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Obama to Outline ISIS Strategy; Prince William and Kate Expecting Baby Number Two; Doctors in Ten States Asking CDC For Help Treating Enterovirus EV-D68; Hawks Owner to Sell Team After Racially Insensitive E-Mail; Is Bruce Levenson Just a Business Man?

Aired September 8, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. I appreciate this on a Monday. Have a great day, guys.

NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Big news out of Buckingham palace this morning. Will and Kate are expecting baby number two. But just like with baby George Kate is suffering severe morning sickness this time around. We'll take you live to London for the latest in just a minute. But first we must start in Washington.

Summer vacation is over for Congress as lawmakers get set to return today for three weeks of work before they stop again for the midterm elections. High on the to-do list, ISIS.

President Barack Obama is getting ready to sell the American people on his vision for reducing and eventually eliminating the terror organization. And his strategy could last into the next presidency.

Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins me now.

Good morning, Jim. Tell us more.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning -- good morning, Carol. A senior administration official says the president and his aides have begun working on a speech separate Wednesday to lay out the strategy for dealing with ISIS. That comes on the day before another 9/11 anniversary. And it's designed to show that the president is ready to take the fight to ISIS.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After a few fumbles on ISIS, President Obama has a new game plan he says to start going on some offense.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities, we're going to shrink the territory that they control, and ultimately we're going to defeat them.

ACOSTA: But in an interview on "Meet the Press" the president insisted once again U.S. combat troops won't return to Iraq.

OBAMA: This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war.

ACOSTA: That tough new approach on ISIS came with an expansion of U.S. airstrikes over the weekend targeting the terror group for the first time in western Iraq around the Haditha Dam. That air power the president hopes will tip the balance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces as well as potentially moderate Syrian rebels battling ISIS on the ground.

OBAMA: We are going to be helping to put together a plan for them so that they can start retaking territory that ISIL had taken over.

ACOSTA: The ISIS reset was welcomed by Democrats who worried the president was being too cautious.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I want to congratulate the president. He is now on the offense.

ACOSTA: GOP critics are far from convinced.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I believe this president has committed presidential malpractice in his foreign policy.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, the Pentagon was going to what-if scenarios. But the president apparently wasn't, hasn't developed a strategy. I don't know whether you can't see reality from a fairway.

ACOSTA: That golfing reference is not lost on the president who acknowledged he stumbled after the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Mr. Obama admitted he sent the wrong message during his recent vacation when he recognized Foley's execution only to head to the golf course minutes later.

OBAMA: After having talked to the families where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through. After the statement that I made, that I should have anticipated the optics. You know, that's part of the job.


ACOSTA: Now the president also insisted he did not refer to ISIS as a JV team to the "New Yorker" earlier this year. Fact checkers have deemed that claim to be false. In the meantime, the president will be sitting down with senior congressional leaders here at the White House to go over this ISIS strategy tomorrow.

But at this point, Carol, White House officials are indicating and the president indicated that he will not be seeking authorization for an expansion of airstrikes into Syria, although we should point out they have not reached a final decision, one that they haven't publicly announced at least not yet -- Carol.

COSTELLO: We'll see what he says on Wednesday.

Jim Acosta reporting live from the White House this morning.

The strategy the president will lay out on Wednesday is unprecedented. It will not involve drones alone or boots on the ground but a different kind of degrade-then-destroy strategy. The first phase involves airstrikes. That phase as you know is well underway. The second phase will involve an intensified effort to train and equip the Iraqi military and Kurdish fighters. The second phase will center around destroying ISIS in Syria, a military campaign that could last 36 months.

So let's talk about all of this with Jonah Blank, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation.

Welcome, Jonah.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Happy to have you here. The president says --

BLANK: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: The president says destroying ISIS may be a prolonged effort, possibly outlasting his presidency. Why?

BLANK: Well, ISIS is really a new animal in the terrorism world. It's the first time in perhaps decades, perhaps centuries, that a group with this type of extremist ideology has controlled this much territory. So if you squeeze them in Iraq, they move to Syria. If you squeeze them to Syria, they move back to Iraq. If you squeeze them in both Iraq and Syria, they could move to Turkey, could move to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, to Lebanon.

Anyone who thinks that this is an easy task is in for a rude surprise.

COSTELLO: The United States is already conducting airstrikes in Iraq. But I'm sure the United States would like some help. What other country do you suppose would be willing to help us do that?

BLANK: Well, we've already got commitments from a number of European countries. The UK, France, to some extent Germany, not for airstrikes but for supporting the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters. Also Australia for the broader effort.

The U.S. would really like to have some support from the Sunni neighbors -- Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, UAE. Those Sunni neighbors have not yet stepped up. And each one of them faces a lot of real challenges of its own.

COSTELLO: Well, why hasn't Saudi Arabia, for example, stepped up to physically join this fight?

BLANK: Well, ideologically at least there are some good signs there. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, has described ISIS as the number one enemy of Islam. That's a very important statement really in many ways much more important than airstrikes. But Saudi Arabia sees the battle here in different terms than we do. They're looking at a much bigger battle between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. And they're afraid that degrading ISIS could strengthen the Shia forces which the Saudis see as their ultimate enemy.

COSTELLO: So it's complicated -- it's just also complicated. Of course the president as we said will lay out his three-phase plan on Wednesday. We'll be listening for that.

Jonah Blank, thanks so much for your insight. I appreciate it.

All right, let's talk about --

BLANK: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: You're welcome for being here.

Let's talk about something happy because it's Monday, right? Everyone from the queen to royal watchers around the world are celebrating the news that Prince William and Duchess Catherine are expecting their second child. The official announcement just came hours ago via Twitter. What else?

It read, "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child."

Like with Kate's first pregnancy, she is once again suffering from acute morning sickness, that's the downside.

Let's get right to CNN royal correspondent Max Foster. He's live outside of Buckingham Palace.

So what's the mood?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mood is excitement but also the idea we've got seven months of speculation. It was such a big story, so much swirling around Prince George, of course. And people are thinking, we've got all that again? But actually there is a lot of excitement, the idea of George having a little brother or a sister. I think people are leaning towards that as an idea is pretty exciting.

We've also got the Scottish referendum in the UK in just 10 days time. Lots of concern about Britain breaking up. This is one of those sort of issues the royal family that everyone rallies around. So there is a lot of excitement amid all the doom and the gloom.

Not to say there is some concern about Kate right now. She's in Kensington Palace. There are doctors there looking after her. She suffers very badly from morning sickness. Of course she's being rehydrated, she's being looked after. I don't think people are too concerned. In fact Prince William is at an engagement today in Oxford. So he's not worried about her enough to be by her bedside.

And a source told me that actually the reason they announced it now is that she had to cancel some engagements including Oxford. They want to be fully open with everyone and understand she's not yet 12 weeks pregnant so it is very early days -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Max Foster, thank you so much.

Let's talk a bit more about this -- this big royal news.

Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter is here.

So there were rumors that Kate was pregnant out there, what, a couple of weeks ago? So does this really come as such a big surprise?

VICTORIA ARBITER, CNN ROYAL COMMENTATOR: I think it comes as a surprise certainly for the legitimate royal press court, shall I say? Rumors started pretty much a month after George was born. It is speculation that is always going to rampant during baby years. But I think people were a little surprised simply because we had thought it would be later in the year. But this is sort of in keeping with William and Kate's siblings. Pippa is 19 months younger than Kate. Harry is 27 months younger than William. They wanted to have their children close together.

COSTELLO: So, I don't know, everybody is asking, will little George be jealous? But I think little George is all too young to be jealous of anything frankly.

ARBITER: I think George is quite sure of his position in the family. He seems to have a really fun personality, very strong. He's a very determined little boy. I think people always say it's quite good for a child to have a sibling come along just so that they can learn to share, although we saw him doing that very well in New Zealand at his play date. So I think, really, it's just going to be a fun time for the family.

COSTELLO: I like that really empty picture there, baby Cambridge.


ARBITER: Well, it does of course knock Harry down in the pecking order. Harry now drops to number fifth in line for the throne.

COSTELLO: Poor Harry.

ARBITER: But he's stepping aside. It's his 30th birthday next week. He's got the Invictus Games happening this week. So it's a big week for him as well. I think for the family in general, it's nice to have some happy news.

COSTELLO: I think Harry will be just fine.

Victoria, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, hundreds of kids sickened by a respiratory virus that has doctors scratching their heads as to why this outbreak started.

Ana Cabrera live in Denver to tell us more.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning carol. Colorado is now one of at least 10 states that believes that's dealing with this virus. Enterovirus D68 that's spreading very quickly. Symptoms can be very severe. So proving danger.

I'll explain who's at risk and what you can do to protect yourself and your family, coming up on the other side of the break.


COSTELLO: Hundreds of children have been hospitalized throughout the country thanks to a severe respiratory infection that's shelling up from the Midwest all the way down to the southeast. Doctors in 10 states have reached out to the CDC for assistance in treating Enterovirus EV-D68.

The virus has been around since the '60s but doctors are trying to figure what's making this outbreak so severe. Symptoms are like having a cold but much worse including fever, body aches, sneezing and difficulty breathing.


DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, VANDERBILT MEDICAL CENTER: You know, Enterovirus is a group and there are many, many of them circulate most prominently end of the summer, beginning of the fall, just now. Why one virus or another crops up in one part of the country or another part of the country from one year to the next is inexplicable. Its a mystery to me. It's passed readily from child to child. They're the ones that are most susceptible and you really get very large outbreaks of these infections when they do occur.


COSTELLO (on camera): Ana Cabrera is here with more. I'm sure with parents hearing that didn't provide them much comfort, right?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It can be alarming, certainly, and unfortunately it's a mystery, as we heard that doctor just say. We are hearing from other doctors who are calling this situation unprecedented, saying they have never seen anything quite like this when it comes to the number of kids affected and the severity. And unfortunately the CDC says this could just be the tip of the iceberg because they still don't know all the answers.

But here's what we do know. There is a nasty respiratory bug that is spreading, spreading very quickly. It's believed to be this Enterovirus D 68. The symptoms starting out as maybe the common cold, you might experience some coughing, a rash, maybe a fever even. But then it escalates very quickly, becoming wheezing and difficulty breathing, especially for children who have asthma. Those symptoms get severe.

We know at least dozens of children have had to go to the ICU, being treated in the hospital in just the past couple of weeks needing supplemental oxygen, even a breathing tube in some cases.


CABRERA (voice-over): And unfortunately these numbers are still growing. I want to give you some perspective on this. One hospital in Missouri tells us they're treating up to 30 children a day, 15 percent of those requiring intensive care treatment. In fact Children's Hospital here in Colorado has seen 900 since patients just since August 18th that have gone into the ER, urgent care. 86 percent of those children had to be hospitalized.


CABRERA (on camera): We heard from one family. 13-year-old William Cornejo who has asthma. He was hit so hard by this bug he had to be airlifted to the hospital. Listen to him and his mother describe what happened.


WILLIAM CORNEJO, INFECTED WITH VIRUS: My head started hurting after my lung started sort of closing up.

JENNIFER CORNEJO, SON INFECTED WITH VIRUS: White as a ghost, blue lips. He just passed out. Had his eyes rolled back in his head and I had to call 911.


CABRERA: Again, ten states now believe they are dealing with this virus. From Missouri to North Carolina to Oklahoma to Colorado. They've asked the CDC to do some testing to help out with this infection. But unfortunately there are no simple tests, there are no vaccines. The bottom line is, if you want to prevent this, especially with kids getting back in school, that's one of the reasons that doctors think its spreading so quickly. Really the simple steps are to wash your hands often, disinfect surfaces and stay away from people who are sick. Some hospitals now, Carol, have made some restrictions preventing children under a certain age from even visiting parts of the hospital to try to get this virus under control.

COSTELLO: Of course as you said, kids are going back to school so it's awfully hard to stay away from other people who may have this bug. Washing your hands, not many kids do that even though, you know, they say they do. It's a concern. Ana Cabrera, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is selling his stake in the team due to what some call a racially insensitive e-mail. CNN's Nick Valencia is following that story for us.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Carol. We're outside Phillips Arena where the Atlanta Hawks play. That fallout for Bruce Levenson in full effect this morning. We'll have the details of what was in that email after the break. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: There is more bad news for the NBA in the wake of Donald Sterling scandal. The controlling owner of the Atlanta Hawks is now putting up his stake for sale due to a racially offensive e-mail.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Bruce Levenson wrote that e-mail two years ago, but it came up in an internal investigation launched after a June meeting where a racist comment was made.


COSTELLO (on camera): CNN's Nick Valencia is outside Phillips Arena in Atlanta to tell us more about that e-mail. Good morning.

VALENCIA: Good morning, Carol. Much has been made about this so called inflammatory e-mail by Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson, if only because the NBA just got through another controversy involving racist remarks by a former NBA owner, Donald Sterling.

Bruce Levenson was one of the first publicly to come out against Donald Sterling.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Now it's Levenson that finds himself as the center of negative attention. In a two-year-old e-mail sent to the Atlanta Hawks leadership, controlling owner Bruce Levenson suggests the team's financial issues can be attributed to its black fans.

"My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites, and there was simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base. Please don't get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena back then. I never felt uncomfortable, but I think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority."

In the note, Levenson goes on to lobby for the team, to add more white cheerleaders, and music familiar to a 40-year-old white guy. Levenson says his e-mail was an attempt to bridge Atlanta's racial sports divide. He says he later realized his words could be perceived as doing the exact opposite.

"I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism and I strongly believe that to be true. That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA."

If his statement sounds familiar, its because it is. Here's an outraged Levenson earlier this year on CNN's "THE SITUATION ROOM" condemning racist comments made by Donald Sterling, the former Los Angeles Clippers owner banned from the NBA. Sterling's rant about black people was captured on audio and released to the media in April. Levenson was one of the first owners to speak out publicly against sterling. BRUCE LEVENSON, ATLANTA HAWKS CONTROLLING OWNER: We quickly, we

loudly, we clearly reject it. The fans spoke up. The players spoke up. Our NBA business partners spoke up. Every NBA owner spoke up. Nobody said this was okay.

VALENCIA: It's now Atlanta fans speaking out against him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's ridiculous. That's ridiculous to say anything like that.

VALENCIA: Do you see any truth in what Levenson wrote here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see no truth whatsoever. I see all fans get together, regardless of nationality, age. Everyone comes together and enjoy the game because that's what it's about.

VALENCIA: Do you feel ever uncomfortable at games at all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no I haven't. I think maybe they attract more to that crowd. I'm not drawn away because of it.

VALENCIA: After a decade as the Hawks' owner and seven straight playoff appearances, Levenson has seen the price tag of his team more than double. Today Forbes estimates the value of the squad at $425 million. While his comments may have angered some, it's the millions of dollars Levenson stands to make by selling the team that may anger a few more.


VALENCIA (on camera): Yesterday after this news broke, I called Bruce Levenson at his Maryland home. A man who answered the phone did not identify himself, but said that Bruce Levenson was not talking to the media and he would not be releasing anymore comments. Carol?

COSTELLO: All right, Nick Valencia reporting live from Atlanta this morning.

Okay, you heard some of that e-mail written by Mr. Levenson. Consider this, one of the greatest NBA players of all time is weighing in on this e-mail. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's opinion piece on is entitled "Bruce Levenson is Not a Racist, He's a Business Man."

Abdul-Jabbar says, quote, "He wasn't valuing white fans over blacks, he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That's his job."

Hawks CEO and part owner Steve Koonin will oversee the team's day-to- day operations while the sale in Levenson's stake goes forward.

CNN's Martin Savage sat down with Koonin for an exclusive interview.


MARTIN SAVAGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no real repercussion for him. He sells the team, but he'll make money.

STEVE KOONIN, CEO ATLANTA HAWKS: He will make money. That is an outcome of this. I do think there's significant repercussions for him. I don't think we'd be sitting here tonight talking in our practice gym and I don't think people would know the name Bruce Levenson. I think people would not have the feelings and emotions that they do about Bruce. I think there are severe repercussions and I think he is repaying. The only thing we all have in our life is our reputation and his was damaged today by him, not by anyone else.


COSTELLO: Rachel Nichols, host of CNN's "UNGUARDED" joins me now.

I'm just reading a bit more of this Kareem Abdul-Jabbar op-ed. It's very interesting. I'm going to what I told our viewers before. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Levenson is a business man asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. If his arena was filled with mostly white fans and he wanted to attract black fans, he wouldn't be asking how they could de emphasize white culture and bias towards white contestants and cheerleaders.

Don't you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST "UNGUARDED": Its an interesting take. Look, what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been through in his life, who he is makes him much more qualified frankly than me or possibly you to discuss declinations of racism. Is this kind of racism better or worse than the other kind of racism?

That's his discussion to have but, frankly, as far as the NBA is concerned, you heard Bruce Levinson refer to a zero tolerance policy. That's where they are right now in this post-Donald Sterling era. They feel like they have to earn back trust of their fans, frankly, of their players. And it can't be this is just a little bit racist. That's not okay with them right now.


NICHOLS (voice-over): It's has to be zero tolerance. This, I think, clearly crosses the line from zero. And therefore even Kareem mentions that in his article. So we're not at zero here.

COSTELLO (voice-over: No, no, no, he actually said, you know, some of what Bruce Levenson said made him uncomfortable but the bulk of it did not, in fairness.

NICHOLS: And that's his right to feel that way, but there are a lot of people in Atlanta, especially in that market who feel differently, who feel like it made them extremely uncomfortable. And the bottom line is that they are in a zero tolerance world right now and this crosses that line.

COSTELLO: So when we hear that Mr. Levenson voluntarily turned over this e-mail and voluntarily offered to sell his stake in the Hawks, is that completely true?

NICHOLS: It's going to shock you, Carol. It's a little more complicated than that. And look, this is obviously different from the Donald Sterling situation where Sterling was exposed and then fought tooth and nail all the way and argued that he did nothing wrong. Levenson has behaved better than that in any judgement in the after effects.


NICHOLS (on camera): But what happened, what CNN has learned, is that there was a comment made by the GM of the Hawks repeating a racially charged comment in a scouting report. The GM repeats a racially - charged comment in a scouting report. People on the phone and in the meeting get concerned, why is our GM even just repeating something he's reading, why would he say this in a meeting? So this launched an internal investigation within the Hawks organization, saying what about the racial attitudes in our team here? They interviewed 19 people, they uncovered 24,000 documents in this internal investigation and one of those 24,000 was this Bruce Levenson e-mail.


NICHOLS: There's a little bit of fracturing anyway between the Hawks partnership and so some of the other Hawks partners went to Bruce Levenson and said, you know what, we have to bring this to the NBA. And Levenson decided, hey, I'm going to get out in front of this. What PR strategists say all the time, say what you did wrong, be transparent, admit it, back off, because if you fight it, it's only going to get worse. He did take that advice and they did release the e-mail saying, hey, this is better than a witch hunt. He said I don't want to drag my family through some crazy scandal. He did call Adam Silver himself on Saturday night and say, you know what, it's better if I sell the team. All that stuff did happen. But that's the back story.

COSTELLO: That's interesting. Rachel Nichols, thanks for digging. We appreciate it.

And you can watch "UNGUARDED" with Rachel Nichols this Friday night, 10:30 Eastern, right here on CNN. And Rachel will have an interview with U.S. Open winner Serena Williams. I can't wait to see it. Thank you, Rachel.

I'll be right back.