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Obama's Mr. Fix It; Security Lapse at Nuclear Command Post; Kerry: Talks Could Bring Syria Peace; Accused Al Qaeda Terrorist in Court

Aired October 23, 2013 - 05:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: On that note, good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm in for Zoraida today. I'm Michaela Pereira.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. I'm just in for myself. It is Wednesday, October 23rd, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

PEREIRA: Well, up first, he's the health care fixer. He's tapped to head up the Web site rescue effort. His mission: get that beleaguered operating at full speed and fast because Republicans can smell blood, seizing on another front on their war against Obamacare.

We get more now from CNN's Jim Acosta.



JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House is out to make sure the bugs in the Obamacare Web site don't bite back. So, the president recorded this video message for this post-campaign volunteer team to spread the message of patience.

OBAMA: By now, you probably heard that the Web site has not worked as smoothly as it was supposed to.

ACOSTA: The Obama administration has appointed Jeff Zients, the man who will soon be the president's top economist and he once served as the budget director to be the Mr. Fix It, to go after the site's technical problems.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he's providing management advice and consultation. But for more details about this role, because he's being brought on by HHS, I would refer to you HHS.

ACOSTA: But the White House is offering few additional details about the Web site rescue effort.

CARNEY: I would refer to you HHS. The tech surge was announced by CMS and HHS. So, I would refer you to them.

I would refer you to HHS for that. ACOSTA: Republicans want more oversight, calling for weekly reports on the website's progress and the delay of the individual mandate to buy insurance if the tech issues continue.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: The president put politics ahead of his own program working effectively and easily for hundreds of millions of Americans.

ACOSTA: Former vice president candidate Paul Ryan is the latest GOP leader to call on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step down, saying on a Republican conference call, "This rollout has been a fiasco. I think some people should be held responsible."

But Clay Johnson, a former White House innovation fellow who worked on I.T. projects for the administration, says the real problem is with the government contractors who built the site.

CLAY JOHNSON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE INNOVATION FELLOW: I think that they don't know how to measure success. I mean, the federal government wants to innovate so badly, but it doesn't have the access to the right kinds of contractors, that it needs in order to pull off these kinds of innovation.

ACOSTA: Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: Republicans have targeted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for blame on this fiasco, a lot of people now, especially on the Republican side of the aisle, calling for her resignation. In an exclusive CNN interview with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Sebelius was asked what the president knew about the Web site issues and when he knew it.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president did say that he was angry about this. And do you know when he first knew that there was a problem?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days that --

GUPTA: But not before that, though? Not before October 1st? There was no concern at that point in the White House or at HHS?

SEBELIUS: I think that we talked about having testing going forward. And if we had an ideal situation and could have built a product in, you know, a five-year period of time, we probably would have taken five years, but we didn't have five years.


BERMAN: Sebelius says that no one is more frustrated with the Web site rollout, and she is, also the president. And they are confident that an A-Team of experts will come in to fix the problems.


All right. A report says the IRS paid out more than $132 billion in bogus claims for tax credits over the past decade. The agency's inspector general found more than a fifth of all earned tax credits went to people who didn't qualify. The program is supposed for working families. The report says the agency was unable to show it fixed the problem after it was flagged by the inspector general.

BERMAN: We're learning this morning about a shocking security lapse in an underground nuclear command post. I mean it when I say shocking. Air Force officers entrusted with the keys that could launch nuclear warheads have left the blast door intended to prevent intruders from entering, they've left that door open, not once, but twice this year.

"The Associated Press" reports those blast doors are never to be left open if a crew member is inside and sleeping. That was the case in both instances. Two launch commanders and two deputies have been disciplined.

PEREIRA: Later today, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets with President Obama at the White House. The U.S. is seeking to restore closer ties with the nuclear armed nation, but tensions between the two countries remain over drone attacks aimed at extremists. Sharif calling for an end to those strikes Tuesday. The two are also expected to focus on the Afghanistan over after the U.S. pullout next year.

BERMAN: Concerns this morning that a peace conference to end the civil war in Syria may not take place next month. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Tuesday that leaders of the U.S.-backed opposition have not committed to negotiate with President Bashar al Assad. The U.S. and 10 Arab and European nations are backing the peace talks.

PEREIRA: An ominous prediction out of Afghanistan this morning. The Taliban is planning to carry out an unusually aggressive campaign violence there -- campaign of violence of there this winter. The offensive, particularly aimed at causing disruption ahead of next year's presidential elections in Afghanistan, "The New York Times" reports. A senior military officer said we may see high profile attacks targeting political official, rather than combat on the ground.

BERMAN: Wednesday is the anniversary of the fall of Moammar Gadhafi. But instead of freedom and development that have been hoped for in Libya, that country is really falling into anarchy. Rival Islamist and Western-backed factions are uniting with militias, turning political feuds into armed conflict. The result is a vulnerable system where political rivalries have the potential to erupt into civil war. The prime minister kidnapped just last week.

PEREIRA: A rare protest outside the King's Palace in Saudi Arabia over female drivers. Around 150 clerics and religious scholars taking part, they're blaming the U.S. for a campaign calling for women to drive on October 26th. Since this campaign launched last month, Saudi women have been uploading videos of themselves behind the wheel. Though no law bans them from driving women are not issued licenses in that ultra-conservative kingdom.

BERMAN: And newly released court documents now officially tying the dead Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a gruesome triple murder. Federal investigators say that he participated in the killings back in Massachusetts back in 2011. The victims' throats were slit. One of the victims was a friend of his, a man shot to death during questioning by an agent in Florida told investigators that the older Tsarnaev brother was involved in these murders.

The filing is part of prosecutor's attempts to block Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from getting associated documents associated with that crime. He's awaiting trial for the bombings that killed three people in April. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty.

PEREIRA: Seven minutes after the hour.

Let's get you ready to almost get out the bed to get out the door. I understand there's a progression.

BERMAN: Very early stages here.

PEREIRA: I was going to say, get you out the door. It's too early.

BERMAN: Start thinking about it right now.

PEREIRA: Let's be honest -- Karen Maginnis.


You know you've got problems when we start the forecast off with lake- effect snow, and that's what we do have in Upstate New York, Rochester, Syracuse expecting a little bit of snow, but this just the beginning. We've got some rainfall expected along that I-95 corridor, maybe to the south and to the east of that, so that's good news.

What about the game for tonight? Well, I'll have that forecast in just a second. But we've got a big dip in the jet stream. This is ushering in that cold air. Just enough moisture being thrown onshore at some places from Washington, D.C., to New York City, to Boston, could see a shower or two, but for the most part, it looks like it's going to be light.

But this is the big news -- the big drop in temperatures that may keep you in bed just a little bit longer, because those temperatures are running a good 5 to 10, in some cases as much as 15 degrees below where they should be for this time of year. Chicago, you should be in the 60s, you'll only be in the 40s for today, and into tomorrow -- 40s extending all the way into Cincinnati. New York City, 55. But that temperature is running about 5 to 10 degrees below where it should be.

In Boston tonight, John and Michaela, looked like some clouds, maybe an isolated shower and 47 degrees. BERMAN: That's chilly. Chilly for game one of the World Series.

We're going to turn up the heat on the Cardinals.


BERMAN: That's good.

Karen, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us next: a suspected al Qaeda terrorist on trial, but now his wife is explaining why he could not have committed the crimes that he's accused of.

PEREIRA: Are jerky treats killing pets? Hundreds already dead. House to more sickened. Where the tainted treats are coming from, coming up next.

BERMAN: Plus -- it is time for your morning rhyme. Tweet us with your very own original verse. It can be about anything. The hashtags are #earlystart, #morningrhyme, we will read the very best ones on the air in the next half hour. Extra points if you rhyme with something with "jerky."



BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

A suspected al Qaeda mastermind is back in court. Abu Anas al Libi was appointed a defense attorney and U.S. prosecutors say they want to try him alongside two other al Qaeda terrorists. Al Libi was captured in a daring raid in Libya earlier this month. He's accused of planning the 1988 U.S. bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. But now, his wife say that's not possible.

Here's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One of America's most wanted terror suspects back in court in Lower Manhattan with new indications of how he may argue his case.

Abu Anas al Libi, charged with helping plan the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Tanzania that killed more than 200 people appeared before a U.S. federal judge. His wife tells CNN he's not only innocent, but he left al Qaeda well before the 1998 attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It is true my husband was a member of al Qaeda, but he left al Qaeda in 1996, two years before the bombings. He did not take any part in any bombing anywhere in the world.

TODD: Another al Qaeda member once testified in a U.S. trial that Abu Anas al Libi left al Qaeda's group in Sudan in the mid-1990s, but there's no indication that he completely severed ties with al Qaeda.

And the indictment says he helped plan the embassy attacks before leaving. In the latter part of 1993, the indictment says, al Libi conducted visual and photographic surveillance of the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank cites the testimony of an alleged co-conspirator of al Libi's on what happened next.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: These very same pictures were brought to bin Laden in Sudan, and that bin Laden looked through the pictures and then decided where he was going to put a truck bomb.

TODD: But the plan was put on a shelf for five years. All U.S. officials seem to know now is that al Libi was simply allegedly a scout for the operation. By the time bin Laden ordered the 1998 embassy bombings, al Libi had joined another militant group.

CRUICKSHANK: It's plausible he had no knowledge that bin Laden had actually green-lighted the operation, that bin Laden had used his photographs to attack the embassy.

TODD (on camera): But, of course, that didn't mean that al Libi wasn't part of the plot originally. Contacted by CNN neither the prosecutor's office, nor U.S. intelligence official would comment on the remarks by al Libi's wife that he's innocent.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


PEREIRA: Accused Colorado theater shooter James Holmes had four types of explosives at his apartment, according to FBI agents who testified Tuesday at a pretrial hearing. The 25-year-old is accused murdering 12 and injuring 70 more in the 2012 massacre. His trial is expected to start in earnest next year. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

BERMAN: The Ohio man who confessed on YouTube to causing a fatal dui crash, he will learn his fate today. Twenty-two-year-old Matthew Cordle pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide. After his much watched video confession went viral, Cordle said he was not looking to get off easy but his attorneys are in fact looking for a reduced sentence. He faces up to eight years in prison.

PEREIRA: A warning now for pet lovers and pet owners. Jerky treats, you know what your pets enjoy? It could be making your dog or cat sick. So far more than 3,000 cases of sick dogs have been reported to the FDA since 2007. And more than 580 pets have actually died.

Now, most of these brands originated in China, Nestle Purina, Canyon Creek and Nestle Milo's Kitchen are now voluntarily recalling these products while the FDA investigates. Despite extensive testing, the FDA can't pinpoint it.

BERMAN: Check your shelves. PEREIRA: Yes.

BERMAN: Finally, we love this story. This is just simply wonderful.

Twenty-eight-year-old Rob Jones, he lost both of his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. But the former marine, he never gave up. He is biking now across the country to help other deserving veterans.


ROB JONES, MARINE VET: I joined the Marine Corps in 2006 as a combat engineer, went to Iraq in 2008. Afghanistan 2010, primarily tasked with finding explosives on the ground. So I figured cycling across America would be cool.

And I figured, while I'm doing it, I might as well set a stand for double above knee amputees on an upright bike. If double above knee amputees want to ride a bike, they can see me doing it. They know that it's possible. So, once you see something is possible, it's easier to do other stuff.


PEREIRA: Isn't that the truth? Once you see something is possible, it's more easy to see that anything is.

BERMAN: You watch this guy, you think nothing is impossible.

Jones, he left Maine last week, he wants to reach San Diego in April. He's also looking to raise $1 million and inspire disabled veterans everywhere. He's inspiring everybody.

PEREIRA: He really is.

All right. Time for this morning's "Road Warriors", going through airport security may become a more soothing experience. Isn't that nice to hear?

BERMAN: Back rubs.

PEREIRA: I know. The Dallas-Ft. Worth airport has opened a new check point with more of a feel of a hotel lobby. TV monitors display wait time estimates while you're standing in line. Music plays as you get closer to the scanner.

There are instruments being played instead of the TSA screener shouting them out. Checkpoint also has pastel mood lighting.

Wait, sounds like a doctor's office.

BERMAN: Mood lighting?

PEREIRA: There are coaches and chairs available so you can put your shoes and everything else back on.

BERMAN: Take a nap. PEREIRA: Well, you might want to do that.

The Charlotte airport opened up a similar check point last week. And if this works, the plan is to open more of these in other airports. Do feel harassed and disheveled after that process. We understand it needs to help we try to put ourselves back together, and you're balancing on one foot, you're losing your laptop.

BERMAN: I'm always in favor of mood lighting. Let me stipulate mood lighting is a good thing.

PEREIRA: Good work on that, guys.


BERMAN: I applaud the effort.

I mean, clearly, they are making an effort to make the experience less painful.

PEREIRA: They've heard from travelers.

BERMAN: Kudos to them.


BERMAN: Coming up --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I looked at that main path, that main walkway, and thought one gust of wind and the family is dead.


BERMAN: A scout leader destroys a 170 million-year-old rock formation, but now, there is a new twist.

Stay with us.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Felony charges could be brought dense two former Boy Scout leaders in Utah. They posted this now viral video. You might recall them vandalizing a rock formation estimated to be, oh, 170 million years old.

Now, the story is really getting strange. CNN's Tom Foreman reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wiggle it, just a little bit --

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took millions of years to build the rock formation in Utah's Goblin Valley. It took seconds for Glenn Tailor to push one over.


FOREMAN: But now, it seems increasingly possible the viral video of that instant in time could produce long-lasting repercussions.

For starter, both Taylor and the man who shot the video, Dave Hall, had been relieved of their duties as Boy Scout leaders, as has a third man. Authorities say they may face criminal charges. As one of the men told a local payment, they've also been getting death threats from people in Germany and Spain and New Zealand, hundreds and hundreds of hateful messages.

Never mind that Hall has argued they were performing a public service by preventing a Roadrunner and coyote scenario in which the unstable rock might unexpectedly fall on people using the popular park.

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

FOREMAN: But the strangeness just won't stop. Does Hall look familiar? He was a close friend of Travis Alexander. The man murdered by former girlfriend gone bad Jodi Arias. Hall appeared on TV dozens of time during her trial, right through the guilty verdict.

HALL: Today, Travis' family will get a good night's sleep knowing that justice worked.

FOREMAN: But Hall may not be sleeping well and he is avoiding TV. He told OUTFRONT, based on the advice of his lawyer, he is not speaking to the press.

(on camera): And here is a final odd twist. One reason that area in Utah is a state park is that people as far back as the 1960s feared the delicate rock formations needed to be protected or they might be destroyed by vandals.


FOREMAN (voice-over): It is all rising like a dust devil around the rock topplers who now can only wait to see how the scales of justice might tip.

For OUTFRONT, Tom Foreman, CNN.


BERMAN: Scales of justice might tip like that giant rock, says Tom Foreman.

PEREIRA: It's really taken an interesting turn this story. My goodness.

BERMAN: Crazy, huh.

All right. Coming up for us next --


CALLER: This is a student from Sparks Middle School. You can please send police out here? There's a kid with a gun.


BERMAN: A school panicking when a 12-year-old pulls out a gun and begins shooting.



CARNEY: There are problems and there were problems that need to be addressed. And we're improving the experience for consumers every day.


PEREIRA: The White House defending the president's new health care law and fixing -- promising to fix the Web site. Problems causing that rocky rollout.


CALLER: Somebody brought a gun to school then shot the teacher.


BERMAN: You're now hearing the terrifying moments inside the middle school when a 12-year-old pulled out a gun and opened fire.

PEREIRA: A very special day for the royal family. Britain's future king, Prince George, is going to be christened this morning. We're live at Buckingham Palace.

BERMAN: We have royal news this morning.

PEREIRA: Royal news. That's very exciting.

BERMAN: Very exciting.

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

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira, in for Zoraida. It is 30 minutes after the hour.

BERMAN: President Obama says that no one is more frustrated than he is about the Web site problems that have frustrated so many people trying to sign up for health care insurance under the Obamacare law. He's called in a trusted adviser now to help clean up the mess at, that -- there were apparently red flags suggesting that Obamacare -- that the rollout would fail.