Return to Transcripts main page


John Kerry Injured in Bicycle Accident; Beau Biden Passes Away; Countdown in the Senate; Major ISIS Recruiting Push Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2015 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:53] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The son of Vice President Joe Biden passes away. We look back at the life of Beau Biden, an Iraq war veteran and former Delaware attorney general.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, countdown in the Senate now. Just hours left until parts of key parts of the Patriotic Act expire and White House making pressure on Congress to keep these data collection programs alive.

BLACKWELL: Plus, the major push by ISIS inside the United States. Terrorists recruiting Americans without stepping on U.S. soil and it's helping ISIS threat grow larger.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: We do begin the morning with breaking news. And good morning to you. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Just over three hours ago, Secretary of State John Kerry was flown to a Geneva, Switzerland hospital, after he was injured in an accident while biking in the French Alps.

PAUL: Kerry is an avid cyclist and spotted on his bike during multiple tours abroad and -- well, at home as well.

Well, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is following this story and joins us by phone.

Elise, what do you know about his condition this morning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I do understand he suffered a bike accident while, as you said, riding in the Swiss Alps. His spokesman John Kirby tells us he's at the Geneva University Hospital now, being examined. It looks like he has a possible leg injury but he is in good spirits and he is talking and alert.

BLACKWELL: Did the secretary ever lose consciousness? I mean, tell us about the severity of the accident and what we know about that.

LABOTT: I don't think -- he definitely didn't lose consciousness, Victor. It's a serious accident obviously. But he was flown by helicopter to the hospital to be examined. I think just a leg injury is what we are talking about.

We understand that he has been talking. He's alert. He is, obviously, in some pain, but the secretary is quite physically fit, as you mentioned. He rides his bicycle many miles on almost every day. I've been with several trips with him and you saw during those Iran talks in Geneva, he was always seen riding his bike so it's certainly something the secretary likes to do on every trip.

He did not lose consciousness. There was no head injury or anything of that nature. I think we're just talking about the leg right now. I understand he is going through some x-rays.

BLACKWELL: Do we expect this will have some great impact with these talks with Iran?

LABOTT: Well, those talks, he did have a meeting with Iranian foreign minister Zarif, I think those meetings will continue over the next month. But I don't think any impact on the talks. The talks, until the end of the month when the foreign ministers meet in Europe, will be led by the political director, that's Undersecretary Wendy Sherman. She's the one that's been doing the kind of heavy lift right now.

Later in the month, Secretary Kerry will get a lot more involved, meeting with the Iranian foreign ministers in Europe. I don't think that is really going to impact the talks in any great way.

PAUL: All righty. Elise Labott, thank you so much for the update.

BLACKWELL: Vice President Joe Biden and his family -- I mean, this is a very difficult time for the Biden family. They are mourning the loss of their elder son, Beau Biden. The vice president remembered his son as, quote, "the finest man any of us have ever known." The 46-year-old passed away yesterday following a battle with brain cancer.

Joe Johns looks back at the life of Beau Biden.


BEAU BIDEN, JOE BIDEN'S SON: Good evening. I'm Beau Biden and Joe Biden is my dad.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beau Biden was the eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden but also a public servant in his own right. A federal prosecutor in the late 1990s and Delaware's attorney general for eight years, leaving office just this past January.

Born in Wilmington in 1969, his childhood was marred by a tragic car accident.

[07:05:02] BEAU BIDEN: My mom took us to go buy a Christmas tree. On the way home, we were in an automobile accident. My mom, Neilia, and my sister, Naomi, were killed. My brother Hunter and I were seriously injured and hospitalized for weeks.

I was just short of 4 years old. One of my earliest memories was being in that hospital, my dad always at our side.

JOHNS: Beau Biden and his father would remain close, even as the elder Biden became vice president.

BEAU BIDEN: I went out Saturday night with might have wife to a family -- a parent/teacher kind of thing on Saturday night and my mom and dad babysit. They babysit the weekend before.

JOHNS: As Delaware's A.G., Beau Biden took a special focus on prosecuting crimes against children and took his talent for the law into the military, serving for a year in Iraq as part of the judge advocate general corps.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I come as you prepare to deploy as a father, a father who got some sage advice from his son this morning -- dad, keep it short, we are in formation.

JOHNS: Biden had announced his intention to run for governor in Delaware in 2016, but has had recurring health problems, suffering a mild stroke in 2010, and admitted in 2013 to a Houston cancer hospital for a brain lesion.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Vice President Joe Biden's son, Beau Biden, was evaluated at a hospital. This is after what is being called an episode of disorientation and weakness.

JOHNS: Biden, 46, leaves a wife and two children.


BLACKWELL: That was Joe Johns reporting for us.

President Obama has offered his condolences to the Bidens on the loss of Beau Biden. Here is a part of the statement that has been released, "For all that Beau Biden achieved in his life, nothing made him prouder, nothing made him happier, nothing claimed a fuller focus of his love and devotion than his family. Just like his dad."

PAUL: Lots of prayers and thoughts going on to that family today from a lot of people.

Meanwhile, senators are returning to Capitol Hill this afternoon. They need to take up the fight over extending the Patriot Act. Key provisions of this act expires at midnight. If lawmakers can't reach an agreement, they really don't have a lot of time. Debate is set to begin at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, just one minute after the White House begins shutting down the NSA's controversial bulk collection of phone records.

Now, Republican senator and presidential hopeful Rand Paul is vowing to end what he calls the NSA illegal spy program. Just hours ago, he tweeted that Americans, quote, "have a right to privacy and it must be protected."

CNN national correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is joining us now.

So, Sunlen, I'm wondering how likely it is at this point that an agreement could really be reached before the midnight deadline?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's pretty likely, Christi, this afternoon, just as the Senate is supposed to meet, as you said, the National Security Agency, will have to start shutting down parts of the government's bulk collection telephone program. And unless there is a quick resolution, right now, it does not seem likely.


SERFATY (voice-over): On Capitol Hill, the time is almost up and a scramble in the senate is about to be on.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We shouldn't surrender the tools that help keep us safe.

SERFATY: Unless the Senate acts at midnight tonight, key provisions of the Patriot Act will expire, including one under which the controversial bulk phone data program operates. It collect numbers dialed and how long calls lasted, but does not capture the contents of conversation, and other surveillance provisions set to expire, one allowing the government to seek a court order for an individual for business records, roving wiretaps for burned phones, and the ability to track a non-American lone wolf. All powers the administration claims are essential to fighting terrorists.

OBAMA: It would be irresponsible. It would be reckless. We shouldn't allow it to happen.

SERFATY: The House has already passed a compromised bill supported by the administration, which would extend the key provisions but would reform the bulk data program. That telephone data would be kept in the hands of phone companies instead and will require the government to seek a court order for access.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Rand Paul versus the head of the Washington spy machine, Barack Obama!

SERFATY: Today, Republican Senator Rand Paul is preparing to get back in the ring, vowing to do all he can to stop the surveillance programs, unless changes are made to weaken them.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: This is a debate about whether or not a warrant with a single name of a single company can be used to collect all of the records, all of the phone records of all of the people in our country with a single warrant. Our forefathers would be aghast.


SERFATY: And unless Senator Paul unexpectedly gives in, it's likely these programs could be shut down for at least several days. That would force the government to adjust its counterterrorism strategy, of course, at a time, Christi, when the threat is already high.

[07:10:00] PAUL: All righty. Sunlen Serfaty in Washington, we appreciate it. Thank you. BLACKWELL: Well, let's go to Syria now. At least 70 people were killed in a spring of barrel bomb attacks, according to the London- based human rights group. CNN did not independently confirm the reports. Let's talk about what barrel bombs are. Barrel bombs are oil drums filled with explosive and slap nuclear weapon dropped in populated areas. Opposition groups said the deadliest attack was in the ISIS controlled city of Al-Bab in the northeast. Another side hit the rebel-held area of Aleppo, killing women and children there. And a third attack struck in the neighborhood there, killing at least 20.

The rebels accused the Syrian government of targeting civilians, but President Bashar al-Assad denies those charges.

Let's bring in CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Bring him back.

Good to have you this morning.


BLACKWELL: We talked about the past several years of these conflicts of accusation of chemical weapons and more sophisticated. Is this shift to something as rudimentary as a barrel bomb indicative of something, or is this just the use of limited resources for the most amount of damage?

HERTLING: It is exactly the latter, Victor, it is a simple weapon. They cost in U.S. terms about $200 or $300 to produce. It's very easy to make. You can put it either with high explosives inside of it and it has been used, with chlorine, even now fertilizer that can be used to make explosives.

It's on a timing device. It has to be drop at just he right attitude, so it doesn't break apart and then explode. It has to be somewhat exploding over the ground that it lands. Syria has developed these bombs back in the '90s as an attempt to counter Israeli actions. They are now using them on their own people.

This is, by the way, Victor, this is not the first time we have seen barrel bombs. They have been used in other places like Bosnia and Rwanda. And, again, it's part of a poor man's air force to counter large formation. But it's also illegal and that's the important thing to understand.

BLACKWELL: You say poor man's air force. The accusation they were dropped by the government. Do we see they are running out of resources?

HERTLING: I think that's what you're seeing, number one. What was interesting is they were dropped or alleged to have been dropped in Aleppo province. Fattah, which is the Syrian opposition to Mr. Assad's administration has basically taken over that province and had several great victories and, in fact, many of the people and some of the towns to including Aleppo. They anticipated these things happening and these barrel bombs have been used in several occasions to reign terror on population after Fattah has taken over.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the Syrian regime has or the Assad regime has indeed suffered some setbacks. We'll talk more about those throughout the morning.

Lieutenant General, thank you so much.

HERTLING: You got it.

PAUL: Well, from House speaker to a man indicted. Former Congressman Dennis Hastert could face a judge for the first time this week. He is accused, of course, of lying to the FBI and evading taxes. How well can a rarely used law work against the man once two steps from the presidency?

Plus, time is running out for five Taliban members sent to Qatar in the effort to free kidnapped army soldier Beau Bergdahl. Could they be held longer or will they be set free?


[07:16:47] PAUL: Sixteen minutes past the hour.

And former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is expected to make his first appearance in federal court this week. He'll be arraigned on charges that he lied to the FBI about millions of dollars he allegedly agreed to pay to an undisclosed person. This was allegedly to cover up past misconduct which was reportedly the sexual abuse of a former student.

Now, joining us on the phone is Katherine Skiba. She is a Washington correspondent for "The Chicago Tribune."

And, Katherine, thank you for being with us. I understand you have some new information about what could happen in court?

KATHERINE SKIBA, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE (via telephone): Good morning, Christi.

The date has not been set but former Speaker Dennis Hastert will appear in federal court in Chicago this week before Judge Thomas M. Durkin. I'll tell you a little bit about the judge -- he is a very experienced former federal prosecutor himself. Among the cases he prosecuted was former Illinois Governor Dan Walker who was convicted of bank fraud charges and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Durkin is an Obama appointee. He took the federal bench in 2013. His brother, by the way, is Jim Durkin. He's the Illinois leader, the GOP leader of the Illinois general assembly. So, there is a suggestion, people raise the question of conflict of interest and saying Durkin may not keep the case.

The key question that people will be watching is were these two charges, lying to the FBI and structuring the withdrawal of almost $1 million to avoid bank reporting requirements, were they the result of behind the scenes plea negotiations between prosecutors and the defense? We just don't know that yet. The silence from Hastert's camp has been almost deafening.

Now, if there was not a plea deal to count for these two charges, which are serious charges, then the question is, will Hastert and his team challenge the government's allegations and demand a jury trial? I guess if I had to bet, you know, if you'd like to keep, but we presume to be salacious details of prior misconduct private, one might anticipate a plea deal. But then again, most cases are resolved by plea deals.

So, this is the key question, will he contest these charges? He was not arrested Thursday when the charges were unveiled. A magistrate, on a routine matter last week, said he can be freed pending trial without posting money, unless the prosecutors object.

The two charges both carry five-year prison term and a maximum $250,000 fine, lying to he FBI or making false statements, or structuring the withdrawals. Now, Steve Schmadeke, one of my "Chicago Tribune" colleagues on our Web site right, he took a look last week how often these cases are brought in Chicago. He found only two dozen cases in the last ten years.

Typically, the cases involved drug dealers or business owners who are trying to hide assets from the Internal Revenue Service to avoid paying taxes.

So, what's unusual about the Hastert indictment is there is no indication he was acting to avoid paying taxes. The final point I'll make is, when Hastert began withdrawing this money in 2010 after the alleged agreement to pay $3.5 billion.

[07:20:07] Initially, he made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 a piece, that adds up to $750,000, of course.

PAUL: Right.

SKIBA: He was told by bank officials that they had to report transactions, cash transactions exceeding $10,000. So, one of the lawyers that my colleague Steve Schmadeke talked to said, put it out that then Hastert starts making withdrawals under $10,000. So, in the words of this, quote, "there is an element of thumbing your nose at the system there" is that person's opinion.

PAUL: All righty. Hey, Katherine Skiba, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

I want to bring Joey Jackson into the conversation here.

Let's talk about one of the things she said, plea deal or going to a jury trial.

When you look what we know about this case thus far, Joey, what do you anticipate could happen?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's always hard to predict, Christi, but I will say because of the underlying alleged misconduct, there may be some interest on the part of Hastert's defense attorneys, and certainly the client, to avoid moving forward.

Obviously, in the event that they did have a trial, the lawyers would be arguing that the past misconduct is not relevant to prove the crime charged. However, to the extent that it would attempt to explain why he was doing what he was doing, which, you know, look.

The reality is this, Christi, it's your money, you can move the money. But if you require taking more than $10,000 out, there are certain reporting requirements that the bank has to engage in. The bigger issue is, when he was taking 50 at a clip and the bank said you can't do this in July of 2002 or what are you doing and what is the basis of you doing it and if you do it, we have to report it? Then he starts shifting and we know he took out 106 transactions less than $10,000 so that the bank would not report it.

Of course, the FBI looked into it and said, hey, this is suspicious, what are you doing? That where you get the lie to the FBI which is a crime and that's what you get the charge structuring it using various banks so that they wouldn't reach the $10,000 threshold which would be cause to report.

As to whether or not he'll go to trial, that's the open question. If he wants to hide the allegations in terms of the past and not reveal them to the public, that might be the way to go.

PAUL: So, how likely would it be, based on what we know, that the prosecution could get a conviction in this case? What specifically do they need to have in front of them to prove their points?

JACKSON: You know, the problem that he has from a defense attorney prospect, Christi, is that when you lie to the FBI is problematic. Obviously, him giving the indication to the FBI or otherwise agreeing when they say, don't you trust the bank system, he says yes but the money was for me. We can establish the money wasn't for him. He was taking it out and a witness to suggest he was giving it to him. So, that makes it problematic to defend the lie charge.

And then, of course, when you're structuring and taking out 106 times, money that is less than $10,000, that it equals $952,000 you have explaining to do and can you prove from a prosecution perspective that you were structuring in such a way and withdrawing it in such a way, Christi, as to evade reporting requirements, and that's the basis of the charge here.

And so, to the extent, Christi, that it's transactional, the government has records to reflect the dates of withdrawals, the amounts he was withdrawing, it' very difficult to get out from under and that would be another basis in addition to not revealing the past misconduct as to why it may be in its interest to resolve this without a trial.

PAUL: OK. We have to go, if he was your client, would you go plea or would you go jury?

JACKSON: I think it makes sense to structure a plea deal here. At the end of the day, he was, you know, extorted to some degree. I mean, look, pay this or else I'll tell. That has to carry some weight, I'm sure his attorneys will argue with the government.

PAUL: All righty. Joey Jackson, we appreciate it. Thank you.

JACKSON: Have a great day, Christi. Thank you.

PAUL: You too.

BLACKWELL: Oklahoma troopers respond to a stranded vehicle call, but they end up killing the person they were trying to rescue.


[07:27:42] PAUL: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour. Welcome to you.

We want to get you caught with some of the stories making news this hour.

BLACKWELL: Police are investigating why troopers fatally shot a man they were trying to rescue. Here is the story: Oklahoma Highway Patrol says that last night, two troopers were respond to go a driver stranded in high water here. It's unclear why, but they say a fight broke out between the troopers and the driver who was armed and his brother while they were trying to get the men to safety. The troopers shot and killed the man and arrested his brother.

An Egyptian man who was jailed in Cairo for two years is now back in the United States. Mohammed Soltan arrived in Washington, D.C., late last night. His friends posted this photo, looking frail, there in a wheelchair.

This is a picture of him maybe 14 months ago. He's been on a hunger strike since then to protest his detention. He was arrested in 2013 after demonstrating support for former President Mohamed Morsy.

PAUL: And blues legend B.B. King has been laid to rest. A funeral service held for him in Mississippi. Hundreds of mourners and the choir in back as they are singing, reportedly attending the service, the hundreds of people there. King was a pioneer, as you know, in the world of music. His work inspired generations of blues and rock musicians.

He was 89 years old. I bet that was filled with an awful lot of music.

BLACKWELL: A lot of music there.

You remember those five Taliban members swapped for American captive Sergeant Beau Bergdahl a year ago? Well, a travel ban against them may expire in just a few hours. We are talking about the men who have connections to al Qaeda and one man even directly associated with Osama bin Laden reportedly. Some fear they will take this opportunity to rejoin the Taliban on the battlefield. We'll talk about that in a moment.


BEN ROTHENBERG, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I'm Ben Rothenberg, and I'm a contributing writer to "The New York Times."

I think this is one of the most wide open slams we see in the women's side in quite a while. There's been a lot of different hands which the Roland Garros women's trophy has passed through, and there's a lot of people who have a realistic shot at getting it this year.

Serena has been the dominant player on tour, but it's her worst surface and her worst grand slam in the French Open. And it has opened the door for a lot of other names and faces that people might be less familiar with to come through and get a grand slam title in Paris.

She's really developed into an incredibly solid clay court player after comparing herself famously to a cow on ice on the surface.

[07:30:13] And her long limbs didn't really work for her; she wasn't comfortable on the slippery surface. And she's really solidified and become an incredibly strong, physical player and a really solid one, who, like Serena, has learned how to play the long rally and build points in a way she didn't have to before.

This really could be a convergence of a lot of different storylines, and the 2015 French Open could be a game-changing grand slam.