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Government Shutdown Continues; Veterans Death Benefits Not Being Paid; Interview With Ami Neiberger-Miller; Charities Step Up to Help Veterans' Survivors; Debate Over Result of Not Increasing Debt Ceiling

Aired October 9, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield, and it is October the 9th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

While the active troops are getting paid today, the families of the fallen are being told to sit tight. Just wait for your cash payments, like funeral reimbursements and travel costs if your loved one has died.

Images like these are being repeated at this hour at Dover Air Force Base because four soldiers were killed over the weekend in Afghanistan, and they are all coming home for burial.

In fact, the secretary of defense himself, Chuck Hagel, is going to personally oversee what is called the dignified transfer, but he didn't have to get over on his own dime.

No, his ticket's paid for. That's not the story, though, when it comes to the military families of those troops who were killed.

And if that is not bad enough, also happening at this hour, a House committee hearing on the increasing toll that's being taken on veteran's benefits is under way as well.

Just yesterday, the V.A. furloughed thousands of workers who process compensation claims.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is watching all of this unfold live as it's happening.

And I'm glad you're able to join me while these two fronts are playing out. These are disgraceful, Barbara, but if you could just be more clear for us, what do we pay for when it comes to those death benefits, and what are those families who are at their lowest suffering even more today?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look. Here's how it sorts out.

Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has paid the families of the fallen benefits like $100,000 to be paid within three days or so of a death to cover their emergency costs, reimbursement for funeral and interment expenses, travel to Dover Air Force Base to meet the flag-draped casket coming off the plane, if their loved one may be on life support in an overseas hospital and they want to get there to be able to say good-bye.

All of that, according to the Pentagon, they cannot pay during the shutdown.

Behind the scenes there are efforts to find other ways to do it within the military, some, shall we say, creative bookkeeping. But this is not a solution.

So some groups have stepped forward, like the very wonderful group, The Fisher House, which helps the wounded, The Army and Navy Relief Society, a major Wall Street firm that does not want to be named, offering help.

But the real solution according to the Pentagon, at least, is that Congress needs to step in and have a legislative fix, and in fact, on the House side, that is supposed to come up for a vote at 2:00 today, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: One of those piecemeal issues that may or may not actually pass because of the bigger political question.

Before I even go there, Barbara, I want to go back a little bit. We've got, of course, these two fronts playing out, those bodies that are coming back and those families that may or may not be able to pay for the ticket to come and meet their loved one's remains, and then, of course, the Veterans Affairs and the veterans who are going to shuttered offices today.

I want to play for you a little bit about what the secretary of veterans affairs had to say to a House committee just a few moments ago. This is Eric Shinseki. Have a listen.


ERIC SHINSEKI, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Let me just say, unequivocally, that all of the events that I described and I'm going to describe of the shutdown are negative.

It is an impediment to V.A.'s ability to deliver services and benefits that veterans have earned through their service.

V.A. continues to invest significant resources and time and planning for this unique, infrequent, and avoidable situation.

The ongoing shutdown presents myriad legal and programmatic challenges.

The last time a shutdown occurred in 1996, as I am told, our nation was enjoying a sustained period of relative peace. That's not true today.


BANFIELD: No, it sure isn't true today, but that doesn't mean that we don't have 4 million veterans and their families who rely on these monthly benefits who just don't know what's going to happen, come November 1st.

But maybe even more acutely, what's going on right now, the secretary of defense is headed to Dover to meet these remains. This is very unusual.

Can you put that in context for me, Barbara?

STARR: Well, there are a few times in the past when secretaries of defense have traveled to Dover. The president of the United States has traveled to Dover to pay their respects to the families of the fallen.

But I think, it's fair to say, make no mistake, Chuck Hagel went today to send a message to Washington and bring this matter to public attention. It is very much worth remembering that Chuck Hagel is a highly decorated, wounded veteran of very heavy combat in the Vietnam war himself, just as Eric Shinseki is a veteran of Vietnam.

These men, despite the politics, feel these issues very deeply about the wounded. And to make clear here, the -- for centuries, the U.S. government has had a compact with those who serve. If you stand in front of an enemy position and are willing to take a bullet for the country, we will look after you and we will look after your family.

BANFIELD: Well, let's hope that we're good on our word on so many levels. Barbara Starr, joining us live from the Pentagon, thank you, so much.

Still with this vein, my next guest lost her brother in Iraq and now works with the military family support network called TAPS. Ami Neiberger-Miller joins us from Capitol Hill where she's just stepped out of that congressional hearing on veterans affairs that's still ongoing.

Ami, thank you for doing this and taking the time to speak with me. You could hear what some of the comments were from the secretary, but are you at all encouraged by his appearance, by his testimony, and by what you're seeing in the bigger picture on Capitol Hill that there's going to be some fix to this?

AMI NEIBERGER-MILLER, TRAGEDY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FOR SURVIVORS: I think the secretary made very compelling remarks about the real impact that the government shutdown is having on veterans and surviving families. And I -- we are hopeful that, you know, a resolution will be reached soon.

In the interim, you know, TAPS is here to provide care and support for the grieving military families. There's been 17 active duty deaths since the government shutdown began.

BANFIELD: You don't normally have to do work like this. It feels as if this is not the kind of effort you should be putting forth.

Normally you just deal with the bereavement of these families. You don't have to sort of deal with the compensation issue.

So do you feel like you're a bit of a fish out of water and that you absolutely should not be in this predicament?

NEIBERGER-MILLER: We've always offered casework assistance for families with financial challenges, or challenges navigating the benefit system.

It's typically on an individual, case-by-case basis, and we have a full-time staff of three social workers who actually manage that program and work with families if they need additional support in some way.

You know, many surviving family members are actually not typically beneficiaries of government benefits, and so there is always a population within our community that does sometimes need additional support.

This is certainly adding to our casework assistance load.

BANFIELD: Without question.

And at the same time we do hear good stories, and that is that the charitable arm of Americans has come forward, hoping to at least bridge some kind of a gap for veterans or military members and their families until perhaps Congress can get out of their ridiculous game and reimburse.

Are you seeing that coming to fruition very quickly? Are you getting some help at least through charity?

NEIBERGER-MILLER: We've received a number of phone calls from organizations and individuals who've reached out and said that they would like to assist military families who are grieving, who have immediate financial needs, if there's anything they can do.

And so we have been compiling a list in our casework department. Organizations like the Army Emergency Relief Society has stepped forward to help with emergency travel, and The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society has also stepped forward.

And all of those organizations are coming together in this community to help and support these families.

BANFIELD: Ami Neiberger-Miller, thank you again for your time, especially since this is an ongoing hearing and you've taken the time to come out of it and talk to us. We do appreciate it.

And the best of luck to you and your group and to all of those who served our country and continue to do so. Ami, thanks.

NEIBERGER-MILLER: Thank you so much.

BANFIELD: The president and the treasury secretary, an army of economists, even Warren Buffett, they all say that it would be catastrophic if the United States defaults on its debt.

But there are those who beg to differ, and they come from the Republican ranks. You're going to hear the deniers' view in just a moment.


BANFIELD: So if you haven't taken a look at your 401(k) in the past couple of days, you should. Oh, actually, maybe don't because you might feel better if you don't.

The stocks have been taking a real hit drubbing, due to the partial government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis. Thank you very much, Capitol Hill.

There's the big board for you. We're down 34. Actually looked like we were going to have a better day today, but so far the morning trading on Wall Street has been -- some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are saying, so what?

So what if the debt ceiling isn't raised? We still wouldn't fall into economic disaster.

Here's what House Republican Tom Coburn said on "NEW DAY" today.


REPRESENTATIVE TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: And the problem is we continue to kick it down the road. And pretty soon, everything's going to continue as it until it doesn't. And when it doesn't, that's when the catastrophe comes.

So I'd rather have a managed catastrophe now, which I don't think will be there. You know, here's the thing that all the media does. They say it's default equals not raising the debt ceiling.

That's not true. That is not true. Those are two different and distinct things.


BANFIELD: OK. Again, it's my fault, the media, and Christine Romans. I'm going to put it on her instead because she's our business guru.

She's back with me to talk a little bit about this back and forth, the seemingly endless back and forth, and you have packaged it beautifully so our viewers can understand. Let's have a look.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Stock markets are tumbling as the death ceiling deadline looms and the government remains partially shutdown. And you may start feeling the repercussions.

Lawmakers are talking to the country, but that isn't helping ease Wall Street's concerns.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The greatest nation on earth shouldn't have to get permission from a few irresponsible members of Congress every couple of months just to keep our government open or to prevent an economic catastrophe.

ROMANS: As the president spoke, the selling continued, the Dow dropping 159 points, or one percent, by Tuesday's close.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We can't raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what's driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means.

ROMANS: Since the shutdown began, the Dow is down two-and-a-third percent. And with no solution in sight, America's top CEOs are getting fed up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're the most important economy in the world. We're the reserve currency of the world.

Payments have to go out to people. If money doesn't flow in, then money doesn't flow out.

MUHTAR KENT, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, COCA-COLA: The way forward is not easy. It requires a lot of sacrifice. It requires a lot of flexibility. It requires a lot of compromise. We expect the same will happen with the political architecture.

ROMANS: Starbuck's CEO has written an open letter asking for an end to the gridlock, saying he's disappointed by the level of irresponsibility and dysfunction with our elected political leadership.

The debt ceiling debate is the biggest threat to your investments like your 401(k), your mutual funds, your portfolio.

WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: So the debt ceiling really doesn't make any sense. It ought to be banned as a weapon. It should be like nuclear bombs, I mean, basically, too horrible to use.

ROMANS: The result of the government's inaction could be catastrophic. While the world waits for a solution, your money hangs in the balance.


BANFIELD: And Christine Romans is with me. Yeah, your money hangs in the balance.

All the while, we have competing interests, people saying, we've got plenty of money, we've got plenty of ways we can issue bonds, we've got plenty of ways to get around this.

And then others say we're all going to die.

ROMANS: Well, look so you heard Tom Coburn say -- Senator Coburn say earlier that default does not equal not raising the debt ceiling and vice versa.

We have enough money to pay the interest on our bonds. No question. We have daily tax receipts. But you can't pay everything. No matter how I run the numbers, you still fall short. Are you going to pay seniors IOUs, are you not going to pay for military benefits? Are you not going to pay for disability? Are you not going to pay federal workers?

BANFIELD: How do you prioritize?

ROMANS: How do you prioritize? That is what's so scary.

BANFIELD: Because of this uncertainty, and I'm just going to throw that out there again, because you and have had plenty of conversations about uncertainty. We have numbers like this. We see this board between Christine and me, we're down 40.65 now, so a couple of points. I hope it's not because of this report. But typically, Wall Street backs GOP. Now they don't.

ROMANS: Isn't that interesting. And so many people, like me, who have covered business for a very long time, for the first time people are saying the GOP is no longer the party of business. It was a major, major money manager yesterday who told me, wow, it used to be when you had to go to someone on Capitol Hill, for cooler heads to prevail, to explain -- who know how the system or financing works, it was the GOP explaining it to Democrats. This time it's the other way around. It's business leaders going to the GOP and saying, okay, look, this is how the government is financed, this is why we have to raise the debt ceiling. It's an interesting switch.

BANFIELD: It is. I have to wrap it there, but not before I'm going close up, saying help me Obi Wan Janet Yellen.

ROMANS: I know. She's been called the most qualified person ever to be nominated for Fed chief.

BANFIELD: And hopefully that will calm things, if anything, for the short term anyway. Christine Romans thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: And don't go far, because we need you 24-hours a day at this point.

We've got another story that we're following big time. And that is the bits and pieces of video that you've been watching on your screen play out over the last week. That attack, that horrible attack on SUV by bikers in New York. But investigators have a lot more video that you haven't seen and they are analyzing it big time to see whether an undercover New York cop was part of this attack.


BANFIELD: We're learning of yet another arrest in that terrible biker assault. An all-out assault on an SUV driver in Manhattan. This time, though, this is not a run of the mill arrest. It's different. This latest arrest involves an undercover police officer off duty and there's new video as well the attack, that's surfacing on YouTube.

You may not have seen this before, but it is 'really tough to watch it. You can see the bikers one of the bikers kicking the victim as we lies bloodied on the ground. Our CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti reports from outside the courthouse in New York.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we learn of even more arrests, online video like this, painful to watch.

A biker seen kicking SUV driver Alexian Lien, laying motionless and bloodied on the ground before trying to get up.

An off-duty, under cover detective, now under arrest. 32-year-old Wojciech Braszczok, who was riding with other bikers shown in this video, gone viral. A camera showing an SUV driver running over bikers after his tires were slashed. The off-duty cop is charged with two felonies: criminal mischief and being involved in a riot. In-part accused of pounding on that SUV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The internal affairs bureau is looking at this and they'll continue to do so.

CANDIOTTI: Another biker also charged with gang assault and criminal mischief. A law enforcement source says police have video of the detective not yet made public, proving he took part.

That same source says the veteran detective waited three days before reporting the incident, afraid of blowing his cover.

CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor Paul Callan says the detective could also lose his job even if he's not convicted.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: As police officers, they have an obligation under NYPD regulations to break their cover if they're undercover and to come to the assistance of any civilian who's in danger. And having looked at this video, clearly, the civilians in that car looked like they're in danger.

CANDIOTTI: Police also released photos of four other bikers in connection with the attack. The still frames were isolated from that video, showing Lein getting stomped on. As for the biker wearing that helmet cam, he's now revealing why he pressed the record button.

He says he saw Lein throw a water bottle out of his sun roof, hitting a biker. The SUV starting swerving and the biker smelled trouble. He's not expected to be charged.


BANFIELD: That's Susan Candiotti reporting for us here in New York, and I just wanted to let you know that there a statement that the district attorney, Erin Duggan, has released on this case in New York. Let me read it for you. We've gotten our hands on it.

"The NYPD and district attorney's office are methodically scrutinizing the evidence to build the strongest possible cases in our continuing effort to hold accountable those responsible." Paul Callan who you saw commenting in Susan Candiotti's story there joins me now live. When I see that, I think of more arrests potentially to come. Bit of a no-brainer since there were dozens and dozens of people there, but then I also was curious about the police officer who was not charged with gang assault like four of the others. Why is that?

CALLAN: It's very interesting. They charged him with riot. Which is an entirely different theory. This is an felony, an E-felony. He's facing many years in prison. But they don't now have to prove that he was part of a gang, sort of an organized gang. He engaged in conduct which constitutes a riot, puts the public in a state of alarm, and they seem to be going with that theory. Prosecutors obviously think it's easier to prove. And when I hear the spokesman for the Manhattan D.A.'s office say what she said, it says to me there's a lot more that we're going to hear about and I think we're going to hear about more police officers.

BANFIELD: And I guarantee you we'll see more video whether before or after it hits the court room. Paul Callan, stick around. I've got other questions for you in a moment.

But I have this other massive story that's pressing down on all of us. Could we be on the verge of some kind of resolution in this partial government shutdown? There is a big meeting scheduled a little bit later today at the White House. A big invitation went out to dozens and dozens of members who use that place as an office every day, the Democratic caucus. But is that going to mean anything when the Republicans say, they need to be talked to.

We're going to ask a Republican congressman as well as a Democrat who are going to face to face, next.


BANFIELD: When it's just so tragic, and all you can do is smile, Elvis can help you get through it. A little less talk, more action, please. If you wonder why you feel like you're hearing a broken record when the politicians take to the mike, you are. You're hearing their marketing lines. Have a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning I had a chance to speak With Speaker Boehner.

JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: As you all know, I had a phone call with the President of the United States this morning.

OBAMA: Having such a conversation, talks, negotiations shouldn't require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people.

BOEHNER: I have to say I was disappointed that the president refuses to negotiate.

OBAMA: Let's stop the excuses. Let's take a vote in the House. Let's end this shutdown right now.

BOEHNER: The president's position that, listen, we're not going to sit down and talk to you until you surrender is just not sustainable. It's not our system of government.

OBAMA: The greatest nation on Earth shouldn't have to get permission from a few irresponsible members of Congress every couple of months just to keep our government open or prevent an economic catastrophe.

BOEHNER: There's never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit.

OBAMA: I'm not budging when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States.

BOEHNER: We can't raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what's driving us to borrow more money and live beyond our means.

OBAMA: And this is the credit worthiness of the United States that we're talking about. This is our word. This is our good name. This is real.

BOEHNER: I didn't come here to shut down the government. I certainly didn't come here to default on our debt.

OBAMA: We're not going to pay a ransom for America paying its bills.

BOEHNER: This isn't be me, and frankly, it's not about Republicans. This is about saving the future for our kids and grandkids.

OBAMA: There's a way to solve this. It has to include re-opening the government and saying America is not going to default and pay our bills.

BOEHNER: It's time to that have conversation. Not -- not next week, not next month. The conversation ought to start today.

OBAMA: We can't make ex-extortion routine as part of our democracy. Democracy doesn't function this way.

BOEHNER: What the president said today was, if there's unconditional surrender by Republicans, he'll sit down and talk to us. That's not the way our government works.