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Flights Delayed; Buffalo to Get Snow; Weather Outlook; Prepare for Delays and Cancellations; Lara Logan Takes Leave; Gitmo Detainee to CIA; Religious Objections to Obamacare

Aired November 26, 2013 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Get ready. America's travel nightmare is getting worse. This hour, airline passengers are hitting big delays and drivers hitting jam-packed roads.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

It's a real-life homeland plot. The CIA reportedly training Gitmo prisoners to be double agents.

A mayor facing intense pressure after a disturbing rant inside his own police station.

Plus, an investigation reveals stunning cruelty against animals in some of Hollywood's biggest hits.

And --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was walking alongside the gurney holding Ben's hand. Ben was looking straight up and he said, "Mom, do you see that light?"


BALDWIN: To heaven and back. A boy reveals his near-death experience in a CNN special report.

Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. So great to be with you. Thank you for joining me.

You know, millions of Thanksgiving travelers are on the move or they will be very, very soon. According to AAA, nearly 39 million Americans are hitting the road this holiday. But be forewarned, it is going to be slow, it is going to be treacherous in many, many places across the country. From Atlanta to our nation's capital, the interstates are a mess of rain, snow, ice, and wind. And as you look at this map here, the dangerous conditions have claimed at least a dozen lives.

And tomorrow, when AAA says most people will be out and about, will be traveling, it is only expected to be worse. Flying might not be much better for the more than 3 million airline passengers this Thanksgiving. Some airports, and you know we've been making calls, they are already experiencing delays. And that is expected to get even worse as this storm that we're watching moves eastward.

So, we've got you covered. Rene Marsh is at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., George Howell is in Buffalo for us, and Chad Myers, warm inside the CNN Weather Center.

So, Rene Marsh, let's just begin with you. Set the scene for me. How's it looking?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It looks nasty out here, Brooke. We've been having rain for the last couple of hours. But delay, delay, delay. That is the word of the day if you are flying. You're seeing it up on the boards and you may be experiencing it if you're sitting in an airport right now.

So here's a snapshot of what things look like. We know that roughly, according to websites that track these flights, more than 2,000 delays throughout the country at this point. And, of course, as the weather moves in, continues to move in, those numbers will continue to climb.

So just to give you a real life example of what we're seeing in some of these airport, we spoke to a woman earlier today who was waiting and waiting and waiting for her mom to arrive from snowy Columbus, Ohio. Take a listen to her.


SHARON ASONGANYI, MOTHER'S FLIGHT DELAYED: I think patience, which is very -- it's like patience is a big thing for this time of the year. Huge patience. Because things are not going to go as planned and things are going to change. And so just anticipate that.

MARSH: And I guess in your case delayed is better than canceled.

ASONGANYI: Well, yes, yes, definitely. So it's like -- it means that they're still on their way.


MARSH: All right, so delayed is better than canceled. And if we are looking for any good news here, we're seeing more delays than we're seeing cancellations so far today.

So what are the airlines doing about all this to make a bad situation just a little bit better? We do know that they are offering people the option to change their flights without getting a penalty. Also, they're giving refunds to people with those canceled flights and severe delays. The bottom line is, they don't want to have people stuck in an airport as we lead up to the holidays, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right. That is never fun. Rene Marsh for me with a lot of traffic in and out of Washington Dulles.

And then, George Howell, do I see any snowflakes where you are there in Buffalo yet?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, you know, we're starting to see that light snow coming down. And we know that things will get substantially worse hour by hour. Here in the city of Buffalo, anywhere from four to six inches of snow. And in the south towns and what they call the southern tier in northwestern Pennsylvania, they could see anywhere from six to eight inches of snow.

This situation certainly will change as the day goes on. Worst in the overnight hours. And keep this in mind. You know, all of this is happening, as you said in the setup, during one of the busiest, if not the busiest travel day of the year. A lot of people will be on the roads. But here in the city of Buffalo, we spent some time with the officials here. They know how to do this. They do snow like Miami does sun. You know, they've got all the snowplows ready to go. Some 20 to 30 snow plows. And they know how to clean these streets, clear these streets well. But again, the worst will be overnight, Brooke. And Buffalo is bracing for the snow.

BALDWIN: Yes, I suppose you are correct, my friend. If there is snow, you want to be in Buffalo. They know how to handle it. George Howell for me in New York. Rene Marsh in the Washington, D.C., area.

Chad Myers, tell me where it's worst right now. What are you watching?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I would say Pittsburgh and just points northwest of Pittsburgh is where it's the worst. And then if you get toward Altoona and Dubois, where it's a little bit higher in elevation, we're not seeing any melting right now.

I grew up in Buffalo. And I will attest that if there was not six inches of snow on the ground in the morning, we didn't cancel school. We still had to go.


MYERS: The buses still made it. I don't know. We walked uphill, bare feet both ways.

BALDWIN: Back and forth.

MYERS: I don't know how that happened, but there you go.

BALDWIN: I grew up in Atlanta. Different story.

MYERS: Here's what Atlanta looks like right now. And you think, oh, it's just raining. Yes, it's raining, but there's the ceiling right there. Airplanes don't like ceilings that look like that. Now, there is still 5,000 planes in the sky. They're still coming in. They're still going out. But the delays are getting up there now. Thirty minutes about average on some of these.

The rain and the wind will be I-95. This is not a snow event for Buffalo, or for New York, or for down into Philadelphia. It is for Buffalo. Not for New York, Philadelphia, D.C. I-95, wet. The west side, the west - and as he said, the southern tier, the Niagara frontier, Cataraga (ph), Shitaqua (ph) County, you're going to get a foot of snow there. And then Pittsburgh changing back over to snow. And after dark tonight, you say where is it bad right now? It's here right along let's say 80. But the problem is, after dark, everywhere that you see just a little bit of rain, it's going to change over to freezing rain, sleet and snow and all this is going to freeze up as soon as the sun sets.


BALDWIN: Chad Myers, do not go too far. We're going to check back in with you momentarily there with the rest of our team. Chad, appreciate it.

And this whole mess of weather taking aim at several major airports. Take a look at this map with me and you can see these airports in particular here with potential for several hour delays. You heard Rene talking about the "d" word. You don't want cancellations. You'd rather the delay. But to make matters worse, if a flight gets canceled, there may not be room on the next one, as many, many flights this week have been overbooked. Zain Asher in New York with a little advice hopefully for some folks.

So what can travelers do if their plans are just totally thrown off by the weather?


Well, listen, if your flight has been canceled specifically because of storm-related issues, you've got to remember that different airlines have different policies in place. There's not sort of this one size fits all. But for the most part, if you are traveling Wednesday and Thursday this week, then most airlines do have you covered.

Let's talk about some of those specifics. If you're flying with Delta, Delta is offering passengers a refund if their flights are canceled or significantly delayed because of the weather. But again, it only applies to certain airports. So airports like Boston, Washington, D.C., for example, New York. So that's something you have to be mindful of as well. But they are also offering the chance to rebook your flight for absolutely free. So no change fees needed. And these change fees can run you up a lot of money. We're talking $100 to $300. I know from personal experience it can be very expensive.

But in terms of other airlines, Brooke, U.S. Airways, United, JetBlue as well, also offering wavers on rebooking fees as well. But you do have to check the websites. There are caveats. So, for example, you do have to travel from the same origin to the same destination. Only certain airports apply. And it has to be within a specific time frame as well.


BALDWIN: But as you know and I know, flights have been overbooked for so long. And especially, you know, if you're sitting at the airport today and they're like, hey, great, we can't get you on the next flight, how does Saturday morning sound to you and you're like, no, that's not OK. How do you increase the odds of getting on the next flight?

ASHER: Yes, absolutely. So a lot of flights, as we know, are at full capacity. So they might tell you, Brooke, hey, we can get you on the next available flight and that might be in two or three days. But one piece of advice, when I've spoken to experts they say, is that as soon as you know your flight is canceled, line up at the gate desk right away. And while you're waiting in line, jump on the phone with the airlines customer representative as well and get help from whoever you reach first.

Also, be resourceful. Use the wi-fi in the airport, for example, to rebook your flight. And also use social media as well. You can tweet out your problem. A lot of these airlines are very responsive on Twitter, Brooke. So if you tweet out your problem, they might actually get back to you very, very quickly.


BALDWIN: I have done that with Twitter and it definitely does help. Who knew? Zain Asher, thank you so, so much. I appreciate it.

And speaking of airports and airlines, CNN is giving you a fascinating look behind the scenes at the world's busiest airport. We sent more than three dozen journalists to Atlanta's airport. They went to the tarmac. They rode those trains. They even got access to the planes. And you can check this whole thing out. This is absolutely fascinating. Go to

Coming up next, the CIA turned Gitmo prisoners into double agents and sent them home. My next guest says, yep, that is true. He knows because he firsthand recruited some of these candidates behind bars. We will hear his first-person story coming up. Don't miss that.

Also, breaking news from the media world. Couple weeks after CBS and "60 Minutes" apologized for botching a report on the attack in Benghazi, that correspondent, Lara Logan, we are learning, is taking a leave of absence. CNN's newest hire, here he is, Brian Stelter himself all over this, breaking some news on day one of the job. We're going to talk to Brian coming up next.


BALDWIN: Want to get straight to this developing story here. This is just coming into us at CNN. And what it involves is the recent "60 Minutes" broadcast on the Benghazi attacks. That assault, you remember, led to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens. That particular "60 Minutes" report, fronted by a correspondent, Lara Logan, featured a security contractor who claimed, among other things, that he tried to fight off the attackers from inside that embassy compound.

Now, that contractor's story was later questioned. Lara Logan ultimately made an on-air apology. And that brings us to today and these developments here from CBS. CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter joins me here.

So, first, welcome to the family, Mr. Stelter. Nice to have you on.


BALDWIN: Let's just begin with first the news. Lara Logan and who else on the team are taking this leave?

STELTER: Lara Logan, along with her producer, Max McClellan, are taking this leave. It was Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News, who went and asked them to take this leave. And they agreed to do it.

This is the kind of thing you would normally see if, in any news organization, someone made a big mistake and a report was found to be deficient. But it's big news here because "60 Minutes" is the most esteemed, most prestigious news magazine on American television. It's the kind of magazine that doesn't make mistakes. And that's why it's going to get so much attention today.

BALDWIN: Brian, why did it take them so long?

STELTER: You know, it's been exactly 30 days since this was broadcast. And what the standards report, which has come out about an hour ago, suggests is that this shouldn't have gotten on the air in the first place. That this report shouldn't have been broadcast at all.

But once it was broadcast, CBS did exactly the wrong thing. They got up against the wall. They got defensive. They got in this defensive crouch, which, you know, we oftentimes see, you know, sports teams or companies or, you know, nonprofits making these mistakes where they try to defend themselves rather than figure out what went wrong.

Well, finally they did figure it out. They did this long report to try to figure out what was right and what was wrong about the story. They found that parts of the story were true and parts of the story belonged on television. But that main source you mentioned, he was discredited. And as a result, it shouldn't have been broadcast at all.

BALDWIN: Discredited pretty quickly, might I add, by different outlets, right?

STELTER: That's true.

BALDWIN: Pretty quickly after "60 Minutes."

STELTER: And CBS shouldn't have dug in their heels.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

STELTER: You know, it's always the digging in that gets people in trouble.

BALDWIN: Brian Stelter, we appreciate you. New host of "Reliable Sources." Congratulations. We're going to talk next hour. You've got something else we're going to chat about as well. Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

BALDWIN: I want to move on and talk about tails of double-agent spies, interrogations, millions of dollars in cash payoffs. It is not Cold War fiction. It is an actual CIA program. It began in the aftermath of 9/11. And the goal was this, to recruit terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay and turn them into double agents then to kill terrorists. The Associated Press first broke this story, which tells how the CIA used cash and promises of family protection to try to convince these recruits to turn against al Qaeda. If they cut a deal, the detainees were set free to work for the CIA. And CNN national security analyst Bob Baer is a former CIA operative and he had some person experience with the program.

So, Bob, great to have you on to talk about this here. I mean paint the picture for me because were you one of those who sat in front of these Gitmo detainees to try to figure out who would be a good candidate and who would be a bad one? How did you go through that process?

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Brooke, I used to do this all the time.


BAER: You'd get sent to a foreign country, to a foreign prison, where you'd get -- go into the cell, talk to these guys and working for the CIA, take them out, train them, and spend them back where they came from. It's standard operating procedure for any spokes (ph) to do this. Every intelligence service in the world does this, goes into prisons, trolls (ph), which we have. The problem, of course, is reliability. What do these guys do when they get out, when they're put back in the pond? With al Qaeda people, the problem is a lot of them turn on you or they misdirect your activities.

BALDWIN: I want to get to reliability in a minute and whether or not this has actually worked or not. But just -- Bob, walk me through it. I mean you're sitting across from this prisoner. What kind of questions are you asking? Looking them in the eye. How can you tell they would make a good double agent?

BAER: Well, you spend a lot of time with them. You offer them a lot of things, a lot of money, sometimes millions of dollars. You start questioning them. You go into their families, their backgrounds. You get to their address books. You get to know them like almost a member of your family. Once you think you can trust them, you let them go.

But it takes a long time. This is why at Guantanamo they had a separate facility where they were treated very well, fed well, given beds with mattresses and the rest of it and saying, hey, you know, you keep doing this and you can get well rewarded.

BALDWIN: True they called this cottage area Penny Lane (ph), correct?

BAER: Penny Lane, yes.

BALDWIN: Penny Lane. BAER: No, it's standard. I mean I - it -- this is not a scandal. And, you know, bravo for the CIA.

BALDWIN: So back to your issue of reliability, though, because, obviously, the risk is, if you say, you know, you help us, we help you. You set them free. The risk is you never hear from them again or even worse they kill Americans. Was the gamble worth taking?

BAER: Well, it, you know, that's exactly the problem. In 2009 there was an attack on a CIA base from a prisoner just like this who was released in Pakistan. And rather than cooperating, he blew himself up and killed half a dozen CIA officers. Yes, so the risk is enormous.

BALDWIN: Bob Baer, thank you so much. Appreciate you today.

Coming up, can your company be religious? Hobby Lobby fighting the Obama administration over birth control. And now the U.S. Supreme Court will make a decision that could impact your health insurance.

Plus this -- oh, boy, another mayor in trouble. This one right here in the U.S., facing pressure for a pretty disturbing rant inside his own police station. You get to see what set him off.

Stay with me.


BALDWIN: We know corporations pay taxes on property, even make political contributions. And now the U.S. Supreme Court has just announced it is taking on a case that asked the question, can corporations express religious beliefs? The nine justices are going to review provisions in Obamacare that require most employers to offer insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services. Multiple companies, including craft store chain Hobby Lobby, have sued. They're arguing that following that part of the law clashes with their faith. Hobby Lobby employs about 13,000 people. So let's talk about this here. Joining me, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin.

So, Sunny Hostin, if companies can claim religious beliefs, couldn't they say, you know, hey, I don't want to pay taxes because it's against my faith. Possible?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's the question. I mean where do you draw the line here?


HOSTIN: Private companies, private, for-profit corporations are basically allowed to have sort of this exercise of religion, can -- you know, where do you draw the line? Can you then say, I am not going to pay men and women equally because it is my religious belief that men should be the head of the household? I think this is really the time when the Supreme Court needs to probably make it very clear where that bright line will be drawn.

BALDWIN: Let me read this. This is from the White House. They released a statement saying, it doesn't respond to pending cases but, quote, "earlier this year, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to consider a legal challenge to the health care law's requirements that for-profit corporations include birth control coverage in insurance available to their employees." It goes on, "we believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women's health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree." So could you read that as almost like the White House wanted this to go to our nation's highest court?

HOSTIN: Well, listen, I'm quite sure that no one, including the White House, really wants to be in front of the Supreme Court trying to defend a law. And we know that the Affordable Care Act certainly is a law that has already been sort of OKed by the Supreme Court.

And I will tell you, though, that the White House, I think, is saying that they're on strong legal footing. And that may be true because courts have routinely held, Brooke, routinely held that even when employers have sort of this religious objection, they must still follow federal law. That is really - I think routinely the law. And that's why you hear the White House saying this kind of thing.

And the question is going to be, if you are a corporation, once you enter sort of this public sphere and you have these religious beliefs, can you then impose them on your employees? That is the question. And when you look at the law, the state of the law there that extends now, I think it's pretty clear that corporations, private, for-profit corporations, really can't do that.

BALDWIN: We'll watch it. We'll see how those justices handle it and how they decide. Sunny Hostin, thank you very much.

HOSTIN: You bet.

BALDWIN: And let's talk flight delays. I know you're used to finding some of them at the airports and the big boards, the cancellations, you arrival times. You find them on your phone oftentimes lately, right? Well, today, a new app launched to help protect you, the passenger. It allows you to file a complaint actually against the TSA smack dab there on your phone. And the complaint goes straight to Capitol Hill. We'll tell you what that app is all about.

Also, another twist in the case of an identical twin who says his brother, not him, is to blame for the crime. He was in court today and he told a much different story. We're on the case. You're watching CNN.