Return to Transcripts main page


Arizona Governor Considering Controversial Gay Discrimination Bill; Cold Weather Hits Parts of U.S.; California Suffering Drought; White House Announces 4 Million Signed Up for Health Care; Airlines Changing Frequent Flyer Miles Calculation; Interview with David Bar Katz; The Untold Story of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Aired February 26, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We start off with President Obama telling Afghanistan time is running out. President Hamid Karzai has been dragging his feet on a bilateral security agreement that would keep U.S. troops there passed 2014. The president is now asking the Pentagon to have plans in place for an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year in case the two countries can't make a deal.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The White House is reportedly considering four options for restructuring the NSA's controversial phone surveillance program. "The Wall Street Journal" says one of the choices is scrapping the program all together. The other includes transferring the data collection operation to the phone companies or another government agency like the FBI.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: New developments out of Ukraine. The interim government has disbanded the riot police used in deadly confrontations with protestors. This comes on the heels of parliament voting to ask the International Criminal Court to prosecute ousted president Viktor Yanukovych for his role in the violence if they can ever locate him. For its part the ICC says for now, it have no jurisdiction over the Ukraine.

CUOMO: Good news, new this morning, childhood obesity down 43 percent in the last decade. The data focuses on children between two and five years of age. That's when eating habits good or habit get established. Officials can't say exactly what led to the improvement, but efforts have increased nationwide to get kids eating better.

BOLDUAN: More fallout from one of the largest coal ash spills in history. Officials warning North Carolina residents to avoid contact with fish and water from the river nearly a month after millions of gallons of coal ash and waste water leaked from the retired energy power plant nearby. On Tuesday environmentalists staged a protest at company headquarters and federal officials launched a criminal investigation into the incident.

PEREIRA: Doctors in California are inundated with calls about the polio-like illness affecting about 20 children. They are investigating what's behind this worrisome trend. All cases have several things in common, paralyzing a limb, and an MRI shows damage to the central part of the spinal cord. Doctors are puzzled and are now looking for evidence to link those cases.

CUOMO: Welcome to the winter that just won't quit. This morning two- thirds of the country is dealing with another dangerous deep freeze. Take a look at the temperatures, 20 to 30 degrees below normal. Wind chills plunging to 30 below zero in parts of the Midwest and northern plains. Millions of Americans are going to see more snow. Meteorologist Indra Petersons is tracking it all for us, but let's start with the feel on the ground, and nobody's feeling it more right now than Ted Rowlands in frigid Chicago. Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're calling it Chi-beria Chris, it is so cold here in Chicago. We've had 23 days this winter alone below zero. And today is the same for most of the Chicago area. Right now it's about 15, 20 below zero when you add in the wind chill and 68 inches of snow. That is the fifth most all time for any winter in the city of Chicago. It's not just Chicago, it's across the northwest, the northeast, even the south is getting hit. Atlanta, Dallas having one of their top 10 worst winters of the year.

Bottom line, you talk to people here on the streets as they're just waking up, everybody says they have had enough. It has been a horrific winter. And it continues. Sadly, we're expecting these type of temperatures for the rest of the week.

BOLDUAN: Chicago and the Midwest has really been hard hit. Ted, go get warm my friend. How long is this round going to last? Meteorologist Indra Petersons is tracking all of it for us.

INDRA PETERESONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Chicago on track now to be the third coldest winter since we've been keeping records. In fact we have wind chill advisories still again today. Look at these temperatures, 12 below in Indianapolis. Chicago right now feels like 15 below, and Duluth right now feeling like 31 below zero, unbelievable. That chill is here to last.

Temperatures even through the afternoon are expected to be a good 20 degrees below average, down to the southeast, also about 10 degrees below average. We know this cold is here. It's going to last. So tomorrow expected to be even colder than today. We're going to see places go 30 below average in the afternoon highs. Keep in mind we're adding snow to that as well, two systems making their way through. What it means to you, a second blast of cold air. So it is not going anywhere.

CUOMO: All right Indra, let's go to Arizona now where the right to refuse service Bill is on Governor Jan Brewer's desk. The question is, will she sign it? She's meeting with people on both sides of the debate today and tweeted this morning that she will do the "right thing for the state," unquote. Supporters say it's about protecting religious freedom. Critics argue it is a law that allows discrimination against gays, lesbians, and others.

PEREIRA: We know how bad California needs water. We have incredible pictures to show you just how severe the California drought is. That first picture is from July 2011. It shows Fulsome Lake 97 percent full. Look on the right, two-and-a-half years later, just 17 percent capacity. Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency and has proposed a $687 million relief package. Ten rural communities have fewer than a 60-day supply of water.

BOLDUAN: On Capitol Hill Senate Democrats have pushed back a vote on increasing the minimum wage. Majority Leader Harry Reid blames Republican obstruction for jamming the Senate calendar. He now expects the vote to happen as late as April. There are indications the Democrats didn't have the votes at this time anyway.

CUOMO: A grilling expected today on Capitol Hill. The commissioner of the IRS testifying in front of a House committee about how the agency handles its money. Top of the agenda, the decision to award bonuses at the IRS in an era of belt tightening.

PEREIRA: Hillary Clinton's public schedule picking up steam, and with it speculation about 2016. Clinton heading to the key swing state of Florida today for a pair of speeches. First stop, Orlando. Then she'll head to the University of Miami. Clinton has been traveling the country giving speeches as she mulls a 2016 bid. She is expected to decide later this year.

CUOMO: New this morning, another milestone for Obamacare. The president says 4 million people have signed up. It's a big number, but of course, the doubters are still saying the law is not doing what it needs to do. Athena Jones is live at the White House with more. How are the numbers being taken?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Some would say this is good news for the White House. These numbers show that the pace of enrollments has been steadily improving since those problems were fixed with the website And 700,000 people have signed up for health insurance on the state or federal exchanges so far in February. But still the administration would have to see record signups for the remaining several weeks of the enrollment period just to reach their new lower goal of 6 million enrollees by March 31st. That's 1 million fewer people than originally forecast before the messy rollout of the website.

Just last week, Vice President Biden said "We may not get to seven. We may get to five or six million." But he said that would still be a hell of a start. So we should expect to hear probably some language just like this from administration officials over the coming days trying to lower expectations.

PEREIRA: All right, we'll keep watching.

Let's take a look at what's in the papers this morning. First up, the "Washington Post." The Pakistani government is close to launching a major military operation in the volatile north Waziristan tribal region. This comes after weeks of Taliban attacks and failed peace talks with militants. Pakistani officials say the plans have been shared with top American officials who have urged an operation for some time now.

In the "San Francisco Chronicle" scientists say traces of the plume of radioactive seawater from the Fukushima nuclear disaster could reach the Pacific coast by April. Experts believe the radiation levels will not pose a threat to humans or marine life, and they're denying claims that radiation is currently showing up along California beaches.

And from "Politico," more than 30,000 pages of confidential records from Bill Clinton's presidency still under wraps this morning. They're being held at the Clinton library in Little Rock and they're not being made public even though the law says they're subject to disclosure 12 years after a president leaves office. The Clintons of course left the White House 13 years ago. Not clear exactly who's holding back the release of those documents, Chris.

CUOMO: Call it insult to injury. The department of transportation is fining Asiana Airlines $500,000 not for that horrific crash last July but for failing to assist families after the crash. The DOT says the Korean airlines did not promptly contact passenger's families or keep them informed.

BOLDUAN: Four central California police officers arrested in an alleged scam to swindle poor Hispanics out of their cars. Just listen to this. Investigators say cars were impounded and towed. Then when the owners could not pay the fees to get them back, they were sold or given away for free to other officers. More than 200 vehicles were impounded over three years, most belonging to people who don't speak English. The officers face charges of bribery and embezzlement.

CUOMO: An apology and a big settlement from the "National Inquirer" to playwright David Bar Katz. He is the man who was friend with Philip Seymour Hoffman, a close friend. He's also the man who discovered Philip Seymour Hoffman after his tragic over dose. Three days later "The Inquirer" reported Katz and Hoffman were gay lovers. Katz sued the tabloid, now backtracking, calling the article an honest mistake. But they had to put out a full-page apology in today's "New York Times." "The Inquirer" says it was duped by a man claiming to be Katz. The real David Bar Katz will join us live on NEW DAY in about 10 minutes to fill in so many of the areas of doubt around Philip Seymour Hoffman's, the end of his life.

BOLDUAN: Back to Capitol Hill now, where the House voted to give mobile phone users the right to unlock their phones on use them on competitors networks. It's not known where the Senate will consider the bill. Wireless carries often block smartphones to encourage customers to renew their mobile contracts with that carrier. You probably already know this, but in December, major carriers like AT&T and Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile made a voluntary pledge to make it easier for customers to unlock their phones.

CUOMO: The Department of Homeland Security is cutting the number of federal air marshals, this according to an e-mail, an internal one, obtained by CNN. This morning critics are raising alarms about the potential loss of security as well as the secrecy surrounding the cuts. CNN's Rene Marsh is in Washington. Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, we've heard in recent weeks about shoe bomb threats, toothpaste bomb threats. And that's why critics are so alarmed to learn over the past three years the number of plain-clothed officers on board flights has been cut. Air marshals as supposed to protect aircrafts from terrorists, but according to an e-mail obtained by CNN, a budget crunch has led to a reduced federal air marshal workforce.

We don't know how many federal air marshals are currently on the government payroll. That is kept secret, the government says, for security reasons. When we asked how many air marshal positions have been eliminated, the Department of Homeland Security would not comment.

We can also tell you that over the next three years, six of the agency's 26 field offices will be shut down, and the agency also says they will freeze hiring at offices in three additional cities. Now the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Association which includes air marshals, says closing offices will essentially open opportunities for terrorists to potentially turn airplanes into missiles. Chris?

CUOMO: Take it, Mic.

PEREIRA: I will, Chris.

Let's take a look at what's trending right now. We start with the Bitcoin, which proponent had hoped would revolution the global monetary system. It appears it's on the verge of collapse. The world's largest exchange for trading the digital currency shut down Tuesday, costing investors as much as $300 million. The massive sell- off followed as potential investors are backing away. It's kind of unclear what led to the shutdown, adding to concerns about the uncertainty and fragility of that Bitcoin.

Apple fixing security flaws in Mac that made them vulnerable to hackers. It could have exposed computer users' sensitive information to hackers. Security experts are saying, though, there's no evidence hackers discovered the flaws before Apple exposed it.

Big changes could be coming to the NBA. Check it out. The league is considering expanding the dimensions of the basketball court because of the size and the athleticism of today's players. It's also looking at adding a four-point shot. Two high ranking NBA executives confirm both ideas have already been pressed for discussion at league meetings.

And from the Biden being Biden file, the vice president making another sort of strange comment, this time talking up his basketball skills at a black history month event in Washington, and even challenged the president to a game of hoops.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: And I told the president, next game, I have him.


BIDEN: Just remember, I'm a white boy, but I can jump.



PEREIRA: Joe being Joe. It kind of made me chuckle. I think it's funny. It made me chuckle.

PEREIRA: Let's talk about the airlines. This is not funny. Big changes coming to Delta Airlines frequent flyer program. The carrier will now base frequent flyer rewards on the fares customers pay instead of the miles of travel. The move is a way to cater to its biggest spending customers, including corporate travelers. But what does it mean for all of us? Let's bring in CNN's chief business correspondent Christine Romans. First off, why the change? Wasn't it working?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They want more money. The top two percent of flyers are 20 percent of their revenue.

BOLDUAN: Really?

ROMANS: Oh yes. That top two percent, they spend so much money. They now want to reward those people that spend a lot of money, and that means maybe not reward you. Let me give you an example. Let's say you're the average frequent flyer on Delta. You pay $650. Let's say you spend five months ahead of time, you spend 650 bucks from New York to L.A. Right now you get about 5,000 miles. In 2015 you get only 3,250.

Now let's say you're that elite travelers, right? Thursday you decide you have to go to London for a metering. You pay $5,000 for the ticket. Today you get 20,000 miles for that ticket, but next year you get 45,000 miles. So it's not the distance you travel, but the dollars you spend. What Delta is hoping is that those big, big spending customers who are now flying maybe United because it's more convenient, will move over and fly Delta instead.

BOLDUAN: And this clearly, it's all about the money?

ROMANS: It's all about the money. It's all about getting those --

BOLDUAN: So there will be less people that are going to reach those medallions.

ROMANS: Oh yes. I fly kind of a lot. I was actually looking at my own frequent flier, and I fly kind of lot, and I think I might not be a silver medallion anymore when I look at it, unless I do all my travel now on Delta and I do some higher fares. I mean, I like to look for cheap fares. For the person looking for cheap fares, who months ahead of time plans on something and gets a good fare, you're not going to get the miles you're used to in this program.

BOLDUAN: So is this the beginning of a trend or is this Delta specifically?

ROMANS: I think it might be. And I think the other big guys are going to be watching Delta to see if they're going to be able to lure some of those big paying customers. Again, the top 2 percent of fliers are 20 percent of the revenue. You know, we're filling the planes on our cheap budget travel, but that corporate travel person is the one who's spending the money and they want those dollars.

BOLDUAN: One thing that made it still OK to travel because nothing about flying is fun anymore.

ROMANS: No, but you look at the discount travelers, so the discount, the budget airlines, they've already kind of gone to this model. They're all about cheap fares, cheap fares, cheap fares. If you want cheap fares, there are a whole tier of airlines who are doing that for you, catering to that. If you want miles, they want the business traveler.

CUOMO: Full disclosure. More and more people are falling into the category that we're in, which is where the business flies us around so often so randomly, paying those top fees, full-fare things. And at least you get the benefit hopefully of building up the miles that you can then use with your family.

ROMANS: This sounds like - this actually sounds like, oh this is "woe is me, woe is me", but for that top tier road warrior this morning, they're going, "Hey, this is not bad."

BOLDUAN: I spend all my time in a plane, at least I can get something more out of it.

ROMANS: That's kind of you to look that way.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Christine.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. I'll be in coach.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, we have an exclusive. There were so many questions surrounding the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Finally, we're going to hear from someone who says a lot of what we have heard was false. Playwright David Bar Katz in his first television interview; you can only see it here. The life and death of his friend and the fiasco that followed in the media sparked by bogus reporting in the "National Enquirer".

BOLDUAN: And the federal government is considering a new fertilization procedure that could eliminate genetic diseases in babies by using the DNA of a third person, a donor essentially. But is this a slippery slope. The ethical dilemma of designer babies ahead.


CUOMO: We have a NEW DAY exclusive for you. It's been almost a month since we lost Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman to an apparent overdose. Playwright David Bar Katz was a close friend of Hoffman's and he is the person who found him after his overdose. For Katz, the tragedy of losing his friend made even worse when the "National Enquirer" and a lot of other media, especially online, started playing to a story that claimed that Hoffman and Katz were lovers and that Katz had seen Hoffman using drugs often.

He joins us now. David, thank you for taking the opportunity. Obviously on many levels, a conversation you don't want to have. This was a private person, your friend. You're mourning the loss of him. It's hard for you and your family. We understand. But I also know that what brings you here is that so much of it is false, the legacy of him tainted by what was misinformation and of course what started with the "Enquirer".

So thank you for being here, and let me start with what matters most. How is his family doing? How are you and your family doing?

DAVID BAR KATZ, PLAYWRIGHT: You know, everyone's just focusing on taking care of everyone. Anyone that's suffered a loss knows what it's like, so I don't need to tell them about that. I don't really know what to say about that. Everyone's doing the best they can.

CUOMO: It's never easy. Especially when it's made public, it's even more difficult. And the story when how someone's life ends becomes misconstrued in the opinion of those who love him, it's even more difficult.

KATZ: Well, I think it's unfortunate that in our -- what we all tend to do is, the last moment is given I think inordinate importance and maybe too much, when the court of Phil's adult life, which is composed obviously of countless moments, he was rigorously sober for most of them and his entire adult life. And those are the moments that I think are most important to stress.

CUOMO: One of the strong messages that came out of his death, though, was the power of addiction, how difficult it is, that it has to be recognized that anyone is susceptible to it. So what is the truth? We keep hearing that 20 years he was sober. But had there been struggles? Was this the only struggle that he ever had during those years? I mean, it's hard to believe that.

KATZ: I can't speak to his personal struggles during that time. I know that he was rigorously sober most of his adult life, and that this unfortunately was just one relapse at this time. But he -- he maintained his sobriety and helped so many other people maintain theirs. And that's who he was. And that's -- and that's what he did and -- you know, that's really kind of all I want to say about that.

CUOMO: When you think about the end of his life and what was going on, were people aware or is this the typical story where this was hidden and people didn't really know? We know he was estranged from his family. But what was the circumstances?

KATZ: I don't know what other people knew. I mean, I know that he was -- you know, he was working and he was focused on his work and his family and the things that he always was focused on. So that's pretty much what I saw, that was the most apparent to me consistently. CUOMO: Now when reports came out about what the police found in the apartment, you take exception to some of them. You say you think it may be exaggerated because what they had reported, obviously, that it seemed like he had set up shop to use, that he was struggling with his sobriety obviously and he was seeming to mix chemicals for himself. You're not sure how much of that you want to trust?

KATZ: You know, I can't speak to all that. I can just say that I don't -- I think a lot of this has been totally overblown. It gives a false picture of him, because he was focused. He was working. He was focused on his family. He was not a partier. He was not someone that was in a spiral. He was not self destructive in any way.

CUOMO: You don't like hearing that that this was some typical spiral, that he was just out of control and going around. That's not the truth.

KATZ: It's a cliche that everyone - that makes it very easy and that people like, but Phil was not that guy.

CUOMO: He was greatly celebrated for the role of Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman." People say he owned it in a way since Hoffman, maybe even better. How taxing was that personally on him?

KATZ: That was incredibly taxing and that kind of gets to one of the things that I want to talk about, which is his art, which is his truthfulness and the degree that je -- what he threw into that role and how he understood that role. And it did cost him because he was relentless in his pursuit of who he thought that character was. And he knew that and he talked about that from the second that Willy Loman was on that stage, he's heading towards his death and that its' not -- we're not seeing some kind of arc. We're not seeing a guy that's unraveling. We're seeing a guy that from the first walk across that stage, he's a dead man.

And Phil embodied that and I think he threw himself into that to a degree that has to take a toll. He was not a person that would fake it in any way or even just do what normal actors do. He lived it and found a different way to live it every night.

CUOMO: Has to be stressful especially for someone who takes it so seriously. There's so much emotional investment. Must complicate your personal life; it has to.

You have -- it's been reported that there were texts that he sent you the night that he wound up losing his life. And he was asking you to go to a game. Typical buddy stuff.

KATZ: Yes.

CUOMO: When you looked at those texts, you were out at dinner. You got back to him as soon as you could. What was the message you think coming from your friend?

KATZ: He just wanted to watch the second half of the Knicks game. And he was - hanging out, you know, he was just like, come over, let's watch the second half of the Knicks game.

CUOMO: Does that confuse you in terms of so routine? You know, you're a buddy. You've known each other for a -- come on over, let's watch the game. And at the same time struggling in a way that was so difficult to maintain control?

KATZ: Well, it was very normal for us to text each other. Like, just be like, hey, let's go do this or do that. And so I just know that what he wanted to be doing that night was watching the Knicks game. And -- and, you know, that was his intention.

CUOMO: Obviously creates a confusing picture, these situations always are. There's no reason to relive what you had to go through in finding your friend. That's painful enough to deal with the first time. But what would happen after that would be equally as hurtful on a lot of levels.

I want to take a break now. But I want, when we come back, for people to hear what and how you had to learn about what was being reported about the death of your friend and your role, and what you decided to do about it.

We'll take a break. When we come back, we'll have more with playwright David Bar Katz in a story you have not heard about actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.