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Subpoena Issued Over Web Site; FAA Eases Electronic Rules; Office Reviewing All Kendrick Johnson Evidence; Teen's Mysterious Death Investigation Re-Opened; Sebelius Subpoenaed over Website; Johnson Death Probe Reopened; Interview with Rep. Darrell Issa
Aired October 31, 2013 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we're waiting to hear whether the Justice Department will investigate the mysterious death of a Georgia teenager whose body was found inside a rolled up mat at his high school. A U.S. attorney speaking out on the case any moment. Stand by for live coverage.
Right now the next round in the battle over Obamacare is taking shape. A fierce critic of the health care law issuing a subpoena over the website. We'll talk live with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa this hour.
And next time you fly, you may not necessarily have to stow your electronic devices. Right now, travelers are applauding long-awaited news from the FAA about what gadgets they can use and when.
Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from Washington. Any minute now, the parents of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson are expected to find out if the Justice Department will step in and investigate the bizarre circumstances surrounding their son's death. Johnson's body was found inside a rolled up mat in his Valdosta, Georgia high school back in January. His death was ruled an accident but his parents are convinced he was murdered. A U.S. attorney in Georgia is expected to announce a decision on a new investigation any moment now. We'll have live coverage of that. In fact, here he is right now, Michael Moore.
MICHAEL MOORE, U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA (live): -- a result of becoming accidentally lodged in the mat. Shortly after the results of that autopsy were released and the investigation closed by the Lownde's County Sheriff's Department, my office was contacted by the family's attorney who requested a review of the local investigation. At that time, I requested and received a copy of the complete investigative report and file from the Lownde's County sheriff's office. The investigative file includes reports, photographs, videos, statements, and a number of other documents.
In late August of this year, I received a copy of the second autopsy report which reached a different conclusion as to the cause of Kendrick Johnson's death. For several months now, my office has been continuously engaged in obtaining and reviewing all of the evidence, case reports and other investigative findings that are available pertaining to the death of Kendrick Johnson. Those efforts are ongoing. As part of that process, there are several questions that must be answers or confirmed. First, what was the cause of Mr. Johnson's death? Second, was Mr. Johnson's death the result of a crime? Third, if Mr. Johnson's death was the result of a crime, who committed that crime? And, fourth, if a crime, in fact, was committed, who has the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute those responsible?
Federal jurisdiction is limited. And there may be circumstances where even if it is determined that Kendrick Johnson died as a result of a criminal act, it may not be a crime which could be prosecuted in the federal courts.
My office has received and reviewed the official documents and conclusions resulting from the initial investigation. And I have personally, personally reviewed those documents and have spoken to individuals involved in this investigation. I have offered, through the family attorney, to meet with the Johnson family, and I have met on a couple of occasions with the family's investigator and have reviewed a number of documents that he has provided.
I asked the family attorney to provide me with a full report from his investigator and any other evidence or information which he has developed. I received that information about two weeks ago.
We have also asked the public to come forward with any additional information they may have. We are reviewing literally hundreds of telephone calls we've received about the case to determine if any relevant information exists.
And I will pass now again, if anyone has factual and specific information relating to Mr. Johnson's death, please contact my office at 478-621-2701. Many people have called to express their concerns, fears, and opinions about Mr. Johnson's death and the subsequent investigation.
And let me say that I appreciate the depth of those concerns. But at this time, what we need are people with facts and knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Johnson's death to present those to us. Facts, not feelings or opinions no matter how sincere they may be, are the basis of the investigation.
At this time, however, I am of the opinion that a sufficient basis exists for my office to conduct a formal review of the facts and investigation surrounding death of Kendrick Johnson. I do this with an open mind, neither accepting nor rejecting opinions of anyone who has previously investigated the circumstances of his death.
At my request, the FBI, who I believe is the finest investigative agency in the world, is cooperating with us in our efforts. Should sufficient information be developed to warrant a criminal civil rights investigation, I will ask the FBI to open civil rights or any other appropriate criminal investigation.
As the United States attorney and within the confines of appropriate federal jurisdiction, I will follow the facts wherever, wherever they lead. My objective is to discover the truth and I believe that can only be done by gathering all of the evidence and relevant information surrounding Mr. Johnson's death. I am committed to doing everything in my power to answer the questions that exist in this case or as many of them as we can.
Now, as those of you who have covered the Department of Justice before or who have covered my office before know, we do not typically comment on pending investigations. Because this is now an ongoing investigation by my office, I'm not going to take questions at this time.
Going forward, I will not be making any public comments about this matter until my investigative review is complete. But let me assure each of you, Mr. Johnson's family, the law enforcement agencies, the local community, and all of those who are interested in or have been affected by these tragic circumstances, that my goal, in fact my oath requires, me to follow the facts, apply the law, and now protect the independence and objectivity of this investigative process. Thank you all very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will your investigation also --
BLITZER: All right. So, there he is, Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney in Georgia, announcing they are reopening the case into the mysterious death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson earlier this year. You saw family members of Kendrick Johnson. They are clearly pleased. They had been searching for some answers into the death surrounding 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson and they're very, very pleased. You see the family and friends in Valdosta, Georgia, right now.
In just a moment, we'll talk about what just happened with CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin. But first, our own Victor Blackwell, he has been doggedly chasing this story for more than six months. He walks us through what happened.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Months of protests, sit-ins and marches have shaken the small South Georgia city of Valdosta. Demonstrators say they want answers in death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson. In January, Kendrick was found dead at school. Investigators with the Lownde's County sheriff's office says Kendrick squeezed his 19-inch shoulders into the 14 1/2 center of this rolled gym mat. They say he got stuck upside down while reaching for this shoe. After an autopsy, a medical examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agreed the official cause of Kendrick's death accidental positional asphyxia. Kendrick was suffocated by his own body weight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We examined all of the alternatives presented to us and the only one that fit the physical evidence and the forensic evidence and the testimonial evidence that we received was this was an accident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An accident, we just didn't believe.
BLACKWELL: Kendrick's parents, Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson, believe the story about the shoe is a cover-up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I went and viewed his body that Sunday, you can see something happened. You can tell he was beaten.
BLACKWELL: In June, the Johnson's exhumed the body and hired Dr. Bill Anderson to conduct an independent autopsy. Anderson says he found evidence of bleeding under the skin near Johnson's right jaw.
DR. WILLIAM ANDERSON, FORENSIC DIMENSIONS, HEATHROW, FLORIDA: We were able to diagnose the fact that there was indeed blunt force trauma to that area.
BLACKWELL (on camera): So, he took blow to the neck?
ANDERSON: He took at least one blow to the neck.
BLACKWELL: Just to be clear, you've used the world self-times but, in your view, this is a homicide?
BLACKWELL (voice-over): Also, Dr. Anderson says Kendrick's organs were missing. Instead, he was stuffed with newspaper. The Georgia secretary of state's office launched an investigation into that.
Questions about the sheriff's office investigation had made the Johnson's more suspicious including why these shoes found yards from Kendrick's body were not collected as evidence and how did someone's blood end up on this wall in the gym?
CNN laid out these facts for former FBI special agent Harold Copus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe this was an accident. I think this young man met with foul play.
BLITZER: That was Victor Blackwell doing some excellent reporting for us. He's been on this case, as I said, now for six months. Many suspicions, many unanswered questions in the case.
Joining us from New York right now, CNN Legal Analyst, the former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin. All right, the U.S. attorney just announced they are reopening the case. What do you think? What is happening right now?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, this is a significant development for this family and for this case because, as you heard the U.S. Attorney mention, now you have the resources of the federal government, in particular, the FBI. And I agree with them. I think the FBI does some of the finest investigative work in our country. And so, with that type of resource directed at this investigation, there will be more answers to be found.
And what I found also very significant, Wolf, was that this U.S. attorney, who is the top prosecutor in his office, says he personally reviewed some of these documents, personally reviewed reports, the family investigator's reports, and determined, based not only on everyone's else's review in his office, but on his own review there was sufficient evidence to reopen a federal investigation. Now, that is very significant.
I will say this, which gives me some pause about this case, is that, as he mentioned, federal jurisdiction is very limited. And so, even if they find some sort of evidence that supports that a crime was committed, that this young man was murdered, the federal government may not have jurisdiction to prosecute this case in which case this would go back to local authorities, perhaps, for prosecution. But all in all, a really positive step for this family.
BLITZER: One thing that just sort of jumps out at me, and you've been involved in these kinds of cases over the years, there were two autopsies. The second autopsy showed that several vital organs were removed and the body had been stuffed with newspapers. Is that a normal situation? A normal autopsy? They throw newspapers in a body like that?
HOSTIN: Absolutely not. I actually have never heard of that before, Wolf. It is so bizarre. It is so strange. And what has also been very strange about this case is the lack of transparency, quite frankly, of the local authorities. They didn't want to release the videos that we know were released yesterday because they said that the minors that were perhaps on the videos needed to be protected. I mean, this is a murder investigation, after all, and that is where you want the most transparency.
And so, the fact -- the odd fact of the autopsy finding -- you know, second autopsy rather, finding newspapers in his body. The fact that the videos have not been released up until yesterday. The fact that he died under very suspicious circumstances, ruled an accident. All of that together, I am sure, are the reasons why this U.S. attorney says, no, this is time for the federal government to get involved. We need more transparency. We need more answers.
BLITZER: I think it's fair to say the investigative work of CNN and our team on this case over the past six months, Victor Blackwell and producer Devon Sayers, they did an excellent job bringing new evidence out there causing, in part shall we say, the U.S. attorney in Georgia, Michael Moore, to announce what he announced today, they're reopening this investigation.
All right. Sunny, thanks very much for that.
Coming up later this hour, we're going to speak with Kendrick Johnson's parents. They're standing by. We'll get their reaction to what we just heard from the U.S. attorney.
Also ahead, Congressman Darrell Issa, he is demanding more information about the problems plaguing HealthCare.gov. The Congressman, he joins us live when we come back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: As we reported first here on CNN, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa has now subpoenaed the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, over the botched Obamacare website. Darrell Issa's House Oversight Committee is demanding documents and information relating to healthcare.gov, that website. Sebelius was grilled by another House panel about the website yesterday. Congressman Issa is here in the studio with us.
Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, thank you, Wolf. And as you said, the secretary has answered some questions, but evaded a great many. And in our case, both Senator Lamar Alexander and I have asked for documents, we set a reasonable deadline, it expired. Now we really need to insist on those documents.
BLITZER: All right. So what documents specifically do you need?
ISSA: Well, Wolf, we've had contractors give us proof that in fact briefings were made in a timely fashion that showed - and some of them have been aired -- showed that in fact they weren't ready and they knew they weren't ready. Just today Jay Carney said the president was shown this website ahead of time as though it was ready. So figuring out who inside the organization knew but failed to communicate is important. But more importantly, because there's so many other areas, including the risk of private information coming out in a website that isn't ready, we really need to ask those questions and see the -- what's internally going on.
BLITZER: Because Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, whose also a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, asked some tough questions about whether or not information people provide to that website about their Social Security Numbers, their income, whatever, is really secured. And you want to subpoena information to show that they knew in advance the security, the cyber security, was not adequate?
ISSA: Well, exactly. We need to know who knew and why they should still be on the job. But, you know, Wolf, there's even more complex information. Do you realize that tax I.D. information is in there, voter information is in there? This is a very important link to a lot of private information. And although we've been given assurances that it's safe, we were given assurances that they could handle the volume.
BLITZER: They say they've cleaned it up and secured it. Do you believe it's secure right now?
ISSA: Well, I don't want to overly find humor in this, but while the secretary's speaking yesterday saying they hadn't had a shutdown, another network was showing a current shutdown that was displayed. So very clearly they're saying one thing but they're not yet demonstrating it with the reliability of this website. They're claiming November 30th they'll be ready. We want to help make sure they will. And then we want to make sure this doesn't happen again. You know, the process here of delivering very expensive IT, $600 million, shows that government doesn't really get it right, even when they employ good contractors, they seem to find a way not to use best practices.
BLITZER: Here's a statement that the Department of Health and Human Services issued regarding your subpoena request. They say they're cooperating. "Since October 10th, the committee has made five separate requests for a wide range of documents. Their timeline was not feasible given the vast scope of their requests. We are disappointed that the committee believes a subpoena was necessary. However, it does not change our intent to continue to cooperate with them, to produce documents as expeditiously as we are able to do." So they say they're doing their best.
ISSA: Well, they say they're able to take a failed site that they had three and a half years to produce and they're going to get it fixed by November 30th, basically 30 days. In our case, Senator Lamar Alexander is a very patient man and he's a very moderate senator. He has lost his patience. I've lost my patience. We're saying, start giving us at least the critical - and we prioritize -- the critical discovery to let us understand particularly related to documents we already have that showed they were shown these failures.
BLITZER: And you - you want documents from the Department of Health and Humans Services, also from the main contractors who were providing services to create this website, is that right?
ISSA: Absolutely. Although 10 out of 11 of the major contractors are cooperating fully. So --
BLITZER: Who's - who's not cooperating?
ISSA: QSSI, the -
BLITZER: But that's the big one.
ISSA: They're the big -
BLITZER: What are they saying to you?
ISSA: Well, they basically wouldn't give us timelines. They sort of slow rolled us and we had to send them a subpoena, too. The challenge here, quite frankly, though, is, the tip of the iceberg is the website. But safety, security, reliability of the information at a time when people are being ordered on penalty of tax to do things we need to make sure happens.
BLITZER: You know the argument that's made against you. You really don't want to fix Obamacare. You want to destroy Obamacare and you're just doing this for political purposes.
ISSA: Well, and I know that often is the case. But in 2009, in 2011, and again this year, I authored bipartisan legislation to open up the federal employees health care system to all Americans as an exchange. I've said that in fact the problem of health care being affordable is real. I'd like to attack it. I'd like to work on it. And not everything in Obamacare is bad. But right now, a lot of things aren't working and we have an obligation, under the law, to get it working, at least as the law intended. BLITZER: While you're here, very quickly, we don't have a lot of time, Benghazi. Lindsey Graham, I interviewed him the other day, he wants to block all federal nominations to key jobs, including Janet Yellen, as the next chair of the Federal Reserve, until certain survivors of the Benghazi attack more than a year ago are allowed to appear before members of Congress. I know you've been an out -
BLITZER: You know, you've been investigating this as well. Who hasn't -- who have they not allowed to appear before you or member of the Intelligence Committee, even in classified, closed-door circumstances?
ISSA: Well, I can speak as to my committee. We were not allowed to have access to any of the down range survivors --
BLITZER: Even in a closed door circumstance?
ISSA: Under any circumstances.
BLITZER: What was the -- why did they say that to you?
ISSA: What they claimed for more than a year was that these people could appear if they wanted to and then they, of course, advised them not to. We ultimately subpoenaed and we have deposed, under deposition rules, several people that were not made available. So in our case, as sort of the ultimate select committee to do this, we are getting discovery, but we're having to subpoena it.
And this is unfair to the individuals who are good, loyal Americans who were just doing their job. And it's very unfair because we would like to have this be a cooperative investigation. The White House has pledged that it would be, but it hasn't been. But we are learning a lot from people who were down range, learning a lot about what they thought versus what actually happened in the way of the backup after the attack began.
BLITZER: All right, so where do we go from here? Right now there are still these individuals that - when I hear -- you say you did take depositions from several of them? Isn't that -- haven't they -- isn't that enough?
ISSA: Well, what normally happens in these investigations, no surprise, one deposition leads to questions to ask a different person. The individuals we've talked to so far have given us very different stories than some of what's publicly available and we are now following up with some additional depositions.
But the real question here is, why aren't we getting cooperation? We already know there wasn't enough security, there wasn't a good plan during those eight and a half hours and we were given false information afterwards. We're no longer investigating that. What we're trying to do, along with the commandant of the Marine Corps and all the other people, is find ways to ensure this can never happen again and that's really the reason we're still investigating is, we've got to get to the truth so it doesn't happen again. BLITZER: Darrell Issa. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
ISSA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You've got a lot on your plate as well.
When we come back, we'll speak with the parents -- Kendrick Johnson's parents. They're standing by, their family members and attorneys. The U.S. attorney in Georgia has just announced they are reopening the case, the mystery surrounding his death, the 17-year-old. We'll speak with the parents and the family right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the major development in the case of Kendrick Johnson, the 17-year-old Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled up gym mat earlier in the year. A U.S. attorney in Georgia now says a federal investigation will be launched into the circumstances surrounding his mysterious death. Here's what the U.S. attorney in Georgia said just this hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL MOORE, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: I am of the opinion that a sufficient basis exists for my office to conduct a formal review of the facts and investigation surrounding the death of Kendrick Johnson. I do this with an open mind, neither accepting nor rejecting the opinions of anyone who has previously investigated the circumstances of his death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney in Georgia.
Joining us now from Tallahassee, Florida, Kendrick Johnson's parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, and their family attorneys Benjamin Crump and Mr. Chevenne King. You can see Chevenne King on the top there, Benjamin Crump next to him, and the parents at the bottom of your screen.
Well, let me start with you, Kenneth Johnson. What's your reaction to what we heard from the U.S. attorney?
KENNETH JOHNSON, KENDRICK JOHNSON'S FATHER: We're happy that an investigations been launched. We're happy with that decision.
BLITZER: And what about -- Jacqueline, what about you? You want to give us your quick reaction to the word that there is a federal investigation now underway?
JACQUELYN JOHNSON, KENDRICK JOHNSON'S MOTHER: Yes. We are happy. Only - the only thing we ever wanted was the truth.
BLITZER: Kenneth, what do you believe happened to your son?
K. JOHNSON: I believe indeed that he was murdered. BLITZER: Do you have any idea who may have murdered him?
K. JOHNSON: No, I don't. That's what we wanted to get down to the truth.
BLITZER: Was there any -- did he have any problems at school? Was he fighting with other kids? Anything along those lines?
K. JOHNSON: I'm not sure. That's why we want a thorough investigation, so we can find out exactly what happened.
BLITZER: And you don't believe there was a thorough investigation by local authorities, Mr. Johnson?
K. JOHNSON: No, I don't.
BLITZER: And you don't accept, Mrs. Johnson, you don't accept the notion that this was a horrible accident, that your son suffocated inside that mat?
J. JOHNSON: No, sir.
BLITZER: Let me bring in your attorneys. And, Benjamin Crump, a lot of our viewers remember you from the Trayvon Martin case. What - give us your reaction to the news of this new federal investigation.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, FAMILY ATTORNEY: Well, Attorney King and I, with the Johnsons, welcome this investigation.
But we certainly don't want to derail the progress that Attorney King and I made yesterday where we got the judge to rule over objection that the video surveillance from the whole school the day Kendrick Johnson went missing and the day he was found dead will be given to us as well as a coroner's inquest that Attorney Johnson filed for. We want the local authorities to do their job and help everybody get to the truth here. This is a murder mystery that we have to solve.