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Syrian Forces Advance on Rebel Strongholds; Clinton & Sanders Fight to Woo Minority Voters; Louisiana Governor: LSU Football At Risk. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 12, 2016 - 06:30   ET



[06:30:00] FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Years of urban combat have laid waste to Aleppo's old town. Syrian army snipers scan the terrain for possible movement on the other side.

(on camera): We're right on the front line in the Syrian government's offensive against the opposition and the soldiers tell us they frequently see rebels on the other side but they also say they often pick them off from the sniper's nest.

(voice-over): This soldier tells me morale has never been higher. "Thanks to God, everything here is under control," he says. "Our fingers are on the triggers ready to destroy the rebels."

Bashar al Assad's forces have made major gains in the Aleppo area in recent weeks, while the opposition rebels say they're simply being slaughtered.

But for years, this battlefield was in a stalemate, the front line right around Aleppo's ancient citadel.

As Syrian and Russian warplanes hover overhead, the commander knows who to think for the newfound momentum.

"It's only a matter of months now until we win," he says, "Thanks to the Russian support with their airstrikes flown from the Syrian airfield, we will defeat the rebels once and for all."

Aleppo was Syria's largest and one of its most historic towns. Tourists from all over the world used to flock to the old town before it was engulfed by Syria's brutal civil war.

(on camera): The old town of Aleppo is a UNESCO world heritage site. Some of these buildings are hundreds if not thousands of years old. And now, as you can see, most have been completely destroyed and burned out.

(voice-over): But now, Assad's troops believe they are on the verge of a decisive victory. The commander warns the U.S. not to interfere.

"We are steadfast," he says. "You cannot defeat the Syrian army because we are determined to win and we're loyal to President Assad."

Amid this divided and destroyed city, Syrian government forces believe they're dealing a crushing blow to the opposition. One that could end this five-year civil war that's destroyed so much more than just the landscape.


PLEITGEN: And part of those efforts to try to crush opposition involve the Syrian military, trying to take all the territory north of Aleppo all the way to the Turkish border. Soldiers that we spoke to say that they are determined to do that, even, of course, with those peace talks that have been going on with Russia, the U.S. and other powers as well.

And the other thing that was really remarkable when we were there was the power that Iran and Hezbollah wield there as well. There were a lot of houses that we saw with pictures of Iran's supreme leader on those houses.

So, clearly, the Syrian military knows the momentum is large part thanks to Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the big global forces at work with millions of people caught in the middle. Frederik Pleitgen, an important look, thank you so much.

All right. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, appealing in the debate, reaching out to minority voters who will be so big in the upcoming races. So, who resonated the most? We'll discuss.



[06:37:06] SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A male African-American baby born today stands a one in four chance of ending up in jail. That is beyond unspeakable.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we talk about criminal justice reform and ending the era of mass incarceration, we also have to talk about jobs, education, housing, and other ways of helping communities do better.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders trying to appeal to African-American voters in last night's debate. Both candidates battling to see who can woo black voters ahead of South Carolina and Nevada where they make a big part of the electorate.

So, let's discuss with former South Carolina state representative and Clinton supporter, Bakari Sellers.

Good morning, Bakari.


CAMEROTA: I'm doing well. So, Hillary Clinton made the point last night. She's been making it for a few days on the campaign trail now she has a much longer history than Bernie Sanders.

Is it fair to say Bernie Sanders hasn't been fighting for some of these same things?

SELLERS: Well, I think that's one of the smaller issues that people are delving into. The larger issue, we saw this last night, Bernie Sanders has a Barack Obama problem. Whether or not it was in 2011 where he attempted to primary the president or whether or not he understands that this campaign is about building on and strengthening the legacy of Barack Obama, especially here for the Democratic voters of South Carolina.

So, it's not as much as what Bernie Sanders did 40 years ago, or what Hillary Clinton did with the children legal defense fund or things since then, but it's about who is in a better position to build on and protect that legacy moving forward.

CAMEROTA: I mean, as you know, last night, Senator Sanders called that a low blow, because basically he said, hey, I'm not the one who ran against Barack Obama in 2008. So, he is saying Hillary Clinton is now wrapping herself in the cloak of Barack Obama's record, but she hasn't always done that.

SELLERS: No, she hasn't always done that. But I think Hillary Clinton made an amazing pivot last night when she said, look, we had a contentious debate, even after her 2002 vote on the Iraq war. Who did Barack Obama trust to be her secretary of state?

She kept hitting that, hammering that, hammering that home, and she said, look, Bernie Sanders, in 2011, you were still trying to primary the president. Not only that, signing off on a book, talking about Barack Obama being a disappointment is simply something not going to play well here.

I mean, we had a lot of layered discussion last night in the debate. One of the things that struck me, Bernie Sanders -- he swung and miss when talking about race. The fact of the matter is, that economic measures, or new economic measures, fighting in equality will not solve our race problem here in the country. And for somebody to believe all of a sudden it will get better under Bernie Sanders I think that's delusional. And in order to embrace this Bernie Sanders campaign, you have to somehow believe he is more transformational than Barack Obama and I simply can't buy that.

[06:40:02] CAMEROTA: Well, let's play a moment with Bernie Sanders talking about what he thinks are some of the major issues facing African-Americans.

Listen to this.


SANDERS: When we have more people in jail disproportionately African-American and Latino than China does, a communist authoritarian society four times our size, here's my promise -- at the end of my first term as president, we will not have more people in jail than any other country. We will invest in education and jobs for our kids not incarceration and more jails.


CAMEROTA: What's wrong with that promise, Bakari?

SELLERS: I think it's a great promise. But I can also promise you that I am going to be a professional basketball player in three or four years. The question is how? I mean, how are we going to make that a reality?

Look, the fact of the matter is that African-Americans, especially in South Carolina and throughout the country for that matter, are disproportionately incarcerated. We saw that last night in Minnesota. We know that we have systemic racism in our criminal justice system. But how are we going to root that out?

I mean, are we going to talk about patterning our criminal justice plans from this point forward after the Ferguson commission on 21st century policing reform? That's something I want to see done. That's something Hillary mentioned briefly last night.

Are we going to talk about mandatory minimums? The question is how. I think it's a lofty goal.

And I love -- I love the way that Senator Sanders has us dreaming. I absolutely do. But the difference is we have to dream with our eyes open. We have to have concrete realities and concrete solutions to get there.

CAMEROTA: Bakari, can Bernie Sanders make the point that we have had an African-American president for almost eight years and certainly racial tension has not been quelled. That hasn't helped. So, Hillary Clinton making the argument that Barack Obama has made all of these accomplishments, you know, if you're living in the inner city where there is still policing problems, that may not resonate as much.

SELLERS: Well, that's true. But I mean, we had a lower unemployment rate under Barack Obama. We have 14 million people who are insured because of Barack Obama. Little black boys and black girls who can touch their hair and realize they have the same type hair that the president of the United States has so they too can have those dreams.

So, I don't really blame the racial strife that we have in this country on Barack Obama. I think it's asinine to do so. I do think that we have to build on and protect the legacy and all the accomplishments he has put in place.

I'm under no illusion that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders are some messiah that are going to take African-Americans to this new wonderland and new place. But what I am looking for, a concrete real solutions so that all persons of colors and we'll see these voters in Nevada, we'll see these votes in South Carolina can at least have that piece of the American dream. That's what we are fighting for.

CAMEROTA: Bakari Sellers, always great to have you on NEW DAY. Thanks so much you very much.

SELLERS: See you soon, Alisyn. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Look forward to it.

Let's go over to John.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Alisyn.

The governor of Louisiana said a budget cut could mean drastic cuts in health care, higher education and college football. The football powerhouse LSU get sacked? We have details, alarming details for football fans in Louisiana on this morning's bleacher report, next.


[06:46:53] BERMAN: Federal authorities set to sweep the national wildlife refuge in Oregon today for explosives as they attempt to reopen the nature preserve to the public. The final four hold-outs of the armed occupation are expected in court today. They surrendered to authorities. Residents celebrated the end of the 41- day protest, some might say siege, by planting American flags at the side of the road in that area.

CAMEROTA: A New York jury convicting a rookie police officer in the death of a man in Brooklyn, Peter Liang, and his partner were on patrol in November 2014 when the gun went off inside a stairwell. The bullet ricocheted hitting a 28-year-old Akai Gurley. Defense attorneys argued that Liang was in shock and felt unqualified to perform CPR. Liang faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentencing in April.

BERMAN: Astronaut Scott Kelly, who has been in space for nearly a year, says the earth's atmosphere appears sick in some spots. He spoke with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in one of his final interviews from the International Space Station.


SCOTT KELLY, U.S. ASTRONAUT: When you look at the atmosphere, I wouldn't say it looks, the thin veil of the atmosphere on the limb of the earth, I wouldn't say it looks unhealthy, but it definitely looks very, very fragile.


BERMAN: Part of Kelly's mission includes a study comparing the toll space has on his twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.

CAMEROTA: That is fascinating.

BERMAN: Isn't it?


BERMAN: We're both parents of twins, so we care about this very much.

CAMEROTA: Twin studies, that's interesting.

All right. Well, the governor of Louisiana announcing the state could lose one of its most prized possessions, the LSU football team.

Here's to explain Coy Wire in this morning's bleacher report.

Hi, Coy.


The LSU Tigers, perennial football powerhouse in the heart of the south where football is king. They're consistently in the top 25. The governor Edwards, a Democratic, said if tax increases aren't approved by the represent-led state legislature, they won't play football this year.

He says state schools would run out of Monday by April. That would mean that students and students couldn't finish spring semester is and athletes would be ineligible according to NCAA regulations. Quick FYI, Alisyn, while the state may be in the red, the football program turned a profit of about $57 million just last year. Now, the NBA all-star festivities officially get under way tonight in Toronto and Sunday's all-star game will be Kobe Bryant's last.

So, our Andy Scholes caught up with Kobe's former teammate and TNT analyst Shaq who gives some advice for the Black Mamba.


SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, ANALYST FOR TNT'S "INSIDE THE NBA": I just want to say go out and have fun. If he gets a hot hand, guys are going to look to give it to him and hopefully he can get the MVP.


WIRE: It is sure to be a Kobe love fest. His 18th and final all-star game. Our Andy Scholes will be there covering the goods all weekend. Be sure to tune in here on CNN.

BERMAN: Everyone is going to be the ball to Kobe, even I think the East will be passing Kobe Bryant so he can score in that game. All right. Coy, thanks so much.

WIRE: You're welcome, John.

BERMAN: All right. The sparring between the Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, takes an unusual turn. Henry Kissinger. When was the last time Henry Kissinger came up in a Democratic debate?

[06:50:02] We're going to discuss one of the heated exchanges, coming up.



CLINTON: I know journalists have asked who you do listen to on foreign policy. And we have yet to know who that is.

SANDERS: Well, it ain't Henry Kissinger, that's for sure.

CLINTON: That's fine. That's fine.


BERMAN: That was Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders squaring off over Henry Kissinger and foreign policy last night in the Democratic debate. A big part of the debate focused on how the United States needs to protect its interests abroad.

I want to bring retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He's a CNN military analyst. He was, among many things, the commanding general of U.S. Army Europe and the 7th Army.

General, thanks so much for being with us.

When you talk about this Democratic race -- people say, look, on the issues of foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has more experience.

[06:55:00] Bernie Sanders says, yes, that's true. But every time it comes up, he goes back to the issue of Iraq war vote. And he says this, what he said again last night in the debate. Listen.


SANDERS: Secretary of state for four years, you've got a bit of experience, I would imagine. But judgment matters as well. Judgment matters as well. And she and I looked at the same evidence coming from the Bush administration regarding Iraq. I led the opposition against it. She voted for it.


BERMAN: You come at this for a really interesting perspective, General. You were in the military. You advised against the invasion. Then you had to fight as part of the in vacation and occupation.

So, when Bernie Sanders says he voted against it, do you think he deserves the credit? Is that type of stand that you think resonates with voters and should?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, he has shared with us what caused that judgment. Was it because he didn't see something in the intelligence? Was it because of force? Was it because of the amount of money that he perceived we would spend on the war? Would it the turmoil it would cause in the region?

That's the part I'm a little concern about, truthfully, John. He said, yes, it was my judgment that prevented me from doing it but doesn't say why.

I was disappointed a little bit in both candidates last night because we expected what we got from Secretary Clinton. But Senator Sanders always relies on that answer as, hey, my judgment 14 years ago and one vote is what you should rely on. Well, there's been other judgments that he has made.

In fact, I mentioned last night that in 2012, as we were trying to maintain forces in Europe to counter a threat that we perceived was expanding not only the Russians but also a terrorist threat. We were testifying quite a bit in Congress. There was an exchange between Senator Sanders and General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta that showed his judgment wasn't so good because he had, first of all, the wrong facts about what was in Europe and he wanted to pull all of them because there was no threat there anymore.

So, again, I'm very concerned still, trying to remain apolitical on both -- on all of candidates, not just the Democratic ones, but all of them. And I haven't seen yet that give me the strength other than Secretary Clinton's experience. And even that is tainted.

BERMAN: You talk about her experience. Do you think she has explained her Iraq war vote? Look, you were there. You look at the same information she did. You were opposed to it. You argued against it. She voted for it.

HERTLING: Yes, I was a baby general. I was a brand-new one star at the Pentagon. I was saying things based auto training, experience, what we thought we would need in terms of a civil affairs forces afterwards, how it would affect the strategy and the rest of the world, what it might do in that area. So, my arguing against it in a very quiet way with key people in secret forums was pointed towards the readiness to do the things we thought we needed to do.

I think from a political standpoint, strategy standpoint, you need a lot more than that. You have to understand the overall strategy of the region and the world, and I'm not sure, you know, the votes at the time were based on what was presented as intelligence. We now know, didn't know it at the time, that all of that was faulty.

BERMAN: Henry Kissinger, General, because, you know, look --

HERTLING: I do know who he is, John. I do know who he is.

BERMAN: We do know who is. But even in your military career, I don't think you served when he was secretary of state, right? If you did, it's just barely. It's been a long time since he was a player in international affairs.

So, when you hear him discuss in a Democratic debate in 2016 the question is why, to what end?

HERTLING: That confused me too, John. And yes, I did serve. I was a cadet at West Point when Secretary Kissinger was in. This is one of those things you draw strength from a lot of different political and strategy theorists. That's what you have to do as a politician and potential president. You have to find a lot of different things to look at from the standpoint of theory and policies. And that's what's so important.

And to pull out one and just to slam him and as Secretary Clinton did say, Mr. Kissinger did have some good things occur during his term with President Nixon. But you take the good and bad and weigh them in a balanced way.

And to completely slam an individual because of perceptions is not a good treat from a potential presidential candidate, in my view.

BERMAN: General Mark Hertling, great to have you here with us this morning. Thanks so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: So much more to discuss in this Democratic debate. The highs, the lows, tense moments -- all that starts right now.


SANDERS: The last I heard we lived in a democratic society.

CLINTON: This is the first time there have been a majority of women on stage.

SANDERS: I think a Sanders victory would be of some historical accomplishment as well.

CLINTON: Policing that will actually protect the communities that police officers are sworn to protect.