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Obamacare Hearing Set to Begin; Partnership Put to the Test; Fall's First Snowfall; Mystery, Grief After Beloved Teacher Killed; Americans Kidnapped

Aired October 24, 2013 - 08:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning once again. It is Thursday, October 24th, 8:00 in the East.

Coming up on NEW DAY: a Utah doctor on trial, prosecutors say he drowned his wife so he could continue in an affair. The big question this morning: will Martin MacNeill's daughters, including his 12-year- old daughter, take the stand against him?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That is really a trial to watch.

Also, holiday travel season is coming around. Can you believe it? Now, if you haven't nailed down your plans, you might want to think about driving instead of flying. It's not about safety. It's about what's going to happen to airfares. We'll tell you, coming up.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting conversation with the good doctor, sugar or fat? One is really bad for you. The other may not be as bad as we thought. Can you tell which is which? Dr. Sanjay Gupta sets the record straight about what you should or should not be eating.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Mixed messages cleared up here we go.

First off this hour, though, get ready for the Obamacare blame game. In less than an hour, the private contractors who helped build the botched government healthcare website are already on capitol hill and we know they're prepared to say, it's not our fault.

Let's bring in senior correspondent Jim Acosta for more on this.


Well, we can also report that Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will not be testifying today. That's expected next week. But as you mentioned, Kate, the private contractors that helped build the Obamacare Web site, they will be in the hot seat.

In the meantime, an insurance industry insider tells CNN that the nation's top health insurers, at least some of them were well aware of these Obamacare website issues before the entire Web site launched on October 1st. But according to that industry insider, administration officials over at HHS did not fully inform the White House of what they knew.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With the Obamacare finger pointing shifting in high gear, the contractors who built the troubled website 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 fairly early on, the first couple of days, that --


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: Now, later today, the administration will hold daily briefings on the progress being made to fix the Obamacare Web site. Meanwhile, we should also report the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to clear up some of the confusion about the deadline for Americans to buy insurance without paying a penalty to the IRS.

That deadline, Chris, is March 31st. Initially it was thought it was February 15th but HHS putting out guidance it's March 31st. So, circle that date on your calendar.

CUOMO: March 31st for now.

Jim, thank you very much for the reporting. Appreciate it.

You know, the Web site issues could be a breeze compared to the latest spying allegations leveled against the U.S. The U.S. ambassador to German being summoned to meet with officials there over allegations the NSA tapped Angela Merkel's personal cell phone. The White House insists it did not happen.

Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins us from Washington with more.

Good morning, Jim.

What do we know?


This now airing out in very much in public. You have the American ambassador summoned. You also have the German defense minister saying there should be consequences to the relationship.

President Obama forced to make some very difficult phone calls to close allies and not necessarily give them satisfying answers, including answering whether this kind of monitoring took place in the past.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): 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 the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the 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 that revealed to be in the crosshairs of the NSA. The French newspaper reporting in 30 days from December 10th of 2012 to January 8th of 2013, the NSA allegedly intercepted over 70 million phone calls in France. An average of 3 million intercept per day.

The director of national intelligence said in a statement, that report was false but it did not specify how. By then the French foreign minister blasted the American policy of widespread surveillance.

Documents released by Edward Snowden revealed NSA surveillance of communications of a long list of U.S. allies, including Germany, England, Brazil, Mexico and the European Union.

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

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


SCIUTTO: When the surveillance has been exposed against allies, the administration has made a couple of points. They say they are reviewing this surveillance to get a better balance between security concerns and privacy. And privacy -- they've also frequently cited the statistic of 54 plots thwarted by NSA surveillance, but there's been some hard questions asked about that figure, including by Senator Patrick Leahy, also the group called ProPublica, turns out there may not have been as many plots. Most of them did not involve the United States, according to those questions.

So that's a really a balance the administration has to look at as to whether its worth it, as you're angering allies and what you gain from it, Kate. That's something they're reviewing right now.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

All right. Thank you so much, Jim. Great to see you.

Now, there is an early taste of winter hitting nearly half of country today. From the Plains to the East Coast, folks are facing frigid temperatures. And even snow in some places.

George Howell is braving the elements for us in Chicago. George, I always feel like the first time it gets cold, your body is just not ready for it.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, here in Chicago, I think people know the drill up. See people headed to work all bundled up. You understand why. It's a brisk 37, 37 degrees here in Chicago this morning.

And from here in the Midwest to the Northeast and even parts of the South, chances are, you're seeing the difference as well.


HOWELL (voice-over): 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 the 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.


HOWELL: So, here in Chicago, we saw traceable snow just a few days ago. Just last year, it wasn't until November that we saw any snow. So, definitely a sign that things are changing. Here right now, 37 degrees. Chris and Kate. There in New York, looks like you guys have 43. Enjoy that. You know, because these temperatures are dropping fast.

BOLDUAN: It's all relative. It always is when it comes to weather. Thanks, George.

CUOMO: Probably come to balmy 68 right now, seeing as how we're in the studio.

You know just word of the cold snap kept Indra Petersons under covers, so we have Karen Maginnis here to help us with a take on the cold.

Good morning, Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you both.

Yes, we have howling winds across the Great Lake region. It is throwing in lake-effect snow. This time of year, yes, that's when we typically talk about it.

Some areas, one of them Lewis County, New York, could see up to a foot of snowfall. Very isolated, but nonetheless, quite a bit of snow for this time of year.

Right now, in Washington, D.C., the temperature at 44. Those temperature staying suppressed. I told you about the clipper systems last week. We'll have back-to-back frontal systems that usher in very cold air. Now, the wind coming out of the west blowing to the east could gust up as high as 40 miles an hour.

But not to despair. In Boston for tonight, game two, looks like temperatures in the 40s at game time. So, enjoy that while it lasts under partly cloudy skies.

Back to you guys.

BOLDUAN: I have a sneaking suspicion it could be 20 degrees in Boston and still a packed house.

Thanks so much, Karen.

Let's get straight over and back to Michaela for more headlines.

PEREIRA: Yes, if your team is winning, you don't feel the cold.

BOLDUAN: No, that's right.

PEREIRA: It's science.

CUOMO: Science? Yes.

PEREIRA: All right. Let's take a look at those headlines.

In the news this morning: big delays for hundreds of passengers at Ft. Lauderdale International Airline. Spirit Airline saying it's doing voluntary maintenance on its fleet after a plane had engine fail and catch fire last week. Some passengers stuck for hours. The last flight took off this morning more than eight hours late.

In Australia, a deadly setback fighting out of control wildfires. A dropping aircraft crashed, killing a pilot, and sparking a new fire just out in Sydney. The fires there have burned through thousands of acres and already destroyed over 200 homes. Australian officials are also investigating whether live ammunition from the military is one of the reasons.

A disturbing report from San Francisco where authorities are investigating whether a hospital employee stepped over the body of a missing patient days before she was found. Fifty-seven-year-old Lynn Spalding disappeared her hospital room. She was found dead more than two weeks later in a stairwell.

Yet another black eye for JPMorgan chase. Federal authorities preparing to take action against the banking giant for allegedly turning a blind eye to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. JPMorgan was Madoff's primary bank for more than two decades. The Madoff case coming on the heels of $13 billion JPMorgan just agreed to pay for questionable mortgage practices.

Two Florida men being hailed as heroes after rescuing a mother and her two young daughters from a burning building in Miami. Those men heard screams, saw the family at a second floor window, smoke billowing out of it. They told the mom, toss the kids. She did. Thankfully, they caught them. All the children and mom got out safely.

Boy, that's a toss of faith.

BOLDUAN: And what a decision to make if you're a mother, right?

PEREIRA: It's a tough one but they did it.

BOLDUAN: And turned out OK. Thank you, Michaela.

CUOMO: Take a happy ending any way that they come in those situations.

Coming up on NEW DAY: A beloved math teacher is gone, and a 14 -year- old student charged with murder. How could he do this? Why? We're looking into the motivations. We'll go to the school for the latest.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, a Utah doctor on trial for murdering his wife. Will his 12-year-old daughter take the stand and testify against him?


CUOMO: There are no classes at Danvers High School near Boston today, only grief counselors as students and staff cope with the violent death of teacher, Colleen Ritzer. Her body was found Tuesday in the woods near the school. The suspect, a 14-year-old, the new kid few people knew. CNN's Pamela Brown is in Danvers this morning with the latest. Good morning, Pamela

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Chris. We've been speaking with Colleen Ritzer's best friends since childhood as well as one of her long-time teachers. They are devastated by her loss and say that this just doesn't make any sense. It's still very much a mystery about why Ritzer, a beloved 24-year-old math teacher, would be allegedly be killed at the hands of one of her own students.


BROWN (voice-over): 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: Be sure to smile and entire room will 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, and she loved that they seemed so 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's like without her. It's scary. Scary thought.

BROWN: The loss felt by an entire community. Students and colleagues at Danvers High School say Ritzer's enthusiasm as a teacher was limitless, spilling over 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 of her own students, 14-year-old Philip Chism, allegedly assault and beat her to death? During his arraignment on a charge of murder, he stayed silent

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The defendant wishes 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 some time later in the woods behind her school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 the 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 friends still coming to grips with this tragedy.

BERGER: She was the type of person who loved her family and her friends more than anything in the world. And, I just hope that she knew how much she was loved by everyone else in her life because she really had an impact on all of us. My life is so much better because she was my friend.


BOLDUAN: So difficult. Pamela, thank you so much for that.

Colleen Ritzer is being remembered as a teacher who loved her students and also inspired them to appreciate math. Let's talk to two of those students. Nicole White and Riley Doyle, two of Ms. Ritzer's students. They're joining us now from Danvers. It's great to see both of you. I'm so sorry that we have to be talking about something as horrible as this that your entire school and your entire community is experiencing this morning.

Riley, let me ask you first, tell me about Ms. Ritzer. What will you remember about her?

RILEY DOYLE, STUDENT, DANVERS HIGH SCHOOL: I think I'll remember just her smile and her positivity and the way that she really wanted students to learn and even love math. She was so excited about the things she was teaching.

BOLDUAN: We keep hearing that over and over again, Nicole. What about you, what will you remember?

NICOLE WHITE, STUDENT, DANVERS HIGH SCHOOL: It's the same thing that Riley said. She always had a smile on her face, even if she didn't have you as a student. And she would just greet you all the time. And she was just always a positive about everything.

BOLDUAN: I'm sure this is just a complete shock, not anything that any student, anyone should be dealing with. What are you hearing from other students? How is the school doing?

WHITE: The school is really taking it hard, I think. Everybody is -- we all got together last night and everybody was really touched by what everyone did. And, we were all wearing pink last night because it's her favorite color. And we lit the candles and everything and it's just been hard for everybody, but coming together last night I think made things a lot better.

BOLDUAN: It helps to be together. Go ahead.

DOYLE: There was -- I think a lot of people were shocked and were turning to each other for a lot of support because we're all feeling the same way. So, it's been nice to really have classmates who are there for you.

BOLDUAN: And, Nicole, you also know Philip Chism. You were in history class with him. How would you describe him?

WHITE: He was always a really, really quiet kid, but he was nice. We were together for a history assignment, and he seemed like a genuinely nice kid. And I saw no problems at all.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I've heard -- we've heard that from other students, that he was a quiet, normal, nice kid. Had you heard or gotten wind of any problems or any relationship between Philip and Ms. Ritzer?

WHITE: I never saw anything wrong. He never talked about her. Nothing ever happened. So it came as a shock to all of us, I think.

BOLDUAN: And, did he ever talk about any problems he was having? We know that he was relatively new to the school, having moved from Tennessee. Did he ever talk about any problems?

WHITE: No, he never had any problems. He was just really quiet, so he didn't talk much. But, he didn't seem to have any problems when we were speaking. And his soccer team seemed to love him, too. And he used to love soccer practice, so nothing that I could see.

BOLDUAN: Which is why there are so many unanswered questions this morning. I'm sure you have questions yourself. Riley, what are some of the questions that you have?

DOYLE: I just want to know why anyone would do that, especially to someone who's such a nice and kind and good-hearted person. It doesn't make any sense. Just why?

BOLDUAN: Nicole, when you do all head back to school, when classes begin once again, what's it going to be like?

WHITE: I think everybody is going to be really supportive of each other because that's -- we're pretty much a family at this school and everybody does everything together. So, everybody will always be there for each other, but it will be emotional, especially going back into that classroom.

BOLDUAN: You'll need that family definitely going forward. We're so sorry for your loss, the loss for the community, a loss of someone that you know, but we are now learning is not only a good teacher but also a very good person. So, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. Really appreciate it.

WHITE: Thank you.

DOYLE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, imagine hearing your own 12-year-old daughter tell the world you're a murderer. That could happen to a Utah doctor's named Martin MacNeill. He is on trial for killing his wife, but it seems his daughters are already convinced. We'll tell you why.


PEREIRA: Five things to know for your NEW DAY. Let's start at number one.

Half of America waking up in quite a deep freeze this morning. The mercury plummeting from the plains to the east coast bringing with it frost, even snow across several states.

Obamacare website developers in the hot seat today as hearings on Capitol Hill begin to explain what went wrong with the roll-out. Health and Human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, will not be there. She is in Arizona, touring an Obamacare center.

A 14 -year-old student at Danvers High School in Massachusetts now facing murder charges. Police say he killed 24-year-old math teacher Colleen Ritzer, but they are not sure why.

Connecticut prosecutors say they'll appeal a ruling that ordered a new trial for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel. he Has spent the past 11 years in prison for murdering teenager, Martha Moxley, in 1975.

And at number five, one down, three to go for the Boston Red Sox. Mike Napoli and Big Papi, David Ortiz, each driving in three runs to lead the Sox to an 8-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in game one of the World Series. Big game tonight.

We're always updating those five things to know, so be sure to go to for the very latest -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Michaela, thank so much. Breaking news from off the Nigerian Coast. Americans on an oil supply vessel have been kidnapped by pirates. Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon this morning with all the latest. What do we know so far, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the information is very sketchy, but a British security firm called the AKE is now saying that they have confirmed reports this vessel, this oil supply vessel, was attacked, and these people were kidnapped off the vessel, off the coast of Nigeria in a place called the Gulf of Guinea. The oil supply vessel is one of the ships that constantly move amongst the offshore oil platforms resupplying them.

The reports now, which the U.S. military says it is aware of and is monitoring are that the captain and the chief engineer, both said to be American citizens, were taken off the ship. This is very rough territory out there off the coast of Nigeria. There've been a number of pirate attacks, very violent area, so a matter of great concern.