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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Obama: ISIS Will Pay For Death Of U.S. Hostage; Report: Series of Failed Attempts to Rescue Kayla Mueller; Jesse Matthew Charged with Murder and Abduction of Hannah Graham; Brian Williams Suspended Without Pay
Aired February 10, 2015 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. President Obama vowing that ISIS will pay for the death of Kayla Mueller while defending his controversial policy of not paying ransom for hostages.
Plus, new reports for a failed attempts to rescue Mueller. One involved a man who claimed he was her husband. We have the story.
And NBC's internal investigation of Brian Williams run by the very people whose carrier depend on Brian Williams. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. New comments from President Obama tonight. This is about the death of American hostage Kayla Mueller. Mueller's parents received the horrible news of their daughter's death in a private communication from her ISIS captors over the weekend. American intelligence officials later authenticated that message and confirm that the 26- year-old aid worker was in fact dead. Late today President Obama standing by a policy of not negotiating with terrorists also spoke about mourning the death of the first American woman held by ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: My immediate reaction is heartbreak. I've been in touch with Kayla's family. She was an outstanding young woman and a great spirit. And I think that spirit will leave on. I think the more people learn about her the more they appreciate what she stood for and how it stands in contrast with the barbaric organization that held her captive. But I don't think it's accurate to say that the United States government hasn't done everything that we could. We devoted enormous resources and always devoting enormous resources to freeing captives or hostages anywhere in the world. And, you know, I deployed an entire operation at significant risks to rescue not only her but the other individuals that had been held. And probably missed them by a day or two precisely because we have that commitment. The one thing that we have held to is a policy of not paying ransoms with an organization like ISIL. And the reason is is that once we start doing that, not only are we financing their slaughter of innocent people and strengthening their organization but we're actually making Americans even greater targets for future kidnappings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Jim Acosta is at the White House tonight. And Jim, look, I thought that was a very genuine moment. He comes off as very genuine. He's feeling for the family. But he was adamant. He stands by that policy of not paying ransom.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. We should point out that this policy of dealing with hostages is under review at the White House. But that is something the President is not going to back off on. The President did say, during that interview with Buzz Feed and speaking with the parents of these American hostages is as tough as anything he does. And you have to believe that. But he is standing by the administration's policy of not paying for the release of hostage, the concern. And we heard not just from the President but repeatedly from White House officials is that they don't want to provide an incentive to ISIS or other terrorist groups to take more hostages. Those hostages and the financing of those releases from other governments pay for ISIS operations and other operations of other terrorists groups. The President essentially acknowledged to Buzz Feed as you saw there Erin that he did attempt that rescue mission last summer to free Kayla Mueller and other hostages who were being held inside Syria. And as the President said they were very close. They missed them by a day or two.
BURNETT: I mean, just think about how close that was with the lives that would have been saved. It's just horrible to imagine how close. Talking about 24, 48 hours. This came on the same day as the President is getting ready to present Congress with a long awaited request, right, to authorize the use of military force against ISIS. This is big deal. This is 13 years since a special request has gone in front of Congress, as you say huge deal. But there's a lot of concern about the details of this request. When it comes to the role of U.S. ground troops, that's what this is all about.
ACOSTA: That's right, Erin. And you know, the President has been very cool to the idea of putting combat troops on the ground in Iraq. And what the President is going to be proposing tomorrow does crack the door open to that. And I've been talking with sources familiar with this process of negotiating what's going to be in this authorization of the use of military force. And they believe that the President, the White House that their sales job is not finish with the American people. We're hearing from sources at the White House will unveil this due authorization for the war on ISIS as soon as tomorrow, Erin. It will get rid of the 2002 authorization for the war on Iraq and replace it with a measure that will be ISIS specific. Sources tell us the authorization will have no geographic boundaries. It will only last three years.
But on this key question on whether we'll allow U.S. combat troops and boots on the ground, that is where it gets interesting, Erin according to this latest proposal seen by lawmakers. The authorization will prohibits something called quote, "enduring offensive combat operations, end-quote." What does that mean? It means the President can put boots on the ground in combat situations but those deployments could not go on indefinitely. Many democrats do not like that, but republicans may be able to live with it and the White House is just going to have to thread the needle on this one -- Erin.
BURNETT: That's going to be a tough one. But it's a crucial question. You can't take it off the table if you're asking for the right to go to war. Thank you very much, Jim Acosta.
More breaking news. The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee tonight warning that an unprecedented number of foreign fighters are going to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT. Jim, these numbers are stunning. And where are they coming from?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: All over the world, some 90 countries, the figure now more than 20,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria for ISIS and other groups. Of that 20,000, more than 3400 believe to be coming from western countries of that 3400, about 150 from the U.S. who have either gone or attempted to go. We're seeing a steady increase, Erin. Twenty thousand in this month. It was 19,000 a month before. Eighteen thousand a month before that. So, even with the air campaign and attempts to close that border ISIS is still managing to recruit.
BURNETT: Still managing to recruit. And have you seen an uptick? I mean, how up to date are these numbers? Right? You look at the attacks in France. The cell that was broken up in Belgium. Have they seen an increase in recruiting since then?
SCIUTTO: There's a direct correlation between ISIS' success on the ground and spectacular terrorists operations and recruiting. They know that. I mean, these figures are updated every month. They can't say that, you know, this x-number of figures came after for instance the "Charlie Hebdo" attack. But certainly ISIS' successes makes a difference and that's a sad facts. You know, these recruits are attracted by terrorism. The more they say, the more they want to join this group.
BURNETT: Jim Sciutto, thank you. And joining me OUTFRONT now, Buck Sexton, former CIA counterterrorism analyst and retired U.S. army, Major General James "Spider" Marks also a CNN military analyst. Okay. Good to have both of you with us.
General Marks, let me start with you. These numbers are pretty stunning. I mean, when you think about in just one month it went from 19,000 to 20,000. Right? You're looking at a very quick escalation in terms of the number of people going and obviously at a time when the fight against ISIS is also ramping up.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER MARKS," U.S. ARMY (RET): Erin, you have to draw a correlation between what we've seen over the course of the last month and the number that we see in terms of ISIS population and engagement in Syria and northern Iraq. Clearly what has happened in Paris has a tremendous appeal to those that are already self- radicalized. And I think that's the key point. These are not new converts. These individuals that are coming to ISIS have been radicalized around the world, online. A very cynical way of recruiting and this now becomes what they see what's happening in Iraq and Syria becomes a destination video. So, we've seen some successes in their eyes in terms of what took place in France and the correlation to that also is what has been happening in terms of successes on the ground and ISIS. And there had been some setbacks. So, there's an appeal to get involved. But I think the emphasis is on these are self-radicalized folks that are out there that have bastardized Islam. And now have a place to go live this out.
BURNETT: And Buck, in terms of what the President said today, in that message when he talked about talking to the Mueller family, talked about Kayla Mueller, talked about the United States attempt to try to rescue Kayla Mueller along with the other hostages, all the Americans now who have been beheaded. We don't know how Kayla died, but the others were. He said enormous resources were expanded in trying to rescue. Did any sense of what they did, how much they did to try to help her?
BUCK SEXTON, NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR, THEBLAZE.COM: Well, clearly they made their best effort to try because of the value of the U.S. citizen that's held by. They did everything they could. And I believe the administration did everything they could.
SEXTON: When he's talking about resources, let's be clear. That the resources that are going to be required going forward were actually really take the fight to ISIS. And it seemed like the administration has a renewed seriousness about this now. These requests that the authorization, the use of military force. They are saying that they're not going to invade, basically. That's why they're setting up this way. But there are probably will be U.S. troops. There will be air combat controllers, the U.S. Special Forces and other elite, tip of the spear kind of troops that will be necessary to help our Iraqi allies, the Kurdish allies and the rest of it. So, resources are going to become a lot larger in this fight against ISIS if we're actually serious about destroying this group.
BURNETT: General Marks, in terms of the Kayla Mueller attempted rescue, which failed, which was also for other American hostages, Stephen Sotloff, James Foley among them. When the President stands by not paying a ransom, my question to you is, is he right? I mean, we understand, I don't, you know, can't confirm the exact details here but they may have asked up to $7 million for Kayla. My question is, would they ever have taken that? Would ISIS ever take money and give back an American?
MARKS: I would have to assume they wouldn't. You know, Erin, we're trying to prove a negative here.
MARKS: We've not gone down this path. But I would have to assume. From all the reasons that have been described and all the negatives against surrendering ransom money. There's really no advantage to the United States to even test that.
MARKS: And so, I think we need to put that to the side.
BURNETT: So, you think the President is doing the right thing? Would you agree Buck from --
SEXTON: Yes. Doing the right thing with regard to?
BURNETT: Doing the right thing with standing by the hostage policy and not entertaining the idea of paying ransom for America.
SEXTON: Well, the U.S. has negotiated with terrorists in the past. That's actually something that people don't generally talk about. But it's really more of a suggestion than a hard policy. There have been prisoner exchanges with the Taliban but even before that, if you stretch back, we have done exchanges with North Korea, we've engaged with Hezbollah.
SEXTON: We've done all sorts of things in the past. When we found it necessary including direct negotiation with terrorists groups to try to get hostages released. So, what I said, they are holding to this policy but they've made exceptions in the past. And certainly the Europeans are making exceptions because they are paying and they're getting their people released in some cases.
BURNETT: Well, they are. And a lot of the information of course we're getting about Kayla Mueller and her condition and James Foley even the letter that Kayla wrote her parents. We got from European hostages who paid money on her release. They're alive today obviously, the American -- General Marks, before we go, in terms of the President's coming out and opening the door to ground troops.
BURNETT: Will ground troops be required? Because the more and more I hear from Arab sources in the region, they say yes, absolutely. And off the record they are willing to say they're not going to put them in unless the United States does.
MARKS: Ground forces, Erin, are an absolute must if we're going to do what the President has described which is to destroy ISIS. If you want to contain ISIS, if you want to degrade ISIS, you can do it through air strikes. You'll going to need forces to destroy.
BURNETT: All right. And of course, that's been listed as a key part as the President degrade and destroy. Thanks to both of you.
And next, more breaking news because we are just learning of a failed attempt to rescue Kayla Mueller from ISIS, a specific one. Someone posing as her husband. And something very specific went wrong. We'll going to tell you what we know.
And nearly five months after she disappears, a suspect has been charged with the murder of UVA student Hannah Graham. Did he kill her and could he be a serial killer.
And Brian Williams, can he, will he ever return to his desk?
And more media news. We are just learning at this hour, Jon Stewart is going to leave "The Daily Show." That's ahead.
BURNETT: Breaking news. We are learning about another series of failed attempts to rescue Kayla Mueller. She of course the young American woman held by ISIS. This is new information coming from Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar. He spoke to the newspaper with the Arizona Republic today and I want to emphasize. The attempts he's talking about are different than the one the President of the United States just spoke about. The President talked about a raid last August that failed when they went to rescue Kayla along with other American hostages. They missed them by a day or do. This attempt we are about to share with you has not ever been reported before. According to Gosar, during one attempt a man arrived at the Syrian terrorist camp where Mueller was being held. He told the militants that he was Mueller's husband and demanded her release. Now, Mueller was not in on the plan and according to Gosar denied being married. Today, we learned that ISIS told Kayla's parents she was dead in a private message sent over the weekend. A message later authenticated by intelligence investigators.
And Ana Cabrera is OUTFRONT tonight in Kayla's hometown in Prescott, Arizona.
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kayla Mueller's parents received word of their daughter's death in a message from ISIS. A message that included photos that confirmed the 26-year-old is dead. What is still not known is how she died. Late today Kayla's Aunt Lori Lyon remembered a caring, courageous young woman.
LORI LYON, KAYLA MUELLER'S AUNT: Kayla's calling was to help those suffering whether in her hometown of Prescott or on the other side of the world. She has done more in her incredible 26 years than many people can ever imagine doing in their lifetime.
CABRERA: While in captivity, Mueller sent a letter to her parents which they released today. It reads in part, "If you could say I have suffered at all throughout this whole experience, it is only annoying how much suffering I have put you all through. I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness." Mueller had worked with humanitarian groups in India, Israel and the Palestinian territories. And by 2013, she was already in Turkey helping Syrian refugees. She posted this in 2011.
KAYLA MUELLER, HELD HOSTAGE BY ISIS: I reject the brutality and killing that the Syrian authorities are committing against the Syrian people.
CABRERA: On August 3rd, 2013, Mueller entered Syria. She travelled with a young man believed to be a Syrian and alternately described as the "colleague, boyfriend or fiancee." He went there to fix the internet connection at a hospital. Kayla apparently joined him on a trip to a war zone off limits to Americans. The two stayed overnight but the next day returning to Turkey both were grabbed on the road. Mueller's family didn't hear from ISIS for nine months then in May 2014, their first message, proof that Mueller was alive. Two months later a ransom demand, about $7 million or Kayla would be killed. That deadline passed with no further word. In the letter to her parents, Mueller talks about how ISIS treated her. Please know that I am in a safe location. Completely un-harmed and healthy. Put on weight, in fact. I have been treated with the utmost respect and kindness. ISIS claims Mueller was killed in this building by a Jordanian airstrike but today a White House spokesman placed the blame on her death squarely on ISIS.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This after all was the organization that was holding her against her will. That means they were responsible for her safety and her well-being. And they are therefore, responsible for her death.
CABRERA: We do know, the President has spoken by phone with Mueller's parents, he sent condolences. He also really commended Kayla and their daughter for her selfless work. And he vowed that he would make sure to recklessly pursue those that had a hand in her death. And he also talked about the fact that they are going to work to bring her body home so that this community, her family can have closure and Kayla can be surrounded by those who loved her as she rests -- Erin.
BURNETT: Thank you so much, Ana.
Ken Bennett is the former secretary of state for Arizona. He's been in close contact with the Mueller family since just days after Kayla was taken hostage. Bob Baer is a former CIA operative. Ken, let me just start with you. I know you spoke with Kayla's family just a few hours ago. You've obviously spoken with them during this horrible ordeal as well. How did they sound today now that they've gotten the news their daughter is dead?
KEN BENNETT, FORMER ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, her mom Marsha told me that they are doing well. And literally it's the first time I've heard in their voices, her dad or her mom, a sense of peace that I've not heard in their voices for over a year and a half. And they sounded, well, her last words to me, her mom, Kayla's now free. And so, I think they, this is going to help begin to closure process but they're doing well she said.
BURNETT: It's amazing that they are able to see this in -- see something beautiful in the horror that they have endured.
Bob Baer, you just heard Congressman Gosar who has also talked to the family talking about other rescue attempts. One of which he explains is a man posing as her husband going into the camp trying to secure her release. Do you think that there were multiple attempts to try to free her in addition to of course the failed raid that the President spoke about?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Erin, I think what we're dealing with here, and of course, we don't have all the details is there's the failed raid, the Special Forces raid on that location there in Raqqa, and then you also had, she had a friend, a boyfriend, as I understand from these from the hostages that she was held with, a Syrian who did try to get her out and in fact there's some reports that, you know, these are from the other hostages that she converted to Islam at some point whether in Turkey or in captivity. And I'm sure the Syrian man had family connections or connections with the Islamic State and it wouldn't surprise me that he tried to get her out but of course, Erin, this is speculation at this point.
BURNETT: Right. It is. And of course, Bob, Kayla wrote a letter to her parents last spring. A letter that actually when one of European hostages who was released for ransom came home, they then gave to Kayla's parents. And her parents released it today. This is a picture of the letter which, I read in her own handwriting. And I had to say, it brings tears to your eyes somehow reading it in her own handwriting as opposed to reading a transcript of it. One sentence that she wrote says, "Please know that I'm in a safe location, completely unharmed, and healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated with the utmost respect and kindness."
Bob, according to a "New York Times" report though, ISIS had been cruel to other American hostages that were kept with Kayla at one point, particularly James Foley who of course was beheaded. Some of the treatment described by "The New York Times" included prolonged beatings, mock executions, repeated water boarding, a teacup of food a day. No mattresses, no blankets. Is it possible Kayla, was being treated with kindness, was being treated differently as a woman, as a young naive aid worker as opposed to the other Americans?
BAER: Erin, I think there's a good possibility. I've followed hostage taking in Muslim countries for years. And the hostage takers do tend to treat women differently. They wouldn't look at her, for instance. And they recognized her as being naive. A wonderful person. And they could have treated her differently. And they wouldn't look at her as an enemy combatant as they did the journalist. They have mistreated of course as Yazidi woman, but those women oddly in the way they've looked at the world as they have fallen away from Islam and they are apostates and you can do what you want with them, they wouldn't have looked at Kayla that way as a Christian.
BURNETT: And Ken, of course I know that her family must just pray that's the case, that's what she said in the letter was really what she felt and experience, and not something she only said because ISIS would read that letter before they allowed it to leave. Obviously, she was taken captive in August of 2013. Her family got this letter this past spring. Then they didn't hear much. I know just one communication saying give us money or else she will die. That was last summer. Did they hold out hope until the very end that their daughter was alive?
BENNETT: Absolutely. I talked to the family over Friday night and Saturday. And they were still talking in terms of believing and hoping that she was alive and hoping that everybody else was thinking in that term as well. And then last night, which was unbelievable that a father upon getting the news that she was gone called me out of a courtesy and said, we've lost Kayla. And so, something changed over the weekend because Friday and Saturday they were talking as though there was still hope. Last night they called me and said that she was gone.
BURNETT: Wow! Wonderful parents. They did hope until the very end. And thanks very much to both you.
OUTFRONT next, the lead suspect in the murder of the University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, today charged with first-degree murder. The prosecutor though not seeking the death penalty. We'll tell you why.
And Brian Williams, more bizarre stories from his past are surfacing. Will he survive the calls for him to step down?
And just in after almost 18 years, this guy, we all know this guy. Jon Stewart is leaving "The Daily Show." That breaking news, next.
BURNETT: Tonight, murder charges in the case of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. A county prosecutor announcing today that Jesse Matthew the man you see there with his hand in handcuffed is being charged on murder and abduction charges, first degree. Hannah Graham is the 18-year-old who disappeared in Charlottesville back on September 13th. Surveillance video captured Matthew walking behind Graham as you can see there the night she disappeared. But that's the last surveillance video there was. There was no evidence about what happened after that point. Her body was later found near to Jesse Matthew's mother's home near Charlottesville.
Jean Casarez is OUTFRONT.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been almost four months since the skeletal remains of University of Virginia sophomore Hannah Graham were found behind an abandoned home in Albemarle, County, Virginia. Today an indictment charging Jesse Matthew with first-degree murder.
DENISE LUNSFORD, ALBERMALE COUNTY PROSECUTOR: The prosecution for the abduction and murder of Hannah will bring Mr. Matthew to justice for these crimes.
CASAREZ: It was the largest missing person search in Virginia's history after Graham vanished before dawn on September 13th, 2014.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about one thing and one thing only and that is finding Hannah. CASAREZ: Surveillance cameras captured be 18-year-old the night
she disappeared, leaving alone after an evening with friends, passing a local bar, a gas station and through the downtown mall area.
Desperate pleas from her parents captured the heart of the country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, please, please help end this nightmare for all of us.
CASAREZ: It was the same surveillance video that led police to 33-year-old Jesse Matthew, who grew up in Charlottesville and worked at the UVA medical center as an orderly. Eyewitnesses told police Matthew and Graham were seen at a local bar, together shortly before she disappeared.
As investigators zeroed in on Matthew as a suspect, Matthew fled. Police finding him nearly 1,300 miles away on a beach near Galveston, Texas. Matthew initially charged with the abduction of Graham was soon linked to another unsolved crime in Virginia.
He was charged in a 2005 case of attempted capital murder and sexual assault in Fairfax county. The alleged victim survived. Matthew has pleaded not guilty.
The FBI says DNA from that sexual assault case is also linked to the 2009 murder of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech coed who went missing after attending a concert at UVA. Her remains were found 2010 just miles from where Graham's were found.
Matthew has not been charged with Harrington's murder but prosecutors are not ruling it out.
LUNSFORD: The simple fact is that the case involving Hannah Graham was ready to be charged first.
CASAREZ: The attorney for Jesse Matthew, James Camblos, sent me a statement earlier today. He said that last night, late yesterday, he did, in fact, get the indictments that were announced today and he has no further comment on the charges.
Now, Erin, in regard to the death penalty, it was brought up during the course of the press conference today. But Jesse Matthew is not being charged with capital murder. And Virginia is a death penalty state. It was explained that it was a very thoughtful decision on their part. They really looked at this case. But they assessed, they talked to the family, they looked at the right of the defendant in this case to a fair trial -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Jean Casarez, thank you very much.
And now, our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Sunny Hostin.
OK. Good to have both of you with us.
Sunny, you just heard Jean said, look, the prosecutor not seeking the death penalty at this time. But that could change. Now, why would they be doing that because they think he could be linked to these other murders and need leverage or --
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's right. I mean, it's interesting that Jean's reporting that, you know, this was a thoughtful decision. Prosecutors often time sort of hand this sort of death penalty threat almost as leverage. And so, if he is connected to all of these other crimes, you would certainly have to have some jurisdictional cooperation, but you may say to somebody, listen, you plead guilty to all of this and we're going to take the death penalty off the table. If you don't plead guilty, this may become a death penalty case. That is not unusual, but it just sounds like perhaps they're not there yet.
BURNETT: And, obviously, there are other cases this has been linked to, Jeffrey, right? I mean, linked to a number of other cases. When we talked about the possibility that Jesse Matthew may have killed many people, could be a serial killer. The 2009 murder of two other Virginia Tech students, another 23-year-old woman, a 19-year- old. Those are the ones that we know of at this time that they say could possibly be linked. Do you think they are using the death penalty to try to get leverage here?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think so at this point. You know, there are -- this legal and forensic investigation is at a fairly early stage. There is a lot for these prosecutors to figure out. And also, it's worth remembering that Albemarle County is the most liberal part of Virginia. It's not case where death penalty cases have happened in many, many years.
And also, the death penalty is down all over the country. Prosecutors are asking for it less. Jurors are opposing it less and executions are down.
So, the death penalty is not fallen off the table but it is certainly less of a tool than it used to be. And the important point is this guy isn't going anywhere ever.
BURNETT: Well, let's get to that point, Sunny, because here's what we know. I want to know if whether you think they have enough evidence, right? Because you have her remains found close to a home where Matthew once lived, right? So, her remains are nearby to a home where he once lived, circumstantial. Surveillance video of him following her but then after that point they don't have anything.
After this happened, he did flee Virginia -- he fled, right? That possibly could be the most significant thing. They found him in Texas. He ran away when they were looking for him. He is linked to another assault, possibly a killing.
When you put all that together, is this a slam dunk case?
HOSTIN: It certainly isn't with what you've just outlined. But this is -- this is still an active investigation, as they always are. I don't know that we know everything about this case, Erin. I don't know that we know about all of the forensic evidence that may link him to this crime.
What I will say is when you have a case where the remains have been outside in the elements for a very long time, much like the Casey Anthony case, it is very difficult to get forensics oftentimes from those remains.
BURNETT: They didn't get a conviction there.
HOSTIN: Yes. And without that, I do think it could be a difficult case and perhaps that went into why this isn't a death penalty case. If they think this is a difficult case to prove, first- degree murder, then certainly, it doesn't become a capital murder case, especially, there's no confession here as far as I know.
So, you have no confession. We don't know about the forensics and we have remains that were outside in the elements for a long time. Slam dunk case, no way.
BURNETT: No way.
All right. We also have some breaking news in the case of a New York City police officer. He says he accidental shot and killed an unarmed black man in the stairwell of a housing project. This was back in November. We have just gotten the result here from the grand jury. That officer has been indicted in the death of that young man, Akai Gurley.
Now, we don't yet know the charges, but again, he was indicted. This police officer in the killing of this young man here, this unarmed black man who is in the stairwell.
How significant is this? Obviously, I mean, I guess put the question to you this way. If he had not been indicted, would this case become a big national case to talk about?
TOOBIN: You bet, because it would have been Eric Garner times 10 because this does seem to be a very questionable shooting. It took place just as the Eric Garner situation was playing itself out in New York.
The district attorney in Brooklyn is very different than the district attorney in Staten Island. He has been very aggressive against what he calls police misconduct, and I think it would have been a big surprise if this case was not indicted. Obviously, we don't know what a trial jury will do. But certainly, an indictment seems appropriate.
BURNETT: Right. And, of course, we don't know -- we don't know the full charges of the indictment, but we do know an indictment in the shooting of that unarmed young black man.
Thanks so much to you, Sunny and Jeff. And next, breaking news, Jon Stewart, he's leaving. He's
stepping down from "The Daily Show". Next, when? Why? This bombshell just dropped.
And, Brian Williams. Weak apology, a bungled plan for an investigation. Is there any way NBC and Williams can recover?
Plus, new developments in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial. The judge rules Hernandez' fiancee can testify against him. Will she turn on the father of her child who has $40 million in the bank?
BURNETT: Tonight, will Brian Williams stay or go? We are learning new details about NBC's internal investigation into Williams as speculation continues over how long he'll stay away from the anchor chair. It's been six days since Williams apologized on air with telling a fabricated story about being on a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq, that he had said was hit by rocket propelled grenade.
OUTFRONT tonight, Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent, and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", and a "Washington Post" media critic Erik Wemple.
Good to have you both with us.
Brian, internal media investigation. This includes people who in their day jobs are rewarded for pitching stories to Brian Williams to get onto his program.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
BURNETT: Is this a real investigation? Will its conclusions have the credibility that an external investigation would have?
STELTER: I think there's still doubts. So far, it seems to have real teeth. The man in charge of it is not known for whitewashes. He's known as a digger internally. He digs, digs, get to the bottom of things. I now know NBC correspondent Kate Snow is a part of the investigation as well. It seems like NBC is taking this very seriously.
BURNETT: And, Erik, when CBS News looked into Dan Rather's report about the National Guard's service record for George W. Bush. They had an independent external investigation. It was conducted by former attorney general. And the former president of the "Associated Press", right?
You didn't get better credentials of that. I guess the question is, Erik, on some level is NBC News diminishing the brand of NBC News by investigating it this way?
ERIK WEMPLE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think so. I think there's no way it can be a serious as on outside investigation. Recall "The Rolling Stone" very recently. Obviously, the television network, but commission the Columbia Journalism School to look at its own work.
And, you know, you can't be in a good position if you're Richard Esposito. If you go too hard on Brian Williams, perhaps you get shunted off of "NBC Nightly News". You won't get as much air time. And if you don't go hard enough, you know, you're going to be derided as a shill.
And so, you know, is he going to get a Peabody Award or some great award for investigating the story about his own anchor? No. This is a no win situation for someone in-house to be doing this kind of work.
BURNETT: And, Brian, to Erik's point, there's this particular instance that everybody knows about now, the instance of the helicopter. But then there's other instances that's been raised. The things the said about Hezbollah, his reporting against Katrina.
BURNETT: Stories he might have told about Christmas trees. Whatever it might be out there, if you're the NBC News internal investigation, the question is how far do you go? If you don't go far enough, to Erik's point, you're criticized and lampooned externally. But if you go -- how do you get that --
STELTER: And some of these questions may be farfetched. But at the end of the day, you know, this goes all the way to the top of NBC. They are reviewing this investigation as it goes forward. They reviewed it last night. There's another meeting, I'm told happening right now, at NBC about this.
This consumed the entire news division and ultimately, it's up to the head of Comcast, the owner of NBC. Brian Roberts ultimately is going to make the call on whether Brian Williams stays or goes, or some sort of in-between like a suspension that's being talked about today.
BURNETT: Right. And there is such a thing being talked about.
All right. I have to ask each of you about the other breaking news which made my jaw dropped, everyone's jaw dropped. Jon Stewart is -- he's going.
STELTER: He's signing off later this year.
BURNETT: And this is not over some sort of scandal, let me make it clear, everyone. This is Jon Stewart saying I am out.
STELTER: He's been talking about it for a while and now, it's actually happening. He announced it on the show when he taped. It will air 11:00 tonight.
I'm told it's unclear when this year he's going to step down. He may want to leave this summer. Comedy Central might want him to stay until fall. So, that's still in negotiations.
BURNETT: Wow. Erik, what do you think? The world without Jon Stewart.
WEMPLE: I think cable news anchors everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief. How do you feel about it?
BURNETT: I mean, yes, that's right. It's like I love him except for when you're the subject of it.
STELTER: Such an accountability role, though. He really does. He's a great media critic even when it's painful.
WEMPLE: That's right. But how many segments can you do on FOX News and CNN's holograms. I mean, I think he's ran his course.
STELTER: Oh, it's interesting.
BURNETT: That's an interesting point.
All right. Well, thanks so much to both. We appreciate it. Of course, Jon Stewart will be making his formal announcement this evening.
OUTFRONT next, Aaron Hernandez, the former football star on trial for murder. Prosecutors say his fiancee who is seen on video putting a gun in a garbage bag and then leaving the house. Well, what will she say on the stand?
And the Jetsons have their dog Astro. And now, you too can have man's best robotic friend?
BURNETT: All right. Breaking news: we have just confirmed from NBC News that Brian Williams has now been suspended as managing editor and anchor of the "NBC Nightly News" for six months. He will not receive any pay during that timeframe.
All right. Brian Stelter just receiving this memo from "NBC Nightly News".
Let me read to you from it, the suspension will be without pay. It is effective immediately. Debra Turness, the chief of NBC News, says, "We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute anchor the NBC Nightly News."
I have Brian Stelter with me. I want to read something very crucial here on this memo. It continues to say, "While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30th, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq war in 2003."
This then I think is the crucial sentence, "It then became clear that on other occasions, Brian had done the same thing while telling that story in other venues that was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian's position. In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experience in the field."
This then continues to go on about what they're going to do -- but let me give this back to you. This is the memo, literally reading off you iPhone, Brian.
STELTER: During the commercial break here, we were just talking before the break about the meeting inside NBC, the staff was told around 7:30, and then announced around 7:45. And frankly, six months is about as severe a suspension as you could possibly hand over.
We know that this morning, Brian Williams met with the CEO of NBC Universal, Steve Burke. Burke's apartment, a few blocks from here in Manhattan. We don't know what was talked about, but clearly this was arranged in the meeting.
BURNETT: The question to you, though, is, what's the benefit of this? Brian Williams brand takes a big hit. Lester Holt filling in on the chair is only a fill-in. How could he grow? NBC News has this hanging over its head.
What does a six-month suspension do for anybody?
clears the air, perhaps. Lets the storm clear and lets NBC figure out in six months from now whether Brian Williams can return. I don't think we can assume he'll be back in six months.
STELTER: It clears the air perhaps. It lets the storm clear and it allows NBC to figure out six months from now whether Brian Williams can return. I don't think we can assume he'll be back in six months.
BURNETT: Right. And, of course, as we said, suspended without pay, from what we understand. That's at least $5 million that Brian Williams will not receive during the six-month suspension.
The breaking news coverage continues, and next, Aaron Hernandez, the former football star on trial. We have the very latest on what could be the lynchpin testimony in this case.
BURNETT: A bombshell development in the murder case of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. His fiancee has just been granted immunity to testify against him.
Susan Candiotti is OUTFRONT in Fall River, Massachusetts.
SHAYANNA JENKINS, AARON HERNANDEZ'S FIANCEE: Good morning.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every time she comes to court, Shayanna Jenkins sits behind her fiance on trial for murder. In earlier hearings and even now, Aaron Hernandez mouths "I love you to her." How will her love show now that she's been granted immunity, forcing her to testify as a prosecution witness against him?
PAUL CALLAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: She's a fiancee. Normally, a fiancee is not going to testify adversely against her true love. So, the very fact that she gets on the witness stand and provides evidence that may prove Hernandez to be a murderer is highly unusual.
CANDIOTTI: Will her testimony hurt or help him? The former Patriot tight end is accused of driving Odin Lloyd to an industrial park and orchestrating his execution in June 2013.
Lloyd was shot six times in the back and front. Jenkins is suspected of ditching the 45 caliber murder weapon used to kill Lloyd who was dating her sister. The day after his death, authorities say Hernandez sends his fiancee a coded message.
"Going back in the screen and movie room when you get home and there's a box just in case you were looking for it. Remember how you ruined the big TV? I was just thinking about that, laugh out loud, wink, wink, love you. Talk to you later, K?"
Prosecutors say Jenkins is seen on this video just before putting the gun inside the black trash bag, borrowing her sister's car and getting rid of the bag but not remembering where. She's pleaded guilty to lying before a grand jury. If she sticks to that story --
CALLAN: The very fact she tells the story about, oh, I picked up a garbage bag, oh, by the way, I don't remember where I jumped it and the bag prosecutors say has the murder weapon in it, I think she's going to look part of the murder conspiracy and it's going to hurt the Hernandez case.
CANDIOTTI: The defense is demanding to know what prosecutors might have promised her in return for immunity. But for now, there's no way of knowing what she'll say when she takes the stand.
CANDIOTTI: And legal experts say that granting her immunity really forces her, compels her to testify -- meaning she cannot take the Fifth against self-incrimination. Now, depending on what she says, her cross examination by defense could be interesting especially with Aaron Hernandez sitting right there in front of her. No date yet, Erin, for when she is expected to take the stand.
BURNETT: I'm fascinated by this. So, he turns around and mouths "I love you" every day, hoping it will get her to say. It's just amazing. This is going to be fascinating to see. And we'll hear about it from you, Susan. Thank you so much.
Thank you all for joining us. Please DVR the show every night.
And "AC360" starts right now.