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Bolton Criticizes Censorship; Humanitarian Crisis Worsens in Syria; Flooding and Snow hit U.S.; Woman At Center of Airplane Recline Debate Speaks Out. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 18, 2020 - 06:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight, the Boy Scouts of America filing for bankruptcy protection. The organization is facing hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse and with this chapter 11 filing all civil litigation against the Boy Scouts is suspended. The president and CEO of the Boy Scouts says in a statement they believe the process will lead to equitable compensation for all abuse victims. The Boy Scouts marked its 110th anniversary this month.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, former National Security Adviser John Bolton made his first public appearance since President Trump's impeachment trial, telling an audience at Duke University that he is now fighting White House censorship of his book manuscript. Bolton also hinting that there may be more revelation to come.

Joining us now, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates. She's a former federal prosecutor.

So we heard Bolton yesterday use the word "censorship." He said that his book may be suppressed.

I'm curious, as a lawyer, now it's now in classification review. In other words, and he did this, he sent this to the White House weeks ago and said, OK, here's my manuscript. I want to go through the process here, make sure -- assure you there's nothing classified in here. That is the process. The concern he has now is the White House is going to say, oh, yes, we found something classified, or just declare something classified.

What is the legal recourse there? Is that something you can fight in court or is it really up to the White House, up to the president to say, no, this book ain't going to happen?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, of course, there's that whole impeachment trial in the middle of that, right, with the Senate trying to get information from him, get a statement from him, which he refused to actually provide, in anticipation of having his book released in a few weeks. And so the real recourse, if it's a classification issue, the president of the United States and the administration has really the upper hand. They don't have a carte blanche per se, but they have the upper hand to be able to say what is classified, what poses a national security risk, what type of information given the (INAUDIBLE) of his position would actually pose a threat to our national security and what should not be released.

However, if they are simply trying to suppress it, and the word to use were censorship, note the word there, to suggest that it wasn't about a classification issue but about a preference of the president not to have disparaging things said about him or his administration, now that is very different.


COATES: If you remember, Trump, when he was talk about this issue a few weeks ago, he said, listen, you don't want this person to speak because he left on bad terms. That's not classification, Jim, that is preference to not be disparaged. That's different.


And, by the way, the president has declassified a whole host of stuff, which he also has the right to do, including, say, in the Oval Office with Russians.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that --

SCIUTTO: There was that incident.

CAMEROTA: That -- yes, I don't know if that was an official declassification as much as a -- in any event, Laura, this cat and mouse game is getting old. I mean obviously John Bolton has something to say. He keeps telling us he has something to say. I understand he wants to wait until his -- the publication of his book is supposed to be mid-March, OK. So one month from now. So he's clearly hoping that that's still going to happen.

But if it doesn't happen, and if the White House puts the kibosh on this, then, legally, OK, let's say the White House says this stuff is classified, can John Bolton then go to a microphone, say, on NEW DAY, and say what he wants to say?

COATES: He always could, Alisyn. It's kind of the "Wizard of Oz." He had the power within him all along. As long as it's not a classification issue, he could have always spoken out about the contents of the book. He could have given a speech. He has given speeches. That was the irony of him saying please subpoena me or I can't testify, or call me now, I'm willing to speak now in the impeachment trial.


He could have gone on any podium. He could have spoken about the various statements the president has said provided it's not classified. He always had the power.

CAMEROTA: But I'm saying if it is classified. If now, even retroactively, the president classifies it, can he still speak? COATES: Well, he could still speak. The penalty would have been if he

was an employee, termination essentially. But the idea how, the repercussions are not there for him as he's no longer a federal employee, he's no longer in the administration. They could, however, in many respect, and they have with other cases before, they could try to seize the profits of the book, and that would probably be his biggest hurdle to overcome.

SCIUTTO: Listen, there were multiple opportunities to speak, including during the trial, but, of course, there were others who whiffed at the chance, right? I mean the senators could have voted to call him to testify in the Senate trial.

CAMEROTA: That's what he said he wanted.

SCIUTTO: It didn't happen.

CAMEROTA: I mean he said that he would do so with a subpoena.


CAMEROTA: And so I actually -- I'm still confused about why now the House, the Judiciary Committee or the Intel, isn't just subpoenaing him. That's what he says he needs.

So, Laura, do you have any thoughts on why they're not doing that right now?

COATES: Well, remember, he wanted to do it for the Senate, not the House.

CAMEROTA: I know, but I mean --

COATES: And what's the difference there? He -- they -- they could do it. But I think one of the reasons that Bolton did not testify in front of the House was not because he couldn't do so, because it was not led by the Republicans. The Senate is led by the Republicans, which I think he believed that in conservative circles down the road for financial reasons he would be able to still have the idea of saying, listen, I'm only doing this, not because I'm against the president, I'm doing it because I am for the subpoena, I'm trying to honor the subpoena, I'm trying to do the right thing, I'm a patriot.

Now, the same obligation was there, the same rationale could have been there when the House subpoenaed him, but because the leadership, I think his choice was distinct. He still could. And, remember, Adam Schiff, the congressman from California, did say, we asked him for an affidavit of some sort during the impeachment trial in lieu of testimony, he still declined to do so. So if his motivation, Alisyn, was pure, was simply a benign patriot act --


COATES: He would have and could have already.

SCIUTTO: And when it does come out, will it be too late to have an impact? We'll see.

Question, another issue we've been following here, which is really this remarkable emergency meeting of federal judges -- this first reported by the "USA Today," we should note, concerned and the head of this association saying that they have a lot to talk through, that this could not wait until their spring conference, concerns about intervention by Bill Barr's Justice Department in ongoing investigations.

Tell us how unusual it is to see a meeting like this under those circumstances.

COATES: It's very. I mean the meeting is coming in April. They couldn't wait a little over a month to actually convene and talk about this very issue. Why? Because there is the impression that's growing around the American public and across the world, frankly, that there's not an independent judiciary. That is very problematic if you believe in the criminal justice system and that lady justice is blind and that the recommendations of a prosecutor are simply that, a recommendation. They're not going to be marionettes for either the president and the judge would not be as well. They need to make sure they're reassuring the public and also talking amongst themselves about how they could go about reassuring the public and ensuring that everyone knows that when a judge makes a decision, it's based on the applicable sentencing guidelines, the facts in the case, their previous experience, their perspective and, of course, not bowing to the pressure or political whim. And that's very important for anyone to believe in justice.


COATES: And it has to be the case.

SCIUTTO: Listen, I know folks at home, they might say, well, this is a Democrat thing. But, keep in mind, yesterday, Republican and Democratic, or federal prosecutors who serve Republican and Democratic administrations, they came out, say Barr should resign for intervention. These are judges appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents who are concerned about these conditions. It should not be missed.


CAMEROTA: I know. So much, of course, so much is seen only through a partisan lens right now in this moment that we're living in, but that's not how these prosecutors and judges see it.


COATES: Correct.

CAMEROTA: Laura, thank you very much.

So the humanitarian crisis in Syria is worsening before our eyes. CNN's Arwa Damon has seen firsthand the desperation of these hundreds of thousands of people, these children who are trying to flee the war. She'll join us live and tell us what she's seen and how we can all help.



CAMEROTA: Developing overnight, Turkey and Moscow are reportedly about to start another round of talks aimed at forging a ceasefire in Syria.

In the meantime, civilians, parents and children, are being killed every day in Idlib province. This is the last stronghold of rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime. Assad's forces are backed by Russia.

CNN's Arwa Damon traveled to Idlib where more than 900,000 people have been displaced and are trying to flee the relentless air campaign by the Syrian regime and the Russians.

And Arwa joins us now live.

Arwa, the stories that you've brought us in the past few days are just so gut-wrenching, they're searing to everyone watching. Obviously we've heard from viewers about it. And I know that you are no stranger could covering war zones. But I'm just wondering if you can share with us what has struck you most about going to Idlib province and all of the parents and the children that you met there.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Alisyn, we've made multiple trips there and this time it just felt so different. This time it was the fact that of the many things that are so striking, the children, how they walk for hours. We met a family who had walked for seven hours in the dark of night and one of the kids -- and it was freezing cold -- look, I had on big winter boots, two layers of thermals. She was wearing flip-flops with soaking wet socks.


She was exhausted. But she didn't cry and she didn't complain.

We met another family who had just told their children that they would have to leave their favorite stuffed animals behind because toys aren't a priority. If they have to pick up and run, they're not going to take the time to pick up the children's clothes or their toys. And those kids didn't cry or complain when their parents took their toys away.

You actually don't see any toys anywhere. It's as if these people have been displaced so many times that each time they run away, more and more gets left behind.

And what do you say to these parents who look at you and ask you where they're supposed to go knowing fully well that there is no way that they can outrun this war if it continues at this current pace.

Out of those 900,000 civilians who you just mentioned there who have fled, who have been on the move since the beginning of December, more than half of them, 60 percent of them, are children.

And then, Alisyn, there's the cold, the freezing temperatures, the lack of things to burn, the lack of shelter. Children are getting sick. But medical facilities are also being targeted as part of this ongoing assault.


DAMON: There really is a sense there that these people are living their final days, their final weeks unless something somehow on the ground changes.

SCIUTTO: Listen, as you well know, this is a sad fact of this war, right, that civilians are not just collateral damage, they are the targets of the Syrian regime, the Russian regime. They have targeted civilians, including children.

For folks at home, a sad fact, and you know this because you have your own charity trying to address the needs of these children, fatigue is a factor here. People at home have been hearing about this for years. But what's happening now, right, is really an escalation of this war, right, is it not, as the Assad forces try to make their final push, in effect, against the rebels.

DAMON: It's a very significant escalation, especially if we look at what we've seen since December.

And, look, when it comes to Idlib province, people are getting squeezed. You have the Turkish border on one side. It's a border that's closed. Turkey says it can't handle the influx of another 3.5 million people. So what's happening is that they're getting squeezed into this shrinking territory. And many of them will tell you that the regime and the Russians are deliberately bombing these villages, systematically, even bombing people while they're on the run to force this displacement.

What they want to do is capture two key highways. But what this means for the civilian population there is that they are stuck. They are completely trapped.

The humanitarian organizations are trying to cope with this, but the scale and speed of the displacement is exceeding their own capacities. I mean, just listen to the words of the U.N.'s emergency coordinator who called what's happening there right now the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century. And having been just in there and witnessed all of this for a few days, you really get the sense that what we're looking is the result of the shattering of our collective moral compass, or maybe it's a moral compass that never actually truly existed and now that reality is being laid bare for all of us to see.

But, truly, one has to believe that we can do better. No matter what side of the political spectrum one is on when it comes to what's happening in Syria, because a lot of it is, yes, very heavily politicized.

SCIUTTO: Yes. DAMON: These people are being used as political pawns. They are being used as collateral damage.

One key point is undeniable, 3.5 million civilians' lives are at stake.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and the politics matter, right? This country has brought in its intake of refugees from Syria down to zero.

CAMEROTA: Arwa, you -- you -- two of the stories -- I mean just two of the stories of all of those displaced civilians you brought us is a healthy baby who died overnight frozen to death in her crib. That was one. And another was a family just desperate to get warm. Of course, they're not following sort of safety precautions and their child fell into the fire and burned her face, survived.

You have set up a charity, you have for years, trying to help the children of Syria. It's called People can go there to find out how to help these children.


CAMEROTA: Arwa, we thank you for your reporting. We thank you for all you do beyond your reporting for the children of that region.

We'll talk to you again.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You could also follow them on Instagram, Twitter. They've got great stories there. Pictures of some of the kids and families there.

SCIUTTO: Right. That's really valuable.

SCIUTTO: I do. You should do the same.

Other news, historic flooding in Mississippi, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses. Emergency officials say as many as 1,000 homes could be impacted as more rain moves through today.

Meanwhile, snow is pushing through the Great Lakes into the northeast.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has your forecast for today.

We haven't seen any snow in Washington, D.C., where I live.


Tell us what we're going to see in the next couple of days.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And you're not going to get any. But what you will see by the weekend temperatures that are below freezing. So many people already have things that are blossoming, blooming in their gardens. You're going to have to take precautions if you want to keep them alive.

Here's the rainfall across the south. The snow across upstate New York and into Pennsylvania.

This weather is brought to you by Boost, the nutrition you need, the taste you deserve.

So let's get to it. This is where the radar is right now. Kind of focus on where you're living. There will be snow upstate New York into New England. There will be more heavy rain here across the deep south. And that's exactly what we do not need down here. The snow is OK. We'll take that. I know driving around won't be that great this morning.

But look at the amount of rain here, another two to four inches of rain on top of places that have already seen their yearly rainfall that should be stopping April 1st. And we're only in February.

So, 10 inches of rain everywhere that you see pink. More flooding is coming.


CAMEROTA: All right, Chad, thank you very much for that warning.

There was this horrible crash in the final lap of Daytona 500.

SCIUTTO: The pictures are amazing. Yes.

CAMEROTA: The driver, Ryan Newman, survived this, miraculously. But we have the latest on his condition from the hospital, next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here comes Hamlin up the outside.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crash, into the wall, into the --




CAMEROTA: This viral video is still getting a lot of attention. It shows an airplane passenger repeatedly hitting the seat of the person in front of him. Why? Well, because she reclined her seat. Now that woman, the passenger, Wendi Williams, is a speaking out and she joins us now.

Good morning, Wendi.


CAMEROTA: I am well. So for people who don't know the whole chronology of this story, just

-- just, I think I have it right, you were flying back from New Orleans to Charlotte, North Carolina. You got on the plane. You reclined your seat. The man behind you asked you if you would mind not reclining while he ate his meal. You obliged. And then when the meal was over, you reclined again. Then what happened?

WILLIAMS: Then he started punching me in the back, hard, and I tried to get the flight attendant's attention. They were not paying attention. So I started videoing him. That was the only thing that I could think of to get him to stop.

CAMEROTA: At that point -- but when he started punching you, did you at any time say -- think about saying, excuse me, sir, what are you doing?

WILLIAMS: No, because after -- as hard as he was punching me, he -- there was something wrong with the whole thing. You know, that he could verbalize that he wanted me to not recline while he ate, but then, when I reclined again, he, you know, just immediately started throwing punching -- throwing punches.


WILLIAMS: So, yes, it wasn't something I felt was negotiable at that point.

CAMEROTA: Understood. So you didn't want to engage with him verbally, but you did start videotaping.


CAMEROTA: So this video that we're watching is something that you took, right, from your cellphone. And so why did you resort to that?

WILLIAMS: Because I didn't know what else to do. I couldn't get the flight attendant's attention. It was the only thing I think -- I thought that I could do, that a reasonable person, if you put your phone up and started videoing their horrible behavior, you know, most people would stop. This person, unfortunately, did not.

CAMEROTA: So at some point --

WILLIAMS: I mean he did. He stopped punching as hard. So it did work to a certain degree.

CAMEROTA: OK, but then he was just sort of slapping it or hitting your seat, as we can --

WILLIAMS: Right. I mean that continued the whole flight.


So then, at some point, a flight attendant did come over and I assume you thought that she would help you, but instead she, I think, handed you this passenger disturbance notice, which I think we have a screenshot of that we can put up, which basically --


CAMEROTA: Tells you that you need to change your behavior.

WILLIAMS: Yes. It was shocking. And it -- it got me -- it was --

CAMEROTA: What did she want you to do? What did she suggest you do?

WILLIAMS: She said, she's not -- she's -- you know, several things transpired in between in which I remained completely calm. I think the more calm I remained, she got angrier and more aggravated. So she said, I'm not talking with you anymore. She's like, I'm done with you. That's what she said, I'm done with you and -- or I'm done with this, something to that effect, and then handed me this passenger disturbance notice, which -- and then, you know, followed that up with, and I will have you escorted off the plane if you say anything else. Delete the video. And, I mean, I was scared to death.

CAMEROTA: I understand. I mean things can escalate. And this, obviously, was escalating, or it certainly wasn't deescalating.


CAMEROTA: And so, Wendi, we understand that now you're looking into whatever your next legal moves might be here to get, I guess, some sort of justice. So you -- I'm sorry, we're out of time. Will you please let us know whatever you do next and what happens.


CAMEROTA: And if you ever hear from that gentleman.

WILLIAMS: I will. Thank you. I appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: We really appreciate you being on. Thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: All right. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, we have a new national poll to tell you about. It's shaking up the Democratic race.

And NEW DAY continues right now.


CAMEROTA: A shakeup at the top of the Democratic race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Bloomberg is rising in the polls. He's going to win this nomination.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike Bloomberg is the embodiment of everything that Bernie Sanders stands against.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Bloomberg has a right to run for president. He does not have a right to buy the presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nearly half the population of China living under some form of travel restrictions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should have gotten everyone off the ship as soon as they learned of one case of coronavirus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fourteen of them have tested positive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just been a roller coaster this last 48 hours.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota.