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Kermit Gosnell Found Guilty; Interview With Senator Al Franken; Benghazi Car Bomb

Aired May 13, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, ANCHOR, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER": The verdict is in in Philadelphia, and Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty of horrific crimes.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Born alive, breathing, crying, and cruelly killed, a jury found, by a Philadelphia abortion provider. Dr. Kermit Gosnell now destined for a life behind bars, at the very least. We will go right to the courtroom for all the latest.

In other national news, well, it's not paranoia if the IRS is really out to get you. The agency apparently singled out conservative groups, enemies of the president, but the president says he first learned about it Friday when the story broke, and those tax men seem headed under the bus.

And the money lead, the cozy relationship between banks and the credit agencies that rate them, a key factor of the financial meltdown in 2008, experts say. Senator Al Franken says it's still going on and he's our guest.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead, the verdict is in. Dr. Kermit Gosnell is guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of babies born alive in his abortion clinic in Philadelphia. Also, he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the death of a woman who came to him for an abortion, 21 counts of aborting the unborn 24 weeks or older -- that's the cutoff in Pennsylvania -- and 211 counts of violation of informed consent.

Now, whenever we discuss this case, we have to warn viewers that the details are gruesome. Gosnell ran a ghoulish abortion clinic for decades in Philadelphia, until the feds raided it in 2010 on suspicion of prescription drug dealing. What they found inside of course was far, far worse, bloody blankets, dirty surgical tools, bags holding aborted fetuses.

Prosecutors gathered evidenced that showed Gosnell snipped the spinal cords of infants during the abortions he was performing.

Joining me from Philadelphia is CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin.

Sunny, welcome. You reported that the prosecutor was sob sobbing as the verdict was read. What was Gosnell's reaction?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Initially, he appeared not to have a reaction, Jake.

And I actually stayed behind after the verdict came in and walked up the to well of the courtroom. And I did look at Dr. Gosnell, and he appeared in my view to be shocked. He was upset. He sort of let out a sigh and was shaking his head back and forth.

Certainly, after the jury read its verdict -- and as you just mentioned, it was an extensive verdict -- he was, in my view, pretty shocked.

TAPPER: And, Sunny, this was a really graphic case, a lot of evidence that was very difficult to get through. How did that affect the jurors, do you think?

HOSTIN: You know, I think that the jury knew what they were getting into. I mean, there was voir dire in this case.

But I have seen some of the evidence in this case, some of the photographs that were part of the grand jury report, and I have seen a lot of gruesome things, having been a federal prosecutor. I have covered many, many cases. And I can't unsee those pictures, and I would imagine that the jury had a tough time with it.

This is one of the more gruesome cases that I have seen. And, Jake, I'm not only a lawyer. I'm a mother. And seeing some of the photos of the babies, seeing some of the photos of the incisions on the back of their necks with their spinal cords snipped, it was tough. It was difficult.

And if it was difficult for me, someone who is used to seeing these kinds of things, I can only imagine how difficult it may have been for the jury.

TAPPER: All right, Sunny, thank you so much.

Also joining me right now from outside the courtroom is Dr. Gosnell's attorney, Jack McMahon.

Mr. McMahon, thanks for joining us. Were you surprised by the verdict?

JACK MCMAHON, ATTORNEY FOR KERMIT GOSNELL: I mean, we were disappointed. We put on a vigorous defense. We think we -- it went well for us in the courtroom.

But the jury spoke, and we respect the jury's verdict. I mean, there was -- it started with eight murder counts in this case and five of them were not guilty. Three were guilty. Obviously, the jury took their job very seriously. They were conscientious. It was an emotional case, and I respect their verdict.

They worked very, very hard. The prosecution worked hard. The defense worked hard. And the jury worked hard. And that's our system and that's the way it goes.

TAPPER: Obviously, he was not found guilty of everything charged with, but it was pretty close. It was a prosecution sweep. Do you intend on appealing?

MCMAHON: Well, it's too early to tell that right now. We still have a penalty phase that is scheduled for next Tuesday. And before that goes on, I really wouldn't comment on that.

TAPPER: Do you think that the odds are Dr. Gosnell might get the death penalty?

MCMAHON: Again, there's a gag order as far as the -- I can talk about generalities, but as far as that is concerned, I would rather not comment on that right now.

Obviously, we -- if that comes to it, we will mount a defense to that. But that's next Tuesday. We're just dealing with today, today.

TAPPER: And, lastly, sir, do you blame the media and the focus on this among some conservatives for the verdict, or is this just what was in the courtroom was in the courtroom?

MCMAHON: No, I don't blame that. I mean, there was obviously a tremendous amount of that everywhere.

I mean, nobody was really rooting for Dr. Gosnell, I can tell you that. But, again, I don't believe that had the effect on the jury. This jury was conscientious. They cared. They spent a lot of time. And, again, by the nature of the verdict, that is, finding not guilty of some, guilty of other counts, they obviously thought about the evidence, were conscientious. And that's all we can expect out of our jury system.

TAPPER: And, lastly, sir, do you think it would help your case to put Dr. Gosnell on the stand for the sentencing phase?

MCMAHON: That, I can't comment on, again, since that's an open matter. That's to be resolved. I really don't feel comfortable commenting on that based on the gag order.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate your time.

Now let's bring in two people who have been watching this case closely, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan and Tara Murtha. She's staff writer for "Philadelphia Weekly."

Tara, Dr. Gosnell maintained his innocence the entire time. How on earth did they think that that would work? Explain that to us.

TARA MURTHA, "PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY": How on earth did the defense think that that would work?

TAPPER: Yes. How did they think that...


MURTHA: It was called a racist, elitist prosecution, and that was the defense that he mounted and presented.

And it was also, the defense said that basically that's the kind of care that poor women and women of color should expect. And the jury, thankfully, of peers say that women of color and poor women shouldn't have to expect terrible, terrible treatment like that masquerading as health care.

TAPPER: And, Paul, tell us about the -- talk about the precedent this might set for other cases.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that one of the controversies that's sort of lurked in the background in this case is, will it have an effect on other doctors who are operating abortion clinics or performing abortions in other parts of the country?

Will they fear criminal prosecution in a case where they make some kind of a medical error? And that's one of the things that's very controversial about the case. But, of course, Jake, on the other hand, the testimony in this case was so graphic and so horrific, it was -- you know, it described literally a house of horrors taking place in this Philadelphia clinic.

So I think that most objective observers will say that ultimately this was -- will be an isolated case, hopefully, and that it's simply a case where prosecutors had to act. It had nothing to do with being pro- or anti-abortion.

TAPPER: And, Tara, there were obviously repercussions in Pennsylvania because this clinic supposedly was watched over by this state -- the commonwealth health regulators.

Have there been any steps put in place to make sure that nothing like this is ever allowed to happen again in Pennsylvania?

MURTHA: Well, yes.

In fact, there's been a lot of changes in 2011. In fact, new legislation was introduced and passed. However -- so you know, there wasn't any inspections for 17 years. So, it wasn't a matter of there not being regulations on the books. In fact, Pennsylvania has four overlapping sets -- or had four overlapping sets of regulations already.

They weren't enforced. As a result, people were fired in the Department of Health. But what happened afterward in Pennsylvania and now in other states as well is that the case was used to pass ambulatory surgical facility guidelines. And it's very telling that that legislation wasn't supported by any medical associations in Pennsylvania.

In fact, medical associations actively campaigned against it, and it was supported instead by religious organizations. And despite that, Governor Corbett signed that into law. And after that went into effect, five abortion clinics in Pennsylvania have since shut down from it being financially impossible to upgrade to things like wider elevators, parking lot spaces, things like that. So it's being used, the case, to shut down clinics.

TAPPER: All right, Tara Murtha and Paul Callan, thanks so much.

Still ahead on THE LEAD, the president comments on the firestorm of controversy that has erupted after the leaking of State Department e-mails about the Benghazi attack. But did he just throw more fuel upon that fire?

And coming up, we will have a rare interview with Senator Al Franken. He rarely does national interviews, so what's getting him to speak out now? Well, a conflict of interest that he says comes at the consumers' expense. We will tell you what it could mean for you and your retirement. That's coming up next on THE LEAD.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Another national lead,distrust of big government writ large and of the Internal Revenue Service more specifically. Well, those are cornerstones of the Tea Party ethos. Now it looks as though the IRS went and proved their point for them.

And the president? Well, he says he did not know the IRS was singling out conservative groups until the news broke.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.

If you have got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous. I have got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it. And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.


TAPPER: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today said that a Treasury Department inspector general did notify the White House Counsel's Office that it was finishing its reports in these practices, but Carney says the counsel's office did not tell the president about it before it hit the press last Friday.

The report is coming out this week, the inspector general report, and it has outrageous conclusions about how organizations seeking tax- exempt status were handled. It shows that not only Tea Party groups get more scrutiny, but so did a host of other conservative groups that dared to criticize government spending and discuss the national debt.

This comes after Lois Lerner, the IRS director for tax-exempt groups, admitted that agents flagged certain applications for review based on keywords like Tea Party and patriot, pretty much anybody who was likely to hold up a poster of President Obama looking like the Joker at one point or another.

Politically motivated audits are so obviously wrong, they have even been comedy fodder for the president. Recall when he visited Arizona State University in 2009 and that university would not give him an honorary degree because he was so new.


OBAMA: President Crow and the board of regents will soon learn about being audited by the IRS.



TAPPER: After that, of course, came the birth of the Tea Party in 2010.

Now, some of these conservative groups suspected they were treated differently by the IRS but Douglas Shulman, the IRS commissioner who was appointed by President George W. Bush and retired in November, he assured -- he assured Congress that was not the case.


DOUG SHULMAN, IRS COMMISSIONER: As an organization, there's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back-and-forth that happens when people applied for 501(c)4 status.


TAPPER: That was March of 2012, but the report coming out this week says IRS officials knew nine months before that, in June 2011, that conservative groups were being targeted. The IRS says the number of tax-exempt applications doubled between 2010 and 2012. It released a statement Friday essentially blaming the workload and the workflow for the decision to categorize applications. The IRS says there was nothing partisan or political about it but the criticism heading their way -- well, it's unrelenting and bipartisan.

We'll talk to a Tea Party group that says they were unfairly singled out by the IRS. That's later in the show.

Senator Al Franken is with us today for a rare interview. I also want to ask him about the brewing IRS scandal in just a moment.

But he's here also to talk about our "Money Lead". They were blamed for playing a pivotal role in the financial meltdown but the credit agencies that rate Wall Street as big banks are being paid for by the very banks that they're rating. Experts say that's one of the root causes of the financial crisis of 2008, at least according to a by partisan Senate subcommittee that investigated the crash. Senator Al Franken wants to stop what he calls this pay to play rating system. Senator Al Franken, welcome.

You don't really do a lot of national TV interviews but you're talking to us today because you feel passionately about this.


TAPPER: You're meeting with the Securities and Exchange Commission tomorrow to discuss credit rating reform. First, explain to our viewers rate shopping, what that means, and how your why plan intends to protect consumers.

FRANKEN: OK, this is basically how it worked. Let's say an investment bank created a financial product, say, subprime mortgage- backed securities and they wanted to get a rating on that. So, it would go shop its two different credit rating agencies and make sure that they got a AAA, whoever they picked would give them a AAA. It was sometimes unspoken, but the credit rating agencies knew that they wouldn't get the next gig if they didn't give a AAA.

And that's why they gave AAA to all this junk with these sub- prime mortgage-backed securities, then it was junk upon junk upon junk. It was all these bets -- that's how the house of cards fell and Americans lost trillions of dollars. This is just -- this is a classic conflict of interest.

I'll give you an analogy. It would be as if a figure skater paid the judges to give her all 10s every time she skated. That's what it was. They gave AAAs to all these pieces of junk and that's what led to the meltdown.

TAPPER: What would your bill do, sir?

FRANKEN: Well, it's pretty simple. It would require that an independent board assign the initial rating of any structured financial product issued by a bank, and it would assign it to a credit rating agency based on the agency's capacity to do it, its expertise, and over time, the track record that the credit rating agency has. And, essentially, it would be replacing pay-to-play, which is what we have now and what we had and what led to the financial meltdown, and replace it with pay for performance.

TAPPER: And this bill right now, this legislation, it was part of the Wall Street Reform Act. It's up to the Securities and Exchange Commission to take the next step.

FRANKEN: Exactly.

TAPPER: Do you sense -- the SEC has been criticized a lot in the past for being part of the problem and not -- and being on the side of the bankers and not the consumers. How much confidence do you have that the SEC will embrace your plan?

FRANKEN: Well, I talked to Mary Jo White before she was confirmed about this. She confirmed me this is very important. It's time for the SEC to act. It is time for them to act and break this system of the issuer of these products paying the rating agency and choosing them to rate the product. The SEC -- this is -- the SEC has to do this now.

TAPPER: Sir, before you go, I do want to get your thoughts on this it growing IRS scandal. Nobody obviously is defending the IRS. But do you think the Tea Party deserves tax-exempt status? Or forget the Tea Party. Do you have any concerns about all the political groups out there that are taking tax-exempt status for being, quote- unquote, "educational"?

FRANKEN: Well, this is the issue. It just should be done in a completely nonpartisan way. But these are -- these 501(c)4s, and in order to be tax-exempt, in order for people to give them money and also not be disclosed who they are, the 501(c)4 has to spend at least 50 percent plus $1 on actual social welfare.

So, some of these organizations have been -- you know, it looks like they've been spending more on just pure politics. So, it's a legitimate inquiry by the IRS. What is in no way legitimate is that this be biased in any way. And the people responsible for this should be held accountable.

TAPPER: Senator Al Franken, thanks so much for your time and keep us up-to-date on your meeting with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

FRANKEN: I will. Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Come up later this hour, I talk to the guy I wanted to be when I was a young man. I was trying to become a comic strip cartoon. About to unleash his talents on an online show featuring Bill Murray and John Goodman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're politicians but they're four guys trying to live together and try to get through the day together. And hopefully they'll be likeable.


TAPPER: That and more when THE LEAD continues.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In today's "World Lead", new trouble in Benghazi, Libya. A car bomb detonated near a hospital today. No one is sure who to blame or what may have been the specific target, nor is there an accurate count of the dead and wounded.

Here in Washington, D.C., today, President Obama tried again to dismiss congressional questions about last September's attack on the U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, using words like sideshow and political circus. We'll take a closer look at that in a little bit.

They say their own brother is a monster. The latest from Cleveland, next.