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tv   The Situation Room  CNN  December 12, 2013 2:00pm-3:31pm PST

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bush was. classy move by a big texas longhorn fan. that's it for "the lead." i'm jake tapper. i will be back in two hours on "outfront" at 7:00 p.m. eastern. follow me on twitter. i turn you over to wolf blitzer in "the situation room." mr. blitzer. breaking news, important breaking news. north korea execution. an uncle of the leader kim jong-un put to death after a military tribunal. what was his alleged crime, what does it mean about security on the korean peninsula? also, republican civil war. long-simmering tension exploding as john boehner unleashes a sharp new attack of conservative groups. who will win the battle to control house republicans? and worst case scenario. the obama administration watches helplessly as its fears appear to be coming true in syria. extremists on the rise, the opposition at war with itself and bashar al assad apparently
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firmly in power. could this be the next afghanistan? i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." but we begin with the breaking news from north korea, where the state-run news agency is reporting that an uncle of the leader kim jong-un has been executed only days after he was removed from his military post. let's go straight to our pentagon correspondent, barbara starr. she is working the story for us. until the last few days, this uncle, jang sung-taek, was considered to be arguably after kim jong-un the most powerful person in north korea. what's going on? >> reporter: wolf, that is the question for the united states at this hour. what is happening inside that regime. the uncle, according to the north korean news agency, has now been executed. he was purged, stripped of all his posts a few days ago. the alleged crime is what it always is in the north korean regime, disloyalty to the regime. the question now front and
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center, kim jong-un, the new young leader in north korea, in power for only the last two years, what is he doing. this man that he has executed was a family member, married into the family, was a close confidant of his father's when he was in power, now apparently executed. the concern for the united states is that basically, the decision making inside north korea right now, unstable and uncertain. not only has this man been removed from power, the question for the united states, why are they continuing to hold kenneth bae, the american now held for so many months inside north korea, what are they up to with their missile program. they just finished construction on new portions of a missile launch site. what are they up to with the nuclear program. they have restarted a reactor that could be capable of making nuclear fuel. all of these questions on the table for the cia, the u.s.
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intelligence community. what we are seeing here with the execution of the uncle is just the latest uncertainty about what kim jong-un is up to. >>. are more than 30,000 troops along the demilitarized zone that separates south korea and north korea, a million troops basically face-to-face with nearly a million south korean troops. the stakes as far as the u.s. and its allies in the region right now, enormous as they always are, but is there any indication the u.s. military is taking any sort of precautionary steps right now on the korean peninsula beefing up its presence or anything along those lines given what could be some uncertainty in north korea right now? >> i have to tell you, for the last several days, they have seen some of this instability unfold, they certainly are keeping an eye on it. u.s. troops, south korean troops always at a high state of alert.
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the continuing concern is the status of their forces, whether they are going to make any moves. they don't see that so far, but it's the advanced weaponry that's also of concern. north korea is working on a program for long range mobile ballistic missles. that means they can move them around and launch them very suddenly, and the u.s., the u.s. satellites, might not be able to see them in time. this is one of the biggest concerns for the pentagon right now. >> barbara, stand by. jim sciutto, our national security correspondent, is here as well. jim, the chinese i take it, you spent a lot of time in beijing, they are very nervous right now. they had a very close relationship with this uncle, jang sung-taek, and are worried about what's going on in north korea with this yuoung new leader, kim jong-un. >> no question. china's assessment of north korea, for years now, the u.s. has been trying to get china on the same page, if you will, trying to get them worried about
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north korea's nuclear program. that's evolved in that direction over time so to see this kind of instability here will certainly worry china as well. i think it will get them more aligned, in effect, with america's more worried view of the situation in north korea. remember, he's very close to kim jong-un. a short time ago you had the third most powerful man in the country deposed. that proximity to the leadership speaks to instability and that's not good for that country. >> i assume the chinese would be taking steps as well along the border. they have a long border with north korea. they are watching this situation as intensively as the united states and south korea are. >> no question. that's something when i was in china, you would see. you would see china react to situations on the ground in north korea by increasing forces, increasing monitoring along the border. they would have to be doing the same thing and they have to be doing something of what folks in washington are doing right now, throwing their hands up in the air and wondering exactly what's going on there. there are some who are interpreting this as kim jong-un
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consolidating his power but there is some question as to whether he's behind it. could be another faction within that leadership. the leadership so opaque in north korea, it's hard to say with certainty what's actually happening. >> i want you to stand by as well. victor cha is joining us right now from the center for strategic and international studies here in washington, a georgetown university professor. victor, i guess the basic question is, why did they execute the uncle? >> well, i think first of all, he was considered to be a very big threat and for that reason, he was executed. i mean, we have seen executions before in north korea. we just haven't seen the sort of theater and dramatics that have been associated with it. what we're seeing this time, we haven't seen in north korea since the early 1950s, when the leader was consolidating his power. so it is quite unusual and i think your analysts are exactly right. it speaks to some sort of problem inside the system when they have to go as high as jang
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sung-taek and the general who was purged in july of 2012, when they have to go that high, it doesn't tell you it's a stable power consolidation. it tells you there's a great bit of in-fighting going on inside the system. >> i read the statement put out by the north koreans just a few moments ago, victor. it described the uncle as a despicable human scum who was worse than a dog. these are brutally -- brutal words, if you will. >> yeah. some of that has to be discounted in the sense that they sort of use that language quite often in their propaganda but when, as you said, when you read the list of things they charged him with, it's very clear that they saw him or are depicting him as an enemy of the state, and in a sense, it must have been a real threat to kim jong-un such that he had to take these sorts of actions. i agree, we have to watch this situation very closely. it's not clear at all what's coming next and it's not clear at all in terms of external
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behavior how north korea is going to respond. when you have dictatorships like this that go through unstable transitions, it usually doesn't mean they become more conciliatory in terms of external behavior. they become more dangerous. that's why the united states, south korea, japan and china are quite worried. >> take us behind the scenes. you worked at the national security council, you are an expert on the korean peninsula. what do you suspect is going on in the obama administration, at the pentagon, the state department, the cia. what do you think is going on? >> the first thing of course is that i'm sure one would have to look to see if there's any unusual troop movements taking place inside of north korea. if there's anything resembling some sort of in-fighting in which there's a civil war breaking out. that's one of the first things you want to look at because you want to be able to know how much you need to strengthen or heighten the alert, what readiness of u.s. forces on the peninsula. the other thing would be to make contact with our allies, south korea and japan, as well with the chinese, to try to share as
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much information that we all have about what's going on with regard to the situation in north korea. as you said, this is about the most opaque place in the world and our level of intelligence on these issues is not as high as we wish it would be. i think people work very hard at this but it's not as high as we wish it would be. i think the third thing we are going to be doing is also consulting with members outside of our normal circle of six party members, united states, japan, south korea, china, russia. it's other people, whether it's southeast asians or others who might have information about what is going on. and the last thing would be to try to find out what is going on with kim jong-hi, the wife of jang sung-taek, daughter of the founder of the country, jand sh has played a very important role in this transition from the death of kim jong-il to the succession of kim jong-un.
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she has not been seen at all in public. that's another important question. where is she in this picture. >> we will show the viewers live television from south korea. they are obviously in wall-to-wall coverage watching what's going on. they are obviously very concerned about stability on the korean peninsula. no one is more concerned than the south koreans. our state department reporter is with us as well. elyse, are you getting any reaction from officials in washington? >> just hearing from some sources and the administration has not yet necessarily confirmed this information. >> the execution. >> the execution of the uncle. but what i have heard from senior administration officials, we have seen the report, we don't have any way to independently confirm. don't doubt its veracity. the regime's ruthlessness toward one of its leading members is a reminder how far north korea and its new leadership is outside of the international norms of behavior. this is for the obama administration, wolf, has always been the problem. how do you understand what's going on in north korea.
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we saw last week with the release of merrill newman the north koreans calling up the state department saying we're letting him go, no explanation. when we say well, why did that happen, you can't predict the north koreans. so you know, in an odd way, this uncle was one of the more predictable people that they knew, that they have been dealing with for some time. now they are really increasingly in the dark about the new -- >> merrill newman, the 85-year-old american korean war veteran who was picked up, he was a tourist in north korea, held for a month and suddenly, they let him go. he's back in the united states right now. you're watching, jim sciutto. getting reaction? >> interesting, this is a reminder of what the real source of instability in the region is and it's north korea. it's a nuclear power. they have done three nuclear tests. our attention has been distracted by another real issue, tensions between japan and china about the islands, et cetera. but the most severe source of instability there is north korea. even when we think about iran and this interim nuclear deal to keep them from getting a bomb,
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remember, north korea already has the bomb. they have tested it out before and biden was just in china and certainly on his agenda with the chinese is discussions about north korea and the seriousness with which the u.s. views that situation. we talked about merrill newman being released. we have another u.s. citizen still being held in north korea, in kenneth bae. his family and others watching that situation have to be concerned by this. >> a missionary. go ahead. >> the administration doesn't want to say anything too inflammatory right now because kenneth bae is also on their minds and i think right now, what's interesting is how you say that it's the real source, the instability in the region, ironically now, this is going to have japan, china, the u.s. saying okay, we need to really focus on the real threat right now. you need to put your differences aside and we need to see how we're going to deal with it. >> that's right. it's one issue where the u.s. and china have come closer together, on their assessment of north korea as a problem and china getting tougher on them on what has been their client
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state, in effect. >> we will continue to monitor breaking news out of north korea. the execution of the man arguably after kim jong-un, the most powerful in north korea, jang sung-taek. we will continue to watch this. it was exactly three years ago almost to the day i spent six days in north korea. it was also a very tense time. there was tensions between north korea and south korea and i can tell you that that situation on the korean peninsula can escalate like that unless cooler heads prevail. all right, guys. continue to watch it. victor, thanks to you. barbara starr, thanks to you as well. up next, long simmering tensions also exploding as house speaker john boehner unleashes very sharp new criticism of conservative groups. who will win the battle to control house republicans? i'm a careful investor.
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we're following developments on capitol hill where a house vote on a bipartisan budget deal is imminent. the agreement would fund the government for the next two years, eliminating the possibility of another government shutdown ahead of next year's midterm elections and it's forcing democrats and republicans to compromise on some key priorities. it's also throwing a spotlight out there on a bitter split unfolding right now between the house speaker john boehner and some very influential conservative groups. our chief congressional correspondent dana bash is up on capitol hill watching all of this unfold. what's going on right now, dana? >> reporter: wolf, the atmosphere here is so different and frankly a little bit jarring. you have democratic leaders and republican leaders effectively working together to try to get their rank and file to vote for this budget agreement but republicans are really the most
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split and the house speaker is trying to pull in his rank and file by pushing back hard against outside conservative groups. john boehner turned a spat with powerful outside groups in his own party into an all-out war. >> they're misleading their followers. i think they're pushing our members in places where they don't want to be. >> reporter: boehner first took his private ire public yesterday at conservative groups for pressuring rank and file republicans to oppose a budgets deal he supports. many before they saw it. now it's clear the speaker is using this moment to take a broader stand against outside forces that have so often made it impossible for him to convince conservative members to compromise on fiscal issues. they've had a lot of sway in a lot of the decisions that your members have made over the past couple of years. does this budget mark a turning point and are your members at your behest going to be more focused on maybe compromise and less on what the outside groups
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are pressuring them to do? >> when groups come out and criticize an agreement that they have never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are. i thought it was my job and my obligation to stand up for conservatives here in the congress who want more deficit reduction. stand up for the work that chairman ryan did. >> reporter: mike needham runs heritage action, one of the groups boehner is lashing out at. john boehner said groups like yours have completely lost credibility. >> look, i don't think it's for anybody in washington to decide who has credibility. it's certainly very frustrating that an honest disagreement about a bill that was or deal that was struck has devolved into name calling from the speaker. >> reporter: boehner made clear this is about more than the budget. it's been brewing for awhile. >> they pushed us into this fight to defund obama care and the shutdown of government. if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the people, one of these groups, stood up and said well, we never really thought it would work. are you kidding me?
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>> reporter: now, some of these outside groups think that what boehner is doing is trying to clear the decks for some of the other tough issues that divide the parties that are coming around the corner next year, like immigration reform, perhaps, in the house. but republican leadership aides say that's not necessarily the case, that this is really just genuine frustration that is boiling over from boehner at really months, maybe even years, that he's had to deal with trying to keep his republicans in line, trying to help find compromise while he's had these outside groups really battling against him. >> what a story this is up on capitol hill. dana, thank you. let's dig a little deeper right now with our chief political analyst, gloria borger. why is the speaker so angry right now? >> you can really hear it there. look, i think he's had enough. i think he believes there was a hostile takeover of the republican party by those 60 members of the hell, no caucus that shut down the government.
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i think he gave them their shot, it failed miserably. republicans are at a terribly low point in the polls, certainly lower than democrats. he's tired of his republicans getting primaried by people who stand to the right of them, and endangering his own majority in the house. what you see is a speaker who is finally taking charge. i also see a sense of perhaps regret, wolf, that perhaps he didn't do it sooner, even before the shutdown. he gave them their shot. they failed miserably. he wasn't going to do it again. >> the speaker is on the house floor right now supporting this compromise deal that was worked out by the house/senate conferrees. it's not just a battle involving john boehner. you have a lot of the new republican leaders fighting each other for all practical purposes. marco rubio, rising star in florida, republican senator, didn't mention any names in this op-ed he wrote, but it was clear
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who he was going after when he wrote this budget deal fails to address the biggest obstacles that stand between our people and the american dream. it keeps us on the same road to ruin that washington has placed us on. clearly, he's not happy with representative paul ryan, who helped put this deal together. both of whom ryan and rubio are thinking of running for president. >> both of them clearly are running for president. first of all, rubio makes it sound as if this is some kind of huge global budget agreement that will last for decades. this is a short-term measure that's really been written so the government doesn't shut down. there are lots more big budget fights to come but look at where rubio is coming from. he is somebody who himself was criticized by conservatives because he signed on to a bipartisan immigration reform plan. since that moment, he's been running as fast as he can to the
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right, because he wants to position himself for a potential run. he sees paul ryan as somebody who was labeled a moderate because he ran with mitt romney. ryan himself is a conservative budget guy, but he felt that he had to kind of be pragmatic and say look, the people want to see us get something done. there is no appetite in this country at all to go to the brink again. so he positioned himself with the republican leadership on this. as somebody who can get things done. i'm sure you are going to see that played out again in 2016 and a lot more times before they we get there. >> getting ready for roll call. i assume they will get it but we'll see and then we'll continue this conversation. thank you. so has anything changed since the newtown tragedy? are schools any safer than they were one year ago? coming up, two people with very different views weigh in on gun control. mark kelly and asa hutchison are
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you're looking at a vigil in washington's national cathedral which ended just a few moments ago. it was held for victims of gun violence just two days before the one-year anniversary of that horrific school shooting at the sandy hook elementary school in newtown, connecticut. we heard from a survivor of the massacre at virginia tech a short time ago. >> six years ago, i survived the shooting at virginia tech, where 32 of us were killed and 25 others injured. i still have three bullets in pieces throughout my body and a metal rod in my left leg. two years after that, april 3rd, 2009, the shooting at the bingamton, new york immigration center where 13 of us were killed and four others wounded, was my tipping point. it was my newtown moment. it was the moment i realized that unchecked gun sales are
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irresponsible and must stop. >> cnn's poppy harlow is joining us live from the national cathedral here in washington. tell us about this day. >> reporter: well, it was a stunningly beautiful event, wolf. it was a very somber, somber event but it was filled with glorious music. we heard from singer carole king, the world children's choir sang as well. there were some politicians there, of course senator murphy and blumenthal of connecticut. but this was really about personal experiences, survivors of gun violence, people that had lost their loved ones to gun violence both in newtown and in other environments all across america. they said this is not just about newtown. this is about all those who have been lost to gun violence in this country, speaking out against that. we heard also many calls to washington, to congress, calling for change, calling for stronger federal gun laws. we heard a lot of that. you know, the point is, this is
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here, two days in washington before the one-year anniversary of that horrific shooting in newtown. one to send a message to capitol hill but also to not be in newtown. as you know, that community has asked for the press to stay away on that one-year anniversary so this was a way for everyone to gather, to remember and to give that community time to heal. as we walked out, people lit candles. it was beautiful just as the sun was going down and they asked everyone to take a heart from a basket made from people all across the country to remember those 26 innocent lives lost and everyone else who has been lost to gun violence. >> 20 children, six educators. what a horrific day that was. poppy, thank you. so what should be done to stop gun violence? coming up, two people with very different views getting ready to weigh in. the gun control advocate mark kelly and director of the nra's national school shield program, asa hutchison are here with me. we'll discuss. [ male announcer ] for every late night,
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saturday will mark one year since the newtown school massacre broke the nation's heart and thrust the issue of gun control back into the spotlight. but tighter regulations failed to clear congress and the debate continues. let's talk about it with gun control advocate mark kelly, the husband of former congresswoman gabrielle giffords, who was seriously injured in a mass shooting back in 2011. together they founded the group americans for responsible solutions. we are also joined by asa hutchinson, the former u.s. congressman and head of the drug enforcement administration, director of the national rifle association funded national school shield task force. gentlemen, thanks to both of you for coming in. mark kelly, first to you. it's a year since the newtown massacre. are children safer in schools right now? what if anything has changed?
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>> well, you know, it's been -- saturday will be a year and so far, the national response to that horrific act and the situation we have in this country is basically to do nothing. so i would say that children are not safer in their schools. this is a complex problem and it should be addressed and congress has yet to do that. >> you think anything has changed, asa? >> yes. i think that there has been increased effort on safety, virtually every state has looked at school safety legislation and had it introduced. you've had schools employ additional resources in terms of school resource officers and other protection for the children. they have increased technology as well. so there is a safer response capability. but we certainly have learned that congress said despite a full court press by the president, that the answer is
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not gun control legislation so the safety answer is what is much more effective and what we've concentrated on the last year and i think we have made progress. >> you must be very frustrated, mark, that congress has not passed tighter gun control legislation, background checks, if you will, anything else. who do you blame for that? >> well, one of the reasons it's so frustrating, wolf, is that with regard to background checks, it's something that 92% of americans support, expanded background checks are also supported by 74% of nra members. i don't know what asa's stand is specifically on that, but a lot of his membership does support this, and so who's to blame? well, you know, i don't want to lay blame anywhere, but it is a reality that the gun lobby has an incredible amount of political influence with members of congress in washington.
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it's very clear that many members take their cues on this issue from the gun lobby. >> when we spoke earlier this year, asa, you did indicate a readiness, an openness, to consider greater background checks. let me play the clip, the exchange that we had back in april. >> what i hear you saying is you're open to expanding background checks personally. >> yes. absolutely. i'm open to expanding background checks, if you can do it within a way that does not infringe upon an individual and make it hard for an individual to transfer to a friend or a neighbor. >> are you still open to expanding background checks with those conditions attached? >> i think the context of that was in reference to gun shows. the american public, as mark points out, understand the importance of keeping firearms purchases away from convicted felons and those who have been adjudicated mentally ill. that's what we agree upon in
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terms of background checks. right now, i think one of the greatest challenges is that we have seen gun control legislation which i think was rightfully discarded as not the right solution, school safety efforts is a good solution but the third one is the enforcement side. and i know mark's probably just as frustrated that despite the president's commitment, there has not been an increased effort enforcement of our gun laws. i think the department of justice should look at why there's hundreds of thousands over the years that have applied unlawfully for a firearm, been rejected for it, but yet they haven't been prosecuted, such a very small percent of those, and why is that the case. if there's some good reasons for it, we ought to know that, but the enforcement side, and the president was committed to it, has not been implemented. >> go ahead, mark. >> wolf, so you know, asa made it clear that it's important to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously
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mentally ill. one way to do that is expanding background checks to gun shows and the internet. i think he agrees with that. that's what that piece of legislation did in april, that failed on april 17th i believe it was, the manchin/toomey compromise bill that expanded background checks. with regard to enforcement, those are two separate things. we know that since 1999, there have been about two million criminals that have been prevented from buying a gun because they failed a background check. now, yeah, we didn't enforce as in we didn't prosecute all of those people for that crime they committed but they were prevented from getting a gun. how many of them went down to the gun show or to an internet or got a firearm from some other person, we really have no idea. that's why we should have pretty much a universal background check system with some exceptions. since the law passed in colorado recently, we have stopped 74
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people, 74 criminals, these are people that have committed murder, domestic abuse, have been prevented from buying a gun. >> go ahead, asa. >> well, let me make it clear in reference to the background checks and the quote that you played, i actually read the toomey bill on that and that was a burden on the average citizen where, if they live out in the country, they drive 30 miles if they wanted to sell a firearm to a neighbor, they would have to pay a fee, background check, and keep records. that's too much of a burden. it doesn't solve a problem. no criminal or bad actor is going to go through that process. so rather than chasing this rainbow that doesn't work in reference to reducing violence or unlawful people from carrying firearms, let's concentrate on the enforcement and safety side. >> i'll give you the last word, mark. >> that's the point, right, if you expand background checks, the point asa is trying to make is some of them will not go through that process.
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but what happens when they don't go through that process, the ones that decide not to, they don't get a gun, that they are likely to use to commit a crime. so by expanding background checks, i mean, it's only logical that it makes it much more difficult for criminals and dangerously mentally ill to have access to dangerous weapons. we're not about restricting, you know, the access for responsible americans, gun owners like gabby and i, like millions of people around this country should be able to buy a gun, but what's the issue with doing a background check that takes two minutes. it is not a burden. >> good discussion. it will continue, to be sure. thanks to both of you for coming in. >> thank you. imagine you were convicted of a crime you didn't commit. what if no one actually believed you were innocent, not even your son? tonight, cnn presents the incredible story of an innocent man sent to jail for killing his wife and his fight to clear his name.
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>> i guess i kept looking at michael and just noticing that he just didn't seem to have a lot of feeling about him. i guess i kept looking for some emotion that would let me know something about what was going on. >> michael had an amazing capacity to compartmentalize things so that he didn't bring his grief into the office. i don't know what he did with it. >> i didn't think i was going to get convicted. it was going to be a longish trial but then it would be revealed that there can be no there there. there's nothing to convict. there's nothing hard. there's nothing that says look, this guy did it. there's nothing beyond a reasonable doubt. and i couldn't imagine what could possibly be manufactured to make 12 people think that i killed my wife. >> watch cnn films "an unreal dream" at 9:00 p.m. eastern on
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cnn. just ahead, is the syria opposition falling apart? new evidence that islamist extremists with ties to al qaeda may be taking over. and we're told cell phones are no longer a security problem up in the skies but don't try making a call just yet. one government agency is saying not so fast. i just love the new 2014 chevy malibu. yeah it offers stop/start technology and an epa-estimated 36 mpg highway. do you mind... sure, i'm great with kids. [ crying ] yeah. we're next! great... [ both chuckle ] yeah. [ male announcer ] chevy's giving more. this holiday season, chevy's giving more. get this 2014 chevy malibu ls for around $179 a month.
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new concerns that syrian opposition is being taken over by extremists with ties to al qaeda. 15 people were killed today when islamist extremist group attacked a police station, killing everyone inside. this as the u.s. decides to cut off all nonlethal aid until it figures out exactly who's receiving it. our chief national security correspondent jim sciutto has been following this very complicated situation in syria and it looks dire. what's going on? >> no question. i talked to a number of
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officials and there is real concern now that the opposition is, in effect, disintegrating, that as you have this in-fighting and as it grows, in effect you have a civil war within a civil war. and the factions that have the the most extremist elements, the exact scenario the administration had hoped to avoid. this is the extremist al qaeda-type militant group increasingly dominating the syrian opposition. today al nusra carried ute a -- as well as another attack raided a -- they spoke to cnn's hala gorani. >> the situation in the north is very complicated and very dangerous, because various problems between some groups.
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>> reporter: a u.s. officials gave cnn as even more sobering assessment. quote -- what isn't clear yet is whether the various fraction would become in internal conflicts. >> extremist groups, terrorist groups are involved in this, so it's not a matter of just an easy choice between the good guys and the bad guys here. >> reporter: what's left may be just the not so bad guys, the islamic front, another extremist group, though not tied to al qaeda. some in the administration make the case of the rise of extremists may have a positive size by forcing russia and others to the negotiating table, an assessment democratic congressman adam schiff strongly disputes. >> these extremist gains are a very serious setback. it's hard to put any kind of
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positive light on the marginalization of these secular forces. unfortunately it's part of a trend we've been seeing for some time now. >> reporter: farther down the line is another concern that syria becomes another new afghanistan, that extremists fight and train will and return home to carry out acts of terror. the officials i've spoken to say they expect it to get worse before it gets better. one official say there will be more tush license as they are. >> one person said to me it will get worse before it gets worse. so they're not upbeat about any of this. jim scuitto, thank you very much. let's have some perspective from the author of "the syrian rebellion." what's your -- what's your assessment right now, fouad? how bad is the situation here? >> wolf, i think the best way of doing it is to go over some numbers, put forth by the foreign office in the uk. it was a marker.
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the marker was 1,000 days of conflict in syriaia. 9.3 million people in syria are in need. 4.65 million of them are children. over 100,000 are killed. i think this number is way low, i think it's maybe 130,000. 575,000 people have been injured. 2.2 million people have been made refugees. 1.9 million syrian children are out of school. on and on. the numbers go on. i think there's something interesting about the obama administration. in fact this is the outcome that the obama administration ended up with at the end, because had they come to the rescue, we would not be here. >> but it's not over yet. i guess if you look at a little silver lining, it does look like the regime's chemical weapons stockpiles are in fact being destroyed, right? >> wolf, of course, the chemical weapons, you have to give it to
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bashar al assad. he was willing to trade them for the survive of his regime, but nonetheless some of the towns targeted were subjected to a new weapon -- starvation. he has all kinds of weapons at his dispose at. when we look at the calamity, the tragedy of syria, and when we say 1,400 people were killed in the use of chemical weapons, there are more than 150,000 people possibly who have been killed in a different kind of way. >> has he won this war, bashar al assad? >> wolf, i really don't know. i think -- i remember there is a state department had syria expert, frederick huff, and two years ago almost to the day, in december 2011, huff said that bashar was a dead man walking. well, bashar is not a dead man walking, and actually a partner, if you will, in this effort to
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disarm syria and rid it of its chemical weapons. >> fouad ajami, thank you for your perspective. another arm of the government says it's safe to use them, another arm says not so fast. why the about-face? a kicker for a major football team gets a personal left from president george w. bush. we'll tell you why right after this. ♪ (train horn)
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from former president george w. bush. he writes, life has either setbacks. you'll by a stronger human with time. he faced death threats following the loss to auburn, which ended alabama's title hopes. happening now, mixed cell phone messages, one now another agency says not so fast. plus, the signer speaks out. the interpreter at nelson mandela's memorial says he's not a fake, but revelations suggest he might have been a security risk. nor ted cruz confronted a rep firebrand got an earful from african-american democrats for hours without any way to escape. congressman elijah cummings joins us with the inside story. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room."
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breaking news right now. crucial vote under way in at the house of representatives on a new budget deal, a deal that would prevent another government shutdown before the 2014 congressional midterm elections. will we see a rare break in partisanship and gridlock? we're watching the vote as it happens right now. we'll bring you the results as soon as we get them. stand by. important voting going on in washington. but first, we're also learns that two federal agencies now are at odds whether to allow passengers to talk on their cell phones in flight. it's a controversial idea that would affect millions of flyers all around the country. our correspond rene marsh is following these developments for us. what's the latest? >> on the one hand you have the fcc, which just voted to consider ending the ban. on the other hand you have the department of transportation considering blacking in-flight calls what does it mean for you, the passenger?
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well, don't start dialing just yet. talking on your cell phone in flight could be grounded before you start dialing form the fcc vote 3d-2 to consider lifting its ban on in-flight cell use such as voice calls and texting. the commission says new technology eliminates interference on the ground. >> i don't want somebody sitting next to me saying hi, i'm on the plane. >> it adds to more noise, more stress to the flight. >> reporter: one commissioner bombarded with letters from opponents. >> a third wrote simply -- no! the fcc chairman says it's their job to worry about technology, not what passengers want. >> i'm the last person in the world who wants to listen to somebody talking to me while i fly across the country, but we are the technical agency, and we will make the technical rules that reflect the way the new
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technology works. >> reporter: thursday, the department of transportation said it would consider possibly banning the in-flight calls, the us dot's role is determine if allowing these calls is fair for consumers anthony fox said in a statement. in congress a new senate bill also aims to ban the calls. it joins republican bill schuster's house proposal. >> these airplanes are confined, noisy already. to have dozens of phone calls going on while in flight i think is annoying to the travels public and i think it's unnecessary. >> reporter: but on air, which provides cell service on planes around the world said passengers haven't complained. most users text, and the 3 to $4 a minute cost keeps calls short. all right. well, either way this is a long process. it will be months before the fcc could actually lift its ban, and it would be months before the faa to vote to impose a ban.
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of course, wolf, we should mention that carriers in other countries, they do already have the equipment on board that do allow in-flight calls. >> we'll see what the final verdict is, probably fairly soon. thanks very much, rene for that. a new account of nelson mandela's final moments from his ex-wife winnie. she was with him the day he walked out of prison and she says she was with him on the day he died. >> first off, he died -- i watched those figures going down and down so slowly. us and then he drew his last breath and just rested. >> just days before nelson mandela's burial, there's no letup in the controversy surrounding his memorial service and the man who was hired to be
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an interpreter for the deaf. he's speaking out to cnn and denying allegations he's a fake. brian todd has gotten more details. pretty stunning allegations that he's a fake, and some stunning revelations today as well. >> that's right, wolf, in cnn's interview and others, the translator said he's had minute illness and made on the floor stunning claims about himself. none of it has stemmed the widespread condemnation of this man and his actions at the ceremony. he's accused of being a fake interpreter, and is the subject of worldwide ridicule on venues. >> i knew it was fake. did you notice later in the speech. watch what he did. >> madiba would emerge as the last -- >> but he is not laughing. he stands by his work, says he's a fully qualified sign language interpreter, he's been trusted with other big events, but he also said if he interpreted anything wrong at nelson
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mandela's memorial, then he asking for forgiveness. in an interview with cnn he dropped a bombshell. >> translator: i am surgeon from skid friendia, which is controllable, and i'm until a -- under a treatment positively in south africa. >> reporter: he told "the johannesburg news star" he was hallucinating, hearing voices in his head. he told the associated press he saw angels coming into the stadium, he had violence in his past and once been hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than a year. did the south african gooismt which staged the event catch any of that beforehand? >> i don't think any of the people that provided the services on that day health profiles were discussed. so i mean, if that was the case, i might have missed something. >> that officials sell he's not a fake, but if he had the mental
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health conditions, and given he was standing just inches away from president obama and other leaders, even if he wasn't armed, could he have been a threat to the president? >> clearly he was in close enough proximity he could have reached out and touched the president. >> the secret service relied on the host country to vet everyone on the podium. larry tomlin sony, former secret service official, said if it had been in the u.s., the secret service would likely have prevented him from getting close to the president. another big concern? this interpreter grew irritated when asked to show off his sign language skills. >> do you want me to what? you want me to -- the immediate ka calls me a security threat. >> reporter: no, i'm asking you if you can show me the signs. >> no, no, let's be realistic. >> he was hired by a company. we tried to contact the company. we couldn't reach anyone. a south african official sis the
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owners seem to have vanished. >> despite his claims, there would been complaints. >> he had claimed before all this no one said i interpreted wrong, but an african national congress official said last year after he interpreted an event staged by that group, the anc, that there were complaints about him after that. so this has been going on probably for at least several months, but of course, you know, none of that came to light before this event. >> thanks, brian. still ahead, a critical vote on the budget under way right now on the floor of the house of representatives. we have the latest breaking news coming up. there any doubt that senator ted cruz plans to run for president. congressman cummings will tell you what he learned about cruz ooze plans about that very long trip to south africa and back. there's a saying around here, you stand behind what you say. around here you don't make excuses. you make commitments.
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and when you can't live up to them, you own up, and make it right. some people think the kind of accountability that thrives on so many streets in this country has gone missing in the places where it's needed most. but i know you'll still find it when you know where to look.
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looking at live pictures of the house of representatives, they're voting right now, a deal to start funding, 171 in favor. dana bash is up on capitol hill, our chief congressional correspondent. it looks like it's going to pass, dana, right? >> it does look like it's going to pass. the idea will be by how much? we have a lot of members who still haven't voted yet. i think that's part of a strategy, we're told, at least on the democratic side that they would maybe hang badge and see how the republican votes are going, again not necessarily because this will be a decision whether this measure is going to win or lose, but how many democrats can maybe vote their conscience and oppose what they think is a good deal.
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many don't think it's good, or whether they do what they think is right, which is to make sure this gets passed, but it's moving toward passage. but maybe more importantly, the republican side and how much after split there is. so far 32 republicans have voted no, and 93 have not yet voted, so we'll see what kind of real split there is among the republicans in the house, particularly after john boehner made such a show over the last 24 hours of pushing back against conservative groups. >> yeah, the magic number 435 members of the house of representatives who can vote. you need 218 in order to get a majority. gloria borger watching these numbers at well. they're already at 196. so it looks like they'll get that number relatively quickly. it will be interesting to see how many republicans vote again what the speak of the house and paul ryan are advocating. >> right. and, you know, there are about
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60 members of what i call the hell-no caucus. so far you have about 30 presumably of those members voting against this, wolf. what was fascinating to me is paul ryan's speech on the floor of the house. he said, look, we have to show -- we've been at each other's throats for a while, but we're going to have to win some elections. i think this is a test about whether the republican party in the house is going to get serious about governing. i think that's what john boehner was saying. he said you guys had your chance, we need to get serious. >> 219. it looks like it's passed unless somebody has changed their mind. it looks likeaul p rya and the speaker will get their way in the house of representatives. so let's walk a bit forward now, dana. where does it go? it goes to the senate next week for a vote, right? >> it goes to the senate next week, is expected to pass there as well. to take a step back and remind our viewers, we're talking about
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averting a government shutdown, and that is no small thing, considering where we have been lurching from crisis to crisis. as gloria was just alluding to, that's precisely why paul ryan, the republican chair of the house commit aye, and patty murray, the senate chair, said they made this agreement in order to stop that, and to get everybody back to normalcy, as normal as congress can be. that really is such a large part, wolf of why you had members of both parties voting for this. not because necessarily they like the level of spending in this budget. everybody has something they can dislike, but just about the process. this gives everybody an ability to breathe and not worry about the next crisis that is going to come. and allows hem to perhaps, let's just be optimists, perhaps work towards those very big ticket items that are contributing like medicare and medicaid not involved in this particular --
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>> but some bipartisanship, gloria in washington, compromise used to be a bad word for some, now it's a good word. >> for some. >> the majority of the house of representatives. >> but i still think there are lots of republicans, conservative republicans who are unhappy about this, wolf, and liberal democrats as well, who don't like the automatic spending cuts, some of them remain in this budget 3r0e8. but i think he all understand that the country doesn't have any appetite to go over any kind of cliff again or shut down the government. >> still voting 46 republicans have voted nay -- excuse me 47 republicans, 15 democrats, but it has passed, and it will go to the senate. just ahead, there was no escape for republican firebrand ted cruz, when a large group of african-american democrats cornered him. congressman elijah cummings is standing by to tell us the behind the scenes story about that long and vocal encounter on the flight to and from south
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africa. later tonight, 9:00 p.m. eastern, the cnn film "an unreal dream" the story of an innocent man sent to prison for killing his wife and his fight to clear his name.
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nor ted cruz may have had some uncomfortable moments on the long flights to and from south africa for nelson mandela's memorial. the conservative republican was on the plane with democratic members of the congressional black caucus. we're told that senator cruz got an earful. joining us from capitol hill, congressman elijah cummings, democrat from maryland, just back from the memorial service. thanks very much for coming in. >> it's good to be with you. >> let's talk about the trip, the flights there and back. it was an interesting delegation, a congressionally delegation, including senator ted cruz, republican of texas. i take it there was lively
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conversations with him. first of all, did he make it clear -- did you emerge from those discussions convinced, as you apparently said, that he's going to run for president? >> i asked him directly. he tried to skirt the issue, but basically said that he would be traveling throughout the country and that he would -- i asked him was he going to new hampshire, to south carolina, iowa? and he said he probably would be going to all of those places and doing the things that a presidential candidate would be normally doing, but he wouldn't say yes or no. it was quite clear to me, wolf. >> that he definitely wanted to run? >> i had no doubt about it. >> in those close quarters, a lot of time to chat? >> yes. >> i know that some of the discussions dealt with substantive policy issues. we asked how those went. he said we had terrific discussions on the delegation.
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the entire discussion was lively, spirited, and productive, friendly throughout. can you take us a bit behind the scenes? tell us about the lively, spirited discussions? >> well, first of all, wolf, i was surprised to see him on the trip. i didn't know he was going. when i discovered him, i said, you know, this is an opportunity for members of the congressional black caucus to really let him now hoe we feel about the issues we are so concerned about. so he so happened to be sitting beside gwen moore, he was sitting beside her for some 20 hours, but throughout we were moving up and down the aisles, several stops for refueling, and then of course at the -- in johannesburg and the event, the memorial service we again had a chance to talk. i spent a lot of time talking to him about the affordable care act, because i realize that we
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were diametrically opposed, opposite ends of the spectrum. he being against it and i being very much for it. i tried to explain to him in clear terms why it was so very important to me. i told him, i said, look, i'm concerned about the one out of ever four members of your texas population that does not have insurance and about the ones in my area. so -- so we had a dialogue, and we basically said -- he said, well obama care is not the proper way to go about this. i said to him this simple thing. i said, well, senator, tell me what you would do? we need to go about fixing it. the president said he's willing to sit down with anybody who's willing to work on fixing it, and he basically did not come up with an answer to that. but i wanted him, wolf, to understand that there are people
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who get sick and die when they don't have health insurance. >> you think you had any impact? you think you changed his mind? >> it's hard to say. the main thing is i wanted to make sure he heard what i had to say. i noticed that john lewis spent time talking to him, maxine walters. and it wasn't a concerted effort, not orchestrated, but i think everybody had an opportunity to get their point of view to him. whether it simps in is a whole other thing, but wolf, somebody who is running for president and doing the things he's doing with regard to the national -- in the national arena, i think they need to hear from every element of the population, and certainly the congressional black caucus represents some very, very significant views. >> most of the congressional delegation to the nelson mandela memorial were members of the congressional black caucus? did he have an impact on you?
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did he change your mind on anything? >> not really. i found out we were both preachers' kids. i found out he was tremendously influenced by his father. i told him how influenced i was by my father. i made it -- made him understand that my father was a former did not and one who had a second grade education, and one who believed in matthew of the bible, which talks about feeding the hungry, taking care of those, and lifts those who are down and out. so we did some comparative notes, and at that point i found myself doing the talking. he didn't tell me his interpretation of the bible, but i'm sure it's hopefully quite similar. >> i think you and i, all our viewers will agree, it was a nice gesture on our part to make the journey. it was very nice that he went, very nice that you and your colleagues went. congressman, thank you for joining us. >> thank you, wolf. elijah cummings joining us,
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the democratic congressman from maryland. please be sure to join us again tomorrow for my special interview with the actor will ferrell, who plays the anchor man ron burgen did undy. including the new performance in "anchorman 2" and jokes about styling tips, facial hair. that interview will air tomorrow. here in "the situation room" tomorrow with will ferrell. i think you'll want to see our conversation. you can always follow what's going on in "the situation room" on twitter. tweet me avmt wolfblitzer. tweet the show @sitroom. "crossfire" starts right now.
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today's vote also means some jobless workers lose help and military pensions get trimmed. >> there are some missed opportunities. >> is congress doing the will of the voters or ignoring them? >> are you kidding me? on the left stephanie cutter. on the right s.e.cupp. in the cross cross paul begala, and tim phillips, a conservative activist. are both parties ignoring their supporters? tonight on "crossfire." welcome to "crossfire." iismt s.e. cupp on the right irnls and i'm stephanie cutter on the -- we have some breaking news. the house approved the deal keeping the government running and eliminating some of the most egregious automatic spending cuts. this is not a bill i would have written, but i think it's time
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to govern. this is what we call governs, also the first time that speaker boehner demanded and received real sacrifice from his fellow republicans, even though it's telling the fringes no, and telling tea party members to back off. i for one would like to congratulate the speaker for finally getting some backappoint. >> oh. >> well, maybe it was at the expense of nancy pelosi's backbone in the crossfish tonight. paul begala, who is no stranger to crossfire. i'm confused, and here's why. listen to nancy pelosi last week. >> we are making a very clear statement that

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