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Obama To Face Reporters Shortly; Tornadoes Hit North Texas; Tsarnaev Left Message in Boat; National Security Vulnerabilities Discovered in Witness Protection Program; U.S. Loses Track of Two Suspected Terrorists

Aired May 16, 2013 - 12:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

Right now, we are waiting to hear from President Obama as he tries to contain the damage from controversies on several fronts.

MALVEAUX: So in Washington, a news conference set to get underway any moment now. It's going to be a joint appearance by the president as well as Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, Turkey is pushing for more U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war. On the domestic front, the president almost certain to be asked about the current fury surrounding his administration.



Oh, my, goodness.


HOLMES: This was the scene in north Texas yesterday. At least 10 tornadoes touching down during the night. Let's have a look at the scene today as the sun came up. Of course then you got to see the damage and there was a lot of it. At least six people killed, more than 100 injured, several still missing.

MALVEAUX: President Obama and turkey's prime minister will go before the cameras shortly. And while the president deals with troubles here at home, the meeting with the Turkish prime minister also has major implications overseas as well.

HOLMES: Absolutely. Turkey has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East for years now and in the Muslim world in general. It's interesting in a geopolitical sense. Have a look at this. The borders it shares with Iraq, Iran and Syria, well, Prime Minister Erdogan is pushing for the U.S. to step up its efforts to end Syria's bloody civil war, including establishing a no-fly zone and also arming Syrian rebels.

MALVEAUX: So we are likely to hear about that in the statements that the two leaders are going to make. But, of course, there are going to be a lot of questions to both these leaders. The president taking questions surely on the scandals that he is struggling with. We are talking about the IRS targeting conservative groups, the seizure of journalists and their phone records, the fallout as well from the Benghazi attack.

HOLMES: Yes, there's a lot that he will be asked. Probably not all of it about Turkey. The president trying to get out ahead of those controversies after several days on the defensive.

MALVEAUX: Jessica Yellin at the White House.

And, Jessica, so we know clearly the White House in damage control there. You're watching in the Rose Garden there. The president yesterday announced the resignation of the IRS commissioner. Do you think that the administration feels like it's done enough or does he have more explaining to do today?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, whether they feel that they have more explaining to do or not, they do. I mean the bottom line is, if you dial out and look at the big picture, let's remember, in 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama, then a senator, ran on a platform of hope and change. He promised to run government in a different way. It would not be politics as usual.

He is now implementing health care reform, which is requiring more trust in government than at times in the past. And now there are a series of stories that are raising people's concerns, or at least fed the perception that government can't function properly. So we have to answer the questions, under his watch, can government function properly?

He has also insisted that his is the most transparent administration in history, but his administration has prosecuted more reporters for leaks -- I'm sorry, more government officials for leaks than every other president combined. So he has a lot of questions to answer. And what he did last night certainly does not put all these issues to rest.

HOLMES: Yes, because there's been, Jessica, this sort of feeling in many ways, as these scandals evolved, that he was, I don't know, on the sidelines, if you like, an observer in many ways, rather than diving in and tackling it. How does he get his focus back on his agenda?

YELLIN: Well, they're trying to show that they're back to work. It's business as usual here. Yesterday, he met with John McCain on immigration reform. As you point out, he also took action on the IRS. Today, he's addressing another scandal, which is sexual assault in the military. He's having his defense secretary in to talk about that. And today we'll hear him talk about how he's addressing foreign policy by pressing Turkey for more discussions and working out where the U.S. and Turkey stand on action with the rebels in Syria and a transitional government there.

So the message is, we're working on the serious matters of government, not on the silly scandals. But, you know, that's their view. Americans are no longer viewing these scandals as just silly. It's also the substantive stuff the president has to really face head-on.

HOLMES: All right, Jessica, thanks for that. Jessica Yellin there standing by as we await the president and Prime Minister Erdogan.

The drama playing out right now, as we just sort of touched on there, threatens, in many ways, to overshadow the president's agenda for his second term.

MALVEAUX: Oh, it always does. Our Wolf Blitzer is joining us from Washington to talk a little bit more about that.

Wolf, second term is pretty tough. I remember we shared the experience of covering President Clinton, much of his second term agenda squashed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. President Bush mired in the second term by questions of faulty intelligence regarding the Iraq War. So the problems that the Obama administration are facing right now differ in nature, but does this president risk becoming weighed down with these scandals and not able to get his agenda back on the table, like immigration reform, you know, fiscal issues, education?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Yes, well there's three scandals potentially on the -- in the works right now. As you know, Suzanne, it's bad enough when there's one, like the Monica Lewinsky scandal that plagued the Clinton administration, or Iran Contra that plagued the second term of the Reagan administration, certainly Watergate that plagued Richard Nixon's administration in the second term and led to his forced resignation as president of the United States. So those were all individual scandals that obviously escalated and escalated and escalated. You never know where they're going to wind up.

There are three underway right now and so he's got to deal with it. And yesterday he came out forcefully and tried to deal with the IRS scandal. He's got these two other issues, the Benghazi issue, that's not going away. To a lesser degree, the monitoring the phone records of the Associated Press reporters and editors to try to determine who leaked national security secrets to the Associated Press. These are all problems. He's got to deal with it. And if he doesn't, he's going to have a major issue in dealing with this much more important second term agenda.

HOLMES: All right, Wolf, good to see you. Wolf Blitzer there also following this. And we continue to wait for the president and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey to come out and speak and we hope take a couple of questions.

MALVEAUX: Yes. A beautiful day in Washington there in the Rose Garden.

We are moving on to Texas. This is where at least 10 tornadoes ripped through an area. This is near Dallas overnight. HOLMES: At least six people were killed, more than 100 injured. The city of Cleburne was particularly hard hit. And you can see there, goodness, look at that. Many of the houses just reduced to rubble.

MALVEAUX: The mayor of Cleburne joins us. Mayor Scott Cain.

Thank you so much. Tell us, how are you fairing? How are people doing there? And what is the clean-up involved?

MAYOR SCOTT CAIN, CLEBURNE, TEXAS (via telephone): Well, I'll tell you, the storms have destroyed a lot of our property, but it hasn't destroyed the spirit of our citizens. We're going through the process of looking at the damage and rallying together to help one another. We're very fortunate in Cleburne in that we didn't have a single casualty and we didn't have a single major injury, yet we have lost hundreds of homes. And our citizens are very resilient. They're sticking together.

HOLMES: Where were you when the tornado hit? Describe the experience from your own perspective.

CAIN: Yes. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my seventh grade son doing homework. We were watching the news and watching the storm very carefully. When the warning sirens went off, we had a plan to rally into the closet. We did so. As soon as my family was secured and I knew they were safe, then we went to city hall to start our emergency plan to make sure the rest of our citizens were safe.

HOLMES: And you're going to go have a tour around from the air, is that correct?

CAIN: That's correct. I've been on the ground all night talking with our citizens, talking with our first responders, making certain that our citizens are taken care of. I've declared a state of emergency and a state of catastrophe. And we're working with local officials, state officials and we're going to be looking at it from the air very shortly.

MALVEAUX: Mayor, we are looking at some amazing pictures here, some aerials of the damage here. Can you describe what you have seen on the ground?

CAIN: You bet. We've got power lines down, trees down, houses torn apart. I looked at pieces and parts of a dishwasher that had literally been ripped to shreds. It's an absolute miracle that we didn't have any fatalities and the injuries weren't more severe than what we had. Our friends right down the road in Granbury, our hearts are breaking for them right now. We're reaching out to them as well.

MALVEAUX: All right, mayor, we wish you the best, you and all of those there in your city in that small town. And, of course, that the cleanup gets underway. We're going to see more pictures as he takes that aerial tour. But you can see just the damage, extraordinary damage from those tornadoes that touched down. Mayor, thanks again. We really wish you the best. If you'd actually like to help some of the victims of the Texas storms, you can visit our website, Impact Your World at It's a way of really reaching out, helping those people. I mean it's unbelievable. You just don't know. You have no idea it's going to happen.

HOLMES: Absolutely. And it is, it's a terrific website. All kinds of resources there on how you can individually help in all kinds of areas, but this obviously the focus today. Yes, and when you see it from the air, it just breaks your heart.

All right, meanwhile, here's more of what we're working on this hour for AROUND THE WORLD.

MALVEAUX: Any minute now, President Obama stepping in front of the cameras in the Rose Garden. You see the pictures there, live pictures. He's going to be meeting with the Turkish prime minister. They've had meetings this morning, but they're going to go before the cameras and address relations. But also domestic damage control likely to dominate this press conference. We're going to give it to you live as soon as it starts.

HOLMES: Also ahead, brand new information out of Boston for you. It turns out that the bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wrote a note while he was hiding in that boat in Watertown. We'll tell you what the note says and where it was written, when we come back.


MALVEAUX: We're awaiting a news conference in the Rose Garden there in Washington, D.C., you see at the White House. The president meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. The two of them will be making opening statements clearly talking about the point of Syria, the civil war going there. Erdogan wants the U.S. and the Obama administration to play a much more direct role in aiding the rebels. But the questions from reporters clearly going to be on the -- at least the three scandals that the White House is currently dealing with. And the president will have to answer some very tough questions there on the podium. We believe two questions from the American side, two questions from the Turkish journalists.

HOLMES: All right, meanwhile, a chilling message scribbled inside the boat where the Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found hiding. A law enforcement official says the suspect wrote that the attack was retribution for what he called U.S. crimes against Muslims.

MALVEAUX: So he was found in that boat just outside Boston. This is after this day-long manhunt that essentially paralyzed the city. Our Deb Feyerick, she's joining us from New York.

What did he say in his handwritten note?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's fascinating. When you see the content summarized, it really sort of paints a portrait of what was going on inside his mind and it really does appear that 19- year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev never really expected to live out the night. Remember, he was on the run for more than 12 hours. He was wounded. He was bleeding.

And so he scrawled what appears to be a message on the inside of the boat. According to a law enforcement official, apparently he wrote that one of the reasons he was not going to miss his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed just hours earlier, was because he fully expected to be joining his brother. He also says the motive, the motive, retribution for U.S. attacks against Muslims in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Also he talks about the victims in Boston and he calls them collateral damage.

So he had a lot of time that he was in that boat, he had disappeared, he was off the radar, law enforcement knew that he was in the Watertown area, they didn't know exactly where he was hiding. So he was seeking shelter and law enforcement had sort of backed away to give him some time to either just rest or to sort of come out where they could see him.

Suzanne. Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Any word on how he actually managed to literally write the message?

FEYERICK: You know, it's not clear. He was in a boat. The boat had been covered for the winter, winterized. And so he may have just -- you know, the way it was described is that it was scrawled on the boat. So whether he found some sort of a marker, whether he used some sort of a knife, whether he used something to sort of acknowledge it on the boat, he had a lot of time inside there. He had a lot of time, certainly, to think and a lot of time to kind of figure out whether, in fact, he was going to live or not.

Michael. Suzanne.

HOLMES: All right. Deb, thanks so much. Deborah Feyerick there in New York.

MALVEAUX: You're not going to want to miss Anderson Cooper's special report "Back to Boston." That is tomorrow night. You're going to hear incredible stories from some of the photographers who captured some of those iconic moments from last month's bombing. That is this Friday 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

And happening around the world right now, a suicide bomber has hit a NATO military convoy. This is in Afghanistan.

HOLMES: Yes. Actually in the capital Kabul. A NATO spokesman says two of its service members were killed. NATO has not said what their nationalities are at the moment. And there are also four civilians, contractors, who worked for NATO who also died in this attack.

MALVEAUX: An Afghan government spokesman says that 30 other people were killed or injured, including some schoolchildren.

An insurgent group has now claimed responsibility.

HOLMES: And the violence never stops in Baghdad. In Iraq there have been shootings and explosions there and in elsewhere in the country. At least six people dead today.

Violence has been spiking across the country, especially between political and religious groups. It's very sectarian, and it's also people who don't like the current order of power.

Now, the bombs in Baghdad today went off in neighborhoods where the majority of people are Shiite Muslim.

MALVEAUX: Yesterday, more than a dozen bombs went off across Iraq, killing at least 29 people.

And thousands of people living on the coast of Myanmar, they are now scrambling to get to higher ground today. An enormous storm, a cyclone, is raging in that part of the world and might cause major flooding there in Bangladesh.

HOLMES: Yeah, they're frantically working to avoid a repeat of 2008. Back then a cyclone, what you'd call a hurricane here in the U.S., killed more than 100,000 people in Myanmar.

MALVEAUX: And want to remind you, we, of course, are waiting for President Obama, the Turkish prime minister as well to come out to the Rose Garden there at the White House for a press conference.

We're going to take that live as soon as it starts.

We're going to have a quick break.


HOLMES: I want to take you to Washington now. Jake Tapper is standing by with some breaking news.

You've got your hands on a report, and it seems bizarre, but they've lost a couple of people.


Well, what's going on here is that the Office of the Inspector General at the Justice Department was conducting an audit of the what people call the witness security program. It's the federal witness relocation program. It's where they put people who are testifying against other individuals and they protect them.

But while the Justice Department inspector general was conducting this audit on the witness security program, they realized that there were so many vulnerabilities, national security vulnerabilities, that they needed to tell the Justice Department about them right then.

One of those vulnerabilities is they were giving suspects new names, including some former terrorists, but they were not letting other government agencies know these new names.

And while in the midst of trying to account for all the individuals who had been given these new names, the U.S. Marshals Service realized they had basically lost two former or suspected terrorists who are now -- one is now believed to be outside the United States, and one is more definitively outside the United States.

So in the midst of this horrible week that the Obama administration is having about the IRS, about Benghazi, about the Justice Department subpoenaing these records, we now also know that the Justice Department is going to come under fire without any question because of this report, first obtained by CNN, which indicates the inspector general finds that the U.S. Marshals Service has not located, has failed to find, two former or suspected terrorists put in the witness relocation program who they've lost track of.

It's a really quite astounding turn of events.

MALVEAUX: Jake, you are breaking this story now.

I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer as well to weigh-in on some of the reaction on all of this because, Wolf, Jake brings up a very good point.

This comes at a week where there are a lot of questions, and Republicans continue to ask these questions, pummeling the Obama administration over Benghazi and whether or not there was appropriate security in Benghazi when the consulate was attacked.

This too goes to national security and national security concerns in dealing with terrorists. What do you think the fallout here is going to be?

BLITZER: You make an excellent point about Benghazi.

As much as there's been so much focus on those so-called talking points that were provided to the members of Congress, the American public, through the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, as much as the talking points have dominated a lot of the discussion, the real question I've always felt is why was the United States ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11 attacks?

What was he doing there? Why was there such limited security for the U.S. ambassador and other U.S. officials? What were they doing there especially since the British had pulled out of Benghazi, the International Red Cross in weeks earlier had pulled out.

There had been so many threats to the U.S. in Benghazi, why let the U.S. ambassador be there on a day when everybody suspected there could be some serious terrorist problems?

And then the second big question, which really hasn't been thoroughly answered, is, once the operation began, the terrorist operation, could the U.S. military special operations forces, others, have done more to save U.S. lives?

Those are the big questions. And this story now, that Jake is breaking here on CNN, it raises further questions. Two suspected terrorists whom the U.S. government had relocated, presumably because they were providing sensitive information to the U.S., all of a sudden disappear and the U.S. doesn't know where these terrorists are right now?

This is a national security issue of significant importance, and I'm sure is going to cause a lot of heartburn for a lot of national security officials, especially those at the Justice Department who are responsible through this marshals service of making sure that everyone knows where these terrorists are, even if they're cooperating.

Because you know what? Even if they're cooperating today, you don't know if they're going to be cooperating tomorrow.

HOLMES: Especially if they've left the country.

Jake, I know it's early and I don't know how much detail you have. What do you know about who these guys are?

TAPPER: They haven't disclosed who these individuals precisely are. Remember, they're trying to hide their identities. That was the whole point behind putting them in the witness security program, what people probably know from television as the witness relocation program.

But here's something else that's interesting in this public summary of the report that we have obtained. We talked a lot on CNN about stove- piping information, especially when it came to 9/11, different security agencies having information, the FBI, the CIA, other agencies, but not sharing it.

We talked about it a lot in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings. Now we have it again here in this report.

The inspector general of the Justice Department finding that the Justice Department not only didn't know definitively how many known or suspected terrorists were admitted into the witness security program, but also that the marshals service did not share information of potential value to the FBI.

Before May 2012, just last year the marshal service, the FBI and other agencies did not have a formal process to share witness security terrorism information. They were not sharing this information.

So what would happen is these individuals who participated in the witness security program would get new names. The federal government would provide them with these new identities.

And then, even though they were suspected terrorists and under their old names would not be allowed to fly because of the no-fly list, with their new names, they were able to because this information wasn't being shared.

It's another remarkable turn of events when it comes to just the incompetence of the federal government and the failure to share information to make sure that the government is working as one cohesive whole.

We saw this again during the investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the dead suspect in the Boston marathon bombings who was investigated by the FBI but nobody in Boston law enforcement had any idea that he was suspected of being up to nefarious actions.

And did that have an effect? We don't know. But we do know that more information when it comes to information sharing is generally considered to be better.

HOLMES: It is extraordinary. Jake, thanks so much.

MALVEAUX: That's unbelievable. It's something that obviously they're going to ask at the briefing.

I don't know if the president's going to be prepared to answer that specific question there, but, you know, you have the attorney general of the Justice Department yesterday at a hearing under fire already.

And this, again, it goes to questions in terms of whether or not they're communicating and talking with one another, whether or not, you know, there's some accountability here, trust in the government.

HOLMES: To Jake's point there, you've got a name that would not be allowed to get on an airplane, but he gets a new name and nobody knows that he shouldn't be getting on the airplane with the new name. Unbelievable.

MALVEAUX: We are watching. We are watching Washington. We are watching the Rose Garden to see whether or not the president will actually be able to address many of these questions.

He, as well as the prime minister of Turkey, are going to go there before the cameras and reporters and address that news that Jake Tapper just broke on our air, but also a number of scandals that they are struggling with now to deal with at the White House.