Return to Transcripts main page


Severe Storms Kill At Least Six People; Obama On IRS Scandal: "I Am Angry"; Scandals Rock The White House; Penalty Phase In Arias Trial; Katherine Russell Not Off The Hook; Dare To Dream; O.J. Simpson Takes the Stand

Aired May 16, 2013 - 06:00   ET




BERMAN: Listen to that, breaking news, six people killed more than a dozen people missing, over 100 injured. This deadly tornado outbreak overnight, we're going to take you live to the scene of this devastation.

SAMBOLIN: And damage control, the White House tries to take control of the IRS scandal sending the head of the agency packing.

BERMAN: O.J. Simpson wants another chance. He is on the stand. Why he thinks he deserves a new trial and why was he so cheery in court?

SAMBOLIN: We're going to find out. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, May 16th. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east.

We do begin with this breaking news developing right now. A dangerous deadly tornado outbreak overnight, at least six people killed, more than 100 others injured in North Texas, and right now the search for 14 people who this morning are missing.

Terrifying funnel clouds bearing down, the hardest hit area, Granbury, Texas. That is where those six people were killed. They were killed in a habitat for humanity neighborhood. Most of the 120 homes there simply destroyed.

Victor Blackwell is in Granbury for us on the scene. Victor, what's the latest this morning?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, more than a dozen people still in local hospitals and a rescue team from Dallas coming to look for those 14 missing persons. The sheriff says that these tornadoes left one community looking like a war zone.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): Take a look at this.


BLACKWELL: Video from a storm chaser in North Texas Wednesday night. And this -- this is what a tornado looks like in the dark, lit up by lightning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just pray to god as loud as you can.

BLACKWELL: That's what the man did when the storm hit. He rode out the storm with his family in his bathtub.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could see the whole roof collapsing. You could see the twister just there facing you. It's horrible.

BLACKWELL: Officials say it hop scotched through the area touching down and lifting up as it cut through North Texas. As the storm passed, reports of injuries and fatalities came in.

SHERIFF ROGER DEEDS, HOOD COUNTY, TEXAS: I've had information that people were found in homes. They were hard hit, those homes I've been told were collapsed, destroyed, as they were probably hit by flying debris.

BLACKWELL: Those who could made their way out of their homes while crews worked to free people trapped inside buildings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The top of the hill, you could tell where the tornado went through directly because it's just wiped out. Trees gone, houses completely demolished.

BLACKWELL: Officials sent school buses to the hardest hit areas to help with the evacuations as residents cope with losing everything in an instant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's just nothing left, I'm sorry. There's just nothing left.


BLACKWELL: There were several communities in this part of North Texas that were hit. The hardest hit area, a small community, Rancho Brazos, a collection of habitat for human they homes and single wide mobile homes. Two hundred fifty people evacuated from that area. Many of them in hotels, with the Red Cross or now living with family and friends, trying to figure out where they will live tomorrow night and the next night as their homes had been destroyed -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Victor Blackwell for us in Texas where the sun will rise shortly and rescue teams will get a real sense of the devastation there. Thanks, Victor.

SAMBOLIN: Let's get a look at where these storms are headed. Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado is in the CNN Center in Atlanta. What's happening for those folks?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, guys. Well, over the last hour, the severe thunderstorm watch has since been allowed to expire. You still see some showers and thunderstorms, but well to the south of the areas that were hit by the reported tornadoes.

Now what we're hearing now again, from based on SBC, we're seeing three reported tornadoes that are being shown from North Texas all the way down to areas like Central Texas. We start from the north all of the way down towards the south. Now, the area that's getting a lot of attention, of course, that's Granbury where Victor Blackwell is live.

Right now, we're hearing multiple fatalities and injuries. But I want to point out to you, this looks like to be the work of several supercells. One is to the north as well as down to the south. I say that to you because we could see potentially as many as ten tornadoes possibly moving through north as well as Central Texas.

I want to point out to you as well. For the one in Granbury, it made its way over to Cleburne and we have some video actually coming in out of Cleburne. This video right here, it is gripping. If you look at it you're going to see what is a classic wedge tornado, again, it's t only being lit up by the lightning there.

So it's very hard for residents to see this coming in the evening and then it was rain. This didn't make much for making things any better across parts of Texas. As I take you back over to our graphic, when you get these storms moving through in the evening, that's why we stress the importance of having a weather radio, that NOAA weather radio.

As we go through today, we're not going to see any more severe weather. The rain is coming to an end and will drive things out over the next couple of days. It's going to be hot. I point this out to you with so many people reportedly losing their homes. I can tell you this. We are still hearing reports of a tornado right around midnight where they're seeing reportedly buildings down.

For the month of May, they typically see about 322 tornadoes. So far this year, we've only had three confirmed reports. Of course, with this outbreak here, it looks like those numbers are going to go up. Zoraida, send it back over to you. You asked me last hour, did they have ample warning. One of the officials last hour said they had 10 to 15 minutes. That's pretty good warning time.

SAMBOLIN: All right, well, that's good to know. Jennifer Delgado live for us. Thank you so much.

It's 6 minutes passed the hour. Heads are starting to roll in the IRS scandal. The agency's acting commissioner forced to step down due to the targeting of conservative political groups. His pink slip, we understand, may not be the last one handed out. The IRS actions have triggered criminal and congressional investigations along with promises of reform.

CNN's Dan Lothian following all the developments for us. It's so nice to see you, Dan. What's the very latest here?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Zoraida. You know, the president had initially taken a cautious approach. He wanted to wait until all the facts were out. At the same time, you know, this IRS scandal is something that hit home with a lot of Americans and the president needed to restore confidence in government. So he tried to do that by coming out with what the White House said was a strong response.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Trying to step out of a political sinkhole President Obama expressed anger at misconduct within the IRS.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's inexcusable and Americans have a right to be angry about it and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency.

LOTHIAN: The agency's acting commissioner, Steve Miller, was asked to resign and President Obama vowed to put in place new safeguards and work with congressional investigators.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again.

LOTHIAN: But this scandal threatens to run much deeper. The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation and Attorney General Eric Holder was on the hot seat Wednesday, pressed for answers by the House Judiciary Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would strongly encourage this administration to get out front, get all the facts out, let the chips fall where they may.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable.

LOTHIAN: The IRS scandal has drawn bipartisan outrage, but some top Republicans already seem convinced laws were broken.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: My question isn't about who is going to resign. My question is who is going to jail over this scandal?

LOTHIAN: This is a White House under siege, from the IRS case to the AP phone records probe to Benghazi, all threatened to overshadow the president's second term agenda. On the defensive, the White House released 100 pages of e-mails Wednesday as first reported by CNN's Jake Tapper.

It's part of an effort to prove politics play no role in crafting the so-called talking points that followed the deadly attacks in Libya. But Republicans are seizing on all these scandals, releasing this tough new video using the president's own words.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable.

LOTHIAN: White House Spokesman Jay Carney battered in briefings all week insisted the president has set a high standard and won't tolerate anything less.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He wants and instructs everyone who works in the government, whether they work for him or civil service, to hold themselves to that standard and when he finds out that there have been failures, he acts on it.


LOTHIAN: Top Democratic strategists have been invited to the White House today to meet with the chief of staff. This is a long planned meeting, but one of those who expects to be there says he will encourage the WHITE HOUSE to try to get out in front of these controversies, to put all the information out there in order to tamp down the scandal that has enveloped Washington. As for the president himself, we expect he will get more tough questions during the joint appearance with the Turkish prime minister today -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Dan, if you look at the time line here. Miller did not become IRS acting commissioner until after the activity took place. Is he essentially the fall guy here?

LOTHIAN: Well, the reason that he was targeted and is on the hot seat is because he found out about all of this in 2012, but did not alert Congress. So he was at the IRS, was not in leadership at the time, at least not at the top, when this all went down.

But again, it's because he had information but did not give that information to the congress. In addition to that, he -- there is this perception problem. So you go after the person at the very top, as well, in order to try to clean things up.

SAMBOLIN: You go after the leadership, I suppose. Dan Lothian, live in Washington, thank you.

BERMAN: The next phase of the Jodi Arias murder trial gets under way today and the death penalty very much on the table. That's what it's all about right now. On Wednesday, the jury decided the murder of Arias' former boyfriend, Travis Alexander, decided it was a especially cruel. So now the defense must now try to get the jury to spare her life.

CNN's Casey Wian is live in Phoenix. Good morning, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The so-called aggravated factor phase of the trial went quickly yesterday and the prosecutors were able to convince the jury that Travis Alexander suffered excruciating pain and fear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury duly empanelled and sworn in the above entitled action upon our oaths do find that the aggravating factor especially cruel has been proven.

WIAN (voice-over): Jodi Arias sat solemnly as the jury decided she is eligible for a death sentence that after a mini trial known as the aggravating factor phase of a process that will ultimately determine Arias' sentence. Even before Prosecutor Juan Martinez called his first witness, the county medical examiner, family and friends of victim Travis Alexander, fought back tears in anticipation of what was to come.

Martinez displayed graphic images of Alexander's body on giant screens enveloping the courtroom. They showed dozens of stab wounds including one so deep that it punctured a vein going into his heart that produced a gusher of blood and several to the head that dented his skull.

JUAN MARTINEZ, PROSECUTOR: She made sure that she killed him by stabbing him over and over and over again and then finishing him off.

WIAN: Then came the most horrific image, gaping wound to Alexander's throat, sliced open nearly ear to ear. It remained on the screen for what seemed an eternity, as many in court, his sisters, Arias herself and some jurors moved their eyes. It was especially cruel, a requirement for the death penalty in Arizona.

MARTINEZ: You can imagine the absolute terror as he's sitting there defenseless, water coming down, that is extreme emotional anguish, for 2 minutes.

WIAN: He also asked the jury to sit in silence for 2 full minutes, the time he contends it took Alexander to die. Arias' defense team said that was an exaggeration and argued that as Alexander fought for his life, adrenaline and rapid blood loss could have reduced his suffering.

KIRK NURMI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And Dr. Horn who testified just moments ago told you that the adrenaline does, in fact --

WIAN: Jurors rejected that argument and now will decide whether there are enough mitigating factors to spare Jodi Arias' life.


WIAN: Today we're expecting to hear victims' impact statements from two of Travis Alexander's siblings. That's expected to be intensely emotional. Then we're expected to hear from witnesses favorable to Jodi Arias, a childhood friend and ex-boyfriend as they try to persuade the jury that her life should be spared. The key question, will Jodi Arias herself take the stand, express some sort of remorse and beg for her life to be spared -- John.

BERMAN: Casey Wian, a dramatic day ahead, our thanks to you.

SAMBOLIN: It's 13 minutes past the hour. The widow of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev is not off the hook. A law enforcement source familiar with the Boston marathon terror investigation says that Katherine Russell continues to meet with investigators. As FBI tries to piece together every moment of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's life, where he went, who he met with, they're also looking at the couple's finances. The stakes are high for Russell to remain out of prison. She has a 3-year-old daughter. BERMAN: So if you're hoping to hit the Powerball jackpot you are in luck. There was no big winner in last night's drawing. It was worth $360 million. What does that mean? That means more money on the line. Drawing for next Saturday expected to top $475 million, perhaps more. If that's not enough for you, want to play a game or maybe you might be able to improve your odds a little bit. Tonight's rival Mega Million's price expected to pass $2 million.

SAMBOLIN: You're improving your odds a little bit.

BERMAN: It's interesting. It is $1 for ticket for Mega Millions, $2 for Powerball. So your actual return, pretty much the same as $2 Powerball ticket if you win.

SAMBOLIN: Well, thank you for doing that.

BERMAN: Not improve your odds, it improves your investment returns.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it does. The return on your investment, excellent, thank you for sharing that.

The first time O.J. Simpson has testified in one of his trials. Complete with big grins on the stand. We're going to have details on his plea for a new trial.


SAMBOLIN: We want to give you an update. Deadly tornados in north Texas. Rescue crews are assessing all of the damage there. They're looking for 14 people that are still missing. Up to 10 twisters touched down there.

The hardest hit area we understand is Granbury, Texas. The Hood County sheriff says six people were killed in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. Most of the homes there were destroyed. An emergency medical provider says at least 100 people were injured.

They're calling it a war zone. It looks like a war zone.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're learning so much more as the sun rises there.

Seventeen minutes after the hour.

O.J. Simpson, his name becomes synonymous with legal drama. But even with all his history, this was a legal first. He has never testified in any of his criminal cases until now. And, man, it was a spectacle.

Simpson claims his lawyer botched his defense last time around so he wants a new trial.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is there live in Las Vegas for us this morning.

Good morning, Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. And in the courtroom, O.J. Simpson was confident. At times, he was lighthearted as he basically told the world that his former attorney was awful.


VERCAMMEN (voice-over): More than 4 1/2 years after being sentenced, O.J. Simpson testified for the first time in a bid to win a new trial with only one arm free to gesture. The disgraced former football star said he repeatedly told his then lawyer Yale Galanter about plans to confront memorabilia dealers to get back mementos.

O.J. SIMPSON, DEFENDANT: The overall advice he gave me was you have a right to get your stuff. He gave me an example. That if you were walking down the street and you saw your laptop with your name on it in a car, you can use the force to break the window of the car to get the laptop.

He told not only then but even the night before that I couldn't go in a person's dwelling because that would be trespassing.

PATRICIA PALM, O.J. SIMPSON LEAD ATTORNEY: Does the plan that you have to retrieve your property evolve based on his advice to you?


PALM: And you talked to him how many times do you think?

SIMPSON: Four, five, six --

VERCAMMEN: O.J. reasserted he wanted no guns involved when he led the raid.

PALM: Did that plan involve a discussion of using any weapons?

SIMPSON: Never no weapons. Weapons was never an issue.

VERCAMMEN: Simpson was at times jovial. The former actor said following his arrest, Galanter constantly assured him he would not be convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping and assault for his role in the confrontation.

SIMPSON: He said, "Relax, relax, O.J., I got it. I got it. I'll take care of this, I got it. I'm getting you out of this. You're not going to be convicted."

PALM: And did you trust Mr. Galanter?


PALM: Did you believe he would get you out of it?

SIMPSON: I believe I was innocent, yes.

VERCAMMEN: Simpson also said Galanter failed to properly inform him of a prosecution plea deal offer. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN: And in court documents, the prosecutor says it's up to the defendant to go ahead and barter for their deal and/or testify. Today is expected to be, by the way, a rather short day in court. And Galanter comes up Friday -- John.

BERMAN: That will be interesting.

All right. Paul Vercammen in Las Vegas for us this morning, thanks so much.

SAMBOLIN: And new this morning, manhunt over in New Orleans. Nineteen-year-old Akein Scott is in police custody this morning. There's a picture of him. He was arrested last night for the Mother's Day parade shooting that wounded 19 people including two children. Witnesses identified Scott as the person seen right here in the surveillance video opening fire on the crowd during the parade last Sunday in the city's Seventh Ward.

And next, breaking coverage of the deadly tornados in Texas. What was it like on the ground the moment these storms whipped through parts of that state?

We're going to ask a storm chaser who was there to see it all.


BERMAN: Minding your business this morning. Three, count them, three record high on Wall Street. A trifecta of highs.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is. The Dow, S&P 500, and Google shares hit the all-time highs.

Christine Romans has all the details.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I don't think anybody is getting blase about it, to be quite honest. I mean, people are looking at their 401(k) balances and saying this has been an amazing year. I mean, this is fifth strongest bull market since the 1920s.

The S&P 500, that's the stock market that most reflect what you have in your 401(k). That's up 145 percent since 2009, with a few little pullbacks but mostly it has been going straight up. And you've seen 20 Dow records this year. So the path of least resistance for most mutual fund and 401(k) investors has been higher.

Now, there's a little bit nervousness, you guys, obviously. A lot of people are saying, look, only half of Americans are invested in the market. They feel like a sucker if they get in here right now. But by and large, you have markets day after day hitting the new highs and the path of less resistance continues.

We've got a lot of data at 8:30. The Fed is speaking today. We'll see if that changes the tone but that's where we stand right now. SAMBOLIN: What's the news with all of these IRS offices closing?

ROMANS: Yes, so another IRS headline, right? It's an embattled agency. Its commissioner is out, it's mission under fire. Now, forced spending cuts means furloughs this summer. IRS offices nationwide were closed for five days.

The first unpaid day off for workers is next Friday. That includes the IRS office, hot lines, help centers. Some online tools won't work those days like the where's my refund tracker. Uh-uh.

The IRS warns more closures could be coming. Just like other government agencies, the IRS is squeezing money out of its budget, 600 million bucks because of the forced government spending cuts that went into effect in March.

And the IRS says if you electronically file with them and it's a furlough day, they will not acknowledge receipt of it. So be careful. You could be late.

BERMAN: So, what's the one thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: Expect the unexpected. A brand new survey really surprised me from Ameriprise, it found nearly all of baby boomers surveyed, about 90 percent of them, encountered some life event that dinged their life savings and they weren't expecting it. Medical bills, stock market declines, having to support their adult children. In all, $117,000 extra expenses they didn't plan for in retirement.

BERMAN: I make clear to my kids they will be supporting me when they get holder.

ROMANS: Can they support me, too?

BERMAN: Absolutely.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

A major medical breakthrough with stem cells raising major ethical questions. Senior medical Elizabeth Cohen joins us to explain this.

BERMAN: And this dramatic new video, a 14-month-old baby falls on to the train tracks. We'll get to that. Wait until you see the amazing rescue.




BERMAN: Breaking news this morning. At least six people dead and dangerous tornadoes rip through Texas. And right now, developing at this moment, the search is on for more than a dozen people still missing.

SAMBOLIN: Sick, disturbing new allegations against kidnap and rape suspect Ariel Castro. What one of the Cleveland victims may have endured at the suspect's hands.

BERMAN: And just incredible video this morning as a mother jumps into action and saves her baby. The stroller fell on to the train tracks. You will not believe the rescue.

SAMBOLIN: How many times have we watched and it still just tanks your breath away.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Glad you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. Ninety- nine minutes after the hour right now.

In our breaking news: dangerous, deadly storms overnight killing at least six people and right now the search is on for 14 people still missing. The fear is the death toll could go up.

Terrifying funnel clouds bearing down. The hardest hit area, Granbury, Texas, that's where those six people were killed in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. Most of the 120 homes there destroyed. More than 100 people injured at this point.

Victor Blackwell is live in Granbury for us.

Victor, what's the latest this morning?