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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Kayla Mueller's Family Asked White House For Hostage Exchange; Friend: Kayla Mueller Cried For Help in Recording; FBI Investigating Shooting Deaths of Three Muslims; Obama Asks Congress for New ISIS War Powers; NBC Removes Williams Name from "Nightly News" Branding
Aired February 11, 2015 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. The family of American hostage Kayla Mueller speaking out tonight about attempts to rescue their daughter from ISIS. This as we are learning much more about her time in captivity. Was she a bride of ISIS?
Plus, three Muslim students, shot to death, execution style in North Carolina with a killed over disputed parking spot or killed for their religion.
And the fallout of a Brian Williams. The anchor vowing to return after his suspension, will he? Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. CNN is learning tonight that the family of American aid worker Kayla Mueller did survive for a time after ISIS issued a deadline for execution last summer. At the time that deadline was set, her parents asked the U.S. government to trade their daughter for a woman held prisoner by the United States. That lady known as Lady al-Qaeda. Now, no trade ever happened but the White House did tell the family that Kayla was still alive after that execution deadline had passed. Now, this news as we are also learning. Kayla may have been an ISIS bride. Intelligence officials report that Mueller may have been given to an ISIS fighter as a wife. It's unclear whether Mueller was coerced or even sold into the situation. Also new details tonight on those photos of Mueller sent by ISIS to her parents. The one used to confirm her death. The 26-year-old was dressed in a Muslim burial shroud. It's still not clear exactly how she died. But ISIS contend she was killed by a Jordanian airstrike.
Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT tonight with much more on all of this. And Pamela, so many developments and surprises tonight.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I've been speaking to the family spokesperson, Erin. And what we learned from that spokesperson is that the family went to great lengths to get their daughter back. They were doing everything they could especially when they found out that ISIS had a deadline for Kayla's execution last summer. In fact, it turns out that the family never turned down the military operation to rescue their daughter because it was too risky. They just simply asked the White House to let them know what they would do so and they also asked for the trade of lady al Qaeda as you said. Dr. Siddiqui who is been in prison here. ISIS had been calling for her release. And the family looking for any option as the White House to do so. The White House did respond, we don't know what that response was and we also learned from the spokesperson that Kayla was still alive even after that ISIS execution deadline passed.
BROWN (voice-over): Intelligence suggests 26-year-old Kayla Mueller was given to a male ISIS fighter possibly as a bride after she was kidnapped in Syria in 2013 according to U.S. government officials. Officials say, there are also indications Mueller converted to Islam. A practice seen in the past by hostages in the Middle East.
AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA ANALYST: These hostages are under severe duress for a very long time and they're threatened with death and so forth. And for them to say that we're going to convert to the religion of our hostage takers, suggest that maybe they can curry favor that way.
BROWN: CNN has learned that pictures sent privately to Mueller's family from ISIS helped confirmed her death. According to a U.S. official, pictures included Mueller wearing Muslim garb. And a picture of her wrapped in burial shroud. A stark contrast from the brutal beheadings of other male hostages. Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss says it's clear ISIS treated Mueller differently.
CHRIS VOSS, FORMER SENIOR FBI HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: Because she was remarkably decent human being and because she was a woman that it wouldn't be surprising for them to treat her with more respect in life and in death. If they cover her and wrapped her properly, those are respectful actions.
BROWN: How she died remains a mystery. But the U.S. military says, there is no evidence backing up the ISIS claim that Mueller was killed in a Jordanian air strike. Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar says, there were several foiled rescue attempts to save Mueller and one attempt the man claimed to be Muller's husband from her hometown in Prescott, Arizona and demanded her release at a Syrian terrorist camp. But was turned away after Mueller denied being anyone's wife.
REP. PAUL GOSAR, (R), REPRESENTS KAYLA MUELLER'S DISTRICT: She said she wasn't married and she didn't lie to her captors that she was married. And so, that foiled the plan.
BROWN: And as it turns out the man who posed as her husband trying to get her back was actually Kayla Mueller's boyfriend, he was kidnapped with her in the city of Aleppo back in August, 2013th. He was later released and then risked his life to go back to that terrorists training camp to rescue Kayla -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Pamela, thank you very much. And Ana Cabrera in OUTFRONT on Mueller's hometown of Prescott, Arizona. And Ana, you interviewed a friend of Kayla Mueller's today. And what she told you is very, very significant, I want to emphasize this, she told you she heard an audio recording of Kayla during her captivity. We have not heard about anything like this. What else did she tell you?
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. Oruba Barakat is a friend of Kayla Mueller in Turkey. She says it was about two and a half two three months after Kayla Mueller was taken hostage that she sent an audio message. Now, that audio message was reportedly sent to a mutual friend of theirs who works with an NGO, a humanitarian organization in which Kayla Mueller was involved. That was very short. Just 10 to 15 seconds long and Kayla pleaded for help. Listen as she describes what she heard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Her voice was really, very sick and sad. Please try to help me. Get me out of here. I'm so sick. I'm dying.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: She said I'm so sick, I'm dying?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Now, we have not independently heard this message but that is what Barakat says she heard. And keep in mind Barakat says that Kayla Mueller was like a family member to her. She says that the two met in Turkey. Barakat is from Syria. And that they worked with the refugees together. She says that she has a daughter about the same age as Kayla. They had many meals together. They even started a foundation together. She said after they heard that message, Barakat says everybody jumped into action but silently. That she personally Barakat went to the American Embassy, that she reached out to militia groups. Even al Nusra which we know is an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, she says everybody tried to beg and plea for people to help him find ISIS, to find Kayla Mueller but with no results -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Ana Cabrera. As you heard that friend saying that she had heard an audio of Kayla Mueller saying, I'm so sick, I'm dying.
Joining me now, CNN intelligence and security analyst, former CIA operative Bob Baer, and the Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar who represents Kayla Mueller's district and was in closed contact with our family throughout her captivity.
Congressman, let me start with you. We're just learning tonight that Kayla Mueller was alive after that key ISIS deadline passed for execution. That's a significant development. They had said they were going to execute her when they made similar threats to James Foley, Stephen Sotloff. They went through with it. We're now learning, they did not with Kayla Mueller. You've talked about a possible rescue attempt. The one by her boyfriend. You were the first one to tell us about this. Do you know when that happened? Anything more about that?
GOSAR: From what I was told, Erin, that happened early on when she was kidnapped. That happen when they initially went into Syria to try to extricate some of the patients that were unable to get out of Syria. And then he came back. I didn't know that was her boyfriend. But I know that, at least I was told that he was part of the entourage that had gone to extricate patients, was let go and then came back at his own risk to try and make that --
BURNETT: So, you're saying that was early on.
BURNETT: I mean, the question, Bob, is how she was treated. Right? The New York Times today says a hostage that was with Kayla Mueller says women hostages were treated relatively well but the male hostages were tortured but the women were treated differently. That fits with the letter Kayla wrote to her parents from captivity she said she was being treated with, quote-unquote, "kindness." But you have spoken to people who negotiated for the release of other western women who were held hostage with Mueller at one time. What did they tell you about how Kayla and the women were treated?
ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, Erin. It was doctors without borders hostages. They were held in Raqqa. Those women were all treated very nicely, kindly by the Islamic State. They were held separately from the men. They were never tortured. They were never offered up as war brides, any of that. And Kayla was particularly treated well because I think even the hostage takers recognized she was a very dear person. She was taken under the wings of one of the women there. She told that woman that she had a boyfriend who was a Syrian. And they had come across the border and they tried to volunteer to doctors without borders right on the border. They were advised to go back to Turkey and they couldn't be hired locally. Even offered to escort them back and they said, no, we want to help the Syrians. The doctors without borders believe also believed that the boyfriend came back. You remember he's a Syrian and begged the captors to release her. So, I think, you know, this is story up until May. What happened after May last year no one can say for sure but she was treated well.
BURNETT: And obviously that's significant and I know on some level probably, it's some sort of solace for her family, Congressman. Because we are also hearing out from intelligence officials, Pamela Brown reporting this, our Dana Bash reporting this that Mueller may have been given to a male ISIS fighter as some sort of a bride. Would that surprise you? Do you know anything about that?
GOSAR: I don't, Erin. But I won't take away that the family is still hurt. I know that their daughter may have had some comfort that their daughter was taken care of. But I want to share what Mr. Mueller said, you know, I hold ISIS responsible. They're holding my daughter. And they're held accountable for her safety as well.
BURNETT: And of course she is not safe.
GOSAR: That's right.
BURNETT: She has been killed. Bob, when you hear this reporting that we are getting about the possibility that she may have been some sort of married to a male ISIS fighter, does that surprise you? Does that fit with what you might expect when you're also hearing that the women were treated kindly nicely using your words?
BAER: I don't think it's true. I think it's speculative. I think these intelligence reports were often wrong. It would be out of character. The Islamic State, there are brutal savages clearly. And they are gone way beyond the pale. But on the other hand, there's this Islamic respect for women. And I've seen this over 40 years where they do treat them differently. And they do not marry them off. And don't forget, she was a Christian. And the way they lead the Koran, so they get a certain respect. And as a woman, I just don't believe the reports and I haven't seen any evidence in the press suggests or is there any veracity to it.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to both of you. I appreciate your time.
And next, three Muslim students fatally shot execution style in North Carolina. Was it because of their religion?
Plus, the President asks Congress to authorize the use of force against ISIS with limited use of ground forces. But is this the start of American combat troops at war in Iraq again?
Also, new developments in the investigation into Brian Williams past. And GMOs with the best of Jon Stewart taking on celebrities, presidents and hey, even that Mitch McConnell imitation.
BURNETT: Three young members from a Muslim family murdered execution style in North Carolina. And tonight, the FBI is investigating whether it was a hate crime. It was a young couple along with the wife's 19-year-old sister. These three found shot to death inside their Chapel Hill, North Carolina apartment. The suspect, their neighborhood. A 46-year-old self-proclaimed atheist who allegedly had a history ranting about religion online. Police say there's been an ongoing dispute with the neighbor over parking and a parking spot specifically but tonight family and friends of the victims say there's no doubt this was a hate crime.
Jason Carroll begins our coverage OUTFRONT in Chapel Hill.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I heard about eight shots go off --
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A frantic 911 call. Shots fired in an apartment complex near the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: About three girls, more than one girl screaming and then there was nothing.
CARROLL: The victims all Muslims, 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife of a little more than a month, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad and her sister 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all shot execution style, a bullet to the head. Later that night this man, 46-year-old Craig Hicks turned himself
into police. Soon charged him with three counts of first-degree murder. What triggered the shooting? The suspect's attorney said it was all over a parking spot.
ROBERT MAITLAND, HICKS FAMILY LAWYER: It has nothing to do with anything but the mundane issue of this man being frustrated day in and day out with not being able to park where he wanted to park.
CARROLL: But the father of the murdered woman called it a hate crime.
MOHAMMAD ABU-SALHA, VICTIM'S FATHER: I feel it. I have no doubt that he would not have acted this way if they were not clearly Muslims.
CARROLL: A family spokeswoman called for an investigation.
SUZANNA BARAKAT, DEAH BARAKAT'S SISTER: We ask that the authorities investigate these senseless and heinous murders as a hate crime.
CARROLL: Hicks who claimed he was an atheist allegedly posted anti-religious statements on his Facebook page, quote, "When it comes to insult, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut. So would I."
CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the post of his Facebook page. Hicks' wife expressed shock and her deepest sympathy at the killings but said whatever happened it was not a hate crime.
KAREN HICKS, CRAIG HICKS' WIFE: It's one of the things I know about him is everyone is equal. So, it doesn't matter what you look like or who you are or what you believe.
CARROLL: Barakat was a second year dental student. His wife was about to begin studies at the same UNC School of dentistry. Her sister was also a student at nearby NC State in Riley. And Barakat has also raising money to provide dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. His website has raised more than $100,000, most of that donated after supporters learned of his death.
CARROLL: And Erin, regardless of what police say about a motive here, the women's father who we spoke to early this evening is convinced this was a hate crime. In fact he said that his son-in-law lived here at the apartment complex for some time without any problems with Hicks. He said the problems began when his daughters started showing up wearing the head scarves. He said, that's when all the problems began. And in fact, he said that not too long ago, one of his daughters came to him and said to him, daddy, I believe this man hates us just because of who we are -- Erin.
BURNETT: Jason Carroll, thank you. And OUTFRONT now Mo Idlibby, he's been a friend of the young husband Deah for 15 years. Mo, I know you see him all the time and this has got to be incredibly hard for you to talk about. I'm sorry. But I know that you're choosing to speak because you think it's important to say that in your view this was not a spur of the moment act. This wasn't over a parking space as you just heard the suspect's lawyer say. You believe this was a hate crime.
MO IDLIBBY, FRIEND OF MURDER VICTIM DEAH SHADDY BARAKAT: Erin, first of all, thanks for having me on tonight. And of course while we're in the middle of grieving, all this, I did make a purposeful decision to be on tonight. Because we got a preserve Deah's users and Razan's legacy and we have to accurately portray it. And while the family, we are all grieving and while we are going to wait for the results of a full investigation we can tell you that the overwhelming evidence is certainly pointing towards it being motivated by hate. And we want to make sure that the story is set straight. This is not, three people were not brutally murdered premeditated solely because of a parking space issue. And we are here for Deah, for all three of them and we have to make sure that the story is straight.
BURNETT: And Mo, what was it that made your friend Deah and his wife and her sister, Yosur and Razan so concerned, so afraid? And we just heard the young women's father talking about how they said Deah had not been harassed by this neighbor until they moved in, they wore the head scarf and they felt that that's what when this all started. What did Deah ever tell you about this neighbor?
IDLIBBY: Erin, here's what I could tell you. Deah had been living there for about a year and a half. Deah and Yosur just got married at the end of December last year. So, they were only married for a little more than a month. And after she moved in is when this individual Mr. Hicks showed up at their apartment several times and of course it's very important to note that Yosur wears the head scarf, the hijab which is obviously very visibly Muslim.
IDLIBBY: And it was only after she was there that he showed up on several occasions with a gun, holding a gun and making loud and rude remarks, threatening remarks towards them. So, this made her very concerned. And she called her family. You know, Deah was the kind of person who were so warm hearted that he would never play the role of victim. So, he never really, you know, as tough guy, you know, never really wanted to speak out about it. But it certainly was conveyed to us that to the families that they were scared just as recently as one week ago, I also spoke with Deah's in-law, his father in-law who you heard from earlier.
IDLIBBY: And it was very clear that she said they are terrified of this neighbor.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Mo, thank you very much. I appreciate it. And again, I know it's hard to come on today, the day this happens to your friend. But I appreciate it that you're telling the story, their story.
IDLIBBY: Erin, if I could just show you two photos.
BURNETT: Of course.
IDLIBBY: You know, Deah was an amazing American who was living the American dream. This is him in one of his wedding photos and, you know, his favorite basketball player was Steph Curry. And he did a pose just like Steph Curry. And this is just one example of what a real Muslim is like. Not what ISIS is portraying around the world. And I would just call upon, you know, the Chapel Hill Police Department to make sure that they are very careful in conducting a full investigation before they come out and say that this was over a parking space. Because it's very offensive and inflammatory to the family, to his friends and all his loved ones across the world for that to be the headline. And we're going to set the story straight. And we want everybody in the world to know that he was proud to be Muslim. And Yosur and Razan were all proud to be Muslim. But they never shoved it down anybody's throat and we're going to continue to remember that and celebrate their lives.
BURNETT: All right, Mo, thank you very much.
And OUTFRONT now, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes. Tom, you just heard Mo talked about, you know, obviously his friend and the friend that he loves. But very clear that they were scared of this man. He had threatened them, he had come by as recently as last week, he had brought his gun. They are sure that this was a hate crime. You heard the suspect though, his wife and lawyer saying, this is over a parking space. I mean, when I hear that, look, same people do not care each other over parking spaces. Is that a ridiculous thing to say? Is it certain this was a hate crime?
TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, we don't know that yet, Erin. And first of all, you know, my condolences go out to the family. And Deah and his wife and his wife's sister seem like just the perfect persons that you want to come to America and become Americans. They just seemed like such wonderful people. And this is a horrible tragedy. But if I could say, I have this from sources very close to the investigation --
FUENTES: That the FBI is assisting Chapel Hill. They've asked for help just to make sure that every lead gets covered in a timely and diligent manner. And they are pursuing the aspect of not just that we have a triple homicide here and they want to be able to have all the evidence of that. But pursuing the possibilities of hate crime in every possible way to be able to justify that kind of a prosecution. So, the police there don't want anybody to think that they're bias against bringing hate crime charges or because they're Muslim they won't get a diligent investigation on their behalf. Because they are and they will and it's in progress right now.
BURNETT: And a local official says they don't believe there was any active planning by Craig Hicks. Is that significant at all in terms of whether this was a hate crime? Especially given as you just heard Deah's friend say that he had, that they say comes to the apartment just a week before threatening them with a gun?
FUENTES: Well, you just mentioned a second ago that why would a sane person, you know, wouldn't kill people over a parking space. So, that's yet to be established. What is the mental condition of this guy?
FUENTES: If you have, you know, a middle-aged problem with mental problems with a gun, we've seen this before, anger management problems and, you know, so that's a possibility. The fact that it could have been a hate crime, that's a possibility too. They will work very hard to prove one way or the other.
BURNETT: All right, Tom, thank you very much.
FUENTES: Thank you.
BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, President Obama making his case to go to war against ISIS coming directly to the American people today. Will American troops be heading to Iraq and Syria and soon?
And Brian Williams vowing to return to his job, the anchor chair. Is that determination or denial tonight?
BURNETT: Breaking news: President Obama making his case for the authority to wage war against ISIS. Today, the president formally asked Congress to give him the authorization and then made his case directly to the American people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make no mistake, this is a difficult mission. It will remain difficult for some time. Our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive and ISIL is going to lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: ISIL is going to lose. But not everyone thinks the president request will ensure victory.
Jim Acosta is OUTFRONT at the White House.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama's proposal opens a new door to more than just air strikes.
OBAMA: ISIL is going to lose.
ACOSTA: Asking Congress for the green light on his war plan. The president charges ISIS with the deaths of American hostages, including their most recent known victim, Kayla Mueller. If left unchecked, he warns ISIS could pose a threat to the U.S. homeland.
While the president says this battle won't be a flash back to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involving hundreds of thousands of troops, Mr. Obama's new authorization does seek ground forces for rescue operations, missions to kill ISIS leaders and air strikes.
OBAMA: If we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders. Our partners didn't have the capacity to get them. I would be prepared to order our special forces to take action.
ACOSTA: The fellow Democrats are nervous about the proposal's language barring, quote, "enduring combat".
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: None of us know what enduring offensive combat operations means and deliberately. I think drafted to be ambiguous.
ACOSTA: The White House response to that?
(on camera): Intentionally so, intentionally --
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, yes, Jim. We believe it's important that there aren't overly burdensome constraints that are placed on the commander-in-chief who needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerged in a chaotic military conflict like that.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In other words, enough U.S. forces to help local Iraqis and Syrians take the fight to ISIS, without breaking the president's pledge last fall.
OBAMA: I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.
ACOSTA: That White House attempt to find a happy medium is already turning off Republicans.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president's point is he wants to dismantle and destroy is. I haven't seen a strategy yet that I think will accomplish that.
ACOSTA: And the White House is not ruling out additional ground troops to carry out this war on ISIS. When asked about whether or not more forces could be send in to fight ISIS, the answer was, quote, "not at this time". And, Erin, there's a reason why there's not been an authorization vote for war in 13 years. This is a by no means a sure thing -- Erin.
BURNETT: Not a sure thing and not easy to do. All right. Thank you very much, Jim Acosta.
Seth Jones is OUTFRONT. He served as a senior official and U.S. Special Operations Command during the Iraq wars and Afghanistan wars.
All right. Seth, good to have you with us.
So, you've been in this position. You've been in Special Operations. The president said something that sort of confused me, though, and I want to get your take on it, right?
He said, "ISIL is going to lose." That's what he said point- blank, right? Even as he says he will keep his pledge, which was, and I'll quote him again, "I will not submit our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq." Can you promise to defeat ISIS and promise that there will be no ground war at the same time?
SETH JONES, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: No, Erin, I don't think you can. And I think that's what important for people to understand is, there are U.S. ground forces in Iraq right now -- they tend to be predominant by Special Operation forces involved in some ground combat, including targeting of ISIS operatives. I think what the president really is saying is he's not going to commit large numbers of conventional forces the way the previous administration did in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
BURNETT: And do you think that's a promise that can be kept? Or is that (a), a promise you don't want to make because you don't know you can keep it, and (b), a promise you don't want to make because you don't want your enemy to know exactly what you're going to do?
JONES: I don't think you want to telegraph what types of troops you want to provide in this kind of situation. Because you don't want to tie your hands. You have to be careful that you don't tie your hands on the time line. One thing this does do is the president's call for a three year sunset clause on this. I have some concerns that this ties the U.S.'s hands too much for what really will be a long war.
BURNETT: And you know what? It's funny, because he did address, he knew there might be some criticism. And he defended the three-year time frame. Let me just play exactly how defended that criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It is not a timetable. It is not announcing that the mission is completed at any given period. What it is saying is that Congress should revisit the issue at the beginning of the next president's term.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, now, you have to vote on this every few years which as we know with this Congress is, he may being way too optimistic to think that might happen.
JONES: I think what this ensures is every three years there will be a big political food fight about support for the president, differences between the legislative and executive branches. Erin, one of things I did want to highlight, what this authorization does not do is it does not focus U.S. efforts, or authorized U.S. efforts only in Iraq and Syria. It leaves out geographic boundaries.
So, this does give the U.S. some ability to strike ISIS targets in Libya or any other location. Not just Iraq and Syria.
BURNETT: And I guess that's string in many ways when you look at North Africa, as you say. You look at Libya. You look at Egypt. You look at all these places, Yemen.
All right. Thank you so much. I appreciate it, Seth, as we said, who is one of the U.S. Special Operations Command senior officers in Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Next, new reporting tonight on Brian Williams, determination to get back to the anchor desk. Plus, NBC's mounting troubles. This is bigger than "Nightly News".
And Jeanne Moos on that other departing anchor, Jon Stewart, and his take on CNN's funniest reporter, our Jeanne Moos.
BURNETT: No sign tonight of Brian Williams' name at the beginning of the "Nightly News" broadcast. But the anchor was not forgotten. Interim anchor Lester Holt addressed the widening investigation of his friend and colleague.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER HOLT, INTERIM ANCHOR, NBC'S NIGHTLY NEWS: If I may on a personal note say it is an enormously difficult story to report. Brian is a member of our family but so are you, our viewers. And we will work every night to be worthy of your trust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Williams was suspended for six months without pay after he told a story that was untrue about events that occurred in Iraq in 2003. The NBC News internal investigation into the matter is looking at other unrelated incidents to see if Williams exaggerated or lied other times in the past.
And joining me now OUTFRONT, Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES". And Gabriel Sherman, contributing editor at "New York Magazine".
Good to have both you have with us.
Brian -- you know, I'll say this knowing Brian and Lester. It was hard to watch Lester say that. Lester sounded like he was going to cry.
BRIAN STELTER, HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: He did. You could hear the emotion in his voice.
He doesn't want to be in this position -- at least I don't think he does. He can't appear to want to either. He can't appear to be taking advantage of this either.
He did come in number one in the ratings yesterday. He is holding his own. Viewers are not rejecting him. But this is a tough situation for him, no doubt.
BURNETT: That's very tough, because as he said, a member of his family and someone -- you know, I worked at NBC, right, Brian was, you know, sort of the father of a lot of ways of everyone there.
Gabe, sources are telling you when Brian had this meeting with the head of NBC Universal, Steve Burke. They met yesterday in Burke's apartment. Williams was presented with what you call a dossier of misstatements or exaggerations. What do you know about that?
GABRIEL SHERMAN, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: So, I've heard that NBC executives have compiled a list -- so far, working list of his misstatements in the past. Essentially, my sense of it is they want leverage to go to Williams and say, listen, this is what we've got and let's cut a deal.
And they did. And he did not fight them. He took the six month suspension. And my sense is that he knew he didn't have much leverage.
I mean, let's not forget, this is a big business story. These are millions of dollars at stake. So, while we all like Brian Williams and we all say, oh, these are, you know, likable people, this is essentially a business deal.
BURNETT: Ultimately, that is what this comes down to. No matter what anyone wants to say in this business.
It's about numbers. People can say they like someone. They like someone until the dollars and cents get in the way and it's different.
STELTER: Williams is rather striking. Williams is eager to apologize again and is determined to get back on the air. This is not a guy who is going down for the count.
I wonder if that is something his fans are really going to respect and appreciate. That he wants to get back out there, he wants to profusely apologize and earn a second chance from the audience. The question is, whether NBC wants him to do that, whether it's in NBC's interest to have him back out there.
BURNETT: Right, which is a key question, especially when you talk about someone like Lester Holt performing so well.
Now, over the years, we have seen Brian Williams appear on a lot of other shows, right? In fact, over the years, people have said, get Brian out of anchor chair. He's funny. He's witty. He's actually the weakest in the chair, he's so strong doing other things. People have said that.
Here are a few clips from "SNL", "Late Night", et cetera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: I'm Brian Williams and I'm hosting "Saturday Night Live" this week with musical guest Feist (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at you. You're gorgeous. Look at his face.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't talk. When you talk, you ruin it.
WILLIAMS: I pull off my mask and I'm a lizard person, too.
Democrats are now hoping this will pressure their House Leader John Boehner and soften his hard line stance.
JIMMY FALLON: Hmm, hmm, hmm, take it from my man, Brilly Willy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Gabe, you reported Brian Williams made a push, an aggressive push to do "The Tonight Show". Jimmy Fallon obviously got the job. Did he want to make a shift? Did he want to say, look, I actually want to be an entertainer, I don't want to be forced to be this news guy?
SHERMAN: Without a doubt. My source at NBC said he made an aggressive push to move out of the anchor chair, into the late night world. And what I think is interesting is he wanted to look at these other platforms, but these were essentially old media platforms. He doesn't have a big Twitter following. He doesn't have a Facebook following.
When he wanted to expand his platform, he wanted to move into the entertainment world. I think that hurt him in this crisis, because as the up swell of criticism washed over him, he didn't have a social media presence to push back, because he was an old media analogue personality.
BURNETT: Right. And I don't -- he has a Twitter account, right, Brian, but I don't know if he's ever used it?
STELTER: He's never used the Twitter. And it's sort of famous, and he has a quarter of a million followers. It was Facebook where these questions were first raised about his Iraq war mission. It was soldiers on Facebook commenting that eventually, I hate to say, took him down, at this point took him down.
BURNETT: That's the fear I would imagine NBC has. So, say they do want to bring him, do they want to give him a second chance, you now have the mass world out there looking. STELTER: Yes, it's a great example of the accountability
function of the web. You know, ordinary Internet users, ordinary people watching this program can hold us accountable in ways they never could before.
STELTER: And Brian Williams is experiencing that right now.
BURNETT: Right. Thanks very much to both you. I appreciate your time.
BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, before the chopper scandal, Brian Williams was NBC News rock. Now, he's the latest sure thing at the network to crumble, our special report.
And Jeanne Moos with the best of Jon Stewart from eating pizza the Jersey way to roasting my favorite fast food chain, Arby's.
BURNETT: Tonight's money and power, "NBC Nightly News". The broadcast brings in about $30 million in profits for the news division each year, according to "The Wall Street Journal". That's after they pay things like Brian Williams $10 million a year salary. Still, $30 million profit.
Brian Williams has been the face of "Nightly News" for more than a decade. Until this week, he was the nation's highest rated news anchor. The investigation into his reporting which prompted a six- month suspension without pay is just the latest though in a string of problems for a once proud network.
Brian Stelter is OUTFRONT.
STELTER (voice-over): NBC News used to be the envy of the TV news world, and maybe one day, it will be again. But right now, it's a punching bag and a punch line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NBC in this case stands for "not being cancelled".
STELTER: The news division is famous for "Huntly and Brinkly", for "Katie and Bryant", for "Tim and Tom". But its problems were piling up, even before last week, when Brian Williams recanted his tale about being in a chopper force down by RPG fire in Iraq.
NBC's cash cow, "The Today Show", is stuck in second place still suffering from the 2012 decision to force out Ann Curry out. The network just finished an exit deal for her.
ERIK WEMPLE, WASHINGTON POST MEDIA CRITIC: What's happened to the two marquee shows, the today show and "NBC Nightly News" is really rather stunning. No one would have predicted years ago that the today show would have got overtaken and that "NBC Nightly News" would have a scandal where the network is now, all of a sudden, tumbling before our very eyes.
STELTER: It also ousted David Gregory from "Meet the Press" last fall and forced to announce the news of his departure via Twitter.
On air, NBC is trying to rehab Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who violated an Ebola quarantine after returning from West Africa, hurting (ph) her credibility.
DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN, NBC: Good people can make mistakes.
STELTER: And the network is regretting a series of reporting mistakes, most recently, saying Bowe Bergdahl was about to be charged with desertion, something that still hasn't happened.
NBC's parent company Comcast hates all this drama, partly because it hurts the bottom line, meaning hundreds of millions in ad revenue, but also it's got bigger business going on -- a pending merger with Time Warner Cable.
WEMPLE: It's a colossal embarrassment for Comcast. I mean, Comcast is trying to pull off a merger in D.C. and mergers are to a significant degree of PR effort to help the image of the company and to show that the company is dedicated to consumerism and good product and good management and having Brian Williams out there saying blah blah blah, that doesn't help a bit -- especially given that this story is enormous inside the Beltway, and that's just precisely where Comcast needs a healthy and receptive environment for their merger.
STELTER: At this point, NBC wants to stop being the news and just get back to telling it.
BURNETT: You know, I worked at NBC. It's where I grew up. I was so proud to work there. It's a wonderful organization. I have a lot of friends there, Tim, Brian, Tom. Those people were mentors. They were coming -- it is a wonderful place.
STELTER: It was sort of Mount Rushmore of television news.
BURNETT: There was. There was. But I have a lot of friends who still work there and there is frustration and uncertainty in what's going to happen. And who's running it.
STELTER: Some people do not have confidence in the management to run the place but that's partly why the president of NBC News, Debra Turness, spent the whole day meeting in small groups, with department, with shows, answering questions and listening to feedback. There was a lot of anger but I think that listening tour may help her try to gain control of the news division.
BURNETT: Right, and hopefully answer the fair questions all those people have.
STELTER: That's right. There's a lot of them.
BURNETT: Yes. All right. Brian Stelter, thank you very much.
And OUTFRONT next, Jeanne Moos on what it's like the receiving end of a Jon Stewart dig. I mean, you're kind of honored, right, but you're also deeply embarrassed.
BURNETT: When Jon Stewart lives "The Daily Show," it will have been the longest gig he's ever had by -- as he said, something like 16-plus years. Anyway, it's been quite the ride. Here's Jeanne Moos with more.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Watch 16 years fly by in six seconds.
JON STEWART, THE DAILY NEWS: Ixnay. Making you laugh.
A variety of ministries.
Change out of my work slacks.
MOOS: Jon Stewart started out slightly stiff.
MOOS: And ended up loosey-goosey.
STEWART: I'm so excited.
MOOS: Who needs a joke when you've got that signature stare? He welcomed foreign presidents.
STEWART: This is an American delicacy. It's called a Twinkie.
MOOS: And bashed American presidents. For instance, after the disputed 2000 election.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I was not elected to serve one party.
STEWART: You were not elected.
MOOS: And now, he's elected to quit while he's ahead, praising his staff.
STEWART: I love and I respect them so much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love you, Jon!
MOOS: Tweeted one fan, "I regret to inform you that we are unable to accept your resignation at this time. Sincerely, literally everyone."
Yes, well, maybe not those he chose to imitate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With all due respect, not a credible statement.
STEWART: Oh, with all due respect.
MOOS: Did you say respect?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It's the right thing to do.
STEWART: Well. You carry your house around on your back!
MOOS: Mostly, he gazed. Sometimes he gawked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ever listen to your program? It's pulling out of your butt.
MOOS: After being the butt of Stewart's jokes, Arby's reacted this way to his planned departure. "Jon, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org."
Donald Trump felt Stewart's rap for eating pizza with utensils.
STEWART: Are you eating it with a fork? A (EXPLETIVE DELETED) fork?
MOOS: After that tirade, we need --
STEWART: Your moment of Zen.
MOOS (on camera): But you know what's really scary? When you're sitting at home watching "The Daily Show" and you realize, you're the one about to be skewered, give it to me, Jon.
STEWART: Covering their coverage of the Malaysian plane story.
MOOS (voice-over): A public fascination with the plaid shirts, Mitchell Casada (ph) seemed to be wearing. Mitch's plaid shirt even started its own Twitter account.
Who's going to keep an eye on us when you're gone, Jon? Or teach us the proper way to eat pizza.
STEWART: Watch and learn, for God's sakes!
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: Thanks so much for joining us.
"AC360" begins right now.