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IRS Faces House Grilling on Abuses; Seven Missing after Texas Tornadoes; Military Struggles with Sex Assaults; Tear-jerking Statements in Arias Trial

Aired May 17, 2013 - 10:30   ET


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And he is trying to do his best here in a very difficult job. But there is a broader question too, Carol. When you brought up that testimony from the chairman -- the statement from the Chairman right at the very beginning, the Republicans are trying to get to a broader theme too, they are trying to narrow down on what happened to these abuses at the IRS.

And they're also trying to make the case, that yes, it's an independent agency. But it reports to the Treasury Department which reports to the President and if you have this stuff going on and they know it's going on.

And they're not dealing with it. And they're not telling the Congress and why didn't they tell the President right away when they found out? They're trying to promote a broader case that this President simply is not a terribly good CEO and his people don't have their hands on the levers of the government they are responsible for running.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well I must say, Dana, in testimony it came out that the acting commissioner and the commissioner before him, Shulman -- Mr. Shulman, they found out a lot of these allegations from the newspaper.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They did. I mean, I think most of those allegations were about something separate from this targeting or selective questioning. However, we're going to -- we're going to phrase it.

But you know, things like the whole idea of the left-leaning investigative Web site Pro Publica just really giving confidential information, the IRS giving them confidential information rather. That issue and a couple of other outside issues, they said that they found out about from -- from the press.

But I think that that speaks to what Republicans again are trying to do here, to say it's not just about this particular issue. There are also issues of conservative donors being targeted excessively by the IRS and other questions out there that really make it from their perspective look like the IRS is going after conservatives much more -- more than progressives.

I should add that one of the things that Miller did, was asked specifically and denied was that -- he was asked specifically whether or not he told anybody, any of his superiors -- his superiors would be political appointees at Treasury namely Obama administration officials. He told them about this and he said, no, so that gives some cover to the Obama officials and the White House, in particular, on the whole question of whether or not this was politically targeted.

COSTELLO: Right he'd just say, we didn't know, nobody told us. We're going to take a quick break and then we'll go back to Capitol Hill for this hearing after this.


COSTELLO: Good morning I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with us. We are monitoring the hearing on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are trying to find out if the IRS abused its power.

But first we'd like to check other top stories of the morning. It's 34 minutes past the hour.

Legal analysts say the surviving Boston bombing suspect will now have an even greater challenge in his defense. Sources tell CNN that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left a message in the boat where he was hiding. The suspect scribbled that the bombing was payback for U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the bombing victims were collateral damage.

Officials investigating the explosion last month at a Texas fertilizer plant are not ruling out that an intentional fire may have sparked the explosion. The state fire marshal says three options are still on the table: a spark from a golf cart, an electrical short or an intentionally set fire. Officials still aren't saying if the arrest of a paramedic who responded to the explosion is related to their criminal probe.

For the 12th straight day gas prices nationwide are on the rise. AAA says prices jumped nearly two cents a gallon overnight averaging $3.61 a gallon. According to "USA Today", the reason for the price hikes? Outages and extended maintenance at several oil refineries in the mid- West.

More than half a billion dollars, that's the latest jackpot on Saturday's Powerball drawing. No one matched all six winning numbers in Wednesday night's game, so a single winner now stands to win at least $550 million. It's the third largest lotto jackpot in U.S. history. And guess what, it's still growing.

The clean-up continues in North Texas after massive tornadoes ripped through that area on Wednesday night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tornado's on the ground.


COSTELLO: Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds says the search is still on for seven people still missing. Six people are known dead and more than 100 injured after 16 tornadoes torture several areas. Alina Machado joins us live from Granbury, Texas where some homes were completely ripped from their foundations.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Carol, I want to show you -- give you a taste of some of the damage and the destruction we've been seeing in this area. I want you to take a walk with me over here. This used to be a mobile home as you can see, it is now really just a pile of debris. It is barely recognizable. You can see what's left of the home. That's the wall over there and that over there to the right is the refrigerator. It seems like it's the refrigerator.

Now, as bad as this looks, there is an area, a subdivision that we keep talking about, that's about a mile from where we are, where the damage is much worse.



MACHADO (voice over): An outbreak of at least 16 twisters carved a path of destruction through north Texas, shredding trees and destroying homes. In the town of Granbury, this is what's left of the Rancho Brazos Subdivision. Damaged homes littering an area authorities prepare to a war zone. The whole county sheriff's office says six people were killed here. Others are still missing.

AL BISCARDI, HOMEOWNER: It hurts. It hurts, because I probably built one of their houses. You know, it was a part of the community.

MACHADO: The Rancho Brazos Subdivision was known as a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood built by people like Al Biscardi who also lives in one of the homes.

(on camera): How does that make you guys closer?

BISCARDI: You're a big family now. You're a part of the Habitat community. You're -- you're part of their family.

MACHADO: And these are homes you help built?

BISCARDI: Yes when you get a chance to build these homes, I mean you get close -- you get close to the homeowners you get close to the people from Habitat.

MACHADO: Biscardi who was not home when the tornado hit has not been able to go back. But he says he has seen pictures of the damage.

BISDARDI: I'm kind of anxious to see what's going on, I know the structure's there. I just don't know what devastation was done it to. I mean, it looks -- it still looks sound, but the house that's on the corner, she has no roof. She's got a roof, she's got a big hole in it.

MACHADO: Authorities here in north Texas say most of the subdivision's 110 homes were damaged or destroyed in the storm.

BISCARDI: It's been a mess but we're all still here.

MACHADO: Biscardi says he's relying on his faith and his neighbors, hoping to rebuild their tight knit community even stronger than before.


MACHADO: Now, the six people who died in that subdivision were between 34 and 83-years-old. The search meanwhile continues for those seven missing people. Authorities here tell us though this is now a search and recovery operation.

We also know the Texas Governor, Rick Perry, is expected to be in this area later today. However, we don't know exactly what it is he will be doing, if he'll be touring the devastation or if he'll just be having a media availability -- Carol.

COSTELLO: He might be rained on, too. It looks pretty ominous where you are, Alina.

MACHADO: It is. It does look like it's going to be raining. And that's not good news for these people who haven't been back into that subdivision. We understand that a lot of the residents have not been allowed back in. And at this point they're probably very worried about what they'll be able to salvage, if anything especially if it starts raining.

COSTELLO: Well, there is no more threats, I mean could there be more threats of tornadoes? We don't have any of those in place, do we?

MACHADO: We have not. We really don't know much about that.

COSTELLO: So don't worry.

MACHADO: But yes it does look like it's going to be raining.

COSTELLO: Ok well cover up. Then I'm going to check with the weather department on that question. Thank you so much Alina Machado.

President Obama calls it dangerous to our national security. And he summoned his top military leaders to the White House to address the growing number of sexual assault cases and the difficult question of how to stop it.


COSTELLO: To my friends in Granbury, Texas, no watches or warnings for tornadoes. In fact, the weather is supposed to get a little bit letter by -- a little bit better by this afternoon; so no need to worry about anymore weather pain, at least for now.

Onto the news, the military's dirty little secret growing on a national level. More arrests and more cases of sexual assault, including some by the men tasked with preventing these crimes in the first place. Lt. Col. Barren Haas was arrested Wednesday on charges of violating a protective order of stalking his ex-wife. He's been charged of preventing sexual assault at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

At Ft. Hood, a Sergeant First Class is under criminal investigation after a Pentagon official says he may have forced someone into prostitution

And then there is Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski who is arrested on sexual battery charges. He is accused of groping a woman near the Pentagon. All of these men is charged with helping alleviate the problem of sexual assaults in the military.

President Obama just called his top military brass for a meeting saying he will leave no stone unturned to stop such abuse.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no silver bullet to solving this problem. This is going to require a sustained effort over a long period of time.


COSTELLO: Anu Bhagwati is the executive director of the Service Women's Action Network. Thanks for being here. I really appreciate it.


COSTELLO: Ok. So in that meeting that you saw the President was sitting at the table with lots of military leaders, the Defense Secretary says he's going to hold weekly meetings on the topic of sexual abuse. Weekly meetings, will that do it for you?

BHAGWATI: It won't do it for me. I have to say I'm relieved that the Commander-in-Chief is finally taking this problem seriously, that he's spoken out after five years of virtual silence. But he's not going to find the answers to this problem within the military or within the top brass, unfortunately. The military has become very used to this problem on the inside.

It's not surprising that you have a whole handful of senior officers -- career officers who are, themselves, engaged in sexual assaults and unwanted sexual contact because they are engrained in the culture. And the culture has to change from the bottom up as well as top down.

COSTELLO: So what do they need to do at these weekly meetings? Do they need to bring outside forces?

BHAGWATI: Yes, absolutely they need to bring outside experts like us, like rape crisis counselors, like advocacy groups that focus on healthy masculinity and rape culture. The military does not speak in any sort of meaningful way about what rape culture is. Just last week, you had the Air Force Chief of Staff talking about hook-up culture and that was responsible for widespread sexual assault.

Well, he's wrong. He's just flat out wrong. Sexual assault is a crime. Rape is a crime. The military has rarely treated these crimes as crimes. Instead they treat them as examples of young people crossing the line just in a minor way. And that's really not the way we should be treating criminal behavior.

COSTELLO: Well, it's something surprising or perhaps not so surprising. I was talking to Councilwoman Speier yesterday and asking her why a woman wasn't put in charge of these sexual assault centers on military bases. Why is it always men? And three of them, as you know, I just read were in trouble.

And she said it's because the rank and file won't listen to women. If you put a woman in charge of a sexual assault center, they just say, oh, it's just a token woman. I'm not going to listen to her.

BHAGWATI: Well, I would say instead that there needs to be a flood of women in the military. There's still legalized sex discrimination in every branch of the military and it leads to a culture where women are not respected. They're not appreciated. They're not encouraged to pursue careers in a way that they want to.

And so you have enormous retention problems of qualified women. We only six percent of the Marine Corps is female. 20 percent of Air Force is female. But on average about 15 percent of the entire military is female. We need to shift that so it's at least a quarter to a third. And you're going to see a culture change once we have that many women and once those women are allowed to access all assignments.

COSTELLO: And I know what you're saying. I just -- I wanted to throw this in too. The military is actually based on a chain of command. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wants to get rid of it for sexual assault cases. I don't know if many people know this. Commanders can decide whether or not to prosecute sexual assault cases involving jail time.

So it's not up to any like sort of criminal court or sexual assault court. Even if that court per se makes a decision the commanders could say, "I don't believe they made the right decision" and they could throw the case out.

BHAGWATI: That's right. Commanding officers in the military are responsible for handling all criminal cases. And so they make legal determinations which is really bizarre when you think about the legal system we have in the civilian world where it's attorneys and judges making those legal decisions because they're the most qualified.

In the military, the most qualified people to make those decisions are not in these jobs. And so this legislation that Senator Gillibrand introduced yesterday which we very much support and we'd worked on closely would professionalize the system. It would put impartial attorneys and judges from the military in charge of all criminal cases, not just sexual assault case, but those that are equivalent in terms of the felony and the time, the time that would be required in terms of jail sentencing. And it's something that absolutely needs to happen. The system we have right now, the uniform code of military justice, harkens back to the 18th century. All of our common-law nations, our allies have already moved well beyond that, have professionalized their systems. So it's impartial attorneys and judges handling these very serious criminal cases.

It's not commanding officers who are, frankly, in over their heads -- they're not qualified. They don't understand sex crimes. They don't understand rape culture. They really need to be taken out of the process.

COSTELLO: Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, thanks so much for being with us.

BHAGWATI: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: The jury deciding Jodi Arias' fate is hearing emotional statements from the brother and sister of Travis Alexander. Arias sobbed in court while they talked about what Alexander meant to them. But family members aren't allowed to recommend a life or death sentence. They simply said they didn't want to see their brother's murderer anymore.

CNN's Casey Wian has more from Phoenix.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stephen Alexander was in the U.S. Army in 2008 when he found out his brother Travis had been murdered. As his killer, an emotional Jodi Arias sat and watched, Alexander told jurors about the unanswered questions that haunt him to this day.

STEPHEN ALEXANDER, BROTHER OF TRAVIS ALEXANDER: How much did he suffer? How much did he scream? What was he saying? What was the last thing he saw before his eyes closed? What was his final thought in his head?

WIAN: Next, sister Samantha Alexander approached the podium, crying even before she spoke.

SAMANTHA ALEXANDER, SISTER OF TRAVIS ALEXANDER: Travis was our strength, our constant beacon of hope, our motivation. And his presence has been ripped from our lives.

WIAN: Defense witnesses are expected to speak about several mitigating factors that could spare Arias' life, including her lack of a criminal past, her past efforts to convert to the Mormon faith and her talent as an artist.

KIRK NURMI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This is a girl right here that you pledged when you were selected as jurors that after hearing or after possibly convicting her of first degree murder and finding aggravating factors that you would consider giving Miss Arias life.

WIAN (on camera): In a trial full of gripping moments, one of the last is likely to come from Jodi Arias herself next week when she's expected to beg for mercy from a jury that has already convicted her of an especially cruel first degree murder.

Casey Wian, CNN, Phoenix.


COSTELLO: Coming up in the NEWSROOM, no one matched all six numbers of Wednesday's Powerball drawing. So tomorrow nights jackpot, it will be the third largest in United States history.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Tomorrow night's Powerball jackpot is now a whopping $550 million. That is the third largest ever among U.S. lotteries. Jackpots have ballooned since the ticket price doubled this year to $2. But the odds of winning also have improved since the number of balls dropped from 39 to 35.

Let's bring in Mary Neubauer. She's with the Iowa Lottery. She joins me via Skype from Des Moines. Mary are you also the co-founder of Powerball lottery?

MARY NEUBAUER, IOWA LOTTERY: Iowa was one of the original members of the Powerball game. Powerball has been around for 21 years, can you believe that? It was Iowa and a group of 14 other states that worked together to start this game. The idea was that individual states couldn't produce those big jackpots on their own. So they wanted to work together to produce big jackpots. I would say it's working.

COSTELLO: I would say it's working too. So specifically, you sat down and came up with a way so we could see these humongous jackpots. What did you do? I mean I mentioned two of the things you did. But what did you do specifically?

NEUBAUER: Well, a few years ago, there were two separate groups of lotteries in the country selling two separate big jackpot games, one is Powerball. The other is Megamillion. So three years ago, all the states started selling both games. That helped because you have more states and more people playing, so the jackpot rises faster.

And then last year, as you mentioned, the ticket price for Powerball moved to $2. It's all designed to continue to deliver those big jackpots that Powerball is so well known for. The interesting thing is that over time what is or is not a big jackpot has changed. The definition keeps going up. So we keep doing things to try to keep things fresh and keep people interested in the game.

COSTELLO: Yes, but when you sat down, did you think in a million years that the jackpot would be $550 million, half a billion? NEUBAUER: I am shaking my head. I don't think anybody perhaps anticipated that we would be where we are today. It is exciting. You know, one of the messages that we put out there all the time and we especially stress at a time like this, though is, it just takes one ticket to win.

Don't get in over your head. Just play for fun. Do a little dreaming. Don't count on winning. We just want people to play with their heads, not over their heads. Don't jump off the deep end.

COSTELLO: That's so difficult, though because you know, every office in America is buying like huge numbers of tickets so they can win.

NEUBAUER: We do keep tips out there for folks who play in office pools, because, you know, there can be hard feelings if somebody thinks they were in the group and maybe they didn't put their money in. We always say, keep careful track of who put money in to buy the tickets. You know, give everybody a copy of the tickets in advance so they can see the tickets that the group has. It just helps avoid any trouble that might come later.

COSTELLO: Oh, advice taken. Mary, thank you so much for being with us.

NEUBAUER: No problem, good luck if you are playing.

COSTELLO: Thank you, we appreciate it.

And thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. CNN NEWSROOM continues right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Thanks so much for being with us today. It's one of those days, a taxing day especially for the ousted head of the IRS.