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White House Criticized for Seizure of Associated Press Phone Records; Ariel Castro's Attorneys Speak Out; Accused Killer of Julianna Redding on Trial Today; Jodi Arias Trial Enters Sentencing Phase; Cleveland Kidnapping Suspect to Plead Not Guilty

Aired May 15, 2013 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Christine Romans. Our STARTING POINT this morning, 13 out of 14 deputies calling out Boston's fire chief for his handling of the Boston marathon bombings. Their damning accusations in a moment.

BERMAN: Then intolerable and inexcusable. President Obama saying the IRS has failed the public's trust over its targeting of groups connected to the Tea Party. So, how deep does this scandal go?

ROMANS: And she survived trapped underneath rubble for 17 days. For the first time in a CNN exclusive, we're hearing from the woman who lived through the Bangladesh factory collapse.

BERMAN: Plus, Brad Pitt talking about his partner, Angelina Jolie's brave admission about a double mastectomy. What he is saying this morning about her stunning revelation and how millions of women around the world right now are reacting.

It's May 15th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning, everyone. Exactly one month after the Boston Marathon bombings, Boston fire chief Steven Abraira is coming under fire for his handling of the terror attack. CNN has learned that 13 of 14 deputy fire chiefs have signed a letter of no confidence claiming that Abraira was more of a spectator than a commander at the height of the chaos after the bombs went off. However, the embattled chief tells the Boston globe that he believed the situation was under control and he felt no need to add another layer of management to what he calls a complicated scene.

ROMANS: The FBI is going to investigate the IRS stemming from a watchdog report that the agency deliberately targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny. The report blames lax management for these abuses. President Obama says it's intolerable and inexcusable. In just a few hours Attorney General Eric Holder will face questions from Congress about this and more. CNN'S Brianna Keilar is following developments for us. She is live at the White House. And this of course is the agency that's supposed to scrutinize us and now is being scrutinized itself.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Christine. And last night after reading this report from the inspector general that oversees the IRS, President Obama put a statement out, the White House put out a statement from him where he said the IRS must apply the law in a fire and impartial way. He said the report shows the agency failed that test and he said he's asked his Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to hold accountable those who are responsible.


KEILAR: 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, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People have to be held accountable and it has 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 news governing tax exempt organizations.

It's not the only controversy the Obama administration is facing. Expect fireworks today when the Republican led House Judiciary Committee grills Eric Holder over the Justice Department's subpoenaed phone records of journalists of 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 about a Medicare fraud event and peppered Jay Carney with questions at the White House briefing.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is a strong defender 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.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: 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 within his administration targeting opponents.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) UTAH: I've never seen anything quite like this except in the past during the Nixon years.

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


KEILAR: The White House has also been plagued recently by questions about whether it downplayed the role of terrorism in that September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, as President Obama was making a claim on the campaign trail about the success his administration had against Al Qaeda in his first term. That had gone from sort of a right wing obsession to mainstream news recently.

But, Christine, I will tell you it's really these controversies over the IRS and the Department of Justice seizing these phone records from the AP that I think are concerning the White House more certainly on the political front. They see this certainly as more of a liability I think than the Benghazi issue.

ROMANS: And they've taken the White House off any other kind of message this week as they've responding to these criticisms and claims, this has been the conversation in Washington. Brianna keilar, thank you.

BERMAN: Last week it was the Air Force and this week the Army finds itself in the middle of a sex scandal. A sergeant at Ft. Hood in Texas is accused of sexual assault and prostitution allegations are now swirling around this case as well. CNN's Shannon Travis is live in Washington with the details. What's the latest on this?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that soldier is under investigation and he's been suspended from all duties. We don't know his name yet. The army hasn't released that. We do know that he's a sergeant first class at Ft. Hood, Texas, and the soldier has not been charged. We all know the unfortunate irony here his job in the military is to protect sexual assault and harassment but is under investigation for sexual assault.

Here is what military officials are investigating specifically -- pandering, abuse of sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates according to the army. And an administration official tells CNN there is a distinct possibility this involves some sort of prostitution related activity. We want to be clear though that investigators have not yet determined if that's the case or even the scope of any potential criminal conduct.

BERMAN: Shannon, when I first heard this story I did a double take, because we just heard a story of a soldier assigned to prevent sexual assault now charged with actual assault himself. We did just hear a story like this. What are lawmakers doing to keep this from happening again?

TRAVIS: You would be right to think about the recent allegation of a story like this recently. That's because there was an Air Force officer just last week who was accused of grabbing a woman in a parking lot. That incident happened just near the Pentagon. That service member also worked to prevent sexual assaults. He was in a court appearance last week and he did not enter a plea. But meanwhile you asked about what officials are doing. The Pentagon is outraged by these allegations and are acting swiftly and lawmakers are equally concerned. New York Senator Gillibrand says she plans to introduce legislation this week to remove chain of command influence from prosecution of such offenses.

BERMAN: All right, Shannon Travis in Washington with this story that keeps on going and in some cases getting worse. Shannon, appreciate it.

ROMANS: Attorneys for Cleveland kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro say their client is not the monster everyone claims he is. And they're now revealing how they plan to defend him. Pamela Brown is tracking the latest developments in this case live from Cleveland this morning. A lot of people who have been following this story are surprised by what they're hearing from those defense attorneys, Pam.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Defense attorneys spoke to one of our affiliates, WKYZ, and said that essentially Castro will plead not guilty if he faces kidnapping and rape charges with an indictment from a grand jury. The lawyer said that Castro has not admitted anything to them. We've been reporting that Castro has confessed to authorities during interrogations. That's coming from law enforcement sources with firsthand knowledge of the investigation.

We're not the only ones reporting that. Our affiliates are reporting that as well. But his attorneys are saying that he hasn't admitted anything to them and that they will mount the best defense that they possibly can.

Also, they talked about how they plan on moving the trial outside of Cuyahoga County because of all of the media attention that this case has been getting, and they talked about how the portrayal of Ariel Castro in the media has been unfair. Let's take a listen.


CHRIS WEINTRAUB, ARIEL CASTRO'S ATTORNEY: I think that the initial portrayal by the media has been one of a, quote, "monster," and that's not the impression that I got when I talked to him for three hours.

JAYE SCHLACHET, ARIEL CASTRO'S ATTORNEY: He is a human being. And what's offensive is that the media, and I don't mean it toward you but the media and community wants to demonize this man before they really know the whole story. And I think that it's unfair and it's just not equitable.


BROWN: That was Castro's attorneys. They also say they do know how Castro came in contact with the women and an explanation for that will come out in court.

Also, we're hearing new information this morning from one of our law enforcement sources talking about how Castro's behavior toward the women evolved over time and that eventually Amanda Berry was treated slightly better than Michelle Knight and Gina Dejesus, but only by a matter of degrees, and that essentially the women were all treated poorly but that the treatment toward Amanda Berry did evolve and was slightly better than the other women. But any notion of a hierarchy with the women is a bit of a stretch according to our law enforcement source.

ROMANS: Pam Brown live for us this morning in Cleveland. It certainly will be interesting to see what kind of defense they mount and whether they will make those women live through some sort of court spectacle, prolonging what has been a very long ordeal for them. Thank you very much, Pam Brown.

BERMAN: It's a big day in court for O.J. Simpson today. He will testify today in an attempt to get out of prison. The disgraced football star is trying to get robbery, assault, and kidnapping convictions thrown out. Simpson claims his old lawyer was ineffective and told him he was within his rights to take back property he believed had been stolen from him as long as it was done without trespass or physical force. Simpson did not testify during his 1995 murder trial or the 2008 case that landed him in prison.

ROMANS: Jodi Arias back in court today to begin the sentencing phase of other trial. Before jurors can consider imposing the death penalty they must answer a key question. Was arias cruel when she killed ex- boyfriend Travis Alexander? Arias is now out of a prison psychiatric ward and sent her first tweet since being convicted of murder. She said "Any donations to my family or me or made only at Any other source asking for donations is fraudulent. Thank you."

BERMAN: Angelina Jolie is receiving overwhelming support after the revelation that she carries a breast cancer gene and undergone preventive breast removal surgery. Her biggest supporter is her partner of eight years, Brad Pitt. He told "USA Today" "She could have stayed private about it and I don't think anyone would have been none the wiser with good results. But it was important for her to share the story and that others would 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."


Ahead on STARTING POINT, a beautiful model's life cut short. A shocking murder for hire case. Who the defense is trying to blame next.

BERMAN: Then Prince Harry takes on American baseball. Do the Yankees need another big bat? Don't they have enough already? You're watching STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. A chilling murder five years ago finally goes to trial today. California prosecutors claim that actress and model Julianna Redding was killed in a murder for hire scheme, and the woman who killed her is described as a female James Bond. CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Los Angeles with a preview.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than five years after aspiring actress and model Juliana Redding was found strangled and beaten do death in her Santa Monica, California, apartment, her accused killer will finally stand before a jury.

LISA BLOOM, LEGAL ANALYST: This is the first case I ever heard of where a woman is accused essentially of being a hired goon to go beat somebody up.

ELAM: : Redding was just 21 years old when she left Tucson, Arizona, to pursue had her dreams of stardom. She had some success appearing in an independent film, a music video, and a photo spread in "Maxim" magazine.

But her dreams were cut short, prosecutors say, by this woman -- 47- year-old Kelly Sue Park. They assert Park was hired by a physician to kill Redding after her father, a pharmacist, pulled out of a business deal with him just five days before she was killed.

Court documents also allege that the doctor made payments to Park totaling more than $250,000 just weeks before Redding was killed. However, the doctor who left the country shortly after Parks' arrest has never been charged in this case. Park remains free on a $3.5 million bond. Her lawyers say she's innocent and that prosecution should look at John Gilmore, a former boyfriend of Redding's. But prosecutors believe hey have a strong case against Park, especially since her DNA was found not only in the victim's apartment but also on her body.

BLOOM: If the jury believes the ex-boyfriend was responsible for this killing, there remains a question how do we explain Ms. Park's DNA being at the crime scene.

ELAM: The trial is expected to last about three months and unlike other murder cases we've seen recently like Jodi Arias or Casey Anthony, only portions of this trial will be televised. Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.


ROMANS: Let's talk more about this and other legal news of the day with Anne Bremner. She's a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor and a civil attorney. Nice to see you this morning. This is such an unusual case. The allegation that it was a female hit man who committed this murder -- very unusual.

ANNE BREMNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Nice to see you. Good morning. It is very unusual. The kinder, gentler gender. You don't see women all that often in these roles, like Lisa Bloom said, especially as a hit woman. I mean we don't even have a word -- the hitwoman, but in this case you follow the money and apparently they have evidence about the money. And then the DNA has to be damning and to blame the boyfriend, as I understand it, is based on just a statement that he made.

It's something that we used to call some other dude did it offense, the SODI defense when I was a prosecutor, just saying that somebody else did it that finger pointing away from you means you have three more pointing back at yourself and that may be the case in this case.

ROMANS: Trying to raise a little bit of doubt or enough doubt because you mentioned that the kinder, gentler sex is not usually rolled up in something like this. Do you think pointing a finger at the ex- boyfriend or this boyfriend could be beneficial for a jury or not?

BREMNER: I actually do because the case is so weird, it's such a head scratcher that the jurors will think there's something really odd here, which there is, that's why we're talking about it. If there's some kind of other explanation or the other suspect that looks to be credible, that could raise reasonable doubt with a jury. This case goes back to 2008 just like Jodi Arias' so I'm sure there's work being done on both sides of the equation.

ROMANS: We'll talk about that Jodi Arias Case. We're entering the sentencing phase. It has been a circus. I mean she was on the stand for something like 18 days. Do you expect the sentencing phase to be more subdued than perhaps the rest of the entirety of the trial?

BREMNER: Yes. Especially because you're going to hear from the victim's family. They can make victim impact statements, uncross- examined, and that's going to be somber and subdued. They've been sitting in that courtroom every day behind the jury -- looking at the jurors -- and now they have something to say. It will have a lot of impact. We're also going hear about aggravation which is cruelty, the depravity. I mean we're going to hear about that from the medical examiner, I think he's up first this morning and so I think it's a whole different ball game so to speak than what we saw during the course of the trial which was bad enough, but I think this will be a lot worse.

ROMANS: And I want to go to the case of the Cleveland kidnappings and defense attorneys saying the media has gone too far. That this man is not a monster. That he's been portrayed in a light that does not reflect their client. He made no statements to them indicating any kind of guilt.

Early on many thought these women would be spared a trial. Now you hear from defense attorneys this man is not what he seems. Is this standard operating procedure for a new defense team?

BREMNER: Always. You think to yourself if he's not a monster, what is he? Something worse? The fact is they're trying to do damage control. I don't know how they can. All they should talk about is he constitution and he has a right to a fair trial like the rest of us do, but right now he's portrayed as a monster because he is a monster. And I think they'll have a tough time in the days to come and months to come.

ROMANS: Police sources telling CNN there's overwhelming evidence against this man. What do you think -- do you think he would really plead not guilty?

BREMNER: You know, you look at someone like that with his arrogance and what he did and depravity and I think he probably will, and probably ask for a trial. and he may enjoy putting these women through this again. I'm sorry to say.

ROMANS: All right, Anne Bremner. Nice to see you. We'll keep talking to you about these fascinating cases.

BREMNER: They are, aren't they?

ROMANS: They really are on the docket. Thanks, Anne.

BERMAN: It would be nice if those women could get a break.

Twenty-one minutes after the hour. Ahead on STARTING POINT -- is Google taking on another tech giant? Why it could be music to the ears of the search engine's fans. That's next.

ROMANS: Then, dresses, dancing, and disaster. How a group of teens became unlikely heroes on prom night. That's coming up. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business this morning. The European Union shrinking -- the economy shrinking. It is now back in recession. Compare that with the United States where the economy is growing at 2.5 percent on an annual pace. Looking at Europe's two biggest economies, France is now in recession and Germany narrowly avoided it. One analyst says that vecause those two power houses are struggling it's a sign the entire region may be stuck in a recessionary trend.

Here at home stocks are set for a flat open after closing at, you guessed it, record highs yesterday.

Developing this morning, only one American company has signed on to a global pact to improve safety in Bangladesh garment factories. PVH - it's the maker of Calvin Klein, Tommy, and Izod. Europe's Beneton, Mango, Marks and Spencer, they have joined the pact. American retailers like Gap are reluctant to sign because it is legally binding. Walmart says it will inspect all of its factories in Bangladesh on its own and will release those findings to the public, but critics say Walmart hiring its own inspectors falls short and that the conflict of interest. After all, Walmart didn't even know its clothes were being made at a factory where 112 workers died in a fire last year.

Google is reportedly launching a -- planning to launch a subscription music streaming service as soon as today. Various reports say Google has reached deals with Universal Music, Warner Music, and Sony to license their songs. The new service will be a direct challenge to Spotify, an online music provider. Google is holding its annual developer's conference in California today. In the past, that has been the venue where Google has made big product announcements. BERMAN: Looking forward to that.

ROMANS: Oh yeah.

BERMAN: Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now. Ahead on STARTING POINT, Angelina Jolie inspiring millions of women to not only get checked for BRCA gene, but to share their stories.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That wasn't happening to my kids. My kids were always going to have a mother. Always.


BERMAN: Our Zoraida Sambolin, with her own powerful story, sat down with a group of women who have lived through the double mast mastectomy.

ROMANS: And a CNN EXCLUSIVE - the woman who survived trapped under the rubble of a collapsed factory, she speaks for the first time. Her powerful story next.

BERMAN: And then, Prince Harry takes on American baseball. Could he be the next New York Yankee? Would he look good in pinstripes? You're watching STARTING POINT.