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Terror Suspects Missing From U.S. Program; Arias Jury to Decide Life or Death; Tornadoes Devastate North Texas; Obama Confronts Anger At Govt.; Life After A Decade of Slavery

Aired May 16, 2013 - 14:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, everybody. It's just after 2:00 p.m. here in the east. I'm Chris Cuomo, live in New York. Thanks for joining me. We have a major new headline.

The United States government has lost two terrorists out of the federal Witness Protection Program. CNN's Jake Tapper got hold of a scathing audit. We're going to check in with him soon.

But right now, I want to bring in CNN analyst and former CIA operative Robert Baer.

Bob, thank you very much for joining us there on Skype.

Again, the headline is, the Witness Protection Program has lost two terrorists. Have you ever heard of anything like this before?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Chris, I have. This happened all the time during the Cold War. Of course they were Soviet diplomats and military officers. They'd come to this country. We would set them up, usually in the Midwest. They'd get homesick, something would happen and they'd take off. They'd disappear. Sometimes go back to Russia.

As far as terrorists go, I even had a case where one of our guys was resettled here, got in an accident on the beltway, pistol-whipped some innocent guy, was chased by the police, arrested. The FBI had to get him out of jail. He took off and moved to Africa. Yes, it happens all the time, yes.

CUOMO: OK. So this is not panic mode like this has never happened. It's horrible and yet still not the kind of thing you want to hear about. The Justice Department's response is, "to date, the FBI has not identified a national security threat tied to the participation of terrorism-linked witnesses in the WitSec program. So shorthand means, we've never had anything where people who we've lost track of wound up coming back to hurt us. Is that a good enough explanation for this situation?

BAER: No, it's not, Chris, because we don't know what's going on in these two people's heads. You know, have they been reconverted? Have they gone - have they picked up weapons? Have they gone back over? Did they decide they made a mistake? This is all possible. It can't be known. And in a way we don't have national identity card or any way for the FBI to track them. We don't know where they are or what they're up to. Just - it's - it's the truth. CUOMO: Well, the report goes on to say that the Justice Department didn't even know how many terror suspects were in the U.S. witness security program. You know, I mean to the uninitiated, that's a head- scratcher, Bob. What do you mean you don't know how many you have? Isn't that what the purpose of the program is?

BAER: Yes, exactly. It's horribly managed. Always has been. People don't pay attention to it. They get the people to testify in court or in an investigation. They resettle them. You know, they visit them occasionally, every six months, but they really don't know what they're doing. It's a vast program. And the chances of one of these guys, you know, turning on us are - you know, it's pretty good.

CUOMO: I've got to tell you, Bob, this is an unconvincing conversation that we're having here right now. I mean, how do you fix this? I mean it's very nice of you to come from your kitchen. Appreciate having you here on the show. You're not to blame for this, but you understand the situation very well. How do we fix this so that you can monitor people effectively? Is that too much to ask?

BAER: Well, in it - it's, you know, I'm not even sure you can fix it. Once you resettle people in this country, there's no way to keep track of them. I totally agree with you, it's a system that's broken. You know, can you put them in jail after they've helped us? No. Is there another country that can take them? No. Will it take, you know, some horrible event to convince us that it has to be monitored properly? Yes.

But, Chris, you're right, the system is broken. And it's always been broken. And I just -- I can't assure you that nothing is ever going to happen thanks to this - you just can't keep track of these people.

CUOMO: So I guess the interesting question going forward is, can we do better? If so, how? But you're setting out some pretty fair limitations, especially given the constitutional restraints of how we can monitor, how we can keep people confined when they're not charged with any crimes.

Bob Baer, thank you very much for the perspective on this, always, coming with the kitchen cam there. Thank you very much for it, Bob. Appreciate it.

BAER: Thanks.

CUOMO: All right, let's move on now.

Prosecutors proved Jodi Arias is a murderer and a liar, but does the 32-year-old woman deserve to die? That's the big question. Right now you're looking at a live picture of the ongoing hearing.

What's going on right now? The jury of eight men and four women is expected to decide in this hearing that you're watching - it started just moments ago -- whether or not the death penalty happens. This is up to the jury. Two phases. First was, did they find her guilty? Yes.

OK. So now the first part of the second phase was, is it such a cruel murder that the death penalty is justified? The jury again found yes. So now the final phase, which is where they look at the facts of the stabbing, the shooting, the near-decapitation of Travis Alexander, the victim here, in 2008. Yes, it's especially cruel. Let's look at the circumstances and see if there are any mitigating effects.

You have aggravating and mitigating. Aggravating is what it sounds like. These are things that make it even worse than other murders. What types of things? The way was done, the type of victim, the type of relationship they had. Was this a parent and a child? Mitigating. There's a whole list of mitigating things. This is all done by law. Arizona has its own laws about it.

To be frank, not a lot of these mitigating factors jump out at you when you read them as to whether or not they would apply to Jodi Arias. But, of course, this is the task of the jury. They must be unanimous.

Now, what are they looking at contextually? The jury is looking at Arias earlier said she prefers death, as she told a Phoenix TV station right after her conviction. Take a listen because it's important to the jury.


JODI ARIAS, CONVICTED MURDERER: I said years ago that I'd rather get death than life, and that still is true today. I believe death is the ultimate freedom, so I'd rather just have my freedom as soon as I can get it.


CUOMO: Now, there was a lot of questions about what did this mean? Was this reverse psychology? Is this her true intentions? Will it play with the jury? All of these are questions that must be considered in them. They must come to a unanimous decision as to whether or not there will be the death penalty.

If they think it should not be the death penalty, then it goes to the judge and he has to determine whether or not it is life without parole or 25 years with possibility of parole. Those are the questions as they go forward. All this taking place in a courtroom. We can go to CNN's Ted Rowlands right now. You see him there on your screen live outside the courthouse.

So, tell us, Ted, tell us more about what's going on in there and what's expected.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what you're seeing right now, Chris, is just the very beginning of this hearing. The judge is going over the instructions for the jury for this phase, telling them that these are impact statements that you're going to hear first. And this is from the family. We're going to hear from Travis Alexander's sister and brother first off and the judge is just telling the jury how they should take in this information. We expect the first of these witness statements, family impact statements, to start in just a few minutes. And then it will be Jodi Arias' turn to try to literally save her life. It will be her chance through a couple of witnesses. And then we expect her to take the stand as well and give a last-ditch effort to try to save her life to this jury.

But you bring up the point that she told this television station right after the verdict, she didn't want to save her life. That she wants the death penalty. It will be interesting to see what Jodi Arias says.

This jury only took an hour and 30 minutes to find that there was cruelty in this, but I think, Chris, it's going to take them a lot longer to decide whether or not Jodi Arias should live or die. We expect them to get the case likely Monday and start that very difficult deliberation on whether or not they should save this life or not.

CUOMO: All right, Ted, obviously it's exceptional cruelty. All murders, all killings are cruel in the eyes of the law. They had to find exceptional cruelty. They did. A little bit of sidebar intrigue here you can fill us in on. Two of Arias' attorneys today asked the judge if they could quit the case. Is that true?

ROWLANDS: Yes. They filed a motion, the motion was denied, to leave the case. And, you know, the reasoning behind that, we don't know because it was sealed, the proceedings, but one has to look back at that interview that she did after the conviction. No lawyer would want their client to talk after a conviction before sentencing. That's exactly what she did. And clearly that had something to do with it. So they wanted it on the record that they wanted to leave the case. The judge said, no way, you're staying with this until the end.

CUOMO: It's also interesting, you know, if they had recused themselves, if they had quit the case, potential grounds for improper use of counsel by Jodi Arias, which could kick out, could vitiate the penalty phase of this, could become very complicated, probably played into the judge's decision to knock it down.

Ted Rowlands, thank you very much. Appreciate the reporting.

Before we move on, one quick note here. We're going to get to severe weather going down in Texas. But remember, with Jodi Arias, a lot still to go there. We'll talk about it more.

Let's get to north Texas. Ten deadly tornadoes, like the one you were just seeing there, caused at least six deaths, dozens of traumatic injuries and flattened nearly 100 homes in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood.

Now that there is daylight, we're seeing just how vicious this storm was. Cars and homes ripped to shreds, flattened like pancakes. Look at the roof of a home sitting in Granbury, Texas. A neighborhood nearly wiped out. The devastation is familiar during these months of May, June, April, which are the hot months for tornadoes. But really the season is all year round now.

Folks are combing through what's left of their homes. Rescue crews desperately searching subdivisions for seven people who are still missing. CNN's Alina Machado is on the ground in Granbury. ' Alina, please, take us through what you're seeing and hearing from the people in need there right now.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this community is in shock, and it's easy to see that on the faces of the people who are out here. And when you look at the damage, it's easy to see why. Residents tell us that mobile home over there - and I want to bring you up close - that used to be a mobile home. It was flattened in the storm. The good news in this situation is that no one was inside. So no one was hurt here.

We're also seeing dozens of volunteers out here helping those affected by the storm, helping them rebuild, helping them clean up the debris. And this isn't even the hardest hit area. The hardest hit area is about a mile from where we are.

In that direction over there, you can see from the path -- you can see the path the storm took just by the way the trees are. And that hardest hit area is a subdivision called Rancho Brazos. It's a subdivision of about 110 homes. And authorities tell us that most of those homes were flattened by this storm. The six people who died in this outbreak were at that subdivision. And search and rescue teams have been focusing their efforts in that area as they continue to search for those seven missing people. Again, 100 -- more than 100 people were hurt in this outbreak, and three of them remain hospitalized here in local hospitals.


CUOMO: All right, Alina, thank you so much. It's still ongoing there. We know that you're going to monitor the situation for us. Come back to us when we have new information about where they are with the search and rescue, and also we're going to keep telling everybody how you can help the victims of the Texas storms. Please visit our Impact Your World page. That is And that's how you can figure out how you can do whatever you want to do to help the families down there. The need will be very great.

And speaking of need in Texas, remember West, Texas? Remember the horrible fire there at the fertilizer plant? The fears about gases. Well, it's not over yet. We're about to find out what might have caused that explosion, devastating the tiny town of West, Texas. It's been almost a month since ammonium nitrate, that's the gas I was talking about that was stored at the plant, it blew -- that's what blew up. And volunteer firefighters that battled at the facility there who were among those who were killed. Fourteen people lost their lives. Part of the small town was literally wiped off the map. So powerful that it registered as an earthquake.

Well, right now, the state fire marshal's office and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are scheduled to announce the results of their investigation in a news conference less than three hours from now, at about 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. We're going to have a live report. They've been treating it as a crime scene from the beginning. Now we will know whether or not they believe that this was criminal in its intent. That's what we're waiting to find out. When we get information, we'll bring it to you right away.

All right, up next, a rare moment at the White House today when the president got rained on during his news conference. Came as President Obama once again addressed concerns about the recent scandals rocking his administration. We'll talk about it coming up.

And we'll give you a little closer look at those sturdy men, our Marines, with the strong arms keeping the president dry.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEWSROOM. I'm here in Chris - I'm Chris Cuomo here in New York and I can't even get my name out of my mouth. You know why? I am so shocked by this video that we saw today and I'm going to show you right now. A runaway stroller leads to a seriously close call for one Philadelphia mother. Take a look. See the stroller? She just loses it for a second. There is a toddler in that stroller, OK? Our affiliate KYW reports the mom was distracted, obviously. The stroller carrying the toddler rolls away. The mom jumps right down.

Now, you start watching this video. The baby's fine, OK? That's the headline. Don't worry about that. But she jumps down there. You look around. You don't see a lot of bystanders coming until she's down there. Makes you wonders, didn't anybody help? Yes. Why? The other hero - well, the real hero in this, the public transit officials say a bystander, he went, hit the alert button, which stopped the next train from coming in. It was less than a minute away.

The child, again, is fine, but what a reminder about how quickly things can go wrong. She just - look. Look at the stroller rolling down again. See, you've got a pitch there. Most of the platforms are. Why? Well, to collect waters. You want to get as much into the tracks as possible to keep it away from where people are going to stand.

But just a moment and it rolled away from her. No matter what was going on, her baby, thank God, is fine. I don't know why he fell down, that guy, but hopefully he's OK, too. The mom rescued her baby and a bystander is the one that pushed the button, made sure the train knew not to come into the station. So a beautiful ending to what could have been a very horrible situation.

All right, now let's go into a different type of crisis mode now. We've been talking about presidential politics and President Obama giving a presser today in the Rose Garden. It started to rain. He's there trying to blunt concerns about bungling and political overreach within the federal government. Speaking beneath a steady rain in the White House Rose Garden, he cited the forced resignation Steve Miller, acting head of the IRS, after the audit that showed conservative groups were singled out and forced to jump through hoops to gain tax exempt status. The president says he is not yet finished trying to fix the IRS mess. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In addition to making sure that we've got a new acting director there, we're also going to make sure that we gather up the facts and hold accountable and responsible anybody who was involved in this. We're going to make sure that we identify any structural or management issues to prevent something like this from happening again.


CUOMO: Now, obviously, the president's comments about the IRS hardly enough to quiet congressional Republicans. They're ramping up efforts to highlight a series of controversies also involving the State and Justice Departments. They say the controversies prove them right, that you cannot trust the federal government.

Obviously, a little confusing. Let's bring in Gloria Borger here, our chief political analyst.

Confusing with some part of the government saying you can't trust the rest of the government. This is obviously how politics can play out. But the question to you, Gloria, is this really about politics when you look at each of these situations? They seem very real. This doesn't seem contrived as a partisan football. What's your perspective?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, when you put them all together, the reason this is such a huge problem for the White House, Chris, is when you put all of these things together, it plays into a narrative that Republicans are clearly pushing, and not without some justification, not only about government overreach, but also about government incompetence.

I mean, don't forget, this is an administration which has said, you need to have faith in your government. You need to have trust in your government. This is a president who presided over a huge health care reform bill. He wants the government to fix immigration. And this is a president who, you know, gave a commencement speech a couple of weeks ago talking about trusting government, the importance of citizenship.

And what Republicans are saying now is, you know, wait a minute, why should we trust government when we see, particularly in the case of the IRS, what government overreach can do? Take a listen to what some Republicans are saying on The Hill, Chris.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: You know, Thomas Jefferson told us, when government fears the citizens, there is liberty. But when citizens fear the government, there is tyranny.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: IRS, AP, Benghazi tend to confirm a lot of our worst fears about our government. They tend to tell us what we don't want to believe but that sometimes might be true, that your government's targeting you, that your government's spying on you, and that your government is lying to you.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: This is runaway government at its worst. Who knows who they'll target next.


BORGER: So, you know, about less than 30 percent of the people in this country trust the government to do the right thing all or most of the time. Overwhelming majority say they don't trust the government. So now the president's in a difficult position, which, by the way, he's been in for most of his administration. And I think that at the White House they even admit that they underestimated this sense of people saying, wait a minute, why should I trust you to take care of my life when I really see this incompetence all around me?

CUOMO: Well, look, here's the confusing part. You're hearing this time from Republicans, right, because this gets tossed back and forth, Democrats, the out party going after the in party at a particular time.

BORGER: Sure. Right.

CUOMO: The last people you're going to believe about the incompetence of government is members of the government. I mean these, you know, the Republicans are a part of this government as well.

BORGER: Right.

CUOMO: So that would probably be dismissed by most folks. What will not be dismissed is when you look at these things in the specific. Benghazi has big open questions. And forget about how many drafts of notes were passed around. Did you know there was a threat or not? Did you do the right thing when you knew there was a threat or didn't you? Or did you do nothing on the accountability side because you were worried about politics?

BORGER: And why did you -- why didn't you have more security? Right, why didn't you have more security? Those are, you know --

CUOMO: That's exactly right. And why didn't you deal with that straight? Those are real questions divorced of politics.

On the IRS side, I'll tell you what the worry is for me there, Gloria.


CUOMO: Were they targeting these people? Was it wrong? Let's say the answers to all those questions are yes, yes, yes. What is what the politicians are going to want, that scrutiny shouldn't happen, it's wrong. Now that's wrong because those groups, 501C-4 organizations, that's the dark money in politics, Gloria, right?

BORGER: I agree. I agree.

CUOMO: That's what we have to watch out for.

BORGER: And the perverse result of all of this may be that the real and the needed investigation into some of these tax exempt groups, which are not supposed to practice politics, which do practice politics, is going to be put on the back burner because of some ham- handed, over jealous and possibly criminal activity over at the IRS. I mean, the president, today, in his press conference, alluded to the fact that there's a lot of ambiguity in the tax laws. Imagine that.

And one of the pieces of ambiguity there is that these tax exempt groups are supposed to practice what's called social welfare. The tax law gives examples, says civic associations, for example. Lots of these political groups have managed to get around that, and now that's going to take very much a back burner to investigating the venality over at the IRS.

CUOMO: All right, Gloria, thank you very much.

And, obviously, who wants these groups to be left alone more than the rest of us? The politicians, because they're the ones who are getting the money for it.

BORGER: Exactly.

CUOMO: There's an unwritten rule, these organizations - here's what you basically need to know. These organizations aren't supposed to spend more than 49 percent of their money on actual politics.

BORGER: That's right.

CUOMO: And the speculation by the IRS and many other watchdog groups is, of course they're doing that. How do you think all this money is getting in there from them. That's why they need to be investigated. It has to be fair. It has to be bipartisan. But we do need the investigating, especially with all the money that's finding its way into politics these days. Hopefully we don't miss the forest for the trees with this current scandal.

BORGER: And we're making the world safe for lawyers, for tax lawyers.

CUOMO: That's exactly - and lawyers are the worst. I am one. I can say that.

All right, Gloria, thank you very much.


CUOMO: We're going to go to break now. When we come back, two of the women held for a nearly a decade in Cleveland are slowly getting back to normal life. They've spoken to each other since their escape. And we're also hearing they've been out in public for the first time. We're going to bring in Dr. Drew Pinsky. He's going to talk about what recovery is like for women like this. Stay with us.


CUOMO: All right, we go to Cleveland, Ohio, now. Three women trying to resume a normal life after a decade of sexual slavery. Gina DeJesus has been given a makeover, a new hairstyle by her sister. This is Gina before her abduction in 2004. Now, we haven't seen her since her escape, obviously, but she reportedly left that Cleveland home looking pale, thin, and with her hair cropped closely to her head. In the world, you have to remember -- let's get perspective -- in the world Gina, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry left behind nearly 10 years ago, Barack Obama was a state senator, 9/11 was still a vivid memory. There was no FaceBook. There were no iPhones. Their reentry into normal life is being compared to coming out of a coma in some medical, clinical respects.

So let's bring in Dr. Drew Pinsky. He's joining us from Los Angeles.

Thank you very much for joining us, doctor. Always a pleasure to have you, Drew.


CUOMO: So, we know that in all those years these women supposedly only set foot outside the house twice and then only as far as the garage. How do they recover? Of course there's no textbook for this, but what are some of the guidelines? How do you get to normal after this type of experience?

PINSKY: Well, normal is a long way off for these ladies, unfortunately, if ever. And by long I mean years off. And it is - though it's interesting you bring up the social context in which they're reentering the world. That's really not the hard work here.

The fact is, first of all, they will be developmentally arrested. They've been held in captivity since they were young teenagers, most of them. God knows that will -- they'll have to move through those developmental milestones that each of us go through into adulthood.

Secondly, they have been brutalized over that time. In order to survive that kind of brutality, the brain changes. It changes in such a way as to sort of put the person in another -- almost outside their body. And that is something that in order to reenter their emotional life and their body and get back in their brain literally again, they have to be able to trust other people. In order to trust other people, that's going to take months or years of therapy so they can, again, rebuild their emotional landscapes.

During that time, they may have PTSD symptoms, they may have difficulty regulating emotions. So this is a very complex, long-term proposition, far beyond just learning how to operate an iPhone.

CUOMO: The need to trust, does that begin with each other? Is it better for women in situations like this, if this is even knowable, to stay in contact with each other? Is that helpful?

PINKSY: It's a great question, Chris, and I -- it's not knowable in a formal sense. But let's think about it this way. When veterans come back from Iraq, they feel like no one can understands what they've been through other than men like themselves and women like them who have been in these combat situations. There may be something very similar with these women where they need each other and the connection with each other to feel understood. How can any of us understand what it is like to be in that horrible situation? The reality is, we really can't, but we can empathize and they have to learn to accept that empathy.