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Fire Chief Under Fire; Criminal Investigation into IRS; Castro Attorney: He's Not a "Monster"; Cutting Lines At Disney World?

Aired May 15, 2013 - 08:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Wednesday morning. I'm Christine Romans.


Our STARTING POINT this morning: a vote of no confidence. Thirteen out of 14 deputies calling out Boston's fire chief for his handling of the Boston marathon bombings. What they say he didn't do in a live report.

ROMANS: Then, we're getting word Cleveland kidnapping and rape suspect Ariel Castro may plead not guilty. Does his case stand a chance?

BERMAN: Plus, this honestly is hard to believe. Wealthy parents accused of hiring disabled tour guides to give them an advantage on amusement park lines. How does this happen?

ROMANS: And is Coca-Cola's secret out? We'll talk with one man who thinks he found the top-secret recipe.

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


BERMAN: And we have some new developments this morning in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings. The chief of the Boston Fire Department is being criticized now for his handling of the crisis.

CNN's Jason Carroll is live in Boston with the very latest on this story.

Good morning, Jason.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It basically has to do with this. A lot of infighting that's going on between the fire chief and some of his deputies within the department.

Basically, what happened is the deputy chiefs, 13 of 14, wrote a letter to the mayor of Boston, saying they basically had no confidence in the fire chief because of the way he responded to the Boston marathon. Basically, he's saying that when he got here, got to the scene, he did not officially assume command.

But, of course, that's because of a change in policy that the fire chief made back in September.

Let me first read you part of the letter. The letter says in part, "At a time when the city of Boston needed every first responder to take decisive action, Chief Abraira failed to get involved in operational decision-making or show any leadership. You can unequivocally consider this letter a vote of no confidence in Chief Steve Abraira."

Once again, I spoke to the chief early this morning, called him at home, John. Spoke to him about this, this whole situation.

He basically feels as though the deputy chiefs have never accepted him because he is an outsider. He came into the city from Dallas about two years ago, made some changes in policy within the department, he says, that were not popular, and he says this is a result of that.

He gave me a quote and it says, "In their estimation, they believe that if you don't assume command, you don't have responsibility there for what goes on. I tried to explain to them, if I'm on the scene, I'm still responsible. That's it. But they simply do not believe it."

And one thing that he points out that I think a lot of people in the city or in Boston also realize, this has nothing to do with the first responders. The first responders were generally and wildly I can say supported for how they came out here, were here at the scene. So this has nothing to do with the rank and file, the first responders. This is basically an internal argument, if you will, with upper management.

Basically, the mayor is also weighing in on this, basically saying that he has full confidence in the fire commissioner. The fire commissioner, of course, is the one who appointed Abraira and whatever he decides to do.

But, basically, what you're looking at now, sadly, is a lot of infighting and bickering going on within the Boston Fire Department -- John.

BERMAN: Jason, you make a great point. The first responders in Boston, law enforcement, medical personnel, they save countless lives. There is no doubt about it.

CARROLL: Absolutely.

BERMAN: And now, these disputes within the fire department very, very public and scathing as well.

Jason Carroll in Boston for us this morning, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. As the FBI opens a criminal investigation into the IRS's targeting of conservative political groups, members of Congress are demanding answers and action. And they're demanding action.

President Obama says the IRS behavior is intolerable and inexcusable. And those responsible for it will be held accountable.

Attorney General Eric Holder can expect questions from lawmakers about the IRS controversy when he testifies in the House in just a few hours.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is following developments for us live at the White House.

Good morning, Brianna.


Last night after President Obama had a chance to review that inspector general report about the IRS, he issued a statement. The White House put out a statement from him saying that the IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way. And the report shows some employees failed that test. He promised he'll have his Treasury Secretary Jack Lew hold accountable those who are responsible.


KEILAR (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 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.

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 quite 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: The White House is also plagued right now by questions about whether it downplayed the role of terrorism in that September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, as the president was on the campaign trail as were his surrogates talking about making claims. This administration had decimated al Qaeda.

That recently has turned from a bit of a Republican obsession to mainstream news but I will tell you, Christine, this White House is much more concerned about these current controversies involving the seizure of these phone records from "The A.P." by the Department of Justice, and especially the IRS scandal. These are things that very much concern this White House.

ROMANS: All right. Brianna Keilar, live this morning at the White House for us -- thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Lawyers for Cleveland kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro insisting their client is not a monster and they are now revealing how they plan to launch his defense.

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

And, Pam, we hear you have new details this morning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, John. We've been talking to sources and we're learning new information about the treatment of Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus. According to sources I spoke with there were varying degrees of treatment in that Ariel Castro's behavior toward the women evolved over time.

We've learned that Amanda Berry the woman who fathered his child was treated slightly better than Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. And we've learned that, you know, all the girls were treated poorly, but that there were varying degrees of treatment and that this is all relative considering the conditions that they were living in.

Also, we've learned from a source that they were all under weight but that one of them, Michelle Knight, was Castro's punching bag, and that she suffered vision loss and joint and muscle damage as a result of the abuse she endured. According to my sources, it is clear, though, that all of these women have a long road ahead and a long road of treatment ahead of them.

BERMAN: All right. Pamela Brown in Cleveland for us this morning -- thanks so much, Pamela.

ROMANS: We're expecting a ruling today whether there is enough evidence to bring the murder case of 6-year-old Etan Patz to trial. Patz vanished back in 1979. Investigators say 52-year-old Pedro Hernandez confessed last year to killing him. His attorney told "The Associated Press" Hernandez is schizophrenic and bipolar and made false claims during seven hours of police questioning.

An Army sergeant at Fort Hood, Texas, is suspended this morning, accused assault. And get this -- the unnamed soldier was assigned to a program designed to prevent sexual assaults in the military. And CNN has learned prostitution charges in the case are a distinct possibility.

The sergeant is under investigation for pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault, and maltreatment of subordinates.

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 claims his old lawyer Yale Galanter 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.

BERMAN: It will be fascinating to see him on the stand.

ROMANS: Yes. And one of the co-counsels testified yesterday that he really wanted O.J. Simpson to testify in the 2008 case.

BERMAN: Interesting.

All right. Ten minutes after the hour.

Ahead on STARTING POINT: They gave rich people a bad reputation. Wealthy New York City moms allegedly hiring disabled tour guides all so they can skip the long lines at Disney World. Next, honestly, the astonishing cost behind what many are calling this despicable behavior.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone.

You're going to want to hear this -- according to an upcoming book about wealthy New York parents, some Manhattan mothers are hiring disabled tour guides because it allows them to jump to the front of the line at Disney World.

ROMANS: CNN has reached out to Disney. We've reached to a company called Dream Tours Florida which at least one parent claims provided this black market tour service. And neither organization has responded.

The upcoming book is called "Primates of Park Avenue," an anthropological memoir of Manhattan motherhood. A beautiful title. The author is social researcher Wednesday Martin is here now.

This story has -- so many people buzzing about this story. The idea of the 1 percent of the 1 percent hiring disabled tour guides to get through Disney.

Is that really happening?

WEDNESDAY MARTIN, SOCIAL RESEARCHER & AUTHOR: It really is happening. And, you know, as you know, I'm a social researcher, and I live in what I consider a pretty exotic tribe. I live among the privileged and powerful parents of New York City. And once in a while, when you're a social researcher in this world, I mean, I live in the world.

I'm fascinated by it, and once in a while, I uncover something -- a practice that's truly surprising. And this was sure one of them.

BERMAN: And you're writing about this in your book which is coming out. "The New York Post" also wrote about it this week and they quoted a mother saying who apparently engaged in this practice with a group called Dream Tours Florida. And this mother said, "My daughter waited one minute to get on it's a small world. The other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours. You can't go to Disney without a tour concierge. This is how the one percent does Disney."

ROMANS: Is it a lens into a certain kind of life?

MARTIN: It is absolutely that. You know, as a social researcher, it's truly not my job to judge and I've watched as people talk about this story and the stories become a springboard for conversations. The perspective of the social researcher would be, this is a tribal behavior. When you hire these guides, what you're doing is you're affirming, that you're a member of this group of people that exchanges this quasi-secret privileged information. You're part of that exchange economy.

ROMANS: But you think you're better than everyone. I mean, this obviously you think you're better than anyone. You don't need to wait 2 1/2 hours.

MARTIN: I think this woman's description of this is how the one percent does Disney was accurate. How ironic she was being, I can't say, but I think it's an accurate description that these people are doing Disney and many other things in a different way.


BERMAN: But look, there are two things going on here. I mean, we're talking about the one percent or the top echelon. They have a lot of money. They can pay for legitimate V.I.P. tours. Why are they hiring this disabled group?

MARTIN: That's right. The way that the parents that I interviewed, and it's not just moms but dads as well, its privileged parents, and the way that many of them described it to me was that the V.I.P. tour guides who are officially with Disney cost more money and only get you speed passes whereas if you hire a handicapped black market Disney guy, you get an additional level of privilege, which is that you get to go to the front of the line, according to them, because this is Disney policy that disabled people and their parties don't wait.

So -- and again, on top of that, the privilege that these people are also getting is that they're sort of demonstrating their affiliation with this exclusive tribe of people who do these things. When they hire these guides, they're saying, I'm one of you. This is the way we do things. We are different from other people. That's part of what's going on here.

ROMANS: It's just so outrageous.

BERMAN: We just say, we have reached out to Disney for a statement. They have not responded to us. Are they aware as far as you know that these outside groups are doing this and that people from Manhattan are doing this?

MARTIN: I would presume that this practice is an open secret in Manhattan, and that it was inevitable that this information would get out and that Disney would try to address it, but I should say this is the tip of the iceberg. This is a town where people have $4,000 birthday parties for four-year-olds. This is a town where we can hire a play date consultant to make sure that our children are doing play dates and learning to play the right way.


MARTIN: So, this is a very particular world in which parents like parents everywhere are trying to do what's best for their children, but in Manhattan, what's best is a different animal all together.

BERMAN: You make it sound like such a great place. Wow.


BERMAN: By the way, not everyone lives like that here, but it is alarming to hear that some people do. Wednesday Martin, thank you so much.

MARTIN: Thank you for having me.

ROMANS: You're my only play date consultant. I just ask you. (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: I let them fight and wrestle. That's what I do. That's a play date.

ROMANS: Nice to meet you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, this amazing story. Buried for 17 days under rubble, the teen who survived the deadly Bangladesh factory collapse speaks for the first time. She tells the world what she will never do again. A CNN exclusive is next on STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. We are hearing for the first time from the 19-year-old who spent 17 days trapped in the rubble of that collapsed factory building in Bangladesh. Reshma is now recovering after that unbelievable near death experience, and she is talking exclusively to CNN's Leone Lakhani.


LEONE LAKHANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pulled out of the rubble after 17 harrowing days, Reshma's rescue was hailed a miracle. We meet her at a military hospital where she's recovering. No broken bones or serious injuries, but she's still weak. We're asked not to rattle or move her. From her hospital bed, she described her unimaginable ordeal.

RESHMA, SAVAR SURVIVOR (through translator): I keep sleeping off and on. I couldn't see anything. It was so dark.

LAKHANI: Cracks in the building had already been detected, but I asked her if she'd been warned not to go to work.

RESHMA: No. No one told me. Everyone was looking to see which parts were cracked. So, I went in and I see that there's a wall where a little bit is cracked. The manager said, this is just water damage, and you guys can work.

LAKHANI: Day after day as the rescue efforts carried on above her, she lay in pitch dark, scavenging for food and water.

RESHMA: It was a halt. I didn't know if it was dirty water or what type of water. I was thirsty, so I drank.

LAKHANI: She had no idea how long she'd been inside. I asked if she heard the people outside during rescue efforts. She heard nothing and saw nothing until the 17th day when it all changed.

RESHMA: Suddenly, I heard the call to prayer, then I heard sounds. I heard the sounds of voices and I wondered where is the sound coming from? Where is the sound coming from? I was really, really happy and I said, "God, save me, God." LAKHANI: Images of Reshma's rescue were seen the world over. Rescuers had thrown in a flashlight allowing her to find a fresh set of clothes to change into.

RESHMA: The day I got out, all of my clothes had torn off me. I didn't have many clothes on. I was thinking, "how was I going to come out in front of all of those people."

LAKHANI: She tells me she's unsure about her future but she knows she's not going back to the garment business.

RESHMA: Everybody, please, pray for me.

LAKHANI: With the world's eyes upon her, many already are.

Leone Lakhani, Savar, Bangladesh.


ROMANS: She looks so young and she has a baby, but the truth of the matter is for many women, 90 percent of the garment industry in Bangladesh is young women and that's their only job opportunity. They're making $38 a month on average and many of these women have to borrow money to get to the end of the month to pay their expenses. A European trade commissioner says that what you're seeing there is modern day slavery.

BERMAN: I still can't get over how good she looks. It is an amazing story of survival.

ROMANS: Of survival. You're right.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, Angelina Jolie's stunning revelation has inspired millions of women to share their story, including Miss D.C., Allyn Rose. Her brave decision next.

BERMAN: Then, is Coca-Cola's secret out? Why someone believes he found the original recipe. That's coming up. You're watching STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christina Romans. We're joined this morning by Zoraida Sambolin as well. Angelina Jolie's stunning revelation about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy is inspiring countless women across the country facing the same difficult decision. One of those women, the reigning Miss District of Columbia is also taking this very private matter public, Zoraida.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: boy, she is brave. Twenty-four- year-old Allyn Rose shocked many last November when she announced her future plans to get a double mastectomy just before competing in the 2013 Miss America competition. Rose has a rare chromosomal disease which may predispose her to breast cancer. After losing her mother, grandmother, and great aunt to the disease, she says she's not taking any chances.

Allyn is joining us now from D.C. Thank you so much, Allyn, for joining us. We really appreciate it.


SAMBOLIN: There are a lot of women out there today who have a family history or are carriers of the BRCA gene wondering if surgery is something that they should consider as well. How did you come to this difficult choice and can you tell us a little bit about this abnormality that you have?

ROSE: Sure. Well, my dad sat me down when I was 18, and he broke the idea of having the surgery. And at first, I was very averse to it. I thought it was, you know, very radical. But the more I did my research and I found out my mom was diagnosed with this disease at 27. I'm turning 25 this month. That's pretty soon for me.

And you know, this disease took my grandmother. It took my great aunt and so many women in my family and I didn't want to, you know, run the risk of having that happen to me, too.