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Safety Board Recommends Lowering Legal Limit; IRS in Hot Water; Government Report Faults IRS Management; IRS under Criminal Investigation; Boy Accused of Killing Sister Due in Court

Aired May 15, 2013 - 09:30   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You look at the U.S. economy, U.S. stocks, and then you compare it to Europe and you say, we're sitting pretty compared to Europe. Opening bell just rang. Stocks are starting a little bit to the down side, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. I'm sure you'll keep an eye on them. Alison Kosik reporting live from the New York stock exchange.

Approximately 10,000 people are killed every year in alcohol-related crashes. Now the National Transportation Safety Board wants to cut that number by cutting the legal blood alcohol limit. The NTSB proposal would lower the threshold from 0.08 to 0.05 nationwide. We looked at current standards and based on a national highway traffic safety administration chart we found a 120-pound woman can come close to that new level with just two drinks in two hours. She would register a 0.04. While a 200-pound man would reach the same level with three drinks in one hour. The NTSB estimates lowering the blood alcohol limit would save between 500 to 800 lives every year. And the chairman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman, is here with us now. Thank you so much for joining us.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm just looking at the examples your agency has given. A 120-pound woman, two drinks in two hours, and I'm just going to be realistic here. I would say that there are probably many people out there that say, I can handle two drinks in two hours. I'm perfectly fine to drive.

HERMAN: Sure. Obviously all of that is very dependent on size and weight and tolerance. But we know that impairment begins with the first drink. And at 0.05, your cognitive and visual functions diminish. Your judgment is affected. Your response time is affected. You're 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash at 0.05. That risk -- crash risk doubles at 0.07.

COSTELLO: It sounds like, you know, we're headed on the road and, forgive the pun, but headed down the road where even one drink is too many drinks to get behind the wheel. Are we headed that way?

HERSMAN: Well, you know, for decades we have had a lot of education, a lot of effort to try to encourage people to drink responsibly, or not drink and drive. And people think in many ways we've solved the drunk driving epidemic. But we haven't. As you mentioned, at the top of the story, 10,000 people are killed every year. There are going to be a lot of excuses and a lot of reasons why we shouldn't change what we're doing right now. But, in fact, there are 10,000 reasons why we should.

COSTELLO: Of those people that are killed or killed, you know, driving drunk, like is there an average blood alcohol content?

HERSMAN: Well, many of people who are involved in impaired driving crashes do have a higher blood alcohol content than 0.05. But the issue really is how do we have a general deterrent effect and what we know is when we went in this country from 0.10 or higher to 0.08 that actually reduced the number of drinks or reduced the impairment level for all drivers, low BAC and high BAC. It really is important to understand that the U.S., we lead in so many of the transportation safety issues and almost transportation but in this one we trail. 100 countries have blood alcohol contents of 0.05 or lower. It's because the science supports the data that people are impaired at 0.05.

COSTELLO: And another question. Just because there is a federal standard of course it doesn't mean that every state in the union has to adopt that federal standard. I mean, what, it took 24 years from the 1980s to now to get states to adopt what the legal limit is right now. How do you convince states to change?

HERSMAN: That's right. In fact, this isn't a standard. It's really just a recommendation to the states to address this issue. It's just one of 19 recommendations that we issued yesterday. We believe we have to incorporate all of these actions if we're going to get to zero fatalities. It is things like sobriety check points, ignition interlocks for drivers convicted of DUIs. We have to take a number of steps if we're going to get to zero. It's up to the states to decide which of these measures that they want to implement.

COSTELLO: Deborah Hersman chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board thank you so much for joining us this morning.

HERSMAN: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Critics of the NTSB's new blood alcohol limit recommendation say the plan targets the wrong people. Sarah Longwell is the managing director of the American Beverage Institute. Sarah, welcome.


COSTELLO: Thanks for being here. You called the NTSB's proposal ludicrous. Why?

LONGWELL: It is ludicrous. It is so ludicrous in fact even Mothers Against Drunk Driving isn't supporting it. The fact is this recommendation targets moderate social drinkers and it fails to target the hard core high BAC and repeat offenders who cause the vast majority of alcohol-related fatalities. If we want to solve the drunk driving problem in this country we have to target the people that are out there killing people and that is not somebody who is at 0.05. Fewer than one percent of traffic fatalities happen down there at that 0.05 or 0.08 level. We have to focus on the high BAC offenders if we want to make a dent in the problem.

COSTELLO: You heard what Deborah said. A similar proposal in Europe cut alcohol-related deaths in half in 2010. In half. How could you argue with the numbers?

LONGWELL: I'm afraid that the NTSB is really cherry picking their data. You know, they are doing all kinds of things over in Europe. For example that we would never do in this country. For example, they do random breath tests where you can simply be pulled over and breathalized. It is apples and oranges, comparing us to Europe. We have different drinking cultures, different driving cultures, different transportation cultures. They are not a good comparison.

COSTELLO: So the NTSB can only make recommendations. They cannot make laws. But the board is still very influential. It can withhold federal funds right? How does your group plan to fight this proposal?

LONGWELL: First we're going to fight it at the federal level. We don't want to see incentive funding so the states would do this and if it gets to the states we'll fight it at the state level. Frankly, I think that the public is not going to be onboard with this. You're talking about a woman who could have one drink with her dinner and then be arrested for drunk driving. That is really going too far. Like I said, Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving thinks they are targeting social drinkers at this point. I think they have a real long haul to push this forward.

COSTELLO: Sarah Longwell with the American Beverage Institute, many thanks to you.

LONGWELL: Thank you.

COSTELLO: It is the latest scandal for the Obama administration. Conservative groups fighting with the IRS over how it treated their tax-exempt applications. And now a criminal investigation is underway.


COSTELLO: A government report says several IRS agents used inappropriate criteria to identify Tea Party and other groups. The report also cited ineffective IRS management that allowed the criteria to be in place for 18 months, causing substantial delays of tax-exempt applications and unnecessary questions. This damning report is now only part of the IRS's problems. CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us now with more of what this report says.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Well, this is the report. It details how IRS agents crossed the line with excessive scrutiny delaying Tea Party groups' applications for tax-exempt status in some cases for more than three years and asking for information they simply shouldn't have like for the group's donors and members. The inspector general does not recommend punishment for the people involved. The president now says that is up to the treasury secretary and later today we'll hear from the attorney general who says these agents may have problems far beyond losing their jobs.


BASH: Never mind that the IRS targeting Tea Party groups was inappropriate. The attorney general wants to know if it was criminal.

ERIC HOLDER, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have ordered an investigation to be begun. The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS. Those were, I think as everyone can agree, if not criminal they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable.

BASH: Criminal or not, the IRS practice of singling out Tea Party affiliated groups appears to have gone well beyond agents in the Cincinnati, Ohio office that handles tax-exempt applications, which the IRS first suggested. Jordan Sekulow's law center represented 27 Tea Party groups that had trouble getting tax exempt status from the IRS. He shared with us several lengthy questionnaires his clients got from IRS offices in California and even Washington, D.C., which Sekulow calls excessive.

Could it be that your clients shouldn't have tax-exempt status, that they are primarily doing political work not social welfare?

JORDAN SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: The IRS has not come to any of our clients with questions that would be in the part of the normal process. These were all delays relating to the questionnaires that are at issue here.

BASH: He says delays are still happening. Just yesterday a Tea Party client in Tennessee trying to get tax-exempt status for two and a half years got this letter asking for even more information. And the questions the IRS is asking troubles lawmakers. Lists of members and donors. Congressional Republicans call that unprecedented. In this IRS questionnaire, a Tea Party group is asked to provide names of donees, recipients, and grantees. That makes even mild-mannered members of Congress furious.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: How chilling is it for an organization to get a letter from the IRS asking for its membership list? And that has nothing to do with the decision on whether or not tax-exempt status should be granted.

BASH: What does that tell you?

COLLINS: Well, it raises questions about whether there is a political motivation here.

BASH: Congressional investigators have now learned the scope of this is larger than the IRS indicated last week -- 471 organizations singled out for special scrutiny. Compounding the IRS's problems, lawmakers feel misled by its leadership.

SEN. ORIN HATCH, (R) UTAH: This was either one of the greatest cases of incompetence that I've ever seen or it was the IRS willfully not telling Congress the truth.


BASH: Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was informed of the targeting last year but never told Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about answering our questions?

BASH: On Capitol Hill, he refused to answer reporters' questions about why.


BASH: Now, Miller is going to have to answer that question on Friday when he testifies before The House Ways and Means Committee. The inspector general report did answer one key question, which is whether or not this was politically motivated especially by the White House.

What this determines is that the people who decided to target Tea Party and other groups were not influenced by anyone outside the White House. The ID (ph) says that what it calls first line or low level management officials approved the references but, Carol, it could not specifically determine who had been involved in creating those criteria in the first place.

COSTELLO: Does that mean it determined that these actions were not politically motivated?

BASH: What it determined is that from the people they interviewed that this was done as a time saving measure not as a way to politically target these groups. But in the same report, very clearly, it says that it was not appropriate because they didn't take into account the fact that the public would perceive it and specifically these Tea Party groups and others would perceive it as exactly that, politically motivated.

COSTELLO: Yes. Dana Bash reporting live from Washington. As you might imagine, several conservative groups, many conservative groups are very upset over this IRS scandal, which seems to be still going on.

Amy Kremer is the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. Welcome, Amy.


COSTELLO: I'm good. Thank you for being here Amy. Eric Holder, the Attorney General, has opened up a criminal investigation. The FBI is conducting that investigation. Happy with that?

KREMER: Well, I mean, I certainly think there should be an investigation. I have to question, though, are they, you know, doing this criminal investigation so they can then stand up and say there was no criminal activity? At the end of the day, Carol, I don't trust this report. You're having the inspector general who serves the Secretary of the Treasury, who serves the President of the United States. Do you really think that the inspector general is going to call out the boss? I don't think so. I think Congress needs to ask for an independent or demand an independent investigation into this. And this is not just about Republican versus Democrat. This is something that every single American should be concerned about because the IRS I believe was used as a political weapon or tool to suppress the opposition and next time it could be a Republican president using the IRS to suppress, or Organizing for Action.

That's the real issue here. This was an effort that violated our fundamental rights as Americans, our First Amendment rights, freedom of speech. And we have seen it time and time again with this administration and it's time the American people stand up and say, we can't stand for this.

COSTELLO: So -- so I'm thinking you're not buying the inspector general's finding that this was done as a time saving measure. And --


KREMER: Right.

COSTELLO: -- and IRS workers simply misunderstood how the American people would take this.

KREMER: Well, Carol, I mean, it's kind of like the military. I mean, are you just going to have people that are in the infantry go out and do their own thing without taking orders from their leaders? No. You cannot tell me. And they said that it was just in Cincinnati. Well, now we find out there were higher officials in Washington that knew about it. And some of these letters are coming from California.

Every day we get a different answer to some of these questions and that's why I think Congress needs to appoint an independent investigator to get to the bottom of this or a committee of investigators. I'm not even sure it should be just one.

COSTELLO: So the President has said he wants to get to the bottom of this. Even some of the President's friends, though, say he should come out and have at least stronger words as it applies to what happened at the IRS like, you know, if we find any wrongdoing somebody is going to be fired. But the President hasn't said that.

KREMER: No, he hasn't said it. I mean for an administration that looks out, that supposedly looks out for the little people, all they do is throw the little people under the bus. And I mean we're getting tired of it. It is going on here with the IRS. It's going on with Benghazi. I mean when are they going to accept responsibility? When is somebody going to act like the adult and say, you know what; the buck stops with me. That's what it comes down to.

This administration, they don't give us answers. And we -- I mean you guys have been covering Benghazi. I mean talking points change. Just give us the truth. That's all we want. Watergate, it was the cover up that was the problem. And look at what's going on. We cannot get a straight answer from anybody. COSTELLO: All right. Amy Kremer, thank you so much for being with us Amy. We appreciate it.

KREMER: Thanks for having me on.

COSTELLO: Chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. Any time, Amy.

And as we told you at the top of the show Eric Holder will appear before lawmakers this afternoon 1:00 p.m. Eastern and I'm sure they'll have many pointed questions for the Attorney General.

Those airport bag fees can really pile up. We'll tell you how much the airlines raked in last year for your checked luggage.


COSTELLO: Checking our "Top Stories" at 51 minutes past the hour.

A twelve year old California boy accused of killing his 8-year-old sister due in court today and he will be tried as a juvenile that's according to his attorney. Leila Fowler was the little girl who was killed last month in her family's home. No adult was there at the time but a woman did call 911 to report the attack but did not mention the girl had been wounded.


PRISCILLA RODRIGUEZ: My children are home alone and a man just ran out of my house. My older son was in the bathroom and my daughter started screaming.


RODRIGUEZ: When he came out there was a man inside of my house. I need an officer there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The man is gone though?

RODRIGUEZ: They say he ran out but --


RODRIGUEZ: They're really scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course. How old are your kids?

RODRIGUEZ: Twelve and nine.


COSTELLO: The family visited their son Tuesday at a juvenile detention center. His attorney says the boy who was arrested Saturday is doing ok.


MARK REICHEL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He is actually doing very well right now, as well as can be expected in these really difficult times.


COSTELLO: The attorney also said he has yet to see evidence against his 12-year-old client.

All those airport bag fees can really add up, not for you but for the airlines. According to the Federal Transportation Department, the U.S. carriers last year bagged a record-breaking $3.5 billion in charges for checked backs. They raked in another $2.6 billion in fees for ticket changes.

Six months after Sandy plunged a rollercoaster into the Atlantic Ocean, crews on the Jersey Shore are dismantling it. The metal from the track is being piled on to a barge to be hauled away. In the meantime one of the Seaside Heights iconic Boardwalks is on tracks to reopen by Memorial Day.

Big Papi's goes to bat for victims of the Boston bombings and the Red Sox slugger is giving his fans -- giving his fans a cool as in blue way to join them. I love this. "Bleacher Report" is next.


COSTELLO: Shortly after the Boston bombing, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz had a message to the terrorist, "This is our blanking city", he said, but he didn't say blanking. Now Ortiz is using that colorful language to raise money for the bombing victims.

Joe Carter is here with "Bleacher Report."

JOE CARTER, "BLEACHER REPORT": Hi, Carol, yes interesting concept, definitely, Ortiz is going to take that memorable quote. And he is printing them on baseball bats and selling them for charity. Now this all started when just after the Boston bombings or shortly after Ortiz stood in front of the Fenway crowd live on TV and said exactly what was on his mind.

Now in addition to the quote the bats are also are going to will have a silhouette of Ortiz pointing to the sky and the words "Never Forget" and "Boston Strong." Now unsigned bats are going for $125. Autographed bats are going for $500. And you can purchase them at 100 percent of the proceeds are going to the victims.

All right so this next piece of tape proves not everyone is built to perform under pressure. This is the Indians/Philly's games last night. You got a fan sitting upper deck reaches over the railing and snags a foul ball bare handed. Wow, right? Impressive.

Now check this out the very next pitch another foul ball is hit to nearly the exact same spot, but this time the fan, oh, drops it. Not an easy catch by any means, but sort of embarrassing considering the guy who did catch it was a just few seats away and to add injury to insult, Carol, the Philly fans booed the guy for dropping the ball. Oh man.

COSTELLO: Oh, Philly fans boo everyone.

CARTER: I know right even Santa Claus. Hats off to Dodger's pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu for making a fan's trip to the ball park one he's never going to forget. So Ryu is a regular in the Dodger's pitching rotation, typically before the games. He will warm up with his team mates.

But recently Ryu broke routine -- check this video out -- and he warmed up with a lucky young Dodgers fan who goes by the name of Deuce. Do we have Deuce's video?

COSTELLO: I hope so.

CARTER: Yes, there he is. Look at this guy. He's in the left field stand. And what does Ryu do. He just has like an impromptu warm-up session with the kid. How special is that? Something this kid is never going to forget, right?

COSTELLO: Man, that kid has an arm, doesn't he?

CARTER: That's the first thing I thought when I saw the tape -- great arm by that young man. Hopefully, they can make that a daily routine or at least a pre-game routine of his.

COSTELLO: That would be terrific. That is the cutest thing I have seen all day.

Joe Carter, thanks so much.

CARTER: You bet.

COSTELLO: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.