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Kerry: It's "A Moral Obscenity"; Yosemite Wildfire Burns Chicago-Sized Area; Yosemite Wildfire Burns Chicago-Sized Area; "One Of The Most Activist Courts In History"; Interview with T.W. Shannon; Miley Cyrus Shocks Crowd at VMAs

Aired August 26, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- the Obama administration taking its strongest stance yet against Syria. The secretary of State, John Kerry, making it clear has no doubt chemical weapons were used and there must be accountability.

Also, desperate efforts underway right now to save Yosemite National Park from an historic wildfire that's already scorched an area the size of Chicago.

And a rare interview with the oldest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this court is, quote, "one of the most activist courts in history."

I'm Wolf Blitzer.



JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.


BLITZER: Jarring words from the secretary of State, John Kerry, warning unequivocally that Syria will be held accountable for an apparent poison gas attack that reported killed and wounded thousands of people. The White House says there is very little doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for that attack and President Obama is now evaluating how the United States plans to respond.

It all comes on the same day U.N. inspectors, despite sniper fire, managed to visit one of the areas that was hit. Those findings are also being reviewed.

CNN national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working story from the White House.

So what are you finding out?

What is the latest -- Jim? JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Obama administration has stopped using words like "suspected" or "alleged." Senior national security officials now believe there is almost no doubt that Syria used chemical weapons in an attack last week. And as secretary of State John Kerry made clear earlier this afternoon, the time for diplomacy may be running out.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With strong signs pointing toward a looming military strike against Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stinging indictment.

KERRY: What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It is undeniable.

ACOSTA: Kerry flat out accused Syria of slaughtering civilians with chemical weapons and then trying to cover it up, betraying a global moral code.

KERRY: This international norm cannot be violated without consequences.

ACOSTA: It was an unmistakable message that echoed from the State Department to the White House.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This violation has to be taken very seriously.

ACOSTA: Ever since last week's suspected poison gas attack in Syria, the Obama administration has been consulting with allies and drawing up military options to punish Syrian leader, Bashar Al-Assad, for crossing the president's red line warning against chemical weapons.

The leading option, U.S. officials say, Tomahawk cruise missiles, aimed at destroying command and control targets in Syria, as well as chemical weapon launchers.

The administration wants international approval, but with Russia on the U.N. Security Council and against a Syria strike, the U.S. is consulting with both NATO partners and key Mideast allies.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If there is any action taken, it will be in concert with the international community and within the framework of a legal justification.

ACOSTA: There's no shortage of models for military action, from the NATO-led air strikes against Libya two years ago, to Kosovo in the 1990s.

But just last month, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, warned a strike on Syria could get messy, saying in a letter to Congress, "Should the regime's institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control."

Over the weekend, film secretary of State Colin Powell urged caution.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I am less sure of the resistance.

What do they represent?

And is it becoming even more radicalized with more al Qaeda coming in?

And what would it look like if they prevailed and Assad went?

I don't know.


ACOSTA: But after last week's images of horror out of Syria, the president's tone seemed to shift in an interview with CNN.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think it is fair to say as difficult as the problem is, this is something that is going to require America's attention, and hopefully, the entire international community.


ACOSTA: But Arizona Senator John McCain said it's time to act.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If the United States stands by and doesn't take very serious action, not just launching some cruise missiles, then, again, our credibility in the world is diminished even more, if there's any left.


ACOSTA: As for consultations with Congress from the White House, a senior administration official cautions, once again, the president has not made a decision on military action against Syria.

But House Speaker John Boehner's office complained earlier today that the White House had not been in touch with his office. And then the speaker's office, in the last hour, reported to CNN and other news outlets that they had, in fact, received some kind of phone call from the White House. But that phone call was not of much substance, according to an aide in the speaker's office.

So, Wolf, as Secretary Kerry said earlier this afternoon, and as Jay Carney said at the briefing earlier this afternoon, there is more to come, not just from the secretary, but from the president, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But are they saying already that they will require -- they will seek some sort of Congressional resolution in the House and the Senate before military action is actually used? ACOSTA: The speaker's office did not say that, that they're going to seek that kind of authorization. We heard Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee saying he was hoping that there would be some kind of authorization from Congress, that the president would seek that.

But during today's press briefing, White House press secretary, Jay Carney, was pressed this very point. And the law does, through The War Powers Act, give the president some latitude when it comes to military action. The president takes military action. He then has a 60 day timetable to go back to Congress if there are U.S. forces in harm's way.

But, Wolf, air strikes may not necessarily require that. And so this is sort of an open legal question that we'll probably see play out in the next several weeks, if action is taken.

The White House likes to stress, if action is taken -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The key word, "if," of course.

All right, thanks very much.

Jim Acosta over at the White House.

Let's get some more analysis from our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our chief national correspondent, John King -- Gloria, how much U.S. credibility right now, for the Obama administration, is on the line?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: A tremendous amount, Wolf. Look, this is a president who, last spring, said that there was a red line and that Syria had crossed it, that Assad had crossed it, in terms of the use of chemical weapons.

Now, the secretary of State has just come out, the president's spokesman has come out and made it very clear, without any caveats, that they believe that they have crossed the line again.

So, as president of the United States, you can't draw a red line in the sand and then suddenly move it, because there's a larger world stage here.

What does that say to Iran?

What does that say to Korea?

If you draw the line, you've got to stick to what you said.

So in a way, he's boxed himself in.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's past the point of no return, unless something dramatic happens, unless Assad steps down. No one expects that to happen.

Unless the United Nations, if this investigation is going on, if the secretary general of the United Nations said we need more time, it would be very hard for this president, given his history -- go back to Senator Obama criticizing the Bush administration.

It's different being president, though. But, Wolf, if you talk to people inside the administration and if you talk to the Brits, the French, some of the other allied governments the president and the secretary of State have reached out to in recent days, they think the clock here is a matter of days, not a matter of weeks.

BORGER: And it's clear, I think, that they've decided, look, given Russia's position on this, what's the point of the United Nations?

I think they're going to look for some kind of NATO endorsement. You know, go back to Libya, for example. They'll look for some kind of NATO endorsement and use that.

But I think the U.N., at this point, is pretty...

BLITZER: Well, with Libya...

BORGER: -- useless to them.

BLITZER: -- the U.S. did have a United Nations...

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: -- Security Council resolution. The Russians let that one go through.

BORGER: And the Arab League.

BLITZER: So did the Chinese.

BORGER: And the Arab League.

BLITZER: The Arab League was with -- and NATO.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And this is a very different situation, John. The U.S. does not have the U.N. Security Council, not only because of Russia, but, presumably, China would veto...

BORGER: China.

BLITZER: -- a resolution, as well.

KING: And that is zero expectation it can get that support, especially in the short-term. If the United Nations came in with a damning report about these chemical weapons, might you be able to build that support to get Russia and China on board, might you, over time, over weeks and months?


The administration is not looking at that clock, Wolf. They're looking at very quickly. The Arab League, as Gloria just noted, would be very significant, as well. What they want to have is the Brits. They want to have the French. They want to have the Turks because of the proximity to the neighborhood. And then some -- those are NATO allies. And then some strong Arab support, as well.

And, again, part of this is to send a strong message.

But when you hear the administration saying too late for the inspectors to go in and when you look at Secretary Kerry's language today, it's undeniable. He says the United States has proof and will share it in the next few days.

Again, that's the whole legacy of the Iraq War.

BORGER: Right.

KING: As the United States makes this case around the world, some people are going to say, what's your intelligence?

How good is your intelligence?

So they are going to have to prove it. But it's "a moral obscenity." For an administration that, for two plus years, has stood back, the escalation, the change of the tone and tenor of this language is dramatic. And, again, if you talk to people the president has consulted with, those governments, they think this is a very short fuse.

BORGER: Yes. And, I think the question is going to be that some people are saying, oh, the president's allies on the left are going to get upset. Well, if this is a humanitarian disaster, then he might not have as much push back on the left as you think.

But you just heard John McCain in Jim Acosta's piece. And John McCain said very specifically just lobbing a few missiles is not going to do it and does not meet the moral obligation that we have. And I think that's the argument the president is going to get from somebody like -- like (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: And remember, 1,000 people may have been killed in this latest chemical attack against civilians in Iraq, but 100,000 people have been killed so far...

BORGER: In the war.

BLITZER: -- more -- in regular warfare...

BORGER: That's right.

KING: Yes.

BLITZER: -- with regular weapons over the past couple of years.

KING: And if you remember, Syria was threatening this will blow up the region. This is a huge, huge, huge question, test decision for the president. BLITZER: Right.

BORGER: Except, do we trust the rebels?

Because that's the question, too.

BLITZER: Well, it's a complicated situation.

Thanks, guys.

Be sure to stay tuned. A SITUATION ROOM special report, "Crisis in Syria." That's just ahead at the top of the hour in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. We'll go live to Damascus.

Our Fred Pleitgen is the only journal -- one of the only journalists, Western journalists, inside the country right now.

I'll also speak with Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Our special report coming up at the top of the hour.

When we come back, a national treasure now threatened by a wildfire of historic proportions. Just ahead, one official vows to do whatever it takes to protect Yosemite National Park.

Plus, Donald Trump's real estate school now under attack.


DONALD TRUMP: At Trump University, we teach success. That's what it's all about, success.


BLITZER: You're going to find out why New York's top prosecutor is now charging it's all a scam.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Parts of Yosemite National Park and some major San Francisco power sources are now being threatened by a raging wildfire that's now the 13th largest in California's history. The massive Rim Fire has already devoured more than 149,000 acres, scorching an area about the same size as Chicago.

Our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman, is on the ground in California, where thousands of firefighters are desperately trying to get this fire under control -- Gary, what's the latest?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the great national treasures in this country, Yosemite National Park, is threatened by this fire, which is one of the largest in history of the State of California.

I'll tell you right away the good news. And that is, nobody has been killed and nobody seriously injured. But this fire is not contained. Only 15 percent of it has been contained so far. That means 85 percent, obviously, mathematically, hasn't. And it greatly concerns the firefighters who are on the scene.

Now, you're talking about 149,000 acres. That's 235 square miles. And to put in another way, the nearby city of Las Vegas, Nevada, well, this fire has burned more than one and a half times the area of Las Vegas, Nevada. And for Easterners, New York City, it has burned about two-thirds of New York City, that includes Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, the entire city.

Two-thirds of New York City has been burned right on these rounds, right to the west of the national park right now. The northwestern park of Yosemite, much of it has been burned, but that is not where the tourists go. Most of the tourists are on the southern part of the park that hasn't been burned yet. They're desperately trying to keep the flames away.

We just came back from a tour of the area where the fire is burning. I will tell you, Wolf, this reminded me of when I was in Iceland covering the volcano that went off. It is completely gray in part. When you look up at the sky and you see the sun and it looks like a bright orange ball because you can't see anything else but in front of you, and that bright orange ball burning through the grayness of the ash that is falling down.

We saw a camp ground that has been decimated by flames. It was obvious the people got out quickly because we still saw personal belongings on the ground. We saw cabins that were utterly decimated. We saw a swimming hole (ph) that's filled the children's toys in the pool, but they got out of there safely. We also saw a car that was incinerated right near that camp ground.

We were scared because during the tsunami in Japan when we were walking through and saw cars sadly and tragically, we saw bodies in those cars, that's still something I think about. We came up to that car, and fortunately, we saw nothing in that car. Just the (INAUDIBLE). Obviously, someone got out of that car very quickly.

We still have very dangerous situation. It is not under control. But as I said, the good news, nobody, no firefighter, no civilian has been killed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope it stays like that and they get this fire under control and they do it very, very quickly. Gary Tuchman on the scene for us. Gary, thanks very much.

Other news we're following, the Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, making some serious waves with very candid and blunt remarks about the highest court. Let's talk about that with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He's the author of "The Oath, the Obama White House and the Supreme Court." He's also interviewed Justice Ginsburg. Jeff, thanks very much. One of the things she says in this "New York Times" interview, she says the Roberts court is stunning in terms of activism. She says it's one of the most activist courts in history. Were you surprised to hear her say that publicly?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is a change that Justice Ginsburg is going through in the last couple of years. She has become much more outspoken, much more the public leader of the liberal wing of the party. She's talking about the decision that struck down the key part of the Voting Rights Act.

She's talking about Citizens United striking down the campaign finance law, McCain-Fieingold. She is really outspoken on the court and off about the conservative majority on this court.

BLITZER: She certainly was blunt as far as that's concerned. She also made it clear that she wants to stay a United States Supreme court justice. She says this. She says, "As long as I can do the job full steam and that at my age is not predictable, I love my job. I thought last year I did as in past terms. I am now the most senior justice when we divide 5-4 with the usual suspects."

All this talk we had head over the past few years if president Obama was re-elected, she would retire to give him a chance to name someone else along her political ideology, if you will, but she seems to be throwing that kind of discussion out.

TOOBIN: You know, this is a change. For many years, she had said to me and others that she wanted to serve as long as Louis Brandeis, Justice Brandeis, who is one of her heroes, and he left the court at 82. Well, she's definitely changed in her interview with Adam Liptak today. It's no more 82. And I have heard her talking more recently about Justice Stevens who served until he was 90.

So, you know, she has moved the goalpost. She has moved when she plans to leave and that's just her health permitting, perhaps, that's what she'll do.

BLITZER: Yes. She said she doesn't ride horses anymore, but she's still very active and her mind is in good shape and that's what she wants to do. And she obviously can do that. On her lasting legacy, she says this in this "New York Times" interview. She says, "I don't see that my majority opinions are going to be undone. I do hope that some of my dissents will one day be the law." What do you think about some of those dissents becoming the law?

TOOBIN: Well, you tell me the answer to this question and I'll tell you if those dissents become law. Who's going to be the next president? Is Hillary Clinton, say, going to appoint the replacements for Justice Scalia and Justice Kennedy? Then, in fact, she does have a chance of seeing those dissents become law.

If she is replaced by President Ted Cruz, there's no way those decisions are going to become majority decisions. So, it's all about politics of who's the president and who's picking the justices. That's how we'll know what her legacy really is. BLITZER: Outspoken Supreme Court justice, Justice Ginsburg. Thanks very much to you, Jeffrey Toobin. Good analysis. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, one of the largest dog fighting rings in U.S. history now busted.

Plus, New York state versus Donald Trump, but why is the attorney general of New York state suing the real estate tycoon?


BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now.

The treasury secretary, Jack Lew, is telling Congress the United States will hit its debt limit in mid-October. Lew says it'll run out of the, quote, "extraordinary measures." He's been using to keep the country from defaulting on its financial obligation. The timing puts it right in the thick of the 2014 budget fight.

More than 360 dogs have been rescued in the second largest dog fighting bust in U.S. history. Warrants were executed and arrests were made across Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. Many of the dogs appear to have been severely abused and living in terrible conditions with little access to water and food.

The investigation was initiated by the Auburn, Alabama Police Department. It took three years to complete. Ten suspects have been indicted on felony dog-fighting charges.

The panda cub at the National Zoo here in Washington is healthy, fully formed and very active. This according to the zoo's official Twitter account. The cub was born Friday but will take weeks to know its gender. Zoo officials won't name it for about 100 days following Chinese tradition. The cub's mother also gave birth to another panda Saturday, unfortunately, though, it was not alive.

Also at the National Zoo, two three-week-old tiger cubs got their first check up and passed with flying colors. The vets determined that one is a male, the other a female and that they're both healthy, plump, and growing quickly.

Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange is back in the spotlight, but not exactly how you might expect. Listen to this.




BLITZER: That is him. Julian Assange appearing in a school (ph) video on a YouTube to promote his Australian Senate campaign. He's lip syncing to an Australian pop song which includes lyrics like "we got to make things leak so we can get much bolder," "we're all wiretapped now. We're all being fed lies."

Up next, an escalating crisis in Syria. Has the United States lost credibility in the region? We'll debate it with the new co-host of CNNs new "Crossfire." They're both standing by.

Plus, Donald Trump forced to defend his real estate school against New York's top prosecutor who's now charging it's all a scam. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Happening now --


BLITZER (voice-over): The co-host of CNN's new "Crossfire," Stephanie Cutter and S.E. Cupp, they're here. They will debate what the U.S. should do about Syria.

Donald Trump sued for tens of millions of dollars over his real estate school.

Plus, Jeanne Moos on Miley Cyrus' provocative performance at the VMA Awards.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the top story this hour. The breaking news: we're following the escalating crisis in Syria. A new vow from the Obama administration today to hold the country accountable in the aftermath of an apparent poison gas attack.

Joining us now , the co-hosts of CNN's new CROSSFIRE, Stephanie Cutter and S.E. Cupp. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

So is the president in this particular case, Stephanie, leading from behind?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, I don't think we've seen exactly what action he's going to take. But it certainly seems like he's getting ready to take one. I think we need to see what happens.

BLITZER: Are you ready for that? You think he should?

CUTTER: I think he should, and I think he will.

BLITZER: What do you want him to do?


CUTTER: I'm not a military expert, but I think that using chemical weapons has consequences, and he's made clear that there will be consequence, they will be held accountable. And we should see what happens. We're not in the situation room except for this particular SITUATION ROOM.




BLITZER: Not in the other one over there.


BLITZER: How much credibility does the president have right now?

S.E. CUPP, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Zero. Absolutely zero. We are still today waiting to see what the president will do. It's been two years, over 100,000 dead. Al Qaeda has absolutely swept in to take advantage of this power vacuum. We've enabled Hezbollah and Russia and Iran.

This is a mess. The saddest part is it's a mess that foreign policy experts and analysts predicted two years ago. Turkey has been begging for our intervention --

CUTTER: And why isn't Turkey intervening itself? For a very good reason. Because they know if they intervene, there's no way for them to get out, and they have unrest at home. The Turkish people don't support intervention. So, we need to ask why our allies in the region aren't intervening.

CUPP: Our allies in the region don't have the resources. We do.


BLITZER: One at a time.

CUTTER: The president has always said there's a red line. That red line is chemical weapons. There was evidence that they used chemical weapons two months ago. The president took action. There's evidence now that they used chemical weapons on a very large scale, and I think that action is imminent.

And when I say we have to wait to see what the president does, we are not in the Situation Room where we look at the intelligence. And I particularly appreciate that because I have been there, and I'm not going to second guess exactly what this president is going to do because he is looking at the evidence; we are not.

CUPP: The president has changed his red line three times. The first red line was using or moving chemical weapons around. The second red line was using chemical weapons. The third red line that we just heard in the interview with Chris Cuomo was using chemical weapons in a mass scale.

So, the red lines have changed, the president has not acted on those red lines -

CUPP: The president has acted.

CUPP: -- we have no idea what he's going to do and, frankly, it might be too late. The time for surgical intervention with missile strikes and no-fly zones was early when the rebels numbered dozens and al Qaeda had not infiltrated. Now there are thousands -


CUTTER: I find it incredibly interesting that people who don't know anything about national security don't listen to the generals and the people actually sitting in the room. The generals - even today, General Dempsey responded to a letter to Senator McCain saying, hey, we can do a no-fly zone. But here's what will happen. It will cost $500 million to establish one, it will cost us a billion dollars a month, and it puts American lives at risk.

Oh, and by the way, will it have any impact on the status quo on the ground and change the playing field in terms of the opposition? Probably not because there - that's all ground forces that are attacking the opposition, it's not air strikes. So, I think that facts here matter, talking points don't.

CUPP: Absolutely facts matter. I'm not inventing these arguments or these concerns. Two years ago, I was writing about these concerns because I was listening to experts and analysts who were weighing in about the concerns of the global concerns and the stability of that region. These are concerns that are not the inventions of pundits. These are concerns that anyone with any experience in foreign policy were to look and be able to predict --

CUTTER: Let's look at where we are now.

CUPP: And instead, the president has dithered for two years on this issue.

CUTTER: So, now there's been broad scale evidence of a massive chemical attack. Action seems imminent. There is an opportunity here to rally the world against the use of a weapon of mass destruction. If we go into Syria, we're now going into Syria with force and strength instead of going it alone. And I think that matters. That doesn't just matter to me, but it matters to the American people, and it matters to our U.S. military.

CUPP: To use missile strikes now looks weak and ineffective, like we are out of options. That is not a long-term plan. That's swatting at flies, and it has absolutely no long-term impact --

BLITZER: So, what do you want the president to do?

CUPP: The president needs a long-term, broad focus to root out al Qaeda. If the humanitarian aspect of this issue doesn't compel the American people, okay, I can accept that. If you aren't compelled by emboldening Russia and Iran and Hezbollah, okay, I can buy that. But growing al Qaeda threats all over the region, whether it's the Maghreb or Middle East are a national security threat. That's the problem we are ignoring in every single Middle Eastern theater. And that's what the president should be focusing on.

CUTTER: So what exactly should we do? What exactly should we do? Because if we go in there on our own and try to level the playing field to embolden the opposition, we don't know who we're putting in charge because it's not clear who is going to be put in charge. And then we own Syria.

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: Now we've been in Afghanistan for 12, 13 years. We've been in Iraq for well over a decade. Now we're about to take ownership of Syria, and there's no good solution. Going in and using military force without knowing what your end game is is a dangerous proposition.

CUPP: I couldn't agree more. I hope we don't. It's too late.

The argument you're laying out is absolutely right. We can't go in without a game plan. That's exactly what we're doing now. Had we done this earlier, we could have solved what was a small problem. Now it is a massive problem. And I'm sorry, missile strikes are not going to bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

Missile strikes will embolden al Qaeda. And then al Qaeda will be in control of Syria.

BLITZER: A good debate, guys. And this debate will certainly continue. I suspect in the next few days, the president will do something, not exactly clear on what, but he's obviously, based on what we heard from the secretary of state, he's in a box. He's got to react. Otherwise, he will totally lose a lot of credibility. Thanks very much. Looking forward to the new show.

CUTTER: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, CNN's Fred Pleitgen, one of the few reporters on the ground in Damascus, Syria right now. We're going to the Syrian capital. A SITUATION ROOM special report: "Crisis In Syria" coming up at the top of the hour.

Plus, details of New York state's $40 million lawsuit against Donald Trump.

But first, a CNN CROSSFIRE classic.


CUPP: CROSSFIRE has played host to a number of gun control debates over the years. What's astonishing to me is how little has changed since then. Check out this clip. It's NRA's Wayne Lapierre defending gun owners rights after a 1993 shooting in New York.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA: That's all you guys can think of is more regulations on honest people. But a million times a year, honest people use a gun in this country to defend themselves from criminals the system will not control. There's absolutely no gun control law that would have stopped this guy in New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we had a ban on this type of weapon --

LAPIERRE: You say you're going to ban all guns. A million people a year --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to ban the guns that allowed this guy to walk through and shoot one after another, 22 people in a few seconds.




BLITZER: It's the state of New York versus Donald Trump in a lawsuit over one of the billionaire's latest business ventures. CNN's Alison Kosik has details.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT voice-over): He's America's most famous billionaire. Never one to shy away from the spotlight.


KOSIK: From his "Apprentice" reality show to his almost-run for the White House to his demand that President Obama hand over his birth certificate. Now, Donald Trump is grabbing headlines again in a bombshell lawsuit accusing him of fraud.

TRUMP: At Trump University, we teach success. That's what it's all about. Success. It's going to happen to you.

KOSIK: But New York State attorney general says that promise was empty for students at the real estate mogul's investment school. Trump University. The state wants $40 million for what it says the school wrongly took from people who attended classes.

TRUMP: We're going to teach you about business. We're going to teach you better than the business schools are going to teach you.

KOSIK: It alleges Trump misled perspective students with a bait and switch. If they wanted to get rich, they'd have to pay $1,500 for a three-day workshop. Once there, then came the push for a year-long course at $35,000. The lawsuit says instructors even urged students to call their credit card companies to increase their limits so they could sink even more money into classes. Classes Trump defended in a tweet, saying there was a 98 percent approval rating of students for courses.

Another allegation says students were told Trump would make an appearance during the seminars. Instead, they had their photo taken with a life-size picture of him.

LAURA RIES, MARKETING STRATEGIST: They wanted to be near Donald Trump. And I think that was the biggest problem in terms of people being disappointed.

KOSIK: Trump is slamming the attorney general's suit, telling CNN's Chris Cuomo he thinks it's politically motivated and that former students love the school.

TRUMP (on the phone): We sort of gave a report card on ourselves to every student that took the course. We had a 98 percent -- if you go to Wharton, if you go to Harvard, they don't have a 98 percent approval rating.

People loved the school. The school was terrific. And we got sued for lots of different reasons, primarily to get publicity.

KOSIK: Alison Kosik, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Coming up at the top of the hour, don't forget a CNN SITUATION ROOM special report, "Crisis In Syria." CNN has one of the few journalists on the ground in Damascus. We're going live to the Syrian capital.

Also, straight ahead, a rising Republican African-American star is about to weigh in on talk of Dr. Martin Luther king's legacy. We'll also talk to him about some Republican suggestion that perhaps the president of the United States should be impeached.


BLITZER: President Obama will speak at the Lincoln Memorial this Wednesday marking 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic "I Have A Dream" speech.

The Republican Party held a special luncheon today to mark the anniversary featuring the chairman, Reince Priebus, and some prominent African-American Republicans.

And T.W. Shannon is joining us right now. He's the speaker of the House in Oklahoma.

May I call you Mr. Speaker?

T.W. SHANNON (R), OKLAHOMA STATE HOUSE SPEAKER: Sure, that's fine. You just call, Wolf, whatever you like.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for coming in. You're here in Washington to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 50th anniversary of his "I Have A Dream" speech but you did it with the RNC. They had a special event. Tell us what's -- what was going on.

SHANNON: Well, I think when you think about, you know, how the country has changed in 50 -- since 50 years ago when Dr. King first gave his "I Have A Dream" speech, I think the RNC and Chairman Priebus' timing on commemorating that event was well worth it. And I think when you look at the tenets that -- we had people from all walks of life that came to the luncheon to participate, to recognize and not only were we honoring a man, but we were honoring an idea.

And frankly, people like me, a 35-year-old African-American enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation from Oklahoma gets to be speaker of the House, I like to think of myself as embodying the dream of Dr. King.

BLITZER: And Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, he named you one of the rising starts of the Republican Party right now.

Why are you a Republican?

SHANNON: I'm a Republican, frankly, because I believe in less government, lower taxes. I strongly support, you know, most of the Republican platform and I think that when you look at the history of the Republican Party, and you think about the future of this country, I think that the ideology of the Republican Party is what's really going to -- change things around.

You can look at Oklahoma, the state of Oklahoma, what we're doing in lowering taxes. You know, providing for a personal responsibility. Those are the ways that you change things around.

BLITZER: Because you know the African-American community voted overwhelmingly for President Obama last time in 2012. Obama got 93 percent of the African-American vote. Romney got 6 percent. What does the Republican Party need to do to bring in, to recruit more African-Americans like yourself?

SHANNON: First thing is show up. You've got to be there. You've got to be there to make the message. You've got -- you can't just show up on Sunday morning, the weekend before the election. You've got to be there. And Chairman Priebus has done a great job of outlining a plan that I think will help Republicans win in the next election.

But you look at my election in 2006 when I first ran. I actually carried the African-American vote in my district, which is about 20 percent of the district, and we did it by going door to door and establishing a relationship with everybody in the community. And sometimes that means going around the traditional community leaders.

BLITZER: What's the biggest misconception from your perspective that African-Americans have about the Republican Party right now?

SHANNON: I think solely that, you know, somehow the Republican Party is the party of old white men. But when you look at around the country, you know, former figures like J.C. Watts or, you know, Alan Keys, or even Clarence Thomas, and, you know, T.W. Shannon, you've got certainly a lot of African-Americans, but you've got people from all walks of life.

And the party of Lincoln is a party that is big enough for everybody. You don't have to believe what T.W. Shannon believes to be a Republican. BLITZER: The Republican governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal, he wrote this for "Politico." And I'm going to -- I want to put it up on the screen.

"Yet we still place far too much emphasis on our separateness, our heritage, ethnic backgrounds, skin color, et cetera. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans. How about just Americans? That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our separateness is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot."

Do you agree with the governor?

SHANNON: Yes, I absolutely agree. I think that we're all Americans, and that's -- and that's first and foremost. But when you're trying to win elections, certainly sub-types and subgroups matter and you have to be appealing to more than just one cross section and I think that's what the Republican Party is going to do this next election. I'm confident of it.

BLITZER: What do you make of some of these murmurings from the few -- not very many. But even Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma suggesting maybe the president is getting close to high crimes and misdemeanors and should be impeached.

SHANNON: You know, there are very few times I disagree with, you know, Dr. Coburn. I think he's a great leader.

BLITZER: He didn't say he should be. He said -- when he was asked about it, he said maybe he's getting close to that.

SHANNON: Yes, I don't know the specifics of it, but certainly I think what we do know is that we can't continue to wait for the federal government to lead in this country, Wolf. If there's going to be reform in the country, I believe it's going to really happen in the halls of state governments. And that's why the work that we're doing in state capitals around the 50 capitals in the country, that's where the real reform is going to happen. Not Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: But this impeachment notion you think is -- should be off the table?

SHANNON: I think if the president has committed a crime, certainly there should be an investigation --

BLITZER: Do you -- do you think he has?

SHANNON: I think that argument can certainly be made. I'm not there on the front lines dealing with it every day, but I certainly trust Dr. Coburn's judgment. And he says maybe perhaps it's time we explore the possibility.

BLITZER: So you think he's right on that, maybe look at the president, high crimes and misdemeanors? Is that something you really -- I just want to be precise on this.

SHANNON: No president is above the law. And I don't know if this president has committed a crime or not. But certainly, if he has, I think he should be held accountable like every other American.

BLITZER: The speaker of the House in Oklahoma, T.W. Shannon. Thanks very much for coming in.

SHANNON: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: And right at the top of the hour, a SITUATION ROOM special. Crisis in Syria. We'll have a rare live report from inside the country.

But up next, Jeanne Moss.


BLITZER: The MTV Video Music Awards certainly known for outrageous performances over the years. But last night may have topped them all when Miley Cyrus, the 20-year-old pop star many came to know as "Hannah Montana," took the stage.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a crotch- grabbing, butt-slapping, tongue-wagging, grinding performance, a story with legs, even if we can't show exactly what Miley Cyrus was doing through them. Never has one of those rare Number 1 foam fingers been so man-handled.

(On camera): But now everyone's pointing the finger at Miley.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC'S MORNING JOE: The whole thing was cringe- worthy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The tongue out and -- I think it's just a little desperate.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: Just this side of onstage pornography.

MOOS (voice-over): She was the target of tweets. "Just watched that Miley Cyrus teddy bear performance and I think I'm now legally required to put myself on some kind of registry."

Her look was mocked on YouTube.

(On camera): Thumbs up, thumbs down on the Miley Cyrus performance?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, that foam finger. Yes, it was a little awkward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down. I think that she's trying too hard to be sexy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to be way too old and too vulgar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you sit there and watch with your granddaughter, who is 11 years old, and you've got to be embarrassed. We looked at each other and went, oh well.


MOOS (voice-over): This was as close as we found to man on the street support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thumb in the middle.

MOOS (on camera): In the middle?


MOOS: Very good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bit much, but it's all right.

MOOS (voice-over): Everyone kept showing the photo of Will Smith's family Aghast, reacting to Miley's performance.

LIMBAUGH: They can't believe what they're looking at.

MOOS: It turns out what they're looking at was Lady Gaga's performance, not Miley's. And the person on the right was just scratching.

Miley's latex-clad bottom was compared to a chicken's. Her look was compared to Jim Carrey's as a steroid using female bodybuilder.

In reaction, Miley tweeted out, "My VMA performance had 306,000 tweets per minute. That's more than the blackout or Super Bowl."

She also sent out a photo gesturing with her own upraised fingers, rather than the foam one and to think that five years ago the satirical Onion News Network made this prediction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most experts now agree that at current usage levels, Miley Cyrus will be drained dry of entertainment value by 2013.

MOOS: Well, it's now 2013, but we are still getting a lot of entertainment value out of this performance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be a little more classy.

MOOS: So Miley, if you let your foam finger do the walking, try not to make it seem like street walking.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.