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Controversy or Obamacare Website Continues; Math Teacher Found Murdered; Was the U.S. Tapping German Phone Calls?; New Trial for Michael Skakel

Aired October 24, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a scandal surrounding a Kennedy cousin resurfacing. Michael Skakel has been locked away for more than ten years for killing a friend, Martha Moxley, back when they were just teenagers, but now, he's getting a new trial and he might even get out of prison. A really justice bombshell here. Did anyone see this coming?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: It would appear winter has leap frogged over fall in some parts of the nation. Many Americans barely having time for their pumpkin spice lattes when all this freezing temperatures, even snow barged in. We'll show you where they're getting out the winter clothes a little early this morning.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But first, don't blame us. You're used to hearing that out of Washington D.C., but this isn't even coming from politicians. This is coming from private contractors who built the botched Obamacare website. They're going to be on Capitol Hill today. They're going to be part of the congressional hearings into what's going on down there.

But let's bring in senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, the woman at the center of the healthcare.gov debacle, Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, not there today. What does that mean?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. She's going to be in Arizona later today touring an Obamacare call center, so she won't be on Capitol Hill testifying, Chris. Instead it will be the private contractors that helped build the Obamacare website that willing on the hot seat up on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile an insurance industry insider tells CNN that the nation's toll health insurers knew about the Obamacare website's issues before they emerged but that officials at the department of Health and Human Services failed to tell the White House about the full scope of the problems.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: With the Obamacare finger pointing shifting into high gear, the private contractors that built the troubled healthcare.gov website are already 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 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 --

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: It's our job to hold them accountable. When it comes to Obamacare, clearly there's an awful lot that has 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 legislative -- 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, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not before that, though?

SEBELIUS: No, sir.

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

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, (R) TENNESSEE: The president himself seems embarrassed by it. If he's not going to resign over this mess, he ought to decide who should.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Later today the administration is trying something new. They're going to start holding briefings on the progress when it comes to fixing the Obamacare website. Meanwhile the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to clear up confusion about the deadline for Americans to buy insurance so they don't have to pay a penalty to the IRS. That deadline initially was thought by some people to be February 15th. They say, no, its March 31st. So circle that date on your calendar, Kate. It is March 31st. That's what the administration is saying.

BOLDUAN: It seems like this may not be the end of the confusion we'll be discussing in the coming weeks.

Chances are you'll want to wear an extra layer or two this morning when you head out. It is brisk and chilly along the Great Lakes and even in the northeast. George Howell is trying to stay warm in Chicago. You've got to love these assignments, George. How's it going?

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hard to stay warm, Kate. It's a chilly 37 degrees here in the windy city. I can tell you, it feels like it here. And from the Midwest to the northeast and parts of the south, chances are you'll see a change, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Grab the winter coats, shovels, and ice scrapers. The season's first deep freeze is on its way. A blast of brisk winter- like temperatures swept over Boston's Fenway Park just in time for game one of the World Series, the opening pitch, slicing through 48 degree air, making it the third coldest start to the fall classic.

A surge of cold air from Canada will sweep across the Great Lakes region, triggering lake-effect snow and frigid temperatures, just in time for the weekend. As much as a foot of snow could fall in New York state just east of lake Ontario.

Charleston, West Virginia, is gearing up for the impending snowfall, while residents in Ohio and shoppers in Wisconsin fled from the flurries. Meanwhile, residents down south are keeping their eye on the first hard freeze of season, bad news for farmers and their crops. Frigid temperatures are expected to coat several states with frost from Missouri across to the Carolinas, as this system moves east, a taste of winter before trick-or-treaters even hit the streets.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: So just a few days ago here in Chicago, we saw traceable snow on the ground. Just last year, it wasn't until November until that happened. So look, you have the cold temperatures, you've got snow, scarfs are back. It's time to get ready for this, the cold weather seems to be back.

CUOMO: And a nice scarf that is that you got this morning, George.

HOWELL: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Hold it tight. Stay warm, stay inside until the next hit. Appreciate reporting this morning. HOWELL: I'll do it.

CUOMO: There was a moment of silence at Fenway Park during the World Series last night for Colleen Ritzer. Too many questions surround the young math teacher's violent death. Her body was found Tuesday in the woods near Danvers High School. The suspect, a 14-year-old student who just moved to the area. CNN's Pamela Brown is in Danvers this morning with the latest. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Chris. As this investigation continues, there are more questions than answers, mainly why Ritzer, a beloved 24-year-old math teacher, was killed allegedly at the hands of one of her own students. Her best friend since childhood spoke to us and says that she's devastated by this and says that none of this makes sense.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLEEN RITZER: Hi, I'm Colleen Ritzer.

BROWN: Known for her infectious smile and bubbly personality, this exclusive archive video shows Colleen Ritzer as a TV production student in high school.

JENNIFER BERGER, RITZER'S BEST FRIEND: She would smile and the entire room would light up.

BROWN: Jen Berger says her best friend since kindergarten was living her childhood dream of being a math teacher.

BERGER: She was talking about how this year was such a good year. She was teaching freshmen for the first time. They seemed enthusiastic and she was just happy.

BROWN: Her life cut short, her body left outside the school where she loved to teach.

BERGER: I don't know what the world is like without her. It's a scary, scary thought.

BROWN: The loss felt by an entire community. Students and colleagues at Danvers High School say Ritzer's enthusiasm was limitless, spilling over on to her Twitter, Facebook, and her blog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was always the teacher to go the extra mile for students.

BROWN: So why would one the her own students, 14-year-old Philip Chism, allegedly assault and beat her to death?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The defendant wish to have services to evaluate him.

BROWN: Chism went missing after school Tuesday. Adding to the mystery, Ritzer's family reported she hadn't returned home that night. The teen was found in a nearby town, the teacher's body discovered sometime later in the woods behind her school.

JOE SPANOS, RITZER'S FORMER TEACHER: She's the last person to hurt anybody. So obviously she was defenseless.

BROWN: Investigators allege Chism incriminated himself in police interviews, and there was evidence on video cameras from Danvers High School as well as blood found in a second floor bathroom. A source close to the investigation says Chism went to the movies after allegedly killing Ritzer. As a new student at Danvers, Chism was making strides as a soccer player.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a quiet, normal kid.

BROWN: Ritzer's best friend still coming to grips with this tragedy.

BERGER: Something like this doesn't happen to someone like Colleen, someone who is so good and so pure, you know, it's not fair.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Coming back live here, you can see this memorial left here for Colleen Ritzer. There was a vigil last night. You see candles and ribbons and people have been coming out here ever since the news of her death, trying to pay their respects. Meantime, as for Chism, the prosecution indicates that it intends to try him as an adult, but that decision is ultimately up to the grand jury. Chris and Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Pamela, thanks so much. It's clear that her friends and that community still in just complete shock over what's happened there. Thank you so much for that.

Let's go over now to Michaela for more of the morning's headlines.

PEREIRA: Good morning to you. Making news, huge delays for hundreds of passengers at Ft. Lauderdale international airport. Spirit Airlines says it is conducting a voluntary maintenance check on its planes following an engine failure on one of its aircraft last week. Those who were supposed to be on flights were stuck for hours. We're told the last flight taking off a little while ago, more than eight hours late.

A California sheriff's deputy shoots and kills a 13-year-old boy thinking he was carrying an assault rifle. It turns out he had two weapons but they were both fake. Deputies in Santa Rosa say Andy Lopez Cruz was carrying a replica AK-47 and a fake handgun. The boy's family and friends are calling it unnecessary violence by jumpy cops. Police are now investigating.

A judge in Colorado ordering the release of the 1999 grand jury indictment in the death of six-year-old Jon Benet Ramsey. It could shed new light on the decision not to charge her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. Jon Benet was found bludgeoned and strangled to death in her family's home in Boulder in 1996.

BROWN: Major win for the government in a trial stemming from the financial crisis. Bank of America found liable for fraud. The verdict is over shoddy home mortgages sold by the Countrywide unit and then turned around and sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A former Countrywide executive was also found liable on one fraud charge. Bank of America could pay $848 million in damages.

Publishing giant Conde Nast is terminating its intern program starting next year. This decision comes on the heels of two lawsuits filed by former interns claiming the media company failed to pay the minimum wage. All current interns will be allowed to finish their terms. Conde Nast publishes magazines like "Vanity Fair, "Vogue," and "Glamour."

Those are your headlines. Back to you guys.

BOLDUAN: Let's get another check of what is going on outside your door. Karen Maginnis is in for Indra Petersons this morning.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Kate and Chris. I can certainly understand that, a lot of folks across the Midwest and northeast, where temperatures are exceptionally low for this time of year. You'll not get much of a break over the next several days. I think that air is thoroughly entrenched. The cold air swirling around Chicago with temperatures 10 degrees below where they should be for this time of year.

In some cases we've seen temperatures as much as 20 degrees below where they should be. Bessemer, Michigan, six edges of snowfall. Other representatives snow totals between one and two inches, nothing very dramatic, but some of these are fairly early. Typically we would see them another week or so before you see any trace amounts of snow. Well, for Chicago, temperatures running about 14 degrees below where they should be. New York City, only in the 50s today, but winds coming from the west to the east, blowing at times as much as 40 miles an hour is going to make it feel a whole lot colder.

Haven't mentioned the ball game, game two tonight, Boston, partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the 40s. Kate, Chris?

BOLDUAN: Good night for some baseball. Thanks so much, Karen.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, did you tap my cell phone? That's what the chancellor of Germany is asking President Obama directly. Angela Merkel is demanding answers, going straight to the top. We'll tell you how the answer she got was received.

BOLDUAN: And a stunning development in the case of the convicted killer, Michael Skakel. Why a Connecticut judge has ordered a new trial for the nephew of Robert and Ethel Kennedy decades later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Was the U.S. tapping a very important friend's cell phone? The American ambassador to Germany summoned by that country's foreign minister over allegations that the U.S. tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is following developments. It sounds wild, but could be true. What do we know, Jim? Good morning.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question, Chris. It is getting bigger every day. You have the U.S. ambassador summoned, you have the German defense minister saying in public that there should be consequences to the relationship, so what had been somewhat of a quiet diplomatic dispute becoming more public, more angry. President Obama forced to make some very difficult phone calls to friends, and unable to give them satisfying answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: One more day, one more revelation of alleged U.S. spying on a close ally. This time Germany said it received information the NSA monitored the personal cell phone of German leader Angela Merkel, signaling the seriousness of the charge, Chancellor Merkel and President Obama personally spoke about the issue on the telephone.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you the president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of chancellor. The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges.

SCIUTTO: The White House did not specify, however, if such monitoring had taken place in the past. On Monday, it was France revealed to be in the crosshairs of the NSA. The French newspaper "La Monde" reporting that in the 30 days from December 10th, 2012 to January 8, 2013, the NSA allegedly intercepted over 70 million phone calls in France, an average of nearly 3 million intercepts per day.

The director of national intelligence said in a statement "that report was false," though it did not specify how. By then, the French foreign minister had already blasted the American policy of widespread surveillance. Documents released by Edward Snowden have now revealed NSA surveillance of the communications of a long list of close U.S. allies including Germany, England, Brazil, Mexico and the European Union.

When you look at America's soft power, its message and its relationships with these countries, how embarrassing is this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's always awkward. I mean, what you have here is a situation where either someone sees the hand in the cookie jar or has strong evidence the hand has been in the cookie jar. Every time this happens there's going to be awkward conversations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Now with each of these cases, the U.S. officials will say two things: they'll say one, every country spies on every other country and also that the U.S. is conducting a review of this surveillance. It gets a better balance between security concerns and privacy concerns. It still hasn't given details to what this review has found, what changes it may bring. As to the first argument that everybody spies on everyone, it seems to be that really just the scale of the NSA surveillance and the level to which it goes to senior leaders now of several of our closest allies, that that has not been a satisfying answer, Kate, to those questions. It's sparking real anger here.

BOLDUAN: All right, Jim, thank you very much for that, on the update for that. So, let's talk more about the spying allegations with Peter Beinart, a senior political writer at "The Daily Beast." Peter, I want to ask you kind of what Jim was just talking about there, everybody spies on everybody. That seems to go without saying. Not everyone gets called out for it, that might be what's new, but also how high it reaches. Is that where the outrage is coming from?

PETER BEINART, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: I think we've entered the world in different in two ways. First of all, we now live in a world in which huge amounts of this information can be made secret as through the Edward Snowden leak. It's much harder to keep this stuff secret than it was in the past. We also live in a world where other countries are more willing to retaliate against the United States because they feel like they have more relative power vis-a-vis us. They don't feel like they simply have to accept this as they might have in the past.

BOLDUAN: So, it's one thing to have an awkward conversation. It's one thing to say that it's building tension in a relationship, but we are talking about some of the country's closest allies, France, Germany, the latest in the spying allegations. Could there be real long-term damage in terms of the trust here?

BEINART: Possibly. You know, these are democracies that have to be responsive to their own public opinion. It could be that they are situations where we ask the leaders of those countries to go out on a limb and do something for the United States that's difficult for them politically and in this kind of environment, that can be harder.

BOLDUAN: How is the White House handling it? Do you think there's criticism for the administration on how they've dealt with this? They don't know exactly what Edward Snowden has. They know there seems to be a slow drip of details that continue to come out.

BEINART: They say they're conducting some kind of review about this. And the question that I think is really interesting for journalists to look at is, did President Obama really know everything that was going on? There has been in a whole series of ways, especially since 9/11, a massive expansion of the kind of national security apparatus of the United States. We know from the Cold War when this happened there were oftentimes when the president of the United States didn't know everything was happening. He might have known vaguely but didn't know the level of detail. I hope the White House is going to get control over this and make some hard decisions about whether the information that they're getting is really worth this kind of cost to relationships with allies.

BOLDUAN: So you've got issues here, and then you've got another very key ally, another relationship on the rocks, U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia's angry pretty much on almost all U.S. foreign policy positions right now. U.S. policy on Egypt, U.S. policy on Iran, and U.S. policy in Syria. What is behind this? BEINART: What's behind it is that Saudis see what's happening in the Middle East very differently than the United States. They were on opposite sides of the U.S. on Egypt where they very strongly backed the military coup, didn't want the Muslim Brotherhood in power. They've long been frustrated with the U.S. for not pushing Israel harder on the Palestinians. Now, they're angry that Barack Obama didn't go ahead with military strikes against Assad in Syria, who they want out, and they're very, very worried that the U.S. will cut a deal with Iran that will mean that Iran is given the U.S. blessing to kind of become a regional hegemon in the region, and Iran is their great power rival there.

BOLDUAN: I man that -- that -- a problem in that relationship could cause serious repercussions. David Ignatius makes an interesting point in "The Washington Post" today about how the only strange thing about this is that this problem seems to be two years in the making, but neither side, Saudi Arabia or the U.S. has done anything to avert kind of this clash at this point.

BEINART: Right, it does seem like the Obama administration has not managed this relationship well, but it's also important to remember that if the U.S. does have a different kind of relationship with Iran, although that frightens the Saudis, it puts the U.S. in a much stronger position. You go back to the time when the shah was in power, the U.S. had strong relations with both Saudis and Iran. Since then, we've had a strong relation with only one major oil producer, but it's from the America's point of view. It's much better if we can be on a better diplomatic footing, have better relation with both of these important countries.

BOLDUAN: An interesting point. Peter, always great to see you.

BEINART: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Kate, coming up on NEW DAY, Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel deserves a new trial in the murder of Martha Moxley. We'll tell you why the judge said this, that it needs a second look. Decide for yourself.

And, the man behind a Youtube confession opens up. Matthew Cordle begins his 6 1/2-year sentence for killing a man while driving drunk today. He talks with us, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Time for your morning headlines. We are just hours away from the Capitol Hill hearings on the troubled rollout of the Obamacare website. But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will not be at today's hearings. She's in Arizona touring an Obamacare call center. The original website developers will be there answering questions. They're expected to say it's not our fault.

Fall is getting put on ice. Folks from the plains all the way down the east coast, dealing with lower than normal temperatures. Downright cold out there. Some spots in and around Chicago getting their first snowfall of the season.

George Zimmerman will not face any charges for that fight last month with his estranged wife. Florida authorities decided the dispute didn't rise to a criminal level. That fight happening days after Shellie Zimmerman filed for divorce. George Zimmerman, as you'll recall was acquitted over the summer in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Nearly 700 people who work for the IRS as contractors owe $5.4 million in back taxes. And more than half of them aren't even legally allowed to work for the IRS because they have not enrolled in an installment program to pay off their debt. The agency's inspector general saying the IRS needs to do a better job of monitoring all employees who do work for them.

Heimlich on the highway. Caught on a dashboard camera, a family waved down a New Jersey state trooper because their special needs son was choking on a chicken nugget and could not breathe. Trooper James Hearn (ph) performed the Heimlich maneuver on the teen and likely saved his life. The 13-year-old, Julian Estrada, is said to be doing okay. What a terrifying moment for that family. Thank goodness the state trooper was there and able to perform the Heimlich.

CUOMO: Yes, protect and serve.

BOLDUAN: All right, Michaela, thank you for that.

Let's turn now to new developments in a murder case involving a high- profile political family, the Kennedys. Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is getting a new trial, accused of killing his neighbor, Martha Moxley, almost four decades ago. The judge tossed out the verdict that has kept him behind bars for more than ten years. Deborah Feyerick is following the new developments here. You covered the trial the first time around.

DEB FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I really did. This is a stunning decision by the judge. The judge who tossed aside the conviction essentially said that Skakel's lawyers failed to create reasonable doubt that someone else wandering the neighborhood on mischief night actually killed Martha Moxley, somebody, who perhaps, had greater motive, somebody in fact who was related to Michael Skakel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Convicted murderer Michael Skakel, nephew to Ethel and Robert Kennedy, has been granted a stunning new trial.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR. COUSIN OF MICHAEL SKAKEL: I think everybody who knows Michael is overjoyed with it. We actually, my family, prays every night for Michael Skakel.

FEYERICK: Skakel's attorneys argue that his original defense lawyer, Mickey Sherman (ph), failed to adequately represent him in court during the 2002 murder trial.