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CNN NEWSROOM

Obama Not Forthcoming in Press Conference; Tornadoes Devastate Texas Town; Combating Military Sexual Harassment; Eating Too Little Salt Can Hurt You; NBA Finals Report; Texas Explosion Investigation Results

Aired May 16, 2013 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JESSICA YELLIN, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And he doesn't want to see a special council appointed to look into the IRS. No surprise. No White House likes that because you never know where those can lead.

Broadly speaking, there was a whole lot of chuckling going on out here, I have to say, because the metaphor was rich. They kept us waiting for 45 minutes here while his meeting ran late. And as you were pointing out, it started raining and sprinkling. And then, just as he started answering the question on transparency and the IRS, the skies opened up and rain really came down. And then he was shielded by an umbrella while he was facing the media.

Of course, it's the media shield that everybody's asking about these days on the other controversy regarding the DOJ and Department of Justice and Associated Press. I would say the rain is part of the president's -- what's that childhood book -- "Oh, so, Terrible, Very Bad Week (ph)." It's not been a good one for the White House. They're trying to put it back in order but, so far, it's not there yet -- Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Not there yet. And now there's a fourth potential scandal out there, Jessica. You tried to get the president to respond to it.

Jake is here. Gloria's here.

This interim report that was just released by the inspector general over at the Justice Department, saying what, Jake, that two terrorists who had received a new identity under this Witness Security Protection Program that's underway, they were allowed to move around, presumably, got passports if you will and, all of a sudden, they disappear.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the people in charge of providing these new identities with the Witness Security Program, which is two different divisions within the Justice Department, did not share that information with the agencies in charge of putting together the terrorist watch list. So after they had their new names, these individuals -- not just these two, who they couldn't find, but all of them, could theoretically have flown on commercial airplanes.

Let's walk through some of the things in the report. In July 2012, the U.S. Marshal Service stated it was unable to locate two former Federal Witness Security Program participants identified as known or suspected terrorists. And that through its investigative efforts it concluded one individual was and the other individual was believed to be residing outside the U.S. It's really remarkable.

We've talked a lot about this, Wolf and Gloria, about stovepiping information, intelligence agencies having information, not sharing it. Now we know, because of this, there were potentially hundreds of thousands of terrorists who were able to fly commercially who are part of the Witness Security Program. And two of them, they don't even know where they are anymore.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So they were able to fly on commercial airplanes in or over the United States. And this is key, because one of the lessons learned from 9/11 is the so-called "connecting the dots" and not siloing or stovepiping your information. And it seems to me that the FBI wasn't aware or sharing.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The Marshal Service would coordinate this kind of stuff with the FBI, but apparently, according to this inspector general report, they didn't do it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But they better start doing it.

Hold on for a minute. We're getting some reaction from the Justice Department.

Joe Johns, our crime and justice correspondent, is getting that reaction.

What are they saying, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. I'm looking through a pretty lengthy statement that the Justice Department put out almost instantly after Jake Tapper broke this story. Among the things they say in the statement, some of which are actually contained in the back half of the report, that no terrorism-linked witness has ever committed an act of terrorism since entering the program. They say these individuals who actually go into this Witness Security Program are carefully vetted. And they call them former known or suspected terrorists, with emphasis on the word "former."

They say they started fixing all of the problems the inspector general raised all the way back in 2012 including trying to fix the information sharing and say essentially that they have pretty much accepted and fixed all the recommendations by the I.G, except for one, and that is a manual review of all 18,000 case files in the witness security program. Of course, the inspector general anticipated that and said that the Justice Department still needs to manually review all files prior to 1996 and, not until then, do they believe that upon completion of this review will it be possible for the department to state definitively that it has identified, located and minimized the threat of all known or suspected terrorists in the Witness Security Program. Expecting to get more because apparently the Justice Department was pretty prepared for this to come out of course. It's been circulating for a long time. And I'm sure they'll have more to say about the situation in the "Room" -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Do we know, Joe, if these two former terrorists colluded, that they left jointly together? Or were these just two individual cases that they happen to disappear?

JOHNS: Well, from what I can tell in the report, they say that they are certain that one individual has left the country. And they believe the second individual has left the country. So it doesn't sound like they have them both located together -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Yeah. All right, well, we're going to continue to monitor this.

Joe, thanks very much. I know you're going to have a lot more later in "The Situation Room."

Jake will have more coming up on "The Lead."

TAPPER: 4:00 p.m. eastern.

BLITZER: Gloria will be here throughout the day on all of these programs.

(LAUGHTER)

We're going to continue to monitor, get reaction to what we just heard from the president.

Also, there's other news we're following here in CNN NEWSROOM. At least 10, 10 tornadoes touched down in north Texas overnight devastating a town killing six people. Rescue crews are searching for more victims. We're going live in a moment to the heavily damaged town of Granbury.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A deadly disaster in north Texas. Rescue crews are going door-to-door in subdivisions to check for victims of last night's powerful storms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god!

Oh, my goodness, dude!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: At least 10 tornadoes touched down in north Texas overnight. One of the hardest hit areas was in the city of Granbury about 40 miles southwest of Ft. Worth. Residents say the storms moved in quickly. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED TORNADO SURVIVOR: The only place in our house that was probably safe enough was our hallway. And I grabbed a mattress and, you know, I -- there's just nothing left. I'm sorry. There's just nothing left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: If you'd like to help the victims of these Texas storms, you can visit our website, Impact Your World" at CNN.com/impact. We'll have more on these tornadoes and the impact later today.

Meanwhile, the nation's commander in chief is ready to combat sexual assault in the U.S. military. President Obama meets later this afternoon with the defense secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss these very disturbing allegations involving two servicemembers accused of sexual misconduct in the past two weeks alone. In both cases, the men had been in charge of preventing specifically chose types of sex crimes.

My guest today is Brigette McCoy. She was a private in the Army. She says she was sexually assaulted many times. And earlier this year, she testified before a congressional committee.

Thank you so much for joining us.

First of all, briefly give us your story.

BRIGETTE MCCOY, SEXUALLY ASSAULTED FORMER ARMY PRIVATE: Well, I served in the Army between 1987 and 1991. And during that time, I experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment multiple times in different situations. And I didn't report it because basically I was scared. By the time I was exiting the -- getting closer toward the end of my term, I re-enlisted and they basically started having some more sexual harassment. I reported it. And at the end of that, basically my first sergeant made me sign papers to get out of the military or have to receive UCMJ action against myself. So I basically took the honorable discharge. Is basically what he said, I can get an honorable discharge or I can, you know, have UCMJ action against me. So at that time -- I mean, this was 1991. No one was really talking about, you know, protecting servicemembers from sexual harassment. They were calling it fraternization. So basically, that's what happened. It took me so many years to fight for my benefits and to begin to speak out.

BLITZER: I don't know you're working on that. And as I pointed out, for the second time this month, U.S. servicemembers right now, actually worked to try to prevent these kinds of sexual assaults, have been themselves now accused of a sexual crime. What do you think needs to be done in the U.S. military to get on top of this problem?

MCCOY: Well, I believe that the Military Justice Act that just came out today Senator Gillibrand and Senator Boxer, I think that's a really solid first step towards changing things. I also believe that in order for the servicemembers, who are experiencing sexual assault right now, they need to have some type of special victims unit or something protecting them while they're in service.

And then also, people who report sexual assault and then are systemically put out or systemically given bad-conduct discharges, I think that those really need to be reviewed much more closely before they allow them to go through.

So there's multiple steps that need to happen. I don't think it's a one-size-fits-all. I definitely don't think training is just going to change it. I absolutely believe that we need to have prosecution actually happen and that these perpetrators need to be put on the national registry for being sex offenders so they don't come out into the community and harm civilians as well.

BLITZER: As you know, the number of servicemembers, Brigette, anonymously reporting sexual assault grew by 30 percent in the past two years alone. That according to a recent Pentagon report released last week. Is this sudden spike in numbers because more people are refusing to stay silent in the face of these kinds of assaults?

MCCOY: Absolutely not. Those numbers are not from more people reporting. It's more people are being sexually assaulted. So we need to have some things in place that actually help with the issue. Removing people like this sergeant who is, you know, perpetrating in uniform -- I don't believe that people who wear a uniform and who rape should be considered servicemembers. I mean, they should absolutely be stripped of any dignity as it relates to military service. And so if we don't do those types of things first, people aren't going to come forward. And then people aren't going to get the help that they need, you know, after that.

BLITZER: Brigette McCoy, thanks very much for sharing your story. Thanks very much for your thoughts.

MCCOY: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: You've also heard a lot lately about eating too much salt that is bad for you. But there's a new report finds eating too little salt can also hurt you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For decades there's been a serious push underway to get Americans to eat less salt because cutting back was said to be good for your heart. But now a new report calls into question all of those warnings.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us from the CNN center.

Elizabeth, a lot of people like that little extra dash of salt on their food, so does this mean you can start feeling less guilty when pouring on the salt?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know what, Wolf, I have to say, not really. I hate to be a big bummer, but that's the answer. And when you see these numbers, you'll understand why I say that.

So, right now Americans eat, on average, 3,400 milligrams of salt. The recommendation has been to get down to 1,500. This new study from the Institute of Medicine says, you know, that 1,500 number is kind of low. We're not really sure that it does anybody any good and, in fact, it might actually hurt your heart to go that low. So the Institute of Medicine says you may not need to go down to 1,500. But the reality is Americans were never really anywhere near 1,500 to begin with on average.

So I think that when you look at this study, what it says is maybe we don't need to go as low as we thought, but Americans weren't going that low anyways.

BLITZER: So how much salt should we eat? I raise the question, if we don't have enough salt, there could be some problems, right?

COHEN: Right. You want to have enough salt. But I have to say, of all the problems facing Americans right now, this is not really one of them. Americans get enough salt. It is not a huge public health problem. Mostly, that's because processed food contains so much salt. Things like canned soup or even Corn Flakes have quite a bit of salt. People aren't dropping dead right and left from lack of salt. People are dropping dead, however, from heart disease.

Now, Wolf, I can't really give you a magic number. The Institute of Medicine does say, maybe 2,300 is OK, because anything lower than that doesn't seem to be better. But, Wolf, I don't know about you, but I don't know people who measure the milligrams of salt they get. I couldn't tell you how many milligrams of sodium I've gotten today, for example. So I think the bottom line, Wolf, is people should eat more foods from the ground and the fewer foods that are processed. The minute you do that, you're eating less sodium.

BLITZER: Elizabeth always has excellent advice for us.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that advice.

Here's a reminder, by the way, speaking of food, Anthony Bourdain is in Libya for this weekend's "Parts Unknown." Two years since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, there's some progress, there's some hope, but there's also instability and a very, very uncertain future. Tune in Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. eastern, or set your DVR. "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," in Libya. He checks out the food and everything else. You'll want to see it.

We won't see a repeat of last year's NBA finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, so who can we expect to see in the finals? "The Bleacher Report" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The highest-paid athletes, the NBA finals, and photo bombs. Carlos Diaz has it all in today's "Bleacher Report." CARLOS DIAZ, THEBLEACHERREPORT.COM: Hi, Wolf. Lebron James and the Heat have advanced to their third-straight eastern conference finals. It was a yo-yo battle in Miami last night. The Heat jumped out to an 18 point heat, fell down by 11 and it came down to the last possession of the game. The Bulls can't get the desperation free to go and the Heat now await the winner of the Pacers/Knicks series. And, you know, Miami fans like Will Smith and his son, Jaden, will be courtside for that series, just like they were last night. But look at this. Craig Sager, TNT reporter photo-bombing that picture of the two of them. Come on. So the same night the Heat go on, the Thunder go home. Oklahoma City down by two in the final seconds. And Kevin Durant misses the jumper that would have tied the game. A year after making it to the NBA finals, the Thunder are out in the second round and the Memphis Grizzlies advance to their first Western Conference finals in team history. They take on the winner of the Spurs/warriors Series.

Sports' highest-paid athlete, boxer, Floyd Mayweather, will make $90 million in 2013, less than a year after he was released from jail. For the second straight year, Mayweather topped "Sports Illustrated's" highest-paid athlete list. And, more amazingly, none of the $90 million he makes comes from endorsements. Lebron James is second on that, $56 million in 2013, $39 million from endorsements. Drew Brees completes the top three with $47 million. Tiger Woods, who led the list in 2004 to 2011, has fallen to fifth.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Carlos, thanks very much.

We've got more news coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM. The explosion at a Texas plant that flattened a town has been under investigation now for weeks. Today we get the results. We'll have a live report from West, Texas, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We should get answers soon on what caused last month's deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas. This afternoon the Texas fire marshal's office and the ATF plan to announce the results of their investigation into the blast. It killed 14 people, most of them volunteer firefighters who had rushed to the scene.

Ed Lavandera joins us from West, Texas.

Ed, what can we expect to hear?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think the big question here today is whether or not we will get a definitive answer into what caused the explosion here in the town of West, Texas, that killed so many first responders almost a month ago.

Officials are not saying, at least early on, what they will announce here this afternoon, or they won't say so officially. But there has been a lot of intrigue swirling around a former first responder, a man by the name of Bryce Reed, who was arrested last week for possessing a pipe bomb. He was taken into custody, but authorities are not saying whether or not he is connected to the explosion in any way. They have said that they have not ruled out criminal activity as perhaps one of the causes into this explosion. But there are also other things they haven't ruled out as well. We'll wait and see what kind of definitive answers we get.

But, as far as Bryce Reed is concerned, he was supposed to have made an appearance in federal court yesterday, which was abruptly canceled shortly before after his attorney and federal prosecutors came to an agreement. He is pleading not guilty to the charge he was charged with last week. But his attorney also consistently, aggressively says he has nothing to do with the explosion here. So these investigators will be asked about that quite a bit here later on today -- Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll have extensive live coverage.

Thanks very much, Ed Lavandera, in West, Texas.

That does it for me. I'll see you back here, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Chris Cuomo picks up our live coverage from New York right now.