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New Day

Major Security Breech in the White House Investigated; Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders; Protests in Hong Kong Continue; Former Secret Service Agent Analyzes Security Failure at the White House

Aired September 30, 2014 - 08:00   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking details, the man who ran into the White House got deeper inside than previously known. How did the intruder overpower a Secret Service agent before being tackled as the agency's director faces a grilling before Congress.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Making demands, pro-democracy protesters swarming the streets of Hong Kong refusing to back down. Now setting a deadline for the government to meet their demands for reform by Wednesday. Will China give into demonstrators?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Gaining ground, a new CNN/ORC poll shows that at least by one measurement Democrats may be getting a boost over Republicans since the airstrikes against ISIS began. With the midterm elections just five weeks away, what does this mean for the balance of power in Congress?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.


CUOMO: Good morning, welcome to NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, September 30th, 8:00 in the East. And we were led to believe that the White House fence jumper only made it to the front door. Remember? Well, now we're hearing the armed Iraq war vet led Secret Service on this mad cap chase through most of the first floor of the executive mansion. So lawmakers now confirm that Omar Gonzalez overpowered a guard at the entrance, then made it all the way into the East Room before being subdued.

PEREIRA: You're watching it there. It's a stunning breach of security that will have to be explained when Secret Service Director Julia Pierson takes the hot seat this morning at a House committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Michelle Kosinski is tracking the latest development at the White House. She was the very person brought in to help the Secret Service kind of clean up its image.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Michaela. And, you know, just the fact that this happened at all, there were going to be some lingering quest questions, but it's all now been compounded by what the Secret Service said happened, but it didn't exactly go down that way. I mean they said the fence jumper was unarmed. It turns out he had a three-inch knife. They said he was caught just inside the White House doors. And that was bad enough. But now these new details coming out from whistleblowers, it gets worse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody out! Right now! Go back!

KOSINSKI: It was the 70-yard dash seen around the world. And now we know Omar Gonzalez armed with a knife didn't just make it over the White House fence all the way across the North Lawn, up the stairs and through the front doors, but according to sources familiar with the incident, Gonzalez overpowered the guard inside those doors, ran half the stairway leading just up to the first family's residence. They weren't - -


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT: I want to vote on raising the minimum wage. I want to vote on a massive jobs program, because real unemployment is 12 percent. Let's put millions of people back to work rebuilding infrastructure. Here's my concern, Chris. The question is whether the media and whether the Congress can chew gum and walk at the same time. And whether we're going to continue to ignore the fact that the middle class at this country is in desperate shape. 95 percent of all new income goes to the top one percent massive wealth and equality. We've got to focus on those issues as well.

CUOMO: Well, you know what my answer is going to be, Senator. You guys do something about it and we'll cover it. You know, listen to speaker Boehner, though, on what your big concern is about not wanting kids from Vermont to wind up having to fight this war. Boehner is singing a different tune. Listen to what the speaker had to say.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And if no one else would step up, you would recommend putting American boots on the ground?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: We have no choice. These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. If we don't destroy them first, we're going to pay the price.


CUOMO: George Stephanopoulos asking the obvious question. Now, I have the speaker of the House giving an answer that, yes, he would have to commit U.S. troops. You guys won't even debate the issue, and he's already making a decision?

SANDERS: But don't be you, guys. You know, Chris, it's not you guys. Some of us are prepared to debate this issue. What Boehner is saying basically, people should hear carefully, is perpetual warfare in the Middle East, billions and billions of dollars of American taxpayer money, the loss of lives while the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia laughs all the way to the bank with their oil money? So this senator does not agree with that. And maybe Mr. Boehner also, before he said - talks about sending American kids into the Middle East might want to raise the minimum wage, might want to deal with pay equity, might want to ask his billionaire friends to start paying their fair share of taxes.

CUOMO: Bernie Sanders, if you care so much about the American people and you want change, why don't you run for president? Are you afraid to take on Hillary Clinton?

SANDERS: Well, as I don't think it's a question of fear. As you know, I have said that I'm giving thought to doing that. But if I do something, I like to do it well and going around the country getting an assessment from the American people as to whether or not there would be support for a campaign that, in fact, takes on the Koch brothers, takes on the billionaire class. I haven't made that decision yet, Chris.

CUOMO: Do you think Hillary can be beaten?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, I think that America is not into anointing anybody. I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton. She's a friend of mine. By I think in this country, we need a vigorous debate of why the people on top are doing so very well while everybody else has seen a decline in their standard of living. We need a debate about why we are the only major country on earth without a national health care program, guaranteeing health care to all people. So, there's a lot to discuss, and I think the American people look forward to that type of debate.

CUOMO: You're raising the right issues. I look forward to covering that kind of debate. And we'll see if you decide to actually get in there and throw some punches. Senator Sanders, thank you very much for joining us.

Always good to have you on NEW DAY

SANDERS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Michaela?

PEREIRA: All right, Chris, let's turn to Hong Kong where protesters are defying calls to back down and are bracing for the possibility of crackdowns by authorities. I want to show you some live pictures. Thousands of people have jammed streets causing widespread disruption in the heart of the city's financial hub. Hong Kong's chief executive now speaking out saying China will not give into protesters' demands. Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong with the latest.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Defiant protesters ignoring the orders of their Chinese-backed leaders who are calling the demonstrations illegal. Urging organizers to stop for fear the tense crowd will get out of control. This morning - -


- - by 2017. Now protesters say Beijing is watering down that promise requiring all candidates to be chosen by officials loyal to China. Since Hong Kong has a political system separate from China, it allows its people freedom of press and the right to protest. On Sunday protesters took to the streets clashing with police, using umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray. Some fear Hong Kong could face the same fate as Tiananmen Square 25 years ago when China brutally cracked down on a pro-democracy movement.

MARTIN LEE, LEADER DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The troops are stationed in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong people, I think, many of them will not be scared. I certainly will not be scared. If I see a tank from a Chinese troops in Hong Kong, I will get myself a bicycle and stand right in front of it.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


PEREIRA: See, people are still remarking about how many people have turned out demanding democracy and demanding reform.

All right, a lot of news to get to today. John Berman is handling that for us.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Michaela. With the critical midterm elections just five weeks off now, some rear positive news for Democrats, according to our brand new CNN /ORC poll, 47 percent of likely voters saying they support Democrats for Congress in November. 45 percent say Republicans. That's a 6-point swing for Democrats and all started since the air campaign against ISIS began in Syria. It also looks like a majority of Americans have more confidence in President Obama than Republican lawmakers when it comes to the war against ISIS. 48 percent to 41 percent. But when it's all said and done most voters still say it it's all about the economy. Two out of every three Americans say their pocketbook is more important than any military action.

Stunning development appears to link two mysteries in Charlottesville, Virginia. Police investigating the recent disappearance of UVA student Hannah Graham say forensic evidence ties the prime suspect Jesse Matthew Jr. to the 2009 murder of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington. Graham's disappearance may unravel more mysteries. Local media reports that at least two other women have disappeared from the same area since 2009.

And look at this. This dramatic new video of a coast guard rescue off the coast of Florida. A team rescued four adults and three children after the boat capsized near Sanibel Island. It happened on Saturday. The group was fishing when the 30-foot vessel flipped after the engine stalled. They were stranded in the water for about half an hour. Luckily, no one was injured in that incident. PEREIRA: The temperature of the Florida waters ---


PEREIRA: Cool. You know, better than some of the areas north.

CUOMO: Point to note, not many people fishing in boats. You know, some would have - But people too often wander into waters they shouldn't be in ---


CUOMO: --- with vessels that can't handle it.

PEREIRA: It's true.

CUOMO: It's not unusual. That's why the Coast Guard is an amazing group of first responders.


PEREIRA: It's only for half an hour.

CUOMO: So, the director of the Secret Service will be on the Congressional hot seat this morning. Can she defend the Secret Service? Can she keep the president safe? Can she keep her job safe with new information coming out that the White House fence jumper didn't just become this little blurb on your screen that got to the White House? Didn't just get into the door, which was left open, but he actually made it all the way around the first floor winding up in the east room avoiding agents. What happened there? We're going to get answers from a former Secret Service agent, coming up.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson will face tough questioning this morning after new revelations that the White House fence jumper made it much further into the mansion than previously reported. Omar Gonzalez, as the same apparently, barreled through the front door leading agents on a wild chase ending near the East Room. Now, this is just the latest troubling incident for the Secret Service. I want to bring in someone who knows the agency very well. Andrew O'Connell is a former special agent with the Secret Service, former federal prosecutor and president of "Guide Post Solutions." And thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.


PEREIRA: So many questions for you. You said you were just watching the video as so many of us have. What troubles you most about seeing the video of this intruder making it after a wild goose chase essentially through into the White House?

O'CONNELL: Well, look, it is surprising because if you look at recent history of fence jumpers, I think you'd find that the jumper is confronted and apprehended before he or she gets into the White House. In this case the fact that the jumper made it into the White House is troubling. And the question is, you know, where were the failures, if there were any? It were the failures with technical security, it were the failures with human, failures, officers that didn't respond properly, I'm not sure. But certainly it's troubling.

PEREIRA: Well, we understand. Security layers failed. Alarms were muted, front door unlocked, no dog was released. That makes one question why security failed so entirely.

O'CONNELL: Yeah, well, I'm not sure about the failures. First of all, technical security, there are tremendous measures in place at the White House. Did they fail? I suspect that they did not fail. I think that if there was any muting of the alarm box, that's troubling. I mean many requests made by the White House - White House staff, office, to the Secret Service as it relates to security, was something like that, to mute an alarm box, I think, would make it all the way to the top of the Secret Service, and I think it would be denied. So, I'm troubled to hear that and I'm not sure it did happen, but, you know, it is troubling.

PEREIRA: Help us understand the layers. You just mentioned that. When, if a Secret Service or the detail within the House sees something that they are concerned about, how quickly are those concerns addressed? For example, we know that since this incident, a new layer of fencing has gone in. So is it pretty quickly and assertively answered to?

O'CONNELL: It is intermediate. I mean there are all layers of security. It starts with technical security. I'm not going to get into what the measure are.

PEREIRA: Of course, we wouldn't want.

O'CONNELL: But there's technical security there. That's the first line of defense. And then you have police officers that are surrounding the White House, they are on the ground. That's your next line of defense. And then you have agents, they are inside protecting the president. So there are layers there. So, where the failures where along the way, I'm not sure, but an investigation will be done. Look, the Secret Service is as proactive as they can be. They have budgets to work with, they also have to balance the needs of the president and Congress and American people to keep the president accessible. So they can't just shut down the White House. They tried to shut down some of the rows around the White House. That didn't quite work out. So they work with what they are given. And it's not easy to do. There's a balance there.

PEREIRA: To that point, what they are given, do you feel that they have enough of the tools? We're in an increasingly sophisticated technological time. Do you feel that the Secret Service guarding the White House and providing security there is given the right technology and the right tools and surveillance systems?

O'CONNELL: Well, you can always be given more, right? If you really wanted to make the White House into a fortress ... PEREIRA: Not.

O'CONNELL: You can do that, you really could, but that's unreasonable. And that would never happened. The American people wouldn't allow it. So, could you use more money, could you use more bodies, more dogs, more technical security measures, I'm sure you could, but there's always that balance between what the president wants, the accessibility to the president and his family and security. And the Secret Service has been doing this for at least protecting presidents for over 100 years. And for the most part, overwhelmingly for those over 100 years, they found that balance.

PEREIRA: And it's important to recognize that history. It really is. But you can also recognize that given this story and also the incident in 2011 where shots were fired into the White House, it took four days for the shots to be noticed, there are questions about what's going on in the Secret Service. I want to ask you to give me your reaction to what a former FBI director Chris Swecker, told us on CNN yesterday. Pointing out a couple of things that he thought might be going on within the agency. One of them was that perhaps the agency is spread too thin. Saying, you know, quote, "they are trying to do a lot of things, they want to do cyber-crimes, they are doing economic crimes, they are doing credit card fraud, counterfeiting, when their core mission is personal protection." Is there something to that, do you think in your estimation?

O'CONNELL: I disagree. I think that the protection of the president is number one priority for the Secret Service. And man power, as it were, men and women of the Secret Service, are devoted to the protection of president. As the supervisors and the director sees fit within those budgets. I think that they can manage both. They can manage the investigations and they can manage the security of the president. I mean think about it. Look at what's been going on, as I said, for over 100 years. These incidents happened, right? You can't eliminate the risks to the president. All you can do is minimize risks. And the Secret Service takes those steps to minimize those risks.

I mean if you count up the number of incidents over those 100 years in protecting the president, I think that's a pretty good track record. What's been happening here's that there's one thing after another that the American people are seeing. Congress is seeing. The president is seeing. It's cause for concern, but I think the president is smart enough to see it in the bigger picture.

PEREIRA: Do you feel the president and his family are safe?

O'CONNELL: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: All right. Andrew, thanks for coming in. I know there are some tough questions for you to answer. Given that, as you mentioned, having served within the Secret Service for so long, thank you for your service. Thanks for the question as well.

O'CONNELL: Thank you. PEREIRA: All right. The man accused of going on a grizzly attack beheading a former colleague, he's going to be formally charged in Oklahoma today. We're going to speak with a spokesman of the Moore police department about the disturbing, disturbing case.