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Arthur's Outer Bands Hitting N.C. Coast; Judge to Decide if Harris Should Stand Trial; Caller Slams Advisors for Senator Cochran; Donors Pick-up Bill for July 4th Fireworks; MLB Allowed A-Rod to Use Drugs?

Aired July 3, 2014 - 10:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in for Carol Costello today. Thanks so much for joining us.

For millions of Americans Fourth of July holiday plans are close but guess what's even closer? Hurricane Arthur. It strengthened from a tropical storm several hours ago to a Category 1 hurricane and is now swirling off the coast of South and North Carolina. Arthur could push ashore with storm surges of up to four feet. Evacuations are under way for thousands who live on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Emergency officials are warning it is a category 1 storm but do not take Arthur lightly.

Alina Machado is joining us by phone in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina because the weather is so bad there already her shot is going in and out. So what is it looking like from your perspective?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well Poppy, we just started to see some really heavy rain bands and wind bands pick up here in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. And it was interesting because it happened so quickly. I mean initially it wasn't as bad. We were in the middle of a break, and then the wind just picked up and it was just a heavy downpour. And the beach was full of people just out, just kind of watching the waves and everybody booked it, everybody cleared the beach.

So right now, we're in the middle of a pretty heavy rain band here in Wrightsville Beach and we're just kind of bracing ourselves and waiting for it to pass.

HARLOW: Right. And, you know, as we heard from the governor of North Carolina, take this seriously. Do not play around with this. There are 25 counties with states of emergency there. We'll get back to you shortly -- Alina. Appreciate the reporting from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

Now this -- was it murder or simply a horrible tragic accident? It's the question that everyone has been asking since Justin Ross Harris left his 22-month-old son Cooper in a hot car for seven hours, killing him. This afternoon, prosecutors will try to persuade a judge that Harris should stand trial on charges of murder and second degree child cruelty. His defense attorney will likely argue that this was neglect, not murder; that Harris tragically forgot to drop his son off at day care.

Let's bring in our Victor Blackwell. He is at the courthouse in Atlanta right outside there. Also Page Pate is a criminal defense attorney. Good morning to you, both.

Victor, let me start with you. He's charged with murder, but we don't have a lot of details yet. We're going to get many more of them today. Why do prosecutors think they have such a good case against him?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that the chief of police here in Cobb County says that there is both testimonial evidence and physical evidence that shows that this was more than just simple negligence by leaving this 22-month-old boy in this hot SUV for more than seven hours. We are expecting today to hear typically six to ten witnesses, most likely the lead investigator for Cobb County Police Department, the patrol officers we should expect to hear from who responded on June 18th when that crowd gathered around this little boy who was pulled out on to the asphalt.

There is a possibility that after the defendant Ross Harris arrives here today, his attorney, Max Kilgore, could just waive the probable cause hearing and move straight to bond. We know that the prosecutor here will be Chuck Boring (ph). He's going to prosecute this for the state. The bond hearing could go on with some witnesses called as character witnesses and determine if he will stay in or -- jail at the Cobb County or could be able go home. 90 minutes from start to finish expected -- Poppy.

PEREIRA: Appreciate that, Victor. To you, Page -- I mean looking at this from a legal perspective, you know some of the folks at play here. I mean the people in the D.A.'s office, defense attorneys, people in that area, and I wonder what you think in terms of how many cards you think the prosecution is going to show? Are they going to show all their cards in this hearing or are they going to keep some of it under wraps until a trial begins?

PAGE PATE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I don't think they're going to show all of their evidence at this hearing and they don't have to. In Cobb County, as in most Georgia courts, all the state has to do at this hearing is present just enough evidence to convince the judge that there's probable cause to hold Mr. Harris on these charges and to bind it over to the grand jury.

So it would be very unusual for them to put on a lot of witnesses and a lot of evidence because the burden they have to meet here is so low.

PEREIRA: Right. Also, what I find a lot of things about this just so perplexing, but the fact that Harris and his wife both admitted that they did these Internet searches on child deaths in cars and how hot it has to be. That is very strange, very odd, but it is still largely circumstantial. But does that matter in court?

PATE: Well, circumstantial evidence is basically the same as direct evidence --

HARLOW: Right.

PATE: -- for purposes of a courtroom so it does matter. But again, I think we need to know the full context of what Mr. Harris said during his interrogation with law enforcement. All we know now is just that snippet. Did he respond to some question that was leading? We don't know any of that. Some of that I do expect will come out today.

HARLOW: Two things here that just are so striking. First of all, that it's come -- it's been revealed that both Harris and his son went for breakfast, a half mile away from where his work was -- a half mile. That's all he had to drive. So isn't it a very tough hurdle for him in the courtroom, you know, all the evidence is going to have to come out, but the fact that and also the fact that he left -- apparently left his workplace, came out to the car, in the afternoon, some time during lunch break, put something in the front seat and then went back into the office. What's your take, Page?

PATE: Well, I don't think there's any doubt that the state is going to be able to show probable cause to hold him on both the child cruelty charge and the felony murder charge. So I don't think the defense expects to win this hearing and I certainly don't think that they will. That is enough evidence, what you just said and what we know, to hold him at least as far as the probable cause hearing is concerned.

HARLOW: To you, Victor, what are people around you that you're talking to saying in terms of whether they think that he's going to at least walk out of jail on bond until this trial?

BLACKWELL: You know, I just had a conversation with a woman who identifies herself as a mommy blogger. She walked up to the courtroom door just at 9:00, waiting the four hours to hopefully get a seat inside. She writes for a group called Marietta Moms. She asked me what you think? And I said I'm here to find out. She said I just don't know.

I mean as a mother she can't fathom leaving a child in a car. But when you enter some of the different variables here, that it was a rear facing seat, maybe he typically doesn't see the top of the kid's head so it looks the same whether he's there or not.

HARLOW: Right.

BLACKWELL: Was there something else going on that day -- just don't know, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. And you know, Justin Ross Harris, the father, saying this was a tragic, tragic accident.

Still, a lot ahead in this trial and today in the courtroom starting about 1:30 Eastern time. We'll update you through the day here, of course, on CNN. Victor Blackwell for us and Page Pate -- thank you both.

PATE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Still to come here -- the Mississippi Republican primary is over but the battle continues. A conference call so odd it was a conference call put on by Senator Thad Cochran's' office that takes a very ugly turn after some opponents dial in. We'll let you listen to it and then talk about it next.


HARLOW: The political circus surrounding Mississippi's Republican senate primary just got even crazier, if you can believe it. After a conference call spearheaded by advisors for Thad Cochran was overrun by opponents who questioned the methods that he used to get re- elected. Cochran has been under scrutiny accused by his former opponent Chris McDaniel of, in McDaniel's words, stealing an election after black democrats helped him to a victory.

Mississippi law does allow voters to cross party lines for a primary but that isn't enough for some who are still angry about the election's outcome.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Black people were harvesting cotton. Why do you think it's OK to harvest their votes? They're not (inaudible). Why do you want black people like they're just there --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir I don't where you're calling from but I'm happy to address any question, no matter the lunacy of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you use black people? Why did you use black people to try to get Cochran elected when they're not even Republicans and you're treating them as if they're just idiots that they'll vote for Cochran just because they're black. That's ridiculous. Did you harvest those votes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen -- here's what we're going to do. We're going to try to keep going through this call. If individuals that decided they want to try to hijack this call, we'll just let it get through with it. I will be glad to answer any of your questions.


HARLOW: Here to discuss: Ben Ferguson, CNN political commentator and host of "The Ben Ferguson Show"; also Errol Lewis, CNN political commentator and a political anchor for New York One. Good morning to you both.

Ben I want to start with you. This conference call was set up by Thad Cochran's office and, you know, we don't know the identity by the way of who called in, but it's incredibly disturbing to hear that -- period. Do you think this is nasty politics or do you think that this is a prank? BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's nasty politics.

It's -- this was the nastiest, I think, primary that we saw in the country this year and it was because of the flyers that went out and the ads that were running the day of the election. I mean there was advertising saying that if you don't vote for Thad Cochran you're going to lose not only your food stamps, you're going to lose your children's lunch program, you're going to lose all government benefits. So --

HARLOW: Are you saying he brought this on?

FERGUSON: The ad said spend $5 today for gas to go to the polls and vote for Thad Cochran or you're going to lose all of your government benefits only on African-American stations.


FERGUSON: I think a lot of it is a tack that is semi-legitimate because of they way -- how dirty it got.

HARLOW: But it is in that way.

FERGUSON: No, I'm saying that the criticism knowing that they went out there at the very last moment went into only minority communities and said if you don't vote for Thad Cochran we're going to take away your food stamps. That is pretty disgusting politics for anybody's campaign.

HARLOW: Errol?

ERROL LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't know if anybody who supports the Tea Party can really get too upset about heated rhetoric. We've heard no shortage of that in Mississippi and all around the country. I think this is the actions of an undisciplined team, an undignified team. It's the same lack of discipline --

HARLOW: You know, by the way, to be clear, we don't know who that was calling in. We don't know if that was someone officially on a team or who that was.

LEWIS: Well, let's just say this, the McDaniel supporters -- and look, look at the official campaign, why are they dragging it out this long? They lost by over 7,000 votes. There's almost no scenario under which they're going to find the votes that they need to claim a victory at this late date.

And if they were serious about that they would really just focus on the legal challenge and not have all of this hoopla.

HARLOW: Let's talk about the legal challenge then, because McDaniel has sent an e-mail to supporters saying look, we want to take this to court, we want to fight this but we need the money to do it. He's trying to raise funds for admittedly he said a prolonged court battle, though he thinks it is worth it. Is that the right move? A smart move?


FERGUSON: Well, the argument is you had a lot of Democrats that voted in the Democratic primary that then crossed over into Republican primary and the question is, can you vote --

HARLOW: Which they're allowed to do.

FERGUSON: Well, it's an open primary but the question is the way that they went about it with the advertising and having people that had never voted before who all of a sudden showed up en mass. We're talking about 30,000 -- 40,000 voters that had never voted before in some of these areas in massive turnouts and they're saying this is probably not possible. So yes, we're talking about 5,000 or 6,000 votes.

When you have that many that came out of nowhere and the way that the ads were run only on African-American radio stations saying if you don't go vote today and you don't spend $5 on gas you're going to lose your government benefits. That's the concern.

LEWIS: I mean but Ben, you're a conservative talk radio host. You know there are advertisers that advertise with you that don't advertise on our stations -- right. And sometimes --

FERGUSON: Never vulgar -- but never saying to a community you're going to lose your government benefits.

LEWIS: I've heard any number of not just advertisement but really some of your fellow talkers who say that you're going to lose your freedom. You're going to lose your vote. It's going to be this, this and this.

FERGUSON: Tyranny --

LEWIS: If you re-elect --

FERGUSON: The difference between that and saying that if Thad Cochran -- if you don't get out of bed and spend $5 to go vote for him that you're literally not going to get a government check next month.

HARLOW: Guys, before we have to wrap up, I want both of your perspectives because they come from different sides. Talking bigger picture -- what this means for the Republican Party -- two Republicans going at it against each other.

FERGUSON: Well, I think this tells you that Thad Cochran could not have won this election without going after Democrats.

HARLOW: That's not what I asked. What does it mean bigger picture?


FERGUSON: No, but what I'm saying is -- it tells you that GOP establishment candidates are in trouble. Thad would have lost if this was a traditional race. He had to go to this low level to win it.

HARLOW: Errol?

LEWIS: It tells you that in states with open primaries like Mississippi has, you have to sort of have a general election approach. You cannot be sort of a candidate that wants to divide and separate different groups of people. In a state like this with 36 percent of Mississippi is black you either have to make some kind of an appeal to them or try to ignore them but trying to ignore them under open primary rules as McDaniel is finding out really doesn't work.

HARLOW: We have to go. Wish we had a lot more time. Appreciate it both. This is not the end of it.


HARLOW: We're going to continue following and see if it does end up in a court battle.

Thank you to you both -- happy Fourth.

LEWIS: Good to see you.

HARLOW: Still to come here in the NEWSROOM budget shortfalls have kept skies dark on the Fourth of July for years in towns across America. But thanks to very creative fund-raising and some generous of folks and the kindness of strangers the fireworks are back with a bang.

We're going to keep an eye also, of course, Hurricane Arthur darkening the skies off the Carolina coast. Right now Arthur could push ashore with storm surges of four feet.

Keep it here for the latest. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: I will admit it. I love that song as many times as it plays and we're going to hear it a lot tomorrow I'm sure. July 4th, what about July 4th with no fireworks? It has been a reality for a lot of cities and towns across the country struggling with budget shortfalls in recent years -- one such town Elyria, Ohio. Their last city funded fireworks display was, get this, in 2008.

But last night the sky was ablaze there once again. Thanks to some very creative fund-raising and the kindness of strangers. Raising money -- no small task; even for a small town fireworks is display it can cost $2,000 a minute. Really expensive.

Let's bring in Elyria, Ohio Mayor (inaudible). Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

MAYOR HOLLY BRINDA, ELYRIA OHIO: Thank you so much for having us.

HARLOW: It was beautiful. What a night. I'm very happy for you guys. Our skies by the way here in New York City were full of lightning last night. It was not so nice. But I'm glad you guys had a nice display. Talk to us about this. You set up a PayPal account, you told people on their utility bills that they could donate and they donated a lot of money.

BRINDA: They really did. Our residents came to us and said we would really like to bring back some of our community celebrations and fireworks was one of them. So we started having conversations in the community and we set up ways for people to give. So not only have we done this with the fireworks but we've done it with our holiday lights program, summer concerts, summer camps for our children. And last night was a great example of a fireworks display that really came about through the generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations, and organizations.


BRINDA: We had donations that ranged anywhere between $5 and $10,000.

HARLOW: Wow. Wow. I think you guys raised -- is it $48,000? Is that what you raised?

BRINDA: We did for the fireworks and we were able to do it through a number of different ways. Of course, we did the traditional solicitation to our corporate community and we're very thankful for our presenting sponsors Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems and United Initiators and many others, but we also set up a PayPal account on the city's Web site and we got a very good response from that. We sent out notices in our utility bills too so residents were able to participate and we even had dress down days.

HARLOW: Is this a -- is this the new normal going forward? People are going to have to fork over from their own pockets to pay for this? I mean they're willing to. Or are things looking better? Like next year the city might have the funds to be able put this on?

BRINDA: Well, you know, I think it's one of those issues where it's -- I think it's going to be a while for communities like Elyria. We're a recovering manufacturing town, we'll celebrate our 200th birthday in 2017, so we're still in recovery. And we really do need participation by our corporate community and organizations to help make this happen so I would anticipate continued participation like this, but we do see companies more willing or able to actually participate. I think they know that quality of life issues are important to retaining their employees.

HARLOW: Yes. Absolutely.

BRINDA: And so --

HARLOW: Absolutely.


HARLOW: And you know, when everyone chips in I think they enjoy it a whole lot. Before you go, proud home of softball and if you wrote -- if you ever have -- if you have rubber soles on your shoes it was created in Elyria. So, a town with quite a history and a manufacturing town, indeed.

BRINDA: That's right.

HARLOW: Thank you so much for coming on, Mayor Holly Brinda, we appreciate it.

BRINDA: Thanks so much for having me.

HARLOW: Still to come here in the newsroom, big new questions surrounding Major League Baseball's role in A-Rod's testosterone use. Our Andy Scholes is following the story. Good morning -- Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS: Good morning -- Poppy.

A-Rod using performance enhancing drugs, no surprise there, but baseball allowing him to do so? We'll discuss after the break.


COSTELLO: Alex Rodriguez's 2007 MVP season is coming under a cloud while Major League Baseball policy is coming under harsh scrutiny. A new book says the MLB gave A-Rod permission to use testosterone during that season. "Blood Sport" authors, Tim Elfrink and also Gus Garcia Roberts obtained a transcript of A-Rod's arbitration hearing last fall where the testosterone exemption was revealed.

Our Andy Scholes is here with more. This is astounding, Andy. It says that A-Rod got the green light to use testosterone and also another drug, Clomid (ph) in 2007, 2008 seasons. How can this happen?

SCHOLES: Well, Poppy, basically how it happens is any player can apply to use any of the banned substances on the list and they have to go through this process where the exemption is called a therapeutic use exemption. They have to go see an independent program administrator which is basically a doctor and they have to say I have this condition, I need this medication and if they're approved they can use the banned substance.

Now this is most commonly seen with players that have ADHD, they get approved to use Adderall. In 2007 A-Rod went to the doctor and said I have a testosterone deficiency. I need to be able to use testosterone and that doctor in 2007 approved him to use it. And then in 2008 he was approved to use Clomid, which is a female fertility drug that is often used by males when they're coming off a steroid cycle.

HARLOW: And Andy, what's A-Rod saying, if anything, and also what's MLB saying?

SCHOLES: Well, MLB is standing by their joint program protocols. A- Rod on the other hand, he said we've turned the page from the whole steroid era. He's just looking to getting on the field and playing next season with the Yankees.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, a lot of people are going to keep talking about this one. Really surprising stuff and certainly an interesting read. Indeed "Sports Illustrated" has an excerpt of it online. Andy Scholes, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HARLOW: Thank you all for joining me today. I'm Poppy Harlow in for Carol Costello. Have a great Fourth.