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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Will U.S. Strike Syria?; Outbreak at Church; Measles Outbreak Linked to Megachurch; Union Wants Pats to Pay Hernandez; "Leading from Behind" Again?

Aired August 27, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: If you were thought you -- if you were hoping your life would not be affected by the Syrian war, it is already too late for that.

I'm John Berman, and this is THE LEAD.

The world lead, your 401(k) taking a hit over anticipation of a strike on Syria by the U.S. and its allies, the administration making clear Syria must be punished and U.S. forces are ready to make that happen at any minute.

The national lead, you don't see this much and that only makes it scarier, an outbreak of measles among followers of a Texas mega- church. Did their religious beliefs help the virus spread?

And the buried lead. One more second, and we could have lost another leader to an assassin's bullet. For the first time, we're hearing what the president really saw the moment a member of the Manson family tried to kill him.

Hi, everyone. I'm John Berman filling in for Jake Tapper today, who is off.

And we do begin with the money lead, the closing bell on Wall Street finally putting and end to a daylong Geronimo by the Dow Jones industrial average, and one of the major reasons has to do with the bloody war that America could be on the brink of joining with military force.


BERMAN: Staying with Syria in our world lead, the Obama administration sounding more hawk-like by the day. It's not waiting for U.N. inspectors to conclude whether Syrian forces killed 1,300 people last week with chemical weapons.

As Vice President Joe Biden told the American Legion said just moments ago, minds are already made up.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chemical weapons have been used. Everyone acknowledges their use. There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Syrian regime.


BERMAN: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney adds the President Obama is still deciding what form the U.S. response will take. The U.S. has four warships armed with cruise missiles in the region.

And in an interview with the BBC, Defense secretary Chuck Hagel says a strike could happen immediately.


QUESTION: But if the order comes, you're ready to go like that?

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're ready to go like that.


BERMAN: America's allies already circling the wagons as well.

British Prime Minister David Cameron recalling Parliament to debate action on Syria and French President Francois Hollande says his administration is -- quote -- "ready to punish those who used chemical weapons.

Want to talk about this with retired U.S. Army Major General and CNN analyst James "Spider" Marks and I'm joined here in Washington by Jeremy Bash. He was the chief of staff to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and also worked at the CIA as well.

I want to start with what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, Spider. he said that the U.S. is ready to act at any minute. The question is, ready to act with what, how and on what targets?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I tell you, John, I think what we're going to see initially is a strike. Limited is what it would be called because it's going against an array of targets that have been identified which belong to the Assad regime in terms of their ability and enables that regime to conduct its war- making capabilities and to deliver the chemical weapons.

Those are command-and-control facilities, intelligence facilities, barracks facilities, integrated air defense, even the navy. And I think it's important that we realize that those strikes could be initiated immediately, because those target folders, as they're called, have been in place and updated as a matter of routine.

The intelligence community does that routinely. So these targets are identified and it's just a matter of telling the combatant commander, which is the Sixth Fleet, and the Central Command in conjunction with the European Command to launch the strikes.

BERMAN: And the conventional wisdom has been -- and, Spider, I have heard you talking about this today -- that they would use Tomahawk cruise missiles. Jeremy, let me pose this question to you. It's never just Tomahawk cruise missiles that have to be part of the consideration. They have to consider more than that, I imagine. And beyond just the missiles, what's the strategic objective here?


I think there are three key strategic objectives to any military campaign, first to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, second to degrade his ability to make war against his own people, and, third and most importantly, to reestablish some of that deterrence that has slipped and to basically hold at risk those things that he values.

You mentioned the six -- the four warships in the Eastern Med. We have got Tomahawk cruise missiles on those ships as well as on submarines. We also have a lot more. We have got two carrier strike groups in the vicinity. The Nimitz is about five months into her cruise. She is in the Persian Gulf. She did a Bahrain port call earlier this month. But we have the USS Harry S. Truman with its carrier strike group that just transited the Suez, went down the Red Sea, and near was the bottom of the Red Seat the Port of Aden.

We probably will turn her around, put her back through the Suez Canal and put her back into the Eastern Med. She was at Cyprus earlier this month. She's probably going back there.

BERMAN: Even if we're not talking about manned strikes right now, you do give us the sense that we need to be prepared for the possibility for manned strikes at some point.

BASH: Assad could escalate.

And our military commanders are going to want to give the president maximum flexibility. This will likely be limited and surgical in terms of the scope and the objectives. However, if Assad should escalate -- and we should talk about how he might do that -- if he should escalate, we're going to want to have other strikes sorties available. We may want to have jets come out of Incirlik.

We may want to have intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, eyes on the ground, either drones or satellites or other U-2 airplanes flying high above those integrated air defenses to look down and give the president and the commanders a bomb damage assessment, help them understand what's happening on the battlefield and maybe even use jamming and cyber technologies to degrade Assad's capabilities.

BERMAN: Let me go to Spider with the question you posed here.

How might Syria respond here? And is it just the Syrian response that the U.S. has to be worried about right now, Spider?

MARKS: Well, it's not just the Syrian response.

Certainly, Russia has a big stake in the outcome and certainly how this progresses over the course of next couple of days and a long-term investment in terms of their relationship with Syria. My concern is that a very surgical strike against these very precise targets will punish Assad.

But I don't know how we're going to measure the success of that punishment. Clearly, what the administration is trying to do is decouple these strikes from Syria's ongoing civil war. I don't know how they do that. Ultimately, the challenge is, do you want Assad in charge down the road in Syria, or do you want al Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria -- and they have populated the insurgent groups -- that can get their hands on these chemical munitions?

That's a very, very tough decision this administration has to make. And they need to make that as soon as possible.

BERMAN: Jeremy, I suppose Assad could take it out on his own people, he could take it out on the rebels, he could take it out on his neighbors. Turkey is right there.

And I suppose the U.S. also has to be concerned about Iran and what Iran's affiliates, say Hezbollah in Lebanon, might do.

BASH: I think that's right. I think we're going to be looking in the early hours and days of this about -- look at what Assad does internally, what he does against Israel, what he does against Jordan, what he does against Turkey.

And they are obviously -- if there is a direct attack on a NATO ally, NATO may be more involved than they have been to date. I think you're right to point out that Iran has a lot surrogates and proxies in the region. Their own internal intelligence services, the MOIS, could be engaged. The Quds Force, their highly capable paramilitary capability could be engaged, as well as Hezbollah, which said they will fight to defend Syria to the death.

BERMAN: Spider, I want to ask you, a commonsense question that a lot of people have about asking me. The U.S. has been talking about the strike for days. Syria has to be listening. Assad has to be listening to this.

Every day that the United States waits here, doesn't that give Assad a chance to prepare?

MARKS: Oh, it does.

What it really tells you is the limits of American influence in that part of the world very much degraded over the course of years. What we say is not as significant in terms of what we do and the preparations we take and the very discernible actions that we have taken.

What's important is that what we have given Assad is a hint in terms of what we're trying to do. And we have galvanized those forces. We have marshaled them. They're available. He certainly can read that. So that is a demonstration of our capabilities.

It is his ability to read our administration's desire to execute the tasks that are necessary. It really gets back to who's going to blink first. So certainly he does have the ability to get ready, but clearly the United States has good intelligence. It will continue to improve those target folders so they can go very precisely against the necessary capabilities that Assad has and has demonstrated that he's going to use.

BERMAN: Right now, it's escalating rhetoric. In the coming days, it could be more than that.

Spider Marks, Jeremy Bash, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Coming up, it's a ministry that preached prayer over prescriptions, but that may be changing now that followers are stricken with a highly contagious virus.

And you know those little pictures that you see on texts and Twitter? Some people say they're whiter than the crowd at a Jimmy Buffett concert and now they're doing something about it.


BERMAN: Welcome back to our national lead, everyone.

You hear about an outbreak of measles so rarely, you might think it's one of those diseases we have eradicated, like scurvy. But it's still very much out there and it is highly contagious, especially to the unvaccinated.

At least 16 people linked to a mega-church northwest of Dallas have now contracted measles. Health officials say it began when a visitor brought the virus back from overseas. The ministry for the Eagle Mountain International Church is led by televangelist Kenneth Copeland, whose sermons, like this one you're about to see in June, have sounded pretty anti-vaccine in the past.


KENNETH COPELAND, TELEVANGELIST: Immunity, vaccination, spiritual- induced immunity from sickness and disease.



BERMAN: Now the church may have had an awakening of sorts since then. Copeland's daughter, a senior pastor at Eagle Mountain, had this to say to the congregation a few Sundays ago, quoting a medical adviser to the ministry.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I believe it's wrong to be against vaccinations. The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have family history of autism and with bundling too many of at one time. There is no indication of the autism connection with vaccinations in older children.


BERMAN: As we said, the church has appeared to change its message over time. The church in fact began hosting its very own vaccination clinics.

I want to bring now in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, here.

Elizabeth, you know, one of the things we hear out of this story is that a number of the victims, the people who have been stricken with measles, were not vaccinated. This seems to be a story we're hearing again and again.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, it is. Because there was this message put out there years ago that somehow there was a link between vaccines and autism, but study after study after study has been done, John, and there is no such thing as a link between vaccines and autism.

So, one of the big issues here is that if you want to believe this, this untruth, and not vaccinate your own child, you're taking that risk for your own child and some people might say all right -- well, you're allowed to do that and your child might die. But you're also taking a risk that other children might die, because your unvaccinated child is going to play with other children and those children could die.

So, many people would say, the decision not to vaccinate is just downright unselfish -- selfish, rather.

BERMAN: It does -- the decision that does go beyond your own family.

So, we're talking about measles here, Elizabeth. And, frankly, you don't hear about people getting measles that often. How dangerous is it if you really do come down with it?

COHEN: You know, it's very dangerous. If you look at a thousand people who had measles, one or two of those 1,000 are going to die from measles. So, that's a pretty high mortality rate.

And so, back when there wasn't routine vaccination, more than 2 million people a year would die from the measles. So this is a very deadly disease.

BERMAN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks.

BERMAN: Ahead on THE LEAD: he saw a bright red dress, a weathered face and a gun bigger than the hand holding it pointing right at him. For the first time ever, we're hearing a sitting president testify about his own assassination attempt. And in the sports lead, the NFL players union stands up for Aaron Hernandez as he sits behind bars. Will the Patriots have to cut a check to the accused player?

Stay with us.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone.

The sports lead, he dipped his toe into the world of shock jockery. Now, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has fond himself in the middle of a tabloid-grabbing, name-calling war. A day after Christie called a "Daily News" beat reporter a, quote, "complete idiot" on New York sports radio show, the "Daily News" fired back with its own gut shot, a headline reading "Who you calling idiot, fatso!"

Christie has not responded, although, going on past performance, we are sure he will take the high road here.

So, it represents all players, even murder suspects. The NFL Players Union has filed a grievance against the New England Patriots for $82,000 in bonuses that it says is owed to former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez.

The union released a statement saying basically it's the principle here. They say, "We're not tone deaf to what the allegations are in this case, but for the benefit of all players, there are important precedents here we must protect", end quote.

The Patriots, of course, released Hernandez right before he was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, who was found shot to death in June. His arraignment is scheduled for September 6th, two days before the Patriots open their season.

So, why win when you could lose all the way to the bank? According to "Forbes", the Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball, the worst, are on pace to be the most profitable team in baseball history. The Astros reportedly on pace to make $99 million in operating income, that is seven times their current payroll of just $13 million. That's nearly as much as the past six world champions combined, that's in operating income. Sixty-four Major Leaguers make more than the entire Astros payroll, including one, Jason Bay, who isn't even on the team right now.

The Astros responded saying it includes significant inaccuracies relating to the team finances but Astros did not release their actual numbers.

The money lead now. They are icons of a flamingo dancer, an octopus, a dog's footprints and, yes, even a smiling turd. But thousands of people want to know why with so many different emojis to choose on your iPhone, there are only two resembling people of color?

The petition was launched on the to get more minority representation in Apple's emoji selections. Emojis are those cartoon- like icons use to spruce up a text message -- the high tech upgrade to the old days of using a colon and a half parenthesis to make a smiley face. The petition has already 2,000 signatures, although Apple did update its emojis software to include same sex couples. No word on whether the company will respond to this latest request.

So, we all have that drawer filled with expired IDs, old, outdated gadgets. Well, you may want to reach in the drawer past the pens that don't work and grab your old iPhones because reports say that Apple plans to launch an iPhone trade-in program that would allow users to swap their old iPhone for an upgraded version. And this comes just in time for the rumored September 10th of the new iPhone. Tech crunch says trading in an iPhone 4 or 4s could be fetch up to $200. A used iPhone 5 could be worth 250 bucks.

Oh, the perils of the last paragraph of a "New Yorker" piece. It was supposed to be a different definition of American leadership but that one phrase, "leading from behind," has plagued the president's foreign policy. The question is, is he doing it again in Syria?

Miley Cyrus, she shook up the world with her rump shaking at the VMAs, but twerking goes back when Hannah Montana was a toddler. We'll tell you how it all started.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman.

The politics lead -- he let France take the first strikes against Libya and he was accused of leading from behind on foreign policy. And now, with the U.S. and its allies on the brink of action in Syria, how will President Obama play it?

In national news -- he saw little kids ling up for the bus this morning, knowing his son would never stand among them again. One of the Newtown dads joins us on what should have been the beginning of a new school year for his precious son.

And the pop lead -- if you're like a lot of people, you didn't even realize twerking was a thing until Miley Cyrus burned it into rods and cones of your retinas. I hate to tell you, you're a little behind on this dance craze.


BERMAN: We're going to have to wait on the twerking, because, first, the politics lead. We've heard Republicans criticize President Obama before for leading from behind. But Senator John McCain today says that President Obama is actually someone culpable for last week's horrific attacks outside of Damascus in Syria.

McCain told "The Daily Beast's" Josh Rogan, "Assad was able to use chemical weapons before and there was no response. And so, why not do it again? This should surprise no one. They viewed that not as a red line but as a green light and they acted accordingly."

Joining me now to talk about this were the co-hosts of CNN's "CROSSFIRE", S.E. Cupp and Van Jones.

S.E., you were nodding your head up and down as I was reading that statement from John McCain.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": Yes, look, I want to commend the president for finally following through on our red line threats. That's important. That's important for our credibility.

But our strategy on Libya has been confused from the beginning. And this is one latest example of why we're confused. We're going in with limited air strikes for what purpose? Our own State Department and Pentagon have said it's not to change the course of the war.

We've done this. We've done this in Libya. We went in, rattled around for a few days to urge Gadhafi's ouster and then what? Libya was neither more safe, the region was not more stable, al Qaeda had not been eradicated, and we were the victims of terror attacks just a short time later.

BERMAN: There's a lot of head nodding here. Van, you're nodding no.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": That would be head shaking. So, like the twerking, shaking of my head, twerking no, no.

CUPP: Twerking.


JONES: Well, first of all, we have to be clear it's a time for to us come together. This was an absolute atrocity what happened and the president is taking strong action. And my problem is you have these people now who want to do a Monday quarterbacking thing. How many wars should these people want us to get into in the Middle East?