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Senate Democrats Go "Nuclear"; Interview with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia; Kendrick Johnson: What The Tapes Say; One Day In Dallas

Aired November 22, 2013 - 08:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking live at Arlington National Cemetery where the eternal flame surely burns at his grave. The fallen president remembered at this hour with the wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery. We'll take you there live and in a few hours there will be a memorial at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the first official ceremony ever held at the shot where he was shot in 1963, the day filled with meaning.

Right now, you're listening to a song by Moms Mabley, the famous black comedian, and really represented where the country was. It wasn't just a man who was lost. It was a reflection of all of us, when she says my friend John, my friend Martin, Martin Luther King, one of the reason this day lives so much for this country moving forward is how attached they were to the man.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue to follow the events throughout the hour.

We're also watching one of the day's top big stories, Democrats in the Senate making an historic move to get around the minority party in the Senate. They're changing rules to allow most presidential nominees to pass with just a simple majority. Republicans call it a power grab.

Let's get straight to CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who's been following all of this.

Good morning, Dana.


And, you know, for years just the threat of this major rules change called the "nuclear option" had been enough to force the parties to compromise because the alternative was thought to be mutually assured destruction.

Now, Democrats launched and Republicans are threatening to retaliate.


BASH (voice-over): John McCain is a Republican who tends to work across the aisle, and says by detonating the nuclear option, Democrats may have blown up any remnants of Senate bipartisanship.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It puts a chill on everything that requires bipartisanship. BASH: Republican feathers are so ruffled, agreement on issues that should be passed maybe harder to find.

MCCAIN: There are going to be difficulties from time to time, where cooperation was probably the case in the past, and will not be now.

BASH: The historic rules change strips Republicans of their power to block the president's executive and judicial nominees, except the Supreme Court. Instead of 60 votes to break a filibuster, it's now 51 votes, a simple majority. It's called the nuclear option for good reason.

Just a few years ago, even Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he wouldn't do it, saying it would be?

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: A black chapter in the history of the Senate.

BASH: So what about now?

(on camera): Why isn't this a black chapter?

REID: Things have changed dramatically since 2005, dramatically. For the last four and a half years, they have done everything to deny the fact that Obama was elected and then re-elected.

BASH (voice-over): Translation -- GOP obstruction is unprecedented.

To back that up, Democrats point to statistics from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. In the history of the country, there have been 168 filibusters of presidential nominees. About half, 82, happened during the Obama administration.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: In summary, this is a power grab.

BASH: Angry Republicans don't necessarily dispute the Democrats' statistics about nominees they have blocked. Instead, they point to how many judges they have confirmed -- 215, and rejected five. The president opposed this tactic as a senator when Democrats were in the minority.

OBAMA: If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.

BASH: He has changed his tune, too.

OBAMA: The vote today, I think, is an indication that majority of senators believe, as I believe, that enough is enough.


BASH: Chris, they get it. They know the landmark rules change benefits them now but could hurt them someday when and if they lose control of the Senate and back up in the minority. But Chris, they essentially shrugged their shoulders and say they prefer to take that risk now than deal with the continued obstructionism that they're dealing with.

CUOMO: All right. Dana, thank you very much.

Joining us now from Capitol is a supporter of Reid's decision to invoke the nuclear option, Democratic senator from Virginia, Mr. Tim Kaine.

Thank you very much for joining us.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Good morning, Chris.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

KAINE: You bet.

CUOMO: So, we call it the nuclear option because we don't want to use it. It's really not supposed to be an option. All of you said it's a bad option. The leaders said it would be a black chapter and then you did it.


KAINE: Well, Chris, I don't think it's a bad option at all. I was the presiding officer in a wonderful Senate, the Virginia Senate.

We didn't have filibuster, we didn't have cloture. We didn't have holds. We did things on majority vote. But the Virginia Senate was a very special place for these reasons -- it was a small and intimate body where people have longer terms and could spend time getting to know one another, and because Senate districts are larger than House districts, it tends to produce more moderate candidates.

That's what's special about this place, the intimate size, the long terms, the fact that statewide elected candidates tend to be more moderate, there's no reason that changing this to majority rule on appointments will create ill will. State legislative bodies, Senates do this every day. They find ways to work together, people of goodwill will find ways to work together here.

CUOMO: Senator, I understand that, but it sounds almost Pollyannaish given what the reaction is to it. Senator McConnell has said, we told you not to do this and now, when we get back in power -- and at some point, the out-party becomes the in-party -- you will pay.

So where is this era of goodwill?

KAINE: Well, Chris, what I'll tell you is I've lived under a system where I've seen the Democrats in the minority and the majority. I've seen an executive that was Republican or Democrat. Of course in voting for this, we recognize there would be a day where Democrats would be in the minority as well.

But on presidential appointments, a president's election carries a mandate, and part of the mandate is to be able to assemble a team. There has been a historic abuse of this here in the Senate.

The candidate that really caused this thing to break was Patty Millett, a Virginian nominated for the D.C. court of appeals. She worked under both Presidents Bush and Obama, argued before the Supreme Court than all but a handful of lawyers in American history, military spouse, unquestioned qualifications. If she cannot get confirmed in this body, no one can get confirmed for any position and it was important that we allow these confirmations to go forward so that the people's business can get done.

CUOMO: A hundred and sixty-eight filibusters of presidential nominees, nearly half, 82 have happened during the Obama administration.

What does that number mean to you?

KAINE: What it means to me is, frankly, that the other side has tried to use the Senate rules to what I call nullify the law. If they can't change the law -- so there's a law that says the D.C. circuit is supposed to be 11 judges. That's a congressional law. That's not a presidential declaration.

If they can't change that law, what they try to do is nullify the law by not appointing judges. They've done it by not appointing the head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau for years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They wouldn't put commissioners into the National Labor Relations Board.

They can't change the law so they try to nullify the law by not putting in the folks to run the agencies or fill out these court vacancies.

CUOMO: Right.

KAINE: That's why they've abused it. We can't allow a Senate rule to be used to nullify American law.

CUOMO: Listen, I understand what you're saying, Senator. I guess the confusion or the frustration is what we're seeing is a reflection of the inability of the Democrats and the Republicans to work together. Nobody disagrees on that. It's a simple proposition.

KAINE: Completely agree.

CUOMO: This is not a fix to that.

At what point will we see some of our elected leaders finding a way to do the job you're elected to do? Because this decision that you just made does not help the situation.

KAINE: I completely disagree with you.

Look, Chris, again, I have worked in a legislative body that operated by majority rule and we worked together fine. This will not make anything worse. You can work together in a majority rule situation, just like you can with filibusters, holds and clotures. I actually believe that the Senate rules were impeding us working together. And look, the Senate this year has passed historic immigration reform. We passed a historic Marketplace Fairness Act last week, we passed the historic bill that guarantee LGBT Americans couldn't be discriminated against in the workplace.

The Senate is doing things. We are reaching across the aisle and solving problems. This will not change that in one respect.

CUOMO: Senator, you just shut down the government. You just had a senator reading "green eggs and ham" on the Senate floor for what, 20 plus hours.

KAINE: Chris, Chris, the Senate did not shut down the government. The Senate was -- there was only a tiny minority of senators who wanted to shut down the government, and the Senate wanted to keep it open.

This is a change in Senate rules in a body that passed immigration reform, that passed in the last week and is doing significant work. Do -- are we always at our best every day? No, we're not.

But this change in rules, despite all the teeth gnashing and calling it a nuclear option, so that this Senate is like every other Senate in the United States and every legislative body in states that managed to work very well, this will not cause any diminution in our ability to work together.

That's ultimately a judgment of sort of goodwill and inclination of the people who walk in the building every day, that's no different today than yesterday. We still will be able to find common ground because that's what our voters want to us do.

CUOMO: Senator, I agree with the last 110 percent and I hope I'm completely wrong about everything else. I hope that this change has the effect that you say it will because we sorely need better stuff out of D.C.

Senator, thank you very much.

KAINE: Absolutely.

CUOMO: And early Thanksgiving to your family.

KAINE: You bet. Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Mick?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's take a look at your other headlines:

Still no deal in the final round of nuclear talks with Iran. The U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany all with negotiators in Geneva trying to get the Iranians to halt their nuclear programs in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions, Iran's insistence that the west recognize its right to enrich uranium appears to be holding up the agreement.

A mixed message, meanwhile, from Afghan President Hamid Karzai could threaten a security deal governing the rule of U.S. forces once the combat mission ends next year. Karzai urged tribal elders to approve the agreement, that would to keep support troops in Afghanistan through 2024. But he also says the pact should not be signed until after Afghanistan elects a new president in April. The Obama administration wants the deal signed by the end of the year.

Disturbing allegations of racial bullying at San Jose State University in California. Three students have been suspended and are charged with a hate crime for allegedly bullying a black roommate. They're accused of clamping a bicycle lock around his neck and decorated their four bedroom suite with the Confederate flag, Nazi symbols and a white board with a racial epithet.

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is a free man pending a new trial. Skakel has spent the last 11 years in prison for the murder of Martha Moxley back in 1975. He has been released on $1.2 million bail. A Connecticut judge ordered a retrial ruling that Skakel's original lawyer presented an inadequate defense.

Imagine encountering this during rush hour, a small plane having engine trouble made an emergency landing on an interstate highway in Maine, at the height of Thursday evening commute. The roadway, of course, filled with cars. Miraculously, though, the pilot maneuvered around the traffic, no vehicles were damaged and there were no injuries. But it did cause a 10-mile backup. Not a sight you see every day.

BOLDUAN: Backup understandable. The fact that he avoided --

PEREIRA: Nobody was hurt and avoided all the vehicle, I'm sure there were tense moments in the air and on the ground.

BOLDUAN: Very impressive.

PEREIRA: Impressive is Indra taking a look at the forecast across the nation.


INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I thought, I was just like the pause, Indra pause.

PEREIRA: It's a dramatic pause.

PETERSONS: I like it. You can just end right there. I love it, Michaela.

What are we talking about? Temperatures are really dropping for the weekend, especially into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Little preview here, Boston 47 today. You think it's cold. Don't think about complaining. By Sunday, 29 degrees for your high. Even Atlanta, you're going from 66 to 46. So much going on in the East, yet it's not the big story. It's out West, this big snowmaker is out there. It's not only a snowmaker; it is a rainmaker that continues to make its way south. We're going to be talking about heavy amounts of snow as we start the weekend through Colorado, even Albuquerque, seeing a couple of inches out there.

And California and the mountains a foot of snow with very cold snow 3,000 feet. That's a cold system out there. Also, tons of moisture with it so it's not cold enough to snow, a lot of rain will be expected. Flooding concerns expected in through Arizona where they could see three to five inches of rain. So, that's one system.

The other system that's affecting pretty much the eastern half of the country is the cold front that brought the light showers in the Midwest yesterday. Today, kind of stretching from the Northeast, all the way back kind of through Texas, not again a big rainmaker, light showers, maybe about an inch in the northeast. Plus, about two to three inches toward Arkansas and ,Mississippi, but overall it's the cold air.

Behind the cold front, we already gave you that preview, give you a better picture here. Look at these temperatures, again, Pittsburgh, 52, you're above normal today. You might see some light rain. I don't think you'll be complaining though. New York City 55, that's today, I'm jumping you through Sunday. Again, because it's a big reminder.

New York City down to the freezing mark, 32. Pittsburgh, remember that, 26 degrees, that is going to be your high on Sunday, and to make it worse we'll throw in a little bit of snow, that's the upside of it, a little bit pretty.

BOLDUAN: Twenty-six, that is cold.

PETERSONS: With some wind, too. I want to add that in as well.

PEREIRA: You notice she's changing it, it's pretty. She's making progress.


BOLDUAN: No, it's pretty.

CUOMO: That's coming off like Jack Frost to me. She's got that big smile on her face. She's like windy and cold.

PETERSONS: You know me too well.

CUOMO: Coming up on "NEW DAY": brand new surveillance video of that Georgia teenager found dead in a high school gym mat, why it may present more questions than answers. We'll show it to you.

BOLDUAN: Plus, the nation is marking the anniversary of JFK's death. We will talk with a former secret service agent Clint Hill who is in the Kennedy motorcade on that fateful day.


CUOMO: Now for a story CNN has been following from the beginning. Brand new evidence in the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson. You remember his body was discovered at his school rolled up inside a gym mat. His death was ruled an accident, but his family suspected murder. Soon, details suggesting sloppy forensic work emerged. It was discovered that Kendrick's body had his internal organs removed and replaced by newspaper.

CNN obtained surveillance videos from school cameras, and our Victor Blackwell has been going through them to see what he can find. Victor joins us now from the CNN center. Victor, you brought those surveillance videos to experts. Talk about what they found in that gym.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, three answers to the Johnsons and their attorney's questions. First, the Johnsons did not see a time stamp in any of the video to organize the hundreds of hours of video. Our expert found one. Also, the Johnsons and their attorneys were questioning the jumpy video. Now, our expert found that that's indicative of motion activated system.

So, that was not indicative of editing. Also that single angle that showed where Kendrick Johnson was found dead, that image was blurred. The Johnsons thought that was done intentionally. Our expert said no. Now, answers to those questions, but he found an even bigger question.


GRANT FREDERICKS, CERTIFIED FORENSIC VIDEO ANALYST: There are four cameras in the gym that records motion from when the lights turn on in the morning until when the lights are turned off at night except for the area of interest.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): The moments before Kendrick Johnson enters the gym, look at what happens to the recordings from these four cameras in the gym. The time is recorded with the video. The first camera captures images from the start of the day until 12:04 p.m., then, nothing. It picks up again at 1:09 p.m. There's consistent surveillance from the second camera until 11:05 a.m., then it stops and picks up again more than two hours later at 1:15 p.m.

The third camera also drops at 11:05 a.m., it picks up again at 1:16 p.m., and from the final camera, there's surveillance until 12:04 p.m., no recording for more than an hour, then it picks up again at 1:09 p.m.

FREDERICKS: I would absolutely expect there to be some record of that activity and we don't have any here.

BLACKWELL: Here's why Fredericks would have expected the motion activated system to record during that time. During that hour and five minutes, several students are seen walking into and out of the old gym from the surveillance camera just outside the gym door. We count seven male students, and three of them walk into the gym within three minutes prior to Kendrick Johnson walking in. FREDERICKS: I can't tell you whether there was no information recorded in the digital video system or whether somebody made an error and didn't capture it or whether somebody just didn't provide it.


BLACKWELL (on-camera): We sent a long list of questions a week ago to attorneys for the school district, and the sheriff's office. No answer yet from the sheriff's office, but the attorney for the school district says no comment. However, that attorney has offered to make the hard drive, the original hard drive available to the court, Chris.

CUOMO: Well, that's key, Victor. I mean, each one of these discoveries, you have to follow them down the road and the question here, I guess will be, can they find this video that fills in the gaps, anything on that, any suggestion?

BLACKWELL: No guarantee, and Grant Fredericks, the expert you just heard from says that there's a possibility the video is gone forever. You know, this happened on January 10th and 11th. The attorney for the family didn't request that the hard drives being preserved until February 26th, more than 45 days later, and depending on the system's rotation, seven days, 15 days, 30 days, old information could have been recorded over long before that request came in, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Victor, thank you so much for staying on the story. Certainly demands answers, way too many questions. At least, we're starting to find our way in a direction. Thank you very much -- Kate.



It took him less than two seconds to reach the Kennedy's car during the presidential motorcade, but it took secret service agent, Clint Hill, 12 years to break his silence to "60 Minutes" about that fateful day in Dallas. Listen here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You couldn't have gotten there. You don't, you surely don't have any sense of guilt about that?

CLINT HILL, SECRET SERVICE AGENT TO THE KENNEDYS: Yes, I certainly do. I have a great deal of guilt about that. Had I turned in a different direction, I'd have made it. That was my fault.


BOLDUAN: Wow. Now, on the 50th anniversary, Clint Hill has penned an insider account into the days before and after President Kennedy's assassination called "Five Days in November." Clint Hill, former secret service agent to the Kennedy family, is joining us now this morning. Mr. Hill, thank you so much for your time.

HILL: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. BOLDUAN: Of course. So, 50 years to the day, do you still feel that sense of guilt?

HILL: Well, I have some sense of failure on my part because of the responsibility we were given to protect the president and we were unable to do so. The true sense of guilt has somewhat been alleviated and that's a bit helpful to me, especially since I've had the help of a young lady named Lisa McCubbon to write a couple books and the last one being "Five Days in November."

That's given me a chance to kind of unload the baggage that I was holding deep within me and it's been beneficial, cathartic to help me a great deal.

BOLDUAN: Of course, no one would ever think that there was anything more that you could have done in those moments that no one could expect what happened. Fifty years later do you still remember it with the clarity like it was yesterday?

HILL: Yes, I do remember it, every moment of it, just like it just happened.

BOLDUAN: Can you walk us through what you saw? What was it from your perspective? What did you see that day as you were in Dallas near Dealey Plaza?

HILL: Well, I was on the car immediately behind the presidential vehicle on the left-hand side running board in the forward position. We had been scanning the area as we proceeded down the streets, and when we got to the corner of Houston and Elm, we had noticed that there was this building in front of us, some of the windows were open, but there was nothing unusual there.

We had faced that same situation all the way up and down Main Street in Dallas. The crowds kind of dropped off there on Elm Street. But I was scanning to my left and all of a sudden, I heard this explosive noise over my right shoulder. I didn't recognize it is a shot immediately, but I knew something was wrong, because when I looked toward that noise, I only got as far as the presidential vehicle.

I saw the president react. He grabbed at his throat, he moved to his left. I knew something was wrong, so I jumped and ran, trying to get up on the back of the presidential vehicle to form a shield or barrier behind president and Mrs. Kennedy to prevent anything further from happening.

BOLDUAN: And then when you saw the president's face, what did you see?

HILL: Well, just before I got to the car, there was a third shot that rang out, hit the president in the head, and when that happened, because it was so explosive and caused eruption of material out of his head, Mrs. Kennedy got up in the trunk trying to retrieve some of the material.

I got up there and pushed her back into the back seat, and then the president's body fell to its left into her lap with his head, the right side of his face was up, and I could see his eyes were fixed. I could see through the skull area. The brain matter was gone. I assumed it was a fatal wound and that he was dead.

BOLDUAN: Do you remember what you were thinking in that moment when you saw what happened in front of you that had never happened before, no one would ever think that this could happen to any president especially someone as loved as him?

HILL: Well, my thought process immediately was let's get to a hospital just in case he can be resuscitated or revived, but I was sure that that would not be the case. I was very upset and -- but I had a job to do and I placed myself up in a position to prevent any further damage from being done because I had no idea if there were going to be more shots fired, but I assumed there would be but there were not.

BOLDUAN: And you saw the Kennedy family through their mourning even having to tell Robert Kennedy that his brother had died. You were assigned to Mrs. Kennedy's detail after the death of her husband. What was that like? How was she changed after that day, because you were in such close proximity?

HILL: Well, I stayed with her for a full year after the assassination. And the spark until her eyes was gone, that wonderful smile she had was very, very few times you ever saw it again. So she changed remarkably. She really wanted to do whatever she could to make sure people remembered her husband and worked to establish a library up in Boston, in his name.

So her primary focus was making sure the children are OK and making sure she did whatever she could to help the president's memory be retained by as many people as possible.

BOLDUAN: And you did the very same. Clinton Hill, thank you for your service and thank you for your time this morning, a former secret service agent, also the author of "Five Days in November," on this 50th anniversary, thank you so much.

HILL: Thank you. It's been a pleasure to be here.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.

Coming up next on "NEW DAY", a wreath laying ceremony is about to begin at Arlington National Cemetery to honor President Kennedy. We're going to take you to it live right after the break.