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Obamacare Hearings; NSA Not Spying on Angela Merkel; Massachusetts Teacher Killed; Skakel Murder Conviction Overturned; No to Retirement? Starbucks Opens Tea House

Aired October 24, 2013 - 04:00   ET



REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Clearly there is problems with the Web site. But I would argue that the problems go much further than that.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We did not know until the problems manifested themselves after the launch that they would be as significant as they have turned out to be.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The blame game over Obamacare's rocky rollout heats up. Today, the contractors who built the problem- plagued Web site facing very tough questions on Capitol Hill, why they say it's not their fault.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is one of the nicest teachers at Danvers. Always went out of her way to talk to you. Always saying hi to everybody. It's just -- it's a real tragedy.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: What a tragedy indeed. A popular high school teacher found murdered. Her body dumped in the woods. Now a 14-year-old student stands charged with this crime.

ROMANS: And brrrr. A massive cold front being a big taste of went this morning. Temperatures up to 20 degrees below normal. How far the mercury is expected to drop.

BERMAN: That was a very impressive brrrr. You were feeling that like from your toes.

ROMANS: All of my peeps in the Midwest have already had it and they've been sending me pictures of their, you know, snow covered front --

BERMAN: So you're prepared?

ROMANS: I'm ready.

BERMAN: You've been warned?

ROMANS: I've been warned. So have you.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to a very cold EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, October 24th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: Which is early.

First, we're just hours away now from the first congressional hearings on the rollout of the troubled Obamacare Web site. The original site developers, they will be on Capitol Hill. They will be very much in the hot seat. And as for the problems that have stifled online health care enrollment these people are expected to say, "It's not our fault." So expect some serious finger-pointing, Washington style.

We get more now from CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the Obamacare finger pointing shifting into high gear, the private contractors that built the troubled Web site are already still saying, don't blame us. Still, they're offering conflicting stories of what went wrong and prepared testimony before today's hearing at the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While one executive is expected to say the site passed eight required technical reviews prior to going live on October 1st, another contractor says, a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance products is behind some of the problems. Not only do House Republicans want answers --

BOEHNER: It's our job to hold them accountable. And when it comes to Obamacare, clearly there's an awful lot that needs to be held accountable.

ACOSTA: Some of President Obama's fellow Democrats want heads to roll.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Well, it's inexcusable. Somebody ought to get fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kathleen Sebelius?

NELSON: No. They should wait and get the thing up and running and then determine and let somebody be accountable.

ACOSTA: A health insurance industry insider tells CNN contractors and officials at the Department of Health and Human Services knew about the site's problem but gave a far rosier picture to the White House. That insider says, "No one wanted to go to the White House and say to the president that your signature legislative achievement may not go so well." But White House officials insist the president wasn't intentionally kept in the dark.

CARNEY: We did not know until the problems manifested themselves after the launch that they would be as significant as they have turned out to be.

ACOSTA: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN the president did not know about the problems until after the site was fully launched.

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

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So not before that, though? Not before --

SEBELIUS: No, sir.

ACOSTA: All the more reason, Republicans say, for the president to hold somebody accountable.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: I mean, the president himself seems embarrassed by it. And if he's not going to resign over this mess, why, he ought to decide who should.

ACOSTA: Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Later this morning President Obama is expected to shift focus from the health care rollout to immigration reform. The White House says he'll call on Congress to act, urging lawmakers to finish the work by the end of the year.

Work on measures to strengthen U.S. borders and provide a pathway towards citizenship for millions of people who are in the country right now illegally. House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday expressed optimism about House action by year's end.

BERMAN: Well, the Senate has already passed a bill, unclear exactly what measures the House will take but Speaker Boehner, if he wants to get something done, it could mean that something could, in fact, get done by the end of the year. We'll have to wait and see.

Denial this morning from the Obama administration over a report that claims that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. The White House said that the president assured Merkel during a phone conversation Wednesday that the U.S. is not monitoring her communications and will not monitor her communications.

Of course, was the U.S. monitoring her communications? That may be a different question.

ROMANS: It's all in the verb tense.

BERMAN: All in the verb tense. German magazine "Der Spiegel" reported that Merkel called the president to discuss these allegations which are based on disclosures from NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Our Fred Pleitgen has the story.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's very few details that have emerged so far. The German government only came out and said that it has information that Angela Merkel's phone was possibly tapped into by the NSA or other U.S. intelligence services. They would not say anything else.

Now there was that phone call between Angela Merkel and Barack Obama earlier on Wednesday where Angela Merkel, according to the German government, made absolutely clear that she finds this unacceptable, that it has to stop immediately, that Germany wants a treaty between Germany and the United States that absolutely makes clear the relations between the two countries' intelligent communities for something like this to not ever happen again.

The Germans have been on the edge about U.S. intelligence gathering in Germany for a very long time. The government in Berlin said that it's asked the U.S. government to clarify what sort of intelligence gathering, what sort of spying and espionage it has been conducting in Germany about six or seven months ago and that so far it has not gotten satisfactory answers from the United States.

One of the things that Berlin said today, again, it says it expects those answers to be forthcoming as fast as possible.

Angela Merkel is a politician that's on her cell phone all the time. It's a well-known fact in Germany that she texts during parliamentary debates, that she's on that phone the whole time. There were feature pieces done on that phone saying that it was impossible to tap into that phone.

Clearly now that is not the case and it is something that is very, very damaging to U.S. and German relations. Whereas the Germans in this whole saga surrounding Edward Snowden, the NSA leaks, have always felt like the Americans were being insincere to them that Germany felt it was a closer ally to the United States than to have America collect as much data from German Internet users from German phone user, and now also from German politicians as is now coming to light.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Atlanta.


ROMANS: Top secret CIA documents revealing this morning that despite denouncing U.S. drone strikes, Pakistan's government for years secretly endorsed the program. The revelation coming a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with President Obama at the White House calling for an end to those strikes.

The "Washington Post" says Pakistan has routinely received classified briefings on the strikes and the casualty count. BERMAN: Sharp differences this morning between the U.S. and Israel over Iran's nuclear program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry and called for dismantling Iran's nuclear bomb making capability, while the U.S. is suggesting putting safeguards in place that can assure that Iran's intention is peaceful and not military in nature.

Six global powers and Iran will resume talks next month in Geneva looking for possible avenues toward a diplomatic deal.

ROMANS: Starvation fears in Syria this morning as the army cuts off remaining smuggling routes to the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Aid workers say no food or supplies have come into the region since the intensified army blockade on rebel held areas near the capital. Residents worry conditions will soon become like that in the western suburbs where hunger is so severe, doctors are reporting deaths now from malnutrition.

BERMAN: In such civil war, a warning that Egypt is spiraling dangerously close to civil war. Opponents of the coup that toppled elected President Mohamed Morsi are urging the international community to pay close attention. They believe that the crackdown on supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood is tearing that country apart. Since this all began more than 1,000 people have been killed and more than 2,000 have been arrested.

ROMANS: All right. Lawyers for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may try to save him from the death penalty by blaming everything on his dead brother. They want access to records implicating Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a grissly triple murder in 2011. Prosecutors for the first time Monday said a friend of his told them he took part in the killings. Now the younger Tsarnaev's attorneys may argue he fell under his brother's murderess influence.

BERMAN: Lawyers have long said this is the most likely chance for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to say that he was under some kind of spell from the older brother who was pulling all the strings. We'll see if it works.

A 14-year-old student is behind bars this morning charged with murdering a popular high school math teacher. Authorities say Colleen Ritzer's body was found in the woods behind the school.

Let's get more now from CNN's Don Lemon.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the face of an accused killer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your Honor, the defendant before the court is 14.

LEMON: Investigators in Massachusetts allege 14-year-old Philip Chism killed popular 24-year-old math teacher Colleen Ritzer at Danvers High School where she taught and where he was a student. KYLE CAHILL, DANVERS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: He's quiet. Just kept to himself. I mean, he's probably he's new to society. But I mean he's a good kid. He didn't seem bad, like nothing out of the ordinary, just a quiet normal kid.

LEMON: Students and family members say Ritzer loved being a teacher. At times, sending out homework assignments over Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A wonderful lady. Couldn't say enough about her. She was always the teacher to go the extra mile for students.

LEMON: So why would anyone, let alone a student, want to kill her? Allegedly dumping her body in the woods behind her own school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that their sense of security starts to become shattered, you know, and they all just said this is Danvers. This is Danvers. It doesn't happen here.

LEMON: The discovery of Colleen Ritzer's body was a surprise ending to what started Tuesday night as a hunt for Chism, a high school soccer player who'd gone missing. Meanwhile Ritzer's family had called police that night to say she was missing, too.

JONATHAN BLODGETT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: As a result of that report, Danvers Police initiated a search for the teacher and discovered blood in the second floor bathroom at Danvers High School.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By such assault and beating did kill and murder such person.

LEMON: The teen was found in a nearby town on Tuesday. According to court documents, investigators learned from an interview with Chism and video surveillance at the school that he had assaulted and then murdered Ritzer.

In an adult criminal court the teen's attorney argued he should be treated as a juvenile.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this case, the defendant wishes to have services to evaluate him. I think the case speaks for itself.

LEMON: That decision was not made today. He will be held without bail at a county jail facing a murder charge, as a community struggles to answer the question why.

Don Lemon, CNN, Danvers, Massachusetts.


ROMANS: Wow. A sad story.

All right. It looks like old man winter just starting to wake from a season's long slumber. Large sections of the country getting their first real taste of chilly weather as a cold front moves across the country. There are real snowflakes, real snow falling in Columbus, Ohio. We're seeing temperatures drops some 20 degrees in parts of the Midwest.

BERMAN: Why do you think it's a gender thing? Why -- why does it have to be a man? Why does it have to be old?

ROMANS: Because it's Mother Nature. She gets a lot of blame, too.

BERMAN: All right, well, it looks -- it looks like old man winter is at work in Wisconsin as well, with no help from the ladies. As much as three inches of snow on the ground in the far northern part of that state. Forecasters say a storm system could dump more lake-effect snow on that area before things warm up thanks to Mother Nature, no doubt, over the weekend.


ROMANS: And West Virginia seeing the state's first significant snowfall. An inch or two expected across the mountains. That's good news for people getting ready for West Virginia's ski season still about a month away.

BERMAN: Or tomorrow, depending on how much snow they have.


All right. Let's get a look on the rest of the weather and exactly how cold it's going to get. Here's Chad Myers.


A cold morning for most of the eastern half of the U.S. this morning. Temps in the 40s across a lot of the big cities. New York and it's windy and cold. Boston gusty as well. Denver some fog. They'd like to get some wind to blow that fog around this morning with Seattle, the same story for the airport delays.

Not major delays anywhere across the country, no really big storm systems around but enough to just cause 15 to 20-minute delays here.

Showers across parts of the northeast, partly cloudy in the Midwest, and mostly sunny across most of the rest of the country.

Here are the highs today. Not very much. We don't go up very high. Only 42 in Minneapolis, 46 for Chicago, 51 Kansas City, and 65 in L.A.

Have a great day. Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: You're going to have a great day.

BERMAN: I am. Chad said not a lot of highs today. I'm high on life. Why? Because it was game one of the World Series in Boston and it was all Boston. David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox, they just pummeled, pummeled the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was a bad night for the Cardinals. Look at that. There is an error by the shortstop Pete Kozma. He had two errors in the game. The Sox took an early lead scoring three runs in the first thanks largely to that error. Mike Napoli, a base clearing double just after that.

What's happening right here is the umpires actually blew the call. They called him out at first. But after talking they decided he was out. And that's when Mike Napoli smashed this double, bounced all the way to the wall. It took an early lead. They never let go, going on to win 8-1, making me very happy, albeit very sleepy.

ROMANS: Now it was a cold day -- it was a cold night, I should say. Right?

BERMAN: Old man winter made it a cold night there. Yes.


ROMANS: That was interesting. I mean, it was cold. And I think someone told me that it was tied for either the second coldest first game ever.

BERMAN: Really?

ROMANS: Forty-eight degrees.

BERMAN: It was not windy. Interestingly enough. A lot of times you get, you know, the cold windy thing and that will keep the ball in the park in Fenway last night. David Ortiz had a homerun. There was another close call for a homerun so it didn't affect the game at all.

ROMANS: Before you do anymore of these stories about the Red Sox and -- Super Bowl, in the World Series.

BERMAN: The World Series.

ROMANS: You need to bone up a little bit on your -- on your Boston sports.

ROMANS: We're going to do some research. Going to say more on what's happening up there. But it was a good night.

Coming up for us next.


ROBERT KENNEDY JR., COUSIN OF MICHAEL SKAKEL: My family prays every night for Michael Skakel. Has done so for 12 years that he gets justice, and so this is a -- this is really a -- -- it's a -- it's a blessed event.


BERMAN: Convicted of murder more than 25 years after the crime, Michael Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, he's now granted a new trial.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smoke with it and they were, like, trying -- they were trying to stick their head out so they wouldn't smell the smoke and they were just panicking and panicking. And kids were screaming.


ROMANS: Neighbors hearing a mother's cry for help for children stuck inside a burning home. That's next.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. A legal reprieve for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel. A man who has spent the last 11 years behind bars for murder. Now a Connecticut judge has overturned Skakel's conviction and ordered a new trial.

The judge ruling that Skakel's attorney failed to adequately represent him in court. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for the 1975 murder of his teenage neighbor Martha Moxley.

CNN's Deb Feyerick has the story.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The last time 15-year-old Martha Moxley was seen alive was the night before Halloween, October 1975. She went to a party with friends that night and was seen flirting with 17-year-old Thomas Skakel, nephew to Ethel Kennedy. She never returned home.

The next day Moxley's body was found in her yard in Greenwich, Connecticut, bludgeoned and stabbed to death by a broken golf club that was found near her body. That club was traced back to the Skakel home but no fingerprints were found.

DOROTHY MOXLEY, MARTHA MOXLEY'S MOTHER: They hit her so hard that the golf club broke and then they took the shaft and they stabbed her with it six or seven times.

FEYERICK: Suspicion immediately fell on Thomas Skakel, the last person seen with Moxley the night of the party. Another suspect was Ken Littleton, a Skakel family tutor who moved in with the family the day of the murder, but police never charged either of them, citing a lack of evidence.

For two decades the case languished. A series of books on the high- profile crime renewed interest and led to new tips. And a new suspect in January of 2000, 40-year-old Michael Skakel, Thomas Skakel's little brother. Michael was also 15 at the time of the crime, which meant 25 years later, he was charged as a juvenile. He turned himself into police after an arrest warrant was issued, all the while proclaiming his innocence.

MICKEY SHERMAN, MICHAEL SKAKEL'S FORMER DEFENSE ATTORNEY: To my knowledge, there's no physical evidence, there's no DNA evidence, there's no scientific evidence, or anything that links Michael Skakel to this crime.

FEYERICK: Despite that, a number of witnesses placed him at the crime scene the night of the murder. Two witnesses testified may heard Skakel boasting he could get away with murder because he was a Kennedy. Prosecutors claimed Michael Skakel was jealous of his older brother's relationship with Moxley and killed the girl in a jealous rage. A charge he denied. The judge eventually ruled Michael Skakel should be tried as an adult.

SHERMAN: Everyone assumes he's guilty. He's been arrested. He's this Kennedy cousin. There is books, there's movies, there's a lot of spin, a lot of disinformation, and no one really knows the story. The jury trial will expose the evidence to the public.

FEYERICK: The trial began in 2002. Skakel was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life for Moxley's murder.

MOXLEY: I can't give up. Martha was -- yes, she was very special. I had two children and to lose one was a major, major thing, and I'm just not going to give up.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: And now a Connecticut judge has ruled that he should be tried again because he did not receive adequate representation.


BERMAN: And what's unusual here is that the lawyer Mickey Sherman was a very well-known lawyer. Highly paid. Like I think he made more a million dollars in this case. You don't usually see the adequate representation then coming into play with a high priced celebrity lawyer in cases like this. It is fascinating, fascinating to see.

Other legal news now. A Colorado judge Wednesday ordered the release of a grand jury indictment in the 1996 killing of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey. The district attorney had prepared possible charges against her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, three years after the murder. The indictment remains sealed because the D.A. decided not to pursue charges. No explanation was ever given about this but these documents, they could shed some light on this long mystery.

ROMANS: All right. Good Samaritans rescuing a family from a burning building in Miami. A mother and her two young daughters inside the apartment when their couch went up in flames. That's when two good Samaritans sprang into action and became life savers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The smoke was coming at them. The smoke was intense. And they were like trying to -- they were trying to stick their head out so they won't smell the smoke and they were just panicking and panicking, kids were screaming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard the screaming and once we saw the kids, and she was putting the kids out the window we were just ran into action. We just ran over there and we said, drop the kids, and he caught them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just glad that she's OK. Her and my babies is OK because that's -- jumping out that window for two babies is dangerous.


ROMANS: Investigators looking into the possibility the fire was intentionally set. The mother had reportedly gotten into a heated argument with her ex-boyfriend just before that fire broke out. Thankfully those two men were right there to catch those babies coming out the window.

BERMAN: Some brave, brave people.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, could retirement soon be a thing of the past? Retirement.

BERMAN: Let's not hope. We hope not.

ROMANS: Who's going to -- we can't retire? Maribel Aber joins us to explain why in "Money Time."


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Everyone, I am surrounded by financial wizardry this morning. It is "Money Time." Christine Romans and Maribel Aber at the same time.

ROMANS: Smells like money this Thursday morning.

Good morning, Maribel.


Let's start out and talk about this money, right? Well, crowd funding. This concept we have. It actually may be coming to Wall Street. The Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to propose rules that would allow investors to buy stock and company over the Internet using this crowd funding exchange. So that basically creates a whole new way for companies to raise money.

Now the other thing is that it would allow them to bypass all those unusual -- usual costs, I should say, of going public, right, involving the hiring investment bankers, accountants, et cetera.

Crowd funding would also give small and promising companies a way to raise money from a wide pool of investors.

And we were talking about this earlier. Retirement kind of part of the American dream. Maybe a thing of the past. Now it might be a nightmare for many. More and more middle class Americans say they have saved to little for retirement they expect to work into their 80s or even until they either get too sick or die. A Wells Fargo survey says nearly half of middle class workers are not confident that they'll be able to save enough money to retire comfortably. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed said they plan to work until at least they're 80. That's up from 25 percent in 2011.


ABER: Thirty-seven percent said they will never be able to retire.

ROMANS: And you know what's so interesting? They're sort of squeezing out the millennials from the work force because they're working so long. That means that those kids who are, you know, 18 to 24, not getting their first step in.

ABER: That's right.

ROMANS: So it's interesting the generational impact on that.

ABER: Huge. And people also are looking at Social Security as possible (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: Right.

ABER: That's scary.

Starbucks is opening its first tea house today. The Teavana Fine Teas Plus tea bar is located in New York City's upper east side. And Starbucks says the tea bar will elevate the premium tea experience. The coffee chain bought Teavana almost a year ago. It was a well- timed purchase, though. America's interest in tea has grown by 16 percent over the past five years and huge industry. $90 billion.

ROMANS: Can Howard Schultz do for tea what he did for coffee?

BERMAN: You mean made the tea taste burnt?


I don't know.

ABER: So it could $4 per glass.

BERMAN: Only time will tell. $7 of burnt tea. No, no. Starbucks is great.

ROMANS: Thanks, Maribel.

BERMAN: Don't get me wrong.

Coming up for us.


BOEHNER: The problem is that we've got the whole threat of Obamacare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket. Employers scared to death in terms of what they have to do and what they don't have to do.


BERMAN: Republicans on the attack over the troubled rollout of the Obamacare Web site. Today, a Capitol Hill hearing addressing what went wrong with this site, as the Obama administration tries a new approach to calm its critics.