Return to Transcripts main page


Obamacare Still Full of Glitches; Mysterious Death of Kendrick Johnson; Who Really Leads the GOP?

Aired October 11, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: If you have given it a try, signing up for Obamacare, you probably do not need me to tell you that the website still has a lot of glitches. If it's not fixed in a few months, a lot of people may not be able to sign up before they start facing real-life fines for not being able to buy the product. Does that make sense? Some Republicans are saying, we told you so. Take a listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What a train wreck. How can we tax people for not buying a product from a website that doesn't work?


BANFIELD: He's got a point, doesn't he?

So how frustrated are people who are trying to enroll? And maybe more importantly, what is the White House doing about this?

Our Brian Todd finds out.


DAVID SIMAS, DEPUTY SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR FOR COMMUNICATION: Folks are working 24/7 to address and isolate and to fix the problems. People are going through and others are. It's not acceptable, which is why they're working across the clock both with hardware and with software.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But many argue you had many months to get it booted up and perfect it. Why still so many problems?

SIMAS: We went through a testing period and during the testing period to identify problems, create a punch list and fix those things. The president said from the beginning, with a site like this, there are going to be glitches. But let's understand why there's the initial problem. We had 250,000 concurrent users at one time. Just for perspective,, in a given month, has five million unique visitors. This in the first three days had 8.6 million unique visitors, which speaks to the demand. TODD (voice-over): But was there a design flaw? One independent expert, Russ Reeder, who designs websites for major corporations, had his engineers analyze, and he said it doesn't work at the most basic levels.

RUSS REEDER, MEDIA TEMPLE: Just from the highest level, looking at the code on the website, it was, to be honest with you -- it was pretty sloppy. There was still test code in there. There were a number of times that the website would have to go back and hit the server and then come back with too much information. It was just inefficient.

SIMAS: I'll let other people speak to the efficiency of coding. Here is what I know. Prior to October 1st, if someone who is uninsured or in the individual market wanted to buy insurance, usually it was a mailed-in application with about 30 pages, seven pages of underwriting, only to find out two or three weeks later whether or not you were one the one in five who were denied or your premiums were jacked up.

TODD (on camera): How much did it cost to set up this website?

SIMAS: Sir, I'll refer you back to CMS (ph) and HHS for those numbers.

TODD: Was it over $100 million?

SIMAS: I'll just refer you to them for the numbers.

TODD (voice-over): We haven't been able to get hard numbers from those agencies. But according to a government accountability report issued over the summer, they paid nearly $90 million through March of this year. They've obviously paid more since then.

Then there's the potential cybersecurity threat. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers says, with all of the personal information, like your Social Security number, tax information and other data that you have to put into this health care database.

TODD: It's a magnet for hackers he says. What the security standards?

SIMAS: Built to the highest security standards. That's what this website was built upon. So it's pretty clear that the standards that are put in place meet the highest and most exacting security standards and we're comfortable with that.

TODD (on camera): I asked Simas what he would say to me if I was an average user of the website, hadn't been able to log on, had been booted off and was about to give up. He said keep going back. Call a help center. Understand there's a six-month period to sign up. It will continue to improve.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BANFIELD: A family's gut-wrenching questions are still unanswered. What happened to Kendrick Johnson? That 17-year-old was found dead in a high school gym, rolled up in a matt. And yet, the family says there is one eyewitness. And the answers of what happened to Kendrick lie somewhere in some surveillance video that, for some bizarre reason, is nowhere to be found. There are so many other bizarre twists to this case. You'll find out in just a moment.


BANFIELD: If you've been following this story of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson from Georgia, you are probably as flummoxed as most people as to what happened to that young man. Because his body, his dead body, decomposing, was found rolled up in a gym mat in his high school gym, and when they did the autopsy, they said it was an accident -- he got squeezed in there looking for a shoe. But when his family did an autopsy, that guy said, no so fast, there's something else afoot here. And then when the funeral home got a hold of his body, something completely unexplainable happened.

Our Victor Blackwell takes it from there.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, the details of what happened to Kendrick Johnson's body after his death left his parents nearly speechless. And with the addition of Ben Crump, the attorney who represented the parents of Trayvon Martin to their legal team, there's now a renewed call for that they consider the one objective eyewitness to Kendrick's death.



BLACKWELL (voice-over): On the day Kendrick Johnson would have turned 18, his family still is seeking answers in his death.

KENNETH JOHNSON, FATHER OF KENDRICK JOHNSON: I walked into his room and I kissed his picture and said, happy birthday, Kendrick.

BLACKWELL: In January, Kendrick was found dead in the center of a rolled gym mat at Lowndes High School. According to paramedics, it was a crime scene and they noted bruising on his right side jaw.

Lowndes County Lieutenant Stryde Jones was on the scene that day.

LT. STRYDE JONES, LOWNDES COUNTY, GEORGIA: We examined all the alternatives that were presented to us. And the only one that fit the physical evidence and forensic evidence and the testimonial evidence that we received was that this is an accident.

BLACKWELL: Investigators believe Kendrick climbed on to these rolled mats, slipped his 19-inch shoulders into the 14-inch center of a mat to reach for a shoe. They say he got stuck upside down.

JOHNSON: An accident. We just didn't believe it. You could tell he was beaten.

BLACKWELL: Now the family is asking the school board to release any surveillance video from that day in order to see if any clues can be found there.

CHEVENE B. KING JR., JOHN FAMILY ATTORNEY: We believe that these videotapes would clearly answer many of the questions that have surfaced over these many months.

BLACKWELL: In June, the Johnsons' exhumed Kendrick's body. They hired Dr. Bill Anderson to conduct an independent autopsy and he checked that bruised right side jaw.

DR. BILL ANDERSON, PATHOLOGIST: We were able to diagnose the fact that there was blunt-force trauma to that area.

BLACKWELL (on camera): So he took blows to the neck?

ANDERSON: He took at least one blow to the neck.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Lowndes County investigators stand behind their investigation.

JONES: We found an area on a wall that appeared to be blood. We tested it and it was blood. And we did DNA testing and it was not the blood of Kendrick Johnson.

BLACKWELL: Now the Johnson's have new questions about what happened when Kendrick's body was removed from the gym.

ANDERSON: When we got the body for the second autopsy, that organs, the heart, lungs, liver, et cetera, were not with the body.

BLACKWELL: A spokeswoman for the state tells CNN, after its autopsy, "The organs were placed in Johnson' body, the body was closed and then the body was released to the funeral home."

(on camera): What was in the place of the organs?


BLACKWELL: Newspaper.

(voice-over): In a letter to the Johnson's attorney, the owner of Harrington Funeral Home, which the Johnsons hired to prepare Kendrick's body for burial, says he never received Kendrick's organs. He writes in part, "His internal organ were destroyed through a natural process and, hence forth, discarded before the body was sent back to Valdosta."

It's another tragedy for a family forced to find a new way to celebrate a birthday.

JOHNSON: Only we can celebrate his birthday is pushing and trying to get justice for Kendrick.


BLACKWELL: And because of our investigation, the state of Georgia is now investigating Harrington Funeral Home.

And more about that so-called one-objective eyewitness to the death of Kendrick Johnson. The attorneys for the school district say they are not going to release the video because it's considered academic record. And under open records laws here in Georgia, academic records are exempt -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: All right, Victor Blackwell doing an amazing job tracking this story from the beginning.

Let's me just tell you something. This story might have gone away if Victor had not chased it down, had it not gone on television, and had organizations not taken a second look and said something smells funny here, something doesn't fit right.

Coming up, a man who knows all too well, when television and the media get involved, things start getting bigger and the scrutiny more serious. The attorney for George Zimmerman, Mark O'Mara, coming up in just a moment.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to "Legal View."

The mystery over what happened to Kendrick Johnson, what happened to the investigation about his death, and whether, in fact, this might actually be a murder, it just keeps seeming to snowball.

CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, joins me live.

Mark, I'm telling you, as Victor began the research into this case, a lot of us were left just gap-jawed over this. Have you seen something this bizarre and this mishandled? And give me your take on where this case sits?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly, the facts are seemingly bizarre. I'm not sure how it could have happened that Kendrick could have ended up the way he did in that rolled-up mat. The facts themselves really give us pause to look at it. And you would think it would give pause to law enforcement. They would look at it and say this is so unusual, so unique that a young man that age or that size could fit into that small of a hole. You look into it more. And then what we see is what seems to be, at least, less of an investigation that should have happened.

BANFIELD: And not only that, there seems to be scattered bits of evidence around that crime scene that are mystifying. One that I had not heard of here before was the issue that Kendrick Johnson was seen on a still photo from the surveillance video in the school carrying two notebooks into that gym. But the notebooks were found scattered about 30 feet apart, 20 to 30 feet apart. Doesn't that give a suggestion if you were to look into how those notebooks ended up like that, that maybe there could have been a struggle?

O'MARA: There was a lot of forensic evidence that I can only hope was retained enough so that good investigators could look out it now and figure it out. You have the notebooks 25, 30 feet away. You have another couple of pair of sneakers that seem to be maybe related, but we're not sure. You have some blood on the wall. You have the shoe at the bottom of this opening in a mat that doesn't have blood on it. They may all have independent explanations, but the idea that they all existed at that one time suggests that they really should have been looked at. And the real problem is, as we've talked about, is when there's a vacuum of information and there seems to be in this case, then misinformation fills the gaps. People speculate. They don't know what happens so they come up with their own ideas. If there's a piece of advice for law enforcement, it's to be transparent and to do it quickly so that the rest of us can know what happened that night.

BANFIELD: And for the prosecutors to be good with discovery, too.

Quickly, the issue of the body of Kendrick being stuffed with newspapers --

O'MARA: Well --

BANFIELD: -- and the absolute mysterious disappearance of his organs. I've only got a couple of seconds left, but --

O'MARA: Sure.

BANFIELD: -- is this a bizarre coincidence or is there something much more sinister going on here?

O'MARA: I think, Ashleigh, it may be a bizarre coincidence. Here's what most people don't know. With an autopsy, the organs are removed. We know they're taken out of the body for weighting and things like that. General speaking, what GBI said, and Florida does, is they put them back in the body in a plastic bag. May not have happened that way. May have been removed. But the fact that it was stuffed with newspaper, while it sounds horrid, is slightly unusual with newspapers, but you have to put something in the body to make it full again. So it may be more of a coincidence and a strange story, but not devious, yet.

BANFIELD: But not a good fact and not a good detail in an already troubling story.

O'MARA: Certainly, not.

BANFIELD: Mark O'Mara, always good to talk to you. Thank you for your time.

O'MARA: Great. Thanks, Ashleigh, for having me.

BANFIELD: Mark O'Mara joining us live on that case.

And Kendrick Johnson's parents are going to be guest on "Anderson Cooper 360" tonight, so make sure you tune in, 8:00 p.m. eastern time, again, on Anderson.

A question for you: Who is the real leader of the Republican Party today? House Speaker John Boehner? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? Neither, so says Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Counsel. He said the de facto leader of the GOP is speaking or at least was speaking at this event today. It's Ted Cruz. I asked him about that live when he joins us next.


BANFIELD: At the Values Voter Summit, in the spotlight right now is Tony Perkins, who is not only there and was in the audience during some rousing speeches this morning, but also is the president of the Family Research Counsel.

And also, Mr. Perkins, I heard you saying right actually to CNN that you think Ted Cruz, the Senator from Texas, is the de facto leader of the Republican Party. I have to ask you to qualify that, whether it was a good idea, given the fact this he's at the center, it seems, of so many people ire, the shutdown of the government, and perhaps even a favorability of the Republican party that sits at about 24 percent right now. Your response?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, Ashleigh, this week, we've seen clearly that the wheels are coming off the Obamacare gurney and conservatives around the country are wanting somebody to do something. What we saw coming up to this present showdown between the GOP and the Obama White House was outsiders. You had Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, were the ones who stood up and said, you know what, we can challenge this. And they have.

And now the question is --


BANFIELD: How do you mean the wheels have come off Obamacare? Sir, that completely confounds me because it seems as though that didn't work and Obamacare seems to be off the table now. The government has been shut down for two weeks. We started going into a debt ceiling. How is all of that a good thing?

PERKINS: When you look at what's happened since October 1st, when Obamacare went into effect, you can't get -- people aren't registering. The system doesn't work. It's like the president said, look, we're not ready to put this mandate on business. So you had the outsiders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee say, all right, if we're not going to put this mandate on business because it's not ready for prime time, don't put it on the American family. They stood up when the GOP leaders did not. Now, they have come behind them to some degree and we're at the point that we're at. We'll see what happens as a result of the negotiations --


BANFIELD: Mr. Perkins, I'm glad you brought that up. Do you think that the penalty that we're all going to face if we don't sign up for Obamacare might actually end up being delayed for a year, as a concession here, as one of those strings attached on the spending bill, because the website has been all messed up?

PERKINS: It very well -- well might. There is going to have to be some concessions made. And you know, what's fair is fair. If business is able to go -- to have a delay, a one-year delay and the mandate on them, why not the American family? That was one of the proposals sent over from the House to simply ask for a one-year delay. Maybe that's what will ultimately come of this. Certainly, that's what we hope, is we're now saying this thing is just not working.

BANFIELD: All right. You know, I wish I had more time, Mr. Perkins, to talk to you. I know you've got a busy day ahead with the Value Voters Summit. Good luck at the conference. Maybe you'll come back and talk to us about what was achieved.

Thanks so much.

PERKINS: All right. Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Tony Perkins joining us live in Washington, D.C.

Like I said, I'm flat out of time. It's been a busy day. It's going to get busier so make sure you stay tuned to CNN.

And by the way, speaking of that, AROUND THE WORLD starts right now with Suzanne Malveaux and Michael Holmes. Have great weekend and happy Canadian Thanksgiving.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Happy Friday.

It is day 11 of the partial government shutdown. Six more days and we hit that debt ceiling.

MALVEAUX: We have a couple of plans already, probably not going to get the votes needed to pass, but the tone of the conversation we think in Washington is getting just a little bit better.

HOLMES: That's something. The House may actually vote today on a Republican plan to temporarily raise the debt limit, the old can kicking, but it is something. It would increase the U.S. borrowing limit by six weeks so the government can pay its bill.

MALVEAUX: In extends the debt ceiling through November 22nd. In exchange, Democrats, including the president, would have to engage in deficit reduction talks during those six weeks. But here's the problem. President Obama has said he's not going to talk deficit reduction until Congress, both increases debt ceiling, also reopens the government. Those are the requirements.

HOLMES: Exactly. That is the kicker.