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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Severe Storms Kill at Least 6 People; IRS Scandal; O.J. Simpson Takes The Stand

Aired May 16, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Will Congress listen?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And he's rebranding Abercrombie and Fitch. We'll talk to a man behind a new viral video campaign, blasting the company for targeting only skinny and attractive people, giving their clothes to the homeless.

Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, May 16th.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

BERMAN: And we do begin with this deadly and dangerous tornado outbreak overnight. At least six people killed. More than 100 injured. Schools in Cleburne have been canceled in Texas. Rescue crews getting a chance to see the devastation in the light of day as they look for 14 people unaccounted for.

Overnight, terrifying funnel clouds boar down on Granbury, Texas. That's where those six people were killed in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood, most of the 120 homes there were destroyed.

Our Victor Blackwell is on the Granbury for us right now.

And, Victor, the sun is up. So, tell us what's the latest?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we expect to learn one hour from now from the sheriff in Hood County if they have found any of those 14 people who were unaccounted for. He has called a news conference for 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

And also, we're hoping see the full impact of this series of tornadoes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go!

BLACKWELL: Video from a storm chaser in North Texas Wednesday night. And this -- (SIREN WAILING)

BLACKWELL: 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 hopscotched 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Power companies are here trying to restore power after yesterday's tornadoes. Look over here. The cherry pickers, there is a worker going up now to try to restore some of these lines.

We know that there are also heavy machinery, other heavy machinery here and on wait to try to clean up after what the sheriff says looks like a war zone.

Back here in Granbury, Texas, we know this is not the only community that was hit. There was also Cleburne and other communities that were hit by the series of tornadoes. The National Weather Service will have to determine how many tornadoes touched down and they will give those ratings as we expect them to come out in the next day or so -- Christine, John.

BERMAN: We are looking at the damage that occurred overnight, Victor.

Victor Blackwell in Granbury, Texas, thanks so much. Let's get a look now at where these storms may be headed next. Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado at the CNN weather center in Atlanta.

Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, John and Christine.

Now, we're looking at the radar right now. And over the last hour, we start to see some redevelopment of lightning in the areas just to the east of Texas, in the Dallas area. We'll continue to see a few of those as we go through the late morning, but overall, the severe weather threat is going to be over.

Now, keep in mind, so many people out of their homes. So many areas damaged.

I want to point to you, talk about some of the history of the storms, now, we're hearing three tornadoes for areas like Cleburne, as well as into Millsap and, of course, down towards Granbury. Now, the area there, that's the one we've been seeing all the video from, and you can kind of see where these storms moved through.

This is not the case of a storm, tornado just hopping around. These are separate super cells and we're seeing injuries, of course, coming out of Granbury, but we're also hearing reports of how a lot of damage is coming out of the area of Cleburne. As you can also how that storm system really just kind of looped on the radar.

Now, we're not done with the severe weather. As we move into the weekend, guys, for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, we are talking about potential for tornadoes to break out. It's been a very quiet May, and typically, May is the busiest month for tornadoes, but we could see real action for the weekend.

Let's send it back to you, two.

BERMAN: So, be on alert the next few days.

DELGADO: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Jennifer Delgado, thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right. We're joined now by storm chaser Reed Timmer. He is on the ground in Texas.

Good morning. Thanks for joining us.

Tell us what you and your team, what you were doing, what you saw out there.

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: Well, the forecast models the day before weren't indicating (INAUDIBLE) overlook the forecast models. We chase for channel 4 here in Oklahoma City. And Mike Morgenson (ph) is a high probability of a tornado outbreak in Texas, we dropped south, saw first tornado in Montague County, just south of the Red River, there was a large tornado, quickly became wrapped in rain, then we dropped south to the next storm. And every single super cell down the line was producing tornadoes.

And then we heard of that report of a mile-wide tornado moving due north, changed directions and headed straight for Cleburne, Texas. Worst-case scenario. It reminded a lot of the Greensburg, Kansas, EF- 5 tornado that did the same northward turn.

You know, a mile-wide tornado, it turns to the north it will be a very dangerous situation. As storm chasers, we try to provide the ground troops underneath the storm that help people stay warned in the path of these things, because a tornado of that strength if you are not underground or in a shelter, taking safety precautions, very difficult to survive. That's why you need to take warnings seriously.

ROMANS: So, grapefruit sized hail, 80 miles per hour winds, flattened homes. Tell us what you saw after these things rolled through.

TIMMER: Well, we saw lots of damage, and actually just east of Decatur, we got another storm. Thankfully, there's no (ph) structural damage there. We were going to a forest, and there were downed trees, massive trees and strong tornado there and that blocked us from getting that storm.

And then downtown Dallas, a tornado warning there. And we saw a rotating wall cloud over downtown Dallas, traffic jams on I-35, people seeking shelter underneath overpasses, which is a huge mistake because if a tornado goes over the overpass it acts as a funnel, accelerates the flow. It could even be more dangerous than getting into the ditch. So, it could have been worst-case scenario for Dallas if that tornado touched there.

But for folks in Cleburne and West and Hood County there, it was the worst-case scenario, and a mild-wide tornado and very violent. And our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of that tornado. And it's going to be a long recovery effort and, yes, we feel for those people.

And just beginning, this weekend, a massive trough will come in and more tornado outbreaks are in store --

ROMANS: That's a good point, Reed, because I want you to say, in your experience, chasing these storms and these watching storms, what should people do? You say not necessarily get under an underpass. You got to get in a basement if you can.

You know, if we're looking at more storms, what are you supposed to do in a life threatening situation like this?

TIMMER: Pro-activity is the key. Everybody has to have a NOAA weather radio, have your batteries charged, planned for the worst case scenario.

If you don't have a tornado shelter yourself, find the nearest neighbor that has a shelter, and not only below ground, but there's also above ground tornado shelters. For example, storm rooms (INAUDIBLEI) is a Web site you can check out for an above ground tornado shelter.

And very important to be proactive and when severe weather strikes, and tornado warnings are issued, assume the worst-case scenario because it just not worth it. You shouldn't just -- can't take it lightly. Take the warnings seriously and in this case, the worst-case scenario unfolded.

ROMANS: And the pictures that you shot are just amazing.

Reed Timmer, thank you so much for joining us.

BERMAN: And, again, the forecast is for more potential danger on the way. So people in the region, please be alert.

ROMANS: I didn't know the underpass, not necessarily the safest place.

BERMAN: No, I learned that for the first time also.

ROMANS: I didn't know that, and I guess it make as a lot of sense. But if you're on the road in a car, you see one of these monsters, what are you supposed to do? So, there you go.

BERMAN: All right. Eight minutes after the hour right now.

And now, first on CNN, new development on the U.S. attack on the consulate in Benghazi, the two men who headed up the State Department review of the events of last September 11th, they are now demanding a public hearing to defend their reputation.

In a letter obtained by CNN's Jake Tapper to Congressman Darrell Issa, Admiral Mike Mullen and General Thomas Pickering say, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, say it is not in the public interest for them to be questioned behind closed doors. They write, "In our view, requiring a closed door proceeding before we testify publicly is an inappropriate condition."

The letter concludes that, "What the committee is proposing is highly unusual in the context of senior officials who are not fact witnesses but instead are reporting on their own independent review."

ROMANS: Meantime, the White House trying to get under a major scandal, the IRS' targeting of conservative political groups. The acting head of the agency has been forced to resign. But that may be the easy part. Members of Congress want to see prosecutions.

CNN's Dan Lothian following those developments for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trying to step out of a political sink hole, President Obama expressed anger at misconduct within the IRS.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's inexcusable and Americans are 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.

OBAMA: I'll 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, 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.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: My question isn't about who's going to resign? My question is, who's going to jail over this scandal?

LOTHIAN: This is a White House under siege -- from the IRS case, to "The A.P." phone records probe, to Benghazi, all threatened to overshadow the 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 played 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.

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 are civil servants, to hold themselves to that standard. And when he finds out there have been failures, he acts on them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: The White House will try to turn attention today to international issues that the president meets with the Turkish prime minister here at the White House. We expect that Syria will be on the agenda.

But during the joint news conference following their meetings, we expect that most of the questions will be on tough domestic issues. In addition, we don't expect that the president's critics are going away anytime soon. In fact, after the president made the IRS announcement yesterday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that it wasn't enough and that the president owes the American people, especially those who were targeted by the IRS, an apology.

ROMANS: All right. Dan Lothian, live at the White House for us this morning, thanks, Dan.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT: O.J. Simpson takes the stand in his own defense. Will a judge believe his version of events from the night of his arrest?

ROMANS: Heart-stopping video. A stroller with a baby inside goes over the edge of a subway platform. It's hard to even watch it. We're going to tell you what happened.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. O.J. Simpson hopes it did the trick. He spent much of the day on the witness stand in Las Vegas, trying to convince a judge that he deserves a new trial in his armed robbery case since his new attorney's claim that he was the victim of legal misrepresentation which led to O.J. spending the last four years in prison. CNN's Paul Vercammen has more from Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (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 was if you have a right to get your stuff, he gave me an example that if you will walk in down the street then 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 me on -- not only then, but even the night before that I couldn't go in a person's dwelling, because that would be trespass.

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

SIMPSON: Yes.

PALM: All right. 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 ever involve a discussion of using any weapons?

VERCAMMEN: Never hold weapons (ph). Weapons was never an issue.

PALM: Simpson 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: 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?

SIMPSON: Yes.

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

SIMPSON: I believed I was innocent, yes.

VERCAMMEN: Simpson also said Galanter failed to properly inform him about a prosecution plea deal offer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN (on-camera): And what are prosecutors saying about this? Very little in public, but in court documents, basically, they say that plea deals and testifying well, that's the business of the defendant. In an effect is a big so what? Also, don't forget, the judge will make the ruling on this, and as you know, most judges don't run on the platform of soft touch and lenient. Back to you.

BERMAN: No, not at all. That will be interesting. Paul Vercammen in Las Vegas, thanks so much.

ROMANS: HLN's Nancy Grace has been keeping a close eye on O.J. Simpson's latest courtroom appearance. She was not impressed with Simpson's performance on the stand yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY GRACE, HOST, HLN'S NANCY GRACE, 8PM ET: I think, in his own mind, he was very charming and did a great job. The reality is that I don't find him even remotely charming or attractive. You know, every time I look at him, I see the two murder victims with their heads nearly chopped off lying in the front yard. So, that kind of ruins the whole attractive former star thing for me.

But what he said actually has no legal merit. He tried to explain to the judge that he was drunk out of his gourd off Jack Daniels and Coke and bloody maries. Well, voluntary intoxication is not a defense under the law. You can't pull a pistol and say, oh, I was drunk, sorry. It doesn't work that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Don't forget to watch Nancy Grace "Behind Bars," a two-night special event coming soon on HLN. Nancy goes behind bars to talk to female inmates at the same jail where Jodi Arias awaits her fate.

BERMAN: That would be interesting.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, Justice for Juliana. The trial is under way for the model strangled in her Southern California home. The prosecution and defense made their opening statements. We're going to take you inside the courtroom.

ROMANS: And a major medical breakthrough. Have scientists found a way to clone stem cells? What this could mean for you, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You're looking at live pictures from Texas, the site where those tornadoes. The National Weather Service tells us, I believe, ten tornadoes touched down there in Granbury, Texas. You can just see that area completely leveled. Look at the debris there. You can see where homes once were. Now, they're just simply gone.

ROMANS: Concrete slabs really.

BERMAN: Slabs just there. We're really getting a sense of the scope of the damage there. There was a habitat for humanity community with about 120 homes. We're told that most of those homes were destroyed. I don't even know if that's what we're looking at here, but clearly, they're waking up to serious issues, a serious recovery effort right now in Granbury, Texas.

ROMANS: All right. Let's switch gears here now and talk about the trial of Kelly Soo Park, the woman accused of murdering "Maxim" model, Juliana Redding. That is now underway in California. Redding was found strangled inside her Santa Monica apartment back in 2008. Prosecutors claim Park was hired to kill Redding by a doctor who paid her a quarter of a million dollars. Stephanie Elam has more from Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took a little less than an hour for the prosecution to outline its case to the seven-man, five-woman jury. Prosecutors say they believe Kelley Soo Park killed 21-year-old Juliana Redding in 2008 with her bare hands. Assistant district attorney, Stacy Wiese, told the jury that she can prove it based on DNA and a fingerprint found at the crime scene matching the defendant's.

VOICE OF STACY OKUN-WIESE, L.A. COUNTY ASSISTANT D.A.: You will hear that a reference sample was obtained from the defendant. It was matched to the samples from Juliana's tank top from the sample obtained from Juliana's neck, from the sample obtained from the cell phone.

ELAM: When the defense had its opportunity to present its opening statement to the jury, it did so in just over a minutes' time. Attorney George Buehler telling the jury that Park had no motive for killing Redding, and that forensic evidence did not conclusively prove that Park was responsible for Redding's death.

GEORGE BUEHLER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: DNA evidence doesn't tell you when it got there or how it got there.

ELAM: Earlier in the proceedings, the defense's case took a hit when Judge Kathleen Kennedy denied motions that would have allowed the addition of a witness and evidence that the defense argued could clear Park.

BUEHLER: We are being deprived -- to make a defense. We're not making this up. We will file papers asking them for an immediate stay. Can the court give us a day to do that?

KATHLEEN KENNEDY, JUDGE: No.

BUEHLER: Seeing that the court of appeals will look at that?

KENNEDY: No, you can (ph) file whatever you want to file, but I'm not continuing this matter or staying this matter.

ELAM: Park took notes, listening intently, showing little reaction. It may have been hard to tell she was on trial for murder as she had lunch in the courthouse cafeteria. Later, she left the building, free on $3.5 million bond. Some of Juliana Redding's family and friends openly wept as the prosecutors showed graphic photos from the crime scene.

It was the first of many emotional days for her patients as the details of her murder play out in court.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, it is day break in Texas as residents in northern part of the state begin to assess the damage left behind by a string of tornadoes, ten, touched down there at least. We are live with the latest developments.

ROMANS: And then, a down right frightening moment as a baby in a stroller rolls onto a Philadelphia subway track. The incredible video and the incredible rescue that followed.

And the backlash of Abercrombie and Fitch takes an interesting turn as one man decides to rebrand the company with some charitable donations to the homeless. The man behind this stunt will join us. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)