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ISIS Advances Nearing U.S. Troops in Iraq; White House Denies Report of Delayed Hostage Rescue; FBI Opens Inquiry Into Murders of Three Muslims

Aired February 12, 2015 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT tonight, ISIS on the offensive. The militants making progress in a key Iraqi city. Just miles from an air base with as many as 400 Americans troops. A major development tonight.

Plus, new information on the man charged with the murders of three young Muslims in North Carolina. His neighbors speak out tonight. And Bob Simon after a career spent cheating death, the newsman dies in a car crash just minutes from his home. My guest Connie Chung remember her former colleague. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, ISIS launching attacks across Iraq and making progress. The militants attacking Iraqi forces on the outskirts of a key town. Al-Baghdadi in Anbar, Province. Al-Baghdadi is a crucial battle front, you see it there on the map. It is just a few short miles from that airbase, you see there, up to 400 American troops are stationed there tonight. It is the largest military base in the province which is under Iraqi control. The Americans there are training Iraqi pilots. We also have information tonight on ISIS making progress outside Iraq and Syria. New information about ISIS widening its influence to even more countries across the Middle East. And we're going to show you where.

First, our coverage begins with Phil Black. He is in Duhok, Iraq. And Phil, how much progress, how significant is this news from ISIS today?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it has been an active day for ISIS across Iraq. First, in the west of the country, Anbar Province. The region where ISIS has maintained considerable military momentum against the Iraqi army. It made more progress today living further deeper into the town at Al-Baghdadi. It's a concern because it is close to an air base where U.S. military personnel are involved training the Iraqi army. Meanwhile, here in the North, Kurdish fighters say, by those depositions across the wide area came under ISIS attack. Some of those attacks involved suicide bombers, the Kurds say they will held them without casualties that they say, this fits a new tactic by ISIS in this part of the country. An attempt they believe to divert their attention, their resources from their main game, their main strategy which is circling and choking off the ISIS stronghold at Mosul -- Erin.

BURNETT: Phil Black, thank you very much. As we said Phil in Iraq tonight. And the big question tonight is whether American troops at that airbase are now endanger.

Jim Sciutto is in Washington. And Jim, this is fierce fighting tonight. It is just a few miles from a base where 400 American personnel are stationed. These are the personnel the President said were there to train. They were not there to be combat troops. But it looks like combat may be coming. Are they in danger?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Their close to danger, Erin. Let's look at this. Because we can tell, a few weeks ago, U.S. forces were confined to the capital Baghdad. But now, with them being out of al-Asad air base, here, you're only looking at a few miles distance from where all that fighting is concentrated. So, these are not combat troops here, the 400 U.S. military personnel. But they are very close to combat. And this is something that's happening more and more in the country as those advisors are pressed out of the major city centers of Baghdad and Irbil. Not just to Anbar Province which is a huge ISIS presence but to a number of places around the country to train. They're not combat troops Erin, but they are closer to combat and that's certainly raises the danger.

BURNETT: It certainly does. It's going to raise some very serious questions tonight. We're going to tackle in just a moment. But I know you're talking about something bigger than this. The concern isn't just how far ISIS is spreading and growing in Iraq and Syria but how far the reach is now extending outside their countries. This is a bigger problem, metastasizing.

SCIUTTO: No question. This is their home base of course. You have in Syria and Iraq. But there have been attacks in recent months and weeks here in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt by groups loyal to ISIS. Attacks on a major western hotel. It killed one American in Tripoli. In Libya, you have AQAP supporters, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Supporters who are pledging their allegiance to ISIS. And interestingly, all the way over here in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pentagon says that now some Taliban fighters rebranding themselves as ISIS in part to get new recruits because ISIS is the big thing in jihadi circles today but also a new money. It doesn't mean that they're necessarily operationally tied to Iraq and Syria. But some of these groups are and this means that when you talk about U.S. military actions against ISIS, it may not be just confine to hear, it's possible U.S. military maybe called into attack ISIS in other countries.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jim Sciutto. And of course that authorization now, U.S. military could be called in any country. There's no geographic limitation on the President's request for use of force in the war against ISIS.

OUTFRONT now, our military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona and Colonel Peter Mansoor. Good to have both of you with us.

Colonel Francona, let me just start with you. This is a major development. Right? ISIS on the attacks just a few miles for more 400 American military personnel, a training Iraqi pilots. These are the personnel that the President said are not combat troops and will not be involved in combat. Here they are now just a couple of miles, two, three maybe four miles away from combat. What are the options if this combat comes to them?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), FORMER U.S. MILITARY ATTACHE IN SYRIA: Yes. This is a real problem. If you look at the location as we saw in the map there, this is way out in Anbar Province, this is halfway to the Syrian border. And the base is quite isolated. We see ISIS up to their old tactics again. It looks like they're probably going to try and surround that base and put siege to it. And that presents us with a real problem, a real dilemma. What do we do then? Do we evacuate the base? Do we convoy out? Do we -- aircraft and try to air evac everybody out or do we reinforce that base and then try and hold it? It's a no win situation on both ways. If we pull out, we have to pull everybody out. We can't let the Iraqis up there by themselves. So, although I agree with Jim. They're not in danger right now but danger is coming.

BURNETT: And you think just to be clear, that one of ISIS goals is to lay siege to that base. They know there's Americans there?

FRANCONA: Exactly. And they probe that base before. This isn't the first time we've seen fighting around there. There were some minor skirmishes at that base before. We know they want to take it. It's right in the middle of the area that they want to control. If you remember when they came up to Yafridi's (ph) Valley, they want to consolidate that area all the way up to the Syrian border.

BURNETT: Colonel Mansoor, how big of a risk is this at this moment for those 400 Americans at that base?

COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think initially there's not much risk. If you ever been to that base it's wide open area around there. Hard to sneak up on it.


MANSOOR: As long as the Iraqi force depending it is halfway competent there should be no way that ISIS can take it. The bigger problem is when they get within rocket range they'll going to start to lay siege to the base by reigning rockets and borders on it. And our troops are actually in greater danger from indirect fire from a direct ground assault.

BURNETT: So, what should the United States do, Colonel Mansoor? I mean, what's your view? And is this something, does the United States lose face by evacuating or should they evacuate or should they take the risk of a siege?

MANSOOR: You know, this is a war and we have to fight it as a war. And if were there to train Iraqi forces, we should train them and then push them out the gate and have them go after ISIS. If these Iraqi forces are so incompetent that they can't leave this built up area to go after a force that's only 10 miles away, then we have bigger problems than some play 400 troops on an isolated base.

BURNETT: Colonel Francona, you're nodding.

FRANCONA: Yes. Exactly. This is the problem. If that Iraqi forces not competent with this, we have bigger problems. And I'm not sure that the Iraqi army has been reconstituted enough to do that. So, I'm very concerned as Colonel Mansoor is with the indirect fire that can come down on that base. And we know that that's what ISIS prefers to do. We've seen it in the past. We've probably see it in the future.

BURNETT: So, what happens if there's an American casualty? Right? The U.S. has been very careful. We've talked about that there haven't been American casualties. All of a sudden some ISIS fighter kills an American soldier. Does this just change the game for the U.S.? Does this change the President saying, no, no, no, we're not going to have combat troops, we're not going to have combat troops, we're not going to have combat troops?

FRANCONA: Well, I think it's inevitable that there will probably at some point be an American casualty. As Colonel Mansoor said, this is a war. Although, we technically don't have ground troops in combat. We've got American troops at risk. We've got American pilots at risk. This is a very dangerous way to make a living. And eventually, there will be a casualty.

BURNETT: And Colonel Mansoor, how much progress do you think ISIS is going to be able to make? Obviously, in Syria we know they have made significant progress. In Iraq there had been some success in pushing them back in some places. Other places where they were making gains. Obviously, this gives them a big headline to be near a base where 400 Americans are but are they actually making these gains?

MANSOOR: I think what you're seeing right now is ISIS is trying to change the narrative. They have taken it on the chin in the last week with their horrible execution of the Jordanian pilot. Their murder of Kayla Mueller. And their losses up in Diyala Province and around the city in Mosul to the Kurdish Peshmerga. They needed to do to do something to change the narrative. And so, they have chosen the area where they are the strongest al-Anbar Province to try to make some gains. And change the image that they are losing. And now that they're on the offensive once again, I think it's probably a limited assault at this time. And I believe that the Iraqis will be able to weather it. I don't see there's any danger to al-Assad at this point in time at any rate.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to both of you.

And next, new details on attempts to rescue American hostage Kayla Mueller. Did the United States lose a crucial chance to save her life?

Plus, the death of veteran CBS supporter Bob Simon. My guest tonight is one of his former colleague Connie Chung.

And the FBI's chief strong words on race and policing today. Why he says police must resist lazy shortcuts.


BURNETT: Tonight, new questions about whether the U.S. government did enough to try and save American hostage Kayla Mueller. The White House is pushing back against reports that it delayed a crucial rescue mission for the 26-year-old aid worker. She was held by ISIS for 18 months. Could more have been done?

Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A heart breaking message from the man kidnapped in Syria Kayla Mueller, her boyfriend Omar Al Khani. He posted this picture of Kayla holding a stuffed animal saying on his Facebook page, "I'm sorry I didn't hold onto you with so much strength that even god couldn't take you away. You left our world for a bigger and better place now." CNN learned Omar risked his life to rescue Kayla. He went to a terrorist training camp pretending to be her husband but the -- failed. Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar has counseled the family and hinted more could have been done to rescue Mueller.

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R), ARIZONA: There's some conflicting evidence that maybe the White House and the administration didn't do all they could.

BROWN: The White House denied that they late launched a rescue attempt to save Mueller and other hostages last July. A spokesperson for the National Security Council says, U.S. forces conducted this operation as soon as the President and his national security team were confident the mission could be carried out. The President told BuzzFeed he did everything he could.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I deployed an entire operation at significant risk to rescue not only her but the other individuals that had been held and probably missed them by day or two precisely because we had that commitment.

BROWN: After ISIS issued an execution deadline of Mueller last August, her family reached out to the White House in desperation. And according to a family spokesperson asked the administration if they would consider a prisoner swap trading U.S. prisoner a Dr. Siddiqui known as Lady al-Qaeda for Mueller. Even though the swap never happened it's believed Mueller was still alive after the execution deadline passed.


BROWN: And the White House declined to comment on the family's request for a prisoner swap. We know that right now the U.S. hostage policy is still under review. As part of this review, the White House has reached out to some of the hostages' families to get their input. Back to you.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much, Pamela. And now Daniel O'Shea, former Navy SEAL commander and he also managed kidnapping cases for the United States in Iraq from 2004 to 2006. Bob Baer joins me as well, former CIA operative. All right. Bob, according to this report. It appeared in The

Daily Beast. The White House has denied it. They say the U.S. did not think British intelligence was good enough to act on and waited a month to launch a mission to rescue ISIS' hostages. That's the report in The Daily Beast. So, I guess my question to you is, would waiting a month be normal?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Oh, absolutely. I spent the '80s and early '90s looking at hostage rescues in Lebanon. That's all I did for five years. And we were careful about the intelligence. And one is human intelligence, just wasn't reliable. So, if we produce something, the military would look at it and they'd want collateral. And at that time they did eyes on the hostages. So, this could take much more than a month. So, I just don't buy The Daily Beast story. You know, the military is very careful about sending people into dangerous areas and long range missions. And they want to be sure they're not set up for an ambush. So, to take a month, it doesn't seem that long to me.

BURNETT: And Dan, what's your view? Kayla was in captivity from August 2013 until her death. They believe at this point that was very recently. They don't know exactly when. Right? But it would have been something like 18 months. We know at least the U.S. government said there was only one rescue attempt made that we would aware off at this time. Would you have expected more to be done during that time especially given that they have said that during the rescue attempt they only missed Kayla and the other hostages by a day or two?

DANIEL O'SHEA, FORMER NAVY SEAL COMMANDER: And the reality is and Bob Baer is correct. You need three things if you launch a hostage rescue. Number one, proof of life, the hostage is still alive. Number two, the exact location where the hostage is being locate and then the last thing is the authorities. And many times getting those authorities takes multiple sources and not just one confirm source. So, there are the ways. But unfortunately in the hostage world these are time sensitive targets. And sometimes, if the hostage is located at a certain location, the enemy knows they have to move them. And many times we don't know that the opposition launch a mission before the hostage move in. It sounds like that's what happened in this case. But it's not that easy to launch these missions because of the risk involved both to the hostage and to the rescuers as well.

BURNETT: And when it comes to the rescuers, Bob, I spoke recently with Robert O'Neill who was of course on many of these missions, including the Osama Bin Laden mission. The Navy SEAL has said he shot Bin Laden. He had a lot of experience with these cases. Here is what he told me about though, how he felt when they were called in to rescue people who probably shouldn't have been where they were in the first place?


ROBERT O'NEILL, FORMER NAVY SEAL: It is upsetting. I've had a good friend in my team. He was killed trying to rescue an American doctor in Afghanistan. And part of our issue is, why are you going there? I mean, obviously it's noble and you want to do the right thing and they're good hearted people. Most of them are aid workers or journalist.


O'NEILL: But the problem is you need to have realization that there are people that don't like you based on simply being a non- believer or an apostate. They will kill you based on how you look.


BURNETT: And Bob, it was an interesting answer he gave because it was very honest. Right? I mean, that there is this, they understand some of these people are trying to do wonderful things when they go to these places but yet by doing this and taking on these risks they are risking other lives as well. SEALs who may be called to rescue them.

BAER: Look, exactly. Kayla was an angel. She wanted to help. She wanted to help the Syrian. She believed in it. She was a true believer. But the fact is she shouldn't have crossed the border from Turkey. Doctors without Border warned her. They said go back. You're going to get taken by the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra one of these. And I don't think this is what the SEALs or Delta should be doing is having Americans wander around a combat area and putting their lives at risk. These missions are just enormously risky. And you can almost count on losing somebody especially near Raqqa where the Islamic State is. And one day there's going to be an ambush trying to rescue an American. And, you know, it's unfortunate that these people wander around these areas.

BURNETT: Yes, I mean, Dan, it's pretty horrible to imagine when something like that happened. Right? You hear about these missions that don't succeed but what if six SEALs died in the attack. Even if the hostage was saved, how horrible would that be even for that hostage?

O'SHEA: This happened routinely. We had threat reports on kidnapping threats and organizations that aid workers and journalists. And I used to go out and brief the journalists. I used to brief, one of the aid organizations, we brief directly and said there's a direct threat in your organization and yet they still ignored us and they we're doing in their view the lord's work and they put their lives at risk and put the lives of my special operations brethren all the time to try and do these rescue missions. So, yes, Robert O'Neill has make a very good point about that. Because the reality is, there are some places in the world that people probably really need to think twice before going into.

BURNETT: Right. Yes. It's a very fair point. Thanks to both of you.

Now, the Senate has confirmed Ashton Carter as the next secretary of defense, it was an overwhelming vote of 93 to five today. Carter takes the job as the United States faces massive national security challenges as well as major budget cuts. Carter has one praise though from democrats and republicans. John McCain called him one of America's most respected defense professionals.

OUTFRONT next, breaking news. The FBI has just announced it is opening a preliminary inquiry into the shooting death of three young Muslim students in North Carolina. And we have new details tonight on the man suspected of killing them. We have those for you next and the director of the FBI talking about race and police. Saying that police do treat young black men differently than whites. And the president of the United States as you've never seen him before.


BURNETT: Breaking news on the investigation into the murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina. We are learning that the FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into the murders of a young couple and the wife's 19-year-old sister. According to officials this inquiry is looking into whether the crime violated federal hate crime or other laws. This comes as hundreds are at this hour gathering to honor the lives of the three students. It is a vigil taking place at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. That is where the sister, one of the victims was going the school. And tonight we are gaining -- we're learning more about what might have fueled their neighbor to storm into their Chapel Hill apartment on Tuesday night and open fire shooting them execution style. Here is the question. Was this really over a dispute about a parking spot or was it a hate crime?

Jason Carroll begins our coverage OUTFRONT in Raleigh.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Chapel Hill at the apartment complex where a three Muslims was murdered Tuesday night, police going door to door as part of their investigation today.

(on camera): Hi there, can we ask you guys how the investigation is going so far?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I just can say, we're just canvassing. And that's all we're doing at the moment.

CARROLL (voice-over): Flowers in front of the apartment where the victims lived. Twenty three-year-old Deah Barakat, his 21-year- old wife Yusor and her 19-year-old sister Razan who was visiting that day. Their neighbor Greg Hicks now facing three counts of first- degree murder. Police say, their preliminary investigation shows the deaths may have been the result of an ongoing dispute over parking. One neighbor says, Hicks had a reputation of being a hot head.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I have seen and heard him be very unfriendly to a lot of people in this community equal opportunity anger.

CARROLL: Another neighbor saying parking was an issue addressed by building management.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm assuming there's parking issues. So, I guess the association, I guess the condo association released this. UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's not about parking. The whole world is

looking on social media and they know what it's about.

CARROLL: The 46-year-old suspect had been attending Durham Technical Community College studying to be a paralegal. The school spokesman described him as an exemplary student who spent much of his time helping teachers and other students. But Hicks' ex-wife described him in a much different way. According to the Associated Press, the two divorced about 17 years ago, she said his favorite move was "Falling Down." A movie about a man who goes on a violent rampage. She said he thought it was hilarious, he had no compassion at all.

(on camera): Investigators have confiscated the suspect's computer which was located in his apartment. They're trying to determine if he had any anti-Muslim leanings, a law enforcement source telling CNN the suspect told police he went into a blind rage after he saw a car allegedly belonging to one of the victims parked in his spot.

(voice-over): Hicks' Facebook page did not appear to show him targeting Muslims. There were anti-religion posts. One reads, atheist for equality. And this, quote, "People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid, I say there is something, atheism." And on January 20th, he posted this picture with the caption, "Yes, that's one pound, 5.1 ounces for my loaded .38 revolver." And in another post, he defends Muslims and criticizes Christians who were opposed to a plan Mosque near Ground Zero writing, quote, "Seems an overwhelming majority of Christians in this country feel that the Muslims are using their Ground Zero Mosque plans to mark their conquest, bunch of hypocrites."


CARROLL: And Erin, now that the vigil has wrapped up here at NC State University and word has started to spread about that FBI inquiry, that will certainly be welcoming news to many people here who believe what happened was indeed a hate crime -- Erin.

BURNETT: Jason, thank you.

Now, today, the father of the two young women spoke at another memorial again calling for a hate crime investigation.


DR. MOHAMMAD ABU-SALHA, VICTIMS' FATHER: Please involve the FBI. Please investigate. Please look carefully. I have talked to lawyers. I have talked to law professors. This has hate crime written all over it.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Dean Obeidallah, columnist for "The Daily Beast", and legal analyst Mark O'Mara.

Mark, we just heard the father of those two young women say this has hate crime written all over it. You're saying not so fast.

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not so fast. I mean, certainly, this screams out for an explanation over and above a parking spot dispute. But we see so many cases of road rage, where people just get out of control immediately, but it's not necessarily because of a person's religion or race.

I do think it's a great idea for the FBI to be doing an investigation, and what a hate crime investigation is, it's a focus or a filter through which you look at everything that this guy did leading up to the death. And remember, the hate crime is supposed to be there to enhance the penalty if you acted a certain way. This man -- he's looking at death penalty eligible, three first-degree murder cases in North Carolina. He is looking at a life sentence no matter what.

BURNETT: Dean, it is as I think Mark fairly says it's impossible to be a disputes over a parking lot, although we have horrific stories of road rage. Why are you so sure that it was a hate crime as opposed to an ongoing dispute and they happen to be Muslim?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, THE DAILY BEAST: In my mind, after speaking to two friends of victims, seeing the comments of the father. I have no doubt in my mind that the fact they were Muslim plays a role. In fact, I will tell you, I believe in my heart if they were non-Muslim, they would be alive today. And there's a reason I say that, not just gut feeling.

When you see the media reports, the people in the neighborhood said this man had given many people problems over their parking spots. They had a community meeting in that complex about the man and they were going to police, they didn't. He only targeted the Muslim. He only killed three Muslims. They were the only Muslims that live in the complex.

He didn't go down the hall and shoot other people he had problems with. He shot those three and he turned himself in to the police.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you this, though, because back in 2010, when the suspect responded to someone on his Facebook page, someone on his Facebook page said, "The Muslims are responsible for 9/11." That's what was posted. Here is what the suspect responded back. "You of all people are smart enough know that those were extremists. They were not practicing Islam anymore than Jim Jones and David Koresh practice Christianity."

That does not sound like somebody with hate from Muslims.

OBEIDALLAH: Well, two things. One, that's from 2010. Second, I'm not saying he's a man, a raving anti-Muslim bigot. I see those people on Facebook and Twitter daily, they interact and they fight.

This is a man I think when push came to shove, he had a moment and he cracked. And the victim of that crime was going to be the person who's been demonized in the media for the last few years, from first by ISIS and al Qaeda had painted a horrible picture of who we are, let's be honest. Then you have Republican politicians ginning up the hate and anti-Muslim bigots ginning up the hate. He's in North Carolina where they just passed anti-Sharia law legislation a year ago. Around that passage, a lot of hateful stuff about Muslims.

BURNETT: So, Mark, when you hear Dean's arguments here, does it convince you?

O'MARA: It doesn't convince me, but what he does acknowledge and what, Erin, you and I have talked about what we have now today is the subtle biases, almost brain biases that show up in people. It is not active, but we know and I would agree with what he just said. There's a good chance if those victims were not Muslims, they may be alive today. But that subtle bias that may have affected this guy's otherwise bizarre behavior may not make it a hate crime.

BURNETT: That's not enough to make it a hate crime?

O'MARA: It may not be, because we have to -- beyond a reasonable doubt, we have to prove that his intent was because of a protected class. And, look, if it shows up in social media and shows up somewhere, then we will have an opportunity for hate crime investigation to continue.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to both of you.

And next, Bob Simon, he survived countless close calls in field reporting only to die in a tragic car crash near his home. OUTFRONT tonight, his former colleague Connie Chung.

Plus, the nation's top cop challenging police to avoid what he calls lazy short cuts in their treatment of blacks.

And President Obama unleashed. It must have been a slow day, at work.


BURNETT: Strong words today from the nation's top law enforcement official. For the first time, he addressed the issue of police and race.

FBI Director James Comey blames some police for taking what he said were lazy shortcuts of cynicism.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: After years of police work, officers often can't help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe rational by some lights. The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others that officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street even in the same clothes do not.


BURNETT: Justice correspondent Evan Perez is OUTFRONT. All right. Evan, here is my question, right? You have Michael

Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. You have Eric Garner, the chokehold death in New York City, that's gotten the entire nation involved in this debate.

Why did he speak out now?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, he feels as the nation's top cop, it's his place to address what's really becoming a major issue, right, which is the relationship between cops and the communities they are supposed to be protecting. Here is a little more about what he had to say about why this problem seems to have developed.


COMEY: We must better understand the people we serve and protect. By trying to know deep in our gut what it feels like to be a law-abiding young black man walking down street and encountering law enforcement. We must understand how that young man may see us. We must resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism.


PEREZ: And that is, Erin, one of the most important things he said today, which is trying to explain why cops seem to develop these feelings with the communities after, you know, essentially, arresting a lot of young black men, and trying to explain why this bias seems to come about.

BURNETT: Now, obviously, this is unusual, right, for him to come out and say this.

PEREZ: Right.

BURNETT: It's direct and it's aggressive.

But some people are saying he should be tougher on cops?

PEREZ: You know, he was trying to be even-handed and that is obviously going to create some controversy, because a lot of people feel that cops really are to blame here. And what he was trying to say is, is that , look, they're not more racist than anybody else in society. This is something from a learned experience and he's also saying that, you know, the communities where the cops are working also have a job to do to get to know the police officers that are there protecting them, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Evan, thank you.

And next, CBS News reporter Bob Simon cheated death so many times during his career was killed in tragic car accident at home. We have new details on what caused that crash, and OUTFRONT to remember -- her former league Connie Chung.

Also, commander-in-chief checking out his shades and wielding a selfie stick. You'll want to see this.


BURNETT: One of the most distinguished careers in journalism has ended in tragedy. "60 Minutes" reporter Bob Simon was killed in car crash in New York City last night. Simon's sudden death is all the more heartbreaking since he had risked his life again and again and again, reporting from the heart of conflicts around the world.

Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT.


BOB SIMON, 60 MINUTES: This is Israel's most advanced position.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fearless and razor sharp, Bob Simon broke news on the world's toughest stories for nearly 50 years. His death now its own story. How could a man who survived so many scrapes die in a car crash on the streets of New York?

JEFF FAGER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, 60 MINUTES: It's part of what makes it hard to get a hold of this, to die the way he did I think adds to the shock of it.

MARQUEZ: Simon in the backseat of this town car. His seat belt likely off, say investigators. The car his driver hit, this black Mercedes.

The absolute damage of the car Simon was in shocking compared with the light damage to the Mercedes.

The accident happening just after dark, around 6:45. Investigators say Simon's black Lincoln town car was headed south on the inside lane on Manhattan's West Side Highway. The right side clipped the black Mercedes sedan stopped at the right light. Simon's car then spun out of control slamming into protective posts in the media, finally coming to a stop, nearly flipped around on the other side of the intersection.

Investigators say speed is being investigated as a possible cause or contributor of the crash. They are also looking into whether any of the drivers were distracted, texting or on the phone.

The 44-year-old driver of Simon's car both broke legs and arms in the crash, had prior traffic tickets and had worked as a limo driver less than a year.

Bob Simon covered and survived wars, assassinations and conflicts worldwide. During the First Gulf War, he and his CBS colleagues were taken prisoner and tortured by their Iraqi captors.

SIMON: It's been a long and difficult 40 days and 40 nights.

MARQUEZ: His war reporting began in Vietnam, winning an Overseas Press Club award for his coverage of the fighting in Hanoi in 1972. He won a slew of awards including 27 Emmys and four Peabodies.

Simon was rushed to the hospital, but traumatic injuries to his head and neck silenced the voice of a reporter always ready for the next story.


MARQUEZ: Now, police tonight will only say that the entire investigation is -- the entire accident is under investigation. When Bob Simon jumped in that limo or town car last night, he left CBS News. He had just finished up his latest story for "60 Minutes" with his daughter Tanya as producer who works there as well. The network says that story on the Ebola crisis and the possibility of a cure will air this Sunday -- Erin.

BURNETT: Miguel, thank you.

And OUTFRONT now, one of Bob Simon's former colleagues, the former co-anchor of the "CBS Evening News", Connie Chung.

Connie, you both began your careers at CBS. You were there with Bob. And you were anchoring the evening news. You'd be interacting with him all the time. He was often in far-flung war torn location.


BURNETT: So, you saw his work. One day you actually met him in the building.

CHUNG: Yes. To me he was 6'5", a giant in the business because I would say CBS News correspondent Bob Simon has that report. Off to a satellite report and he'd be the intrepid reporter, or the, you know, the invasion of the Gaza. Covering the PLO, chief Middle East correspondent. Portugal, wherever he was, in Cyprus.

And I never got to meet him. And then at one point, they brought him into New York for some reason. I saw him. I threw my arms around him and hugged so closely.

He was just, who is this woman? Why is she doing this to me? To me, he was a giant.

You're such a good writer. You're such a good reporter. You go into these war zones. You're so brave. He was such a modest fellow. We would, you know --

BURNETT: Very humble. Self-deprecating.

CHUNG: Absolutely. There was no self-aggrandizement ever, ever, ever.

I remember in the Washington bureau, I was a correspondent, I was only 25, 26. He was covering the fall of Saigon and he was only 29, barely 30, and he was covering the fall of Saigon, and I thought, oh my God. Who is this man? He looked young. And yet, he is so seasoned already, because his

abilities were -- he was confident. And yet, when you met him, you know, he was kind of quiet and shy. I mean, that's the way he was.

BURNETT: What an unusual combination. You don't usually hear someone being so confident and so brave and going to all those places and all those years, you know, never becoming a little puff dog or full of himself. Just so humble and --

CHUNG: That's why they called him the reporter's report. He was not important as far as he was concerned. It wasn't where is Bob Simon going tonight. It was the story.

And he could -- he could write so beautifully. I remember when I was anchoring the "CBS Evening News" we'd see the scripts ahead of time and I said I wish I could write like that.

BURNETT: He was so gifted.

CHUNG: He was. And when he came to the "60 Minutes," I was so happy because I thought, now Bob's not going to be in harm's way.

And, you know, the tragedy, he is from the Bronx. Even New York, his home and to think -- I just met his daughter recently. I happened to be with "60 Minutes" and she said, I'm Tanya, Tanya Simon. I'm Bob Simon's daughter. Oh, she's beautiful. Just the way he was.

BURNETT: What a wonderful tribute. Well, thank you so much and so many people watching. They see his face every week and just to hear who he was as a man.

Thank you so much, Connie.

And next, a much lighter note. When you think you know your coworkers. And then you have to compete against them on a game show at CNN.

Also, President Obama having way too much fun carrying on in the oval office. What was this all about?


BURNETT: There's a new quiz show on CNN. And anchors are playing the game. It airs on CNN on Monday night.

Now, it's in honor of President's Day. The show focuses on presidential trivia.

Here's a behind the scenes look at all of us sizing up the pregame competition.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's rare we're all together in one place. So, it's an interesting dynamic.

Jake Tapper takes this game really seriously.


COOPER: That is correct.

TAPPER: Erin Burnett, John Quincy Berman, you guys are going down like the dude President Andrew Jackson shot in that duel.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Deadweight is how I described -- deadweight Jake.

BURNETT: Deadweight Jake.

COOPER: Anything can happen.

BURNETT: And then there's Don and Cuomo. There's the testosterone overload.

TAPPER: Look at for Cuomo, that fancy boy from the governor's mansion.

COOPER: Just nice to see these anchors sweat.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: What competition?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, the premise of the question is (INAUDIBLE). There is no competition.


BURNETT: All right. And my partner was John Berman.

All right. John, first of all, we have a lot of fun.

BERMAN: What a team.

BURNETT: As you said, John can't wipe the smile off his face, although coming into, I think we all had a bit of --

BERMAN: No, it was a huge amount of anxiety, it was so much fun. Now that it's over, I can't help but smile.

BURNETT: All right. Well, let's play a game. One of the games you play is you get four presidents, right? Four on the screen. So, the answer I give is always one of the four presidents.

Now, I just want to prove to you how I had the most amazing partner.

Are you ready, Berman?

BERMAN: I'm ready.

BURNETT: All right. This president invented a swivel chair, a new plow and a pedometer and he was wonderful --

BERMAN: Thomas Jefferson.

BURNETT: You are correct.

He signed legislation creating the Federal Reserve System. Give you a hint?

BERMAN: No. Woodrow Wilson.


He was the first president to throw out the opening ball --



This president was rumored to have had an annulled marriage when he was 30 years old.

BERMAN: John F. Kennedy, but I don't buy it.

BURNETT: This was the first sitting president to visit Europe.

BERMAN: Sitting president, Woodrow Wilson.

BURNETT: That's correct. The only president to serve as chief justice of --



This president left the White House lawn service pasture for his cow --

BERMAN: That's Taft also.


And this responsible for government-wide segregation of workplaces.

BERMAN: Woodrow Wilson.

BURNETT: This president wrote letters to his mistress in which he named inappropriate parts of his body.

BERMAN: What's going on here? That's William Harding.


BERMAN: That's Harding, which you love. You're a big fan of Warren Harding.

(LAUGHTER) BURNETT: Yes, he was not one of the four but that's how good

John Berman is, everybody. Whatever we did, 7-7? Eight for eight? Seven for seven.

BERMAN: That's pretty good.

BURNETT: That is pretty amazing.

BERMAN: Whoo, I'm sweating. I'm sweating again.

BURNETT: He doesn't even break a sweat. That's why he's a great partner, but we did all this for charity.


BURNETT: Our charity was Save the Children, which is helping children around the world right now in Syria.

BERMAN: It's a great cause. And there was money, everyone won in the end, which was the nice thing.

BURNETT: And I'm going to let John go because you're anchoring "AC360" tonight. So, I know you have other things to do. But the "CNN Quiz Show" airs Monday night, February 16th, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, look at that diabolical grin on Anderson's face.

BERMAN: I know.

BURNETT: That's his, he didn't have to know any presidential trivia, he just asked the questions.

It is diabolical grin.

All right. President Obama now starring in a tongue and cheek video that's really an ad for The video got a million and a half hits after the release. Yes, this is the leader of the free world prepping, primping, picking his teeth, mugging for the camera, just like he thinks the regular guy does apparently. It turns out the prep is supposedly for a health care ad he's about to record.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Deadline for signing up for health insurance is February -- Febru -- Februar --


BURNETT: Here's the thing. If men really primped like that in front of mirror and take selfies like that, we have some major problems in society. The video promotes Obamacare enrollment. It is produced by BuzzFeed.

All right. Thank you so much for joining us.

"AC360" hosted by the aforementioned John Berman starts now.