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IRS Scandal Examined; Arias Trail Updated; Is Tool Little Salt in the Diet a Hazard?; US Diplomat Expelled from Russia for Espionage

Aired May 16, 2013 - 15:30   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: OK, very serious questions.

I will remind people the next time they look at those videos, look how strong the marines are holding that umbrella up, not moving.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's hard to think about anything except the umbrella when you look at that shot.

CUOMO: They're just so impressive. They bring them in because it's raining and they are going to assume a military posture.

They don't train to hold up umbrellas, but just look how seriously they take their job, and just makes you love our troops a little more, those being two marines there.

OK, to serious matters ...


CUOMO: I'm going to throw you a second curveball here.

Jeffrey Toobin, of course, CNN's senior legal analyst, we all know you, constitutional scholar, writer of books. Three, I believe ...


CUOMO: ... so far? Six?

TOOBIN: Maybe you've only read three.

CUOMO: Where have I been? Since I've been at CNN.

All right, here's the curveball. Ostensibly, on the outside, this is about targeting conservative groups.

The IRS basically admitted it, and it's wrong, and the president's going to do what he can to fix it, right? Fair read?

TOOBIN: Fair read.

CUOMO: Tell me this, if this is it not a greater source of concern. What will happen in the aftermath of this is the IRS will stop doing this, they'll stop looking at these groups. That's dangerous, too, isn't it? TOOBIN: That's the paradox here is that we use verbs like "targeting" and "going after." It's the IRS's job to investigate these groups when they are looking for a tax break.

Remember, they're not just randomly picking out groups. They are picking out groups that apply to be 501(c)(4) organizations. What that means is, you are primarily involved with social welfare issues, and, as a result, you don't have to pay certain taxes and you don't have to disclose your donors.

You're getting a benefit from the government if you are designated. But the government then has the obligation -- it's not like they're targeting people indiscriminately. They are obliged to look, are these political groups or social welfare organizations?

Now the problem appears is that they were looking harder at the conservative groups, and that clearly was inappropriate.

But investigating, they were supposed to do that. That's their job.

CUOMO: The dark money that gets into politics, which means what? Fringe organizations exactly like these on both sides.

That's the concern of money and politics right now, isn't it?

TOOBIN: Well, that's a big issue. For example, in the 2012 campaign, Karl Rove had an organization called -- I'm forgetting the name of it, but it was one of the big organizations, and it was a 501c-4 organization, and it was not obliged to disclose its donors. Many Democrats were upset about that.

There have been groups on the left funding Democratic campaigns that were not -- didn't have to disclose donors.

That is what the worry is, is that the IRS will throw up its hands, say, anybody can be a 501(c)(4) ...

CUOMO: Oh, it's going to happen. Here's why we can say it's going to happen.

Now why does this matter? The IRS is looking because you're only supposed to spend 49 percent of your money on political activity and the fear is that all of these groups are exceeding it.

TOOBIN: Right.

CUOMO: OK, that would be the generality that makes the IRS have to look.

Why do I say, oh, they're not going to look anymore? Because in 2011, the IRS went to Congress and said, we believe you should tax donors of a lot of these groups because they're just doing political activity. They shouldn't be 501(c)(4).

And they got huge pushback, Republicans saying, hey, you're just doing this for political reasons. Are you being pushed by the left to do this? And they backed off.

TOOBIN: They backed off.

CUOMO: The man who just resigned backed off the most, right? Steve Miller said, we won't do it. Oh, no, no, no. Forget it. Forget it. We'll stop all these audits. And they stopped the audits in process. True?

TOOBIN: That is not only true, most of these groups, the vast majority of them -- we don't know for sure, but it certainly appears the vast majority were approved for 501(c)(4) status.

So it's not like they suffered some enormous penalty except having to fill out forms and answer questions, but if you are concerned about money in politics, you know -- my mentor in journalism was a guy named Michael Kinsley who always said, the scandal isn't what's illegal; the scandal is what's legal.

What we choose not to punish, that really tells you ...

CUOMO: That's this.

TOOBIN: ... what the standards are.

Exactly. All the money in politics is now completely legal.

CUOMO: This is the easy part. These guys in Cincinnati for the IRS were doing something wrong. If it was politically motivated, if those questions are answered, yes, yes, the changes are easy.


CUOMO: But getting your hands on that dark money, keeping it out of the game so that people's votes can count, that's a bigger problem.

TOOBIN: And we have tried in many ways over years and never ...

CUOMO: That's the concern that the IRS will stop doing its job because it's afraid of political reprisals.

TOOBIN: Correct.

CUOMO: Anyway, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

TOOBIN: Good to see you as always.

CUOMO: Always sounds better when it comes out of your mouth.

We're going to take a break now.

Thirty-four minutes past the hour, just a short time ago, emotional testimony from the family of the man killed, Travis Alexander, the victim of Jodi Arias.

His brother and sister spoke in front of the court, described just what he meant to the family. Their tearful plea to the jury deciding whether Jodi Arias deserves the death penalty when we come back.


CUOMO: Welcome back to "Newsroom." Chris Cuomo, here in New York.

In the Jodi Arias trial, the murder of Travis Alexander has, quote, "invaded the dreams" of his brother, Steven.

Steven and his sister testified in the last hour at Arias' sentencing hearing. Take a listen.


STEVEN ALEXANDER, MURDER VICTIM'S BROTHER: I cannot sleep alone in the dark anymore. I've had dreams of my brother, all curled up in the shower, thrown in there, left to rot for days, all alone.

I don't want these nightmares anymore. I don't want to have to see my brother's murderer anymore. I don't want to hear his name dragged through the mud anymore.

I've been hospitalized several times for ulcers and came very near death. I've been on several different antidepressants.


CUOMO: Very powerful words there for the jury who are contemplating right now, they must be unanimous in the death penalty. Otherwise, they give it to the judge and will then decide -- or the judge will then decide whether or not this is life in prison without parole or possibility of parole.

"I don't want to see her anymore," the brother, victim impact statement, to the jury, obviously referring to Jodi Arias.

This is the big moment for jurors, a very difficult decision on what would keep them from giving the death penalty would be mitigating factors, or just a feeling that this crime, as terrible as it is, isn't what is worthy of death.

We'll be monitoring the situation. Right now, we want to Beth Karas. She legal correspondent for our sister network, HLN.

Beth, you hear what I'm talking about here, how difficult this is for the jury. You're in the room. You're looking at the jury. What seems to be resonating?

BETH KARAS, HLN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, there were a lot of tissues dabbing eyes and noses in the courtroom in the public gallery, but I kept an eye on that jury, and I didn't see any tears from them.

One of the four women maybe reached up to her eyes to wipe away a tear, but it wasn't absolutely clear. But they were stone-faced. They just looked very, very serious as they listened to two very passionate, teary statements, one from Steven who was in the army when he got word, and then his sister Samantha, who's a police officer in Carlsbad.

And she said some of those photos of her brother are worse than anything she has seen in her 11 years on the police force.

CUOMO: Beth, when you look at the law, the mitigating factors, the categories that are laid out, there really don't seem any here that jump out as available to Jodi Arias.

Maybe victim's actions, the defendant arguing that Travis' actions in the bathroom serve as a mitigating factor, forcing her to defend herself.

But that didn't go over well at trial, didn't seem to be a factor for the jury before. What does that seem to suggest to you?

KARAS: Well, you know, it's interesting you raise that, Chris, because they've listed eight mitigating factors right now, drawing on Jodi Arias' past in her life, and they did not list that one.

The jury rejected that, and I think they figured, let's not rub their faces in it because they rejected it.

So they're saying, she's a good artist. She lacked family support. She suffered abuse as a child and an adult. That's the closest they came to talking at that Travis Alexander's conduct, that she suffered abuse as an adult.

But they listed eight, her age at 27. That's not so youthful, right? You know right from wrong when you're 27-years-old.

So we'll see what the jury does with it. They have to find that there is substantially sufficient evidence -- at least one mitigator or more of these eight that would call for leniency, that would call for a life sentence over death.

CUOMO: All right, Beth, thank you so much for the perspective.

Don't forget, everybody, you can catch Beth on Dr. Drew's program tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on HLN. Thanks for that, Beth.

We're going to go to break right now. When we come back, one of these studies that kind of plays with our balance of what's good for us and bad for us.

Salt, too much is bad, right? Is it? How much again? New study, new information on salt on the other side of the break.


CUOMO: Welcome back to "Newsroom." I'm Chris Cuomo in New York.

We like the salt. We love the salt because it makes everything taste better. The problem is it hurts our heart, right?

Well, a new study suggests having that extra pinch of salt may not be so bad for you after all.

The report from the Institute of Medicine found that there simply wasn't enough evidence to say that lowering salt consumption to the recommended levels could increase or decrease your risk of heart disease.

And get this. The report also found that decreasing your salt intake too much could actually hurt your health. How much do you have to reduce it for that to happen?

Let's bring in a real doctor here, Dr. Ian Smith in Chicago. Always good to see you, Ian. Thank you for joining us.

What does this study mean to you?

DR. IAN SMITH, AUTHOR, "SHRED, THE REVOLUTIONARY DIET": First of all, Chris, let me just say that these kind of studies are the bane of my existence and everyone else who has to decipher and report on these issues.

Let's be clear here. For a long time, the recommended amount of salt intake per day has been 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams. Twenty-three- hundred milligrams is about one teaspoon of salt.

The reason why we have recommended the 1,500 is for subgroups. African-Americans, those with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, these are people who need to lower their salt intake to 1,500 milligrams, we've said.

This study, let's be clear what it says. This study is looking at that subgroup, saying that taking them down to 1,500 milligrams may or may not be beneficial. It does not, however, recommend what the minimum or the maximum should be.

So big organizations like the American Heart Association is standing by its recommendations because there's a lot of problems with the methodology of the studies that were examined by this new body.

CUOMO: All right. And the headline here is for people not in the subgroup, as you define it, is that we eat so much more salt than we're supposed to have already, right, so that's what people have to keep in mind.

Tell us about it, doctor.

SMITH: The average person consumes about 3,400 milligrams of salt a day. That is way too much by everyone's standard.

Now, remember, Chris, it's not what people add to their food. It's typically processed food. Go to the frozen food section, those frozen foods.

I tell everyone, look at how many milligrams are in there. Now, what we're saying here is, maybe going down to 1,500 is not necessary, but we are still saying that you should bring it down to 2,300, which is a lot less than what most people are getting right now.

CUOMO: And that's the problem.

All right, so we were looking for a silver lining in this study, but at the end of the day, Dr. Ian Smith, to be healthy, we've got to cut down on our salt; we eat too much. Bottom line, right?

SMITH: Salt increases your blood pressure, which increases your risk for heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. Keep it down, absolutely.

CUOMO: Ian, always a pleasure. Thank you very much, Doctor, for joining us. Appreciate it.

It's 47 past the hour right now. When we come back, there's been a lot of controversy around the Plan B pill, but now it has been implicated in a homicide.

How and why, after the break.


CUOMO: The son of a Florida obstetrician is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly tricking his pregnant girlfriend into taking an abortion pill, killing her fetus.

Federal investigators say 28-year-old John Andrew Weldon told the woman that his father, who is a doctor, determined she had a bacterial infection and had prescribed the antibiotic amoxicillin to treat it.

But court records say he replaced the antibiotic with a drug used to induce labor and the fetus died.

The victim talked to CNN affiliate, WFTS.


REMEE LEE, SUSPECT'S GIRLFRIEND: I was never going to do anything except go full-term with it, and he did not want me to.

And he came over to my home with the pills that he had, weapon of choice.

He told me to keep taking them. I was supposed to take three a day for days.


CUOMO: John Weldon is being held in jail without bond. He could face life in prison if he's convicted of murder.

It's 52 minutes past the hour. When we come back, spy games, just 48 hours after Russia says it's detained an American spy, there's now word this isn't the first time it's happened in recent months, according to them.

Details when we come back.


CUOMO: A developing story now that raises more questions than it answers, another U.S. spy expelled from Russia.

An anonymous Russian security agent say the U.S. diplomat was expelled in January for trying to recruit a Russian agent.

Now, remember, this reported expulsion occurred before American diplomat Ryan Fogle was detained earlier this week.

You remember the pictures of him with the wig and the hat and the odd- colored tan skin.

Russia demanded he be expelled, also, for attempting to recruit a Russian security services member.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): We can say that this is not the first instance of espionage in which this American took part.

In January of this year, another agent of the CIA was expelled after attempting to recruit Russian citizens.


CUOMO: The CIA is refusing to comment on Ryan Fogle, but the State Department confirms an officer at the U.S. embassy in Moscow was briefly detained and released.

So this story will continue. Got to get some more answers there, that's for sure.

All right, 56 minutes past the hour. We're going take a break. When we come back, amazing video. Watch the stroller. A mother just loses her train of thought for a moment.

What happens next? We'll tell you on the other side of the break.


CUOMO: Take a look at this, a Philadelphia train station, a mother loses focus for a second. The stroller rolls, rolls down into the tracks. There's a toddler in that stroller.

The mother jumps in, saves her baby. Baby is fine, but a reminder of how careful you have to be. Lock up those strollers. You never know when you're going to get a little pitch like that.

Now, you don't see people do anything. It makes you upset, right? Don't be. It was a bystander who hit the alert button that stopped the next train from coming, a hero in this situation.

Again, the baby fine. The mother saved her child.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.