Return to Transcripts main page


IRS Scandal Hearing; Winning Lottery Ticket Saves Family's Home; Helping Children with Autism

Aired May 17, 2013 - 15:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Today, Congress launched some hearings into the IRS, amid some raging accusations that the IRS is making life harder for certain opponents of the president of the United States.

Under oath, the acting IRS chief, Steven Miller, said, no, politics was not involved in granting requests for tax-exempt status, even though groups with conservative sounding names had their applications flagged for special attention.

Russell George said pretty much the same thing. As the IRS inspector general, he investigated the accusations and his report came out this week.

Mr. George also said he did not find any illegal stuff going on.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE THOMPSON (D), CALIFORNIA: Would you say the IRS used inappropriate criteria for identifying these organizations? Is that legal?

J. RUSSELL GEORGE, IRS INSPECTOR GENERAL: It's -- is it legal? It is ...

THOMPSON: I'm trying to get a sense of what inappropriate criteria means.

GEORGE: It is not illegal, sir. It was unusual.

THOMPSON: All right, so, if you enumerate them, inappropriate criteria were developed and stayed in place for a total of more than 18 months. Is that illegal?

GEORGE: It is not illegal, but it was inappropriate.

THOMPSON: I understand that. I'm just trying to get a sense of ...

GEORGE: And, sir, if I may, it's contrary to Treasury regulations and other policies then in place by the department.

THOMPSON: Understand.

The substantial delays, is that illegal or inappropriate?

GEORGE: It's inappropriate.

THOMPSON: And then the third, the unnecessary information, illegal or inappropriate?

GEORGE: Inappropriate.


BANFIELD: Well, the House Republicans aren't necessarily buying all of this. They say they're going to continue to investigate this. The Justice Department also investigating this.

Candy Crowley, CNN's chief political correspondent, joins me now live.

All right, so we're talking what's legal, and we're also talking what's political.

Can we separate the two for a moment and have you weigh in on both of these issues, legal and political?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORREPSPONDENT: Yeah, I think you're better qualified to weigh in on the legal, and we'll see what the Justice Department has to say and what was actually done.

But politically, this is tough. You sit there and you listen to them and both these gentlemen, and certainly the former acting director says, well, no, it wasn't political, it was just a way of sorting it out.

This is a really tough sell. This just, you know, the idea that you would say, OK, anybody that has "tea party" or "patriot: in their name, pull them out, we'll give them extra scrutiny before we give them their tax-exempt status.

To then sit before a committee and say, no, it really wasn't political, it might -- maybe there is some way to explain that, but they've got a lot more explaining to do. It's just not going to pass muster.

BANFIELD: I think, if I heard correctly Mr. Miller saying this was triage at the beginning, and then as it settled through the process, things became more intricate in terms of how they analyzed these applications.

Candy, please, take me off the ledge here. Isn't this exactly what they're supposed to do, is find the political names and weed out the sleaze balls that are trying to get special status and not disclose who their donors are?

CROWLEY: And only sleaze balls have "tea party" in their name or "patriot?" What about "progressive?"

BANFIELD: No, that's the wrong part, but didn't they also do that -- and I'm just curious because I do not know the numbers -- didn't they also do that with other names that sounded progressive?

I think I've heard three groups already say they suffered the same consequences.

CROWLEY: Apparently not in this targeted way.

Now again, you and I know we're both at the beginning of this. These sorts if stories are like pulling a string on a sweater. We're barely at the waistband here. It's going to take a while.

So I don't know, but apparently it was not as focused as this was. And it was a very small number that might have come up, you know, because something else flagged in the -- you know, they have various hot spots in these applications.

And so the progressive group may have shown up hot in something that took more examination, but it was not because "progressive" was in the name.

So it's just a hard sell. They may be able to sell it. I'm just saying they didn't do it today.

BANFIELD: Yeah. Yeah, well, I think you're right. And it might just be extraordinarily stupid, too. I think we definitely think stupid ...

CROWLEY: I think they actually pretty much have admitted to that, so got ...

BANFIELD: You're going to have fun this weekend, girl.

CROWLEY: Oh, my goodness. Yeah. We needed sort of an extra hour here, once you get through kind of what really, I think, inarguably is the worst political week for the president.

Certainly the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary was just personally, and the president said this often, the worst week of his presidency. There are other times that just emotionally it is so hard.

But this is just a politically tough week. It was just triple trouble for him. Some of it may rise to the point of real scandal.

The -- certainly, the IRS right now has everyone's attention and, in part, we don't have the answers to it, and it just doesn't smell right, right now.

BANFIELD: All right. Well, you're going to be great on the interview seat, this weekend.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

BANFIELD: Candy Crowley, it's always good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

CROWLEY: Thank you. BANFIELD: So as Candy was mentioning, IRS is front and center for a lot of people, and it's clear the hearings left a lot of lawmakers unsatisfied, including one Representative Paul Ryan.

I want to go directly to my colleague Jake Tapper who's standing by, our chief Washington correspondent, anchor of "The Lead" here on CNN.

You had a chance to speak with the Wisconsin congressman. What did he say?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The budget -- House budget committee chairman is going to be our guest at the top of "The Lead," coming up in about 20 minutes or so.

He was very fired up at the hearing today, asking questions of the acting IRS commissioner, but one of the things that I wanted to know when I talked to him was the president has been out there today, talking about how it seems as though sometimes Congress is not focused on things that would make the lives of the American people better. They seem focused on other things. And this is going to be a Democratic line of attack now, a pushback, on all of these scandals and controversies that Republicans are focused on.

So I asked Congressman Ryan, are you going to be able to work with the administration on things like the economy and the deficit and immigration reform while Congress also spends so much time focused on discovering more and doing more in oversight on these scandals and controversies.

And here's what he had to say.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We have to do our job to our constituents to do oversight of the federal government.

We're not getting straight answers on Benghazi. Clearly, we're not getting straight answers on the IRS. Clearly, we're worried about intimidation of the press with respect to the DOJ scandal.

But that doesn't mean we're just going to only do that.


TAPPER: And his basic point, Ashleigh, was that they can walk and chew gum at the same time, that members of Congress have this oversight responsibility, but you heard him say, very pointedly, we're not getting straight answers on Benghazi. We're not getting straight answers on the IRS.

There's a lot of feeling by Republicans and even some Democrats in Congress that the testimony today by the acting IRS commissioner did him more harm than good.

Even if he's on his way out the door, there are questions about whether or not he's truly distant from the Obama administration in this.


BANFIELD: And don't forget the A.P. scandal, so walk, chew gum and pat your head, all at the same time.

TAPPER: On a unicycle.

BANFIELD: On a unicycle, juggling.

"The Lead" with Jake Tapper -- which, by the way, when you're a broadcaster, it kind of feels like we do that too, doesn't it, Jake?

TAPPER: Sometimes.

BANFIELD: Your show gets under way in just a couple of minutes. Looking forward to it, Jake Tapper, reporting ...

TAPPER: Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: ... live out of D.C. Take care.

Got some amazing pictures out of Alaska, a volcano spewing ash 20,000 feet in the air.

The scientists are really keeping a close eye on this, too, because that may be in Alaska, but it could disrupt your air travel.

Coming up, next.


BANFIELD: The sun is acting up in spectacular style and reportedly there is a small chance it could disrupt satellites later on today.

Want you to take a peek at some amazing video from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

This week the sun had some -- four, highly intense eruptions that sent solar material out into space, and some of that stuff might get in the way of communication satellites that can impact GPS and cell phones.

But not to worry, because NASA says the spacecraft can be put into a safe mode -- safe mode -- to protect them against the sun's emissions.

Sunspots are great video, though. Just remarkable.

And, also, besides the sun, we've got two volcanoes in Alaska that are flaring up like mad. Good news, they're in remote areas. Very few people live in this area.

But with one volcano spewing at 20,000 feet, that ash is just chugging up into the air. Air travel could be disrupted.

Our CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins me now, too. Chad, I know this is very, very exciting when you have two stories like this, one with sunspots and another with volcanoes.

Take me to the volcanoes, though, and tell me how this could affect air travel.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You think of Alaska being remote, and it is, but there are an awful lot of flights that fly over Alaska, from America, from Canada, over to the Pacific, hundreds of flights a day.

You say, well, who cares? They fly really high. Yes, they fly high, but if the ash is 20,000 feet now, it can go a lot higher than that. In fact, it can go to 40,000 feet. When that happens, then all of a sudden, you have jets flying through ash debris.

Look at all these. There's 300 islands in the Aleutian chain all created by volcanoes.

So how does it happen? Eventually the Pacific plate pushes under the North American plate. As it does, it goes down. This dirt here, this plate goes under the plate. It warms up. It gets very hot. It creates lava and then you get basically the Ring of Fire like we have in the Pacific.

But when the plane flies through the ash, it can actually -- the jet engine can melt the ash back to lava, that lava will then deposit itself on the exit part of the jet, and then all of a sudden, you have lava in your jet.

I don't want lava anywhere, not alone in the jet engine of a plane at 30,000 or 40,000 feet.

When they do see this lava ash cloud, they fly around it. Remember Europe, last year, a couple of years ago, couldn't even get there, there was so much, because of that Iceland volcano.

We'll keep watching. These aren't that severe just yet, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: But that's just great to geek out on a Friday afternoon.

MYERS: Sure it is.

BANFIELD: And you are the chief geek, my friend. I mean that lovingly.

Chad Myers, thank you for that. Have a good weekend.

MYERS: You, too.

BANFIELD: Thank you.

OK, coming up next, this doesn't make me laugh. This makes me mad.

Pat Robertson, are you ready for what he said? He's making comments about men and cheating. Apparently, he thinks it's OK. Yep. Cheating, OK.

Be right back after this.


BANFIELD: You can count on Pat Robertson to stir up some outrage. He's under fire for telling the wife of a cheating husband to basically forget about the cheating, and make sure her husband didn't need to wander.

She had written a letter that was read on "The 700 Club" and here is Pat Robertson's response to her.


PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: He cheated on you. Well, he's a man, OK? So what you do is begin to focus on why you married him in first place.

Recognize also, like it or not, males have a tendency to wander a little bit, and what you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn't want to wander.


BANFIELD: Seriously? Seriously.

Message for the louse out there, you're a louse. You're a loser. She doesn't deserve that.

The words of Pat Robertson.

Looking for some inspiration to win the Powerball jackpot? How about this, a man wins a lottery after finding a surprise in his cookie jar?

That's one big surprise with lots of zeroes. We're going to talk with him live, next.


BANFIELD: Just when you thought the Powerball frenzy couldn't get bigger, officials raised the prize to $600 million and that makes the top prize for Saturday's drawing the second largest in United States history. That sounds pretty good right?

But get this. CNN has learned from lottery officials that, if nobody wins it on Saturday, the multistate Powerball lottery is going to go up and the jackpot will reach $925 million. That's almost a billion.

And that drawing would be next Wednesday, so make friends with your lottery pool.

A suburban Chicago family was on the verge of losing their home, but not anymore thanks to a very sweet surprise that they found in the special family cookie jar. It was a winning lottery ticket worth nearly $5 million.

Rick Cerezo was cleaning out the jar that filled with family keepsakes and dozens of old lottery tickets and started comparing the numbers against the winners on the lottery website and then this.


RICK CEREZO, FOUND WINNING LOTTO TICKET IN COOKING JAR (via telephone): When I realized I had all six numbers, it was that shocking moment of, whoa, can this really be?

So I called my son over and asked him to double-check this. And he looks it through and goes, yeah, looks like a winner.


BANFIELD: Joining me now on the telephone is Rick Cerezo. Thank you so much for being with us, Rick.

First off, why was the lottery ticket in this very special and sentimental cookie jar? Could you just lay the foundation for me?

CEREZO (via telephone): Sure. The jar, itself, was purchased by our daughter, who, unfortunately, passed away in August. She purchased it in May of last year during our neighborhood garage sale.

And since she passed we sort of figured, you know, that's somehow, some way going to be a lucky jar in one form or another so we always had our car keys, loose change and, of course, our lottery tickets inside of it.

It was laying there that long just out of sheer laziness on my part not going and checking the tickets.

BANFIELD: and then all of a sudden you did. You checked the tickets. Was there any particular reason that drove you to go and pick them up and check them out?

CEREZO (via telephone): Yes. My wife decided she really wanted to clean up, clear out our kitchen.

There were sort of things all over the place and she gave me the ultimatum of take the tickets and get them checked or I'm throwing them away.

So I decided I think I better go check them.

BANFIELD: Good decision. You had a foreclosure hearing, I think it was what, February 12th? You were going to lose your home before finding this ticket.

CEREZO (via telephone): correct.

BANFIELD: that's unbelievable. Where do you stand in that? How's the real estate story?

Fortunately, you know, our mortgage company did give us a modification, and literally at the 11th hour.

So on that court date, our judge elected to give us two more months to try to figure something out with the bank itself.

And I was in Savannah's room on my knees, crying, asking the Lord not to take her room away from us. That's all we had left. We basically lost everything else.

And He listened. The funny thing is, all along, this ticket was sitting in that jar and we could have been completely cleared of any of those problems that I just mentioned.

BANFIELD: I think Savannah has sent you a gift and we're thrilled for you. It's great when we hear about lottery winners like you.

You are deserving and we wish you the best you and your family. Congratulations. Good luck to you.

CEREZO (via telephone): Thank you so much.

BANFIELD: Nice to talk with you. Oh, wow. A great story.

We're back right after this.


BANFIELD: A robot is helping kids with autism learn day-to-day tasks. That is part of today's "Technology From the Front Line."

Zoraida Sambolin reports.


STACY PORTER SMITH, CHILDREN'S INSTITUTE THERAPIST: Do you want to give him a shower or brush his teeth? Can you tell me?


SMITH: Shower.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some children with autism are getting help from a friendly creature.

SEEMA PATEL, INTERBOTS CEO: Popchilla is a robotic therapy system designed to help children with autism learn and practice skills in a fun way.

SAMBOLIN: Like making their bed or brushing their teeth.

Students at the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh are testing the system. They can play with Popchilla using an iPad and then interact with the robot in the real world.

SMITH: Children with autism, you want to present things in as many formats as possible until you find what works for that child. This is another tool to help them learn.

SAMBOLIN: Interbots is the company that created the system. Originally specializing in entertainment robotics, they realized they could help kids with autism by chance.

PATEL: We were at a kids fair and had one of our high-end animatronic robots there and these parents came up to us and they explained, our son has autism and he never talks to strangers and he rarely talks to us and he's been having a conversation with your robot for 15 minutes.

And that's when we realized there was something interesting going on here.

SMITH: There you go.

SAMBOLIN: The app, which can be used on its own, will be available this spring.

SMITH: Nice job.

SAMBOLIN: The robot could be released as early as 2015, and the app will control what the robot says and does.

PATEL: So our hope is by leveraging technology that children with autism really respond well to that we can help them learn daily routines and social interaction skills through play.



BANFIELD: I want to take you down to Maricopa County for some new exclusive video that's just in to CNN.

Kirk Nurmi, who is the attorney for Jodi Arias, is visiting her at the Estrella Jail where she hangs out before she has to go to court.

Fridays are only lawyers days, so no family can visit her.

But what is interesting is it has only been a few days since that man and counsel made a motion to quit the case. Motion denied. Judge said, no.

Understandably, judge said no. We are at the finish line of a $1.7 million, $1.8 million defense.

But there he goes. He's had his visit with Jodi Arias in the jail. Who knows what that conversation was like? Because Jodi has said she wants to speak. Maybe an allocution. Maybe just testimony. But she wants to stand up in her own defense. Or does she want to actually defend herself any longer?

At this point, it is anyone's guess, which is part of the reason why this has been such a fascinating case. It just gets more fascinating.

That is it for me. Have yourself a wonderful weekend. I'm headed back down to Phoenix for Jodi's case.

In the meantime, Jake Tapper takes it from here.