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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD
Issa Subpoenas Obamacare Website Docs; Twenty Years for Shooting a Wall; MacNeill Murder Trial; Complaints Against Sriracha Plant
Aired October 31, 2013 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is fresh off her 3 1/2-hour marathon testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday just got another request. Not the kind you like. This one came from Congress and it's in the form of a subpoena from Republican Congressman Darrell Issa.
CNN's Lisa Desjardins is on Capitol Hill with this newest development.
What is the congressman asking for or do we know that yet?
LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is first on CNN, Ashleigh, and we just got this subpoena. It's a very broad request. He's asking for all documents related essentially to the background of healthcare.gov, that include how many people have applied, how many people have enrolled, and in one of the broadest requests, all communications referring to any technical problems associated with healthcare.gov.
As we know, there are many technical problems with healthcare.gov. And this goes back, Ashleigh, a few weeks. Chairman Issa on October 10th sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius asking for these documents.
Now you remember there was a shutdown after that. Folks at HHS have said that they were at lower staff at that point and they did -- were not able to get these documents to Chairman Issa. They have not gotten them to him yet. But I did just get those response from Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joan Peters, she says that they are working to fulfill those request. We are disappointed that the committee believes a subpoena was necessary, and she said, we are working expeditiously to produce these documents.
It is a large request that really what -- is happening here speaks to the politics and the policy involved with healthcare.gov. This is obviously something Republicans want to focus a lot of attention on and there are still obviously a lot of questions unanswered -- Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: All right. Lisa Desjardins, thank you for that.
And in case the White House didn't have enough problems, the commander-in-chief's job approval just hit an all-time low. In a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, only 42 percent of Americans approve of how President Obama is handling his job. That's down 10 points since January and just five points this month. Not only that, look at the other number, 51 percent. A majority of Americans disapprove of his job performance and that's bad news for an administration that's struggling to stay on message, particularly about signature legislation, Obamacare.
Joining me now is Sally Kohn, columnist and progressive activist, and Will Cain, CNN political commentator and a columnist at "The Blaze."
OK, Will, let's just start with that breaking news, Darrell Issa sending a subpoena to the Health and Human Services secretary. Is it necessary?
I think I just heard during that marathon yesterday, will you come back and testify again, and she said, I will make every effort to do so. Why a subpoena? Is this grandstanding? I'll shut up now.
WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because there's unanswered questions. Important unanswered questions. Of course I think they want to know how many people signed up. But let's set that one aside for a moment. Let's suggest that number can wait. How about answers to questions like, why doesn't the Web site work, when did you it wasn't going to work, more importantly, why are there security problems? How many people who've submitted their financial data have actually had their data compromised?
There's apparently security problems with this -- with this site.
I've got a news flash for you. Healthcare.gov doesn't work. The government works for us. We might want to know why and when they knew it doesn't work.
BANFIELD: OK. I keep hearing healthcare.gov doesn't work, but I already know that and so does everybody else.
SALLY KOHN, PROGRESSIVE ACTIVIST/COLUMNIST: Exactly.
KOHN: The health care works. Exactly.
CAIN: And why is that important?
BANFIELD: I know that's where you're going.
CAIN: Why is that important?
KOHN: Look, I mean, somebody -- you know, get Darrell Issa a pointy hat because he is on a witch hunt for Halloween. And this is not the first time he's done this. This is what House Republicans do right now, is they sort of do these massive data dumps. And part of it is, look. Kathleen Sebelius has been nothing but cooperative and compliant throughout this entire process. She said she would testify again. Part of the point here is to delay them from actually doing, to delay HHS from actually doing the work to implement Obamacare by making them comply with all these paper dumps. Issa and the Republicans did the same thing to all of the local navigators.
BANFIELD: Hey, Sally. You know how politics work, right? You're one of the smartest people in this business.
KOHN: Well, thank you, Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: That approval ratings stinks.
KOHN: It stinks.
BANFIELD: And you know what, a lot of it has to do with marketing. And the Obama administration perhaps hasn't been doing a very good job of, A, telling people how this works, B, getting them the Web site and help them get into this, and then C, dealing with the aftermath. You can't argue with that.
KOHN: Look, you're not going to find any disagreement with me on that. I think -- you know, I've been one of the president's strongest critics in how he has rolled out some of these things and been as transparent and -- he was a really good explainer when he was running for office and he hasn't been as president, so that's all true. But you want to know whose approval rating is lower, congressional Republicans. I mean, come on. Cockroaches --
BANFIELD: Yes, 22 percent.
KOHN: Cockroaches are more popular, so, you know --
BANFIELD: And can I just --
JOHN: Let's put it in perspective.
BANFIELD: Let's also put in a little historical perspective just for kicks. Truman right around now was at 22 percent, Nixon at 24 percent, although do we want to be in that category? Do you want to be --
CAIN: No. Right. I mean, and it's amazing, why are we talking about Republicans' approval rating? How is it we can turn every conversation into President Obama's failures into something about Republicans?
You want to know the answer for those numbers? It's about credibility, and actually that's too benign. Talking about marketing is incredibly too benign. Talking about credibility is too benign.
It's about whether or not the American people, Ashleigh, believe President Obama. And for the past year, well, now, we're talking about foreign policy and whether or not we're going to bomb Syria, whether or not it's about chemical weapons or regime change, whether or not we're talking about the AP scandal. Whether or not we're talking about the IRS scandal. I didn't know until the news know -- news knew about it. And now finally this one.
BANFIELD: Boy. So you know what? Look.
CAIN: This could be APEC. The ultimate indictment of credibility.
BANFIELD: I've got to wrap, I've got to wrap, but I've got to tell you this. He and I have been having this conversation off camera and I just I railed on you this morning because I said, look, yesterday you and I talked about that hearing being good. Good for -- this is what we pay them to do. Go and figure out what's wrong.
BANFIELD: Question people to be accountable and get to the answer. But then with the subpoena, that's where I say, oh, for heaven's sake.
CAIN: Isn't that another step -- come on, that's another step for finding answers.
KOHN: Sabotage, sabotage, sabotage.
BANFIELD: Enough time. I always like getting the last word.
Sally, thank you. Will, thank you. You have to come back. Appreciate it.
Senator Ted Cruz is getting blasted for a joke that he made at an event in Houston on Monday. Some group including the Christian Association of Nigerian says it was not the kind of remark you should make. It was highly offensive.
Listen for yourself and decide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Have you all noticed, you know, the Nigerian e-mail scammers? They've been a lot less active lately because they've all been hired to run the Obamacare website.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BANFIELD: Yikes. Afterwards a spokesman for Cruz said that he was making a joke and that he meant no offense. The Christian Association of Nigerians, however, is demanding an apology for said joke.
Not all jokes are funny to everybody.
A woman in Florida is hoping a court is going to reconsider her case because she was slammed with 20 years, 20 years for firing a warning shot after her husband threatened to kill her. Twenty years.
Coming up, what might happen next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BANFIELD: Welcome back to LEGAL VIEW. Did a Florida woman have just cause to fire a warning shot at her husband just as he was threatening to kill her? The state said no. Stand Your Ground was a nonstarter for her and the sentence for her, 20 years.
Again, this was a warning shot.
Today, though, Marissa Alexander was back in a courtroom with a brand new chance to make her case.
Here's CNN's John Zarrella.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Marissa Alexander has maintained she was just trying to scare off her abusive husband when she fired a single shot into a wall.
MARISSA ALEXANDER, CONVICTED OF FIRING AT ABUSIVE HUSBAND: I believed when he threatened to kill me, that's what he was going to do.
ZARRELLA: Now she's getting a second chance to prove it. Alexander has maintained she was in her bathroom back in 2010 when her husband, Rico Gray, came after her.
ALEXANDER: He managed to get the door open and that's when he strangled me. He put his hands around my neck.
ZARRELLA: She managed to get away, made it into the garage, grabbed her gun, and fired.
Before her first trial, Alexander's attorney tried using Florida's Stand Your Ground law arguing she was immune from prosecution because she feared for her life.
ALEXANDER: Had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here.
ZARRELLA: But the court denied her claim. It then took a Florida jury just 12 minutes to convict her of aggravated assault. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The verdict and sentence drew outrage and calls for a new trial. Free Marissa campaigns sprung up.
Esther Armah says Alexander is an example of how domestic violence is often viewed.
ESTHER ARMAH, EMOTIONAL JUSTICE: So much of the time when it comes to domestic violence, it has been left to women, woman that considered responsible for the violence inflicted upon them and they are the ones who are tasked to resolve it.
ZARRELLA: Last month an appeals court granted Alexander a new trial but it had nothing to do with Stand Your Ground. The error came, the appeals court, said at the trial. In the jury instructions which wrongly put the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt on Marissa, quote, "because the jury instructions on self-defense were fundamental error, we reverse."
Now Alexander waits for a second chance of freedom while she's still waiting behind bars.
BANFIELD: And John Zarrella joins me live now.
John, I think a lot of people listening to this case would be just sort of, you know, flummoxed by the idea that Stand Your Ground wasn't an issue. Isn't this what Stand Your Ground is all about?
ZARRELLA: Well, yes, because she feared for her light. Now her new attorney, Bruce Zimet, when I asked him about that today, this is her new attorney who's representing her, said that he does believe, and he says that it can use Stand Your Ground was denied at the pretrial hearing they had the first time, but during trial, because it's self- defense, he says Stand Your Ground could certainly come into play.
Now the state attorney's office just a little while ago issued a statement saying they had no intentions of dropping what it called, quote, "the very serious charges," and the state attorney's office said it will continue to pursue justice for the two child victims and their father who were endangered by the shot the defendant fired at them. And, again, today in court, it was just -- it was just procedural today -- Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: All right. John Zarrella, thank you for that.
And that's a critical detail John Zarrella just brought up. Those two children of the man were nearby when that gun was fired.
Danny Cevallos joins me again live from Philadelphia.
Quick question for you, Danny. When you look at this case, if you had a chance to be on panel on this case, lead chair, would you be going after the Stand Your Ground strategy or would you think you'd have a better chance at just a straight up self-defense case?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, when it comes to Stand Your Ground, I mean, they may still assert it at the end of the case. Whether they want to use the straight self-defense -- remember, self- defense in Florida is a pretty good defense. I mean the burden is still on the prosecution to -- to disprove your self-defense claim.
The fact that Stand Your Ground has been precluded at the front end doesn't mean necessarily that it will be at the end of the case. So she has a lot -- she had a lot of options. The problem here is the mandatory minimum issue with sentencing. Florida's 10/20 life rule.
BANFIELD: All right. Danny Cevallos, live for us. Thank you for that.
Coming up, a Utah doctor faces his own daughter who's on the witness stand testifying against him. Hear what she has to say about her own father's bizarre behavior in the days before and after her mom died.
BANFIELD: A Utah doctor is listening as his own daughter gives damning testimony against him for the second day in his murder trial. Her name is Alexis Somers. She says she believes that her own dad drugged and drowned her mother, Michele, in the family's bathtub.
And she's not the only one, either, because one after the other Martin MacNeill's daughters have gone up to that witness stand and revealed details of their dad's disturbing behavior as their mom was dying.
Jean Casarez looks at their emotional testimony.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom was just wonderful.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One by one, they took the stand.
ALEXIS SOMERS, MARTIN MACNEILL'S DAUGHTER: My mom was my best friend.
CASAREZ: Three sisters testifying against their father, Martin MacNeill, accused of murdering his wife so he could share a future with his mistress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is Martin MacNeill?
VANESSA MACNEILL, MARTIN MACNEILL'S DAUGHTER: It was my dad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he in the court today?
V. MACNEILL: Mm-hmm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is he seated, Vanessa?
V. MACNEILL: Right there.
CASAREZ: Vanessa describing for the jury a message she retrieved from her mother's cell phone shortly after her death.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you, in fact, tell investigators that your dad told your mom to not go anywhere, to take it easy?
V. MACNEILL: Mm-hmm.
SOMERS: My father picked up the phone. He said that your mother is not breathing, she's in the bathtub.
CASAREZ: Daughter Alexis, now a doctor, is convinced her father murdered her mother. Prosecutors say Martin MacNeill forced his wife Michele to have a facelift then plied her with a laundry list of pain killers and depressants.
SOMERS: My dad was telling the plastic surgeon what medication he wanted. I was -- I vividly remember this and he told me that he gave her the Arneca, the Valium, the Loritab, the Phenergan, and then gave her two Percocet at 1:30 a.m. and then one Ambien at 1:30 a.m.
CASAREZ: Prosecutors say MacNeill was intentionally poisoning his wife of 30 years so he could marry his mistress Gypsy Willis.
SOMERS: Then she said, Lexie, I don't -- I don't know why, but your dad kept giving me medication. I went to my father and I said, what happened? Obviously, mom is overmedicated. She said she didn't want my dad to give her any more medication. She wanted me to be in charge.
CASAREZ: Alexis was always suspicious of Willis and says her father didn't wait long after her mother's funeral to move his lover into their home.
SOMERS: My dad called me on the phone and said, Alexis, I found the perfect nanny. I said, well, Dad, what's her name? And he started to say, he said -- I said, Dad, Gypsy Jillian Willis? I know that woman. I know mom was worried you're having an affair with her and you're not to bring her into this home.
CASAREZ: On cross-examination defense attorney Randy Spencer tried to show that Alexis was a biased witness against her father and has changed her story over the years.
RANDY SPENCER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Just given new testimony that you haven't given any time before?
SOMERS: No. I just answered these specific questions that I've been asked.
CASAREZ: Anna Walthall, another former mistress of the married doctor, testified how during pillow talk, Martin told her he knew a way to cover up a murder.
ANNA WALTHALL, MARTIN MACNEILL'S FORMER MISTRESS: There's something you can give someone that's natural, that's there after they have a heart attack so that it's not detectable after they have a heart attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So you can give someone some sort of substance?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's naturally occurring in the body and it would be there after the heart attack but it would also start a heart attack?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so you could cause someone to have a heart attack and the drug would supposed to be there any way so you wouldn't be able to tell?
WALTHALL: That's correct.
CASAREZ: Jean Casarez, CNN, Provo, Utah.
BANFIELD: It is hot and it is spicy. Some people living very close to the Sriracha hot sauce factory say it's making them sick. Literally making them sick. We'll explain in a moment.
BANFIELD: If you love to spice up your food with Sriracha hot sauce, listen up because the smell from the factory that makes it could actually be making people nearby sick.
Miguel Marquez is sniffing out the story.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it chili gate 2013, Sriracha hot sauce, it's tell-tell green top and rooster on the bottle is in the hot seat. Complaints the smell emanating from its new plant in east Los Angeles is making people sick.
CELESTE GAMEZ, ALLERGIC TO PEPPERS: It smells more like pepper. It's very, like, stinging?
MARQUEZ: Celeste Gamez, a college freshman who lives in the shadow of the plant, says the chili makes her sneeze and her throat sore. Others have complained to the city of Irwindale of headaches and difficulty breathing. The city now filing injunction to force the plant to either fix the problem or shut down.
DAVID TRAN, OWNER, HUY FONG FOODS: Now seems like the -- the owner, they are not friendly to me.
MARQUEZ: David Tran is the Vietnamese immigrant who turned the mix of red jalapeno peppers, garlic, salt and vinegar, into a multimillion dollar global brand. He says the plant, which was chosen to be built here by the city of Irwindale cost $40 million and has state of the art air filters, taking the media to the roof to prove it.
At fault, its harvest and chili grinding time. Truckload after truckload of the hot peppers brought in over a three-month period, in the last week the air quality department has logged 11 complaints. It sent an inspector, finding no smells and no violations at the plant.
While Sriracha might look hotter than Hades, it's nowhere near. Rating only about 2,000 points on the Scoville scale, that's about half where Tabasco sauce is and nowhere near the hottest chilies in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.
MARQUEZ: Here's a man eating a Naga/Bhut Jolokia chili. One of the hottest. Sriracha's jalapeno, nowhere near that hot. And the new plant has brought needed jobs to the area, even those who suffer agree.
GAMEZ: If it's possible to fix the problem, then that would be best because even one of my friends recently got a job there.
MARQUEZ: How hot is too hot? Now in the hands of a judge.
Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.
BANFIELD: Sure look pretty. Thanks, Miguel.
And thank you, everyone, for watching. Happy Halloween. "AROUND THE WORLD" starts right now.