Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Obama Vows to Degrade, Destroy ISIS; Interview with Sen. Rob Portman; Reactions to AP Report that NFL Had Ray Rice Tape in April

Aired September 11, 2014 - 11:00   ET



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our objective is clear. We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Destroying a terrorist enemy before it can attack, President Obama lays out his plan to battle ISIS as the nation pauses to remember September 11th.

Plus ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had his (bleep) hands in the air.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: He had his hands in the air, that account from two new witnesses, eyewitnesses, in a video taken just moments after Michael brown was killed by police.

Does the fact that the men speaking now are white change anything?

BERMAN: And that video showing Ray Rice punching the woman who is now his wife, the NFL commissioner says the league didn't have it. But a new report claims the NFL got it five months ago. Could this spell the end for Roger Goodell?

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira. Those stories and much more ahead @THISHOUR.

Thirteen years ago today, al Qaeda terrorists unleashed their hatred on America, killing almost 3,000 people as they perpetrated the worst ever terror attack on U.S. soil.

BERMAN: @THISHOUR, those men, women and children are being remembered as relatives of fallen give voice to each of their names in a ceremony happening now at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.

I have to say, the reading of the names I find to be one of the most important, poignant remembrances that exist.

PEREIRA: Very, very moving.

Earlier this morning at the Pentagon, President Obama spoke directly to the children, to the children whose parents were taken from them on that horrific day, children that he has seen grow up during his presidency.


OBAMA: America endures in the strength of your families who, through your anguish, leapt living. You've kept alive a love that no act of terror can ever extinguish.

You, your sons, and daughters are growing into extraordinary young men and women they knew you could be. By your shining examples, your families have turned this day into something that those who attacked us could never abide, and that is a tribute of hope over fear and love over hate.


BERMAN: So amazing to see the kids who were babies when they lost their parents, they're teenagers now.

The president and first lady participated in a moment of silence at the White House this morning, this as survivors gathered in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, too.

Now the response to al Qaeda helped define the presidency of George W. Bush and his legacy. Thirteen years later, the response to another terror group that has taken American lives is the focus of his successor.

PEREIRA: Yes. President Obama going before the nation, laying out his plan to degrade and destroy ISIS.


OBAMA: I've made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq.

This is a core principle of my presidency. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.


PEREIRA: So here is the president's strategy in a nutshell, expand air strikes on ISIS targets, including ones in Syria as well as in Iraq; send 475 more U.S. military advisers to Iraq in a non-combat role; and train other forces that are fighting ISIS, like moderate rebels within Syria.

BERMAN: He also wants to stop the flow of foreign fighters to the middle east and go after the money that funds ISIS and continue with humanitarian help for civilians whom ISIS has forced to flee for their lives.

Now, the speech is in the books, the plan is on the table. Now Congress gets involved maybe. The president has asked them to improve training and equipping so-called moderate Syrian rebels, and lawmakers are weighing in.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If he can convince me, and I'm not yet convinced that it isn't going to be just half measures and he isn't just reacting to polling numbers, I'll support him because many of the things he's saying doing now is what we have been arguing for the last three years.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Is there one thing you can say that would convince you that -- one thing he could say that would convince you?

MCCAIN: Air strikes in Syria begin tomorrow. I can give him targets. If he's worried about targets, I can give him targets in Syria -- excuse me. Air strikes in Syria would begin tomorrow. That would be, I think, a huge signal.


BERMAN: For the record, CNN has been told by officials that air strikes will not likely begin tomorrow in Syria.

More leaders from Congress expected to speak @THISHOUR including House Speaker John Boehner. We're following that. We will have that reaction live when it happens.

PEREIRA: But let's turn live right now to Capitol Hill. Senator Rob Portman joins us. He is a member of the homeland security and governmental affairs committee.

Senator Portman, thank you so much for joining us today.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Thanks for having me on, Michaela.

PEREIRA: After you heard the president's address, you released a statement. I want to read it for folks here.

You say, "The president has made clear the threat posed by ISIS and proposed steps to defeat it. Now we turn our focus to the execution of this plan."

So, evidently, you heard what you need to hear from the president last night. Has he got you convinced? Do you think your colleagues, fellow Republicans, will feel the same way, or do you think they have the same concerns as Senator John McCain, that these will only be half measures?

PORTMAN: I'll speak for myself. First, I do think the president laid out a general plan in a speech last night that made sense. And as we've seen with the president's speeches sometimes, it's all in the execution, and sometimes that's been lacking. So, like John McCain, I'm skeptical, but I'm hopeful that the president will show some resolve here and follow through on what he said.

Second, look, this is something a lot of us have been talking about for a long time, over the last couple years, in terms of arming folks in Syria to be able to go up against this ISIS threat and also with regard to the broader civil war there.

And second is a number of us were very concerned and said so at the time that we had pulled out of Iraq precipitously, and we had not left in place the intelligence and the trainers and the special ops to be able to deal with this kind of situation.

So, I think it's late, but I do think that when the president says he's ready to start doing what we've been talking about doing for some time that we ought to be support evidence and ensure he actually follows through on it.

BERMAN: You say you're skeptical, Senator. Is the issue just the follow-through or is there something not in this plan you think needs to be there. Some people have suggested the president should be willing to use U.S. special forces on the ground in Syria or in combat roles in Iraq.

PORTMAN: John, one of my concerns in the president's speeches is he seems so interested in taking things off the table rather than putting things on the table. And, again, last night he takes great pains to say what he's not going to do, in terms of combat troops.

I don't think it's necessary to put combat troops in at this point, but I do think it's something you want to keep your enemies guessing about. And, frankly, I think the president makes a mistake in doing that.

Second, he took great pains to take credit for bringing all of our troops out of Iraq last night, which is kind of ironic. The first part of the speech is about how great it was when he took all of our troops out when, in fact, that is the vacuum that was create that caused so much of our problems, in my view, including ISIL being able to move in with about 10,000 people at a time when, if we had the intelligence, we would have known about it. If we'd have had the special operators and the trainers, we would have been able to help the Iraqis be able to deal with that. We wouldn't be in the situation that we're in.

Same with funding the opposition that's more moderate, the Free Syrian Army in Syria.

So that's my concern. I just want to see some resolve. I want to be sure that the president knows that there are many of us here in Congress who do believe that this is a serious threat, and we're willing to help deal with that threat. But we need to be sure he's going to show leadership as well.

BERMAN: Senator, can I just play you one bit of sound from Senator John McCain talking about the idea of residual forces in Iraq that you just spoke of. Then, after we hear that, I want to ask you a question. Let's listen.


JAY CARNEY, FMR. WHITE HOUS PRESS SECRETARY: The alternative of leaving a massive, permanent massive U.S. force on the ground in Iraq, not for 10 years, not for 20 years, but in perpetuity, is simply not sustainable financially, and it's not consistent with what the American people think we should do.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC 360": Senator McCain --

MCCAIN: Again, Mr. Carney misstates the facts. We had it won, thanks to the surge. It was won. The victory was there. All we needed was a force behind to provide support, not to engage in combat, but to supply support, logistics, intelligence.

And, by the way, the Korean war we left troops behind; Bosnia, we left troops behind, not to fight, but be for a stabilizing force.


BERMAN: Now, Senator, obviously I want you to speak for yourself, not Senator John McCain. Your job is not to speak for Senator John McCain.

But one of the things he mentioned was the residual force, the forces left behind in Korea which was 50 years ago. The Korean war was 50 years ago.

So, if you were to leave troops in Iraq to keep the Sunnis and the Shias apart, to keep the Iraqi military consistently serving the Iraqi people, how long would you be willing to keep U.S. troops there to make sure that stays stable?

PORTMAN: First of all, I think there are lots of other examples. Let's look at Japan, one of our greatest allies, third biggest economy in the world, where we didn't keep troops there, but we had a presence there after that war to help them get back on their feet and ensure we weren't squandering all of our blood and treasure that we had sacrificed there, same with Germany certainly. So there are lots of examples of this.

And I think John McCain's point is exactly right. Had we had a presence there, we would have had leverage on Maliki to avoid the sort of purging of the Sunnis that occurred, particularly in the military.

And, second, we would have had trainers to ensure that the Iraqi forces were up to the task.

And then, finally, the intelligence part of this, I mean, not to be able to monitor what's going on in that part of the world after we'd lost so many of our best and brightest in that conflict, I have a military legislative assistant who was a captain in the Marine Corps in Iraq. And you can imagine how he feels about this. He lost members of his unit there, as did many Ohioans gave their lives there in Fallujah, Anbar Province.

And when the black flag of al-Qaeda was waved several months ago over those cities several months ago, we didn't do anything, and the vacuum that had been created, that shouldn't have happened in the first place.

Once the vacuum was created, we should have acted sooner. Now the president is finally coming forward and saying, I see the problem, let's do something about it. And I'm willing to be one of those who says, yes, we do need to do something about it, we do need to react, and I do believe the president has the authorization to act now with regard to Iraq.

I believe going into Syria he should come to Congress and seek a broader authorization, and specifically with regard to military helping to train Syrians to be able to take the fight to ISIS in Syria.

PEREIRA: Senator Rob Portman, we appreciate it. We especially appreciate your thoughts when today this kind of conversation takes on extra significance on this 13th anniversary of 9/11. Thank you for your time, sir.

PORTMAN: Thank you, Michaela. Thanks, John. Thanks for having me on.

BERMAN: Hunting down terrorists and denying them a safe haven, it sounds familiar, something that this country has been dealing with now for well over a decade.

Ahead @THISHOUR, the man who helped lead the 9/11 commission. He will talk about the fight ahead and what he heard last night.



OBAMA: I've made it clear we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country wherever they are. This is a core principle of my presidency. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven, and it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year. To use force against anyone who threatens America's core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.


PEREIRA: From no strategy to strategy, the president laid out his plans for tackling ISIS, distinguishing it from other U.S. Military operations over the years since 9/11, saying this is about air power and cooperation, not about American troops on the ground in combat.

BERMAN: I want to speak about the threat to the U.S. and its core interests that the president talked about there. We'll bring in former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, one of the co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, also chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress for decades. And Congressman, thank you very much for being with us. Let me just

ask you off the bat here, you've been in the middle of the battle against terror and terror analysis for years and years. What did you think of the speech and the plan? Is it enough?

LEE HAMILTON, FORMER INDIANA CONGRESSMAN: I think all of us have been waiting for a comprehensive strategy. The president began to lay that out yesterday. One component very much missing, from my standpoint at least, is that fundamentally our clash, our conflict with ISIS is a war on ideas. We must have not just a military strategy or economic strategy or financial or political, but we also have to mount a campaign to destroy the ideology. It is possible to destroy ideologies. We did it with Naziism, we did it with fascism. But it's not easy. It takes a long time and it takes an affirmative approach to appeal to the people who are very disaffected in this part of the world. That part of the strategy has to be spelled out for me. I haven't heard very much about it.

PEREIRA: Sir, we've heard a lot of people speaking the need for an international coalition. It strikes me your ideas of destroying the ideology would be best served if an international coalition participated in that, correct? If you had a group of nations agreeing on saying that this is something that we as a world need to combat.

HAMILTON: Absolutely. You're exactly right. It especially has to include countries from the Islamic world. The United States does not have the credibility with Islam, with the Muslims across the world, that we would like to have. Better by far, if this message were put forward by our allies in the Islamic world, and that's an essential part of it.

BERMAN: One of the things you assessed in the September 11 commission is when the threat to al Qaeda should have been known and was known here in the United States. Do you think that the White House now has correctly assessed the threat from ISIS to this country? The president basically indicating it's not a direct threat right now, but it could be.

HAMILTON: Look, ISIS is very new. We're still having trouble trying to figure out what to call them. None of us could name a leader of ISIS more than two or three weeks ago. The whole idea, the concept of ISIS has just arisen in the last few months. It is very easy -- very difficult, I should say, to assess that threat. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security say they're not a threat to the homeland of the United States at this time. They could become that if they're unchecked. We must not overestimate the threat. We must be realistic about it. Do they represent a threat? Is it a serious threat? Yes indeed. What does it take to meet that threat? Well, everybody turns immediately to military action. That's an important part of it. But keep in mind when you strike with an air power, which I favor at the moment, if you do that indiscriminately, you create a backlash that has to be dealt with. There has to be many components to this other than just the military side of it.

PEREIRA: I didn't want to lose this opportunity in this conversation with you without asking you briefly to comment on today, as the Chairman of the Commission, you co-chaired the 9/11 commission. We're on our 13th anniversary of 9/11, tell me what today means to you, sir.

HAMILTON: I didn't hear the question. Tell you what?

PERERIA: Tell us what today, the anniversary of 9/11, means to you.

HAMILTON: First of all, like all Americans, due to the tragedy of the day and where we were and the horrible, horrible experience, I think it's the most traumatic day probably in the history of the country. Every single adult living today knows exactly where he or she were when that event occurred. It has profoundly shaped their lives. It's given a different sense of their own personal security, a dangerous element to that. The country has made hundreds of changes in government, in the private sector and individual lives to increase security. It has been the focus of American foreign policy ever since that time. So it is a major turning event in the history of this country. And I think we have by and large had success, not perfect. We have not had a major attack like 9/11, destroying the lives of hundreds of millions of people. We have had some mistakes, the Boston Marathon and other incidents. A good record, not a perfect record.

BERMAN: Congressman, your efforts have helped in that success that has occurred over the last 13 years, so thank you for that and thank you for being with us today. Really appreciate it.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead at this hour, the NFL Commissioner under increasing fire as a new report claims the league got a copy five months ago of the video that shows Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee. Is this the end for Roger Goodell?



STEVE BISCIOTTI, BALTIMORE RAVENS OWNER: I was picturing her wailing on him and him smacking her and maybe her head was this far from the wall and with her inebriation, dropped. So why did I conclude all that? Because I wanted to, because I loved him, because he had a stellar record and the cops had already seen the video.


BERMAN: Very revealing, very honest. It gets to the issue of assumptions right there. That was the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, explaining why he assumed that the blow Ray Rice delivered to the woman, who is now his wife, wasn't as forceful as the video released this week shows it was, in fact was. Steve Bisciotti said he, quote, dropped the ball by not working harder to get his hands on that video. His comments come as the NFL is looking into a report that a league executive did get a copy of the video all the way back in April.

Why is that a problem? Well, Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the NFL was denied access repeatedly to the tape. He's saying he and other NFL executives only saw it for the first time this week just before suspending Rice indefinitely. The Ravens also cut Rice after seeing the video.

PEREIRA: The NFL says now former FBI director Robert Mueller, he is going to lead an independent inquiry into the Rice case. Here is Goodell yesterday.


ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: When we make a mistake, we're honest about it and we're open about it and say we're going to work to do better. We were a few weeks ago, that's when we improved our policies in this area. We have more work to do. We're going to keep listening and keep learning and making sure we're doing the right thing for all our fans.


PEREIRA: So much to talk about. With us today, Rachel Nichols, host of CNN's "UNGUARDED." Our legal analyst, Paul Callan. Both of you are here, both of you have been seeing this story dominate our headlines, dominate our coverage.

Rachel, talk to me a little bit more about this report by the AP. Because if this is true, gosh, this is damning for Goodell.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, "UNGUARDED": A bombshell, no question. Look, Roger Goodell has been on TV all week and in statements saying we absolutely did not see this video. And then "the Associated Press" has a reporter with a law enforcement official in their office by their telephone and listens to a voicemail that very clearly, according to the AP, has an electronic chain of custody that says, hey, this came from this particular number, which we know is from the NFL office. It's stamped with the number. It's stamped with the time and it's stamped with the date back in April. And the message the voice mail says, I got it. You're right. It's terrible. That also implies that the person who received it watched it --

PEREIRA: Saw the content.

NICHOLS: Right. So either the Associated Press is completely fabricating this story, which frankly I find it very hard to believe, I trust the Associated Press, or somebody in the NFL offices had and saw that tape. Now, we don't know if that person then went and showed it to Roger Goodell or any of the decision makers, but there's only two things that could have happened at that point. Either Roger Goodell is flat-outlying, and that's what this independent investigation may find, or it is gross, gross, gross negligence.

This is something that has been a topic of conversation in NFL circles for a while because Roger Goodell is the guy who has said to players over and over again in the Saints bounty scandal when certain members of the team said we didn't know bounties were going on, to players who might be taking banned substances, a shake or vitamin that they're not supposed to be taking. Roger Goodell is one of those who says ignorance is no excuse, and those players are punished.

I want to show you a few tweets real quickly so you can see how the NFL community is responding. This first one from Jonathan Vilma, one of the players disciplined in the bounty scandal, by the way. He says, "Tthe NFL hires an independent investigator, that's code for give us a minute to get our story straight. Can't backtrack anymore, huh?"

And this is another tweet, from Eric Weddle, a Pro Bowl player with the San Diego Chargers, he says, "As a husband, father and player, I'm embarrassed to be associated with the NFL right now." He put that out after the AP report.

BERMAN: Rachel, you cover sports, cover the league. Better than a 50/50 chance that he survives this?

NICHOLS: Yes, I do think so. And I know, I see Michaela's face with that.

PEREIRA: Interesting.

NOCHOLS I do think so, and you can talk more a little more about why. But I do think he will.

BERMAN: Let me ask Paul about this independent investigation. Because it doesn't just involve Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI. There are two owners also involved in the independent investigation.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It gets back to that phrase, it's all about the money. I was thinking, make the comparison to what happened with the Clippers when Donald Sterling got into trouble for his racist remarks. You have a fan base and players who were very sensitive to that, in particular the players. And what happened? He's out immediately. And we all said he was gonna be out immediately. Now you look at the NFL. There aren't any football players who are of the female persuasion.

PEREIRA: And the wives don't really have a voice.

CALLAN: They don't care because they're making money, the fan base is going to remain the same. What is being investigated? We've seen the tape. We know exactly what he did. We know that any sensible commissioner would have suspended him for at least a year instead of a slap on the wrist. So what are they going to disclose in an investigation?

NICHOLS: What's being investigated is what happened with this tape? Was there really someone at the NFL offices who had it and what did they do with it? So that's part of the investigation.


NICHOLS: The league's attitude towards domestic violence as a whole is something that I hope would be investigated.