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Rescue Mission in Algeria; Confusion over Football Star's Possible Hoax; Armstrong Stripped of Olympic Medal

Aired January 17, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Carol, thanks very much. We've got some big news to bring to you. An actual dramatic turn of events in the hostage crisis in Algeria where Americans are among those being held right now. We've got reports that an Algerian military operation is currently underway to free the hostages from a remote gas plant located in the eastern part of that country. The Algerian state news agency says four hostages have been freed, two British, a French citizen and a citizen from Kenya.

But minutes ago, the Irish government added to that saying one of its nationals have been freed which brings the total to five being freed. We are getting very sketchy reporting out of this area that some of the hostages who were taken may have, in fact, been killed.

Militants seen here in this web video seized dozens of hostages yesterday, including the Americans, the British, the Japanese and the Algerians among them, as well. News reports in the region say they are demanding an end to the French military operation in Mali. That's neighboring Mali and also safe passage to neighboring Libya.

It is a very complex situation playing out in Northern Africa. Our Barbara Starr is covering the developments at the Pentagon. So, without getting into the intricacies of Mali, give us an idea right now of how much we know about what is happening in Algeria, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, U.S. officials have told us for the last two days now the information is sketchy, as you just said.

Right now, the Algerian operation, it is believed, continues to be under way. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he believes there are as many as seven American hostages involved in this incident.

It looks like the U.S. government, the British, the Japanese, the Norwegians, basically, are letting this Algerian operation play out. You have to, you know, really remember, this is sovereign Algerian territory. It's something the Algerians take very seriously.

They haven't asked, as far as we know, for any U.S. help at this point. They want to handle it. This is really a classic hostage situation. The Algerians have moved in, surrounded it, nobody in, nobody out, and they are going to make the attempt to deal with it. That's the basic U.S. understanding.

But, you know, beyond that, it's very difficult to understand what's going on. One thing that has happened is the U.S. has sent a satellite over the region. It has some satellite imagery of this area and, we have just been told by a U.S. official, an unarmed predator drone flying at a much lower altitude getting much better fidelity, detail on the site also has flown over the British Petroleum site trying to get a lay down of what it all looks like.


BANFIELD: OK, so, forgive me if I'm repeating something that you've already said. I was doing a little bit of work while you were doing your reporting, specifically on the drone information.

A lot of this information is coming in as we're speaking, Barbara, but unarmed, very key that you said unarmed. Clearly, because you said, this is sovereign territory.

Do we know that there may not be any other drones that aren't unarmed, are, in fact, armed?

STARR: Well, you know, this is really the key question. You know, the Algerians, the U.S. view is that the Algerians would have to grant permission for U.S. troops, U.S. military force, to go in there because the U.S. has a close can relationship with the Algerian government and with the Algerian military.

They are not going to be able to just bust down the door, so that's not likely what's going to happen.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't some U.S. special forces in the region, on stand by, ready to go if the Algerians want them and President Obama were to order them in.

We already know there are Marines nearby in Spain and Italy. They are not particularly geared to hostage rescue, but they are trained in anti-terrorism operations. If it came down to it, they could go.

There is also this special forces unit for Africa, called the commanders in-extremis force. It's on stand by. It can move very, very quickly into the area.

But this still at the moment, day 2, by all accounts, this appears to be an Algerian-led operation, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: That's certainly the truth, anyway for now. Barbara, keep us updated on how things change as they continue to come into your office.

Barbara Starr, reporting for us live from the Pentagon.

There's the other angle of this that Barbara was alluding to and that is the sovereign territory. A senior U.S. official in Washington, a source for CNN, has been working feverishly -- that's a quote, "working feverishly" -- to confirm reports of an Algerian military operation and then also to determine the fate of the hostages.

Our Jill Dougherty, of course, working the angle from the State Department. Jill, it's very specific when you say "sovereign territory" and that the Algerians are taking the lead on this.

What is our relationship with Algeria, given what we went through with Libya next door? How is this playing out?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a very complex area, isn't it? Because Libya to the east, you know, Algeria in the center, Mali in the southwest, very, very complex and very volatile because of all of these groups that are allied with al Qaeda.

But the United States does have a good relationship with Algeria. In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was there in October and she was discussing, at the point, the potential for an operation in Mali, the situation in Mali, which, as we all know, has become very volatile and you have the French who have gone in there which reportedly is why this operation, this kidnapping operation, was taking place.

The kidnappers said they were doing that in solidarity for their people in Mali. They were angry, they said, that Algeria was allowing French planes to overfly Algeria and go into Mali to carry out that operation.

Now, whether that's true, I mean, it could be or it could also have been, as some U.S. officials are indicating, kind of a preplanned operation. After all, we understand that these people came in from Libya into Algeria.

And the group, by the way, as we also know, is led by a man who's notorious for kidnapping. He's made millions of dollars, kidnapping, ransoms, extortion, et cetera.

BANFIELD: And I just want to repeat that, that news that Barbara had brought to us just before I came to you, Jill Dougherty, and that is that a U.S. drone, an unmanned drone, has flown over this BP airfield, hopefully collecting intelligence information and certainly the fate of the hostages as we await news on that.

So, keep us posted at the State Department, as well. Thank you, Jill. Jill Dougherty for us live.

And, of course, we're going to bring you all of the latest news as it comes into us. We're monitoring this very, very carefully.


BANFIELD: An amazing athlete with an historic back story to match, renowned for his skills and adored for his courage and now shamed by a ruinous lie. If you're expecting a story about Lance Armstrong, you have not been on the Internet today because the Web is on fire with this man. This is Notre Dame star linebacker, Manti Te'o.

Sure, he can tackle like a mad man, but Te'o's legend arose not so much because of the devotion to the sport but maybe to his family and, particularly, his devotion to his girlfriend, a girlfriend who suffered from leukemia and who died just last September, just hours after the death of his grandmother and the bottom line is we don't think there was a girlfriend and we don't think there ever was a girlfriend.

It's a very strange story. Notre Dame says that Te'o was the victim of, quote, "an elaborate, sophisticated hoax."

But that's not the end of the story either because some people are saying, maybe not so much.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is effectively up to his shoulder pads in intrigue today in South Bend, Indiana. First of all, how did this hoax come to light? Give me basically the premiere on all of this.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it started to unravel with got an anonymous tip and they started to look into this whole story and, piece by piece, it started to unravel in their investigation. All of the things that people had been led to believe about this person weren't able to be verified.

So, they figured out that it was a hoax. They pushed the piece out last night online and it has created a firestorm. There are lots of questions to be answered here, Ashleigh.

One thing we do know, though, at this point, folks here at the University of Notre Dame are standing by their star football player.


ROWLANDS: University of Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick fought back tears while discussing Manti Te'o at a late news conference. He's convinced Te'o was the victim of an elaborate hoax.

JACK SWARBRICK, ATHLETIC DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: That the single most trusting human being I've ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life.

ROWLANDS: During the football season, the story of the star linebacker enduring the death of his girlfriend and grandmother on the same day transcended sports.

People from around the world were touched with how in love Te'o seemed to be with Lennay Kekua, the girl he called his soul mate.

MANTI TE'O , NOTRE DAME LINEBACKR: I cried. You know, I never felt that way before. This is six hours ago I just out my grandma passed away and you take, you know, the love of my life.

ROWLANDS: On the day of his girlfriend's supposed funeral, Te'o played football. After the game, Notre Dame's football coach, Brian Kelly, actually awarded the game ball to the girl we now know does not exist.

BRIAN KELLY, COACH, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: I award this game ball to Lennay and I'd like Manti to have this ball to take back to Hawaii.

ROWLANDS: Te'o told his coaches about the hoax on December 26th. Notre Dame kept the truth under wraps despite the fact that the media was still telling the story leading up to the national championship game.

SWARBRICK: From the outset, we established a parameter that this was Manti's story to tell. We wanted to know what would be told and, at the appropriate time, when it would be told, but that it was his to tell.

ROWLANDS: Many people, including one of the reporters that broke the hoax story, doesn't think Te'o 's story adds up.

TIMOTHY BURKE, EDITOR, DEADSPIN.COM: Te'o's story that he's completely innocent in this doesn't really shake through with us.

ROWLANDS: What still isn't clear is why didn't Manti Te'o ever mention that he'd never met Lennay when talking about how much he loved her. How did the story about how they first met at a football game start? And, if it wasn't true, why didn't he correct it? And how could he be so in love with someone he had never actually met face-to-face?

SWARBRICK: You know, I think, as Manti tells his story, you'll see the same thing I saw, that it does fully line up.


ROWLANDS: Well, Ashleigh, we'll see if it fully lines up.

BANFIELD: Sorry. We've got a delay going, Ted. I apologize.

But in interviews Manti had said several times that he met this girl in person. His father in his interview said that she went to Hawaii to spend time with him.

So what is he saying now about that part of the story?

ROWLANDS: Well, that's the crux of this, the details, because he's claiming that this was just an online relationship.

Let me read a little bit of a statement that he did release. It says, "But over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone and I grew to care deeply about her."

What Te'o apparently told the athletic director here at Notre Dame during two separate meetings, one lasted two-and-a-half hours, is that all of his communication was online and on the phone and that they talked every day on the phone, but he had never met her, that there were a couple of meetings set up that they were supposed to meet and she never showed up to those meetings.

Now, that, of course, begs more questions, why would he still call her the love of his life if she's stiffing him on meetings, specifically in Hawaii and California. The bottom line here, Ashleigh, there are so many questions about those details and details about how Notre Dame handled this. Why did they wait through the national championship buildup, let the media continue to perpetuate this story, when they knew it was false?

BANFIELD: And then, Ted, really quickly if you could wrap it up, there's this very strange mystery of this now fictional but dead person tweeting again last night? What exactly is that?

ROWLANDS: Yes. Like Lazarus, she's come back and has tweeted out that there will be more information coming at 10:00, I believe, 10:00 or noon Pacific time.

We haven't heard anything yet, but from this Twitter handle, who knows who is behind it and who knows what is going to come up from that?

Deadspin also says they plan to update their story, late today, online, and, as we've been talking about, we're anticipating that Manti Te'o will eventually speak to the press.

BANFIELD: Well, let's hope so.

Ted Rowlands, very bizarre. Thank you for that.

And Manti Te'o's headlines have not necessarily pushed Lance Armstrong completely out of the headlines. The International Olympic Committee, in fact, has made some pronouncements, asking Armstrong to give back the bronze medal that he won in 2000, the Sydney games.

We're going to get to that in just a moment, but before that, going back to Manti Te'o's very strange story, Ted Rowlands mentioned it. Huge question marks, was he duped?

If so, it certainly would look him -- look -- it would leave him looking pretty silly and embarrassed, as well? Or did he lie, in which case, we all got duped?

So, it begs the question, why any of this could have transpired? Good person to ask that question to, famed sports attorney and agent, Leigh Steinberg, joining me live now from Irvine, California.

Leigh, I'm so glad you're here on this very strange story. Originally, I wanted to talk to you all about Lance Armstrong and then, shazam, this thing sort of fell out of the sky.

Give me your reaction just off the bat to all of these strange developments.

LEIGH STEINBERG, SPORTS ATTORNEY AND AGENT: Well, on the Manti Te'o story, it certainly seems as if something's wrong with the narration that Notre Dame and Te'o have done.

Here, America was transfixed with this amazing love story of the Notre Dame linebacker and the Stanford athlete who met some years ago after a game, who became the love of this young man's life, who ostensibly went and visited in Hawaii and, now, we find out, all these year later, that there was no such person.

The timeframe doesn't quite match up because he was aware of this so early in December and never said a word about it until just now. The way in which the facts are being laid out seems almost like damage control as opposed to really facing up to whatever the truth was.

And the problem is, in this environment, there are so many 24-hour news cycles like CNN, like ESPN. There are so many investigative reporters. There's the Internet blogs.

Everyone in the world focuses and, until you put an end to a story like that, whether it's Manti Te'o or Lance Armstrong, it just continues to build and build and build and the damage is done because the name keeps getting repeated in the most negative way.

BANFIELD: That's exactly what I want to get to, the damage, because with regard to Manti Te'o, everyone has said that this guy is remarkable and he had extraordinary prospects for the draft.

Has this done any damage to his draft stock?

STEINBERG: Basically, what the NFL cares about is the projection of how a player will play on the field over the next 10-to-12 years, so that players inhabit the NFL who have done much worst things than -- even if this turns out to be a Te'o hoax, they have done worst things and they still get drafted.

The problem is that, if it's a big, big character red flag, teams put down guaranteed signing bonuses that they cannot recoup and they lose cap money. And, so, it's a disaster if a rookie turns out to be someone that gets disqualified for any kind of off the field problems.

So, it raises the proverbial red flag. It's not a help to him, but probably worse is how he played on the field against Alabama.

BANFIELD: Let me ask -- well, there you go. Let me ask you this. You have been in this game for a very long time. If people don't remember, you're sort of the inspiration, as legend has it, for Jerry Maguire. You were on-set. You spent a lot of time with the filmmakers on that movie. Most people think you are Jerry Maguire.

But what I want to ask you is, if things had changed over the last 20- to-maybe-30 years in terms of an athlete's value? Is it enough now to just be great at your sport, or do you need that love of a girlfriend, something extra to really make it these days?

STEINBERG: This is all about branding and, so, we have a celebrity- making machine in this country and athletes then get put into it, so that even the most casual sports fan or someone who is not a sports fan will learn through a story like Te'o presented or even through Lance Armstrong's work on Livestrong.

They become known, branded and that then leads to millions of dollars of endorsements and all sorts of opportunities.


STEINBERG: The problem is, once that profile is raised and reached that way, then any incident like this needs to be handled very carefully. You need to wrap your arms around the facts very quickly, put the complete story out there and, if you've done wrong, America loves the fall of the high and mighty, but they also love the comeback.

BANFIELD: And I'm glad you brought that up because the thing I need to ask you about is that exact scenario when it comes to Lance Armstrong.

But I have to fit in a quick break. Can you stick around to the next block?


BANFIELD: OK, Leigh Steinberg, coming back to talk Lance and the fall of the high and mighty and will Lance potentially ever be able to get back up. More in a moment.


BANFIELD: As we mentioned before the break, Lance Armstrong is about to lose his bronze medal now from the 2000 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee is now asking him to give it back. All of this on the same day as the big, bare-all interview is scheduled to air with Oprah Winfrey.

Can Lance Armstrong fight his way back from this one? Leigh Steinberg continues to speak with me, live from Irvine, California, a famous agent.

Also, Leigh, I should mention to our viewers that you yourself have had your struggles. You've battled bankruptcy and alcoholism. You're in the midst of your own comeback and you mentioned it right before the break. America loves to tear people down, but then loves to see them build back up.

My question to you is, do they like to see people like Lance Armstrong who have gone so far, not just cheating, but forcing his cheating upon the rest of us and then destroying people who were trying to call him out on it?

STEINBERG: History shows that if an athlete will make a public statement, acknowledge the wrong that he has done, states that he understands the proper standard and makes it clear there will be no recurrence of that behavior, that if he then has athletic performance and positives that occur, that over time people forgive.

If you would have believed that Kobe Bryant in the midst of rape accusations, three, four, five years later, people would hardly remember and he's doing all sorts of national endorsements or Ray Lewis who had been part of a murder investigation, not really relating his own conduct, but a very nasty story and, again, doing all sorts of national ads, the problem comes when a Michael Vick or a Tiger Woods keeps denying, denying, keeps parsing statements and keeps challenging the press and they keep digging and digging and it goes on and on and on. Lance has problems. There's a big suit against the U.S. Postal Service team for fraudulently collecting $11 million. He's got his case. He wants to come back and be a try athlete. He's got lifetime sanctions against him. He's got to resolve that if he's ever going to be a functional athlete again.

BANFIELD: You know what, Leigh? He has reportedly he somewhere around $125 million net worth, so he could ostensibly get through the litany of litigation that he could potentially face from any sort of confession that we might witness tonight, but I want to you go further.

How far is too far to come back? I mean, murder is one thing. O.J. Simpson never came back after being convicted in a civil court of being responsible for the death of his ex-wife.

But how far is too far when you're lying and destroying other people to continue your lies? Can you really come back from that?

STEINBERG: I don't know. Michael Milliken defrauded millions of people across the country and now is leading a very respectable life, holding conferences with world leaders.

I think that the key to it is, does he take steps to undo the wrong he did? And is he open with the American people?

If he continues to try to parse and lawyer around, he needs to admit that he sinned, explain why he did it, explain why it won't happen again and talk about how anyone negatively affected is going to receive some healing and he's going to make amends.

BANFIELD: Leigh, it's really great to talk to you. Congratulations on your recent accomplishments and the best for you to push forward with your life. Thanks.

STEINBERG: Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Leigh Steinberg joining us from California.

So, why is it that people cheat? Our own Brooke Baldwin is doing great work examining the psychology and science behind it and has a presentation for us at 3:00 p.m. today.

And at 9:00, former governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford cheated and lied and wants to return to government. That is tonight on CNN with Piers Morgan.

And stay tuned for a CNN special, "The World According to Lance," is airing Saturday night, 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.