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Ousted IRS Chief on Hot Seat; Sexual Assault Cases Plague U.S. Military; Surreal and Extensive Damage; Russia Selling Anti-Ship Missiles to Syria; Powerball Frenzy

Aired May 17, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: On the hot seat. The fired head of the IRS faces questions today about why conservative groups were targeted by his agency and whether he lied about it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Shameful and disgraceful. The president calling the military sex scandals a danger to national security.

SAMBOLIN: Surreal and extensive damage. People in the areas hardest hit by tornadoes in Texas, not even allowed back home this morning.

BERMAN: And powerful frenzy. Will you turn your 2 bucks into more than half a billion dollars.


BERMAN: This is the second-biggest pot in Powerball history.

SAMBOLIN: Are we playing?

BERMAN: We're playing.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

It's been quite a morning here. Zoraida just spilled a full cup of coffee on me.

SAMBOLIN: I'm sorry. I'll try to --


BERMAN: You made me the Powerball.

SAMBOLIN: You can't tell. You shouldn't have told anything.

BERMAN: I know, I'm sorry.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Friday, May 17th, 5:00 a.m. in the East. Let's get started here.

Developing this morning, the man fired from the IRS over a scandal targeting conservatives will be on the hot seat today, Steven Miller, the acting head of the IRS, was forced out this weekend. Today, a House committee will grill him about why he did not tell Congress about the political targeting. Here's CNN's Dan Lothian with the very latest.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three days after the White House counsel's office was first notified of the IRS targeting conservative groups, Steve Miller, the acting commissioner forced to resign, sat before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee. But he wasn't talking then about the scandal.

STEVE MILLER, FORMER IRS ACTING COMMISSIONER: Let me report on this year's filing season.

LOTHIAN: It was a friendly encounter.

MILLER: Thank you, Chairman Boustany.

LOTHIAN: A routine update on the agency's proposed budget.

MILLER: My testimony outlines recent accomplishments.

LOTHIAN: Today, he returns before the full committee, to a much different atmosphere. Rocked by scandal, Miller will be pressed by lawmakers on the information his agency gathered, not the tax checks.

REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY, JR. (R), LOUISIANA: It's important that appear and come forward truthfully, openly and give us the real answers to the extent that he knows.

LOTHIAN: President Obama has tried to put out this fire, expressing outrage, vowing to hold people at the IRS accountable, and quickly appointing a new acting commissioner who starts on the job next week.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got to make sure that it is doing its job scrupulously and without even a hint of bias.

LOTHIAN: His top aides are all appearing on news shows, doing damage control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president took swift decisive action.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact of the matter is that this administration has a record on transparency.

LOTHIAN: While the president is trying to shift attention to his other priorities. A trip to Baltimore today will focus on middle class jobs. It follows Thursday's meeting on sexual abuse in the military and a visit with the Turkish prime minister where Syria was at the top of the agenda.

But a dark cloud hangs over this White House and critics at a Tea Party rally are keeping up the pressure.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: This is run-away government at its worst. Who knows who they'll target next?

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Dan for that report.

Now, this question, are we at a crisis point for sexual assault in the military? In pretty blunt language, the president called the growing number of sexual assaults, shameful and disgraceful and a danger to national security, and he ordered a Pentagon official to somehow crack down. This comes amid a series of high-profile cases of alleged sexual abuse involving members assigned to prevent those very crimes.

Here's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another embarrassment for the U.S. military. This time, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division. Lieutenant Colonel Darin Haas, the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention, was removed from his job after being arrested for violating a protective order to stay away from his estranged wife.

LT. COL. DARIN HAAS, U.S. ARMY: Hi, this is Major Darin Haas from Bagram, Afghanistan.

STARR: He had sent greetings to his wife while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.

The incident came to light just hours after President Obama met with top brass about sexual assaults in the military.

OBAMA: There's no silver bullet to solving this problem. This is going to require a sustained effort over a long period of time.

STARR: The Fort Campbell firing was the third in two weeks of personnel assigned to military sexual assault prevention jobs.

At Fort Hood, Texas, a sergeant first class is under criminal investigation by the Army by pandering. A Pentagon official says he may have forced someone into prostitution. Other allegations, abuse of sexual contact, and maltreatment of subordinates.

And last week, an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested on sexual battery charges for allegedly groping a woman near the Pentagon where he worked in sexual assault prevention.

On Capitol Hill, pressure is mounting for historic changes in military law. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is introducing legislation, so in sex assault cases where there may be jail time, the decision to prosecute is taken away from commanders, and given to military attorneys. Many feel prosecutors from outside a unit will be more vigorous.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: We believe enough is enough. It's time to change this system that has been held over since George Washington. That is simply not working today for the men and women who are serving.

STARR (on camera): Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the retraining of key personnel involved in sexual assault prevention programs. But with a number of cases of sexual assaults and rapes on the rise in the military, key commanders are acknowledging they just are not sure what to do to solve the problem.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Barbara.

It is six minutes past the hour.

People in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the tornadoes in Texas aren't even be allowed back to survey damage in their homes this morning. The National Weather Service says at least 16 tornadoes touched down. And those who have seen the scope of the damage firsthand say it is surreal and it is extensive.

Among them is Victor Blackwell. He is live from Granbury, Texas.

And I was reading, Victor, there are still seven people missing this morning?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still seven people missing this morning, Zoraida. And the search, we're told by the sheriff here in Hood County, continued overnight -- now, a recovery effort, not especially any more a rescue effort.

Yes, I was in the Rancho Brazos neighborhood yesterday. And, really, you know, our job is to relay what is happening on the ground. And when you're standing there, it doesn't matter how wide the lens is, HD or 3D, when you see what you're seeing behind me multiplied by 100, 110, 120, it's difficult to relay.

And I think what really is striking is the mix of the industrial and the common. The Christmas lights entangled with aluminum siding and the children's teddy bears covered by shingles from roofs. Some of these houses have been swept right off of the foundation.

And I spoke with a commissioner here who says, you know, many of the questions he's received and you asked me yesterday at this time, how much warning was there for people. There was some warning, and they ran to their hallways. But if the entire house is blown away, then standing in the hallway is just as good as standing by a window.

We know that the number of people who have been killed, that number still at six. But with this now going into a recovery mission to find those seven unaccounted for, that number could rise, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And, Victor, you just mentioned the six people who died. And we want to remember them. Do we know anything about them?

BLACKWELL: Their names have been released. We know that two of them have the same last name. But we have not been confirmed for us at least that they were married or their specific relation to one another. But their ages range from the early 30s, to the early 80s, most of them over the age of 60 -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Victor Blackwell live on the ground there -- thank you very much.

And to find out how you can help the victims of the Texas storms, you can visit our "Impact Your World" page at

BERMAN: A troubling development overnight. Russia is sending advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria. A sign, U.S. officials say, that illustrates Moscow's support for President Bashar al-Assad's regime. "The New York Times" reports that the missiles have advanced radar capabilities that can help the Syrian regime stop foreign forces from establishing no-fly zones or carrying out limited air strikes, or supplying Syria's opposition from the sea.

SAMBOLIN: The surviving Boston marathon bombing suspect left a note about his motive. Law enforcement found that note from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the boat where he was discovered hiding. They say he wrote that the bombings were retribution for U.S. attacks on Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. And he referred to the Boston victims as collateral damage. Tsarnaev also reportedly told police that an attack on one Muslim was an attack on all Muslims.

And be sure to watch Anderson Cooper's special report "Back to Boston: Moments of Impact." That's tonight, right here on CNN, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

BERMAN: CNN has learned that U.S. marshals lost track of the two former members of the federal witness security program who were identified as known or suspected terrorists. According to a Justice Department report, one of the former witnesses is known to be living outside of the U.S. The other is believed to be out of the country. The report says the marshals failed to inform the authorities who run the no-fly watch list about suspected terrorists within the witness program, potentially giving them access to commercial flights across the United States.

SAMBOLIN: Police in New Orleans have arrested a second suspect at a shooting in a parade on Mother's Day. It's believed that he and the first suspect, 19-year-old Akein Scott were involved in gang activities. Scott was charged with 20 counts of attempted second degree murder during his first court appearance on Thursday. He's being held on $10 million bail. Three people who, who were injured are still in critical condition this morning.

BERMAN: Do you feel lucky?

Dreamers from coast to coast are busy buying lottery tickets. The jackpot for tomorrow night's Powerball lottery drawing has grown to half a billion dollars. We can report that is in fact a lot of money. This is the second largest jackpot in Powerball history. It is the third biggest overall.

SAMBOLIN: News flash.

BERMAN: Right now. The Powerball prize is $550 million. The rival, Megamillions, stands at 190 million bucks. That will climb higher before tonight's drawing.

You know, you may need the money to help buy me a new suit.

SAMBOLIN: You're not going to let it go, are you?

BERMAN: You spilled coffee on me.

SAMBOLIN: I said I should spill coffee on your white shirt so you have something to talk about.

Eleven minutes pas the hour.

Coming up, from hero to villain -- the Internet celebrity who shot to fame for a daring rescue is now charged with murder.

Plus, a big surprise for a little girl at last night's Tampa Bay Rays game. This is lovely. Wait until you hear who is catching the first pitch.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 14 minutes past the hour.

Remember the internet sensation known as Kai, that hatchet-wielding hitchhiker? Well, he is behind bars in Philadelphia this morning. Twenty-four-year-old Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, can't say his name. Kai is so much better, gained fame for his colorful, profanity-laced story of how he saved a woman in California. Do you remember that?

Well, now, this man is facing murder charges. The homeless man who prefers to think of himself as home-free is accused of beating and killing a New Jersey lawyer that he met at Times Square.

BERMAN: Strange end to a strange story.

SAMBOLIN: It is bizarre.

BERMAN: Michael Jackson's nephew coming to his uncle's defense after a dancer who once defended Jackson accuses him of being a pedophile and sex offender. Taj Jackson revealed on Twitter that he was molested by another relative, and that Michael Jackson was his support system for him and his mom.

In the "Today" show interview, dancer/choreographer Wade Robison accused Jackson of performing sexual acts on him and forcing him to reciprocate. He is seeking money from Jackson's estate for that alleged abuse.

SAMBOLIN: Federal investigators are trying to find the source of a pair of threatening letters laced with deadly ricin, sent to targets in Spokane, Washington. Those letters were intercepted by postal screeners. One was addressed to the Spokane post office, and the other was addressed to a federal judge.

The Postal Workers' Union says the letters were both postmarked on Tuesday. Luckily here, no one was hurt.

BERMAN: New developments this morning.

Federal and state investigators in Texas cannot figure out the cause of the deadly fire and explosion at the fertilizer plant last month. They've not ruled out the possibility that the fire was intentionally set. Fifteen people were killed, dozens injured. Remember, buildings in that 37-block area of the small West town were damaged or destroyed.


CHRIS CONNEALY, TEXAS STATE FIRE MARSHAL: We're going to leave no stone unturned to make sure that everything we can do to determine what caused this fire and ultimately the explosion was reviewed and investigated.


BERMAN: Last week, a paramedic who responded to the scene was arrested for possession of pipe bomb components, he's pleaded not guilty. The U.S. attorney's office will not say whether he might have been connected to this blast.

SAMBOLIN: So in this morning's edition of cry me a river, Bernie Madoff says he can't sleep. The convicted ponzi schemer who is serving a 150-year prison sentence tells CNN Money in a prison phone interview, he is haunted by his son's suicide. The 75-year-old Madoff says he only works a few hours a day in prison. So, he has lots of time to think about his crime and the collateral damage.

I apologize for being so light at the beginning of that story.

BERMAN: So, how about this for the ultimate short-cut? In an effort to alleviate traffic congestion by his 12-car presidential motorcade, Russian President Vladimir Putin will now commute to work by helicopter. Reports say workers have completed construction on a helipad at the Kremlin so Putin can use a chopper to go from home to work every day.

Who says that Putin is not a man of the people?

SAMBOLIN: And coming up, traveling light, one airline says you deserve a reward. How boarding just got a little bit easier for you.

BERMAN: Plus, putting on a brave face, anger as a Disney heroine gets a makeover. Why fans flipped when this tomboy turned glamour girl.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-one minutes past the hour. Good morning to you. We are minding your business this morning.

Wall Street taking a break from its record run, but is it just temporary?

BERMAN: Let's hope so. And some good news for American Airlines, giving its customers a good reason to travel light.

Christine Romans with all of that and more.


Let's start with the stock market. Stock futures are pointing higher. You know, the markets hit a pause yesterday after housing and jobless claims numbers were weak.

That pause comes amid an incredible run, though. The Dow is up 16 percent so far this year. The NASDAQ is up 14 percent. The S&P 500 up 15 percent. Those are fantastic returns.

This has been the among the best bull markets in 100 years.

I got the chart to show you how the bull market stacks up against all the top bull markets since 1928. The S&P 500 index, the closest gauge of stocks in your 401(k) is up 145 percent since 2009. Some of those other bulls did better but others are saying maybe it's running out of steam.

BERMAN: Those are some big bulls.

ROMANS: They really are.

Look, we're showing you an airport for a reason. American Airlines is rewarding passengers who travel light. The carrier says it will now allow early boarding for passengers who don't stash any items in the overhead bins.

SAMBOLIN: They listened to me.

ROMANS: This is Zoraida's dream. This applies to travelers aboard the plane carrying items small enough to fit under the seat in front of them. American says the plan will help insure that packed flights will depart and arrive on time.

SAMBOLIN: Brilliant, brilliant.

ROMANS: So, there you.

Packed travel -- you know, in Southwest, if you -- you can check your first and second bag for free, because they don't want to clutter up the plane, they want to get things going, get you off on time. They really want you to put your things in the checked baggage.

All right. Disney this morning responding to complaints about the sexy new makeover of its "Brave" character, Merida. We told you about this earlier this week.

Well, an online petition got over 200,000 signatures.


ROMANS: Disney says it's not getting rid of Merida's new look but it will only appear on a limited run of products, including some backpacks and pajamas, the original Merida will also be available on a variety of products.

Disney took a ton of heat over this re-imagined Merida. The version features a different hairdo, a narrower waist, a less rounded face, a more revealing neckline and no bow and arrow in sight for this Scottish archer.

BERMAN: This affected a lot of people. We spoke to the director of "Brave" who is really upset, saying that the whole character, this original princess, was supposed to be the anti-princess and Disney was screwing up the whole thing.

ROMANS: They put all the princesses together and some, you know, advertising and marketing materials, and suddenly, Merida showed up a little more glamorous than she used to be and people who are big Merida fans is the whole point of her is that she's not the that Disney princess --

SAMBOLIN: I am keeping my mouth shut on this one.

BERMAN: Wow, that's different.


BERMAN: All right. Twenty-four minutes after the hour.

Coming up -- some heartbreaking news for the brother and sister of Travis Alexander. We're going to take you inside the Jodi arias sentencing.

SAMBOLIN: And incredible video you cannot miss this morning. How one man saved two people from this -- look at this inferno.

We're back right after this.


BERMAN: A desperate search under way right now. Seven people still missing after 16 tornadoes ripped through northern Texas.

SAMBOLIN: And heartbreaking pleas, the court hears from two siblings of the man Jodi Arias is convicted of killing.

BERMAN: And an amazing rescue caught on camera. A man pulls two people from a burning car, honestly, wait until you see this.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Twenty-eight minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: We're going to begin with the staggering, almost surreal tornado damage in north Texas right now. Six people were dead, seven other people are still missing this morning and people who lived in the hardest hit neighborhoods say it could be days, maybe a week before they'll get to see what if anything is left of their homes.

The National Weather Service confirms that at least 16 tornadoes, 16 now, touched down in the area. Many of the homes we're told were absolutely unsalvageable. And will have to be torn down entirely.

To find out how you can help the victims of the Texas storms, you can visit our "Impact Your World" page at

SAMBOLIN: And new delays in the Jodi Arias murder trial. Defense witnesses scheduled to testify on her behalf have been pushed back to Monday, but not before two siblings of the man she killed delivered highly emotional statements to the court.

CNN's Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 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.