go to a movie theater down the street and would play for three days every weekend, constantly hours at a time. So interesting information, more insight to Adam Lanza, but again no reason why.
BLITZER: Susan Candiotti with that report, thank you.
Our news we're following, new indictments announced today in a teenage rape case that shocked the nation. Four adults now face charges, including the school's superintendent who is accused of an attempted cover-up. Two high school football players were convicted in March of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party. The case got national attention when photos and videos of the rape were posted on social media. The Ohio attorney general, Mike DeWine, praised a grand jury's investigation that looked beyond the teenagers who were involved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL: It is also just as much about the parents, about the grownups, about the adults. How do you hold kids accountable if you don't hold the adults accountable?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's bring in our legal correspondent, Jean Casarez, who is joining us now from Steubenville, Ohio.
How extraordinary is this that they're going after the school superintendent and these other adults?
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's very interesting, because we had wondered when that grand jury began to convene in April, does this mean adults are now going to be charged?
We learned today that 123 witnesses appeared before the grand jury in 18 days of testimony. And the result is the superintendent of schools is now charged with numerous felonies, including tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice. He faces up to five years in prison.
And we also know that the assistant football coach faces charges of underage drinking, allowing minors to drink in the home his parents owned and he lived in. We know the elementary school principal is charged with failing to report child abuse. That is a mandatory reporting requirement in her official capacity, as is the wrestling coach.
Now, we don't believe there would be any more charges. They will face that first day before a judge on the 10th in Steubenville, but beyond the prison terms that may be apparent or the jail terms, many could lose their teacher and administrator credentials, which is very serious for lifelong professionals.
BLITZER: I know there are in Ohio who think because this is such a shocking case, the attorney general, Mike DeWine, wants to send some sort of larger example, a message out there. Do you get that sense?
CASAREZ: One thing he told me today, because I spoke with him after the press conference, and I think you are right, because he talked about, we looked at all the alcohol, all the alcohol that the kids got, where did they get it?
He said it just crisscrossed. They were getting alcohol from everywhere. If you notice, only one person is charged with giving alcohol to a minor, encouraging the delinquency of a minor. That's an assistant former football coach. There were several parties that night, various parties.
So it's very interesting the grand jury selected only four to bring charges against.
BLITZER: All right, Jean, thank you, Jean Casarez on the scene for us in Steubenville, Ohio.
Just ahead, I will talk to the wife and son of an 85-year-old man, a Korean War veteran, who is now being held in North Korea. They're so worried about his health. They're desperate to bring him home. They're going to share their story with us, and all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world, right after the break.
BLITZER: We're hearing an emotional appeal today for the release of an 85-year-old veteran being held in North Korea. Merrill Newman's wife and son, they are both standing by to share their story with us. We will talk to hem in a moment. They're growing more and more concerned about Mr. Newman's health.
It's been a month since he was mysteriously yanked off a plane and detained by the North Koreans.
Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd first, though. He's got the latest on what we know -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mr. Newman's case has brought few answers at this point and a lot of concerns. His family has sent medicine to him, but doesn't know if he's gotten it.
The Swedish ambassador to North Korea, who handles America's affairs there, still has not been allowed to visit Newman. There's been no answers from the North Koreans, who detained him at the end of what seemed like a benign tourist visit.
TODD (voice-over): Just four days before his departure home, a cheerful postcard from Pyongyang from Merrill Newman to a grandson about his guided tour. "We rode the metro the other day," it says. "A woman got up, moved across the aisle for me to sit. I said thank you in Korean. She said welcome in perfect English. We both laughed."
But on October 26, just five minutes before his flight was to take off, the 85-year-old American was pulled from the plane and detained. The rest is a mystery. No one has heard from him, his family worried about his heart condition.
VICTOR CHA, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: For them to do something like this is a real finger in the eye of the United States.
TODD: Analyst Victor Cha says other Americans have been detained because they were in sensitive border areas or acting as missionaries, which the North Koreans view as a threat, but this case is very different.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is, so far as I can tell, the first instance where an American has been detained while on an official tour group in North Korea.
TODD: Why was he taken? Newman served as a U.S. Army officer in the Korean War and was questioned about that the day before he was to leave. The North Koreans could have mistaken him for another American named Merrill Newman, who is also a Korean War vet, or...
CHA: Or the other is that it is part of a broader concerted effort to put more pressure on the United States to get them to come back to the negotiating table.
TODD: He's talking about the effort to discuss North Korea's nuclear program. But Victor Cha says, either way, the North Koreans won't get the kind of attention they want from the U.S. if they continue to hold Merrill Newman and fellow American Kenneth Bae and those tours which the North Koreans count on for hard cash may also dry up.
BLITZER: Brian Todd with that background, thanks very much.
We're joined now by Merrill Newman's wife, Lee, and his son, Jeff.
Thanks to both of you very much.
We're hoping obviously for the best.
Have you heard anything, Jeff, from the U.S. government about his condition, about his fate, what's going on?
JEFF NEWMAN, FATHER DETAINED IN NORTH KOREA: Well, we have had talks with the State Department, regular conversations since the detention.
And I think they have been working very hard to secure the release, to establish sufficient communications to get some feedback. But, at this point, we don't think there's been any official feedback. And as was reported just a minute ago, the Swedish Consulate, which would be the first touch point, hasn't had any contact with him.
And that's what we need to know, if nothing else, to just establish his well-being and the fact that he's getting his medication.
BLITZER: Well, Mrs. Newman, what kind of medication does he need? Because, obviously, you're very worried about that.
LEE NEWMAN, HUSBAND DETAINED IN NORTH KOREA: Primarily for his heart. He's had atrial fibrillation and has been under a doctor's observation for this.
And he has other issues. And we have sent -- this is -- we have sent the second package of medications now. They should have arrived today, on Monday, and the hope is that they can be transferred from Beijing to Pyongyang to the embassy there, and from there to wherever Merrill is being detained.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, do you think your dad was mistakenly targeted? Or was there something else going on? What's your suspicion? You obviously don't know why they detained him.
J. NEWMAN: What we know is that he was on an organized tour, with a reputable tour organization.
He was there for 10 days, accompanied by two DPRK guides the entire time. And from the couple of phone calls that my mom has received during the trip, and from the postcards that we received after he was supposed to be back here in California, the trip was going very well, and there was no indication of any kind of problem.
BLITZER: Why did he want to go there, Mrs. Newman, in the first place? Eighty-five years old, we know he served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. What was his thinking?
L. NEWMAN: Well, I think in part because he is 85 and is looking at his life, his time that he spent in the service was an important part of his life as a young man, and he was, I think, trying to put closure on that.
He always has had an interest in the world, a respect for the Korean people, and he was looking forward to this as an opportunity to see the country for whatever opportunity he might have to see the people, and to come back with a sense of comfort on having completed that circle.
BLITZER: And if they're watching you, Mrs. Newman, in Pyongyang right now -- and I have been there, so I know that high-ranking government officials have access to CNN International -- what do you want to say to the folks there who are holding your husband?
L. NEWMAN: I would like to remind them that this is the 30th day of his detention, that we're looking forward as a family to being together on Thanksgiving, and we need to have Merrill back at the head of the table for the holidays.
And we ask, respectfully, for them to release him and let him come home.
BLITZER: And you want to pass along a message to your husband?
L. NEWMAN: We're missing you. We want you home.
BLITZER: We certainly do.
Jeffrey, you want to add anything?
J. NEWMAN: Yes.
We just want nothing more than to have this misunderstanding put behind us, to respect the fact that, on a humanitarian basis, the right thing to do would be to put him on a plane and let him come back and join his family that loves him and misses him here in California.
BLITZER: Yes, and well said. I echo those words.
If they're watching in North Korea, and I suspect they are, let this man come home, come home soon. He doesn't belong in jail, or wherever he's being held in Pyongyang.
Let's hope for the best.
Lee Newman, Jeffrey Newman, thanks to both of you. Good luck.
J. NEWMAN: Thank you.
L. NEWMAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: On this day 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy was laid to rest. CNN has been bringing you in-depth coverage of the anniversary of his death. Be sure to watch a terrific CNN documentary on the assassination of JFK. It airs later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.