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Manhunt for Two Convicted Murderers; Obama Looks Beyond Debt Deal Fight; Toyota Recalls about 800,000 Vehicles; RNC to Obama: #FireSebelius

Aired October 18, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Now under way for two escaped killers. One of those men, Charles Walker, was convicted of killing a man in his early 20s. That's him on the left. On the right is Joseph Jenkins. Jenkins killed a man in front of his 9-year-old son.

The family of Jenkins' victim is terrified and demanding answers this morning. How did this happen?

CNN's John Zarrella is in Orlando with more.

Good morning, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, you know, this is right out of one of those spy movies where you see someone go to a bookstore and a small neighborhood, go to the back room, get a forged passport, some forged documents. That's about what happened here. These inmates were able to fool the Department of Corrections with forged documents that ordered their early release.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Nine years old. He was just 9 when Roscoe Pugh III saw his father gunned down during a home invasion robbery.

ROSCOE PUGH III, VICTIM'S SON: Our lives would be totally different. I said that since I was 9 years old, since I was 9 years old I said my life would have been different if I wouldn't have saw it -- I saw it.

ZARRELLA: Now 15 years later Roscoe is reliving the nightmare.

On September 27th, this man, Joseph Jenkins, serving life for the murder of Roscoe's dad, was mistakenly released from a prison in Franklin County in the Florida panhandle. For Roscoe's mom, it's impossible to comprehend.

CRYSTAL PUGH, VICTIM'S WIFE: It seemed like my whole world came down on me. I felt I would not have to see them ever again in life, because they had life sentence, plus 100 years.

ZARRELLA: If one convicted murder set free by accident isn't enough, there's more. A week and a half after Jenkins went free, so did Charles Walker, convicted of second-degree murder in a different case. And get this. Walker walked out of the same Florida prison.

How is that possible? Forged documents ordered the releases, and on them, the forged signature of Orange County judge, Belvin Perry.


ZARRELLA: Because he's a high-profile judge, Perry says he sees how it's possible no one would question it. And he's not entirely surprised.

PERRY: People. Particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenuous ways to beat the system. They have nothing but time on their hands.

ZARRELLA: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was only notified of the mistake a couple of days ago. Corrections officials say they followed department policy and procedures.

MISTY CASH, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION SPOKESWOMAN: Those inmates were released based on those court orders that we received. The orders were later determined to be fraudulent.

ZARRELLA: It's a snafu that has residents of the area and the Pugh family living in fear.

C. PUGH: And now to have to know that he's free on the streets is frightening, is terrifying.


ZARRELLA: Now authorities might not know now that these guys were set free if it wasn't for the family of one of the victims. The family called the state attorney's office here in Orlando, notified the state attorney and say, hey, how come this guy is out? The state attorney then calls the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Corrections and notifies them. And then the investigation begins.

It's not clear right now, Carol, how the family found out that this guy was out on the street -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So many disturbing aspects of this story.


COSTELLO: I know officials in your story said these two prisoners were to blame. But it had to be someone within the system that was kind of shady. I mean, wouldn't they suspect someone falsified those papers that was working outside the prison system?

ZARRELLA: Yes, absolutely. In fact, Judge Perry said the same thing. And he even said, look, my signature is out there all over the Internet. Anybody can get that and forge my signature. And it's not that difficult to forge the court documents either. So -- but clearly, somebody on the outside was working with these two guys to manipulate the system the way they did and to get those forged papers up to the Department of Corrections. So there's no doubt about it.

COSTELLO: And they have no idea, authorities, where these guys are.

ZARRELLA: Well, they believe that one of them -- they're not telling us how they know this, of course. But they believe that at least one of the two men may be here in the Orlando area. Another reason why we're outside of the sheriff's department here in Orlando. That is where the crimes that these two men were convicted of were committed. Here in the Orange County area.

COSTELLO: John Zarrella, reporting live from Orlando this morning. Thank you.

He made life and death decisions on terrorists and could soon make equally important decisions on your safety. Today President Obama will nominate former Pentagon lawyer, Jeh Johnson, as his choice to head Homeland Security. Maybe the first test for the president coming off that grueling fight for the debt deal.

Jim Acosta is at the White House this morning with more for you.

Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. That's right, from the budget to immigration reform to these glitches with and now a new cabinet announcement. If you thought that there might be a political truce here in Washington, guess again.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Listening to President Obama chatting with the Italian prime minister, it sounded as if he was ready for a vacation in Tuscany.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He will not have to twist my arm to try to get me to come to Tuscany again sometime in the near future.

ACOSTA: But the president has no room on his plate for pasta, not when he set his sights on passing a new budget, immigration reform, and even a farm bill in less than 90 days.

OBAMA: And we could get them done by the end of the year. If our focus is on what's good for the American people.

ACOSTA: A task the president may have made more difficult for himself after railing against Republicans over the shutdown.

OBAMA: You don't like a particular policy? Or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election.

ACOSTA: But he may get help from Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who told "The Hill" newspaper, "There will not be a government shutdown. I think we have fully now acquainted new members with what a losing strategy is."

Former GOP vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, called for bipartisanship in upcoming budget negotiations.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We want to look for ways to find common ground, to get a budget agreement.

ACOSTA: Tell that to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose office told CNN he's not ruling out another shutdown.

The president could also have a fight on his hands over his next pick for secretary of Homeland Security. Jeh Johnson, a former military lawyer and Obama campaign fundraiser, said at a conference earlier this year, that the day will come when the U.S. must declare war against al Qaeda over.

JEH JOHNSON, PROSPECTIVE HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY-NOMINEE: We should no longer consider ourselves in a traditional conflict against al Qaeda and affiliated groups. And I think Benghazi is a prominent example of what I'm talking about. Because you can't label the Benghazi attack as something conducted by al Qaeda and associated forces. It was more of a mixed bag.

ACOSTA: And that's not all. The administration still has to fix those health care Web site glitches.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody is more insistent that that work be done and experience be improved than the president.


ACOSTA: Now the latest conservative battle cry here in Washington is for the firing of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius but White House officials say that she has the full confidence of the president.

And as for that nomination ceremony that's taking place later on this afternoon for Jeh Johnson as next secretary of Homeland Security, of course, he has to be confirmed, and a top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions, has already called Johnson's nomination, quote, "deeply concerning" -- Carol.


COSTELLO: Jim Acosta, reporting live from the White House this morning.

Thousands of people in the San Francisco bay area are scrambling to find another way to work this morning after Rapid Transit workers went on strike for the second time this year. The sticking point, BART officials want to change rules for things like overtime and scheduling.


ANTONETTE BRYANT, PRESIDENT, ATU LOCAL 1555: We were this close, and yet at the last minute, they threw in a management's rights clause to take away our rights as workers. TOM RADULOVICH, PRESIDENT, BART BOARD OF DIRECTORS: There is room to move on financials. And there has been room to move on work rules. We want an agreement that works for everyone.


COSTELLO: BART is the fifth largest transit system in the United States and 400,000 people use it each and every day.

Are spiders invading your car? It is almost Halloween. But this is no treat. Toyota says it's recalling almost 900,000 vehicles because of potentially dangerous problems that can be triggered by spider webs.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange.

OK. This is really strange.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Freaky. It is really strange. And is it just me, Carol, or does Toyota seem kind of ahead of the competition in making their cars web-enabled?


It took me a long time to think of that because I laugh a little better. Make you feel better.


KOSIK: And here's what's really funny, though. You know what, Carol, these spider problems are not a new phenomenon for cars because think about it, cars have a lot of tubes. It means there are a lot of nooks and crannies for spiders to build their webs. You look to 2011, even Mazda had to recall cars because of a spider issue and now it's Toyota recalling about 870,000 vehicles.

And it's not all because of spiders but it is part of the problem. And here's what happens. It causes this sort of cascade of problems. The webs block a drainage tube from the air conditioning condenser, that causes water to just kind of drip down. It can lead to a short- circuit. So what do you get? You get the air bag warning light coming on. Also here's what scary. The air bag can unexpectedly deploy. That's serious. And in some cases, even serious, as well, the power steering can go out.

And this is happening to a lot of popular cars that are here in America made by Toyota. Camrys, the Avalons, these are 2012 and 2013 models. Hybrid versions are being affected as well.

How will you know if your car is one of these? You'll be notified by mail. Toyota says it will fix it for free.

And this is kind of an interesting little tidbit for you. These recalls actually have to go through the National Traffic Safety Administration, which, hey, was closed because of the shutdown, but guess what automakers still had to proceed with recalls without government help -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, the government is back up and running. Hopefully that will help.

Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

When is a rock more than a rock? Answer, when you're in Goblin Valley State Park. Three Boy Scout leaders in Utah could face felony charges after they pushed over a 200 million-year-old boulder.




COSTELLO: OK. These are Boy Scout leaders and they posted this video online. And then somebody saw it and alerted authorities. The men say they pushed the boulder over because it was wobbly and they feared it might fall and hurt hikers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little kid was about ready to walk down here and die. And Glenn saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way.

DAVE HALL, FILMED INCIDENT: That thing wobbled. I looked at that main path, that main walkway and thought, one gust of wind, and a family is dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had to brace himself, he had to get in position. That's more than a gust of wind, you've got to admit.

HALL: You know what? That earth, that dirt wears away every time there is a rain storm.


COSTELLO: They are Boy Scout leaders.

Park officials say no one has ever been hurt by falling rock formations and it is against the law to deface state parks. Investigators have not yet filed official charges.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM. She's America's top health official, but Kathleen Sebelius won't have that job for too long, not if some Republicans have their way. They want the Health and Human Services secretary fired over Obamacare.


COSTELLO: They were not able to defund Obamacare, but that's not stopping some Republicans from trying to defeat the law. Their latest target, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, through the Republican National Committee is slamming for it what called roll out malpractice involving the Obamacare Web site. . And now, the RNC wants Sebelius fired. It's launching a petition on the RNC Web site to make that happen. There you see it.

Joining me now is Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee.

Good morning, Sean.

SEAN SPICER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: Good morning, Carol. Great to see you.

COSTELLO: Nice to see you too.

The White House says Sebelius has, quote, "the full confidence of the president."

But let's just say, President Obama changes his mind somewhere down the line, and let's her go. Then what?

SPICER: Well, I think if you're going to spend three years and hundreds of millions of dollars having a rollout occur like this and go so poorly, then something needs to happen.

What the bigger problem is, that where you come in and say so what, if you can't handle something like this, that's a top priority and bungle it so poorly, can you do the other things that probably are more routine? And this really calls into question the accountability and the leadership that's going on over at HHS in terms of not only our taxpayer dollars, but the delivery of key services, because, again, you had three years, hundreds of millions of dollars, and it took CNN 14 days to be able to log on this site.

The administration likes to point and say, well, it's just like an apple rollout, but when apple had a bad rollout for their mapping service --


SPICER: -- they fired the guy. It was called the most significant shakeup in apple history, because apple says that's unacceptable.

And this administration says, we have the full confidence of that person. That's just unbelievable. And these are supposed to be the tech wizard folks.

You know, that everyone praises the Obama folks for how tech savvy they are, and they take millions of dollars and blow it.

COSTELLO: No one would disagree that the rollout of the Obamacare exchanges has been abysmal. But I'll ask you again, let's say Kathleen Sebelius is gone. Then what? Will Republicans sit down and come up with a better way to run the exchanges? Will they fix the problems? Then what?

SPICER: No, but I guess what I'm getting at, the first thing you have to do, again, obviously, we're opposed to Obama care as a whole, we would like to defund it and go away. The broader issue, if you have somebody at the top of the organization that can't --

COSTELLO: Let's go back to that. You still want to defund it and for it to go away. And you think, by asking the president then to fire Kathleen Sebelius, it will happen. Haven't we been through this?

SPICER: No, no. What -- there are two separate issues. One is getting rid of Obama care. The second is it's a fundamental lack of leadership and accountability when the person at the top of the agency, that is supposed to go overseeing this, cannot handle it or address it after repeatedly telling you it was going on.

Again, I'll go back to what I said earlier, if you can't handle the number-one priority giving three years and hundreds of millions of dollars, how can you do the other things that go along with administering that department? It calls into question the entire ability to lead, manage that department. That's the bigger issue. It's almost separating Obamacare and saying beyond --

COSTELLO: Here's the problem. The health care exchanges have already been set up. According to our estimates, and we've called around to a number of states, asking how many people have signed up, and we get reports that about 245,000 people have signed up through health care exchanges that are working in some states. It's not working in others. So what do you do with those people if suddenly those exchanges go away? What will happen?


COSTELLO: What's the end game?

SPICER: So let's look. Delaware got their first person, Alaska has zero. Iowa has five. So, I think --

COSTELLO: Let's put Kentucky in there. Let's put Kentucky in the mix, because that's one of the states that is successful.

SPICER: Right. That is also -- that is also counting the Medicare enrollees. So it's not counting just the Obamacare. It's counting -- they've encapsulated other programs and counted them towards that total, which is not a fair system.

But let's go to these other top experts, like Robert Gibbs, who happens to be the president's former press secretary who said, I agree, someone should be fired. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the president's choice at the DNC. We should have had a better rollout and design.

That other top health care expert, Wolf Blitzer, from CNN, who said maybe it's not a bad idea to have a one-year delay.

COSTELLO: No, Wolf Blitzer didn't exactly say that.

Sean, can we hold? I want to continue this conversation. I think it's important for the American people.

SPICER: Right. COSTELLO: Will you stick around through the break?

SPICER: I'd love to.

COSTELLO: OK. We'll be right back with more.


COSTELLO: OK. We're talking to Sean Spicer from the Republican national committee about Obamacare. The RNC is calling for Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services director, to be fired.

Thanks for sticking around, Sean. We appreciate it.

I'll ask that question again. There are many Americans, I'm sure, think someone ought to be fired over these exchanges that are not working, because of a terrible rollout over these health care exchanges.

So, I'll just ask you again. So once someone is fired for this, what's next? What happens next?

SPICER: Well, I think you put someone in who is at least accountable. And shows a degree of understanding, a basic management skills.

I just -- I think that there's --

COSTELLO: So Republicans have --


SPICER: Hold on. Can I just -- hold on. Carol, again, I don't understand why it's incumbent upon us. There isn't a person, Republican or Democrat, as you just admitted. I think it's true, no one is saying she did this well.

Your job -- the job of a secretary is to oversee a department. When everybody, from your own team to the other side is saying it's not working, you didn't do a good job, I think replacing them is something that any institution or corporation or nonprofit or television studio would say, we need someone new who can at least manage things properly.

So, I don't think that this is -- this is sort of almost aside from Obamacare and says, if you have this poor management, I don't think it's that odd to say we need to put in a new player to run the -- to run the department or the team or whatever it is. But there's no entity that would accept this level of people saying you're right, my bad. We screwed up, spent $100 million, only had three years to do it.


SPICER: Sorry about it, let's move forward.

COSTELLO: OK. So, the House will hold a hearing next week on these glitches, the webs website's problems, as you said, are well- documented.

But what else are we going to learn from this hearing, besides, you know, the exchanges aren't working well? What else will Americans, some of whom like this system, what will they learn from this hearing?

SPICER: Well, I think we need to understand again, to go back to very basic things, what have you been doing the last three years? Why -- where did the money go? Why were you telling us only a few days prior to launch that all systems were go, everything was on track, this was going to run beautifully. Did you not -- there is a point either you -- pure incompetence, or you knew it and didn't let it stop.

But the administration went out, as you recall, probably a couple months ago, and said all big businesses and corporations are going to get a one-year delay. So, the question might be, did you guys know something was wrong ahead of time and you were just trying to mitigate it? What did you know, when did you know it? Why did all this money get spent, were there any protocols in place to ensure that there was accountability, that things were getting done on time?

But at some point --

COSTELLO: All great questions, except the administration will not send anyone to these hearings to testify, because of what we just went through.

SPICER: Don't you think that's odd? I think that's odd. I think that we as Americans have a right to know why we're sending so much money.

And frankly, this is the bigger issue of what's wrong with Washington right now, there is this complacency you can blow this kind of a rollout this much money and no one is accountable. No one thinks it's a problem. And everyone says we stand by. I think that's a bigger issue of what's going on in this town.

COSTELLO: Well, I think the president did come on and say it was a problem.

But -- I'm just going to posture this, because I don't know. But since we just went through this defund Obamacare thing with the government shutdown, and the House is now holding this hearing, with the underlying goal to defund Obamacare, wouldn't that be a reason why the administration would be loathe to send someone to this hearing? Which is important.

SPICER: Well, they cannot like it, but this isn't a choice. I mean, this is -- there is a system in this country, Congress has oversight and has the purse strings. This isn't a private company that says, hey, it's our money and we get to make these decisions.

This is the American people, this is the -- you know, this is how our system of democracy works. And frankly, we spent taxpayer money on it. They have a responsibility and -- to come up and explain to the American people and members of Congress what happened, why it happened, what else is going on, why are they hiding the number of enrollees, why won't they tell us how many people actually enrolled.

Why won't -- there are basic things that we have a right to know.

COSTELLO: Great question. You're absolutely right about that.

Sean Spicer, I wish we could continue. I really appreciate you being on this morning. Thank you so much.

SPICER: Thanks, Carol. Have a great weekend.

COSTELLO: You too.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, scorched earth and burned bridges. We'll look at the strong-armed tactics of Ted Cruz.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's basically burned down the reputation of the Republican Party.


COSTELLO: And that's from a fellow Republican. Just ahead, what voters are saying in Cruz's home state.