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Obamacare Hearings; Obama: U.S. Not Monitoring German Chancellor's Cellphone; Skakel Murder Conviction Overturned

Aired October 24, 2013 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Up first, the White House is starting to put together its alpha team. Fixers charged with getting the bugs out of the Obamacare Web site. In the meantime, the original Web site developers likely to get a grilling on Capitol Hill this morning as hearings on the health care mess for this Web site begin.

More now from CNN's Jim Acosta.


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

While one executive site is say the site passed eight required technical reviews prior to going online 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 --

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's our job to hold them accountable. And when it comes to Obamacare, clearly, there is 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: 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 problems 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.

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.

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 early on the first couple of days.


SEBELIUS: No, sir.

ACOSTA: All the more reason the Republican 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 is not going to resign over this mess, why he ought to decide who should.

ACOSTA: Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president will try to change the focus a little bit today, a call to action expected on immigration reform. He will call on lawmakers to finish their work by the end of the year on measures to strengthen the borders and create a path to citizenship for the millions of people illegally in this country.

House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday expressed optimism by House action by year's end. You remember, the Senate has actually passed an immigration reform bill. Everyone now waiting for the House to act.

ROMANS: All right. German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls it a serious breach of trust. But this morning, the White House is denying a report that NSA monitored her phone calls.

A White House spokesperson says President Obama assured Merkel during a phone call on Wednesday that the U.S. is not listening in on her conversations. The German magazine "Ders Spiegel" reporting that Merkel called Obama to discuss these allegations which are based on disclosures from NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

More now from CNN's Fred Pleitgen.


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 not to 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 so far, it has not gotten satisfactory answers from the United States.

One of the things that Berlin said today, again, it expects those answers to be forthcoming as fast as possible. Angela Merkel is on her cell phone all the time. It's a well-known fact in Germany she texts during parliamentary debates and on the phone all the time. There were future pieces done on that phone, saying it was impossible to tap into that phone and clearly that is not the case. And it is something that is very, very damaging to U.S. and German relations.

The Germans in this whole saga surrounding Edward Snowden, always felt the Americans were insincere to them and Germany thought it was a closer ally to the United States than to have America collect as much data from German internet users from German phone be user and now German politicians that is coming to light.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Atlanta.


BERMAN: Nothing says we care like listening in her phone calls.

We're earning more this morning about a secret deal on drone strikes between the U.S. and Pakistan. The revelation comes on the heels of a meeting Wednesday between Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharef and President Obama with Sharef calling for an end to the strikes. "The Washington Post" cites CIA documents and memos that say Pakistani has been given classified briefings on the strikes as well as casualty totals.

ROMANS: In the U.S. -- the U.S. and Israel apparently not seeing eye- to-eye over Iran's nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday telling Secretary of State John Kerry, Iran must dismantle its nuclear bomb-making program, while the U.S. is suggesting putting safeguards in place, could assure that Iran's intention is peaceful and not military in nature. Six global powers and Iran will resume talks next month in Geneva, on finding a way toward a diplomatic deal.

BERMAN: Worries this morning about getting food to the people in Syria, as the army cuts off remaining smuggling routes into the eastern suburbs of Damascus.

Aid workers say no food, no supplies have come into region since the intensified Army blockade on rebel-held areas near the capital. Residents fear conditions will soon become like that in the Western suburbs where hunger is so severe. Doctors have reported deaths from malnutrition.

ROMANS: A warning now that Egypt might be on the brink of civil war. Opponents of the coup that toppled elected President Mohamed Morsy are urging the world to pay attention. They believe the crackdown on supporters of Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood is ripping Egypt apart. More than 1,000 have been killed, more than 2,000 have been arrested since the start of that crackdown.

BERMAN: To blame it on the brother. That seems to be the strategy planned by attorneys for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to save him from the death penalty. What they look to do is to pin everything on his dead brother. They're seeking records and access to records that implicate Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a grisly triple murder in 2011. Prosecutors for the first time Monday said a friend of his told them he took part in the killings. The younger Tsarnaev's attorneys may argue he fell under his brother's murderous influence.

ROMANS: All right. A cold snap that feels like winter. Gripping much of the country right now from the Plains to New England, people getting their first real taste of chilly winter weather. It was snowing last night in Columbus, Ohio. Forecasters say temperatures in the Midwest are 10 to 15 degrees colder than normal.

BERMAN: Check out northern Wisconsin. It's a nice dusting there in northern Wisconsin. Three inches of snow on the ground there that piled up beyond this, I'm told. Forecasters expect a storm system to dump more lake-effect snow on the area before things warm up over the week.

ROMANS: And the hills are alive with the soft sounding fall of snow in West Virginia.

BERMAN: You sound just like Julie Andrews. I've always said that about you.

ROMANS: The state's first significant snowfall so far -- an inch or two across the mountains there and people are getting ready for West Virginia ski season which is a month away.

BERMAN: You refuse (ph) my favorite things Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Oh, right, favorite packages, no. Brown paper packages tied up in strings. Let's get a picture of the weather now before we break out in song.

Karen Maginnis has that for us.

Good morning, Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine. And, John, congratulations on your big win last night.

BERMAN: Thank you.

MAGINNIS: All right. Here comes the snow and, yes, it's in those isolated areas. The typically snow belts wrapped around the Great Lakes from Syracuse to Erie, towards Cleveland, Grand Rapids and Traverse City and Lewis County, there is a lake-effect snow warning. There could be between 6 and 12 inches of snow. And as we go through the afternoon, the wind is going to be a big factor with possible gusts close to 40 miles an hour, all the way from the eastern Great Lakes and into the northeastern New England.

So watch out with those temperatures much colder than they should be this time of the year. It is going to feel brutal with those additional wind gusts.

Right now, we've got a little bit of snow falling across the eastern Great Lakes. Most of that is on the light side but with that area of low pressure sweeping across the Great Lakes, that's going to enhance that snowfall so some areas could see some isolated heavy snowfall.

This is a view for the Great Lakes when you see some of those streaks, that tells us the wind is fairly gusty, is blowing across the open waters of the Great Lakes and so that's what produces that lake-effect snow.

Chicago, you stay below normal. The average high is close to 60 degrees. You're in the 40s and 50s. Washington, D.C., it is still the big chill.

John, Christine, back to you.

BERMAN: Thank you so much, Karen. Appreciate it, and appreciate the good wishes on the Boston Red Sox who did, in fact, take game one of the World Series last night at Fenway Park.

They really dominated. The Sox did just about everything right and the Cardinals not so much. It was 8-1 at the end.

Take a look at this error by shortstop Pete Kozma. The ump initially called him out and later they had a conference and everyone was safe and after that, Mike Napoli came to the plate and emptied the bases driving everyone home with a three run double.

David Ortiz had a big night. This is Mike Napoli's double here. Base clearing double in the first inning. That made it 3-0. David Ortiz had a big night as well. He had a two-run home run after being robbed earlier in the game of a grand slam by a great catch by Carlos Beltran.

ROMANS: How in the world are you going to get through this and get up so early in the morning?

BERMAN: Here's I think the catcher -- this is a great catch by Carlos Beltran right there. Check that out! ROMANS: Some bruised ribs from that, right?

BERMAN: He does. Here is where you sweat.

Here is the two-run home run where he hits it far enough that no one can catch it.

As I said, the Red Sox won 8-1. You know, sleep is insignificant compared to World Series glory.

ROMANS: All right. I'll just get the highlights from you. How is that?

BERMAN: It's fine.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family praise every night for Michael Skakel and 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 -- it's a blessed event.


ROMANS: Convicted of murder. More than 25 years after the crime, Michael Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, now granted a new trial.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They was trying to stick their head out so they won't smell the smoke and they was just panicking and panicking and kids screaming, ah!


BERMAN: Neighbors hearing a mother's cry for help. Her children stuck inside a burning home. An amazing story of heroism.

Plus, it is time for your morning rhyme. Tweet us with your own original verse. It can be about anything. It can be about Christine Romans, if you'd like; #earlystart or #morningrhyme. We will read the best ones coming up.

ROMANS: Keep it clean, America.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is getting a new trial after 11 years behind bars for murder. The Connecticut judge has overturned Skakel's conviction, ruling that his attorney failed to adequately represent him in court. Skakel was sentenced to 20 years in life in prison for the 1975 murder of his teenage neighbor Martha Moxley.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has more.


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 testifying they 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 been guilty. He's been arrested. He's this Kennedy cousin. There's books, there's movies, there's a lot of spin, a lot of misinformation, 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.


ROMANS: Police in Colorado testify that accused Aurora movie gunman may have a role played as a serial killer before the massacre. A search of James Holmes apartment turned out a drawing of a game involving a serial killer in Denver streets and revealed in a hearing on Wednesday what may be admissible. Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 others during as midnight showing of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

BERMAN: Six and a half years, that's the sentence for Matthew Cordle who confessed on YouTube to a fatal drunk driving crash in Ohio. Cordle was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide and drunk driving. Cordle telling the court there's no such thing as a fair sentence to the loss of life. He said his true punishment is simply living.

This programming note, our Chris Cuomo will be talking to Matthew Cordle later this morning on "NEW DAY".

ROMANS: An unsealed indictment in the 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey has been ordered release by a Colorado judge. The district attorney had prepared possible charges against her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, three years after the murder. The indictment never was made public because the D.A decided not to pursue charges. No explanation was ever given but these documents might shed some light.

BERMAN: These are not just ordinary Good Samaritans. They are life- saving good Samaritan. Two men rescuing a mother and her young daughters from a building in Miami when the apartment they were in suddenly went up in flame. That's when these two just great Samaritans, let's call them, sprang into action and became life savers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The smoke was coming at them. It was intense. They trying to stick their head out so they won't smell the smoke and panicking and panicking and kids were screaming, ah!

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so glad that she's OK, her and my babies OK. Jumping out that window for two babies is dangerous.


BERMAN: Investigators looking into the possibility the fire was set intentionally. The mother had reportedly gotten into a heated argument with her ex-boyfriend just before that fire broke out.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went out and looked and there is a car in my house. I had my shotgun ready.


ROMANS: A burglary and a high-speed chase end with a track smashing into a California home. The driver's arrest all caught on camera.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

A police chase in Fresno, California, ended when an irresistible force met an immovable object. The immovable object, a house. A truck driven by two alleged burglars crashed into a house. Fortunately, the homeowner was in a different room at the time of the crash.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had just woken up and then a few minutes later, all I really heard was breaking glass and I was like, what the heck? We had some stuff stacked in the other room. So I went out and looked and there is a car in my house.


BERMAN: As bad as it was and as silly as it looks, it could have been a lot worse. Police say the suspects split up after the crash. One briefly held a neighbor hostage inside her home nearby before he surrendered.

ROMANS: All right. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY."

BERMAN: Chris and Kate joining us.

Hey, guys.

ROMANS: Good morning, guys.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, good morning.

Is it situated (ph)?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, boy, this is an exciting morning and here is why. Although that wasn't an exciting reaction.

It was Halloween in 1975, 38 years ago that Martha Moxley was killed at a Halloween party at the Skakel house. You know this story, right?

Michael Skakel, the Kennedy cousin wind up becoming the target of this and it was a long and tortured trial and it wasn't until many years later he wound up being convicted, although it was weird because they treated it like a juvenile trial because he was 15 the allegation said when the murder happened.

Well, now, it's been overturned as it says on your screen. We will tell you why. We will tell you if it is real that there could be a retrial in this case because that would be very unusual.

BOLDUAN: Difficult, right?

CUOMO: Yes. And it creates a whole load of complications and, and the interesting question is this just about procedure -- why he is getting a new trial, or did someone else commit this crime? We will go through it with you this morning. We've got lot of people who know about this story.

BOLDUAN: And you'll remember this story. It was a video that went viral. This guy.

An Ohio man admitting he drove drunk and killed someone. Well, Matthew Cordle, that's his name. He's now been sentenced to more than six years in prison and he is going to be talking to us this morning.

BERMAN: Sounds like a terrific show, guys. And I agree, the Skakel case, there is so much to talk about legally speaking. Simply fascinating. I have to say startling when that news broke yesterday.

All right. Coming up for us.


BOEHNER: The problem is that we have got a whole threat of Obama care 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: All right. So the Obama administration now trying a new approach to those criticizing the Obamacare website rollout. That's coming up next.