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The Lead with Jake Tapper

What To Do About The Syrian Crisis At This Critical Juncture?; Start Of School Year Brings Up Painful Memories For Some Newtown Parents; President Glimpsed The Gun; Watergate Garage Coming Down; Word Of The Day: Twerk

Aired August 27, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: 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? They're attacking him for not being more aggressive on Syria and Iran and Libya and Yemen. If it were up to his critics, we would be in land wars in four or five different countries right now.

This president has now said there is a red line. It was not clear before whether the line was crossed. It's crossed, he's moving forward. I think we need to stand behind this president and send a clear message to Assad that this type behavior is not acceptable. BERMAN: But is John McCain off base?

JONES: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Do you think his statements to the president over the last year --

JONES: I am shocked to hear John McCain blaming our president for the actions of a madman and a mass murder against his own people. It is despicable for John McCain to have said that; he owes an apology to this president. This president is not responsible for the murder of the people of Syria. This president said very clearly, he said it five times, if we are sure that chemical attacks have been used, we're going to act. He is now acting.

But I don't think John McCain or anybody in the Republican Party should be blaming this president for the actions of a madman.

S.E. CUPP, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: I don't even recognize this country anymore. I feel like under this administration, America has neither might nor a moral compass. We hide behind drone strikes and classified documents. We should absolutely intervene to stop the genocide of more than 100,000 people. We should absolutely intervene to stop al Qaeda and Islamic extremism from jihadizing (ph) in yet another conflict. It is absolutely our obligation, and instead --

JONES: Do I live in the United States of Amnesia?

CUPP: -- we do the bare minimum to save face and pat ourselves on the back for our civility and our diplomacy. I think it's pathetic.

JONES: Well, first of all, I feel like I live in the United States of Amnesia. Did the last ten years not just happen? What are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to go in, start another land war in the Middle East? Now people are saying decapitate the regime?

If you kill Assad right now, wonderful. You have a huge power vacuum. Who is going to fill it? Listen, people have a nostalgia for 1953 when the U.S. could just sort of thump out dictators like in Iran. This is not the world we live in. It is a tough neighborhood over there, and the idea that we should have a more bloodthirsty and reckless president, I reject.

CUPP: What about that red line, Van? It's been 12 months since President Obama laid down that red line. And you know, it's pretty interesting today to hear the vice president speak. Vice President Joe Biden said he has no doubt that Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons last week. But the vice president also said the United States is convinced that he used chemical weapons before. So hasn't that red line been crossed already?

JONES: Well, listen, I don't think that we need to rush into war or rush into --

CUPP: It's two years into the conflict, Van. A hundred thousand people are dead. JONES: (INAUDIBLE) wars do you want? Answer the question. How many land wars do you want?

CUPP: Well, let's be clear: I'm never advocated to set boots on the ground in Syria today. What I've advocated for - and it's not Monday morning quarterbacking because I've been on the story for two years -- because right at the onset when we knew that Bashar al Assad was killing his own people, Bashar al Assad possessed chemical weapons, Bashar al Assad had pipelines to Russia and Iran and Bashar al Assad had a pipeline to hezbollah, I said right away this is going to be a nightmare. Go in now, go in early, make it decisive, and then get the hell the out. Now, here we are two years later.

JONES: That's the problem. It's easy to rush in. It's hard to get out. And I am glad we have a president who understands -- it's very easy. What we have with the other party is always a cheerleading for a cakewalk into quick sand. It's easy to go in by yourself. Then you own the problem and you can't get back out. This president, whether you're talking about Iran, where he built a global coalition including China and Russia to isolate them, whether you're talking about Libya where he's built a global coalition -- he's not leading from behind. He's building teams and he' moving forward.

CUPP: These coalitions -- there is a fetishization of building coalitions.


CUPP: You're supposed to - you're supposed to have a stated objective and build a coalition around it. This is the beach house philosophy. It' s what I call the beach house philosophy. You want to buy a beach house, you can't afford it, right? You don't want to be responsible for it. So you get a bunch of your friends to go in and buy the beach house with you so that when someone breaks the lamp, you can say not it. It's not my fault. But there should be an objective more long- term than avoiding responsibility.

BERMAN: Van, to use the beach house analogy here, isn't the U.S. the last one to buy into this beach house at this point? Because Britain and France have been talking about action in Syria for some time.

JONES: I think we all know that when the United States moves in, British and France, good allies, love them. But when we move in, it's a game changer. And we're going to move in. And I personally hope that the country will come together. We need to do two things. One, we get these air strikes done. We got to make sure he knows he cannot keep doing this. And then we need to have a real discussion in the country and in the Congress about where we go forward. And we should not rush into another land war in the Middle East.

CUPP: Well, I agree we need to have this conversation. I think Congress should be involved in this conversation. I think the president should embark on a public campaign to educate the American people about why intervention in Syria now is important. We might not agree with him --

JONES: Do you want boots on the ground, in theory?

CUPP: At this point, absolutely not. What we should have done was two years ago go in --

BERMAN: But now? But what now?

CUPP: -- when the rebels numbered in the dozens and not the thousands.

BERMAN: What now?

CUPP: Now we need a long-term strategy in that region and other regions like the Maghreb and the remaining Middle East to eradicate al Qaeda. And we should be saying to the world, wherever al Qaeda goes, we will be there. I don't care about the politics of Syria or nation building or toppling a regime. What I care about is making sure that we keep al Qaeda contained.

BERMAN: But you agree on something, which would remarkable, folks, for a second. But do you both agree that your plans, both plans as they are, start soon with some kind of air strike?

JONES: I think two things. Number one, we should have air strikes this week. You cannot leave now this regime thinking it can just do these chemical attacks whenever they want to --

CUPP: I agree with that.

JONES: So, we agree on that. Now, that's good.

CUPP: Keep going.

JONES: And then number two, I think before we do anything else, especially if it's going to involve any sort of flyovers, etc., we need to have a discussion in the U.S. Congress. We do not need to go rushing into another land war in the Middle East.

CUPP: Agree with that.

BERMAN: And the president on this, his legacy here as people look back and see what's he has done in the Middle East and in particular in Syria, how will it look?

JONES: Hey, listen, this president -- again, I feel like I live in the United States of Amnesia. The last administration wanted to rush into these land wars and they left a huge mess. This president spent the past five years cleaning up those messes and trying to contain the rest. And I think he's going to be looked back on as a true leader. When you have Russia, the United States and China all standing with this president against Iran, that is a true -- that's not leading from behind. That's building a team and leading from the front.

CUPP: People have spent six years trying to figure out what the Obama doctrine is. They will spend another 60 (ph) because it is confused.

BERMAN: Well, I cannot wait to see what you have to say about this when the show starts in just a few weeks. S.E. Cupp, Van Jones, great to have you here. We really appreciate it.

Do not forget, CROSSFIRE returns September 16th at 6:30. We will all make sure to watch. I personally can't wait.

Coming up, it's a day when so many children throughout the country went back to school. But for Newtown parents, like the father we're about to talk to, it's a reminder of just how much they lost.

And it is for another reason Americans remember the name Deep Throat.


BERMAN: The spot where Watergate secrets were passed, it's about to be no more. That the best tease ever.



BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman, filling in for Jake Tapper today.

In other national news, for families across the country, today is the first day of school. It's usually such a happy time for parents, helping kids pick out their clothes, packing up their lunches, putting them on the school bus to be with their friends.

But it's a different kind of feeling today in Newtown, Connecticut, especially for the parents who lost a child last year at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The school is set to be demolished and replaced, and children are attending another elementary school in a neighboring town. But only eight months after Newtown, can back to school ever mean back to normal?


BERMAN: Joining me is Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old son Daniel was one of the 20 children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. He's now a member of the Sandy Hook Promise, which is a nonprofit group set up to provide help to the community in the aftermath of that tragedy.

Mark, thank you so much for joining us. It was the first day of school for your daughter Natalie, age 11. She's going into the sixth grade. And son James, 13, now going into the eighth grade. How was this morning for you and your children?

MARK BARDEN, FATHER OF SANDY HOOK SHOOTING VICTIM: You know, I had done a pretty good job of kind of blocking this and, you know, not really thinking about it or processing it until we got both James and Natalie on to their respective school buses, and then Jackie and I got back into our quiet house and it hit us like a ton of bricks. We just literally came apart at the seams, and we just had to get out of the house. So we thought we'd go for a walk, and then we didn't want to be in our neighborhood so we went somewhere else. And the drive there, we saw lots of first graders and kindergarteners assembling for their bus and it was extremely difficult for us.

For James and Natalie, we were able to hold it together long enough for them to get on their buses, and I think they did very well. They're excited to go back to school. They love school anyway. If they had any concerns about security or anything like that, they didn't express them to us. And to be honest, I wouldn't expect them to because they also are very protective of us.

BERMAN: Protective of you. The kids are so resilient. Had to be such an emotional morning for you and your family.

Now, you know, it's been a long summer. Now kids are going back to school across the country. And there was an incident last week in Georgia that we all watched on TV; a young gunman came into the school right there firing at police. He was eventually talked into surrendering by an employee working in the front office there. What was that like for you, watching this all unfold?

BARDEN: It was horrifyingly familiar. A troubled 20-year-old goes into an elementary school with a semi-automatic assault rifle, armed to the teeth with, I don't know, 500 rounds of ammunition. He was prepared to do a lot of damage.

I felt -- my wife and I both felt deeply for those parents. I understand they had a three-hour wait to see if everyone was okay. And we've done that wait. We felt so badly for those children who had to go through that trauma, and we'll still have to deal with that for some time.

And the actions of Antoinette Tuff are just heroic. If we can identify these kids that are in trouble and that are under the radar, that's what my little Daniel was known for doing. He would talk to the kid sitting alone. He would notice somebody that needed a pat on the back or a little comfort. I think we need to do that in our schools, in our society; we need to find those people that are sitting alone. And they might not need help, they might be in desperate need of help. Until you find out, you know, until you go take that step, you don't know.

BERMAN: Mark Barden, you have a giant heart. We're glad that your two kids made it to school safely today and that they were smiling, and we hope the best for you at home as well. Mark Barden, thanks so much.

BARDEN: Thank you.


BERMAN: I'm joined now by Wolf Blitzer with a preview what's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf, let me say hearing Mark Barden, it breaks your heart but it also gives you hope when you hear him talk about his lost son. I know you feel the same way. You have a lot coming up on your show today about Syria. You've been talking to fascinating people with divergent views on the subject.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Even among Republicans, for example, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, the new co-host of "CROSSFIRE." He basically says it's too late. The U.S. should not get involved at all. John McCain, who I've also spoken with today, takes a very different stance. Cruise missile attack is not going to be enough. The U.S. has to do a much more robust military operation if it wants to achieve anything in Syria. You get the whole range, the whole spectrum not only among Republicans but Democrats as well.

BERMAN: And scathing words really from Senator McCain on President Obama suggesting in some way he's culpable.

BLITZER: He said in a letter back on August 19th it was basically a green light for Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian leader, to use poison gas two days later on August 21st. That's a pretty tough allegation. I discuss this at length with him in the course of this interview, which we're going to air in the next hour.

BERMAN: All right, can't wait to see it. "THE SITUATION ROOM" coming up in just a few minutes, but first coming up, the "Buried Lead," it's the only time in history that a sitting president has been called to testify at the trial of his attempted assassin. The video was under lock and key until now. See for yourself how President Ford relived his haunting ordeal.


BERMAN: The "Buried Lead." That's what we call stories not getting a whole lot of attention. It's been more than 35 years since a woman, a follower of Charles Manson, calmly walked into a crowd armed with a Colt .45 pistol and pointed that weapon within two feet of then President Gerald Ford. Now for the first time we're hearing the former president recall what happened in his own words. It is absolutely fascinating and THE LEAD's Erin McPike is here with the story.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a non-profit, John, in Sacramento filed a motion with the federal court and got this videotape released just yesterday because this non-profit thought it was such an important moment in history that all Americans should see.


MCPIKE (voice-over): September 1975, Sacramento, 26-year-old Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme pointed a Colt .45 pistol at then President Gerald Ford. The young woman pictured here earned her nickname as a member of Charles Manson's cult. But Fromme had a genteel past. She danced at the White House as a child and took drama classes with the late Phil Hartman as a teen. She wrote a book about what drove her to join a cult.

JESS BRAVIN, AUTHOR, "SQUEAKY": Whenever she talks about anything Manson related, it's like talking about someone from another planet.

MCPIKE: According to Bravin, she felt guilty that other members of the Manson family went to prison for life and wanted to prove herself to them. That led her to become the first person in American history sentenced with the crime of attempting to assassinate a U.S. president. In a decade's old video released to the public for the first time Monday, the 38th president of the United States remembers the moment he first saw her. It was the first time a sitting president ever gave oral testimony in a criminal trial.

FORMER PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: I noticed a person in the second or third row in a brightly colored dress who appeared to want to either shake hands or speak or at least wanted to get closer to me. I stopped because I was gradually moving toward the state capitol and that was my first impression of a person who had a dress on, I of course didn't know who it was.

MCPIKE: Ford said there was a gun two feet away from him.

FORD: As I stopped, I saw a hand come through the crowd in the first row and that was the only active gesture that I saw, but in the hand was a weapon.

MCPIKE: Fromme didn't load a bullet into the chamber and the Secret Service tackled her before she could fire a shot. Ford didn't remember whether the gun clicked or not and that's why the defense called him to testify.

BRAVIN: The whole purpose of that testimony was to cast doubt on the prosecution theory that she went there to kill him.

MCPIKE: In a prison interview she dodged the ultimate question.

SQUEAKY FROMME, CONVICTED IN FORD ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT: How do you take a shot without a shell in the chamber?

MCPIKE: Ford lived another 31 years passing just after Christmas in 2006. He was 93. Three years later, Squeaky Fromme was released from federal prison. She's now 64 and living in upstate New York.


MCPIKE: Now that testimony was at the old executive office building, which is right next door to the White House, Squeaky Fromme, of course, was not allowed to be there.

BERMAN: She's 64, living in upstate New York. Thanks so much, Erin. Really appreciate it.

Other news from the '70s, soon the parking garage pivotal to the Watergate scandal will now be coming down faster than the Nixon administration.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me what you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tell me what you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: That scene from the 1976 movie "All The President's Men" shows the secret meetings between Deep Throat a.k.a. Mark Felt and Bob Woodward, which took place in the Arlington, Virginia garage. Plans are in the works to tear down the garage to make place for new office buildings. Developers plan to put a plaque memorializing its place in history.

And Miley Cyrus may be getting all the credit or the blame for putting these moves on the map, but did you know her attention seeking twerk- a-thon has been 20 years in the making? We'll look at what really started this dance craze coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Pop Culture Lead, it was the booty shake that shook the world to the core. While Miley Cyrus and her raunchy VMA performance may have helped her sell a few more records, it also brought a modern form of dirty dancing into the homes and out of the mouths of people everywhere.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twerking with Robin Thicke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite a lot of twerking.


BERMAN: So thanks to the graceful, artistic, interpretations of Miss Cyrus, the word twerking was actually one of today's top internet searches. It turns out that the dance and the word used to describe it has been around for two decades, 20 years, around the time that Miley Cyrus was a twerking twinkle in her father's eye. It all started with the music scene in New Orleans and the founding artist D.J. Jubilee. He released a dance song called "Jubilee" all back in 1993, which feature this now world famous cold action.

The twerk craze took off in New Orleans and then ten years later Atlanta rappers hopped on the bandwagon and they used the word in their song "Get Low," which shot to number two on the charts in 2003. It's been used in countless other hip hop songs ever since. Miley Cyrus did not become the poster child for this until this year when she posted videos of herself doing the dance. Because of this, we can't even give her points for originality.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm John Berman. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."