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Obama Sits Down for Interview; School Shooting Hero Meets 911 Dispatcher; School Shooting Hero Speaks Out; San Diego Mayor Could Resign Today; Fire Near Yosemite Rages Out of Control

Aired August 23, 2013 - 09:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now in the NEWSROOM, a CNN exclusive.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale is very troublesome.

COSTELLO: CNN sits down with President Barack Obama. Syria, Egypt, Georgia and, of course, the newest member of the family.

OBAMA: Bo was starting to look a little down in the dumps inside the house. And Sunny, the new dog, she's only a year old and, you know, the truth is, she's faster than he is. She jumps higher. She's friskier.

COSTELLO: Also, face-to-face.


COSTELLO: The 911 operator and hero Antoinette Tuff.

KENDRA MCCRAY, 911 OPERATOR: She is a true hero. She missed her calling.

TUFF: I feel like I helped somebody in need, that God was able to use me and it was an honor to be able to be used.

COSTELLO: Plus, woman after woman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He told me, your eyes have bewitched me.

COSTELLO: Victim after alleged victim.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he placed his hand on my exterior. On the back of -- on my buttocks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Slide his arm down and then give a little grab to my rear.

COSTELLO: Today San Diego Mayor Bob Filner learns his fate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not just pieces of meat. COSTELLO: NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Good morning, thank you so much for being with me, I'm Carol Costello.

On one-on-one with the president. CNN's Chris Cuomo and his exclusive interview. President confronts the most pressing concerns of his second term. Dueling crises in the Middle East and a financial time bomb facing middle class parents and their children.

Chris joins us now from New York to share some of the highlights of his afternoon with the president.

Morning, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S NEW DAY: Hi, Carol, how are you? I mean, the timing was good for this interview. We're dealing with domestic agenda issues. With -- for the president, he was pushing his college plan. Basically two big points. He wants to work on getting the costs down for families and make it easier for graduates to repay.

That's that. But also how he's dealing with Congress. What's going on with surveillance and privacy in this country.

And then, of course, the big problems abroad. Syria and Egypt. Many are demanding U.S. action. What is the president's perspective? What does he believe is the right posture for the United States? And he was very open about those.

He also gave us a little bit of a peek into life in the White House. What it's like now raising a teenager and a near teen and what this new puppy is really about.

And, boy, Carol, when you hear what that puppy has done in the White House. Horrible things, horrible things. Maybe federal violations of law. But take a look.


OBAMA: We are right now gathering information about this particular event. But I can say that unlike some of the evidence that we were trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria. What we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern. And, you know, we are already in communications with the entire international community. We're moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action from them.

And we have called on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site because U.N. inspectors are on the ground right now. We don't expect cooperation, given their past history. And, you know, what I do believe is that, although the situation in Syria is very difficult and the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian complex problem inside of Syria, sometimes is overstated.

CUOMO: But delay can be deadly, right, Mr. President?

OBAMA: There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale and, again, we're still gathering information about this particular event. But it is very troublesome.

CUOMO: We have strong proof they used them already, though, in the past.

OBAMA: Then that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has. Both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.

This is something that is going to require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention.

CUOMO: Senator McCain came on "NEW DAY" very strong on this. He believes that the U.S.' credibility in the region has been hurt. That a situation like Syria, that he believes there has been delay and it has led to a boldness by the regime there.

That in Egypt, that what many believe was a coup wasn't called a coup. That led to the problems that we're seeing there now. Do you think that's fair criticism?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I am sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking situation. But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of what is in our long-term national interest.

You know, sometimes what we've seen is that folks will call for immediate action jumping into stuff that does not turn out well. Gets us mired in very difficult situations. Can result in us being drawn in to very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.

We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long- term national interest, even as we work cooperatively internationally to do everything we can to put pressure on those who would kill innocent civilians.

CUOMO: The red line comment that you made was about a year ago this week.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: We know since then there have been things that should qualify for crossing that red line.

OBAMA: Well, Chris, I've got -- I've got to say this. When we take action. Let's just take the example of Syria. There are rules of international law. And, you know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it. Do we have the coalition to make it work? And, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account. Now this --


CUOMO: You don't believe we've seen enough?

OBAMA: Well, this latest event is something that we've got to take a look at. But keep in mind, also, Chris, because I know the American people keep this in mind. We've still got a war going on in Afghanistan. You know? We're still spending tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan. I will be ending that war by the end of 2014. But every time I go to Walter Reed and visit wounded troops and every time I sign a letter for a casualty of that war, I'm reminded that there are costs.

And we have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted. Somebody who's lost credibility. And to try to restore a sense of a democratic process and stability inside of Egypt.

CUOMO: Doesn't have to be military, of course. I take your point, Mr. President. When you look at Egypt, it's an example of that.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: Senator McConnell is saying, hey, I think it's time to vote on the aid.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: And whether or not you give it.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: That's a nonmilitary measure that can make a difference.

OBAMA: You know, my sense with Egypt is that the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does. But I think what most Americans would say is that we have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideas.

So what we're doing right now is doing a full evaluation of the U.S./Egyptian relationship. We care deeply about the Egyptian people. There was a space right after Mr. Morsy was removed in which we did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move in a path of reconciliation.

They did not take that opportunity. It was worth it for us to try that. Despite folks who wanted more immediate black and white action or statements. Because, ultimately, what we want is a good outcome here.

CUOMO: Is it safe to say that we have a shorter time frame now in terms of what the U.S. can use as a period of decision in Syria and Egypt?


CUOMO: It's a more abbreviated time frame now?



COSTELLO: Interesting. What do you suppose he meant by that?

CUOMO: Well, I think that's the question, right? The president is being very careful on this. And he laid out some of the reasons why and we let it play there, Carol, on purpose because on these issues there is a very deliberative process. There's the need for coalition.

But here's the thing. There's such outcry because of the atrocities on the ground, especially in Syria right now. That it has to abbreviate the time frame because I think there is a growing feeling that delay costs lives. But that said, the president, I thought, laid out a fairly clearly that the idea that you just assume American force isn't as simple an answer as it sounds to many, as well.

COSTELLO: All right. You're going to be back. We'll hear more of your interview right around 9:30 Eastern Time.

Chris Cuomo, thank you very much.

An emotional reunion you'll only see on CNN. School shooting hero Antoinette Tuff meets the 911 operator who helped her through that frightening confrontation with the gunman.


ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, CNN'S AC 360: This is Kendra McCray.

TUFF: Hi. Great.

MCCRAY: How are you?

TUFF: How are you doing? We made it.

MCCRAY: We did. Oh my god.

TUFF: Oh, thank you. Oh, wow.


TUFF: It was really a moment.


COSTELLO: OK. I cried when I first saw that last night. When these two ladies first met it was, of course, by phone on Tuesday when police say a man with an assault rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammo entered an elementary school in Decatur, Georgia. Tuff convinced that person to surrender without a single person being injured.

CNN's Martin Savidge joins me now with more of this gripping interview.


You know, I love CNN, but I've got tell you there are times I love it even more and last night with that interview that Anderson did with Antoinette Tuff is just amazing. And of course, it's her. But what we also found out is that she didn't act alone. There was another voice on the phone and that's who we also got to meet. Take a look at this.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): It was an amazing moment only on CNN. For the first time Antoinette Tuff, the coolest, calmest hero you've ever heard, meets the 911 operator who had been the other voice at the end of that emergency call.

TUFF: We made it.

MCCRAY: We did.

SAVIDGE: Kendra McCray said like everyone else she was in awe of Tuff.

MCCRAY: She is a true hero.

SAVIDGE: The two women recalling for Anderson Cooper the horror of that day.

MCCRAY: She said, he's right here at the door and it's like I can see him through just her words.

SAVIDGE: But their fear was never evident in the 911 call that has riveted America.

TUFF: Oh, he just went outside and started shooting.

SAVIDGE: Tuff revealed the man's first shot was into the floor, just a few feet away.

TUFF: He actually took the shot to allow me and the other person that was in there to know that this was not a game and that he was not playing and that he was for serious.

SAVIDGE: She also knew the lives of 800 students hung in the balance.

TUFF: You start seeing all this movement and he actually went to that door with the gun drawn to start shooting. Then I started talking to him and saying, come back in. You know, just stay in here with me. Don't go anywhere. Stay in here.

SAVIDGE: And so began one of the most frightening and fascinating negotiation as ever recorded. TUFF: He said to tell them to back off. He doesn't want the kids. He wants the police. So back off.

SAVIDGE: The scariest moment Tuff says was watching the man methodically load the gun.

TUFF: He had had bullets everywhere, on top of magazines. So, I knew when he made that last call that he was going to go. Because he had loaded up to go.

SAVIDGE: Yet, instead of feeling fear or anger, Tuff said she felt compassion. Recalling her own personal heartbreaks, even contemplating suicide.

TUFF: I had been in that devastating moment when all of the things happened to me. So I knew that that could have been my story.

SAVIDGE: Just before her CNN interview, Tuff got another surprise, ironically, over the phone, from the president of the United States.

TUFF: He just wanted to let me know that he and his wife and his family was very proud of what I had did and everyone wanted to thank me.

SAVIDGE: Tuff gives all credit to her faith believing her role was part of a heavenly plan.

TUFF: I feel like I helped somebody in need. That God was able to use me. And it was an honor to be able to be used.

SAVIDGE: The suspect had walked in with an assault rifle ready to kill. But in the end, was no match for a bookkeeper armed with love.

TUFF: I ain't never been so scared in all days of my life.

MCCRAY: Me either. But you did great.

TUFF: Oh, Jesus.

MCCRAY: You did great.

TUFF: Oh, God.

COOPER: You can really hear there, I mean, the strain that this had put on you.

TUFF: Oh, yes.

COOPER: That moment when the police finally came in and he was taken out, what goes through your head? What goes through your heart then?

TUFF: When I'd seen the police officers put their hands on him, you know, and they were all surrounding him, I knew I could just like breathe.

COOPER: Will you just say to me one more time, "baby, everything is going to be OK"?

TUFF: Baby, everything is going to be OK.


SAVIDGE: That is, obviously, going to be a line that we will all remember. Two very powerful women that relied both on their faith and, most of all, on each other.

COSTELLO: Just incredible. And that line that Antoinette Tuff used. I understand Anderson Cooper wants it on his ring tone.


There's so many charming parts of this interview. We have to share one more.




COOPER: I want to have you on my speed dial, like whenever I'm down, I want to talk to you. My gosh. I mean, you're great.

TUFF: Thank you.

COOPER: I want you to call me "sweetie" and tell me everything is going to be OK.

TUFF: It's going to be OK.


COOPER: It's going to be my ring tone. I'll get a ring tone with your voice saying, "Sweetie, everything's going to be OK."

TUFF: It's going to be OK. Yes, it is.

COOPER: It is.

TUFF: I've learned that everything I've been through, I was actually telling God that even though it seemed like I've been through hell and back, I promised him December the 31st that if he allowed me to live, that 2013 would be heaven for me.

And, so, I know today that all I went through was actually for that one perfect day.

COOPER: There is such an outpouring of people just saying how amazing you are. I just think you're incredibly heroic and that's a word that gets thrown around a lot. But you really are a hero. You save people's lives.

You just say to me one more time, "Baby, everything's going to be OK." TUFF: Baby, everything's going to be OK.




MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, hundreds of lives. We're talking about at least 600 students inside the building, plus the staff, plus the officers on the outside. Nobody was hurt at all.

COSTELLO: Well, you have to wonder what the future will bring for Antoinette Tuff. Will she continue to go back to school and be a bookkeeper in a school office?

SAVIDGE: It's hard to imagine.

I mean, I hope that she gets every good thing. And there are so many ways that a person with that kind of inspiration can do so much in their lives.

She talks a lot about her faith. One thing she mentioned that we didn't show there is that she was inspired during that whole ordeal. She remembered a sermon that her pastor had given and it was essentially, you know, God is your anchor in times of hardship. That went through her head the whole time.

That sermon heard just the Sunday before. Tell me things don't happen for a reason.

COSTELLO: I think God was there that day, too.

Martin Savidge, thank you so much.

SAVIDGE: You bet.

COSTELLO: We'll be right back.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Still to come in NEWSROOM:

Fire threat. Flames as tall as buildings tearing through forests near Yosemite National Park. What is being done to save an American treasure?

Plus, the NASDAQ shut down for hours trading frozen. A major trading glitch. Opening bell just minutes away.

You're live in CNN NEWSROOM.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) C0STELLO: An Australian baseball player gunned down in Oklahoma was a victim of a gun initiation. That's according to the father of another Oklahoma teenager who says his own son was targeted by a gang.

James Johnson spoke to the "Sydney Morning Herald." Listen.


JAMES JOHNSON, CALLED POLICE FOLLOWING CHRIS LANE'S MURDER: I don't think it was for fun. I don't think it was at random. I think it was initiation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gang initiation.

JOHNSON: As I understand it. After that happened a list that pops up with my son at the top of the list and four others they were going to bump off.


COSTELLO: Police say one of the suspects told them 23-year-old Chris Lane was shot and killed because the three suspects were bored. Another suspect, James Edwards Jr., posted video of himself with a gun online.

And his sister now believes he was, indeed, in a gang.


RACHEL PADILLA, SUSPECT'S SISTER: I believe he may have joined in a gang because that they promised him so much.


COSTELLO: Edwards' sister believes he was forced into committing that crime.

More than a month of controversy in San Diego could be over in just a matter of hours. The sexual harassment scandal that surrounded Mayor Bob Filner could end with his resignation at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. The city council hears details of a proposed settlement worked out between the mayor and the city.

Twice this week, Filner has left city hall reportedly armed with boxes and other personal items. But the biggest question still remains. How much could San Diego taxpayers be forced to pay to make Mayor Filner go away?

Casey Wian is in San Diego to maybe tell us.

Good morning, Casey.


Well, it certainly is a going to be a very interesting afternoon here in San Diego. As you mentioned, there will be a city council meeting, a closed city council meeting 1:00 local time this afternoon to consider this mediated proposed settlement that would lead to Bob Filner's resignation, as mayor of San Diego. The key question, what are the details of that proposed settlement? All parties have vowed to keep those details secret until they are discussed by the city council.

One thing we do know is that a settlement of the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the mayor's former press secretary, the first woman to come forward and accuse him publicly of inappropriate behavior is not part of that settlement. That according to Gloria Allred, her attorney. She came out yesterday saying they have no deal, they don't know what's in this deal with Mayor Filner. This proposed deal.

And further, Gloria Allred saying, we don't want any San Diego taxpayer money to be used to settle this lawsuit, saying the taxpayer should not pay for Filner's alleged misdeeds. What we may see is that the city council, which all nine members have publicly said it's time for Mayor Filner to resign. They deem that it's a small price to pay for some taxpayer money to go towards getting him out of office -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK. So, could we hear from Bob Filner some time today?

WIAN: That also is unclear.

His attorney put out a statement late yesterday saying there will be public comment after the city council session. But the attorney didn't say who that public comment is going to come from. We do know that the city council is going to speak and we don't know if Filner himself is going to speak, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Casey Wian, I know you'll stay on the case. Thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: a warm summer day in Colorado quickly transforms into winter. That's not snow, though. That's hail.


COSTELLO: Snow plows get some rare summertime work in Colorado as heavy rains and hail make it look more like winter. Oh, this would be depressing. As much as six inches of hail piled up in some places outside Denver. It covered the road and the sidewalk. The snowplow had to be called in to clear it all away. The hail was up to an inch thick in diameter. So much hail fell that it completely covered this football field in Castle Rock, Colorado. Wow.

A wildfire raging out of control just outside one of the nation's best loved national parks. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the Rim Fire outside of Yosemite. The place has already burned 100 square miles and smoke in the area is so bad that several local schools had to cancel classes.

CNN's Indra Petersons is following the story.

And kind of worried about Yosemite. How are they protecting it? INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's so scary because the thing here is the terrain that is so extreme that is making it so hard for these firefighters to really be able to do their job. At one point 5 percent contained and even without a real weather problem it has gone down to 1 percent containment.

Now, the good news here. We'll start with that. No red flag warnings in the area. The reason for that, well, the winds are actually generally calm.

But keep in mind, that's just in the surrounding region. When you have a wildfire like this burning, it starts to create its own weather pattern. So, within the fire itself, you'll see erratic weather pattern out there. That's still going to be a concern.

Temperatures -- well, we're seeing mid-80s, so not great but also not bad. If humidity I think is going to be our toughest concern here. We're talking about teens, at least not single digits. But in the afternoon we'll see humidity drop to 17 percent.

Actually want to show this graphic. This is going to be a visible satellite from yesterday. You can actually tell that is the smoke from the fire from yesterday afternoon. You can actually see it from space. There is so much smoke out there.

This is one of the biggest concerns. We have air quality alerts out in the region. Some schools are having to close down. You can see without strong winds -- yes, good that firefighters are having to deal with strong winds in the region and also means for the residents residing in the area that they're dealing with very thick smoke in the valley that does not escape.

You can really see right there how much they're dealing with, Carol.

COSTELLO: I know. Indra Petersons, thanks so much.

Checking our top stories 30 minutes past.

Bizarre story of domestic terrorism in Las Vegas. CNN affiliate KSNV reports that a 67-year-old woman and a 42-year-old man have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. Police say the two plan to kidnap a police officer, try the officer for treason and then execute him. The two claim to belong to a sovereign citizens movement that does not follow U.S. laws. They were arrested as part of an undercover investigation.

Thirty-three days after the first one accused him of sexual harassment, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner might be stepping down today. City council will meet in just a few hours to vote on a tentative deal. All nine city council members have called on Filner to resign.

Opening bell, I think it's ringing on Wall Street. There you hear it. Shares of Microsoft expected to surge today. The company has just sent long-time CEO Steve Ballmer has decided to retire. Ballmer will leave his post within the next 12 months but will stay with the company until a replacement is found. We're back in a minute.