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At This Hour

Obama to Speak on ISIS Plan; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the Hot Seat; How Should the NFL Address Domestic Violence?

Aired September 10, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Hello there, I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And I'm Michaela Pereira. A lot to get to @THISHOUR.

First up, President Obama is getting set to make his case to you, the American people, on just how he plans to degrade and destroy ISIS. We now know some of what you can expect to hear in tonight's speech.

An administration official tells CNN the president will focus on three major areas. He will frame the threat posed by the terrorist group, he will outline actions already being taken against them, and he will announce new proposals on how to finish the job of destroying the militants.

BERMAN: While President Obama lays out his strategy here at home, secretary of state John Kerry is selling it overseas. He is in Baghdad right now because the White House says an inclusive Iraqi government is a critical pre-condition for President Obama's plans against ISIS.

We're going to go live now to our Jim Acosta at the White House. Jim, thanks so much for being with us.

Another big piece of news that you've been reporting all morning, the White House telling you, administration officials, the president is open to the idea of air strikes in Syria.

I'm curious about that choice of language. "Open to the idea of air strikes" doesn't say committed to them.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It also doesn't say, John and Michaela, that the president will announce that he's authorized air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. That's the big question that I think we'll have to wait for for 9:00 tonight to hear from the president.

I should point out in just the last couple of minutes, John and Michaela, we've gotten word the president will be meeting with his national security team, including the vice president, secretary of defense, and on down in The Situation Room here at the White House at 11:25 this morning. So that's happening about 25 minutes from now.

But getting back to the speech, it is designed to show the president is go on offensive -- or that he's ready to go on offense, as he said earlier this week. A senior administration official said the president will frame that threat posed by ISIS, as you said, and offer a big picture of how this group has become a national security priority for the White House and how it cannot be allowed to have a safe haven in both Iraq and Syria.

He's going to lay out his strategy which involves building an international coalition, including Arab partners in the region -- that's why John Kerry the secretary of state is down in the Middle East right now -- and beefing up support for Iraqi and potentially Syrian rebel forces.

No combat troops from the U.S. on the ground, but, John and Michaela, in just the last several minutes talked to a White House official and also a Democratic official who both said that the president has said -- and Dana Bash has been talking about this -- that the president has asked for authorization from the Congress, what they call Title X authorization from the Congress

It's a legal authorization to train and equip Syrian rebels to take the fight to ISIS. They're also asking for some $500 million. All of that, we should mention, though, these are things the presidents has been seeking for several weeks now, but he sent the request over yesterday officially so that is something that lawmakers are reviewing at this point.

And it's part of this overall strategy. People are saying, when are the air strikes going to start in Syria? There's a larger strategy, a larger package of proposals, that the president will be unveiling tonight, I'm told by a senior administration official, and this training and equipping of serial remember rebels is a component of that.

Of course, obviously, air strikes are something that they're looking at as well, and a senior administration official has said the president doesn't feel that he needs the legal authority to conduct more expanded air strikes in Iraq and Syria, but he does need it they're going to equip and train these Syrian rebels.

It also gives them the flexibility, John and Michaela, to accept money from other parts of the world, other countries around the world, who want to chip in financially to this fight, that Title X authority does that as well. So that's also an interesting development.

BERMAN: It will be interesting to see how he lays this all out tonight, the speech, again, 9:00 Eastern time. Of course we'll cover it here on CNN.

Jim Acosta, our thanks to you.

I want to bring in Adam Frankel now. He's a former speechwriter for President Obama.

Adam, the president does not give a lot of primetime White House addresses. So what does he need to achieve tonight? Who's he speaking to? How does this work?

ADAM FRANKEL, FORMER SENIOR SPEECHWRITER, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: So the president is going lay out where we've been and where we intend to go. I think there are two audiences he's speaking to. One is the American people; the other is the media.

He's talking to the media about, you know, will we be having air strikes in Syria? The American people want to know that as well. Will we be going to Congress? Those are the key audiences.

But these speeches tend to follow that sort of format of laying out very logical way where we've been and where we're going.

PEREIRA: You talk about these speeches. I want you to highlight for us, especially from your perspective -- a very interesting one, I might add -- of how these types of speeches, outlining a strategy, a military action plan, how they differ from other speeches that you've crafted for the president?

FRANKEL: Look, there's no more important issue to the commander in chief than military force. I think that what you'll hear the president say tonight is some of what we're not doing.

We're not going to be committing ground -- a lot of do. We won't commit a lot of ground troops in Iraq. We're not going to be sending hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy Iraq. That's not what you're going to hear.

What you're going to hear is the importance of a stable, inclusive Iraq. You're going to hear the importance of building an international coalition and the importance of protecting American personnel and preventing humanitarian crises.

BERMAN: It's interesting you say he's going lay out a lot of what we're not doing, because the American people have largely flipped in some ways on the issue of force over the last several years.

We were talking about how the American people are so war weary after Iraq. Look, you worked for President Obama when he was running for office. He largely ran on an anti-Iraq war message.

But now a majority of people do say they support military action against ISIS, even in Syria. The president in some ways isn't leading here. He's following what the American people have already decided?

FRANKEL: Look, the president is somebody who does what's right. The president is not somebody who pays attention to the polls. He did what was right in taking out bin Laden. He's done what is right when it comes to hitting ISIL. Over the past month there have been more than 150 air strikes targeted against ISIL.

So the critics can make their accusations about no strategy and this and that --

BERMAN: He's the one who said that.

FRANKEL: The reality is he doesn't telegraph his strategy, and he's been hitting ISIL over 150 air strikes over the past month. As Jeffrey Goldberg said, he's the most effective terrorist killer in American history. This is somebody who does what's right and doesn't follow the polls.

PEREIRA: Adam Frankel, a really interesting perspective, you've been in that room. You've done the job. You know what's at stake here.

So many eyes, not just Congress but the American public will also be watching the president. Thanks so much for giving us insight today.

FRANKEL: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: And, once again, that speech tonight, 9:00 Eastern, watch it right here on CNN because there's a lot to talk about.

The commitment of military force is one of the biggest responsibilities the president has, so pay attention to this.

PEREIRA: We're going to turn to a story that is certainly captivating a lot of attention, the Baltimore Ravens doubling down on the decision to cut Ray Rice, the Ravens' owner impeaching out with a new message to fans.

As Janay Rice stands by the man caught on tape hitting her in the face, we're going to bring you my conversation with the wife of a former NFL player and her sense of what that young woman may be feeling.



JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: When the world hears from President Obama this evening, he will lay out with great specificity each component of a broad strategy in order to deal with ISIL.

And in the days ahead, I will be meeting with leaders from across the region and beyond in order to discuss how can we best build on the work that has already been done and to assemble the broadest possible coalition for this fight.


PEREIRA: We could learn tonight if the president will pursue air strikes against ISIS in Syria. We've got to take a look, though, at the presence ISIS has all over the map in Syria and Iraq, control -- in control, rather -- in some areas, a strong presence in other area.

BERMAN: You know, and a new poll shows that many Americans feel that ISIS already has a presence here in the United States as well.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee driving home the threat at home and how President Obama needs to deal with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We are, again, one plane ticket away from a major disaster in the United States. He needs to make that case.

He needs to make a case to the Americans why Syria and Iraq -- this is an organization that wants to take Jordan, by public statement, wants to take Lebanon, wants to take Israel.

They've already taken part of Syria and part of Iraq. This is an army -- excuse me -- a terrorist group with an army. We need to treat it that that way, so I hope he makes the case and doesn't start saying, we're going do X and Y and Z and not the other things.


BERMAN: We're joined by retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. Colonel, thanks so much for being with us.

Very interesting, the United States has already committed about 150- plus air strikes against ISIS in Iraq. What have we learned from those air strikes, and if the president does ultimately decide to strike against ISIS in Syria, how that be applied there?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The lesson I think we're taking from the air strikes in Iraq is they're very effective. This is the one thing we do very well, and surprisingly, we're able to coordinate it with the Iraqi special forces and with the Kurdish Peshmerga.

So the combination of the air power and them on the ground has been very effective. We might be able to replicate something like that in Syria. The problem is who is going to be your partner on the ground in Syria? That's always the big part.

PEREIRA: A non-military mind coming at you with this question, I have to wonder. This has been going on for months and months and months and months.

Have we lost the element of surprise? Who is going to help on the ground? What can we do without U.S. troops on the ground?

FRANCONA: You can try and do it from the air if you want to use drones and things like that. It's not as effective, but we can bring to bear a lot of different sensors.

The problem is, if you're going to go into Syria with air, how are you going to do that? Are you going to do it -- from what country?

Iraq, of course, will be no problem, but are the Turks going to allow us to use their air space? Are we going to launch from Jordan? Are the Syrians going to resist?

There are so many questions that we don't know.

PEREIRA: But that element of surprise, is there a point to that or no? We haven't given them time to prepare and deflect? FRANCONA: ISIS knows they'll be product from the air but there's not

much they can do about it. In Iraq, of course, we control Iraqi airspace.

If you go into Syria, technically, the Syrians control that airspace, but the eastern part of Syria has been notoriously undefended for years. Everything the Syrians have is around Damascus and the population centers in west.

So the skies will not be a problem for us. The problem would be how do we know how effective we can be, and how do you pick out the good guys from the bad guys from Syria?

BERMAN: Let's talk about that, because the president, we've learned this morning, is going to ask Congress for Title X approval. He wants money to help arm and equip more of the rebels fighting in Syria. I suppose we need to learn exactly who those people are.

But what do you need from them, Colonel, to be effective with these air strikes?

FRANCONA: We need intelligence. We need to know where ISIS can be hit effectively.

You can go and bomb trucks, and that's what we're doing. We're blowing up a lot of trucks. We're spending $140,000 to fire a Hellfire missile at a $20,000 Toyota.

What we need is to take out their command and control, their logistics, their recruiting centers, their training centers. We need to hurt them, not on the battlefield; we need to hurt them in their support system.

PEREIRA: General Mark Hertling, last hour, I heard him on with our colleague, Carol Costello, talking about the fact that this is not a quick operation. This is a long, protracted battle ahead.

FRANCONA: And this is going carry on for months, so I see where a lot of the American people now want the president to do something. I just hope they remember that six months down the road when we're doing daily air strikes, and it looks like we're not being effective.

BERMAN: Can I just ask you, we talked about no boots on the ground, no special forces troops on the ground. But other intelligence officials say U.S. has personnel working for there U.S. government in some capacity in Syria?

FRANCONA: In Syria, yes, we have had them for a long time. In Iraq, of course, we have them there, they have been all over the place. And we have an intelligence agency that do this for a living. They're very good at it. I think we could call it, maybe, loafers on the ground.

PEREIRA: Good to have you back with us Lieutenant Colonel, appreciate it.

BERMAN: Loafers on the ground. Coining a phrase that could last forever.

Ahead for us @THISHOUR, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the hot seat. Calls for his resignation grow. So why did the release of the video, and only the release of the video that shows Ray Rice punching his then fiancee in the face, change the punishment for Ray Rice? Was this a matter of moral clarity or just image adjustments?



RAY RICE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: It's totally inexcusable and I'm here today to tell you I made the biggest mistake of my life. Me. She can do no wrong. She's an angel.


PEREIRA: That was Ray Rice earlier this summer before the Baltimore Ravens cut him in the wake of that damning video that shows him punching the woman who is now his wife, knocking her out cold. Now he's suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

Rice is repentant but he is stand by his family. He tweeted this yesterday to our colleague Rachel Nichols, "I'm just holding strong for my wife and kid. That's all I can do right now."

Well also holding his ground, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, as calls for his resignation grow. Goodell spoke with CBS news Norah O'Donnel.


NORAH O'DONNEL, CBS NEWS: The question becomes, did the NFL drop the ball or was the NFL willfully ignorant about what was on this tape?

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Well, we certainly didn't know what was on the tape. But we have been very open and honest, and I have also, from two weeks ago when I acknowledged that we didn't get this right. That's my responsibility and I'm accountable for that.


BERMAN: Joining us is L.Z. Granderson, he is a CNN commentator and senior writer at ESPN.

L.Z., owner Steve Bisciotti released a letter this morning to fans, it reads in part, the decision to let Ray Rice go was unanimous. Seeing that video changed everything. Remember that. We should have seen it earlier. We should have pursued our own investigation more vigorously. We didn't and we were wrong. The Ravens taking responsibility. You heard commissioner Roger Goodell taking responsibility.

My question, L.Z., is the video changed everything, the commissioner said the same thing himself. Why did the video change everything? Doesn't that speak to the fact this is just about image management rather than moral clarity? L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, that's the everything they're

referring to, it is about the image. It's very difficult to sweep something under the carpet when it's so prevalent in the way the latter part of the video has been released and it's all over social media.

Let's get this straight, Ray Rice lost his job because we saw the video, not because of his actions. And for Commissioner Goodell to suggest he had no idea what was on the video is a complete and utter lie, because he was told what was on the video. Ray Rice told him what was on the video -- him punching his wife out.

PEREIRA: I want to bring something else to light here. The national organization for women, now, they have taken a tough line on the commissioner. I want to read it to you. The NFL has lost its way, they say. It doesn't have a Ray Rice problem, it has a violence against women problem. The only workable solution is for Roger Goodell to resign. Should he resign, L.Z., in your estimation?

GRANDERSON: Well, I guess it depends upon what is the purpose.


GRANDERSON: If the purpose is to help the NFL get a better sense of how to handle domestic violence within its organization, within its league, then, yes, sure, do that. But if the real issue is addressing what I think the real problem, which is a problem of domestic violence in our country, then I don't think focusing all of our attention on the NFL is the most productive thing to do.

One in four women in this country have experienced domestic violence. That doesn't mean every single one of them dated an NFL player, so clearly we have a cultural problem here and it much rather take this and use it as a springboard to a larger conversation as opposed to pinning everything on Roger Goodell and Ray Rice because then it's easier to dismiss.

PEREIRA: But, L.Z., could we do both? Could we have the NFL clean up their league at the same time as addressing what's going on in our nation?

GRANDERSON: Absolutely. But if you really want to clean up the league, you have to go through roster by roster and look at every single man that's been arrested for domestic violence, and that's not what's happening right now.

BERMAN: L.Z., I don't know if you had a chance to speak with any players, but I know you've reported on football and sports for a long time. What do you think is going on in the locker rooms right now as these different players on different teams see what's happening in the news?

GRANDERSON: Well, if I could just take a second to speak specifically to the African-American man that are in the NFL, which there's over 60 percent of. We don't have a problem as black men coming up and speaking out against racism when there's violence -- white cop shoots a black guy, or a white cop shoots an unarmed black man, we rally together, we march, fight, get angry, look at Ferguson.

We don't the same response to domestic violence against black women, and black women are more likely to be sufferers and victims of domestic violence than anyone else, and more likely to be killed by their partners than anyone else, and their partners more often than not are black men. So if you're a player right now and you have been mum on this whole situation, with not just Ray Rice, but all the brothers in the NFL that have hit women and gone back on the field, then I think that's shame on you. Because if we're going to sit here and say you need to stand up for black men's life then black men need to stand up for black women's lives as well.

BERMAN: A powerful point. L.Z., silence might not be enough here.

PEREIRA: It certainly is not enough. It certainly is not enough. L.Z., powerful, powerful words. Thank you so much.

GRANDERSON: Thank you.

PEREIRA: I had an opportunity earlier today to speak to a very interesting woman, a former NFL wife. She once found herself trapped by domestic violence. Ahead @THISHOUR, what she thinks of the commissioner's response to the Ray Rice situation and how she managed to escape her own abuse.



DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: President Obama seems willfully blind to one of the key facts about the post-9/11 security apparatus. It is not self-sustaining. Those programs and policies must be kept strong and current. The Obama administration has failed utterly in that task.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think they better be very careful with advice that they take from Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney is more responsible than anyone else for the worst foreign policy decision in the history of the country -- the invasion of Iraq.


BERMAN: Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Harry Reid, I don't think they'll be having lunch any time soon. Some pretty strong words, they obviously disagree. These comments coming just hours before President Obama lays out his strategy for what he hopes will be to degrade and defeat ISIS. Administration and congressional sources tell CNN that the President is asking Congress for authority, specific authority, though, to arm and train moderate Syrian opposition to fight ISIS.

PEREIRA: Congressman Gregory Meeks joins us now. He is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you so much for joining us, sir.