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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Six Killed in Military Helicopter Crash in Afghanistan; Top Tech Execs Urge Obama to Rein In NSA; Federal Judge Rules NSA Surveillance Unconstitutional; Budget Compromise Clears Senate Hurdle; Poll Shows More Now Trust Republicans on Economy; Mega Million Jackpot Hits Record Highs; CNN Investigates Carnival Cruise Lines

Aired December 17, 2013 - 11:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: See the student-versus-teacher moment that got this high school senior a year-long suspension.

And dad may not have been paying attention, but it's a good thing the airport security guard was watching. The diving catch saves the day. The best landing perhaps this airport has ever seen. We'll take you inside that video in just a moment.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Tuesday, December 17th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW. It's nice to have you with us today.

Let's begin here. This hour, the single-biggest loss of life in months for NATO troops in Afghanistan, six Americans were killed today in a helicopter crash in a southern province there.

I want to get you live right away to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who joins me with more of the details.

You've been following this. What more do we know, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the incident now under investigation. U.S. military authorities are saying the six perished, there was one survivor, when the helicopter went down in southern Afghanistan.

There are no initial indications of enemy fire in the area at the time. There are reports of engine failure.

But, look, they're going to have to investigate all of this very thoroughly to figure out what exactly did happen.

Terribly sad news, of course, for six U.S. military families going into the holiday season.

For those who thing the war is winding down in Afghanistan, always worth remembering that our troops are still out there. Forty-two- thousand-plus still serving in Afghanistan.

The number of casualties may be down this year, the number of troops down this year, but still, military families paying a very significant price for that service.

Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: And I know this is still early, Barbara, but they're saying engine failure.

But what do we know about the potential for enemy activity in this area?

STARR: There is enemy activity in the area. They do say, at this point, they had no reports of enemy fire at the time the aircraft went down.

So what does that tell us? It tells us they had no radio call from the crew saying that they were under fire, because that would have happened if the crew was under fire and they had time to make a radio call.

These are very standard procedures, very well understood, and no reports from any other aircraft flying in the area, by all accounts, that they were seeing enemy fire.

Those are all the indicators you would very routinely get if there was enemy fire in the area.

No reports of that at this time, but let's be clear, very early and they're going to investigate all of it, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right. Barbara Starr reporting for us live at the Pentagon. Thank you for that.

I want to get you back here to the United States. No one's tweeting, no one's texting but we are pretty sure that President Obama is getting an earful this hour from some of the biggest names in technology.

Top executives from Apple, from Yahoo, from Facebook, Google, Twitter, Comcast, Microsoft, and that, by the way, is just a few of the names, they're all behind a closed-door meeting at the White House, a meeting urging the president, among other things, to rein in the NSA.

Their visit comes just hours after a U.S. district judge wrote that secretly collecting virtually every American's phone record is, quote, "almost Orwellian," end quote, and certainly -- almost certainly, unconstitutional.

Here is our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: 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 system 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 American's 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 that 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 afforded all 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.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's just an absolutely scathing rejection of the NSA program that the government has defended so strongly.

And it is worth noting that the judge was a George W. Bush appointee, someone who had worked for Republicans in Congress, hardly a screaming liberal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: And Jim Sciutto joins me live now from Washington, D.C.

Jim, if I could go back to Edward Snowden, who you mentioned in your report briefly.

The concern regarding the amnesty was potentially to stop any further disclosures of sensitive information, and yet Edward Snowden is still busy today and he is active.

What's he doing?

SCIUTTO: That's right. He's written an open letter to the people of Brazil, published in a Brazilian paper, in effect offering help with Brazil as it fights back against this surveillance by the NSA, in return, though, in exchange for asylum.

Here's what he wrote in this letter. He said, "Many Brazilian senators agree and I have asked -- and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.

"I've expressed my willingness wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately, the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so."

Ashleigh, not a bad place for him to reach out. There are questions about how long he's welcome in Russia or how long he'll be happy in Russia, and Brazil is place where there's been severe opposition to NSA surveillance.

You may remember during the U.N. general assembly, the Brazilian president called President Obama out on, calling it a violation of international law. It was known then that the NSA listening in even on her phone calls, the Brazilian president's phone calls.

So, this is a fertile ground for Edward Snowden to seek support. That said, a lot of difficulties getting from Moscow to Brazil with the possibility of stopping plane travel.

I mean, we had this case before when he was trying to get from Hong Kong to some other possible refuge, so questions there about whether they will accept this offer, or whether he can even get there if they did accept it.

BANFIELD: All right, Jim Sciutto reporting for us live, thank you for that, from Washington, D.C.

And still in Washington, D.C., a budget compromise just cleared a key vote in the Senate today with 12 Republicans joining the Democrats, all to get over the procedural hurdle and move on towards a full-on vote. That certainly shows some promise for that said final vote.

Wolf Blitzer joins me live now to talk a little bit more about what's in store in the coming hours.

I have often said that a good marriage requires someone to say, "Yes, dear," even when perhaps they'd prefer not to say, "Yes, dear," and that seems to be playing out in Washington, D.C.

Some Republicans say this has just got to happen, others saying it's not that easy, that their jobs are on the line.

What's going to happen later today?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, eventually, tomorrow, I think, the final vote will take place on the floor of the Senate. It needs 51 votes, a majority now that that procedural hurdle has been cleared, the so-called filibuster.

So, now they just need 50 -- obviously, they have Joe Biden to break any tie in the U.S. Senate, so 51 votes. They'll have that. It will go to the president's desk. The president will sign it right away.

The government will remain open. There won't be a shutdown this January. There won't be a shutdown in October just before the midterm elections when the next fiscal year starts.

So, the government's going to remain open now for two years, but there's still a lot of issues out there on the table. This keeps the government going, but the feuding here in Washington, as you well know, Ashleigh, will continue.

BANFIELD: And, as we continue to wait to see if those numbers crunch the way the Democrats hope they crunch, I also want to go to some other numbers that are crunching not the way President Obama would prefer.

"The Washington Post" has a new poll out, asking the question -- Who do you trust to do a better job on the economy?

And here is a look at some of the answers. Forty-one percent say Obama. Forty-five percent say the Republicans, instead. And you can see how those numbers have shifted from one year ago.

This is not lost on the White House, although many would say they're just polls and polls can fluctuate.

BLITZER: You know, it's really -- it's surprising to a certain degree, because if you take a look at the economy today as opposed to a year ago, it's probably stronger.

You take a look at all sorts of indicators, including unemployment. It's down at its lowest level in five years since the Great Recession of 2008. The Dow Jones, the stock market, it was 7,000, the Dow Jones when the president took office. It's around 16,000 right now.

Economic growth in the third quarter was, what, 3.5 percent, something along those lines.

So, all the indicators show the economy is definitely improving today as opposed to a year ago, but the president's approval numbers as far as the economy's concerned, when compared to the Republicans, they've collapsed pretty much, and you see the contrast between last December and this December.

And I think it's probably in large part because of the disappointment over the rollout of ObamaCare, the Affordable Care Act. A lot of people have lost confidence in the president, in his handling of the economy, simply because of the disastrous rollout of the health care.

They've got to fix that. They've got to fix it quickly. The president will be able to come back if they do so. But I think that's been the major reason why people have lost confidence in the president's ability to deal with the economy.

BANFIELD: Yeah, a 13-point drop. That's a pretty significant drop.

Wolf Blitzer, thank you. And a reminder to all of our viewers and yours, Wolf, we'll see you at 1:00 Eastern this afternoon. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BANFIELD: A lot of people are talking about getting lucky because it's lotto season.

Do you know there's about a hall billion dollars up for stakes tonight in the drawing for the Mega Millions?

And how about this? Did you know there's $800 million worth of lottery prizes every year that go uncollected because people either forget or they don't check their tickets.

We're going to show you where this is most prevalent in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Checking some other top stories that we're following, a reminder today that the Syrian civil war continues to rage on, this photograph, a harrowing picture, shows the horror of that civil war in a very personal way, a Syrian man carrying the body of a child in what activists say was a government air strike in Aleppo on Sunday.

The Associated Press says it has verified this photo which was handed out by a Syrian opposition media group. Human rights groups say that the attack killed more than 70 people.

Some incredible pictures. A video of a little boy sitting on the luggage counter at an airport in Poland. You can see the dad beside the child. He sort of takes off his jacket, getting ready to go through security. His son leans closer and closer to the edge and nearly falls off, but the dive, you can see it on the left-hand side of the screen. The security guard leans in and catches him. Dives in to do that. And by the way, for his heroic efforts that security guard got a bonus. Take a look one more time. Leaning over. Until -- in comes the security guard for the catch. Love to hear that.

You want a shot at more money than you'd ever know what to do with? Make sure you get a Mega Millions ticket today, because the jackpot for tonight's drawing is at $586 million. I had to look down because I needed to double-check it each time I see those numbers. Here's the problem. The odds are super long like really long like supercalifragilistically long.

But somebody has to win it, you would think anyway. Alison Kosik joins me live now in New York. I'm assuming the lines are long but the odds are longer, and they got longer even since we last played this game, you and I, on the TV when the Mega Millions jackpot was huge. What's up?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You're looking at the line form right now, Ashleigh. This is the time where people are getting to work, making multiple trips here, buying multiple tickets. This gentleman here, this is his fourth time. He's kind of the designating office runner for the lotto ticket.

You look at this jackpot -- $586 million. Guess what? That's what the estimated jackpot was yesterday afternoon. Seeing this line you can only imagine how much that jackpot is growing. If this Lotto rolls over again, if nobody wins it tonight, it's going to roll over again and the next drawing is Friday and the jackpot could be as much as $800 million. If it rolls over again, by Christmas, Christmas eve it could be $1 billion.

You know why this keeps rolling over? Because this game actually changed the rules in October. It made it a little more difficult to win. When you go in and pick these numbers out, you used to be able to pick between fewer numbers, between 1 and 56. Now you have to choose between 1 and 75. To get the gold ball, you chosen between 1 and 46. Now you choose between 1 and 15. So, that sort of combination means there are more combinations of numbers, less chance of winning. That's why the odds are 1 in 259 million that you'll actually hit the jackpot, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Yes, but still people come streaming in there thinking they have a little hope at glory and a little, you know, easy life ahead.

KOSIK: Yes.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you this.

KOSIK: I'm all about -- I just have to say I'm all about hope and glory. I've got a dollar here.

BANFIELD: Adorable.

KOSIK: I've got my numbers picked out. I'm going to join the line. Although I have to split the ticket with a friend if I win. I'm so willing to do it.

BANFIELD: So, which one of you is actually going to check to see if the ticket wins? There's this incredible story out, Alison. I could not believe that there's $800 million in unclaimed prizes. We're talking about not even a $600 million jackpot that's got everybody going bananas, and there's $800 million out there that people have either forgotten about or, you know, lost a ticket, or maybe didn't think that they played that week. What is that about?

KOSIK: The thing is if you don't win the jackpot and you bought a bunch of tickets you want to look over your tickets carefully because what the stats show is a lot of people walk away from a lot of money and you said it, $800 million in Lotto prizes that, poof, aren't picked up every single year. You look at New York, $65 million in prize money just walked away from. Some of the prizes are big. You know, if you don't hit the jackpot, all the numbers, you can still have enough numbers where you can win up to a million dollars in some cases.

BANFIELD: $65 million in New York. I can't believe that's just sitting on the table, people. You know what? I'm in a Lotto pool every week. We're going to have to recheck those tickets. Alison, thank you and good luck to you. Although she'd better come back to work because we really like her here.

Do you remember the thousands of passengers drifting for days on the Carnival Triumph? No power, no lights, and infamously no flushing toilets which led to pictures of sewage in orange bags all around the deck. Don't book your winter cruise until you see the CNN investigation about Triumph, and what they may have known before that ship set sail. Our Drew Griffin is keeping them honest. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It's no secret we've been doing a lot of weather stories lately. It's cold and the weather is pretty lousy for a lot of you at this time of year. So this might be the season where you're dreaming of a winter getaway at sea. Or maybe not because who can forget last February when more than 3,000 passengers were stuck aboard the Carnival Triumph. S.O.S. read the bed sheet. It became what is known as the "poop cruise." No light, not much food or water, and unfortunately no flushing toilets.

Now CNN has learned in an exclusive investigation that the ship set sail with only four of six generators operational, knowing that the company had an ongoing generator fire hazard, and not just on the Triumph, but on the ships across the fleet. CNN INVESTIGATON's Drew Griffin is keeping them honest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETTINA RODRIGUEZ PASSENGER: This was supposed to be the fun ship, and we were basically having to fend for ourselves.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Bettina Rodriguez and her daughter, Isabelle, have planned this cruise for half a year. They would sail on the Carnival Triumph and celebrate Isabelle's birthday. It was the trip of a lifetime until they awoke to a fire alarm, smoke in the hallway, and then days and days of misery. Human waste was piling up just outside their door.

RODRIGUEZ: Just on our deck alone, there were the biohazard bags lined up across the floor. We're talking about raw sewage at just the end of our deck alone. It was --

GRIFFIN (on camera): Really?

RODRIGUEZ: It was repulsive.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was, according to Rodriguez, a nightmare -- now made even worse because of these. The cruise line's own reports, inspections and maintenance records detailed the problem that had been developing on board the Carnival Triumph more than a year before Rodriguez and her daughter were on board.

Houston attorney Frank Spagnoletti obtained the documents in his lawsuit against Carnival.

FRANK SPAGNOLETTI, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: That ship should have never set sail in February. It was un-seaworthy at the convention of the voyage. These documents tell you that the company -- and I'm saying to you the corporation back in Miami -- had knowledge of the fact that this vessel had a propensity for fires, that there were things that could have been, should have been, and weren't done in order to make sure that fires didn't take place.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The first trouble with triumph, diesel generator number six, the one that ended up catching fire. Starting more than a year before the infamous cruise, diesel generator number six was overdue for maintenance, out of compliance with the safety laws of the sea, known as SOLAS, according to the ship's own engineer. Over and over again, Carnival's own maintenance reports say the same thing. Diesel generator number six, overdue for maintenance. And during that same time period, Carnival learned about another, even more alarming safety problem in the engine room. Fuel lines. A dangerous pattern of leaks that emerged on other Carnival cruise ships. In fact, Carnival Costas (ph) Allegra caught fire because fuel leaked onto a hot spot and ignited.

It would be the ultimate foreshadowing. Consider this: Carnival's own investigation shows the fire on board the Costa Allegra, is believed to be caused by a fuel leak on one of the diesel generators, eerily similar to what would start the fire onboard the Triumph one year later.

Carnival says it proactively began investigating and found a big problem in a different type of fuel line. There had been nine -- that's right, nine incidents resulting in fuel leaks associated with flexible fuel lines in just two years. On January 2nd, Carnival issues a compliance order, giving ships two months to address the problem, to ensure a suitable spray shield is installed for all diesel engines, using the flexible fuel lines. Mark Jackson is Carnival's chief engineer.

MARK JACKSON, V.P. TECHNICAL OPERATIONS, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: After that internal study, the company came out with a new policy to, again, shield all of the flanges and the hoses that were below the deck plates.

GRIFFIN: But you didn't shield the one hose that wound up causing this tragedy.

JACKSON: That hose was beneath the deck plates and it was believed that the deck plates would act as that shield. In this case, it found that gap in the hose - that gap in the bilge plates and caused that fire.

GRIFFIN: On February 7th with the diesel generator still in need of overhaul and fuel line shields on some but not all of its flexible hoses, Triumph set sail from Galveston, Texas.

JACKSON: We were in total compliance with the rules and regulations. We had our regulating bodies onboard the vessel less than two weeks before, that had certified the ship safe to sail.

Obviously, you learn things on a situation - on an incident such as the Triumph.

GRIFFIN: Three days later, off the coast of Mexico, fire breaks out in diesel generator number six when fuel sprays from a flexible fuel line, a line that was less than six months old.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Houston, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Carnival says this was an accident, not negligence, but the company did dedicate $300 million in a safety upgrade fleet-wide. Carnival does point out that the passengers have no right to sue, and this is unusual, because its attorneys say when you buy your ticket, and I'm going to quote, "the ticket contract makes absolutely no guarantee for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food, and sanitary and safe living conditions."

Let that sit in for a while. Carnival is trying to get this suit tossed. Passengers are obviously going to challenge it in court and they'll have their chance to do so in February when the case is set to go to trial.

Coming up next, I want you to watch a piece of video where a high school senior goes to give a hug to a teacher. Do you see anything untoward there? What you're watching gave that young man a year-long suspension from school and maybe a whole lot more than that. Sit worth it? Is there something more up? we'll going to explain this in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)