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Wildfire Spreading Near Los Angeles; President Obama's NSA Plan; Did Cronyism Kill N.J. Indictments?

Aired January 17, 2014 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we were driving down the long driveway, starting to catch fire.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. A wildfire burning out of control near Los Angeles, homes destroyed, thousands evacuated. Firefighters hoping the weather will turn in their favor today. We're live with the latest.

KATE BOLDUAN: Decision time. How far will President Obama go? He's announcing today what part of the NSA's controversial spying program stays and goes. New reporting this morning on just what changes the president plans.

CUOMO: Lightning strikes twice. Look at this amazing video. Thirteen-year-old hits a full court shot to win the game. Yes. Then asked to do it again. He shoots. He scores!

He joins us live this morning. Can he three-peat?

Your NEW DAY continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Friday, January 17th, 8:00 in the East.

And there's breaking news right now from the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast of Los Angeles. A massive wildfire charring 2,000 acres already destroying five homes and threatening hundreds more.

Take a look at this NASA photo from high above. Thousands of people evacuated because of these fast-moving flames. Now, three men are in custody for allegedly starting the blaze they say accidentally.

Let's get right to CNN's Casey Wian live in California for us this morning. Good morning, Casey.


You know, most of the flames have died down this morning but there remains a lot of ash and smoke in the air. Two thousand people in this neighborhood remain under evacuation.

Firefighters scrambled to control a rapidly moving wildfire threatening the suburbs northeast of Los Angeles. With super scooper fixed wing aircraft, helicopters and ground crews racing against the weather. The blaze about 30 miles from downtown L.A. led to thousands of evacuations and destroyed part of the historic mansion once belonging to the Singer Sewing Machine family.

RAY PARAYNO, HOMEOWNER: This is something that caught us by surprise, early in the morning. As we were driving down the long driveway, that dry was starting to catch fire and so he could feel the heat.

WIAN: January temperatures stretching into the 80s, humidity below 10 percent and the forecast of hot Santa Ana winds threaten to turn the modest 1,700-acre brush fire into a frightening conflagration.

CHIEF DARYL OSBY, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPT.: We were able to save hundreds if not thousands of homes this morning.

WIAN: This time, firefighters and all but five homeowners caught a break. The winds stayed calm and the fire slowed dramatically late in the day.

Fire started police say when these three men allowed their camp fire to burn out of control, on a morning when red flag warnings because of drought and high temperatures were in effect.

CHIEF TIM STAAB, GLENDORA POLICE DEPARTMENT: I don't think they cared, to be honest with you, three guys in their early 20s camping up in the foot hills. You know they may have cared, but, you know, I can only assume that fire safety wasn't their top priority.

WIAN: One of the men admitted starting the fire, police say. Now, they're in jail facing possible felony charges.


WIAN: Bail initially set for the three men at $20,000 overnight increased to $500,000 each. Officially, the fire now is 30 percent contained. We're expecting an update from fire officials in about an hour. The big issue, of course, is going to be the weather. Whether winds kick up later today and how high those temperatures get, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Casey, Indra has been taking us through that. She'll check in in a little bit to give us the latest. Thank you for the reporting.

So, now, in about three hours, President Obama will announce changes to the way NSA tracks you, me and the rest of the world. He's expected to act on an independent panel's recommendations issued after Edward Snowden's damaging revelations.

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins us now about the speech.

Jim, I said changes. Can we qualify that by saying major changes, some changes, what's the best guess?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: These are major changes, Chris. A senior administration official tells us President Obama will announce changes to the NSA's bulk phone record collection, basically ending it, this official says, quote, "as it currently exists."

One key recommendation is that the president will now say that the effective immediately that the NSA will need federal surveillance court approval before accessing that bulk phone record database. It's all part of a speech the president and his team are working on into the night for this event, as you mentioned, that starts in about three hours.


EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: Any mass surveillance --

ACOSTA (voice-over): More than six months since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden started leaking the details of the government's massive surveillance programs, President Obama is poised to make some changes to the ways Washington spies on the world.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We can and should take steps to make the activities we engaging in order to help keep America safe and Americans safe more transparent.

ACOSTA: The president is expected to weigh in on one of the nation's most controversial surveillance programs, the bulk collection of American's phone records -- a practice a federal judge and even one member of the White House's own NSA review panel have called unconstitutional.

GEOFFREY STONE, WHITE HOUSE NSA REVIEW GROUP: It leaves sitting out there a huge amount of information, personal information about Americans that could be abused in awful ways.

ACOSTA: A senior administration official says the president will call for those phone the records stay at the NSA temporarily, but he will seek input from Congress and the intelligence community on where to store that data permanently. The president is also expected to appoint a public advocate to take part in the secretive surveillance court and scale back eavesdropping on foreign leaders.

That move would begin some much need diplomatic healing after widespread reports of spying on U.S. allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The NSA controversy has placed the president in a position he likely never saw coming. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.

ACOSTA: That is defending a surveillance state he once criticized when he first ran for the White House.

OBAMA: That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens.


ACOSTA: And Congress is not waiting for the president to call for more transparency and oversight at the NSA. And that massive spending bill that passed through the Congress this week, there's a provision that requires the administration to offer more details on the number of phone records being collected by the National Security Agency and whether any terrorist activities have been disrupted by that metadata program.

In the meantime, as for the president's speech later this morning, Kate, I'm told by a senior administration official that this speech will, quote, "go much farther than people expected." These are big changes coming to the National Security Agency, Kate.

BOLDUAN: A lot of people will be listening closely to that. Thank you very much, Jim.

We're also learning this morning the Target attack was only the very beginning and that more stores may have been hit than originally thought and more attacks could still be planned. Plus, there are new clues about exactly who was behind the attack.

So, how do you keep your information safe? How can you be sure that this is even over yet?

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here with the very latest -- Christine.


A lot of what investigators know about the hack attack is being kept under wraps as cyber forensic experts sift through these clues and there are clues. But what we do know is homeland security is worried this isn't an isolated event.


ROMANS (voice-over): The U.S. government now warning retailers across the country to be on high alert, that massive attack on Target over the holidays, may have compromised the personal information of up to 110 million customers. It could be just the beginning.

In a brand new bulletin, the Department of Homeland Security now revealing that target may not have been alone. That the malicious software has potentially infected a large number of retail operations.

And for the first time, they are detailing just how those hackers pulled off one of the biggest data heists ever.

ROBERT SICILIANO, MCAFEE ONLINE SECURITY EXPERT: Now with this new information that many other retailers could potentially been breached, that number could potentially double in the next couple of weeks.

ROMANS: Here's how they did it, according to a cyber security firm called iSIGHT, who has contributed to the investigation. They used highly sophisticated and nearly undetectable malware named Kaptoxa. That's a computer program that surreptitiously placed in a company's system to corrupt point of sale systems. That means the register itself, your information was being grabbed. ISIGHT says many retail organizations may not know they've been infected.

The software infests retail processing systems, allowing the hackers to manipulate the malware from the outside and most troubling of all, it's using new technology that makes it virtually undetectable by all security software.

SICILIANO: It's an unknown exploit, one they haven't seen before.

ROMANS: Just who are the hackers? There are clues. Part of the code is written in Russian. The "Wall Street Journal" cites an unnamed U.S. official who said these details suggest the attack may have ties to organized crime from the former Soviet Union.

Target still dealing with the fall out this morning. In a new email by Target to its customers said the cyber attack stole much more than PIN numbers, stole names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses as well.

SICILIANO: Consumers need to be aware right now paying a very close attention to their statements. You can check your statements online every single day.


ROMANS: And millions of people are actually changing their credit card numbers. Target will testify before Congress in early February. No federal laws exist that set out rules for when and how companies must report these breaches to customers and to law enforcement. Officials say the objective of that hearing will be how customers can protect themselves, you guys.

CUOMO: Very important, Christine. We'll keep following that.

A lot of other news as well. So, let's get to John Berman, in for Michaela.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much.

Making news this morning: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration is lawyering up and subpoenas have gone out. A special state committee investigating the Bridgegate scandal is serving 20 subpoenas. As of now, Christie has not been served.

And this weekend will be a big political test for the governor when he attends a set of fundraisers before his inauguration. His second inauguration set for next week.

President Obama expected to sign a measure funding the government through the end of September as early as today. The $1.1 trillion spending bill eases the sharp budget cuts. The strong bipartisan agreement to fund federal agencies through the rest of the fiscal year was a notable departure from budget battles in recent years. The bill's passage eliminates the threat of another government shutdown really any time soon.

So, if Jeb Bush listens to his mother, he will not be seeking the presidency in 2016. Former First Lady Barbara Bush telling C-Span she hopes her son Jeb, the former governor of Florida, passes on a White House bid. She says it's time for someone not named Clinton, Kennedy or Bush to seek the nation's highest office and if Jeb does decide to run, she worries he will incur the wrath that she and his brother George have ever had.

A surprising new development in a lawsuit to force a Texas hospital to remove a brain dead pregnant woman from life support. The judge overseeing the case recused herself from the case without explanation. Thirty-three-year-old Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed in November. Her family said she would not want to be artificially kept alive. The Fort Worth hospital said it's barred by state law from removing a pregnant patient from life support.

And I want you to look at this photo shop controversy. Lena Dunham is on the February cover of vogue magazine. But inside, it appears that the girl star's body was so drastically photo-shopped her left arm is missing. There's no left arm there.

But Dunham praised the spread shot by Annie Leibovitz on her Twitter count. Now, the feminist blog Jezebel is offering $10,000 for the unretouched photo, saying Dunham trumpets body positivity, and her body is real. These pictures they say are not real.

BOLDUAN: Retouching photo shopping is no surprise, right?

BERMAN: Every magazine they photo shop.

CUOMO: What?

BERMAN: That is amazing.

CUOMO: I'm shocked.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, John.

CUOMO: No retouching done here on NEW DAY, I'll have you know.

BOLDUAN: Unfortunately.

CUOMO: Indra Petersons has been watching what's happened out West, the weather in general.

What do we know? INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we're definitely talking about a couple of systems in the east that are going to be cooling us off and bring us chances for showers and continue to be dry out west.

First, let's take a look at the cold front making their way through. This system the same one that brought blizzard conditions into the Dakotas and Minnesota yesterday.

Today, it's all about the Ohio Valley, looking for another four to six inches of snow and kind of making its way into Northeast.

Keep in mind it's winter time, so we have several systems out there. So, really, upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, or the Northeast, look for some seasonal kind of precipitation as we go through the entire weekend. Notice another two really come in. They almost join so by the weekend Sunday and Monday we're still talking about showers at the end of your weekend.

Temperature wise, here is the good side -- even though we have cold front going through we're not dropping temperatures too much. We're still going to be staying close to those averages. We're just going up and down with each system.

Now, let's talk about what's going on out west. They are not getting the rain. Here's what's key. Look at the drastic change of the drought in just one week. One week without rain and now they have extreme drought conditions pretty much across the entire state. The reason for that California unlike the rest of the country usually gets the bulk of their rain in January and February. Fires are still out there. Red flag fire warning extended all the way through today.

Low humidity, high temperatures. Record breaking temperatures. Bad combo.

BOLDUAN: We're watching those fires. Thanks, Indra.


CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, if you stick here you'll meet a former prosecutor who says Bridgegate is not an exception, it is the rule, that Chris Christie's people played dirty, pushed him out of a job to save an ally from prosecution. Hear his story, coming up.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, seven months ago a young woman went missing in the waters between Australia and New Zealand. Her parents refusing to give up hope of finding her alive. Find out why they think she still could be alive.


CUOMO: A day after 17 people were subpoenaed in connection with the Bridgegate scandal, we're learning about another allegation of political cronyism against the Chris Christie administration. Hunterdon County officials claim solid indictments against the local sheriff and her staff were thrown out because the sheriff has ties to Christie's office. They further allege three career prosecutors who brought the case were then forced out for just doing their jobs. Bennett Barlyn is one of those fired prosecutors. He joins us now. Ben, thank you for being here.


CUOMO: There is a lot of detail here, but let's cut to the chase. Indictments were handed down. A case was supposed to go forward and then --

BARLYN: Then the attorney general swooped in and basically killed the case abruptly. Before the defendants even had a chance to protest any wrongdoing on our part, it was killed immediately. Before that happened, Chris, one of the defendants, an undersheriff by the name of Michael Russo claimed to subordinates that Governor Christie, not the Lieutenant Governor, not the attorney general, but Governor Christie was going to come in and kill the case and that's exactly what happened.

CUOMO: What was the basis of the AG's (ph) move?

BARLYN: The AG claimed that the lead prosecutor a staff attorney from the Hunterdon County prosecutor's office mispresented the case to the grand jury, that there were errors in his presentation which justified the dismissal of every count, and there were 43 counts which was quite a few.

What's also interesting is that the attorney general who took over the case never represented it to another grand jury which is very common to cure the original defects.

BOLDUAN: Where does your dismissal from the job come into play then?

BARLYN: The day that the indictments were dismissed, I encountered the acting prosecutor, somebody who's installed from Trenton to run our office during this period. And I said to him clearly, the dismissal of the indictments were improper. There's no way that serious errors could have justified the dismissal of every count in the indictment. In New Jersey, case law is very clear. It takes a tremendous amount of error to justify the dismissal of an indictment. It's very different than a jury trial.

CUOMO: Quick question.


CUOMO: Anything in your background that justified dismissal if I were to take a look.


CUOMO: No disciplinary actions, no weird stuff going on? No bad blood?

BARLYN: You know, I think, Chris, had that been the case, you would know by now.

CUOMO: And you would be very foolish to be here.

BARLYN: That's correct.

CUOMO: Secondly, the files were taken to Trenton. Was that unusual?

BARLYN: Well, not just the files. It was the physical evidence that had been seized an acquired during a two-year investigation.

CUOMO: Unusual?

BARLYN: Certainly, everybody including veteran detectives and prosecutors thought it was unusual.

BOLDUAN: Do you have proof that this was connected to the governor's office? I know you're mentioning someone who spoke to subordinates. He didn't say that to you. Do you have proof that this directly connects to Governor Christie's office?

BARLYN: Well, yes, proof but circumstantial proof. And that's frankly what prosecutors rely on very often. We consider circumstantial evidence to be often more compelling than direct evidence.

BOLDUAN: And what would that be?

BARLYN: Evidence would be this. First, you have the individual saying that the governor would come in and kill the case and that's what happened. Second, there are clear connections between the players in this case, Sheriff Trout, Undersheriff Russo, and the administration. There's also an individual named Dr. Robert Herrery (ph) who was an associate of these sheriffs who received a false (ph) law enforcement identification badge.

He was a major contributor to the governor as well as an appointee to two governors' commissions. Finally, you have an individual by the name of Richard Bagger (ph). He was the chief of staff to the governor and he left five months after my dismissal. Where did he go to? He went to a company, a biopharmaceutical company that's run in part by the donor, Robert Herrery (ph). So, there's a lot of links --

CUOMO: Little bit of stink, but looking at it on the other side, one, the AG is completely independent from the governor's office. The AG -- I know that she had relationships with the governor, but in that position, the AG acts on their own accord pretty much in every state. You have to hold her accountable for own action. She doesn't need the governor's office to tell her to do something.

BARLYN: I respectfully beg to -- New Jersey is somewhat unique. In many states, attorneys general are elected officials. In New Jersey, one of the very few states where the attorney general is appointed by the governor --

CUOMO: Fair (ph) counterpoint. BARLYN: And frankly, it's very clear -- I've been in the attorney general's. I was a prosecutor in the attorney general's office for close to 15 years. There's a very tight relationship between the attorney general and the governor of New Jersey. The governor really is the attorney general's boss. That's very different than New York, for example.

BOLDUAN: And a couple of notes, we did reach out to the attorney general's office and they said that they can't comment on this because there's pending litigation, obviously.


BOLDUAN: The governor's office has been -- calling this ridiculous and a wild conspiracy theory. I mean, the criticism that you've been facing is this is a disgruntled employee who now sees an opportunity to have your case be known. What do you say to that?

BARLYN: I say, first, look at the chronology. My (INAUDIBLE) very beginning of the Christie administration. These events took place within six months of the governor winning election in 2009. My lawsuit was filed -- my whistle-blower suit was filed two years ago. My position is that people are correctly making, connecting the dots between what happened in Hunterdon and what happened in Bridgegate.

It's interesting you talk about the conspiracy theory. It's very sarcastic. It's very dismissive, but it doesn't directly address the question. Interestingly enough, that was the response of the administration with respect to Bridgegate when that scandal first arose. Well, I'm moving the cones around, can't you see me? Very dismissive, very casual, kind of glib. Same thing with Hunterdon.

It's -- well, it's a conspiracy theory. I will point out, though, after the "New York Times" story, the tenor of those responses has changed dramatically. It's gone from wild-eyed conspiracy theory to the governor didn't know anybody who was involved. So, the tone has changed rather dramatically especially since the GWB scandal has erupted.

CUOMO: Certainly an interesting dynamic. Ben, appreciate you being on the show.

BARLYN: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for coming on.

BARLYN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY. But coming up next, the parents of an American teen say they won't rest until they find their daughter who's lost at sea. You won't believe the extreme measures that they're going through to try to find her.

CUOMO: And when it comes to the Oscars, what about "The Butler?" What about Oprah? Forest Whitaker? Where were their nominations? And they're not the only ones seeing red over missing out on Oscar gold. The biggest snubs coming up.


ANNOUNCER: You're watching NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. A heartbreak in store for two parents of an experienced sailor. Their teen daughter vanished along with their ship more than seven months ago in stormy sea somewhere between Australia and New Zealand. This morning, though, her parents are vowing not to rest until their daughter is found.

BOLDUAN: Another -- a very different story for you, but one you don't want to miss. Hoop dreams, a 13-year-old's amazing game winning buzzer beater has turned this eighth grader into a viral superstar. Why? He did it not once, but twice. Can he make magic happen again a third time? We're going to have live on set, Easton is here and he's going to take a shot for us.

CUOMO: Take a shot. There he is. Don't miss!


BOLDUAN: His repeat continues.


CUOMO: He can't miss. We'll make it harder as we move along this morning, but that was amazing.

BOLDUAN: We like -- yes. Do some strength (ph)

Let's get to John Berman first for the five things to know for your NEW DAY.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks so much.


BERMAN (voice-over): Number one, a wildfire near Los Angeles destroying five homes and forcing thousands to evacuate. Three men in custody for accidentally starting it with a camp fire.

In just a few hours, President Obama will deliver a much anticipated speech on the NSA overhaul. He's set to announce the end of the telephone metadata collection program in its current form. We'll find out what that means.

The massive security breach at Target stores nationwide was apparently part of a much larger cyberattack on retailers. Investigators believe the hackers are possibly linked to organize crime in Russia.

Number four, a big fundraising weekend ahead for New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, as 20 new subpoenas are issued in the Bridgegate scandal. As of now, the governor has not been subpoenaed. And happy birthday, Mrs. Obama. The first lady is celebrating her 50th today. And tonight, at 10 o'clock, the premier of the CNN documentary, "An Extraordinary Journey: Michele Obama Turns 50." That's tonight, 10:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.


BERMAN (on-camera): And we're always updating the five things you need to know so go to for the latest.