Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Edges Closer to Strikes On ISIS; Grand Jury Hears Testimony In Michael Brown Case; Interview With Rep. Ed Royce; Interview with Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin

Aired August 23, 2014 - 18:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: First off, the Obama administration is considering taking the fight directly to ISIS militants in Syria. The Pentagon saying all options are on the table. That could include air strikes. House foreign affairs committee chair, Ed Royce will join me.

In Ferguson, Missouri, a grand jury will decide whether the cop who shot and killed Michael Brown should face charges. But protesters want the prosecutors out.

And I will talk to Congressman Paul Ryan about his new book which maps the GOP's blue print for success.

I'm Michael Smerconish. Let's get started.

My first headline is from the Boston Herald. Obama faces tough options in Iraq and Syria. The rumblings of air strikes on Syria are growing louder. CNN sources confirm that U.S. military and intelligence are gathering information for a possible strike.

Meanwhile, defense secretary Chuck Hagel says the threat from ISIS is nothing like the U.S. has ever seen before. In the wake of a brutal murder of James Foley and ISIS threats to kill more Americans, Hagel and the joint chiefs of staff chairman say they are looking at every option. And that could include air strikes within Syria.

Congressman Ed Royce, the chair of the House foreign affairs committee is joining me. Also Douglas Olivant from Washington. He was director for Iraq at the national security council during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Congressman, let me begin with you. Chairman Dempsey says ISIS will be defeated only when confronted in Syria. Do you, sir, support air strikes in Syria?

REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Yes. We have for some time have made the observation that the use of armed drones on ISIS leadership in Syria. The support for the free Syrian army, I think strikes at this point against the Syrian is, which has bled now into Iraq, that those steps should be taken and had they been taken some time ago I think ISIS would not have as much influence on the ground as it has right now. SMERCONISH: Douglas Olivant, can we win this battle with air strikes

alone? I'm a civilian. You'll have to school me, but it seems to me that you need some support on the ground to even let those bombers know what they should be striking.

DOUGLAS OLIVANT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well, you have to have a force on the ground. Now, that doesn't mean you have to have an American force on the ground. We have some -- have had some success using indigenous forces, local forces in conjunction with U.S. air power. We can think of what we did with the northern alliance in northern Afghanistan about a decade ago or even the Libya model.

And while that didn't turn out well, politically in the end, the immediate military result was pretty favorable. So we do have an opportunity here to use U.S. air power in conjunction with local troops on the ground, Iraqis, Kurds, perhaps some Syrians, perhaps some Turks, and even the Iranians.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, are we about to partner with Bashar al- Assad? I thought we were trying to take him down?

ROYCE: No, as a matter of fact, the free Syrian army is opposed to Assad. And as our former secretary of state Hillary Clinton argued recently, she and General Petraeus, Leon Panetta had all advanced the argument previously in the administration several years ago, the same argument that I and my Democratic counterpart made in our committee, we should be arming the free Syrian army because it was the opposition to Assad and it was clear that ISIS in a vacuum would move into -- move into that position, and that's what we've seen happen. So --

SMERCONISH: Would you support troops on the ground, meaning American troops on the ground?

ROYCE: Absolutely not.

SMERCONISH: You would not?

ROYCE: There is no support in the United States on either said of the aisle for introducing U.S. ground troops there. The question is do we support the Kurds? Do we support the free Syrian army in their effort to turn back ISIS? And in doing that we need to give them the heavy equipment, such as anti-tank missiles that they desperately need, and that was communicated to us by three days ago by the Kurdish foreign minister. That's what we should be doing.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, as horrific as was that execution of James Foley, does it change the dynamic whether there's a vital U.S. interest at stake in both Iraq and Syria? And what is that U.S. vital interest?

ROYCE: Well, remember that a good chunk of these foreign fighters, maybe 40 percent of them are coming from Europe, or central Asia, Australia, from all over the world. There's a virtual caliphate out there right now being used by these jihadists to attract those who want to caliphate into this part of the world where they begin their work, but at the same time you can monitor their comments about taking the war back to Europe or back to Australia or back to Central Asia. And some have commented upon taking the attack here to the United States as well.

So clearly it's in our interests. You'll notice right now that France, the Czech Republic, Britain are doing the same thing. They are beginning to move in and arm Kurdish forces on the ground. Why? Because it's very much in our interests to stop them there before they come back and take the fight or -- you know, they're very good at bombing, right, creating explosive devices. We don't want to see that in London, Paris or the United States.

SMERCONISH: Douglas Ollivant, my concern is whether we have an answer, a correct answer. The "times" addresses this whether they fall into the Taliban category which means, you know, not good people but not exporters of terror or are they of the al Qaeda stripe and therefore pose a security threat to the United States. I'm not being -- I'm not being overly simplicity. I hope when I say that my concern is whether they want to establish a caliphate in Indiana, not in Syria and Iraq.

OLLIVANT: I don't think they'd want to establish a caliphate in Indiana, but that doesn't mean they don't want to attack it. I think we need to be worried about this in two senses. First we need to be concerned about ISIS itself, its headquarters deciding that it's in its interests to strike the United States. ISIS has had a couple of very good monster looking like the new big kid on the block for Islamic jihadism.

What stands between them and kind of taking the trophy, so to speak from and al Qaeda is the fact that al Qaeda has struck the U.S. homeland and ISIS has not. That is the only fact that stands between them and being the undisputed greatest jihadist ever. So we need to be concerned about that.

And then second, we need to be concerned about the alumnae. Even if ISIS itself doesn't see it -- that it needs to strike the U.S. homeland, returning Americans or Europeans with passports who can breeze right through our customs could decide on their own to form their own cells and strike against the homeland here without explicit direction from ISIS central.

SMERCONISH: Chairman Royce, to what extent must the president consult with the Congress before there would be air strikes in Syria? And when such a consultation is made, what do you think the reaction will be?

ROYCE: Well, I think the president will consult with congress. As you know, he has 60 days under the usual interpretation of war powers act as commander in chief to carry out actions. But when we return, Congress will be involved directly on this debate quite immediately with the administration.

In the meantime, myself and my ranking member, Elliott Danville of New York will be in theater, tend to be in Erbil. And the most important aspect of this is that this needs to be a dialogue between Congress and the administration in terms of having a strategic plan forward in supporting the Kurdish forces on the ground. That's the infantry that is right now advancing against ISIS and they need the support.

SMERCONISH: Chairman Ed Royce, Douglas Olivant, thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate you being here.

You remember the original headline Obama faces tough options in Iraq and Syria, what I would have written? Key question, can ISIS be defeated from afar? The U.S. attempted a rescue but with not negotiate the release of executor American journalist James Foley. Other western nations give in to terror demands. Should we?


SMERCONISH: My next headline is from "the Week" magazine. The real question James Foley's death poses about America's policy on hostage negotiation. At the U.S. ways taking aim at ISIS inside Syria, the life of another American held hostage by ISIS hangs in the balance. The jihadists are threatening to kill freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. They brutally beheaded his fellow hostage James Foley. ISIS demanded millions in dollars of ransom for him.

My next guest, Christopher Dickey. He is the editor, the foreign editor for "the Daily Beast." Also, joining me from Washington, Chris Voss. He is a former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI.

Chris Voss, let me begin with you. Is there blood on the hands of those of our allies who have, in contrast to the United States, been paying ransoms in similar circumstances?

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI LEAD INTERNATIONAL KIDNAPPING NEGOTIATOR: Thank you for having me on. First of all, I like to say that what happened with James Foley was a cowardly thing to do. James Foley was an honorable man. Now, what our allies in western Europe have done has added to the problem. It's helped create the problem. And this idea of a ransom that they simply open their bank vaults to these people and give them all the money they have has made it worse. It's fed the problem.

SMERCONISH: And is this more about inspiring terror or creating a funding stream? "The New York Times" reported that $125 million in the last five or so years alone has been put forth to ISIS because of these campaigns.

VOSS: Well, terrorist organizations are getting in to the kidnapping very soon come to learn that kidnapping can be a very lucrative thing to do when different entities and governments respond by dumping out truckloads of money on top of them. So, it starts out intended to inspire terror and it continues to do so, but then it becomes very lucrative thing to do. It becomes a business for them.

SMERCONISH: Christopher Dickey, I watched the video. I wish now I could un-watch it but I felt I needed to know what it actually depicted in order to discuss it. You wrote for the beast. You sort of broke down and talked about the production values. What can you glean about the way in which they carried out that video? CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, FOREIGN EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, as sick as

it sounds, it's partly a recruiting video. It's to say, we are powerful. We are on a move. We are challenging the United States of America. And for the kind of people who are inclined to identify with jihadist movements anyway, guys sitting in their basements in London or maybe here in New York City, that's the kind of thing that makes them look big and powerful. It is very slick. High definition.

Before we go on about how great they are, let me also say, I was incredibly impressed by how composed Jim Foley was at the moment he was about to die and how brave he was even though he was obviously mouthing the propaganda of these murders. But it -- the -- I think the other thing to talk about, too, is Chris Voss is exactly right. This is a very rich, very slick organization, but rich is very important. That's why they produce good videos. They're like a huge 21st century very much of this moment propaganda machine, and that may be their most important asset.

SMERCONISH: Chris Voss, if a family were to contact you, God forbid, of an American and say, we have a son or we have a daughter who is being held captive. We need your expertise to try and win their release, how would you approach that dynamic?

VOSS: Well, the most dangerous negotiation is the one you don't know you're in. And Christopher's point about this being recruiting video is absolutely right. ISIS is doing this because they like the publicity. So, if there's good publicity for them, there's bad publicity.

The venue of the negotiation now is in a public eye through pr. If they're exposed and shown to be cowardly criminals, which is what they are, then this is not a group that people want to join because they don't want to be part of a group that are a bunch of cowards and I believe that's what they are.

SMERCONISH: Christopher Dickey, are they necessarily exporters of terror? You heard my question to Chairman Royce because as badly as I might feel for the Syrians and those that live in Iraq, I'm most concerned about Americans. Might that follow us home?

DICKEY: Sure. It's already following us home. The videos we're talking about, they're being watched in Brooklyn, in the Bronx. They're being watched in Indiana, you know. You were half joking maybe when you asked Chairman Royce about whether they want to set up a caliphate.

SMERCONISH: No, I was being serious.

DICKEY: But some of these jerks actually do want to do that kind of thing. There are a lot of crazy people in this world and it only takes a handful to carry out a terrorist act, especially if it's not supposed to be 9/11. If it's a question of walking into some place and mowing people down with an automatic rifle, you can do that. That is what they're trying to inspire.

SMERCONISH: Christopher Dickey and Chris Voss. Thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate the conversation.

Do you remember the original headline the real question James Foley's death poses about America's policy on hostage negotiation, what I would have written? It's time to negotiate with our allies.

Controversy swirling over at St. Louis prosecutor who is standing his ground and refusing to step down in the Michael Brown shooting case, but should he? More than 70,000 people think so.


SMERCONISH: My next headline is from "The Washington Post." St. Louis prosecuting attorney again insists he won't step aside. Overnight in Ferguson the streets were quiet as protests over the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager turned peaceful, but controversy over the investigation remains.

More than 70,000 people have signed petitions calling for St. Louis prosecutor attorney Robert McCulloch to be removed from the Michael Brown case. They want him replaced by a special prosecutor. Critics say that his ties to the police are too strong. McCulloch meanwhile says Missouri governor Jay Nixon must quote "man

up and remove him if that's what he wants to do." Missouri state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, joins me now to talk about it.

Senator Chappelle-Nadal, is your argument, an ethical or is it a practical argument as to why McCulloch should not be the prosecutor?

MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL (D), MISSOURI STATE SENATOR: Well, I would say it's practical, Michael, and let me tell you why. When we were in a state of emergency such as we are right now, the governor, our governor, Nixon, has full responsibility and accountability to make determinations.

Now my constituent, while do I have a friendship with Bob McCulloch, my constituents do want Bob McCulloch to be removed. They have a huge mistrust because of his past. His father was killed by an African- American. Many of his family members are police officers, and he's made it very easy for the governor to remove him from the situation. And here's where he and I agree, that if the community wants him to be removed, it is solely upon the governor, governor Nixon, to do so.

And so what I believe and many of my constituents believe since I've been on ground one since day one, they want the governor to stand up and say, here is my responsibility and I'm going to execute this responsibility of having a special prosecuting attorney who does not have any biases.

Now the political ramifications of this is that the governor doesn't want to have any accountability if there is not a conviction, so that's where we stand today while Bob McCulloch wants to remove himself, he cannot do so because it would have implications on other cases that he's had in the past.

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm glad to hear you say that it's a practical consideration. I'm glad to have you define that because I looked at the ABA Cannon of ethics for prosecutors and I couldn't find any ethical justification for McCulloch to get out at this moment.

So I think what you're saying, senator, is it would be a hard sell in the community is if this is the man at the helm of the investigation and if there's not an indictment forthcoming from the grand jury. So if it's a practical consideration, then I say what about the fact that Eric Holder came to Ferguson this week and shared experiences with some of the folks that he met with talking about having been stopped twice on the New Jersey turnpike and how uncomfortable he felt as an African-American? In other words, like where do we draw the line where one's life experiences are perceived to have biased your decision making?

CHAPPELLE-NADAL: And I have to tell you you're absolutely correct in what you're saying. And our experiences do bring bias to every situation, and the bias that my community has right now is that there is a disproportionate number of African-Americans that have been convicted in several cases by Bob McCulloch, for that reason they have a huge mistrust.

And I think on his own credit -- to his own credit he wants to make sure that everything is as clear as possible, as clean as possible. Having Eric Holder here, I have to tell you, has brought tremendous calm to this community. People are convinced that there is going to be justice served at some level, whether it's a conviction or if we deal with the civil rights that were violated on behalf of Michael Brown Jr.

And so while we have calm, while we have an African-American who serves as our attorney general of the United States and though he has been on the group and here speaking to my constituents, he has told my constituents that may not happen. If that is the case, that is why our governor has to make a decision.

SMERCONISH: I understand.

CHAPPELLE-NADAL: It is not good enough for our governor to say that he's not going to remove him simply because he's interested in his political future. This is solely on the governor's hands.

SMERCONISH: Maria Chappelle-Nadal, thank you for being here. We appreciate your time.

You remember the original headline, St. Louis prosecuting attorney again insists he won't step aside? What I would have written, ethics don't demand recusal but practicality does. Where's the cop who shot and killed Michael Brown? Officer Darren Wilson has vanished from public sight, but should he have spoken out?

Plus, Paul Ryan was the young star of the GOP in 2012. Now he's back with the news book, laying out the blueprint for his party's success.


SMERCONISH: Next headline is from the Springfield, Missouri, news leader. Leaders say justice will heal. The nation's top cop attorney general Eric Holder says he stands with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, in the search for justice in the death of Michael Brown. A grand jury is hearing testimony. It will decide whether charges should be brought against officer Darren Wilson for shooting the unarmed 18-year-old, but what if it happens that there's no indictment.

HLN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson is here in New York City and CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Mark O'Mara joins me from Orlando.

Mark, it is easy to get lost, I think in the many interesting but frankly irrelevant details in this case. What is the narrow issue that is now being confronted by the grand jury?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Whether or not this officer was in reasonable fear of great bodily injury when he decided to use deadly force against Michael Brown. That sentence is the only thing that is really relevant in this case.

SMERCONISH: And what does reasonable mean in that circumstance? Reasonable to us? Reasonable to him?

O'MARA: Well, it's sort of a reasonable person's standard. It's an objectively reasonable standard. But it is not what is looked at in the light of day. It's not what looked at when we look at the videotape and crush it by every second. It is looked at what the officer is going through, what any person going through at the moment they decide to use that force.

So, you have to look at that it happens in a second, literally. This whole event took several seconds. His decision processing took much shorter than that.

So, if you want to look at what he was considering, if there was a violent event at the car, that's relevant. When someone takes off and they are supposed to be apprehended, that's relevant. When there is two people and you divide your attention between two people. You can see that people might argue that Dorian was out of the picture, but not in the cop's side in the two seconds that he had, whether or not Michael is running away and not turning around, whether or not Michael is surrendering.

All those micro decisions will impact if that officer in that moment's fear, if he had fear, was reasonable under the existing circumstances.

SMERCONISH: Joey, you heard the line a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich.


SMERCONISH: Does a prosecutor -- you're a former prosecutor -- does a prosecutor get in a circumstance like this whatever a prosecutor is looking for?

JACKSON: Here is the issue. First to Mark's -- what Mark had to say, I do agree. There is one more step. That's not only reasonableness, but it's necessity. Is it reasonable and is it necessary? Now, there is a lot of concern, Michael, based upon the grand jury

presentation, as to what or not the prosecutor should have went that way. Why? Because in the grand jury, the prosecution is the judge, the jury and executioner. Having presented multiple grand jury cases, what happens is, is that case is seen in the lens of the prosecution.

Meaning, you could present the case, you could spin the case, you can put in the case to the grand jury, supporting anything as a prosecutor you would like to support. Now, yes, all the evidence is presented. Eyewitness evidence is presented to the grand jury. Forensic evidence is presented, the autopsy evidence, all of that will be significant and important.

But the issue becomes as to what you were talking about before. Whether special prosecutor should be appointed or, if not, Michael, whether or not --

SMERCONISH: What's your answer to that?

JACKSON: Well, listen, I believe that we have to have faith in the system. It's about public confidence. It's about ensuring integrity. And if the integrity is insured by having a person who is outside of the situation and not so close, having nothing at all do with the pile of tricks, as I like to call it, present the case that make the community comfortable and get an outcome, which is appropriate, whatever that outcome is.

SMERCONISH: Mark O'Mara, should the special prosecutor get out of this case? Should a special prosecutor be named?

O'MARA: You know, I was on the fence. I first said that maybe in the sociopolitical environment, we should bring someone in who doesn't have any baggage. But I've got to tell you -- I have been wavering back and forth on that because on the other hand, this prosecutor has been doing this for 24 years.

And if he doesn't have anything in his story that evidence that he is not qualified, and that hasn't coming to light, then we have to understand that this prosecutor can prosecute all blacks that he has for 24 years, all whites that he has for 24 years, with all cases that black victims being shot and white victims being shot, then I don't know that we should say to him all of the 24 years of prosecution is OK, but because this one is in the national spotlight, we can't trust your ability. Now, I'm thinking --


SMERCONISH: Isn't there a practical consideration that enterprising lawyers like the two of you who represented African-Americans who've been prosecuted by this guy are then going to rush to the court house and say, hey, me too?

JACKSON: Well, let me say this, there is another way that this could have been presented, and that is by way of criminal complaint. And what I say by that, whenever you level a criminal complaint as opposed to a grand jury, Michael and Mark, as you know, you have a preliminary hearing.

Now, is that different?

Grand jury proceedings are secretive proceedings by necessity. You want to protect the integrity of the process, so you make them secret. But if you go after someone by way of criminal complaint, now you are in the court of law. Now, it's public. Now, you present every evidence that you have, every piece of it, every autopsy report, anything, forensic evidence, and we all can see it.

And unlike a grand jury, it's challenged in the light of day. That is a significant difference between what this prosecutor is doing and what would ensure public confidence and trust, which is putting it out there to the public for all of us to see.

SMERCONISH: Final question, real quick: yes or no from Mark O'Mara. Should a lawyer be speaking for the cop right now?

O'MARA: I think so. Absolutely. Not about the facts of the case, but to present the other side of the story.

SMERCONISH: Joey Jackson, Mark O'Mara, thank you, gentlemen. Really appreciate you being here.

You remember the original headline. Leaders say "Justice Will Heal"? What I would have written -- key question now: What would a reasonable cop have done?

Congressman Paul Ryan says ISIS is a huge threat to U.S. security. He says the U.S. has to confront the terrorists where they are so it won't have to confront them on American soil. The Wisconsin Republican sits down with me.


SMERCONISH: My next headline comes from CBS News, "Romney, Ryan Stop in Chicago and Blast Obama."

Congressman Paul Ryan rocketed in the national spotlight when he was tabbed as Mitt Romney's vice presidential nominee in 2012. Now, the Republican from Wisconsin has written a new book. It's titled, "The Way Forward: Renewing The American Idea," Ryan's blueprint for GOP success.

Well, this week, we sat down after an event in Philadelphia at the World Affairs Council and focused on several big stories in the headlines. I told him that the book rollout seems very much like a campaign.


SMERCONISH: Nine Florida bookstores in the span of two or three days. That doesn't sound like the conventional rollout of just any book.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Actually. It is.

SMERCONISH: Why not Illinois? Why not California? Why not New York? I mean, Florida, the state, right, when one is running for president?

RYAN: It's not Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. The point of this book is I'm critical of the direction our country is going right now. I think we should be doing things differently.

So, as a critic, I think I should put up different ideas. What's my alternative? What are my solutions? That's what I'm doing in this book and that's what I think people deserve in this country. If we as elected leaders don't like the direction we are going, we should be putting out alternatives to show how we would do things differently. That's exactly what I'm doing.

SMERCONISH: Does the GOP going forward, whether it's the midterm election or what's to come in 2016, need to change its message, its outreach, or both?

RYAN: I think both, because I think we have to show how our principles, the founding principles, when applied to the problems of the day can provide better innovative solutions to help people with their problems in their lives, and too many people don't know that. We have to pay people the respect of going to every corner of this country, and showing our ideas and listening and showing how we have better ideas to help them with their problems in their lives.

SMERCONISH: Do you share Senator Rand Paul's concerns over the militarization of police departments across the country?

RYAN: Well, I think, in the case of Ferguson, let's take a breath and let's just respect the community and family and not try to take a political issue and attach it to this. I think this is an issue that needs to be reviewed. But I think in some cases, you don't want to paint one broad brush.

There are instances, surplus boats to Lake Michigan, for search and rescue, like where I come from, that's fine. What's wrong with that?

So, I think we need to look at this issue a little more closely so that we don't have unintended consequences.

SMERCONISH: Have you -- sitting in Janesville, Wisconsin, watching television, whether it was the aftermath of the Boston bombing, or more recently, Ferguson, been alarmed to any extent to watch on television the level at which local police departments?

RYAN: Yes, it changed a lot in my lifetime. That's for sure. It is quite a bit different.

SMERCONISH: But it's a federal program that allows them through homeland security to take battlefield equipment.

RYAN: That's right. But a lot of police departments purchase it on their own as well. So, I think we want to hear -- I would like to hear the side of law enforcement and hear the justification before drawing any conclusions.

SMERCONISH: ISIS apparently did something horrific this week to an American journalist. Does ISIS represent a threat to national security?

RYAN: Yes, it does. ISIS is -- I call it al Qaeda 3.0. Extremely organized, well-funded, trying to assemble a caliphate in two countries. This is something that is a huge threat to us. We need to confront this threat where it is so that we don't have to confront it here in our homeland.

SMERCONISH: Is ISIS then in the category of al Qaeda as compared to the Taliban? Meaning, they're an exporter of terrorism.

RYAN: I believe that's the case.

SMERCONISH: There's a mindset I think in the country. And, you know, for a living, I like to say I answer telephones. I speak to people on my radio program all across the country, and I would say that there's a mindset of the Middle East is aflame and, frankly, we should get out of the way. To those folks, you would say what?

RYAN: I think if you read what ISIS writes, if you read the intelligence reports, even the declassified ones, you will find that this is a very different issue. This is a very different group that seeks to export terrorism, not simply to have a caliphate to live within themselves. They're seeking to export it.

Look at what they just did to one of our journalists. I think that we have to see this threat for what it is. We have to be honest with ourselves about it and we have to confront it.

SMERCONISH: And, finally, if I ask about 2016, you're not telling me, are you?

RYAN: That's correct. You have to know me pretty well by now.

SMERCONISH: How about if I ask it this way? Could you beat her?

RYAN: Look, I think we can beat her. You are talking about Hillary Clinton? I think she is very beatable. She's formidable, but beatable.


SMERCONISH: That was Congressman Paul Ryan, his new book, "The Way Forward: Renewing The American Idea."

You remember the original headline? "Romney, Ryan Stop in Chicago, Blast Obama." I would have written, "Ryan book is part policy tome, part campaign manifesto."

The Ferguson cop who shot and killed Michael Brown has gone into seclusion. Officer Darren Wilson has erased almost every trace of himself online. Some say it's a matter of safety.


SMERCONISH: So, all hour, we have been addressing our two lead stories, the events in Ferguson and a potential American air strike against ISIS in Syria. And, in fact, they have something in common. The role social media played if both.

In Ferguson, we watched Darren Wilson, the white cop who shot Michael Brown, virtually disappear online in an age where privacy has all but vanished. And alternatively, the sophisticated PR campaign that ISIS is using to send out their messages and gain followers has leading terror analysts and world leaders taking notice.

Jonathan Bernstein is the president of Bernstein Crisis Management in Los Angeles. He is author of "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training" and joins me now.

From the crisis management standpoint, is silence serving the police officer in Ferguson well?

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN, BERNSTEIN CRISIS MANAGEMENT: No, it's not, Michael. You know, it's obviously a very tense situation. There's a lot of fear and anxiety on both sides of the issue. And when you go undercover like that, leaving no message behind, spokesperson behind you, you are basically saying you are guilty. And that was -- I understand them hiding for fear of his life, but failing to communicate is leaving people to reach conclusions of their own.

SMERCONISH: But, Jonathan, by the same token, Facebook likes I think 60,000 plus, the funding for his legal defense fund online going gang busters. Maybe there is something to be said for him saying nothing.

BERNSTEIN: I disagree. I think if anything, his supporters would probably be more supportive if they at least heard from him, that he appreciates the support, that he is cooperating fully with the investigation, and when the time is right, he'll say more.

SMERCONISH: Do you believe that there's been a deliberate effort to remove all traces of him online? I find it remarkable thus far and I have been paying close attention, there's limited video and another still shot and nothing else.

BERNSTEIN: It's actually not surprising for a couple of reasons. First, I have been online for over 30 years. I'm somewhat of a nerd on the subject. And if he had a fairly limited presence to start with, it isn't that hard to disappear. If he had had widespread social media activity, it would be harder. But I suspect he was mostly active on Facebook and with the cooperation of his friends, he was able to go down the rabbit hole.

SMERCONISH: Let's turn to ISIS. ISIS is incredibly sophisticated. My God, that video in the middle of the desert is high def. Terrorists have come a long way from the black backdrop. What's going on there?

BERNSTEIN: Well, at its heart, it's not just a military battle. It's a crisis communications/public relations battle. I happen to have been involved in the U.S. military intelligence back in the original Cold War. And back then, terrorists pretty much had to operate physically, the propaganda much more difficult to disseminate. But now, they can use these modern tools that we all use to try to reach out to the people they want to join them, and it's really a battle for the hearts and minds of those people we need to be much more aggressively involved.

SMERCONISH: And, Jonathan, they were sufficiently skilled to know they shouldn't show the decapitation itself, or that would be a turnoff, almost like a horror movie that leads you to the edge, and doesn't show the most grisly aspect.

Take 20 seconds and respond to that.

BERNSTEIN: Well, definitely. You know, there have been other beheadings committed where that restraint wasn't shown. Somebody, very sophisticated in public relations is advising them, and that's very clear and we need the same level of sophistication at our end, and we don't have it yet.

SMERCONISH: To respond to them. That's a good point. Jonathan Bernstein, thank you for being here. Ferguson, Missouri, has become the epicenter of a racial divide in this nation.




SMERCONISH: But wait a minute. Before anyone jumps to conclusions about what happened in this case, there are some thoughts I'd like to share.


SMERCONISH: One last thing: Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri, two weeks ago today. I'm sure you've been talking about the case with your family and co-workers. I've been discussing his death not only here but also on my radio program and I paid close attention to the constant treatment from other media.

And I want to share an observation. You know I love these yellow legal tablets. And this one I've divided between what the public knows and what we don't. And one side clearly outweighs the other.

Here's what we know:

First, we know 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot dead by a police officer. We know that the Ferguson police chief has identified the officer as Darren Wilson. We know that Brown was unarmed when he died. And we know that a videotape appears to have captured Brown while involved in a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store just minutes prior. The man who was with Brown when he was shot, Dorian Johnson, claims that Brown was attempting to surrender.

But there's so much that we the public don't know. That video of the so-called strong-arm robbery seems to show two other store employees. Well, what do they have to say? And what was said in any 911 calls about the robbery? And speaking of tape, what do the police radio transmissions among the officers just before and after the shooting tell us? And then there's the shooting itself. Sadly, we're never going to get

Mike Brown's side of things. And at this stage, we still don't fully know the officer the account. Darren Wilson has already been questioned by investigators, but we don't know what he said. All we know is what a radio caller named Josie told a St. Louis radio station, but that's hearsay.

We know of some eyewitness accounts, because of interviews that they've given to the media. But what about those who may have seen something relevant but have avoided the public spotlight? Again, we don't know.

And then, there are the forensics. We've been told about the results of a so-called private autopsy, but not the official autopsy nor the federal autopsy. Dr. Michael Baden did the private autopsy but he didn't have access to Brown's clothing or x-rays. So, it was of limited value.

The ballistics information, yet another public mystery.

My point is this -- there is so much we don't know. So, why are so many committed to a particular outcome?

This week, a "New York Times"/CBS News poll found that 9 percent of Americans believe the shooting of Michael Brown was justified, 25 percent believe it was not justified, 64 percent don't know enough to say.

I'm worried about the 34 percent who believe they do know enough to come to a conclusion. Among the 25 percent who believe the shooting was not justified, 57 percent of blacks. In other words, the 57 percent of African-Americans have an opinion and believe the shooting was not justified.

And meanwhile, a support Darren Wilson Facebook page has more than 61,000 likes. And as of 9:00 this morning, a Go Fund Me campaign for the police officer's defense had raised more than $234,000. It's reached its goal and a second fund-raising campaign is now underway.

The only thing anyone should desire at this time is a full accounting of what occurred. Instead, this case has become the racial equivalent of what we've grown accustomed to with the nation's partisan divide. People weigh in without the information needed to make a decision largely based on who their teammates are.

Here one man is dead and another's freedom may hang in the balance. So, let's all pay attention by all means scrutinize the information as it comes to light and share our opinions as to the evidence, but all the while withholding final judgment.

That's it for me. I'm off next weekend for Labor Day holiday. I hope you are, too. I'll see you back here in two weeks.