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AMERICAN MORNING

Moussaoui Jury Back to Work; Interview with Treasury Secretary Snow About Tax Deadlines

Aired April 17, 2006 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeanne Meserve at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, where the Moussaoui defense will try to pick up the pieces after their client's damaging testimony last week. That story coming up.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Caught on tape. A government agent accidentally shoots himself in front of some school kids.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh!

O'BRIEN: Ouch.

NGUYEN: That's got to hurt.

O'BRIEN: And now he is suing over the release of this tape. He will join us live.

NGUYEN: And tax time running out for all of you procrastinators out there like Miles O'Brien, sitting up here. Those returns due in the mail tonight for most of you, or you can always get that extension. You know a lot about that, don't you, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I do. I'm a big fan of the extensions, and then the extension for the extension. Speaking of that, an extension of the rainy season in California. No laughing matter there. Not only is it a problem locally, but that's where you get your produce, folks, and it's going to lead to shortages and higher prices at the supermarket. We'll explain.

Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us on this Monday. Good to you have with us.

NGUYEN: Good to be here, Miles. Not too bad up here in New York City. The weather is nice, which is a good thing.

O'BRIEN: You brought it with you.

NGUYEN: I try do my part. Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Soledad O'Brien this week.

The jury deciding life or death for Zacarias Moussauoi gets back to work in about one hour from now. They're likely to hear evidence about Moussaoui's mental competence.

CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is live at the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Jeanne, what's the strategy today?

MESERVE: Well, Betty, hanging over the defense will be Moussaoui's own testimony from last week, in which he said he had no remorse for 9/11, that he would kill Americans any time, anywhere, that he wishes America would be attacked again and again and again. One legal expert says he suspects the defense will try to use that testimony to its own advantage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIMOTHY HEAPHY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think their thought was, given that it was a bad week, let's go ahead and the worst stuff out of the way now and then get to the psychiatrists, the information about his upbringing in France and the deprivation that he suffered and neglect. All of that, truly mitigating better evidence for the defense, will help them finish stronger than they started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Moussaoui's mental health is expected to be one of the central issues in the defense. His lawyers have said that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. In addition, they'll bring on witnesses to talk about his difficult childhood in France. They're going to talk about some of the things specific to his family: an estranged father, several years in an orphanage, and two sisters who they say are mentally unstable. But will it be enough to change the jury's mind and decide that he should get life in prison rather than death? We'll find out shortly. The defense is expected to rest before the end of the week.

Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: Jeanne, what about convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, his connection, his possible connection, to all of this? Will jurors hear from him?

MESERVE: Well, he had been subpoenaed to testify after Moussaoui testified back on March 27th that he and Reid were supposed to hijack a fifth plane and fly it into the White House. However, last week Moussaoui said that Richard Reid didn't know anything about the plot, that for operational reasons, al Qaeda hadn't filled him in and on Friday the judge rescinded the order for Reid to be moved here from the maximum security prison in Colorado where he's been held. So we will not be seeing him, Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. CNN's Jeanne Meserve in Alexandria, Virginia. Jeanne, thank you for that.

And you'll want to stay tuned to CNN both day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

(NEWSBREAK)

O'BRIEN: It is tax deadline day. Unless you're in the Northeast, you've got another 24 hours. If you're hit by Katrina, you have until August, but you have many other issues, as well, there. But for most of us, it's tax day and it's time to think about our tax system and what a mess it is.

Treasury Secretary John Snow, joining us now from the White House to talk about that. Mr. Snow, good to have you with us.

JOHN SNOW, TREASURY SECRETARY: Hey, thanks, Miles.

O'BRIEN: I want to share some poll numbers with you. We asked some people about the current federal tax system. And first of all, we said, do you think it's very complex? That's kind of a no-brainer question. Eighty percent say yes, 10 percent say no. I guess the other 10 percent are undetermined.

And then here's -- this is an interesting one. Are you willing to give up some deductions to make the tax system simpler? Fifty-two percent say yes. Of course, that doesn't list the specific deduction. But there is a general feeling out there that it needs to be simpler. Would you agree?

SNOW: Oh, absolutely. The American tax code is mind-bogglingly complex. Einstein once observed on the code that it's only thing he ever encountered that was thoroughly impenetrable to the human mind. Now, if it's tough for Einstein, think about the rest of us out there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we got some problems, then. That's not good. Hey, let's look at some numbers here. I just want to share a few things, just give people some perspective. People sort of know this intuitively, but this -- look at this. The number of pages in the tax code in 1984 was 26,300. Today, it is 66,498. Just to give you some comparison, Webster's unabridged dictionary has 2,256 pages. "The Da Vinci Code," 454 pages.

And finally, here's the kicker. Americans spend $265 billion complying with the tax code. This is my theory on this, Mr. Secretary, that the people who make money off of this, the lawyers and the accountants and all this, are never going to allow this system to be simplified. What do you think?

SNOW: Well, it's a big undertaking. But I think we can do a lot better. There are four times as many people engaged in tax preparation in this country as there are firemen. There's twice as many people engaged in tax preparation as we have policemen. There's something wrong about that, and America knows it.

You know, Miles, I travel all over the country and nobody has ever come up to me and said, Mr. Secretary, keep that code just the way it is, every colon, every semi-colon, every word. Because Americans know that this code isn't what it should be, isn't worthy of them. It needs to be improved. We're committed to doing that, and I look forward to engaging in that effort.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's -- there's a bill floating around. Senator Met (ph) has this bill out, would repeal the individual income tax, corporate income tax, estate tax, gift tax, all kinds of goodies there, replacing all of that with an 8.4 percent national sales tax and 8.4 percent business transfer tax. That sounds like an one-page tax code to me. What's the matter with that?

SNOW: Well, that's one of the ideas, along with a number of others that were looked at by the president's commission on tax reform. Chaired by former Senator Connie Mack and co-chaired by former Senator John Breaux. They did a terrific job looked at the whole range of issues, recently submitted their report to us. We're looking at their report, and I'm committed to giving the president our very best -- very best thinking on that subject.

O'BRIEN: Is there a way, though, to beat back the special interests on this and really make this change? What we're talking about is 90 years of entrenched goodies, that everybody has a little piece of the pie here. Can you really go after that and come up with something that is simpler and eliminates all these problems we've just been talking about?

SNOW: I think we have to try, Miles. I think we owe it to the American people to try. You only get broad-based tax reform about once every 20 years, and you only when you get it with a president who's really committed to it. In my lifetime, it was JFK in the '60s, and then Ronald Reagan in the mid-'80s. And now 20 years later, it's George Bush. It start with a president who says we can do better, we need to do better; the American public deserves more.

This president's committed to do that. And if you get the president of the United States committed to doing it, you're in a much better position to get broad-based tax reform accomplished.

O'BRIEN: All right, sounds like a taxing effort. Treasury Secretary John Snow, thanks for being with us.

SNOW: Thank you.

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

NGUYEN: Well, coming up, a new law that some folks call state- sponsored segregation. It splits one school system intro three districts divided by race. We'll talk to the lawmaker behind the measure.

And maybe you've seen this online. Check it out. Watch very closely. A government drug agent shoots himself -- ugh -- right there in the foot. Oh! While teaching kids about safety.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm OK. I'm OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: He said the clip made him a laughingstock, and now he is suing. We'll ask him about his case. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Now a story of wounded pride. A drug enforcement agent accidentally shot himself in the foot during a demonstration. Embarrassing tape of the incident got out and is circulating on the Internet. Check it out. Oh, oh. He's OK. He's OK, is what he's saying.

Now Agent Paige is suing the agency and joining us from Orlando, Florida. Agent Lee Paige and his attorney, Ward Meythaler. Thank you for being with us today. We appreciate it.

Let me start with you, lee. You've been a special agent now, I'm seeing, since 1990. What went wrong there?

LEE PAIGE, DEA AGENT: Accidental discharge. I've done this presentation a number of times, actually over 100 times. And I basically had an accidental discharge, where I thought the weapon was clear and I was about to do a demonstration and taking it apart. And I pulled the trigger and I shot myself. I had an accident.

NGUYEN: You were seriously hurt, suspended without pay for five days. When did you realize that this video was circulating on the Internet?

PAIGE: I found out about a year ago last March that it was on the worldwide Web when I received a call from Scotland Yard in England from a good friend of mine.

NGUYEN: From Scotland Yard? OK, so are you more embarrassed about it or are you mad that the video is out?

PAIGE: Well, basically, it's being used for entertainment purposes, to poke fun at me. And I actually had an accident where I almost hit my femoral artery and I could have died. The physician indicated I would have died in 22 seconds had that happened. So, and also, my -- my safety and my ability to do my job is compromised.

O'BRIEN: How so? I mean, how has it affected your job and your life?

PAIGE: Well, I did -- a great deal of my work was undercover, as well as I spoke to kids and did motivational speeches, which has been hampered. I'm not allowed to do that anymore. Something that I could have done after employing with DEA, and I can no longer do that.

O'BRIEN: Let me bring in your attorney right now. Ward, this video was not shot by the DEA, but you say in the complaint that the DEA had exclusive possession of it and that it was leaked by one or more people. How did it get out there, and how did the DEA get it?

WARD MEYTHALER, PAIGE'S ATTORNEY: First of all, the DEA has requested that I point out that Mr. Lee is not a spokesperson today for the DEA and that his recollections and opinions are not those of the DEA. The DEA confiscated this videotape because it was part of a sensitive investigation and, as such, should have been private under the privacy act. It was also confiscated because Mr. Paige is an undercover agent. We don't know who in the DEA leaked it, but since it was under its exclusive control, we know that someone at the DEA did do it.

NGUYEN: And Lee, what do you want with this lawsuit? What are you asking for?

PAIGE: Well, basically, I'm in a position where my -- I've been compromised and I just needed damage control done. And at this point, nothing has happened. And I refer to my attorney in that regard.

MEYTAHLER: Basically, we're attempting to vindicate his rights under the privacy act, which are extremely important. We're trying to clear his name. The only relief provided under the privacy is compensatory damages, which will be determined by a court.

NGUYEN: Lee Paige and Ward Meythaler, his attorney. We appreciate your time today. Stay safe.

PAIGE: Thank you very much.

MEYTAHLER: You, too.

NGUYEN: Well, in a moment, top stories. We may see indictments as early as today in the Duke rape investigation.

A man suspected of kidnapping, raping and killing a 10-year-old girl is in court.

And the Pentagon fires back against criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Debate over a controversial new law that is dividing a school system by race.

And controversy at the White House Easter egg roll. Complaints that some parents are making the event a political forum.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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