Return to Transcripts main page


Top Democrats Send Letter Urging Biden To Seek Bid; Candidates Respond To Trump "Muslim Obama" Claim; Suspect Arrested In Phoenix Highway Shootings; "Baby Doe's" Mom, Boyfriend In Court Monday; Pope En Route To Havana, Cuba; The Narrowing of the Presidential Field; Bowe Bergdahl Trial; Who are the Refugees?; U.S., Russia Begin Military Talks on Syria; 8-9a ET

Aired September 19, 2015 - 08:00   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: So grateful to have your company as always. Good morning. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

PAUL: Happening right now, Vice President Joe Biden is having breakfast with the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington.

BLACKWELL: Now, this is happening as the vice president is getting some support from big money donors to run for president. A letter from 50 top Democratic fundraisers is urging him to get into this race. Here's an excerpt from it.

"The Obama-Biden administration has been a spectacular success but much more work remains to be done to finish the job, America needs a leader who is respected both home and abroad and who understands the real challenges facing American families in my opinion, the next president must be Joe Biden. If he announces he's running, we're all in. It's a campaign we know he will win."

CNN Suzanne Malveaux joins us live from Manchester, New Hampshire where several Democratic presidential candidates are set to speak today. I'm pretty sure this is part of the discussion, maybe not on stage, but definitely there among the people in the crowd.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Victor, when you think about it, you listen to that statement and certainly I hear a campaign slogan somewhere in there because this is the kind of thing that at least his supporters want to hear.

And they want to hear there's big money to back Joe Biden. All of the signs are pointing more likely that he's going to jump into the race. If you take a look at what the vice president is doing but also what his supporters are doing.

According to "The Wall Street Journal" this morning, you have folks who are actually out there. They're not only raising money, trying to figure out plans to raise more money. They're also planning to hire staff. They're planning to hone his message.

What I'm looking at, Victor, the timing of all of this, the critical, if you will, the next couple of months will make the difference here. We're talking about first of all October 13th, three weeks away. That's the CNN Democratic debate. Does he decide he's going to jump in?

He'll have a national TV audience. There are only four of these debates before the Iowa caucuses so that might be a critical window. But as vice president he still has the national stage. Look to October 22nd, a couple weeks away.

That's a key moment for Hillary Clinton. She's going to before a congressional committee testifying on Benghazi, surely the e-mails are coming up. How does she perform for that congressional hearing could make a big difference on whether or not he jumps in right afterwards.

Finally take a look at mid-November. That's when you get hit with a series of deadlines to actually register for those early caucus states, those early primary states. He's got to make those deadlines. And that is what they're looking at now, the timing of this.

More and more likely, victor, if does look like an "if," but perhaps a when. We're still reading tea leaves here but it certainly looks like it's heading in that direction.

Finally, I want to tell you one of the reasons why this is likely. Take a look at how he's performing in the polls. If you look at New Hampshire, the latest New Hampshire poll, Bernie Sanders coming in at 43 percent, Hillary Clinton at 36 percent so he's seven points ahead.

But Joe Biden at 13 percent without even throwing his hat in the ring so that's what they're seeing in the early states and even in national polls saying people want him to take a shot and give another chance.

BLACKWELL: And some softening of numbers for Clinton not only there in New Hampshire, but in Iowa as well. We'll talk more throughout the show. Suzanne Malveaux for us there in Manchester, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, when are we going to hear from Donald Trump? Will it be today? Will he address his latest controversy while in Iowa? It involves the handling that he claims that the president is Muslim. Republicans were split on the issue of even confirming that the president is Christian, but let's hear what Jeb Bush said.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama is a talented man and by the way, he's an American. He's a Christian. His problem isn't the fact that he was born here or what his state is. He's a progressive liberal that tears down anybody that tears down anybody that disagrees with him.


BLACKWELL: Let's go to CNN Sunlen Serfaty joining us now live from Mackinaw Island, Michigan. We know that -- we heard what Jeb Bush said there, but there were other candidates, who I guess where a 180 from what we heard from the Florida former governor?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Victor. We've heard from many of the candidates and many of his rivals are quickly coming out to take advantage of this and condemn Donald Trump and the way he handled himself in that moment.

We've heard from Chris Christie. We've heard from Senator Lindsey Graham, who said in that moment, Donald Trump really should have repudiated the rhetoric of that voter.

[08:05:09] Chris Christie is saying that it's an obligation as a leader to do so. But we're also at the same time hearing from Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz really refusing to criticize Donald Trump and how he handled himself.

We've heard from Ted Cruz in Greenville, South Carolina last night and he got a little testy with reporters and all the questions over this controversy. Here's how he responded.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I recognize is this what the media lives to do, stir up controversy. You can ask your question. I'm going to give you my answer. You may not have to like my answer. But you don't get to give my answer for me.

What I think the American people are interested is not the food fight that reporters are trying to stir up. Let's talk about how we stop radical Islamic terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking you about --

CRUZ: Next question.


SERFATY: And Donald Trump has been uncharacteristically silent on this. He's been deflecting reporters' questions on this since this happened on Thursday. He cancelled abruptly a campaign appearance last night. His campaign saying he needed to close a very important business deal.

For their part, Victor, the campaign said Donald Trump did not hear the question from the voter and that is why he didn't necessarily correct them on the spot. So it will be interesting to see as he hits the campaign trail in Iowa if he continues to be the line of defense.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll see. Sunlen Serfaty for us down in Mackinaw Island, thanks.

PAUL: More updates and breaking news we've been following now. A suspect who terrorized motorists on a Phoenix highway for weeks is in custody now. Take a look at the video we've got coming in. A SWAT team stormed to Walmart arresting this man, Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. Police say he's linked to at least four of the 11 shootings on Interstate 10 randomly targeting passing vehicles.

Arizona's governor, Doug Ducey, was quick to tweet, "We got him" after the arrest. Although terrified Arizonans finally be able to breathe easier. Some believed officials say, look, there may be other suspects out there.

I want to bring in CNN's Nick Valencia studying this. What else do we know about this arrest first of all?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi. We anticipate police to charge 21-year-old Lee Allen Merritt Jr. with aggravated assault as well as unlawful discharge of a firearm.

Last night, the SWAT team as well as the Arizona Department of Public Safety arrested Merritt outside of a Walmart in Glendale, Arizona. This morning, police believe they have the suspect who started the shooting spree in custody.


VALENCIA (voice-over): After more than two weeks of terror, police make an arrest in a string of highway shootings.

COLONEL FRANK MILSTEAD, DIRECTOR, ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: The weapon and the man who we believe was responsible for what started this spree in Arizona is in custody.

VALENCIA: Though authorities have declined to name the suspect, two government officials told CNN the detained man's name is Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. CNN affiliates say this is Merritt arriving at an Arizona state police office.

He was arrested Friday night at a suburban Glendale, Arizona Walmart in connection with at least four of the 11 shooting, most of those occurred along busy Interstate 10.

BART GRAVES, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: He was arrested at that Walmart with a woman and a 5-year-old child. They were not taken into custody and he was.

VALENCIA: A Phoenix city councilman told CNN the break in the case came after the suspect pawned a 9-millimeter handgun. Police say their lab results show it was at same gun used in at least four of the highway shootings.

MILSTEAD: The weapon that he owned is forensically linked to these crimes.

VALENCIA: The suspect is only connected to the first four shootings. Police are unclear whether there are more suspects.

MILSTEAD: Are there others out there? Are there copycats? That is possible. We will continue to investigate. VALENCIA: As of September 10th there have been no other shootings reported. In Friday night's arrest, police accused the suspect of starting the spree on August 29th. Late last night, affiliate, KNXV, tried to get a response from Merritt's father. Would you like to say something on his behalf?

LESLIE MERRITT SR., FATHER OF SUSPECT: Yes, I'll say plenty on his behalf. Whoever said he was the I-10 shooter is a (inaudible) moron. Have a good night.


VALENCIA: That's Merritt's father there. He went on to tell a local newspaper that he was adamant and certain that his son was not responsible for the shooting.

Police believed they have their man, but remember, guys, he's only tied to four of the 11 shootings over the course of the last three weeks. So police emphasize there could be others including copycats out there -- Christi.

PAUL: Sure. All right, Nick Valencia, we appreciate it. Thank you.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BLACKWELL: She was known for months as "Baby Doe." Now, police say her name was Bella.

[08:10:05] Ahead, the toddler's mother and the mother's boyfriend prepare for court Monday in connection with the child's death. We'll examine their legal outlook and possible defense against murder and accessory charges.

Plus the pope's historic visit to Cuba and the U.S. hours from his arrival in Havana. We'll go there and tell you what the Cuban people and what everyone should expect from this visit.

Also later tension in the Mideast between Russia and the U.S., why Russian fighter jets in Syria are being seen as a major threat?


BLACKWELL: A Boston couple is in custody this morning and waiting to face a judge after police arrested them in connection with the death of Bella Bond. The case has been captivating the nation since early summer. Police composite images, the one you saw there, was shared online more than 50 million times.

There it is, the one on the left of the screen, on the right, as she actually was, nearly a 3-year-old little girl. For more on how investigators made a major break in the case, CNN's Sara Ganim joins us now with the very latest -- Sara.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, people in this town had hoped that the story of "Baby Doe" wouldn't have a tragic ending, but now that we know who she is, the details are even more disturbing. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her name was Bella.

GANIM (voice-over): After nearly three months of investigation, Baby Doe finally has a name, Bella Bond.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bella, happy 2nd birthday, Monkey, yes! Yes! Whoo!

GANIM: This is Bella at her 2nd birthday. Friday, authorities revealed she's the mystery toddler whose composite picture captivated millions when she was found wrapped in a trash bag on a Boston shore in June.

[08:15:03] DANIEL CONLEY, SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: And the tragedy of her death is compounded by the fact that her short life ended not by illness or accident. But we believe by an act of violence in the very place where she should have felt safest, in her home.

GANIM: Authorities have determined earlier from this year from pollen on her had polka dot pants that Baby Doe was likely from the Boston area. According to officials, it was a tip this week that led them in an intense 24-hour search resulting in the arrest of Bella's mother, Rachelle Bond, and her boyfriend, Michael McCarthy. McCarthy charged with murder and Bond charged with accessory after the fact.

CONLEY: We alleged that McCarthy caused Bella's death. That he did so intentionally, that he and Bond took specific steps to keep Bella's death a secret and to avoid prosecution.

GANIM: Neighbors say they remember a troubled household. According to CNN affiliates WHDH and WCBB, court documents show Rachelle Bond had an arrest record that included drugs and prostitution.

YESSIOMARA TORRES, NEIGHBOR: It's shocking and it's sad because she's so young for that to happen. I feel sorry for that little girl. She should have been in better hands.

GANIM: An official from Department of Children and Families tell CNN between 2001 and 2006, Rachelle Bond had her parental rights terminated for her two other children. The agency said they had been in contact with Bella, twice in response to neglect.

The agency did not say she was not removed from her mother's custody. Neither McCarthy nor Bond has issued any statement since their arrest. Officials say they are blaming each other for the child's death. It's still unclear exactly when or how she died.


GANIM: Now, both McCarthy and Bond have their first court date on Monday. Officials telling CNN that they expected more details about how and when Baby Bella died may come out at that hearing -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Sara Ganim for us. Thank you so much.

PAUL: CNN legal analyst, Joey Jackson has been following this. Joey, they're going to be in court on Monday. Do you think at that point, we'll hear what happened to this little girl?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We very well may not, Christi. Good morning to you. It maybe some time before they laid that out. Now we know that, of course, Monday, it will be an initial appearance at that point. It will be an opportunity for them to file normal charges for them to get the detention set up.

In terms of whether there will be bail or both defendants will be remanded and then, of course, the case will be ongoing. The defense will file various motions. We may not learn Monday, but of course, at some point, as they proved the case that is the prosecution, we will learn exactly how in fact Bella died.

PAUL: OK, earlier this morning, we talked about the mother in the case. Let's talk about the man charged with murder, her boyfriend now. What does he face, first of all, if he's convicted? And do you need a motive to convict?

JACKSON: Well, Christi, you don't ever need a motive. Jurors want to know what led up to this and why a person acted the way they did, but a motive is not required in order to prove guilt. He's facing murder and murder is punishable by life in prison without parole.

Certainly based upon the warrant executed, based upon a thorough investigation, the police believe him to be the person responsible, and they'll present their case moving forward in a court of law to an impartial jury.

PAUL: A lot of tweets, everyone failed this angel. Facts, everyone, do you think there's room here, space here, for any liability on the part of family services?

JACKSON: Unfortunately, Christi is different but there's something in Massachusetts called the Massachusetts Court Claim Act. It prevents actions against the state. There's an immunity that attaches for failure to act.

And that they do that because of the parade of lawsuits that would follow action or inaction on the part of an agency like this. I don't think there will be any liability as to them.

And, at the end of the day, it was not the mother who was allegedly responsible. She assisted after the fact. It was the boyfriend. And they'll say, look, we investigated. We felt she was fit. It was the boyfriend. We could not anticipate or foresee that he would engage in this act of alleged murder.

PAUL: Still a lot of people wondering if she didn't have custody of her other two children and they were taken away, why did she have custody of Bella? That has yet to be seen. Joey Jackson, we appreciate it so much. Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Christi.

BLACKWELL: Ahead, Pope Francis on his way to Cuba and then on to the U.S. Will the controversy surrounding his stance on key issues important to Catholics take center stage?

[08:20:00] Also ahead, still 15 candidates in the GOP race. How soon could we see the slimming of this field? Our political panel weighs in.


PAUL: It's 23 minutes past the hour right now. Just eight hours away from the pope's arrival in Havana. He's high above the Atlantic before making his way to the U.S. in a few days.

That state side trip is a moment millions of Catholic faithful have anticipating aside from his meetings with the president and Congress, there's going to be plenty of chances to see him. He's taking part in a parade at the national mall on Wednesday as well as a procession through Central Park on Friday.

Vatican correspondent, Delia Gallagher, is in Rome following all of this. Here's the thing, you have traveled on the plane with the pope. How accessible and candid is he to the reporters when they get this one-on-one time with him?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, traveling on the plane is really unique for that very reason because the pope comes back. He greets all of the journalists, one by one, sometimes, there's up to 100 journalists on the airplane.

Usually going over, he doesn't give an interview, he give ace little chat. Going back, he gives a longer interview in which he usually makes headlines.

[08:25:03] And of course, the plane itself is not the pope's plane. It's a regular plane, which they kind of kit out for the pope's trip. He gets a slightly bigger seat.

They put a headrest on the seats with the pope's crest, the papal insignia, embroidered in color on the back of it. You get a papal pillow on each your seats and the papal menu, which has plenty of journalists to eat and drink while they have the time because these papal flights are just news to do.

A lot of journalists on board have a lot of excitement, but there's a lot of work ahead for them. As far as the interview with the journalists it used to be in the pay of John Paul II it was a free for all. He'd come back and answer questions.

There are more journalists, news travels more quickly. So they put the journalists in language groups. Each group gets to ask a question, French group, English group, et cetera. And give it to the pope.

Right now, they're probably relaxing a little bit reading over some of the speeches. You get the speeches ahead of time to be prepared and getting ready to hit the ground in Cuba -- Christi.

PAUL: All right, Delia Gallagher, definitely a very unique experience. Thank you so much. We appreciate it -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, 16 candidates running for the GOP nomination for president, when could we see the slimming of the field, that number dwindle possibly? And what determines when a candidate decides to leave? That conversation next.

Also, the decision is now in the hands of the military, will they rule that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl could face court martial?

PAUL: A musician in Georgia not only plays a guitar, but he builds a smoking good one from a cigar box. He tells us about the cigar box guitars business that he runs out of his garage in this "CNN Money Advance."


MIKE SNOWDEN, MUSICIAN: I'm Mike Snowden, and I'm a musician and a cigar box guitar builder. I was in a band, I was touring. We were playing like 250 shows a year. Looking back on it, it really just wore me out. I really quit playing music for five or six years.

I was looking for something to do. I actually stumbled across a guy strumming a cigar box guitar on YouTube. I thought man, that's it. I built them out of my garage. I've made about 1,000 of them. Most of my sales come from the online store. They're all individual.

Every cigar box is a little bit different. I do six strings, some four strings. It doesn't sound like a banjo-o guitar. A deep box has a tighter tone.

Also when I perform, I do a limited band with cigar box guitars. When I'm down here working on guitar, I'm like, man, what am I doing? I'm making cigar box guitars but when people say them, it's like whoa, man. How cool is that. It's a gift. It's something unique.



[08:32:09] BLACKWELL: Well, the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting this morning that it's quite likely the Democrats will gain a new candidate in its process for the nomination for president -- Vice President Joe Biden. But others are wondering who will drop out of the crowded GOP field -- still 16 candidates in the running and some barely registering in the polls.

Joining us now to discuss: CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and Republican strategist Lisa Boothe. Good to have both of you back.


LISA BOOTHE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Good morning -- Victor. BLACKWELL: Hey Lisa, I want to start with you. There were only 15 candidates who qualified for the CNN debate on Wednesday. Former Virginia governor, Gilmore did not qualify. But he told the "Washington Post", quote, "I'm not getting out, period." He hasn't hit 1 percent in more than one poll over a two-month poll. When does a candidate make that decision that we saw former governor Rick Perry make?

BOOTHE: Well, and you know, I think that someone like Governor Gilmore should probably get out. But that was a very definitive statement he made. And you're right to point out look, this is an incredibly fluid primary race right now. We have so many candidates as you mentioned, 16. We once had 17 candidates.

And we do have a lot of candidates like Governor Gilmore who, as you mentioned, wasn't even invited to the CNN debate or someone like Governor Pataki who's barely registering in the polls. And we also have individuals like current senators like Lindsey Graham and Senator Rand Paul who really failed to kind of catch steam and sort of catch fire in this race. And I think the difficulty of that is because there are just so many candidates.

And there are a lot of different candidates who are sort of playing for the same voters, playing for the same donors. And that makes it very difficult because right now, you kind of have the New Hampshire camp and then you also sort of have the Iowa camp. And you've got folks that are all playing for the New Hampshire vote like Jeb Bush, like Governor Christie, Governor Kasich. And they're all, you know, strong contenders. And you've got folks that are playing for the Iowa camp like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Governor Walker, Senator Cruz. And so it sort of creates this difficult dynamic for some of these candidates to create a presence and sort of breakthrough.

BLACKWELL: Maria, let me come to you on something else. There hasn't even been the first Democratic debate so it's premature to discuss those who are low in the polls on that side. But this letter that we've seen this morning from top Democratic fund-raisers calling for Joe Biden get in saying, "Joe Biden is an authentic leader; no one is better prepared for the presidency than Joe Biden." Should this concern Hillary Clinton?

CARDONA: No, I think what should concern Hillary Clinton is to continue to make her case to voters each and every single day which is something that she has been doing. And right now, she remains the formidable front-runner who has the most resources, who has the best infrastructure, and who continues, again, to focus on the issues that Americans care about the most.

[0:83:50] Look, if Joe Biden gets in, absolutely, he will be a formidable candidate. I think it would be terrific for the Democratic Party. It would be a wonderful debate to have. And if you look at the focus of what Democrats are talking about and the conversation that Democrats are having with voters whether it's Hillary Clinton, whether it's Sanders, and frankly, if Joe Biden gets in, I'm sure he will do the same thing. That is, focusing on the issues that middle class families care about, how to reduce income inequality in this country, how to give people a level playing field so that they can reach the American dream and fulfill their God-given potential.

When you compare that with what Republicans are focusing on, you look at the GOP debate this past week, they are obsessed with defunding Planned Parenthood which is an organization that provides health care to millions --

BLACKWELL: Well, let me go to -- to one of those things.

BOOTHE: It's also the countries largest abortion provider.

BLACKWELL: Let me jump in here if I can.


BLACKWELL: Lisa -- let me come to Lisa about this. We heard an embrace from Jeb Bush of his brother and the Bush name. And he doubled-down on that last night. Lisa -- I want you to listen to this.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president needs to restore these relationships to create peace and security. And I know how to do this. I know how to do this because yes, I am a Bush. I happened to see two really good presidents develop relationships with other candidates.


BLACKWELL: Now, the first debate, Lisa, he said "In Florida, they call me Jeb." Now he's saying "I am a Bush. And there were two great Bush presidencies." Change in strategy here -- is this going to hurt him in the general?

BOOTHE: I don't think it's necessarily going to hurt him in the general. But I think you're right to point out we have seen this little bit of a shift. He's a lot more supportive of his brother during the CNN debate than he was previously, you know, with the Megyn Kelly question originally and then also in the Fox News debate.

I think he should embrace his brother but, you know, back to the Republican debate, I think candidates talked about the issues that are important in this country. And look, quite frankly, if Democrats actually cared about women's health care they would actually want to reallocate that $500 million a year that we spend on Planned Parenthood and put it towards these comprehensive community health centers that provide women's care like mammograms that quite frankly Planned Parenthood does not.

The reality is Planned Parenthood is one of the nation's top -- no it's not. There are over 13,000 of these community health centers that provide comprehensive health care to women. There are only 665 Planned Parenthood across the country that provide any similar kind of care.

Look, we've spent $500 million annually on Planned Parenthood when they have an excess of $1 billion right. In 2014 they netted $90 million. They don't need that $500 million especially considering that fact they're facing a federal criminal investigation and 11 different state investigations.

BLACKWELL: Lisa, we've got to wrap it. I've got to give Maria 20 seconds.

CARDONA: Thank you. I hope Republicans continue their obsession with Planned Parenthood and with taking away health care to millions and millions of women and middle class families across the country. I hope they continue their obsession with bashing immigrants.

BOOTHE: Protecting unborn babies.

CARDONA: And trying to focus on keeping immigrants out who have contributed so much to society. And I hope they focus on these two issues, moving into the general and to continue to embrace George Bush. And I guarantee you I'll be inviting you both to an inaugural of the next Democratic president of the United States.


BLACKWELL: Maria Cardona, Lisa Boothe -- we got to wrap it there. Thank you both. Always fun.

CARDONA: Thanks -- Victor.

BOOTHE: Thank you -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right -- Christi.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN HOST: We're monitoring a military court for a decision on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Will he face a court-martial and jail time for leaving his unit? That is the conversation. We'll have a live report for you.

Also a buildup of Russian fighter jets in Syria obviously has the U.S. very concerned.

And a lot of people asking what is behind the new tension surrounding the war against ISIS and what are the consequences?


[08:42:44] BLACKWELL: New this morning -- the army general who investigated Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's actions in Afghanistan says that he should not get jail time -- that's important, we'll talk about that in a moment. But authorities say Bergdahl deserted. Investigators say he didn't find any information to suggest Bergdahl was sympathetic to the Taliban. Bergdahl was captured and held by the Taliban for nearly five years and released only after, you'll remember, that controversial prisoner swap last year.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Martin Savidge. What else stood out to you from what you heard from that investigator? MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning -- Victor. Here's

the reason why this hearing is so important because really for the public, this is the first time we've heard the official army statement as to why Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan and then what happened to him afterwards.

And remember, you pointed out the controversy. So many people were upset that five Taliban prisoners were exchanged for a person that many Americans believe was a deserter and perhaps even a traitor.

The army says they found very, very differently. Number one, they say he left his post because he was suffering under some sort of mental delusion.

But then on top of that, they say no U.S. soldiers died looking for Bowe Bergdahl. That, too, is a hot button issue. There have been reports that as many as seven soldiers died looking for, in the minds of many, a deserter. The army says no one died. And in fact, they don't know if even a soldier was wounded.

They also point out he never gave any information, any classified or any information of military value to his captors. Even though he was depicted as a traitor by some, he never revealed anything. In fact, they say his ability to hold up under torture and deprivation was meritorious.

I just want to read you a quote coming from his debriefer talking about Bergdahl. He said, quote, "He's an army of one. He had no support. He had to fight the enemy alone for four years, 11 months. You cannot overestimate how difficult that is."

BLACKWELL: And many say that four years and 11 months, that's enough confinement; any day longer would be inappropriate. But what then should be or how does the defense deal with his walking away? We're not using the word "deserting" here, but leaving the unit.

[08:45:09] SAVIDGE: They used the term AWOL. And what they say is that it was known by the army that Bowe Bergdahl was suffering from a mental disorder. It was a combination of depression and sort of social isolation. They know this because Bergdahl actually went into the Coast Guard first. The Coast Guard washed him out, saying that he was mentally unfit for duty.

The army knew this because they have that report, but they waived any kind of psychiatric evaluation and accepted him in the army. The defense is saying if you had only read what the Coast Guard had said you wouldn't have allowed him to be in the army and none of this would have happened in the first place.

BLACKWELL: All right. Martin Savidge, for us this morning. Martin -- thank you so much.

SAVIDGE: You're welcome, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Christi. PAUL: Well, tensions escalate between Russia and the U.S. after

Russia sends fighter jets to Syria. A military general weighs in on those consequences -- next.

And the number of migrants amassing on Europe's borders has reached record levels. Who are they? What have they been through and why are they risking such a life-threatening journey? CNN's Arwa Damon shows us the faces behind the refugee crisis.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The flood of humanity making its way across Europe is mostly made up of refuges from the war zones that are Iraq and Syria. They are the father who carried his daughter on his shoulders because back home she was his little princess and he just wants to give her that back again.

They are the mother with the law degree who cries every single time she talks or even thinks about her children that she had to leave back home, making the trek on her own in hopes that they will be able to join her.

They are youth, students, groups of young men who also want to bring their families over to Europe, who are looking for opportunities that no longer exist for them in their respective countries. Things like job, education and just the chance of living a dignified and respectable life.

They are people fleeing violence over which they have no control, people who don't want to die, who don't want to watch their children die. So, yes, parents make the impossible decision of bringing over their little ones, their babies because as they keep telling us, if they were to stay back home, they believe they would end up dead. So why not take the chance and try to make it to Europe?

They are people from as far away as Myanmar and Afghanistan, from various African nations, who are fleeing abject poverty, corrupt and oppressive regimes. They are people of different backgrounds, from all walks of life, who share one thing in common -- a belief, a dream that Europe will offer them a future, any future.


PAUL: For more information on how to get involved, please go to


[08:52:02] PAUL: New this morning: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is talking to his Russian counterpart as Moscow sent military troops, tanks and arms to Syria to help the Assad government in ground combat. Here's the thing, the latest round of fighter planes they sent, we've learned, are capable of air-to-air combat. And as we know, the U.S. is conducting air strikes in the country on ISIS targets.

Let's talk to CNN military analyst, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. I'm wondering, Lieutenant General, how does Russia's presence there and particularly these new planes affect the U.S. fight against ISIS?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's going to up the game a little bit Christi. And there's going to be the requirement for very close coordination. They not only have these fighter planes but they also shipped some hind helicopters which are the equivalent of our Apache. These are closed air support, rotary wing aircraft. They have tanks and armored personnel carriers there.

But I think they're going to be more in a defensive mode around Damascus. They're not going to be offensive in nature. At least that's what the Minister of Defense Shoygu has told our Secretary of Defense Carter.

PAUL: Certainly there are going to be some accidental encounters there yes, between U.S. and Russian jets?

HERTLING: Yes. Well, it depends. There's deconfliction (ph) of airspace and that's one of the things you certainly want to get to when you're talking about military-to-military relationships. That's what the discussions have been. And it's critically important that the Secretary of Defenses and their equivalent, the Minister of Defense are involved in this.

This gets behind the Secretary of State level because they're talking diplomacy. The Secretary of Defenses and the military members are actually talking deconfliction and making sure people stay out of each other's way.

PAUL: Right. So can this be diplomatically remedied, do you think?

HERTLING: Well, it's going to be a challenge because over the last several due to the Ukrainian invasion by Russia, we have not talked much at all to the Russians. So this is re-establishing some relationships between their military and through their military departments with ours. We've got to regenerate some of that talk. We've got to make sure that there is a conflict either on the ground, or in the air. And when you're talking about the air portion, you're talking about Russian fighter jets mostly closed air support, aircraft dealing not only with the U.S. jets but with all the jets of the coalition.

So you have French, German, Jordanian, Saudi Arabia and all kinds of aircraft in this area working through the coalition deconfliction center in order to bring bombs on target. That's critical. One mistake could cause some real challenges here.

PAUL: Yes, I would think so.

All right. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, we so appreciate your insight, sir. Thank you.

HERTLING: Thank you -- Christi.

PAUL: As always -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Coming up at 10:00, we're getting ready for a big political day for the Democrats and the Republicans.

And breaking news here from Donald Trump: just tweeting about his latest controversy about not correcting someone who called President Obama a Muslim. After days of calls for him to respond, Trump tweeted, "Am I morally obligated to defend the President every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don't think so."

More on this coming up at 10:00.


[08:59:08] PAUL: Nearing the top of the hour here, deputies flying in a hospital shot at a suspect driving the wrong way down a California freeway. This was in San Bernardino County yesterday. Look at this, the deputies fired at the suspect, he jumped out of the SUV while it was still moving, tried to run but collapsed and died. Officials say they don't know yes, if he was killed by gunfire or by injuries that he got jumping out of that vehicle. But the unidentified man was a suspect in a home invasion and robbery.

BLACKWELL: Authorities in Mexico have arrested 13 more suspects in connection with drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman's elaborate escape from the prison. Sources tell CNN the arrest included three high- level officials in the federal prison system. Surveillance video, here it is, recorded Guzman's escape. That was in July. Seven prison workers have been charged with helping him.

All right. That's it for us. We'll see you back here at 10:00 Eastern for an hour of NEWSROOM.

PAUL: Don't go anywhere, though. "SMERCONISH" starts for you right now.