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NSA Spying Program; States Dropping Plans; Bomb Parts Confiscated from Carry-on Bag; Judge Accused of Texting Prosecutor

Aired October 29, 2013 - 14:00   ET



Great to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We continue here today. The world wants answers. Right now, this congressional hearing is underway. When you look at some of these pictures -- this wasn't too long ago -- these protesters here in the back of this room, they're holding up signs as the head of the NSA and the president's top intelligence chief are both there to testify as anger and suspicion grow over accusations of widespread U.S. spying. The worst of it, tapping the phones of U.S. allies.


JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We, all of us in the intelligence community, are very much aware that the recent unauthorized disclosures have raised concerns that you've alluded to, both here in Congress and across the nation, about our intelligence activities. We know the public wants to understand how its intelligence community uses its special tools and authorities and to judge whether we can be trusted to use them appropriately. We believe we have been lawful and that the rigorous oversight we've operated under has been effective.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here are a couple of the questions. These are the biggies. What did the president know? When did he know it? And what specifically, it kind of depends on who you ask. The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Dianne Feinstein, she says, we knew nothing, claiming they were kept in the dark about exactly what the NSA was up to. But other officials say President Obama, or at least his White House staff, knew all about it. The president, while not admitting or denying anything, is trying to calm this diplomatic storm with the promise of a review.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We give them policy direction, but what we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing. I'm not here to talk about classified information. What I am confirming is the fact that we're undergoing a complete review of how our intelligence operates outside of the country.


BALDWIN: Joining me now Bob Baer, CNN national security analyst and former CIA operative.

So, Bob, as we're listening here to this hearing, this House Intelligence hearing happening right now, you know, we were hearing some references to 9/11, justifications for why the United States needs the NSA intelligence collection. So really to you, as a former member of the intelligence community, what is fair game?

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Fair game is listening in to our enemies, Iran, China, Russia, anybody who poses us internationally we can't trust. Listening into Germany, that's going beyond the pale. It's unnecessary. You know, I've listened to German conversations before in the past and we just -- we don't care about their internal politics. They're very cooperative on terrorism. And if we really needed answers, the president can call up somebody like Merkel and ask her, preferably not on a cell phone, and ask her what's going on. He'll get an answer.

BALDWIN: So did it surprise you to find out that the U.S. was tapping the personal cell phone of the German chancellor?

BAER: It totally surprised me.


BAER: You know, systemically like this, the president clearly knew. This isn't something you keep from the president of the United States. Listening in on one of his interlockers, it's just a no-no in the intelligence community. Somebody at the White House knew, if not the president. And, I mean, why didn't the president say, why do we really need this stuff? Is it worth the risk? And I think we know now the answer is no.

BALDWIN: I know that there are certain situations in which the president of the United States is intentionally, you know, kept out of the loop, but tapping the phones of good friends of the United States, world leaders here, do you buy this notion that the president did not know about it?

BAER: No, absolutely not. Every time in the CIA, we ran into a friend of the president or a contact even, we immediately called up the White House and said, hey, there's a crisscross of contacts here. Same way with the secretary of state, called him up, say we're listening in on so and so, he's your friend, beware. It was standard protocol.

BALDWIN: So where do we go from here?

BAER: I think Congress needs to get ahold of this. You know, we need some discipline in the intelligence community. We can't be listening into American reporters. We can't be listening into the German chancellor and the rest of it. I mean there are too many other things to do. We have to refocus the intelligence community. Dangers abroad aren't going away. We need to be listening into them.

BALDWIN: So what happens though as we were -- there have already been references to 9/11. And heaven forbid there is a terrorist attack and people are crying foul now over this spying when after something horrendous happens, then you have half the world saying, well, why didn't we know more? Why weren't we tapping those phones? How do you respond to that?

BAER: You know, Brooke, you're absolutely right. We cannot dispense what the National Security Agency - I spent my entire career going after human sources. But at the end of the day, it was the National Security Agency which kept us safe. Let's -- don't damage this organization. Let's just try to clean it up.

BALDWIN: Bob Baer, thank you very much.

And the name Marilyn Tavenner may not ring a bell with anyone, but she is front and center today in this red hot political spotlight that is Obamacare. Ms. Tavenner is in charge of the agency that created the website. The very same website that has been universally criticized and mocked ever since it went live. So, today's hearing started with "I'm sorry."


MARILYN TAVENNER, ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE & MEDICAID SERVICES: We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage. And to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should.


BALDWIN: From there, Marilyn Tavenner offered a steady defense of the overall Obamacare program. The website will be fixed, she promised, and in the long run more Americans will have better coverage.

And CNN investigations correspondent Chris Frates joins me now from Washington.

And, Chris, a couple questions for you out of this hearing here. I mean the hearing this morning clearly hit on the issues, the glitches, whatever you want to call it, you know, with the website. But it also got into reports that Obamacare is causing a lot of people to lose the coverage they already have, and that is something President Obama always said would never happen. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor under the reform proposals that we've put forward. If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep it.

If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor too. We will keep this promise to the American people. If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period.

If you like your doctor, you'll be able to keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan.

If you've got health insurance, you like your doctor, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan.


BALDWIN: So set me straight, Chris Frates, I mean are people losing their current coverage or no? What's going on?

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, under Obamacare, all insurance policies must now include 10 essential benefit categories. These are things like maternity care and prescription drug coverage. So plans that don't meet that criteria need to be changed.

But CNN has learned at least three states are telling insurance companies they must discontinue plans that don't meet all the new coverage requirements. That's because it's so complicated to change some of these plans that the states are asking them to scrap them altogether. That means the president's promise that if people like their current plans, they'd be able to keep them, is being broken.

BALDWIN: So then what happens to these people?

FRATES: Well, if you're in Kentucky, Virginia, or Idaho and have a plan that doesn't meet Obamacare's requirements, insurers will discontinue your current plan and are expected to offer new plans that meet the new requirements. For some people, that could increase their premiums. For others who might qualify for a subsidy under Obamacare, it could be cheaper. But either way, Brooke, you're going to get a new plan.

BALDWIN: So then let's use Kentucky for an example. What happens there?

FRATES: Well, in a place like Kentucky, that means that about half of the roughly 600,000 people in the state's private insurance market will have their current insurance plan discontinued by the end of the year. And I talked with a state insurance department official who told me that the important thing for people to remember is that they can't compare their old plans to their new plans because the new plans include things that have never been covered before. So that could leave many people confused and upset. I mean, after all, the president said they could keep their current plans.

BALDWIN: Chris Frates, thank you.

Speaking of all of this. Jay Carney, the White House spokesperson, was just asked about this. The White House daily briefing happening. We're going to tell you what he says the president means by folks keeping their insurance. What's the real deal? That's next.


BALDWIN: So as I mentioned before the break, something very, very important was just addressed here at the White House daily briefing. We just heard Jay Carney responding to a question out of concerns really, reports from a number of outlets basically worrying that Obamacare is causing people to lose their health insurance. It's something that the president has said time and time again would never, ever happen. So here's a straight answer from Jay Carney.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So let's step back. If you are one of the 80 percent of the American people who receive insurance coverage through your employer or through Medicaid or Medicare or the Veterans Administration, this conversation doesn't apply to you. These reports do not apply to you. If you're one of the 15 percent of the American people who are uninsured entirely right now, this conversation does not apply to you. So what we're talking about here is the 5 percent in the country who currently purchase insurance on the individual market. And that market has been like the wild west. It has been under regulated. It is this place where Americans have most keenly felt the challenges posed by the insurance system in this country where, for example, insurers could deny you coverage if you had a pre-existing condition, or they could offer you coverage that, in its fine print, excluded benefits specifically related to your pre- existing condition. So if you are -- if you have hypertension or you're a cancer survivor, they could carve out coverage on those specific issues and then give you a plan that would cover you on other things. They could also and did routinely change your plan or eliminate it altogether annually. They could throw you off. They could jack up your premiums. They could change your coverage. And one of the issues that the Affordable Care Act was designed to address was the need to provide greater security to those Americans who had no other option but to seek insurance on the individual market.


BALDWIN: So that is the official response from the White House. We still have a heck of a lot of questions on this. We're going to continue digging on this. So stay tuned the rest of the show here as we have several guests to tackle specifically Obamacare.

Meantime, a carry-on bag confiscated at the Montreal Airport has sparked something of an international mystery. Police say a man traveling to Los Angeles had this bag. It was full of hidden parts that could be used to make a bomb. The mysterious part, however, has to do with his background rather than what was actually inside the bag. CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now.

So, why? Why are authorities, Evan, honing in on this guy's past?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brooke, this is a particularly strange one. This gentleman is 71 years old. His name is Anthony Piazza. It's an Italian sounding name. Apparently he immigrated to Canada from Iran in the 1970s. And a few years later changed his name.

He was stopped by Canadian authorities as he was trying to go through security to board a flight from Montreal to Los Angeles on Sunday. In some compartments, they found some very strange items. So -- what appeared to be some powder in a pen that at first they thought might be phosphorous. There was some wires and some ammunition.

And when he was first questioned about it, he said that someone had asked him to take this bag on board. And so the, you know, the authorities there were very suspicious. They shut down a section of the airport. A bunch of flights were delayed. There was a large police presence in his neighborhood in Montreal. They did a lot of searches.

So far they have not found any indication that there's a bomb plot here. There is - there were no explosives inside of these devices or these items that he was carrying. So today it's still a bit of a mystery.

He was due in court today in Montreal to face charges for mischief and a couple other charges that could get him up to 10 years in prison. But what -- apparently the hearing was delayed because he needs a new lawyer. And we're no closer to sort of understanding what happened, what exactly caused him to be where he was, what he was trying to do with these items. Again, he's 71 years old. U.S. authorities are telling me, and reporters here at CNN, that, you know, it doesn't look like it was a real bomb plot, but they're still mystified, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Still the answer to why doesn't exist. Evan Perez. Thank you very much, Evan.

Coming up --




BALDWIN: The woman at the center of the Obamacare mess set to testify. Who knew what and when? CNN investigates.

A mystery inside two water treatment plants. Crews find a woman's torso and the discoveries don't stop there.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're high right now?


(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: The teen admits to running over and killing a cyclist and his surreal confession is all caught on video.

And talk about catching the stoke. Stunning video of a surfer apparently breaking a world record.


BALDWIN: Prosecutors say she was the motivation for murder. And today the ex-mistress of Dr. Martin MacNeill took the stand. MacNeill is accused of drugging and drowning his wife back in 2007 to be with this woman. This walking in the courtroom is Gypsy Willis. Now, jurors learned it was a matter of days after his wife's death when MacNeill introduced Willis to his eight children, hiring her as the nanny. Willis even attended Michele MacNeill's funeral. Although the two never married, Willis and the doctor were engaged and prosecutors used this fake wedding of theirs, this fake wedding date, as evidence against Dr. Martin MacNeill.


SAM PEAD, PROSECUTOR: You and the defendant went to Wyoming in early July of 2007, correct?

GYPSY WILLIS, EX-MISTRESS OF MURDER DEFENDANT: I believe so. It sounds about right.

PEAD: And the defendant proposed to you, officially?


PEAD: Is that correct?

WILLIS: I believe so. It's been so long.

PEAD: You don't remember him proposing?

WILLIS: This relationship has been over a very long time.

PEAD: So he set out - the filling out of this application.

WILLIS: He filled out the information.

PEAD: OK. And what was the purpose of this application?

WILLIS: It was to give me access to the military base with him.

PEAD: To get you an ID for that, correct?


PEAD: And what name was used for you?

WILLIS: Jillian Jean MacNeill.

PEAD: And did you hold yourself out as married to someone? WILLIS: Yes.

PEAD: Married to whom?

WILLIS: Martin MacNeill.

PEAD: And did you have a marriage date on this?

WILLIS: Marriage date is listed as April 14th.

PEAD: Of what year?

WILLIS: 2007.

PEAD: What is the significance of April 14th of 2007?

WILLIS: That is the day of the funeral.

PEAD: Of whose funeral?

WILLIS: Michele's.


BALDWIN: Let's be clear, Willis is not facing any charges in the death of MacNeill's wife, which the defense maintains was caused by natural causes. Prosecutors cut a deal with her to get her to sit there and testify. She has been convicted of an unrelated crime.

And how about this one today? This district court judge in Texas is stepping down amid allegations she texted a prosecutor from the bench during a trial. Elizabeth Coker was the focus of judicial conduct commission investigations -- this is back in March -- after a witness reported seeing something he called very unethical. And according to that report, Coker texted this secret message of advice to an assistant district attorney during a felony child abuse trial. That attorney, according to this report, then passed the judge's secret note to the prosecutor in the case.

So let's talk about this with CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney Drew Findling.

So, welcome to both of you. And let me just say, listen, I'm no lawyer, I'm no judge, but I know this, this is not OK. Am I right, Sunny?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You're absolutely right.


HOSTIN: I mean, wow, the judges that I appeared in front of certainly never helped me in this way, or helped me at all really. And, you know, I think we should make it clear that this judge hasn't admitted to these allegations, but I do have in front of me, Brooke, the state commission on judicial conduct's voluntary agreement, which she did sign, withdrawing from the bench, which is really a sweetheart deal, if, in fact, these allegations are true. It's something I've just never heard of before. I mean it outlines such outrageous, outrageous behavior, including all of the things that you just mentioned, like texting a prosecutor, giving a prosecutor tips as to how to win a child abuse case.


HOSTIN: And actually even meeting with jurors, you know, without attorneys while the jurors were deliberating. That is something, in my view - I don't know if Drew's ever heard of it, but it is just unprecedented.

BALDWIN: Yes, Drew, give us the rules of communication or lack thereof between, you know, someone on the bench and an attorney.

DREW FINDLING, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Complete lack of communication. Anything is considered ex parte. That is, you cannot communicate by yourself without the other party being present. And you cannot communicate directly with jurors other than to have them all present and to give them a general explanation of the law or some guidance.

You know, Brooke, I've been in contact with some of my colleagues in Texas, criminal defense lawyers, and I've been getting some amazing faxes sent to my office of screen shots of the text messages that were sent from this judge to this lawyer. I've seen an affidavit today of a former juror in a murder case that said the judge came to her and the other jurors and said in a case, if you find the defendant guilty, I'll give the defendant probation. It's starting to surface.


FINDLING: But I think we need to put into context why they let her get away with no admission. And that's because, according to my colleagues in Texas, everybody's gearing up for all the what we call habeas corpus. All the post-conviction relief. We're going see the defendants that have been convicted lining up with their lawyers for new trials to have their past convictions and possibly guilty pleas overturned. It is the beginning of a floodgate getting ready to open in Texas.

BALDWIN: Interesting. Let me just read this. This is from Elizabeth Coker herself. She issued a statement to our TV affiliate KPRC. She said this, "the Judicial Commission made no findings or determination of fact," Sunny, you had alluded to this earlier, "of fact in my voluntary resignation, and I have not admitted guilt, fault, or liability in my voluntary resignation." So perhaps we will be seeing a review. Perhaps others might be in hot water here as well.

Sunny Hostin and Drew Findling, thank you very much.

HOSTIN: You bet.

BALDWIN: Coming up here on CNN, if you have kids, you may be thinking that they spend a little too much time on the Internet. So a new study says, you know what, you're right. New recommendations for just how much time kids should spend in front of the TV, on their cell phones. And you will want to hear this. That story is next.

Plus, in the lead-up to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama said, if you like your insurance plan, keep it. That is not quite the case right now. So who in the administration knew what and when? CNN investigates. Stay with me. You're watching CNN.