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Fort Hood Sex Assault Scandal; Criminal Investigation into IRS; Castro Plans to Plead Not Guilty; Leila Fowler's Brother in Court; O.J. Simpson Takes the Stand Today

Aired May 15, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The IRS scandal now a criminal investigation, and the president promising punishment for anyone at the agency who targeted conservatives.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Newly released 911 calls in the murder of 8-year-old Leila Fowler, and her stepmother doesn't even mention the little girl was hurt in that call.

BERMAN: Pandering, sexual conduct, assault -- shocking new allegations rocking the Army's Ft. Hood.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. We're glad you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. It is Wednesday, May 15th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And brand new this morning, an Army Sergeant assigned to a sexual assault prevention program at Ft. Hood in Texas, accused of sexual assault himself. And this latest scandal apparently involves prostitution.

The unnamed soldier is under investigation for pandering, abusive sexual conduct, assault, and maltreatment of subordinates.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr tells Anderson Cooper the soldier faces serious consequences.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): The Army Criminal Investigation Command, the CID, now investigating the allegations against him. So this suggests very strongly a potential criminal case.


BERMAN: The unnamed sergeant first class remains suspended from all duties this morning.

Now, we're going to move to a startling statement. There is a criminal investigation into the IRS. Yes, the organization that collects our money and holds us accountable is itself now facing serious, scathing questions about possible overreach and political targeting.

President Obama blasting the agency for singling out conservative groups, and he says it's intolerable and inexcusable. He promises to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

And today, the attorney general will get grilled about these claims.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Brianna Keilar.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Internal Revenue Service is facing a criminal investigation after a watchdog report found the agency targeted conservative groups starting in 2010. The agency's inspector general found the IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status, based upon their names or policy positions, instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.

After reading the report Tuesday night, President Obama called the practice "intolerable and inexcusable", after promising action Monday.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People have to be held accountable, and it's got to be fixed.

KEILAR: IRS officials told investigators they acted on their own, without influence from outside groups. The report says managers were ineffective in overseeing lower level IRS employees who didn't have sufficient knowledge of the rules governing tax-exempt organizations.

It's not the only controversy the Obama administration is facing. Expect fireworks when the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee grills Attorney General Eric Holder over the Justice Department's subpoenaed phone records of journalists at "The Associated Press".

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This administration has put a real value on the rule of law and our values as Americans. I think the actions that we have taken are consistent with both.

KEILAR: Tuesday, reporters questioned Holder in a Medicare fraud event and peppered White House Press Secretary Jay Carney with questions at a White House briefing.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is a strong believer of the First Amendment, and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered.

KEILAR: Republicans are seizing on these new controversies.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: But we do know this. We can't count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal, because so far, they've been anything but.

REP. KEVIN YODER (R), KANSAS: It lies at the president's feet. These are things going on in his administration targeting opponents. SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I've never seen anything like this, except in the past during the Nixon years.

CARNEY: I can tell you that people who make those kinds of comparisons need to check their history.

KEILAR: Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: And our thanks to Brianna for that report.

And on the IRS scandal, the House will hold its first hearing on this subject on Friday. That promises to be a doozy.

SAMBOLIN: Attorneys for Cleveland kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro say he is not the monster everyone claims he is, and they plan to plead not guilty if a grand jury indicts him. Castro's lawyers tell affiliate WKYC their client has not admitted anything to them, that they may seek a change of venue to make sure Castro gets a fair trial as well, and that he is committed to the wellbeing of the daughter that he fathered with Amanda Berry, insisting that he loves her dearly.

Pamela Brown is tracking all the latest developments in this case for us live from Cleveland this morning.

So, what about all the reports that he confessed?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Zoraida. Well, what we're hearing from his attorneys contradicts not only what we're hearing from very reliable sources who have firsthand knowledge of the investigation, but also our affiliate sources as well. As we've been reporting, Zoraida, we've been saying that Castro has confessed to at least some of his actions over the past decade inside the house here behind me in Cleveland.

Now, we haven't been specific, but we do know from, again, high ranking law enforcement officers with firsthand knowledge in the investigation, that he has admitted to at least some of his actions. But now, we're hearing from his attorney, speaking to one of our affiliates, saying that he hasn't admitted any wrongdoing, including the kidnappings.

And as you said, his attorneys are saying that he's going to plead not guilty. His attorneys saying that they are going to mount the best defense possible in this case and that they want to potentially move the trial out of Cuyahoga County for a couple of different reasons. One, they think that will give him a fair trial. They believe, obviously, this case has been getting so much media attention, that it will help to move it elsewhere, and it's also on the heels of another high profile case in Cleveland where a man was convicted of murdering 11 women.

So, they're concerned that it would hurt the integrity of the trial if it does happen here in Cuyahoga County -- Zoraida. SAMBOLIN: I've got to tell you, there are probably not many people who have not followed this story very closely across the country.

Pamela Brown live in Cleveland for us -- thank you.

BERMAN: Six minutes after the hour right now.

Leila Fowler's 12-year-old brother will be in court today for the stabbing death of his sister. The 8-year-old girl was found dead in her California home just last month. Police now just releasing the 911 call that summoned officers to the scene. The children's stepmother Crystal Walters made the call. She never mentioned Leila had been attacked.


CRYSTAL WALTERS, MOTHER: My children are at home alone, and a man just ran out of the house. My older son was in the bathroom, and my daughter started screaming. He came out, and there was a man inside my house, I need an officer there.

DISPATCHER: The man is gone, though?

WALTERS: They say he ran out.

DISPATCHER: OK. How old are your kids?

WALTERS: Twelve and 9.


BERMAN: The Fowler family has hired a defense team to represent their son. They visited the boy Tuesday at a juvenile detention center.


MARK REICHEL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He's actually doing really well right now, as well as can be expected. These are really difficult times.


BERMAN: Leila Fowler's brother will be tried as a juvenile on second degree murder charges.

SAMBOLIN: It is a big day in court for O.J. Simpson. He will testify today in an attempt to get out of prison. The disgraced football star is trying to get his robbery, assault, and kidnapping convictions thrown out.

Simpson did not testify during his 1995 trial or the 2008 case that landed him in prison. His attorneys tell us what we can expect.


PATRICIA PALM, SIMPSON ATTORNEY: We're just telling him to take the stand and tell the truth. We'll walk him through each of the claims, and, you know, and then he'll take on cross, and I'm sure he'll do fine.

OSVALDO FUMO, SIMPSON ATTORNEY: It's big. He's going to have to go through every -- Ms. Palm will go through every single issue with him on the stand. So, he'll be up there all day, I'm sure.


SAMBOLIN: Simpson claims that his old lawyer was ineffective and told them he was within his rights to take back property he believed had been stolen for him, as long as it was done without trespass or physical force.

BERMAN: Jodi Arias will be in court today for the sentencing phase of her trial. Before jurors can consider imposing the death penalty, they must answer a key question: was Arias cruel when she killed boyfriend Travis Alexander? Arias is now out of a prison psychiatric ward and has sent her first tweet since being convicted of murder. She's warned her followers to avoid getting scammed, saying, "Any donations to my family or me are made only at Any other source asking for donations is fraudulent. Thank you," she says.

SAMBOLIN: It's bizarre.

BERMAN: A bit.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Eight minutes past the hour.

Boston Fire Chief Steve Abraira is under fire for his handling of the Boston marathon bombings. CNN has learned 13 of 14 fire deputy chiefs have signed a letter of no confidence. They are claiming he was more of a spectator than a commander at the height of the terror attack. But the embattled chief told "The Boston Globe," he believed the situation was under control, and he felt there was no need to add another layer of management to an already complicated scene.

And today marks 30 days since the Boston marathon bombings.

BERMAN: The woman who survived 13 days buried under rubble after a factor collapse in the Bangladesh speaking exclusively to CNN. Rescuers miraculously found Reshma alive and well. She is now recovering in a military hospital and describes what it was like when she was finally rescued.


RESHMA, SURVIVED BANGLADESH BUILDING COLLAPSE (through translator): Suddenly, I heard the call of prayer, and then I heard sounds. I heard the sounds of voices. Then I wondered, where is the sound coming from? Where is the sound coming from?

I was really, really happy. I said, God, save me, God.


BERMAN: Remarkably, Reshma suffered no broken bones or serious injuries, Zoraida.


BERMAN: As you say, nothing short of a miracle.

SAMBOLIN: And so nice to see her talking, right?

BERMAN: It's fantastic.

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable.

All right. Ten minutes past the hour.

Next, it is an outpouring of support for Angelina Jolie, and this morning husband Brad Pitt speaking out about her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

This morning, millions of Americans are having the discussion started in stunning fashion by Angelina Jolie. Her test for the breast cancer gene and her revelation that she underwent breast removal surgery is inspiring so many others to discuss their health and their fears, demystifying what happens when a woman decides to go through this surgery.

For us here, it's something that hits very close to home.


BERMAN (voice-over): Angelina Jolie is receiving a lot of praise, a lot of support, following her revelation about having a preventative double mastectomy. Her partner of eight years, Brad Pitt, is among the stars commending Jolie for going public with her difficult choice. "She could have stayed absolutely private about it and I don't think anyone would have been none the wiser with such good results. But it was really important to her to share her story and let others understand it doesn't have to be a scary thing. In fact, it can be an empowering thing and something that makes you stronger and us stronger."

Breast cancer survivor and singer, Sheryl Crowe, tweeted her support: "I commend Angelina Jolie for her courage and thoughtfulness in sharing the story today regarding her mastectomy. So brave."

Angelina's admission in a "New York Times" op-ed dominated talk shows, prompting Barbara Walters to make her own news on "The View".

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": My sister passed away from ovarian cancer, and I had my ovaries removed. It's a decision you have to make. It's preventative.

BERMAN: On "The Talk," Sharon Osbourne, who underwent a double mastectomy last year, offered these words. SHARON OSBOURNE, CO-HOST, "THE TALK": She's so brave, and she's going to help so many women. And I think it makes her sexier than ever.

BERMAN: Jolie is also receiving words of encouragement from TV host and reality star Giuliana Rancic, who's been incredibly public with her own battle with breast cancer and her decision to have her breasts removed.

GIULIANA RANCIC, HOST, E! NEWS: I just didn't want to be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life. I knew that I wanted a child. And really what it came down to was just wanting to live, wanting to enjoy this incredible life and this incredible world. I just didn't want to leave. I didn't want to go anywhere. And I wanted to be healthy and I wanted to do whatever it took to get me healthy.

And really what this is all about, this Angelina news or my news, what it's all about is getting women to just start the dialogue with their doctor.

BERMAN: For us, the most personal reaction to Jolie's piece came from our own Zoraida Sambolin, who simply said, "Angelina empowered me to share my story."

On Tuesday, Zoraida shared that on April 9th, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and would be undergoing a double mastectomy herself, the same course of treatment that Rancic had in 2011.

RANCIC: I know that right now, life is so crazy and your head is spinning and things are so tough. But I promise you, you will get back to normal, and you will come out of this better than before. I promise you.


SAMBOLIN: That was very sweet. Thank you. I didn't know you did that.

BERMAN: No, look, I think you've inspired a lot of people over the last day. I know the last day has been crazy for you, maybe not the last day you anticipated talking to people about it, but it's been an inspiration to a lot of people.

SAMBOLIN: I'm really grateful, actually, because I think it's already made me stronger. Yesterday -- and we're going to share this in a little bit -- I got to sit down with four women who have all had mastectomies, and one of the things that's really challenging is to kind of think about what it's going to look like afterwards.

You see a lot of pictures from the doctors. But these women, these four women, I said, can we do a show and tell and a little feel, too? Because I just needed to that, and I had not had that opportunity, and they allowed me to do that yesterday.

It was unbelievable. For me, it was healing. And I am so grateful to them.

So you're going to meet them a little bit later. It's incredible.

Thank you for that, Berman.

All right. It is 17 minutes past the hour.

New developments this morning in a cold case involving a missing cruise ship passenger from Connecticut. George Smith of Greenwich was on his honeymoon -- this was back in 2005 -- when he disappeared from a royal Caribbean ship somewhere between Greece and Turkey. His body has never been found, and no one has been charged in his death. No official word why the FBI in New York has just reopened the investigation into his presumed death.

BERMAN: The White House facing a lot of criticism for its response to the deadly terror attack on the U.S. consulate of Benghazi. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz says the president's handling of the incident could amount to an impeachable offense.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Look, it's not something I'm seeking. It's not the end game. It's not what we're playing for. I was simply asked, is that within the realm of possibilities? And I would say, yes. I'm not willing to take that off the table.

But it's certainly not what we're striving for. We want truth. We want to bring the people who perpetrated the terrorism in Benghazi to be brought to justice, and we want the president do what he's always said he would do, and that is be open and transparent. Thus far, the White House has not done that.


BERMAN: And he says impeachment is not off the table as far as he's concerned.


BERMAN: Chaffetz says the version of events he's heard from witnesses on the ground in Benghazi is totally different from what the White House has portrayed.

SAMBOLIN: So, the Jersey shore roller coaster that came to symbolize the damage that was caused by hurricane Sandy has been taken down. The Jet Star roller coaster in Seaside Heights fell into the Atlantic Ocean during the storm last October. Yesterday, a crane was used, as you're seeing there, to demolish it. Crews are scrambling to get the Seaside Heights amusement area ready for visitors by Memorial Day weekend. It is marking the unofficial start of the summer tourist season there.

BERMAN: Coming up, Walmart refusing to sign a safety pact in Bangladesh after a factory collapsed killed more than a thousand people there. What they want to do instead, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back to everyone. We are minding your business this morning.

And this morning, there is news that France, Europe's second biggest economy, is in recession.


SAMBOLIN: Very well done.

BERMAN: Good for me because I got to speak French. But here at home, record highs on Wall Street. The Dow and S&P 500 close at all time highs yesterday. Stock futures however are flat this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And meanwhile, new developments this morning on the fallout after last month's deadly clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh, retailers all around the world are signing a pact to improve safety in that country. Christine told us about this yesterday.

But there are two notable exceptions. I'm shocked.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There's some division among American retailers about whether to sign on and what exactly they're signing on to.

As I told you yesterday, look, a five-year plan to improve safety is fine if it really does improve safety and five years is a very long time. Look, Walmart isn't signing. Neither is the Gap. This is the global safety pact that we told you about yesterday.

Retailers that sign are legally bound to have independent safety inspections of factories in Bangladesh and make those findings public. They also promise to stop working with factories that don't make safety upgrade.

I'd like to say that big, powerful retailers should have already being doing this, but I digress.

More companies have joined in, mostly from Europe. Benetton, Mango, Marks & Spencer.

Walmart, though, says it's going to do its own thing. It's going to have its own inspection. It is, of course, the world's biggest retailer. It has 279 factories in Bangladesh that do work for it. It will make the results public, it says, by June 1st.

If a factory working for Walmart fails, Walmart will make that public, too. The company says that this plan meets or exceeds the European plan and will get the results more quickly. For example, Walmart is already started doing tougher inspections, it says. The European pact gives 45 days to come up with a plan for other retailers to do so.

Critics say, though, there's one area where Walmart falls short. It's hiring its own inspectors.

Meanwhile, Gap isn't signing this pact either. It says it's ready do but it wants to make changes. Gap doesn't want the pact to be legally binding.

California Congressman George Miller has been very outspoken on this.


REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: These companies that are resisting, Gap and others, they have to decide, do they want to have blood on their label? Should the low price of their garments be subsidized by the blood of these poor workers in Bangladesh and elsewhere around the world?


ROMANS: The E.U. trade commissioner has called this modern slavery, and many critics say, for companies just now to be starting to talk about they're going to get results in terms of factory safety for these workers, it's a little rich considering the profits they've squeezed out of the country.

PVH, which makes Calvin Klein, Izod and Tommy is the only American company to sign on to that pact. The deadline is today.

And, Zoraida, you're saying, you know, wait a minute. What is going on?

It seems so simple. There is division among major world retailers about exactly how to effort change in Bangladesh.

SAMBOLIN: But I say, sign on and make some additional changes to it, right? I mean, that seems the easy decision here or the right. Maybe not the easy, but the right decision.

ROMANS: Unless you're signing on to something that's really not going to make a difference in the first place.

SAMBOLIN: Well, let's hope it does. I mean, the more they're there, maybe the more accountable they can hold.

ROMANS: Right. They have been there so long making so much money, what really frustrates people like Congressman George Miller is that these are very powerful brands. This conversation should not be happening. You shouldn't make things for American consumers places where women die making them. That shouldn't happen.

BERMAN: It's too late for over 1,100 people.


BERMAN: Twenty-six minutes after the hour now.

Coming up, the murder of a model goes to trial today. The woman accused of killing Juliana Redding in court in just hours. Details on this chilling case, just ahead.


SAMBOLIN: No confidence. The chief of Boston's fire department under fire for how he handled the marathon bombings.