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Judge Rules on NSA Spying Program; Snow Hits Parts of U.S.; Senate Poised to Pass Bipartisan Budget; Powerful Family Member of North Korean Leader Executed; FEC Website Hacked by Chinese; Proposal at Justin Timberlake Concert

Aired December 17, 2013 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But the implications could be significant, yes?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris, no question. So here's what it is. The judge ordered the government to stop collecting data on the plaintiffs in this case. It was brought by a leading conservative activist. However, for the rest of us he stayed his ruling to allow the government time to appeal noting, quote, "the significant national security interest at stake in this case." That process could take six months. But he left no doubt as to what his legal thinking is in this case. He said that the founders, the author of the constitution, James Madison, would be aghast at its violation of Americans' freedoms.


SCIUTTO: Six months after Edward Snowden revealed it to the world, a federal judge ruled the NSA program that sweeps up Americans' phone call records is likely unconstitutional. The judge wrote, quote, "I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen."

Snowden described it as a vindication of his hacking, saying "I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance program would not withstand a constitutional challenge. Today a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights."

Snowden remains holed up in Russia, avoiding charges in the U.S. of espionage. But a senior NSA official floated an unlikely solution on CBS "60 Minutes" to get Snowden back here, give him amnesty, an idea the White House quickly dismissed.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible where he will be accorded full due process and protection in our system. So that's our position and it has not changed.

SCIUTTO: Still, the court's decision is a body blow for the administration.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: Snowden now looking for another way out. This just in. He's written on open letter to the people of Brazil promising help in resisting NSA surveillance if they offer him asylum. We have a translation of that letter. In it he writes "Until a country grants me permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out." Certainly the administration not giving up here, but, yes, it's a legal blow to them as well. And I think as our legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has noted, that judge, a George W. Bush appointee, so not a screaming liberal, Chris and Kate.

CUOMO: Sometimes politics and jurisprudence can run against each other. You did mention Jeffrey Toobin. Jim, thank you. Let's bring in Jeffrey Toobin.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Happen to have him right here.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to the source.

CUOMO: You're the senior legal analyst. It's good that you just appeared here on our set. So we know this is a limbed ruling. Let's take a look speculatively at what this means. You tested it in open court, as opposed to those closed FISA courts, and it didn't go well. What does this mean going forward?

TOOBIN: Well, it's one judge. If this ruling stands up, it will be a crippling blow to this whole program, because the whole idea behind justifying this is all of us, we don't have a constitutional right to privacy, to secrecy, in our phone messages -- in our phone calls, the numbers we dial and the durations of the call, which is what's searched here, that's not protected by the constitution. The Supreme Court has said that historically. Judge Leon, who decided this case yesterday, he said, yes, we do. That decision is obsolete. It doesn't reflect how people live on their phones the way we do now. If that holds up, the NSA will have to change the whole program.

BOLDUAN: Jeffrey, I think a lot of people would have guessed after the Snowden leaks there would be legal challenges. Does this ruling surprise you or did you think that was a long time coming?

TOOBIN: It does surprise me. Judges historically have given a great deal of deference to the idea of national security. And I don't think anyone doubts that terrorists use phones, terrorists use the Internet. So the idea that the entire program, which much of our national security is based on, is unconstitutional is a step I'm surprised they took. But look, this is a pretty impressive opinion. And it is true that most of us think when we dial a phone number, that that's a private act. And apparently the judge agrees.

CUOMO: If it does stand and this is illegal, and Edward Snowden theoretically did expose him an illegal act, could be a whistleblower and change your opinion about him?

TOOBIN: It doesn't, but I have to say this certainly vindicates him and his supporters a great deal more than anything else that's happened as of yet. Maybe this is the conservative in me, maybe this is the person who used to have a national security clearance as I once did -- it's not up to those of us who have clearances to simply decide to throw out all the stuff to journalists. I just don't think that's the way the system is supposed to work.

CUOMO: So even if the analysis of the what changes, the how --

TOOBIN: The how. There are other ways he could have done things. He could have gone to Congress or the inspector general. But this is very much a vindication for Snowden, for Glenn Greenwald, for the people who supported him. And eating crow is something I have done before and I expect I'll --

CUOMO: It works better with ketchup.

TOOBIN: Yes, indeed.

BOLDUAN: I'm kind of curious, given the ruling, we know the tech executives are meeting with the president today. I'd like to be a fly on the wall.

TOOBIN: I think they're very much related, because you look at the pressures on the president right now. These tech executives, they don't like this program. They're consumers don't like that the companies are involved in sharing the data. So there is a lot of pressure on President Obama to make at least some changes in this program. But you know, national security --

BOLDUAN: There it is.

CUOMO: Those companies have enough of their own policies to look at also. The idea of looking at your personal information and doing things with it is not exactly a mystery now.

BOLDUAN: It takes two to tango.

TOOBIN: Exactly. They have competing pressures on them but they'll be leaning on the president for changes and this decision will certainly push in that direction as well.

BOLDUAN: At least it's starting the legal conversation, that's for sure.

TOOBIN: In a way that I think a lot of us are surprised by.

CUOMO: It starts for many but it ends with Jeffrey Toobin.

TOOBIN: Exactly, as they all do. Last word. No authority, but last word.


BOLDUAN: We like it. And with that we'll leave it there. Thanks, Jeffrey, great to see you.

To the weather, here we go again, another major winter storm. It's like Groundhog Day, one time after another. It's amazing. It set its sights on the northeast. It's already covered parts of the Midwest with snow and it's about to hit New York and New England. It's one of the worst Decembers that we've seen in a very long time. So what is going on? Let's get back out to Indra Petersons to get a little idea of what we know.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A lot snow action up in here. We're already seeing the snow falling. It is unusual. We've seen seven inches of snow in New York City. The average you may ask? It should be two inches, five inches above. Another two to four could still fall just today. And this is not an isolated event. It looks like a huge chunk of the country is dealing with all these storm systems.


PETERSONS: Overnight, snow, snow and more snow. After a weekend storm dropped as much as 16 inches of snow in Maine, another round of wintry weather is on its way to wallop the northeast, making this the fifth blast of arctic chill this month. This latest round of brutal wintry weather caused this delta plane in Wisconsin to skid off the runway Monday night while taxiing at the Dane County Airport. Delta saying snow along the runway is to blame. No injuries were reported.

This new storm system started in the Midwest and is bringing heavier snow to cities in the northeast like New York and Boston. Between four and six inches of snow in providence, Boston, and Portland could likely cause significant travel delays.

And we're only halfway through December but already millions of people have been dealing with the deep freeze. Duluth, Minnesota, saw their longest cold stretch in December since 1972. And Chicago's negative six degree day on December 10th ranks as the coldest day in the windy city since the '70s.

So why all the frigid wintry weather cycles? The jet stream or river of air that acts as the dividing line between warm and cold air is farther south, meaning it is spilling colder air into parts of the U.S. this month, leaving millions to feel the effects of the big chill.


PETERSONS: I don't have to tell you by now, yes, we are expecting to see snow here in the northeast. Let's take a look at the numbers and what we're looking for today. We've upped the amount since yesterday with the latest models. Another two to four in New York City, Boston, higher amounts, all depending on where the low forms overnight tonight. Anywhere from six to nine inches in through New England and exiting off by Wednesday. The timing of it, you already know. It's the morning commute, tough commute out here this morning. The snow is already falling. Then it looks for places like Boston, about 10 or 12 in the morning, you'll see that in the area. But never a good thing for the morning commute, especially since its staying here with the evening commute on top of it. So tough day.

CUOMO: Indra Petersons sitting out in the snow, interesting to note, one of the few people who say if she won the lottery would not quit her job. Loves it so much, consider that today out in the cold.

PETERSONS: You see this? This is a smile, right.

CUOMO: I thought they were frozen that way.

So anyway, I'm using you as a segue, Indra, because we want to talk about the Mega-Millions mania that's going on. The jackpot stands at $586 million. Everybody rushes out of the room. As you are well aware if no one wins tonight, the already massive jackpot goes even higher. Let's bring in CNN's Pamela Brown stationed conveniently at a convenience store here in New York, poised to buy tickets for her greedy friends back at the office.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. For you, Chris and Michaela, I'm already on it, don't worry. This is the first time you've been in this position, we're seeing a jackpot this incredible, over half-a-billion dollars the week before Christmas. I think that's only adding to the frenzy. As you point out, Chris it's already at $586 million. And it will likely continue to climb before tonight's drawing at 11:00 p.m. eastern time.

Lottery officials are telling us if no one wins tonight, which there's a good chance there won't be a winner tonight, the prize will swell to $800 million and possibly soar to $1 billion by Christmas. Right now, it's one of the biggest jackpots in the world and the fourth largest in U.S. history. And if no one wins tonight, it will likely surpass the largest payout set back in 2012 by over $100 million.

So why is this jackpot so high? Well, basically, it's because it's so hard to win. Back in October Mega-Millions lottery increased the range of numbers back in October on the five balls from 56 to 75, dramatically decreasing your chances of winning. Since then, there have been 21 consecutive drawings without a winner because you're up against such tough odds. You basically have to have the winning number combo out of 259 million combinations. But to end on good news here, Kate, even if there isn't a big winner with the mega bucks, at least a dozen people will win $1 million or more. So there's still hope for us.

BOLDUAN: You know the number is huge when you say a million bucks and you say, that doesn't sound like a lot of money.

BROWN: I know, right? It's all relative.

BOLDUAN: It sure is. Thank you so much.

Back to Washington NOW where the Senate is expected to vote today on a compromise two-year budget deal. The measure, which would prevent another government shutdown, passed the house last week with overwhelming bipartisan support. And Support appears to be growing in the Senate but it's not a done deal yet. Why? Because you never count the votes. You never say it is done until it is done on Capitol Hill. Jim Acosta is at the White House with much more. Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. That's right, they know that lesson all too well over here at the White House. But that vote is expected to pass the Senate later today. A test vote, procedural vote that 60 votes is basically needed to get past, but Democrats up on Capitol Hill are confident they're going to get that support that they need from Republicans. A handful of key Republicans came forward yesterday. Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Johnny Isakson, and Saxby Chambliss both said that they will vote yes to get this over the procedural hurdle, the test vote that is scheduled to happen today. Final passage is expected to happen later on this week.

And so they are going to get past at least this budget showdown that had been looming, but don't think that the nation's capital is out of the fiscal showdown woods just yet, Kate. Keep in mind that next spring or early march, the debt ceiling is expected to come up again, the nation is expected to hit the debt ceiling in March. And House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan has said that they expect to use that debt ceiling deadline that is coming up in March to extract concessions from the White House and Democrats. Asked about that yesterday White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president's position on that has not changed. The president will not be negotiating over the debt ceiling. So stay tuned for that battle to come. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you so much for that.

Let's take a look at more of your headlines at this hour. North Korea's political and military elite swearing loyalty to their leader Kim Jong-un during a memorial for his late father. This public pledge happening just days after Kim's uncle, considered the country's second most powerful man, was executed for treason. Anna Coren is following developments for us from Seoul, South Korea. Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, this is always going to be a case of who's in and who's out. It was interesting to see that Kim Jong-un, who was there to commemorate the second anniversary of his father's death, was flanked either side by the head of the military and also of the workers party, putting forward this united front.

But behind the scenes it's a completely different story. There's a great deal of political instability, a power struggle is going on, even talks of an alleged coup, which is why he had his uncle executed last week. This is a man who was second in command. It just goes to show no one is off limits, not even family members.

People here in South Korea and certainly in the United States are concerned that there will be further military provocations. That is something that we can expect in the next few months.

Now, on a different story, Michaela, I want to bring to your attention former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who claims to be a good friend of Kim Jong-un, he is making his way here to North Korea. This will be his third visit. He's traveling with a documentary team and they're here to train up and coming North Korean basketball players. Now, he says this is not a political trip but you'd have to say, Michaela, that the timing is certainly very interesting.

PEREIRA: Unusual and curious duo. That's for sure. Anna, thank you for that report.

To our other headlines now, the parents of Colorado school gunman Karl Pierson are breaking their To our other headlines now. The parents of Colorado school gunman Carl Pierson are breaking their silence this morning saying that they are devastated and are praying for 17-year- old Claire Davis and her family. Davis is still in a coma in critical condition but she is stable. On Friday, police say Pierson went to Arapahoe High School intent on harming the librarian who kicked him off of the debate team. He opened fire. Davis was hit. Then Pierson turned the gun on himself. The librarian was not injured.

George Zimmerman, the artist. The man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin is selling a painting he painted on Ebay. It's apparently a blue American flag with the words "God, one nation, with liberty and justice for all." The signed artwork was listed with an opening bid of $50 on Monday. Apparently, that skyrocketed to over $100,000. Zimmerman says he found a creative way to express himself.

Three medical studies found taking multivitamins is essentially a waste of time and money. The researchers say vitamin supplements do nothing to prevent heart disease, cancer or cognitive decline. More than a third of American adults take multivitamins. The studies conclude you're simply better off eating a balanced, healthy diet. We'll continue to discuss this story much later on our show.

Justin Timberlake playing wing man at his concert Sunday night in Louisville, Kentucky. Joshua Clemons took his girlfriend Kim Martin to see J.T.'s show. After belting out, "That Girl," Timberlake stopped his show, brought Clemons and Martin on stage. He told Martin as she walked up, "Josh called me earlier. He's got something he wants to tell you." Clemons gets down on one knee, pops the question and boom, she said yes.

CUOMO: To him or J.T.?

PEREIRA: CNN cannot confirm it.

BOLDUAN: That's one way to make sure she doesn't say no, say it in front of all those screaming fans and Justin Timberlake.

PEREIRA: And Justin Timberlake.

How about that? Congratulations.


CUOMO: Good for him, even with all those fans, even with J.T., she's looking him right in the eye. That is her man.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

CUOMO: I like it. Good stuff.


(voice-over): Coming up on NEW DAY, listen to this, the federal watchdog keeping track of our elections was hacked by Chinese hackers. Why would that agency be a target and did this happen because of the shutdown? We'll explain.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, a Georgia high school senior has been suspended for hugging a teacher. The school says he violated sexual harassment rules. We're gonna hear both sides of this.


CUOMO: Welcome back. So there's this new report out this morning that says Chinese hackers attacked the Federal Election Commission. It's the government's election watchdog. Well, this happened while nobody was looking during the government shutdown. The attack came just months after a warning from an independent auditor that the commission's information systems were at high risk.

Let's figure out why this happened, why it wasn't avoided and why it happened in the first place. We have the author of the report joining us from Washington, D.C., a senior political reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, Mr. Dave Levinthal.

Dave, thanks for joining us, appreciate it.


CUOMO: All right, so let's start with the obvious question, why would hackers target the FEC?

LEVINTHAL: Hackers from China, in Russia, Syria, you name it are constantly targeting U.S. websites. But what happened here with the Federal Election Commission, which is the independent watchdog sponsored by the government to keep elections fair and free, effectively got hit about as hard as it ever has gotten hit.

And it came as the FEC had absolutely no regular employees actually serving at the agency because of the government shutdown. It was one of the agencies that actually went completely dark during the government shutdown, only had the commissioners themselves manning the doors, manning the systems. And they are not I.T. experts by any stretch of the imagination.

CUOMO: All right, so we'll get to the accountability aspect that you just outlined in a second. But just -- let me take one more step on this first one. But why the FEC? If you can hack all these different websites, it seems -- what could they get out of this? You know, what do you think the point was, just to hack it? Are they looking for certain information? Is there something going on at the FEC that's valuable that we're not aware of?

LEVINTHAL: It's something that could be a great embarrassment for the United States. The FEC exists for transparency, disclosure, all of the things you think are emblematic when you think about free and fair U.S. elections. And here you have, for days at a time, the FEC's website, which is part and parcel of the agency's mission to provide Americans with the ability to access information about their elections, access information about political campaigns and candidates, and nobody in America could do it during that time. So it was a huge black eye, not only for the agency but for the country's government in general.

CUOMO: Still seems an odd target. But let's go to the accountability aspect of this. So you get an independent auditor, you pay them -- right -- theoretically with my money, your money, tax money, to assess the security. They say you're at risk, and then you do nothing. You say you're OK and you get hacked anyway. Where is the accountability?

LEVINTHAL: This audit was prophetic and effectively said everything that happened with this hack was going to happen if the FEC did not step in and take measures to go and ameliorate problems that they have been having, in some cases, for years and years and years.

Just one example, there are passwords that haven't been changed on certain accounts at the FEC since 1998, which is saying a mouthful when you all consider it. So there are major issues that the FEC has to grapple with.

But it speaks to a larger issue, Chris. One problem that we have in this article that we enumerate in great detail is the fact that the government, Congress, Democrats and Republicans both have let this agency almost rot from the inside out. Staffing levels are down. Funding levels are down. The FEC has asked Congress for more money. That money has not been forthcoming yet.

And whether you're a Democrat or Republican, you should be concerned about this. Because there's nothing more public in the United States of America than an election, than electing the people who are going to represent us in Congress. And this agency that's been animated by Congress be a watchdog, to serve as a watchdog is a watchdog that's really suffering right now.

CUOMO: So let's put the watch on the watchdog. Let me leave you with this before you leave us on NEW DAY today. Let's name names. Who can we chase down on this and say, `You dropped the ball. You're in charge of this subcommittee' or whatever body it is that is supposed to oversee funding of the FEC. Now look what happened. You know, you didn't take the right measures. Who should be blamed here?

LEVINTHAL: On the right, you have a lot of Republicans who are very adamant that the FEC should not be a strong regulatory agency. You can believe that or not, disagree with it or agree with it. But that's definitely been the attitude that many Republicans have taken. They want -- deregulatory environment here in the United States equating political activity and money to speech.

But on the left, on the Democratic side, you have the president who up until a couple of months ago he had not successfully named a single new commissioner to the FEC. The agency had commissioners bleed and they were down to four members instead of six. And there are four members who are serving in expired terms. The president has not appointed anyone to fill those terms, really is not paying attention to the agency. And when we ask them a lot of questions about this agency, they had no comment.

CUOMO: So at least we now we know the answer to the question how many FEC commissioners does it take to change a password. The answer is at least five because there are only four there right now.

David Levinthal, thank you very much. Thanks for keeping them honest down there. And let us know which way the report leads.

LEVINTHAL: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, a crucial vote in the Senate today for that compromised budget deal. Is it a sure thing and what does it tell us about the battles ahead? We'll have that and more in our political gut check.

Also, a high school senior's hug lands him in hot water, suspended for a year for embracing a teacher. But was there more to it?


PEREIRA: Glad to have you with us on NEW DAY. It is half past the hour. Here are some of the stories making news.


(voice-over): A big blow to the NSA, a federal judge ruling its collection of domestic phone records is probably unconstitutional. This is the first successful legal challenge to the mass surveillance program and very well opens the doors -- door to others. The secret snooping was exposed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who called the ruling just the first of many. The administration says it stands by the program and is expected to appeal.