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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Pistorius Court Affidavit; Conservative Weighs in on Forced Spending Cuts; Spectacular Diamond Heist in Belgium
Aired February 19, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now the question, who done it? Also a follow-up on a 360 investigation involving a veterans hospital, contaminated water and multiple cases of Legionnaire's disease. Tonight just how widespread the outbreak was and why there are accusations of a cover-up.
We're "Keeping Them Honest."
But we begin with the murder charge that's captivated and horrified millions of people around the globe. Today, the suspect, the Olympian runner Oscar Pistorius, gave his side of the story. In his own words, read by his lawyer at the bail hearing, he described in dramatic detail what led him to shoot and kill his girlfriend in the middle of the night. You're going to hear his words in a moment.
While his statement was being read in court, a private funeral service was held for Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he shot, the woman he says he loved. Steenkamp was 29 years old, a model, reality TV show star.
While she was being laid to rest, the charges against Pistorius were upgraded to premeditated murder. Prosecutors say the double amputee track star murdered Steenkamp after an argument, but Pistorius says he mistook her for an intruder and never meant to kill her.
Here's Robyn Curnow with what she saw in court today.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Oscar Pistorius arrived for his bail hearing, his brother and family joined him to give support. Journalists jostled to get inside the small courtroom. And officials seemed unable to cope with the huge media interest. And outside a group of protesters called for an end to violence against women.
But inside the court, the state argued and persuaded the magistrate that Pistorius should be charged with premeditated murder.
(On camera): With our iPhones and snatches of footage taken after the magistrate had left the court, we can show you just how startled, scared and lonely Oscar Pistorius looked. He cried or sobbed throughout the bail hearing despite the presence of his family. (Voice-over): Pistorius looked so different from this confident athlete who broke stereotypes to run in the Olympics despite being a double amputee. He continued, though, to break down when his legal team read out an affidavit.
This is a shortened version of Pistorius' side of the story.
"I woke up, went to the balcony to bring the fan in and close the sliding doors. I heard a noise in the bathroom. I felt a sense of terror rushing over me. There are no burglar bars across the bathroom windows and I knew that contractors had left ladders outside. I did not have my prosthetic legs on. I grabbed my 9 millimeter pistol from underneath my bed. I screamed to get out of the house and to Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed.
"I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted for Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond. When I reached the bed, I realized Reeva was not in the bed. That's when it dawned on me that could it be Reeva who was in the toilet. I found the key and opened the door. Reeva was slumped over but alive."
Later in the affidavit Pistorius says, "She died in my arms."
REEVA STEENKAMP, MURDER VICTIM: I love you very, very much.
CURNOW: Reeva's last moments will no doubt be further examined on Wednesday during the second day of the bail hearing. As the state will try to reinforce why they don't believe his version of events, and why Oscar Pistorius should be kept in jail until a trial.
BLITZER: And Robyn Curnow is joining us now. An affidavit from Reeva's best friend was also read in court. And I'm quoting, "She said she could see a future with him. She said if Oscar asked her to marry him, she'd probably say yes."
So what was the reaction by Pistorius and the rest of the courtroom, for that matter, when hearing that?
CURNOW: You know, I wish we'd had video of it to show you. I mean, it was -- it was heart-wrenching in many ways. You know, Oscar Pistorius absolutely broke down in tears every time Reeva's name was mentioned. And at that particular moment, he just sobbed and sobbed uncontrollably.
At one point in the proceedings, I thought he was going to hyperventilate, that they'd need to get a medic in to try and assist him. He really was quite broken, quite traumatized, but that -- the descriptions of how they were happy together, that, you know, perhaps she had thoughts of -- you know, of marrying him really, really touched him. And I think there was also that reminder that we still don't know whether he's innocent or guilty.
You know, there are a lot of -- there's a lot of speculation out there at the moment. A lot of these wild theories about these cricket bats and, you know, what happened. And of course, the state saying, you know, this is premeditated murder, but it's not proved yet. And so Oscar Pistorius' affidavit was very heartfelt, quite emotional. There were a few contradictory facts in there, which I'm sure the state will pick apart, but those touching, intimate kind of details painted a picture for everybody and also indicated just what Oscar's lost, a woman that he apparently loved, and she loved him, too.
The whole story is just so sad on so many levels, and we still got to wait for that final judgment whether he's guilty or whether he isn't or whether it was a tragic accident or whether it was premeditated, planned murder. But until then, until we know the facts, until a judge rules, you know, we've just got to look at this as a very sad personal human tragedy. And two families have lost so much.
BLITZER: Certainly is true, everything you just said. Thank you. Robyn Curnow joining us.
Let's dig a little bit deeper now on the legal implications of what the affidavit says. Joining us now, the criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, also Marcia Clark, the former Los Angeles deputy district attorney, the author of the book "Guilt by Degrees."
Guys, thanks very much for coming in. The affidavit from Pistorius is so extraordinary and telling, we think it's important for our viewers to hear more of it. Here's another part of the affidavit read by a 360 producer. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes with a view to commit crime, including violent crime. I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violent and burglary before. For that reason, I kept my firearm, a .9 millimeter Parabellum, underneath my bed when I went to bed at night. It fills me with horror and fear of an intruder or intruders being inside the toilet.
"I thought he or they must have entered through the unprotected window. As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself. I believed that when the intruder came out of the toilet, we would be in grave danger. I felt trapped as my bedroom door was locked and I have limited mobility on my stumps."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Marcia, do you think his explanation will stand up under scrutiny?
MARCIA CLARK, AUTHOR, "GUILT BY DEGREES": You know, it may, Wolf. It's actually a pretty detailed, pretty compelling statement unlike a lot of these kind of defense claim that can be vague and very blurry and somewhat logically inconsistent. His weak points are these, to me. Number one, that he didn't first immediately look to the side and warn his wife -- his girlfriend. I mean, the first thing you do when you think you're in danger is, hey, honey, wake up. You know, I mean, somebody is here. And then you go and you confront the person. So the fact that he didn't do that strikes me as very hard to understand.
The second thing is the bloody cricket bat. There was a bloody cricket bat found that I think was going to come back with her blood on it. And if all he did was use that bat to help break in the door, as he claims, I don't know how her blood gets on it. And if he did bludgeon her with it, of course, that's the end of his defense.
BLITZER: Mark, it's fairly unusual for a defendant to offer an explanation like this before his defense team has had a chance to go over all the forensic evidence, especially here in the United States. I don't know about South Africa. But would you have advised this kind of affidavit if you were defending Pistorius?
MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, they -- I -- the only reason that I can think of that they've gone into this much detail is that they fully believe that this supposed bloody cricket bat is not going to come back with any kind of flesh or hair or any other indicia that she was beaten to death with it. Otherwise, it would seem to be the height of folly to put that declaration in.
But I agree with Marcia, I think this is a completely plausible, plausible and defensible explanation for what happened here. I think -- I agree with Marcia that the bat itself, if it's got bad forensics on it, is going to be a real problem. I'm not as troubled by the not waking her up.
I think that when you've got somebody who at least arguably has a history of being a victim and lives in a gated community where arguably at the same time they suspect that people are breaking in, and that's why you live in a gated community, and he doesn't have his legs on, so to speak, and is awakened and is panicked, I can see where he would go and he might shoot first and ask questions later.
I mean I think given everything that I've heard so far, when the prosecution gets up and said his motive is he just wanted to kill, that makes absolutely no sense to me. This is not a guy who just woke up one day and decided he wanted to kill, by all accounts.
BLITZER: Let me play another section of Pistorius' affidavit. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I battled to get her out of the toilet and pull her into the bathroom. I phoned Johann Stander who was involved in the administration of the estate and asked him to phone the ambulance. I phoned Netcare and asked for help. I went downstairs to open the front door. I returned to the bathroom and picked Reeva up as I had been told not to wait for the paramedics but to take her to hospital. I carried her downstairs in order to take her to the hospital. "On my way down, Stander arrived. A doctor who lives in the complex also arrived curious. Downstairs, I tried to render the assistance to Reeva that I could, but she died in my arms."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Marcia, you say you found it odd that his first call wasn't for an ambulance but to an official at his gated community. Explain.
CLARK: Yes, I mean, to me, the first thing -- and I'm talking just instinct now. The first that happens if I -- if I believe I've shot someone, I call the ambulance, I call 911. That's the first thing I do. I don't call the person who runs my community. You know? I understand this is a small community and they were very close knit, but why don't you call the ambulance first?
Precious seconds are being wasted while you're calling somebody who is basically a landlord. So that didn't wash for me at all.
BLITZER: What about you? What stood out to you, Mark? Because I guess you could make the argument he was panicked, he didn't want to directly call the -- if they have a 911 system, let's say, in South Africa, for an ambulance.
GERAGOS: What --
BLITZER: He wanted somebody else to do it for him.
GERAGOS: And I don't want to be in a position where we in America are kind of imprinting our cultural experience on what goes on in South Africa. I don't know that calling 911 has the same kind of cultural implications there that it does here. For all I know in that small gated community the administrator is the person who's in charge of security and taking care of the people who are in there. If that's the case, that's a logical kind of reaction is that's who you call.
I just come back to one -- one salient feature. If they don't find some kind of history of domestic violence involving these two, and if they don't find anything having to do with the two of them, whether it's on phones or iPads or whatever kind of electronic media showing that there was something that would have occasioned an argument, there makes -- it makes absolutely no sense to me that all of a sudden this guy, who by all accounts has overcome some of the worst kinds of consequences that anybody could be dealt, woke up one day and decided to kill this beautiful young woman who everyone by all accounts also thinks he was madly in love with.
That does not make any sense to me. Absent something else that we don't know about that hasn't been revealed so far. And we assume that there's this bloody cricket bat because that's what's been reported, but I've been connected to a lot of cases where there's been all kinds of urban legends that have sprung up that turned out to be categorically false. So before I'd start pinning anything here as -- or believing that it's evidence, I wait and see if it's actually in a courtroom.
BLITZER: Fair point, Mark Geragos, Marcia Clark, thanks to both of you for joining us.
Up next with less than two weeks to go, the blame game over forced spending cuts is heating up dramatically here in Washington. A lot of finger-pointing, tough talk. We're "Keeping Them Honest."
Later, thieves dressed as cops pull up a $50 million diamond heist on an airport tarmac in a matter of minutes. It sounds like a Hollywood movie but this crime thriller is very real.
BLITZER: Tonight and every night we're "Keeping Them Honest." We're looking for facts, not offering our opinions or playing favorites. We're not supporting Democrats or Republicans as they do on some of the other cable channels. Our goal is real reporting, finding the truth and calling out hypocrisy.
Tonight finger-pointing in Washington. With the president and congressional Republicans each playing the blame game over forced spending cuts set to go into effect in 10 days, what Washington is calling the sequester. And keep in mind that plan actually originated in the Obama White House but was approved by the House and the Senate.
In front of a sea of first responders in Washington, the president today lashed out at Republicans in Congress saying if legislators don't come to an agreement, emergency services will take a hit. That was just one of a number of possible consequences the president listed off if the cuts are allowed to begin March 1st.
He talked about fewer police and firefighters, longer airport security lines, lost jobs, criminals going free, teachers being laid off. Democrats in the Senate have proposed replacing the forced spending cuts with reduced Defense spending, and end to agriculture subsidies and more tax revenue from millionaires. But House Republicans have rejected any increased taxes as a solution.
Here's what the president had to say today about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But so far at least the idea that the Republicans have proposed asks nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations, so the burden is all on first responders or seniors or middle class families.
They double down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful cuts that I've outlined. They slash Medicare and investments that create good middle class jobs. And so far, at least, what they've expressed is a preference where they'd rather have these cuts go into effect than close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans. Not one. Well, that's not balance.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: In a statement, the House Speaker John Boehner says the president is making the same argument that Republicans have been making for a year, that the forced cuts are the wrong way to cut spending. Boehner goes on to say, and I'm quoting now, "That's why the House has twice passed legislation to replace it with commonsense cuts and reforms that won't threaten public safety, national security or the economy." Or our economy. "Once again the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress, only more calls for higher taxes."
The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had this to say in a statement after the president's speech. Quote, "Today's event at the White House proves once again that more than three months after the November election, President Obama still prefers campaign events to commonsense, bipartisan action."
And if anyone is waiting for any last-minute deals, they better not hold their breath waiting for them to come from Mitch McConnell. Here's what he said to -- to reporters a week ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: It's pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect. Read my lips. I'm not interested in 11th hour negotiation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So congressional Republicans are definitely striking back at the president saying he can prevent damage to essential services by cutting from other areas of government.
Earlier I spoke with the Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
BLITZER: Senator, the president spoke today about those forced budget cuts. He had some pretty tough words for Republicans. Let me play a little bit of what he said. Get your reaction. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice. Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them, or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations. That's the choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You heard the president lay out the choice. Are you willing to compromise on the way he described them? SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I'm not really willing to discuss it in the framework that he's made up for himself. I mean, for goodness sakes, it was his proposal. You know, he proposed the sequester. It was his idea. He signed it into law, and now he's going to tell us that, oh, it's all our fault?
I voted against the sequester because I didn't think it was enough. The sequester cuts the rate of growth of spending but the sequester doesn't even really begin to cut spending, which we have to do or we're going to get a credit downgrade. Another credit downgrade.
BLITZER: So you don't think that the $85 billion this year, that would be the forced cuts this year, from your perspective, that's not enough?
PAUL: It's a pittance. I mean, it's a -- it's a slowdown in the rate of growth. There are no real cuts happening over 10 years. Over 10 years, the budget will still grow $7 trillion to $8 trillion. He added $6 trillion to the debt in his first term. He's on course to add another $4 to $6 trillion in his second term. So really this is -- just really nibbling at the edges, and he's saying, oh, it's some dramatic thing where all of a sudden it's still the riches' fault.
Didn't he already raise taxes on the rich? I am -- I'm having trouble even understanding what he's talking about because he sets up this rhetoric and this sort of game of let's go get the rich, again, that really is divorced from any reality. It's his sequester we're talking about, his bill.
BLITZER: But as you know a lot of your fellow Republicans complain bitterly about the proposed Defense cuts in these forced budget cuts, if you will. Already there were $500 billion in cuts last year. They say they can't stand any more. National security is on the line. So what do you say to your fellow Republicans right now saying no more Defense cuts?
PAUL: We spend 47 percent of the total world spending on military. We spend more than the next 14 countries combined. Now I'm a big national Defense guy. I think it's the most important thing we do in Washington is national defense, but I do think there's room for cutting.
BLITZER: When you gave the Tea Party response to the president's State of the Union address last week, you proposed some solutions to the deficit crisis. You said you would start with cutting foreign aid to countries that, quote, "are burning our flag and chanting death to America."
Senator, we're talking about countries -- I think you'd agree -- Pakistan, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, according to these reports. But are they really realistic to start cutting economic aid or foreign aid to these countries where the U.S. needs their assistance to a certain degree in fighting terror?
PAUL: I think until Pakistan steps up and says that we're not going to tolerate people who would kill someone like the little girl Malala who was shot point blank in the head who survived but is such a wonderful sweet voice for girls to get educated in Pakistan. Boy, Pakistan, we shouldn't have to pay Pakistan to stand up and for them to eradicate people who would shoot little girls.
BLITZER: What's the likelihood bottom line, Senator, that Congress will agree on avoiding these forced budget cuts by March 1st especially given the fact that the Senate, for example, is on recess this week? What's going to happen March 1st?
PAUL: I think the sequester happens and it will be in some ways a yawn because the histrionics that are coming from the president saying, oh, we're going to shut down and get rid of meat inspectors. I mean, is not -- is anybody not going to stand up and call his bluff on that ridiculousness?
The budgets are not being decreased. We're talking about cutting the rate of growth of budgets. And he has the ability to spend the money in different places. If not, we should give latitude to do it. But the thing is is that there is waste throughout government. And the cuts in the rate of growth should not have us laying off FAA, you know, air traffic controllers and meat inspectors.
This is the emotionalism that's always used to argue against any cuts. This is not enough cuts. So we shouldn't be -- if we get rid of this, it just shows that we're really not serious as a nation about doing anything about our debt crisis.
So I would say to the president, stand up and do the right thing. And don't ask us to squeeze more money out of the private sector, which we think is bad for jobs, in order for you to do the right thing. Why doesn't he stand up and be a leader and just do the right thing?
BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul, thanks very much for joining us.
PAUL: Thank you.
BLITZER: For more on this story go to CNN.com.
Up next the spectacular well organized and well executed diamond heist at an airport in Europe. Millions of dollars in precious gems whisked away in minutes.
And later, new developments in a 360 investigation. Multiple cases of Legionnaire's disease at one VA hospital all linked to contaminated water. One congressman says there's a cover-up going on. We're "Keeping Them Honest."
BLITZER: A developing story out of Kansas City. We're getting new video of a building on fire. There are preliminary reports this started with a car crash. As you can see, it led to something much, much bigger than expected. We'll have the latest. That's ahead.
BLITZER: "Crime and Punishment" tonight. A spectacular well executed diamond heist that reads like an Agatha Christy who-done-it. $50 million in precious gems stolen by heavily armed men right out of the cargo hold of a plane in an airport in Brussels, Belgium. There was choreography and precision to the theft which unfolded at lightning speed.
The whole operation took only a few short minutes. The thieves were described as professionals by one official, and are most likely linked to organized crime.
Dan Rivers tonight on what went down.
DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It required chutzpah, inside knowledge and some very fast driving. One of the biggest gem heists ever, and the question is, who did it?
Who would dare to steal $50 million worth of diamonds from a supposedly super secure European airports?
(on camera): It all sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster a rather unbelievable Hollywood blockbuster. The sheer audacity of this heist is breathtaking. They simply drove into Brussels International Airport, flashed their guns and drove off with tens of millions of dollars worth of diamonds and all without a shot being fired.
(voice-over): At 7:47 local time Monday night, the gang cut through a perimeter fence near a building site and drove parallel to the busy runway in two cars. They knew where to go, stopping a Swiss airliner holding three people at gunpoint, stealing bags of uncut diamonds that had been unloaded from a brinks security truck.
JAN VAN DER CRUYSSE, BRUSSELS AIRPORT SPOKESMAN: They have returned to the car, and sped off again, left the airport perimeter exactly 11 minutes after they have entered. The operation at the airport has taken exactly 3 minutes. So this was a very quick hit and run, very well organized.
RIVERS: The diamonds were being transported from Antwerp to Zurich. Antwerp is the world's diamond capital. The $200 million of the stones are transported through this airport each day. Traders here say they feared damage to their status as a world hub could be significant amid rising concerns over security. But experts say the mastermind of this heist will be tough to uncover.
HARRY LEVY, DIAMOND TRADER: I imagine whoever commissioned the heist would keep as far distance as he can as far as identification is concerned between himself and the people who actually carried out the robbery.
RIVERS: The thieves were reportedly dressed in uniforms to make them look official. With Europe's open borders, they could have driven to any one of two dozen European countries by now with the loot that's extremely difficult to trace.
BLITZER: Dan Rivers joins me now with more. Dan, do authorities have any leads on where the thieves might be at this point?
RIVERS: There's no clue at all. They appear to have got away with this so far. The thing is here in Europe that you can drive anywhere without having to go through any sort of border check into about 24 different countries these days. So they could have driven out from the airfield here and driven all the way to Eastern Europe without anyone, customs or otherwise, checking what's in their car or who they are.
BLITZER: How is it so easy for them to breach the fence around the airport?
RIVERS: It is just staggering, isn't it? This is supposed to be a highly secure international air hub in Europe, but this isn't the first time that this has happened, Wolf.
There have been four other attacks over the last decade or so in which people have either tried to come in through that perimeter fence or have tried to attack security trucks which they think are carrying diamonds or cash.
Because so many diamonds come through this airport every day, about $200 million worth a day come through this airport in Brussels. It's such an attractive target for thieves.
BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Dan Rivers, thanks very much.
Want to get to some breaking news, a massive fire we told you about earlier in Kansas City, Missouri, has caused massive damage and injuries. You're looking at these pictures. Billy Sutton is on the phone. He saw it happen. Billy, what happened?
BILLY SUTTON, EYEWITNESS (via telephone): Well, actually, I didn't see it happen. I came upon the scene after it already happened, after emergency vehicles had already responded. But there was a huge fire at the restaurant or just in front of the restaurant, a gas explosion.
And I know that probably injuries, I'm not sure, but it was a big fire. They started pushing people back and blocked off the street about one or two blocks away. At this point can't get any closer, but there are helicopters in the air and everything.
BLITZER: As we're speaking right now, it looks like those flames are still going pretty strong. Has it gone down over the last few minutes or it is still as intense?
SUTTON: No, it was a lot bigger fire. I think -- but it was once -- I think the building is probably -- and I guess, the fire was out for a while, but it was a large, large fire.
BLITZER: Yes, it looks like indeed. Billy, thanks very much for calling in. Billy Sutton from Kansas City, Missouri.
We're following some other stories tonight. Isha Sesay has a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, blunt talk about guns specifically a shotgun versus an assault weapon for Vice President Joe Biden. In an online chat today with readers of "Parents" magazine, Biden was asked if gun control laws would reduce a person's chance to defend his or herself. He's repeated advice he's given before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barrel shotgun, have the shells, a .12 gauge shotgun, and I promise you, as I told my wife, we live in an area that's wooded and somewhat secluded.
Jill, if there's ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here or walk out, put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house. I promise you, whoever is coming in is not -- you don't need an AR-15. It's harder to aim. It's harder to use. And in fact, you don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Opposition activists in Syria say government forces fired a scud missile in a neighborhood in Aleppo killing at least 50 people and obliterating seven buildings. U.S. officials say the Assad government has fired eight missiles into Aleppo since Friday.
Wolf, in his new memoir, music industry giant Clive Davis reveals that he's bisexual. He was married twice and has adult children, but the 80-year-old Davis says he's been involved with a man for the past seven years. Not everyone welcoming this memoir. Kelly Clarkson, the pop superstar, very upset with some of the things he's had to say about her in the book.
BLITZER: A lot of people I'm sure going to be reading this book. Thanks very much, Isha, for that.
Up next, a follow-up to our investigation into the possible mistreatment of U.S. veterans, contaminated water and multiple cases of Legionnaires disease at one VA hospital including five deaths. The CDC looked into the outbreak. What they discovered. We're keeping them honest.
Witnesses say this little boy was slapped across the face by a stranger for crying on an airplane. That stranger now faces charges after turning himself in to police. The 360 follow, that's ahead.
BLITZER: An online dating horror story, a man arrested and accused of rape. Police say he used a popular dating web site the find his prey, and they fear there could be more victims. We'll have more, that's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Tonight new developments in a 360 investigation into possible mistreatment of this country's veterans. Two months ago we reported on a Legionnaires outbreak at a Veteran's Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh.
We now know the extent of what one congressman is calling a cover-up and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, we also know the extent of the damage, 21 cases of the illness over the past year, five of them fatal.
And all of them appear to have been acquired from the hospital's contaminated water supply. One of the dead 87-year-old Bill Nicklas, a Navy veteran who survived World War II, but couldn't survive the Legionnaires disease he contracted late last year.
His son told us Bill would go out of his way to go to the Veterans Hospital because he thought he would get better treatment there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB NICKLAS, SON OF BILL NICKLAS: He firmly believed that the V.A. was going to give him the best care they could possibly give him.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Knowing what you know now, did the V.A. give him the best care possible?
NICKLAS: No. No, they didn't. I mean, I can say there was strong negligence on the V.A.'s part.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control confirms the Nicklas family suspicions. We'll have that in a moment. But first here's some of Drew Griffin's report that aired in December.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): CNN has now learned that hospital officials knew they had a problem with the water system as far back as December of 2011, but chose not to reveal any of that publicly until this past November.
DAVE NICKLAS, SON OF BILL NICKLAS: Being a veteran myself, I'm shocked and appalled that the V.A. would put their veterans in that type of situation.
GRIFFIN: Records obtained by CNN show that over the past year the amount of disinfectant in the V.A.'s water was less than the amount needed to prevent the bacteria from reaching dangerous levels.
And internal records from a water quality company called "Liquitech" shows that in December of 2011, an inspection showed they have Legionella. Systems are not being properly maintained. A site visit by the same company five months later found the problems continue, obvious evidence that the systems had not been properly, regularly maintained.
The company "Liquitech" is the contractor who manufactured the V.A.'s water system and a system like it in hundreds of other hospitals across the country. He says it is inexplicable that the V.A. hospital in Pittsburgh knew it had a problem, was warned about it and did not fix it.
TORY SCHIRA, LIQUITECH: They were not cleaning the flow cells. They were not doing the monitoring. They were not doing the things that are critical to the efficacy of the system.
GRIFFIN (on camera): And did you tell the hospital?
SCHIRA: Yes, we did. Yes, we did. We told them -- we actually had two audits and told them twice that they were deficient in their maintenance.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): What is so frustrating to Schira is if the system had just been maintained, if the hospital had just listened and made simple adjustments, he says he believes lives could have been saved.
SCHIRA: Absolutely, absolutely.
GRIFFIN (on camera): One hundred percent?
SCHIRA: One hundred percent.
GRIFFIN: As is done in all the other hospitals that you service?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): So what went wrong? Our calls and e-mails to the VA went unanswered. So keeping them honest, we went to the United States Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh in hopes of getting answers. We were met by four armed federal officers.
(on camera): How are you? Drew Griffin with CNN. It's nice to see you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: V.A. Police.
GRIFFIN: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It this has not been approved by our Public Affairs Office. I cannot allow you on the property.
GRIFFIN: I'm calling public affairs right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't technically call them. Can you take the camera back across the street?
GRIFFIN: Hold on. I'm going to phone them right now. (voice-over): Instead of answering our questions, the VA spokesperson, David Cowgill, has released three media advisories. The last one on the day we visited read in a voice mail.
DAVID COWGILL, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER: V.A. is committed to providing safe facilities and quality care for veterans.
GRIFFIN: The advisory goes on to say that an investigation is under way and that --
COWGILL: Testing results indicate the mediation at Pittsburgh V.A. Medical Center University Drive has been successful.
BLITZER: Drew is joining us now. Drew, the Centers for Disease Control finally did release it report of the Veterans Hospital. What did the report conclude?
GRIFFIN: Wolf, mainly that the outbreak was bigger than any of us knew, 21 cases either directly or probably linked to the Veteran Administration's water supply and that includes Bill Nicklas, that Navy vet who was one of the five killed by this Legionnaires disease outbreak.
The water was so contaminated, Wolf, that Legionella was even found in the outdoor decorative fountain. I think the most troubling of all that we found, is that the hospital failed to notify its infections team of the outbreak in a timely manner according to the CDC and apparently failed to notify a lot of the staff about the problem.
BLITZER: So who is being held accountable for all this?
GRIFFIN: You know, that is the most frustrating of all. So far no one from the hospital has answered any of the questions. You saw how we were kicked off the property. Even members of Congress are frustrated by the lack of answers.
There was a congressional hearing, Wolf, in which a deputy under- secretary of health for the VA said that he regretted that any veteran was exposed to this. But as for the actual people that run this hospital, Veterans Administration says it's waiting for it own inspector general report.
But it's pretty clear now the hospital hid the outbreak from the public, even from some of the staff and did expose veterans to this disease by neglecting to take care of this problem when they first discovered Legionella was in that water.
BLITZER: You mentioned Bill Nicklas that 87-year-old Navy veteran. What can you tell us about him, his record, his family, does that family plan any legal action?
GRIFFIN: The family has filed what is a claim against the federal government. They do have an attorney. Now there's a negotiating period that takes place before any kind of lawsuit can be filed. But let me tell you about this guy, Wolf, 17 years old he's drafted into the Navy, World War II.
He straps in to the backseat, the tail-gunner position of a Navy rescue plane and drops into the sea in Japan to rescue downed Navy pilots. That's what his job was. He did it in Guam, Okinawa, Saipan, all these places. Comes out of the Navy, '46 and starts an auto body shop in Pittsburgh.
He was so proud of being in the military he would go 30 miles out of his way, pass a couple of hospitals along the way, just to go to this V.A. Administration hospital. The family now knows, according to the CDC report, that he most likely would still be alive if he didn't go to that hospital, if it was a minor illness that turned into a major illness because he got legionella.
BLITZER: Who would have thought? Excellent reporting by you, Drew. Thanks very much for bringing us that report.
We're getting new details on the breaking story we were following out of Kansas City, Missouri. We now know nine people have been injured. We'll talk with an official on the ground right after this break.
BLITZER: We have new details on the breaking story we're following in Kansas City, Missouri. A gas explosion at a restaurant has injured at least 14 people. At least one person is in critical condition, according to a spokesman for the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Police say there are reports that a car hit a gas main causing a leak that sparked the explosion. Joining us now on the phone, James Garrett, the public information officer with the Kansas City Fire Department. What can you tell us about this, Mr. Garrett?
Unfortunately, I think we've lost Mr. Garrett. You can see the pictures. Those are the pictures from earlier. A huge fire in Kansas City, Missouri. We'll check in with Mr. Garrett, hopefully get an update on more, but in the meantime, let's get more news with Isha Sesay. She is following some other stories -- Isha.
SESAY: Wolf, a 360 follow, an Idaho man accused of slapping a crying toddler on a Delta flight has turned himself in to police. Joe Ricky Handley is accused of assaulting a minor. Witnesses say he used a racial slur just before he slapped the 19-month-old boy who got a scratch below his right eye during the incident.
A California man is accused of raping a woman he met on the dating web site, christianmingle.com. Police fear 37-year-old Sean Banks may be linked to more victims who haven't come forward. They say he went by the user name rarity and several others when using the web site.
And Wolf, the refs at the world cup in Brazil will have some high tech assistance. They'll be using goal line technology. Several different systems could be competing for the job. The winning bid should be announced in April as in England, soccer fans, this is great news because we've been robbed before.
BLITZER: Let's hope they get their act together there. We'll take a quick break and update you on this huge fire that's taking place in Kansas City, Missouri, right after this.
BLITZER: Getting new details on that breaking story we're following, a gas explosion in Kansas City, Missouri. Joining us on the phone is James Garrett, the public information officer with the Kansas City Fire Department. Mr. Garrett, do you know what happened here?
JAMES GARRETT, KANSAS CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): Wolf, we do know right now is that there was a gas explosion at the restaurant, JJ's, that is located here in our plaza area. And right now we're still trying to ascertain how many injured we have.
The fire has been doused at this point in time, but we are still going through some -- some things as far as getting the gas shut off as well as trying to ascertain what we have in the wake of this.
BLITZER: It looks like it must have been a huge gas explosion to cause that kind of fire and this kind of damage. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
GARRETT: Well, unfortunately, I have, but it was a pretty significant explosion so again we're trying to just get our crews in on this and investigate it and get as much information as we can so we can get it back to you guys.
BLITZER: At least we're told by other officials 14 people injured, at least 14 people injured, but hopefully no fatalities. Is that right?
GARRETT: Right now, we have no fatalities. We do have 14 people that have been injured. We have nine that we've transported to the area hospitals at this point. Right now, we've got at least two that are life-threatening injuries and the others are pretty miscellaneous.
BLITZER: I've been getting some tweets from Kansas City saying there are some people missing right now. Do you know anything about that, Mr. Garrett?
GARRETT: We have reports of people that are unaccounted for, and we're trying to, again, get to the bottom of what exactly we have here. So again, we're going to be here for a while. We're going to investigate as much as we can. We're doing recovery efforts as we speak. So we should have more information for you as it continues to unfold.
BLITZER: One quick final question, I assume there's a lot of rubble that you're going to have to remove if you're looking for missing people?
GARRETT: Yes. We have rubble to remove. We just got a quite chaotic scene. We're still here trying to figure out what we have and go from there.
BLITZER: Good luck, Mr. Garrett. Good luck to all the firefighters, first responders. We'll stay in close touch with you. James Garrett, the spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department.
That does it for this edition of 360. We'll see you one hour from now, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.