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MacNeill Murder Trial Continues; HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Testify in Congress

Aired October 30, 2013 - 08:30   ET


DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Whenever you have the testimony of a child, for better or for worse, children perceive and tell stories differently than do adults. Neurological studies show that. So there's always a bit of a problem with a child witness. But does it tend to dispute what the doctor says? Sure. I mean, the doctor's getting into such a level of lies that that may spill over this character evidence into the prosecution's case in chief, which they still have to prove.

CUOMO: Vinnie, why are you shaking your head? Why is it a lie versus him just getting it wrong?


VINNIE POLITAN, HOST, HLN'S AFTER DARK: I'm shaking my head because -- no, no. Her testimony is consistent with everyone else. The only person whose testimony about the position of the body is inconsistent is Dr. MacNeill, the defendant, Dr. MacNeill, the man who has a motive and reason to lie, the man who wanted to make it look like an accident. That's why I find her testimony much more trustworthy than anything he said about the position of Michele MacNeill in that bathtub.

CUOMO: All right, so now we move onto the "my goodness" section of this interview. Vinnie, what we heard from Gypsy Willis. Talk about a metaphor for the point that he may be the worst man in the world. That's what prosecutors want us to believer. The marriage, alleged marriage, that they had dated to his wife's funeral date, sending the booty shot on the day that the wife died. Horrible stuff to be sure, certainly for the jurors' ears. But what does it do for the prosecution in terms of elements of a crime?

POLITAN: It's about more than bad character. It's about more than bad taste. It's about what the case is all about. It's about what Dr. MacNeill wanted to do. He wanted to replace his wife with Gypsy, and the only way he could do it without facing all the shame and the divorce and everything else that would put him in a bad light in his community was for his wife to die.

This is the reason -- Gypsy is the reason. And it was crystal clear, my goodness, Danny. My goodness Chris --

(UNKNOWN): That's a double. POLITAN: The bottom line is here we're seeing her bottom the day afterwards. It's absurd. And the problem is it's not just character. It's the reason. It's the motive. It's why everyone is in court.

CUOMO: It's the DMG right there, the double my goodness he brings to you, Danny Cevallos. And you counter with a my goodness of your own, comparing this to the Peterson, the Drew Peterson case. How do you make that analogy?

CEVALLOS: Definitely, and not just for the fact that both wives were found in a bathtub. The real compelling factor is the creepiness factor. And in this case, those cases like the Drew Peterson case, the original M.E. said -- concluded something to the effect of not a crime as we have here. And you also have the fact that Drew Peterson, as a police officer, is also someone with a special skill that the prosecution is using to say, "Look, there is no evidence because this is a guy who knows how to hide evidence."

And going back to what Vinnie said, you know, Vinnie says it's about more than character and motive. And then Vinnie goes on to talk about only character and motive. All that stuff that he talked about was character evidence. It's not admissible.

But I will concede this, this doctor's character has gotten to such a creepiness level that I think the jury may allow that to spill into the prosecution's case in chief, which is proving that a death was caused by criminality. And I believe that this jury, if it gets anymore -- any more suspicious on the doctor's behalf -- then, he's got some real problems.

CUOMO: All right, Danny Cevallos, Vinnie Politan, thank you so much for the insight, as always. To be continued.

Kate, over to you.

BOULDAN: Thanks, Chris.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, the president's point person on Obamacare just minutes away from getting in the Capitol Hill hot seat. A live picture of the hearing room. We should be brining it to you. And Wolf Blitzer's gonna be joining us with a preview of Kathleen Sebelius' testimony on Capitol Hill.


BOULDAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. We are just minutes away from secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius beginning her testimony before Congress on the botched Obamacare website launch.

Wolf Blitzer, the host of CNN Situation Room will be anchoring special coverage of the hearing starting sharply at 9:00 eastern, and he's joining us now from D.C.

Wolf, this is going to be one of those hearings that you're probably don't want to miss a minute. But as she's about to go into this hearing, Kathleen Sebelius, the last we heard is that at least portions much the Obamacare website are still down. This is not a good way for her to be starting off.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST OF THE SITUATION ROOM: Been down for several hours, the second time they've had to apologize that the whole system has crashed at least for the time being. HHS officials blaming Verizon for this second takedown over the last 48 hours or so. But certainly is embarrassing. She's gonna have to answer some questions about this. But there are much bigger questions that she's gonna have to answer, as well.

I suspect we're not going to get the numbers, even though they know the numbers, how many people have actually signed up, how many people have gone to the website, how many people have actually especially enrolled in various systems, how many of them are Medicaid recipients, how many if them are actually paying into the system. They have all that information, but they say they're not gonna release it at least mid November if not later.

I'm not exactly sure why they're reluctant to release that kind of information. My own sense is they're better off just being transparent, telling the American public what's going on, what's good, what's not so good and getting it out there, as -- it's gonna get out there. A lot of people know this kind of stuff. And when you have bad news to report, it's better for you to report it than let your critics report it.

CUOMO: Isn't there an entirely second level of analysis going on here for why this is happening in the first place? How much do you think Kathleen Sebelius has to be expected to be the fall guy for Democrats, take pressure off the White House, and for the Republicans to be kind of like something to beat on as an example of how the law itself is terrible?

BLITZER: Look, she's the secretary of Health and Human Services, which was in charge over the past three and a half years of putting this whole new law together and making sure it works. So she's responsible. She hasn't just come in the last six months or last year or two. She's been there from day one.

So she's got an enormous amount of responsibility. And officials at the White House, they've got a lot of responsibility, as well, including the president of the United States. I'm sure she's going to be asked how much can did the president know about the problems going in.

Yesterday Joe Johns did that report. And you've been reporting it all morning that in early September, they already knew of serious problems. They already were warned by these various contractors, "You know what? The system might not be ready." But then the decision was made to go ahead and release it, and there've been all these major problems since then.

I guess one of the questions they'll ask her, "Wouldn't it have been smarter instead of having all this embarrassment, this humiliating release, this disaster just waiting a little bit, and making sure it's right before you go ahead and make the American public so nervous about what is so critically important?"

And let's not forget there are so many important benefits from this healthcare law. People who have pre-existing conditions, they finally will be able to get health insurance. There's not going to be any limits on how much these health insurance companies will pay if you do get sick. Young people can stay on their parents' policies until they reach the age of 26. There are very important benefits here.

But it was all designed on the principle that a lot of young, healthier people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, they would buy in, they would pay their monthly payments, and that would subsidize all the others who need help, whether Medicaid recipients or, you know, very, very sick people. And a lot of that is getting lost because of the disastrous roll-out of this website.

BOULDAN: So you have the disastrous roll-out of the website, and I would argue, maybe, the bigger problem going forward for the Obama administration is the fact that the president, we heard over and over again, will say, "If you like your healthcare coverage, you get to keep it. If you like your doctors, you get to keep them." And we're learning that it is not so much, not when it comes to about 5 percent of the population.

How big of a problem is that for the president, especially as he's heading to Massachusetts to go on offense on this?

BLITZER: It's only 5 percent that have these individual health insurance policies. But that's 15 million people out there who've got these individual policies. They don't have them through their employer, for example, or through the government, Medicare or Medicaid or whatever. These are 15 million people.

Of that, anywhere from five to 10 million, maybe as many as 12 million are not going to be able to keep their policies because their policies were not very good. They didn't meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act. They didn't provide maternity benefits, for example, or mental health benefits. They were -- they had very severe caps on how much they would lay out. So they didn't meet the requirements of Obamacare, so now these people, anywhere from 5 million, 7 million, maybe 10 or 12 million are being told, even as we speak right now, "You know what? You gotta get a new policy."

Now, that new policy might be better, but it might also cost more. On the other hand, if you qualify for a subsidy, it might actually wind up costing less. The deductible may be higher, maybe not as high. There are a lot of changes. But clearly, what the president said, "If you like your health insurance policy, you can keep it," wasn't precise. "If you like your doctor, you can keep him or her," that wasn't precise because a lot of these new policies, these people are forced to get on because of Obamacare, will not have the same network of doctors, physicians included. So if you like your doctor, you might not be able to keep your doctor.

BOULDAN: Yeah, that's clearly gonna be one of the questions for Kathleen Sebelius today on Capitol Hill today for sure.

CUOMO: Wolf Blitzer, thank you very much. It's always good to have the team captain on the show.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CUOMO: We'll head back to you for the testimony as soon as we hear that it's coming. And we're just minutes away from Kathleen Sebelius testifying. That's what we've been talking about. We'll take you to Capitol Hill as soon as we can.

We're gonna be right back with more about what this could mean for the Obama administration and Kathleen Sebelius. Stay with us.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. You're looking at a live picture right now from inside the hearing room where shortly Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is going to have to sit down and take hard questions from members of Congress on the failures of the Affordable Care Act starting with the roll-out.

Let's bring in a panel to tee up what may happen: senior White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar; chief political analyst Gloria Borger; senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Thank you to you all.

BOLDUAN: It's great to see all of you. Brianna.


KEILAR: I want to start real quick with you. I mean what does the White House as well as Kathleen Sebelius, what -- what does she need do, what do they need on get out of this hearing? Because you know it's going to be a slugfest.

KEILAR: It is, and I think you really saw a preview yesterday when we saw Marilyn Tavenner who is the head of CMS underneath HHS testifying. So I think what she expressed was that the website isn't up to snuff.

But I think you're also going to see between some of the interplay between Democrats and Republicans, Democrats perhaps coming to the aid of Secretary Sebelius and kind of pointing to Republicans as having a political stake in this game as having voted many times to repeal Obamacare and obviously the government shutdown which stemmed initially on Obamacare and trying to defund it.

So I think you'll be seeing Democrats making some of their points that Republicans have a political stake in this.

CUOMO: Brianna Keilar I will call and raise to Gloria Borger. You could say there are two political agendas at play, no. The Republicans the obvious one that Brianna just laid out; but Democrats, don't Democrats need someone to blame to take heat off the White House?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes I think they do. And I think they do going to be just as likely to try and ask some tough questions of Kathleen Sebelius. Look, I think there are two things here that she's got to do. She's got to have some accountability here. And say, first of all, this is how this occurred and we're sorry it occurred. But I'm accountable for this and I'll tell you why it happened.

And then also she's got to have some credibility here because as you guys were talking about with Wolf just earlier, this whole "keep your plan" idea. You can keep your plan as the President said over and over again. Republicans are clearly going to ask questions about that. And she has to explain in-depth exactly what the President meant and why he was credible when he said those words.

And those are -- you know, those are two tough bars for her to -- for her to get over here. And I don't think it will be easy because while Democrats are going to defend the plan, they have to you know they have to be accountable to their own constituents as to why the roll out was so bad and as to why some of them are going to be unhappy that in fact some of them can't keep their plan.

BOLDUAN: And Elizabeth, I want to bring you in on this because as Gloria says it's no easy task and a task made even more difficult now as Kathleen Sebelius is about to walk into this hearing. And last we heard that portions of the Obamacare website are still down at this moment.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I tried it this morning and last night actually, Kate it was completely down. I tried to log in as I you know I've been logging in for days and days now and I got an error message. I got a message that said the system is down at the moment. Immediately I got this exact message last night and just about 15 minutes ago. It's going to be very tough for her to testify about how they're working day and night to make this better when this is going on right now.

CUOMO: All right we're getting very close to when the testimony is going to begin. We're going to wrap this part up. Brianna, quick take from you, how much of the chitter-chatter is turning to whether or not Sebelius survives after this hearing?

KEILAR: Well that's a really interesting question Chris. You know at this point, all indications are that she will. And just very quickly, the issue and maybe this may give her certainly a little bit of security is that if she were to leave, somebody else would need to be confirmed.

And that as you can imagine would be a big problem, right that could be a big issue for President Obama. So there's certainly a positive in even keeping her in her position at this point for the administration.

BOLDUAN: This is the irony.

CUOMO: The irony that the Republicans will be stuck with her because they won't approve any new appointments.

BOLDUAN: Wrap your mind around that one. Welcome to Washington. It will be interesting to see if she apologizes, if she feels the need to apologize as the CMS official did yesterday. We will see. You will all be here to watch it. And fortunately we've got smart people to analyze it.

Great to see you all. Thank you so very much. That is going to be it for us today.

But stay tuned as we keep saying, we're just minutes away from the hearing. Wolf Blitzer's live coverage begins after the break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Good morning from Washington. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Carol Costello. Just ahead in the special edition of the NEWSROOM, we're watching live coverage, the House of Representatives Kathleen Sebelius facing lawmakers this hour for the first time since the botched launch of the Obamacare website.

She'll answer the questions that representatives from House Energy and Commerce Committee. Questions that millions of Americans want answered as well. They're frustrated by a website that is still crashing four weeks after its launch. Just last night, guess what? It was down again and even as we speak, at this moment, it is still down.

In fact our own Laurie Segall is trying to log in right now. We're going to check in with her in just a moment.

For lawmakers hungry to grill the House and Human Services Secretary today the latest crash is fresh meat. Aside from obvious problems of the website being down this morning, there are other huge questions facing Sebelius, questions she will have to answer this morning, including when did she find out about the problems with the website? Why wasn't more testing done? How much will the fixes cost? And what will she say to the millions of Americans whose policies are being canceled right now?

For -- for now though, expect more of the blame game to continue at least according to her prepared opening remarks. She defends the government agency responsible for the site saying "CMS has a track record of successfully overseeing the many contractors our programs depend on to function. Unfortunately, a subset of those contracts as they are called for have not met expectations" to put it mildly.

And it promises to be a dramatic and combative morning up on Capitol Hill here in Washington. We're covering all angles of this hugely historic and important story with a full team of correspondents and analysts. They are all standing by.

Timing couldn't be any more inconvenient for the Obama administration. Just hours before Kathleen Sebelius headed to Capitol Hill over the debacle the Web site again went down and crashed. Users trying to register for the first time were shown this message. How humiliating and embarrassing the message that the site is down with technical issues.

CNN money technology correspondent Laurie Segall is joining us now. Laurie, I take it you are trying to log in right now. How is that going?

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN MONEY TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: I am. Unfortunately, I've got to report to you, Wolf, that as of two seconds ago as I'm logging in, I've got same error message that unfortunately we've all come to know very well that says the system is down at the moment. It tells you, you can call in for a better option. And we have just gotten to see this error message so many times.

Now in this particular case it's due to a data hub outage, this is the same problem we saw on Sunday. They are saying this is for maintenance but they said it would be complete overnight. Unfortunately, it's not complete.

Unfortunately for Secretary Sebelius when she walks into this hearing, the site just isn't working and it's one of many technical issues we've seen over this roll-out. It just seems -- it just seems to keep happening that is one thing after the next. If you look into last -- last week at the hearing many of the contractors were saying well the data hub is working very, very well, well fast forward a week and we can't really even log on because of the data hub outage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There you see the "Hon. Sebelius", the sign. That's where she will be seated. She will be answering questions from members of this House Energy and Commerce Committee, the committee clearly, clearly wants answers. Laurie, stand by for a moment.

There you see some of the committee members coming in right now. We're told that the committee chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, he will have an opening statement. Henry Waxman the Democratic ranking member, he will have an opening statement. Very, very brief opening statements -- only about three minutes.

The vice chair Marsha Blackburn will make a statement and then Kathleen Sebelius will have her opening statement. And then all members of the committee, and there are a lot of them. They'll have a chance. Fred Upton wants to gavel this as close to 9:00 a.m. as possible in the next few moments.

She has given them three hours. We're told she'll be testifying for three hours today. They want to wrap it up at around noon, Eastern.

Let's get some perspective on what's going on. The former Utah governor, Republican Mike Leavitt is joining us right now. He served as the Health and Human Services Secretary under President Bush from 2005 to 2009. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. I don't know if you prefer Mr. Secretary or governor -- you have two good titles there.

But take us into her seat right now. She is under enormous pressure. How do you think she got into this mess?

MIKE LEAVITT, FORMER HHS SECRETARY: Well, Wolf, I have to say that the seeds of this problem were sown a year ago as the administration made decisions not to issue regulations that were required for those developing the system to actually do it properly. And hence when they got to the end of the day and the site had to go live, it had been inadequately tested. They were issuing regulations in September for an October 1 implementation. I'm sure that will come up in the hearing today. But I think in terms of looking at causes, I think that's a big one.

BLITZER: So who is to blame for that?

LEAVITT: Well, let's just say I don't think that Secretary Sebelius made all those decisions to defer them. I think that was in large measure a decision made I suspect by the White House as they were navigating through an election at that point in time. And that was a political call they made and they're now making --