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White House Reaction to Override of Obama's 9/11 Bill Veto; Obama Eulogizes Shimon Peres, Laid to Rest Today. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 30, 2016 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Investigators hit a snag trying to download information from a recorder from that New Jersey passenger train that crashed yesterday. One woman died, more than 100 other people hurt. NTSB wants to know why the train did not slow down at all before crashing into the Hoboken, New Jersey, terminal.

CNN correspondent, Brynn Gingras joins us from Hoboken, and CNN government regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh, joins me here in Washington.

Rene, start with the NTSB investigators. They're having trouble getting data from that recorder. What are you hearing?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Apparently older technology and have not been able to download that critical data. Things like the speed of the train, when the engineer hit the brakes. So they have not been able to do it. They've now shipped this recorder to the manufacturer saying that it will get to the manufacturer in Kentucky by tomorrow morning. So until they are able to download that, Wolf, we will not know how fast this train was traveling as it approached that station there.

We do know that they do have access to some security footage. So they're reviewing that as we speak. There are a total of two recorders onboard this train. They only have one. They still have not been able to get to that second one, because of all of that wreckage you see on the screen. So they hope that they will be able to get to that second box today.

BLITZER: Passengers told us yesterday that train did not slow down at all. It was going full speed as it came into that Hoboken terminal.

Investigators are also, they want to interview the engineer, two other crew members who were on that train. Do we know if they've already done those interviews, started the interviews? When will we get the results?

MARSH: At this point, they have not been able to interview the engineer, at last check. We know they made contact with the engineer. He was heavily medicated last night and in no position to do that interview. They are still hoping that they can do that interview with that engineer today, at some point. We also know that toxicology tests have been run and we expect possibly when the NTSB gives their next update sometime later on this afternoon they will be able to say, yes or no, as far as alcohol and drugs, because of that preliminary testing.

BLITZER: Everybody is anxious now for that.

Brynn, what do you know about the woman on the platform in the terminal, not on the train, who actually was killed?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, killed by that falling debris, Wolf. Her name is Fabiola de Kroon, 34 years old, a mother and wife, just moving here to Hoboken with her husband, because she's from Brazil. I actually talked to a realtor not long ago who says the day before the crash the two were walking around the city looking for new promise for her and her husband and her young daughter to live in. She actually found a property she liked so much she faced time with her husband to show to him who was away on a business trip. Such a heartbreaking story there. The realtor telling us when she learned of the woman who died, that was her client, she was devastated because this is a 34-year-old mom looking forward to begin a new life here in Hoboken -- Wolf?

BLITZER: More than 100 other people injured. What's the status of the more severely injured passengers who were on that train?

GINGRAS: I have good news to report than. At the New Jersey Medical Center, the nearest trauma center where the accident actually happened, only two people listed in condition a little less than serious, and probably won't be released from the hospital. But a little more than a dozen people are likely to be released from the hospital, and that's really all that's remaining in that particular hospital. That's good news that most of those involved in the crash have recovered -- Wolf?

[13:35:00] BLITZER: That's encouraging.

Brynn Gingras, thank you very much.

Rene Marsh, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, Syrian government forces prepare for their final offensive to capture the besieged city of Aleppo. The U.S. is trying to intercede, but will it be too little too late?

And the State Department deputy spokesperson, Mark Toner, is standing by live at the State Department. You see him there in front of all of those flags. We'll discuss with him, when we come back.


[13:39:42] BLITZER: To Syria and more heart-breaking images. Children pulled from the rubble in Aleppo as Syrian-led forces backed by Russia continue their bombardment of rebel force there. The World Health Organization now calling on Syria to allow for the immediate and safe evacuation of the sick and wounded. Against this backdrop, some 10,000 Syrian-led troops gathering just north and south of Aleppo preparing for what is believed to be a final ground assault. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, joins us.

Barbara, how soon do you think the Syrian-led troop could make their move?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's something they're watching around the clock. You said, Syrian-led, it's said to include Iranian-backed militia forces, Lebanese Hezbollah, others in the mix.

The fighting, by all measures, is well underway, is well begun, the bombardment of hospitals, of waste supply, ambulances, medical facilities, no humanitarian aid getting in, all of this under way. This is something the Syrian regime, backed by the Russians, make no mistake about it, has a lot of experience doing over the last years of the civil war in Syria. So the question is, will they make the next move, and will we see these Syrian-led infantry troops start going black by block through Aleppo where the rebels are trying to make their last stand. It's a huge concern. The humanitarian disaster absolutely beyond the critical stage, and people are looking to see what -- you know what measures might be taken. Is there any hope here? Right now, hope for Aleppo seems very slim, indeed.

BLITZER: Senior administration officials, Barbara, are saying that the U.S. is considering a tougher response now to Russia's support of the Bashar al Assad regime in Damascus, its bombardment of Aleppo. What form could that take? Could U.S. pressure, on Russia, though, at this late stage come, simply too late?

STARR: Many people feel it's too late. What will make Vladimir Putin listen to Barack Obama and pull back on the support what is happening in Aleppo? Make no mistake, Russian support for all of this front and central in the U.S. view. You could talk about sanctions. You could talk about more diplomacy. You could talk about another round of ceasefire agreement. But the intelligence and military people I speak to have very little hope for that. Just look at the video you're showing on the air rig now.

So, one of the big questions is, will Aleppo fall? There is a theory, a potential option in the works to allow some of the other coalition allies to supply arms to some of the rebels, but there's a lot of question whether any of that would be enough. Would the U.S. take the ultimate step of engaging in strikes against Syrian airfields that are being used, military facilities, being used, to launch these operations? That seems very slim, indeed, right now. The U.S. does not show an appetite for direct military confrontation, but the time, is ticking for the people of Aleppo. The heartbreak really grows by the day -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly does.

Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon. Thank you.

Let's talk a little more about Russia's involvement in Syria right now. The State Department deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, is joining us from the State Department. Mark, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Thank you.

Has Secretary Kerry, the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, have they spoken today?

TONER: They did. They spoke earlier today, Wolf. I don't have much more to report in terms of progress. As you know, Secretary Kerry made very clear over two days ago that we're at the limits of our ability to continue to have bilateral relations regarding Syria with Russia. We have seen no progress. In the face of what's happening in and around Aleppo, as Barbara just conveyed, it's hard to have much hold or hold much hope out for a real credible cease-fire to get back into place.

BLITZER: Has there been a formal decision to suspend U.S./Russian bilateral discussions, engagements, whatever you want to call it, on this Syria crisis.

TONER: Not yet. But as I said, we're very close. I think Secretary Kerry said it best the other day when he said I'd be accused of diplomatic malpractice if I didn't pursue a diplomatic solution to the utmost ability to do so. That's his role, job, as secretary of state. But as Barbara said, there's not a lot of other great options out there. Certainly, within the inner agency we're looking at all of those options and weighing them. But we did have -- and this is what is heartbreaking -- we did have an agreement that, had it been implemented in good faith by the regime and Russians, it could have gotten us to the next step, could have reduced violence, allowed humanitarian assistant, and got political negotiations back on track, but so far from that right now.

BLITZER: How did the conversations with Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov end? From the U.S. perspective, what do the Russians need to do?

[13:45:01] TONER: We've talk about it before, but what we're looking for is something to restore some form of credibility to this process. Secretary Kerry outlined some of those ideas, or some of those options last week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, such as the grounding of the regimes air forces within that space around Aleppo. But, again, what we've seen is a lack of effort or perhaps a lack of influence by Russia and its ability to influence the regime. As Barbara noted, what we're seeing around Aleppo appears to be a final assault on Aleppo, an attempt to bring Aleppo under the control of the regime. This is so fraught. And we've talked about this before. I mean, this could easily go from bad to worse. What we don't want to see and what we fear most is an escalation. As the regime pushes into Aleppo, what we've talk about trying to avoid, which is the moderate opposition being driven further into the arms of al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, which could all happen. This could get worse before it gets any better. BLITZER: How much of an involvement -- we heard Barbara Starr report

from the Pentagon, Lebanese Hezbollah helping the Syrian army, Iranians helping the Syrian army. I assume the Russians are helping the Syrian army. How much involvement is Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, for example, playing in the assault on Aleppo?

TONER: Sure. I don't want to get too far into intelligence matters. But this is nothing new. We've seen Hezbollah playing a role and supporting the regime for years. Not surprise they are playing --


BLITZER: But are they involved militarily on the ground in Aleppo with the Syrian army?

TONER: They have seen it in the past and we see indications that continues.

BLITZER: What about Iranians?

TONER: Again, we've seen it in the past. I can't assess what their involvement is right now in Aleppo but it wouldn't be surprising they're playing a role there as well.

BLITZER: What about the Russian military?

TONER: The Russians, we can all see the effect Russian support is having. They are carrying out air strikes that specifically appear to be targeting civilians, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, schools. This is really egregious. And Secretary Kerry made this point the other day, this is in flagrant violation of international law. Again, it brings us back to the point we're at which is it's hard to continue to believe in a diplomatic process here given what's happening on the ground.

BLITZER: Does the U.S. believe Russia is engaged in war crimes right now?

TONER: I'm not going to make that evaluation at this time. What we've talked about and said is, what's happening is in clear violation of any humanitarian or international law. And, indeed, what we're looking for, at some point, is accountability for its actions, and I think that's -- that's the bare minimum we can expect.

BLITZER: You're a seasoned diplomat. If they're engaged in violations of international law, humanitarian laws, aren't those -- wouldn't those actions be war crimes?

TONER: Again I don't want to make those kinds of claims or proclamations right now. Our lawyers, legal teams, international legal teams are looking at some of these things. So we're just not at that point.

But I don't want that to be a threshold we're looking at. What we're already outraged about is just what's happening in terms of continued strikes against civilian, children, innocents really. That's an in egregious violation of any acceptable behavior.

BLITZER: Mark, let me get your reaction on another important issue that's come forward. As you know, Congress, the Senate and the House, overrode President Obama's veto, approved what's called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorists Act, giving victims here in the United States of the 9/11 terror attack the right to sue Saudi Arabia on the claim that Saudi Arabia provided some support to some of those terrorists. I know the Saudi government responded with a statement. What is the administration, the State Department, doing, because the threat out there from the Saudis is they're going to retaliate?

TONER: Well, look, we've been very clear in the lead-up to this vote about our concerns regarding this legislation. Let me preface with what I'm about to say, though, is that we, of course, understand and -- and are sympathetic to the concerns of these 9/11 family who have suffered so much. But our other concern here is for the protection and safety of our military, our diplomats, and others working overseas in the national security interests of the United States of America. And we believe this law could put them in jeopardy. It's -- sovereign immunity is the technical or legal term here. And it's a real concern. As you said, the Saudis and others in the region have voiced concerns about this new legislation.

BLITZER: Mark Toner is deputy spokesperson at the State Department.

Mark, thank you very much for joining us.

TONER: Happy to be here. Thanks, Wolf.

[13:349:56] BLITZER: Coming up, world leaders attend the funeral of Shimon Peres. You'll hear President Obama's very moving eulogy for the statesman right after this.


BLITZER: World leaders gathered in Jerusalem for the funeral of former Israeli prime minister and president, Shimon Peres, who died Wednesday. His body was laid to rest this morning in a cemetery on Mt. Herzl as President Obama and other dignitaries looked on. President Obama praised Peres for his efforts to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians and spoke warmly of their friendship.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As an American, as a Christian, a person partly of African descent, born in Hawaii, a place that could not be further than where Shimon spent his youth, I took great pleasure in my friendship with his this older, wiser man. We shared a love of words and books and history. Perhaps, like most politician, we shared too great a joy in hearing ourselves talk. But beyond that, I think our friendship was rooted in the fact that I could somehow see myself in his story and maybe he could see himself in mine because for all of our difference differences both of us had lived such unlikely lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [13:55:29] BLITZER: A remarkable site before the service, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who have had their serious differences in recent years, were seen shaking hands. Abbas and Peres were linked by the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords with Abbas signing on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Peres signing on behalf of Israel. Shimon Peres was 93 years old.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern inn The Situation Room.

The news continues right after a quick break.