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Kayla Mueller - Alive or Dead?; Controversy on NBC's Brian Williams; New Information on Saudi Involvement in 9/11; Brill: Obamacare Has Real Problems
Aired February 7, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish with breaking news.
New information on Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old American aid worker who has held by ISIS. After almost two years of keeping her capture a secret her family has now gone public after ISIS claimed the 26-year- old aid worker was killed by a Jordanian air strike. But U.S. intelligence officials are skeptical and it turns out they may have new evidence on where Kayla has been.
CNN correspondent Kyung Lah is in Kayla's hometown of Prescott, Arizona. Kyung, what have you learned?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, what we know is that there was a rescue attempt, a daring rescue attempt, and U.S. troops came very close to trying to free Kayla Mueller as well as other hostages. That rescue attempt happened last July inside Syria, U.S. troops attempting this daring escape - attempt to release these hostages. It failed.
The primary hostage we heard about in this failed rescue attempt was James Foley. You may remember him. He was a journalist who was later killed by ISIS. When U.S. troops were there, there was evidence inside those jail cells, some writings scribbled on the walls that is believed to belong to hostages. But key to this particular case are some hair strands that were found and U.S. official tells us that they believe those belonged to Mueller.
Why is this important? Because last July is when the rescue attempt was, Michael. What we know is she was alive as recently as July. Michael.
SMERCONISH: Statement from Kayla's parents, is it directed toward ISIS?
LAH: It is a specific address to the captors. They don't directly say ISIS, but clearly that's who they are talking to. What the public statement says is that the parents who are at this point, Michael, trying to stay private, you can see those flashing lights over my shoulder, they are trying to stay away from speaking directly to the cameras. But this statement is directly to the captors saying look, we kept our end of the deal, you told us to keep her name out of the global press. They worked with journalists including CNN to keep her name out of the public sphere. We have known that there is a hostage being held who was a woman. The parents say they kept their end of the deal. They want ISIS to reach out to them directly so they can speak privately. They add Michael, that they are hoping their daughter is still alive.
SMERCONISH: And finally, Kyung, what do we know, if anything, about a White House role facilitating negotiations or impeding negotiations. You know that has been an issue in the past with other hostages, which you, of course referenced the Foley case.
LAH: Certainly. You heard that allegation from Foley's mother. She said on our airwaves that she felt that the White House certainly kept her in the dark, that they impeded, that she wanted more direct contact, she wanted more of a rescue attempt. We're not hearing any of those specificities from this family. But it may be because this family is still hoping that their daughter is alive. We're not hearing anything directly from the White House as well but we expect that will be bubbling to the surface in the coming weeks.
SMERCONISH: Kyung Lah, thank you for a great report.
Now let's turn to analyst Phil Mudd, he spent years at the CIA working on counter terrorism and has been following all of this closely. Phil, what do you make of the breaking news that there was apparently a rescue attempt made on Kayla Mueller?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, one of the things we got to think about this Michael, is you're talking about breaking news from last summer. There has been a lot that's happened since last summer. Obviously we know what happened to journalists through the fall and we know what happened over the last week or so when ISIS killed that Jordanian pilot.
I think what's happening now six months later is ISIS is looking at all the news since that raid last summer, and starting to say a week or two ago that they made a mistake. They are now trying to figure out how to change the dynamic in the public conversation, by getting away from all of the news coverage of that Jordanian pilot and inserting this woman's name trying to claim that the Jordanians now are responsible for her death.
SMERCONISH: In other words, you think that this is a propaganda effort to deflect attention from the outcry over the video of the burning of that pilot alive?
MUDD: That's correct. There's a couple of dynamics here. We got to think about. The first obviously is the timing which I just mentioned. The second is the fact that in the Arab world when you're dealing with a female hostage that's a entirely different game. I think from ISIS' perspective, the murder of a female hostage would be even more significant, significantly damaging if you will than murder of the Jordanian pilot. So either they are trying to portray themselves as people who were the victims also of a Jordanian strike that killed a female or I think there is another outcome that I don't want to get into, that is I think there is a chance that they might have killed her earlier and that they would use this story, this propaganda story, about an air strike as cover for what they have already done. In other words, they will say she died in an air strike when in fact she died at their hands.
SMERCONISH: I know that you and I both pray that that assessment is incorrect. Phil, could someone on the ground at that Jordanian building, at that Syrian building, pardon me, where they say it was a Jordanian bomb that killed Kayla Mueller, could someone even discern what kind of a plane, whose plane it was, that dropped such weaponry?
MUDD: Boy, there are too many coincidences here, Michael. I was an analyst at the agency for 25 years. You stack up two or three coincidences simultaneously, and that starts to smell to me. Coincidence one, the timing right on the heels of the Jordanian pilot. Coincidence two, which you just mentioned, are you kidding me? Somebody is looking up and identifying American aircraft versus Jordanian aircraft and deciding who dropped the bomb? No way. Coincidence three, only one person died in this strike, all this to an intelligence officer and I don't think it takes an intelligence officer - looks to me like ISIS is trying to come up with some way to dig itself out of the hole that they dug a week ago with the murder of the pilot.
SMERCONISH: So what is going on behind the scenes now? Whose job is it on our side to try and figure out what went on here? Is it the State Department? Is it the Pentagon? Is it some combination thereof, on whom are we relying?
MUDD: There's an intelligence picture here that the CIA and others have to put together that might take months. Here's the reason why, in the intelligence world classically you look at two sources of intelligence. That is informants and wires. Human penetration into an organization like Al Qaeda and then technical information like intercepts of Al Qaeda communications.
In my experience when we're operating against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, for example, verifying someone's death whether it's a hostage's death or whether it's the death of an Al Qaeda member who might have been killed by a drone strike is very difficult. You've got to depend on the technical side, the intercept side for example, for somebody in the organization to make a mistake. Somebody to refer to this air strike as a propaganda ploy, for example, somebody within ISIS. On the human side you've got to get detainees over the course of months for example who might have been at the site or WHO might have overheard ISIS commanders talking about what happened to this woman. Neither of those stories that is technical intercepts or detainee information or human informant information can be picked up over the course of days or weeks. This could take months to determine what's happened to this woman.
SMERCONISH: And finally, Phil, you heard my exchange with Kyung Lah, where we both referenced the Foley case. Do your sources report that there has been any change in the approach, in the posture by administration in how they are handling these hostage circumstances?
MUDD: I have not heard changes in the posture. But you may recollect a few months ago President Obama ordered a look at how American deals with hostage situations. I don't think that's a situation where the White House and other agencies like the CIA, the Pentagon, State Department, would be talking about paying for hostages. I think in my world in the CIA and elsewhere in Washington that would be viewed as unacceptable. But as more and more people die, I mean I'm not a professional first, I'm a human being, Michael, as more people die you've got to say is there some way to engage in a conversation with the terrorist group that potentially brings a human soul back home, beyond simply saying we don't talk to terrorists. It's not a pretty situation but there is no pretty outcome here.
SMERCONISH: I agree. Phil Mudd, thank you.
MUDD: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: I've got to take a quick break. When I come back a closer look at this question. As ISIS spreads evidence of its brutality all over the internet is the media aiding the enemy by airing their shocking footage?
And, startling new claims that a key U.S. ally may have aided the 9/11 hijackers. I'll speak with a lawyer who has heard these charges from the man called the 20th hijacker.
SMERCONISH: A phony PR stunt, that's what Jordan is calling ISIS claims that American hostage Kayla Mueller died in air strikes. The extremist group thrives on propaganda as evidenced by released of all those videos showing execution of hostages. Most recently the brutal murder of the Jordanian air force pilot who was burned alive on camera.
The video of his murder quickly spread across the internet but CNN chose not to air it. Meanwhile, Fox News has posted the entire 22- minute video on its website, it's been viewed more than seven million times. My question, could the posting of the video actually help ISIS?
Joining me now is a foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal. Is Fox helping or hurting ISIS by showing that video on its website?
RULA JEBREAL, FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: Actually ISIS is contributing to the budget market of ISIS, it's a reckless -
SMERCONISH: Fox is.
JEBREAL: Fox News. It's reckless choice because they are putting politics above national security. For them they don't understand that by doing that, this, they are playing with a policy of fear. By doing this ISIS actually having a large market. ISIS is doing this designed strategically to have and recruit more jihadists, to actually to appeal to more jihadists around the world. If you see how many foreign fighters, you have 1,000 foreign fighters on monthly basis going to Raqqa, going to Mosul to fight with ISIS. So Fox News by doing that are helping actually ISIS.
SMERCONISH: But isn't the contrary argument that Fox is showing the horror, that people need to see, need to appreciate, it almost reminds me of the conversation we had about "Charlie Hebdo." That there is something to be said for transparency so the world is fully attuned to just how awful these people are.
JEBREAL: Well, I think the world already knows how awful they are. They don't need to see graphically the burning of a man that is alive, 27 years old, the pilot that burned alive. Why you need to see that? One thing is to show cartoons of "Charlie Hebdo" where you see the prophet or you see them mocking a religion from one end to another. Another thing is to see brutality and understand what ISIS' strategy is.
ISIS' strategy is actually they are appealing, they are trying to market to these jihadists around the world so they can have them and recruit them and they can show them how exciting and what they are doing and the extreme brutality. So if you understand that this is their strategy why you are actually helping them and give them a platform.
SMERCONISH: Rula, maybe I'm naive. I would like to think that people - by the way I watched. I wish I could unwatched. I wish I had not watched for 22 minutes but I actually did watch thinking I needed to understand to be able to conduct a program like this. I would hate to think that there are people on the globe who would watch the culmination of that video and say that's something I want to be associated with.
JEBREAL: Of course there's people around world doing these things and actually getting excited by these things. If you think of all these jihadists that are travelling from Europe, from Chechnya, from the Middle East, towards, to help ISIS in their cause. What are they excited by? What are they intrigued by? This is Al Qaeda, ISIS is Al Qaeda on steroids. This is what excite them.
SMERCONISH: If the ISIS claim that a Jordanian air strike has just killed the U.S. hostage, Kayla Mueller, if that's all propaganda, isn't that evidence of what I'm saying that even ISIS now realizes that they overplayed their demented hand by videotaping the way in which they killed that Jordanian pilot and even ISIS doesn't want people now to see it because they are losing ground?
JEBREAL: This is one way of seeing it. This is what I look at. I look at the datas, how many foreign fighters are going on monthly basis to help ISIS. How many people watched that video?
SMERCONISH: Seven million plus on Fox alone.
JEBREAL: If the you - on Fox alone. There's at least as much worldwide watching that video, if one percent of these people are sympathetic towards ISIS or somebody that is sitting in Europe and feel marginalized or feel excluded from society, and he has a borderline identity crisis, and this is appealing to him, then what did we do? We actually help pushing ISIS agenda. We need to stop this propaganda. Imagine if Nazis are putting propaganda over - this is how they started the whole hate crime against Jews in Europe.
SMERCONISH: You're saying 99.99 percent reject it, that fraction that remains is enough to keep ISIS moving? I get the argument. It will recruit that individual. I want to switch gears slightly. You have said previously that what's really needed here is recognition within the Muslim world that this is not a United States battle against ISIS, do we finally have a champion in the king of Jordan? Is he now the individual from within the Muslim community prepared to be the face of the opposition to ISIS?
JEBREAL: I think that champion is that civil society that throws up and said enough. This is not done in our name, not in the name of our religion. This is not who we are. We will fight till the end. I think now they are owning this battle. They are owning this the war and it's exciting to see millions of people in the streets of Jordan saying look, not only you are killing our religion and the credibility of our faith, but you are killing our own people over and over.
And I think the burning of that human being alive, just - I think triggered in the Jordanians one idea, that ISIS not fighting, you know, their claim that they are fighting foreign fighters or fighting the Saudis or they're fighting eventually the Americans, but they are fighting every Muslim that doesn't agree with their ideology.
SMERCONISH: Was the video itself a tipping point? Has the tide finally turned now that people who needed to awaken will because they have seen that barbarity?
JEBREAL: I think the people in the Middle East have been awakened for a while. They have been fighting this phenomena. But now they are galvanized and they needed to be galvanized. But let's be clear about it, Michael. We can win this militarily but if we don't defeat the ideology of ISIS, it will keep coming back. Killing Bin Laden had nothing to do with the trajectory actually of the war on terror because we didn't kill the ideology. We need a game changer in the Middle East.
SMERCONISH: I understand what you're saying. I agree with it. Rula Jebreal, thank you as always.
After a quick break, I have terrific stories including a mystery about 9/11 from behind the bars in the most secure prison in the United States. The man known as the 20th hijacker Zacharias Musawi (ph) is talking and making a shocking allegation about a U.S. ally. I'll have an exclusive with the attorney who took his testimony.
And anchor Brian Williams, the face of NBC News remains embroiled in controversy, did he lie? And will he keep his job?
Then, Bruce Jenner, won gold at the '76 Summer Games, now it appears that the former athlete and TV personality is becoming a woman. I'll talk to someone who has gone through the transsexual transformation in just a moment. Don't go away.
SMERCONISH: The controversy swirling around NBC anchor Brian Williams continues to grow. He's now the subject of an internal network investigation into exactly what happened in Iraq on that day in 2003 when he says his chopper came under small arms fire and was struck by a rocket propelled grenade.
Williams apologized, admitting he got the facts wrong. Now there are even more conflicting accounts from the pilots involved. Did he lie or did his memory simply fail him? Should he keep his job?
Joining me now is Frank Sesno, CNN's former Washington bureau chief, now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. Frank, is an internal network investigation the appropriate response from NBC?
FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I actually don't think so. I don't think what NBC is ever going to do is resolve this situation and mollify it's most outspoken critics with an internal investigation. There are already questions well, these people are on NBC's payroll. Brian Williams is the big star, how can they be impartial?
Most of these serious investigations when they are done like this involved people from the outside looking in, with full access to Rome. So the question is what is NBC really trying to investigate, how deep are they going to dig and will they satisfy their harshest critics?
SMERCONISH: Can he be punished where the pilots themselves can't agree on what happened. Two or three nights ago, I went to bed after watching a Jake Tapper report where one of the pilots said "I flew him and we did draw fire, admittedly not RPG fire. And I thought well, that may get Brian Williams ahead of the curve."
The following morning in the "New York Post" there was another individual who said "I was the pilot, and this story bears no resemblance to the truth." So if the fog of war is such that the pilots don't know what occurred how can we hold Brian Williams accountable?
SESNO: That's a very good point. I think Brian Stealther talked to somebody who said he was a pilot. And then Brian has a very interesting piece at CNN walking through being very transparent about what he was told. Fascinating piece, I was reading the science behind Brian Williams' mortifying memory flub with a Northwestern University professor who did research into that part of our brain that remembers these things. He makes a very compelling case for how these things can get mixed up.
So I think it's very important in this sort of cable driven world that we're all in where everybody wants to jump to instant conclusions and run to the twitter verse and say what they want to say and there are some really nasty stuff out there about Brian Williams right now. To acknowledge that memory does fog, that these things can happen and it may be that this is in fact the explanation. The problem, though, Michael, is the job that Brian is in, like the job that I had, the job that you have, is in dealing with facts, and being really careful. And in not getting it wrong and then not dissembling to try to explain what went wrong. That's where your credibility comes into question. That it is the damage both he and NBC News have to confront right now.
SMERCONISH: Do you think that I'm right in saying that in the end this is not a ratings calculus? Because it occurs to me, Frank, I bet the numbers are high for the last couple of days and will be next week because they are rubberneckers. People want to tune in and see how is he going to handle this, how is he going to perform under adversity? Or does it come down to ratings in the end?
SESNO: I'd love to say "Oh, Michael, you're wonderful and you're so right and ratings don't matter and the bottom line never matters but some people say wait a minute, Brian Williams is too big to fail. That's not true. People could have said Dan Rather was too big to fail.
SESNO: TWA was too big to fail. I don't think we know what's going to happen with this. Ratings do matter. Brian Williams is in a commanding position in the rating now, they recovered lost ground, he talks to nine million people a night or so. That is a very important thing for NBC News.
But you lose control sometimes in these situations, you don't know where the facts are going to lead you. You know, you and I just talked about the internal investigation that NB's got. Guess what, we're wrong, it's an external investigation, it's an everybody investigation, it's already happening.
SMERCONISH: Right. In other words -
SESNO: Brian Williams head is being scrutinized by somebody.
SMERCONISH: In other words, the flood gates are now open and of course they are now reports questioning whether he got it straight in Katrina relative to what he saw in the French quarter. Let me ask Frank Sesno, this question. So what then is the appropriate response from a competitor? I'm from a political world more than anything else. I'm very well familiar with opposition research. Is it appropriate for ABC? Is it appropriate for CBS right now to doggedly pursue all Brian Williams' reporting or see if they undermine him or does that cross an ethical line?
SESNO: Well, I think it crosses an ethical line if their purpose is to undermine Brian Williams and kind of outflank the competition. That's going to be unseemly and will backfire. If however they want to pursue the story as an investigative story as stars and stripes started it following up on some bloggers who are out there, the news media should be reported just as harshly and with as much discipline as any other institution. Maybe more so because we're the ones, you're the ones, in the media who are purveyors of information so you better be credible and you better stand as accountable as any other institution your reporting on and holding accountable.
So at that level, yes. This is fair game. If Brian Williams was making it up or lying, that is a story and that is the part of the accountability, the transparency of an open society.
SMERCONISH: You know, my reaction to this has been the same as something I said about Tillman and something I said recently about Chris Kyle, "American Sniper." Why weren't the facts of the real underlying story good enough? I mean the guy put himself in harm's way. He was in a Chinook helicopter, he was in Iraq. You would think that would be a sufficient story to repeat.
Frank Sesno, thank you. Appreciate you being here.
SESNO: My pleasure.
SMERCONISH: After a quick break, a look inside what it's like to undergo the change from man to woman. Zoe Tur, the first transgender television news reporter joins me.
And 13 years after 9/11 a would-be hijacker ups the ante on the White House to release confidential documents that suggest a Saudi role in September 11. My exclusive interview with the lawyer who took his testimony is coming up.
SMERCONISH: Bruce Jenner is an American icon who's led a very public life. Jenner graced the front of the Wheaties box after taking gold in the '76 Olympics and is the cover story of "People" magazine. He's also a reality TV star on the wildly popular show, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."
It's being reported that Jenner in the process of gender transitioning. That he's becoming a woman.
My next guest also leads a public life as a special correspondent for "Inside Edition", and she might soon have something else in common with Jenner. You might not know the name Zoe Tur, but you certainly know her work.
A little more than 20 years ago in 1994, 90 million people tuned into a live broadcast of a police chasing a white Ford Bronco on a California highway carrying one O.J. Simpson. The chase was caught on camera by a news chopper flown by Bob Tur, known locally as "Chopper Bob". Bob Tur is now Zoey Tur, special correspondent for "Inside Edition," the first transgender TV news reporter.
Zoey, thanks for being here.
What's the hardest part of going through the transition? Is it physical or is it emotional?
ZOEY TUR, FIRST TRANSGENDER TV NEWS REPORTER: It's loss of male privilege. So, it's environmental, followed by the brain changes, the emotional changes, and the things that you lose when you do transition, including family, friends, jobs, money.
SMERCONISH: And I know that the family aspect of this was a particular struggle for you as you recently detailed to "Los Angeles Magazine".
TUR: Yes. It was extraordinary. I have two children. I have a daughter and a son at NBC News. I have a son that's in medical school.
And it was a shock to them. It took them a while to come around. It's taken my daughter almost two years and she's finally, you know, dealing with this and we're back on good terms. My son a little sooner.
But it's a big shock to your friends, your family, and to the people that knew you publicly. I transitioned publicly. I was famous before I transitioned. A lot of people followed me. And it was surprising to a lot of people.
SMERCONISH: Is there a tendency for transgenders to do hyper- masculine things? I'm thinking of you flying helicopters. I'm thinking of Bruce Jenner and his exploits in the Olympics. I'm also thinking of the SEAL, Kristin Beck. Or is it that the media tends to focus on those cases?
TUR: No. I think we tend to be left-handed. We tend to be well- educated. Our IQ points about 20 IQ points higher than the national average, and we tend to do things that are considered hyper-masculine.
There are a number of us that are helicopter pilots, airline pilots. I know six other helicopter pilots that are transgender. I know a bunch of airline pilots. I know people in the NSA, spies, military people.
So, we're everywhere. It's not what you really think like we're hairdressers or anything, although we aspire to hairdressing. But the reality is that we do these masculine jobs or what are considered masculine jobs.
SMERCONISH: So, do you look at this as a good thing that potentially this is what's occurring with Bruce Jenner? In other words, from your perspective and that of others who have been through the process who have transitioned, do you say -- well, finally there will be more public acceptance because he's such a beloved figure?
TUR: Well, her coming out is a very good thing. Bruce Jenner is an amazing athlete, but the way she's doing it has been terrible for the community.
SMERCONISH: How so?
TUR: It's horrible, because it looks like it's part of the Kardashian train wreck. And, you know, it's painted with a Kardashian brush. So, people are very suspicious, is this real? Also, you know, the tension is building up, is Bruce really doing it,
not doing it? And maybe from a reality show, selling a reality show product, it's a good thing, but it's terrible for our community because it makes us look stupid.
And Bruce Jenner, by losing the narrative and not controlling her narrative and coming out and speaking about it, allows us to speculate, allows the tabloid press to speculate and Jenner has become a national joke.
SMERCONISH: Hey, Zoey, you referenced other helicopter pilots that you're familiar with who have similarly transitioned. I thought this was really wild. Everybody knows where they were while we were watching your film footage of the white Ford Bronco chase. What I didn't realize until recently is that you had competition, there was another helicopter in the sky. You were racing one another to get there. Arguably, the other helicopter beat you there.
What is it that America needs to know about the other pilot?
TUR: That was Dirk Vahle, and we get into this fight all the time. It was kind of a good-natured fight, but we didn't like each other. We are fierce competitors. And then I discovered the day the story broke that I was transitioning and it was covered widely by the press, somebody, a friend of mine, Desiree Horton called up, and said you need to call up Dirk Vahle. And I said why?
Dirk Vahle is, you know -- I hate him. And she said no, no, Dirk is now Dana.
TUR: She transitioned 24 months ago. And I went, you've got to be kidding! First again!
SMERCONISH: Zoey, thank you. Appreciate your perspective.
TUR: Of course. Thank you so much.
SMERCONISH: Coming up, the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, he claims the Saudi royal family supported al Qaeda before the 9/11 terror attacks. Is he telling the truth? My exclusive with the lawyer who took his testimony is next.
SMERCONISH: From the federal super max prison in Colorado, terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui has just upped the ante on the White House to release 28 top-secret pages pertaining to a possible Saudi role in the events of 9/11. The classified pages come from a joint inquiry by Congress into the planning of 9/11.
Former Senate Intel Chair Bob Graham was one of those who read the pages, the secret pages, and he told me this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BOB GRAHAM, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: They primarily deal with who financed 9/11 and they point a strong finger at Saudi Arabia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The Saudis deny this. The Obama administration has thus far refused to release that information despite the pleas of 9/11 victim family members. Last week we learned that in connection with a lawsuit in which insurance companies are seeking to hold Saudi Arabia financially responsible for 9/11, Moussaoui gave sworn testimony in which he said it was his job to prepare an electronic database tracking donations from members of the Saudi royal family to bin Laden. The lawyer to whom Moussaoui gave that testimony is Sean Carter and he's joining me now.
Sean, the Saudis as you know, they say he's stone-cold crazy and not even the 9/11 Commission brought into this.
SEAN CARTER, ATTORNEY, QUESTIONED MOUSSAOUI IN FEDERAL PRISON: Yes, well, there are two problems with the Saudis' arguments on that point. The first is that the 9/11 Commission did not exonerate Saudi Arabia. Our filing this week included not only Moussaoui's testimony but affidavits from two members of the 9/11 Commission emphatically denying that the commission had exonerated the Saudis and urging that there was further evidence that really did need to be explored.
With regard to the Saudis' comment that Moussaoui is a deranged criminal, the fact of the matter is that's what makes him a knowledgeable witness. And by way of analogy, when the Department of Justice prosecutes a mob boss, they don't call the parish priest as their star witness. They call someone else from within the mob, a deranged criminal as it were, and they ask the jury to believe that person precisely because only someone within a covert criminal enterprise with can truly provide inside information about what it does.
Now, in Moussaoui's case, the fact of the matter is that our claim against Saudi Arabia doesn't rise and fall on Moussaoui's testimony. It's part of a much bigger mosaic of evidence that documents strong ties between Saudi government actors and hijackers here in the United States, and the filing this week included 4,000 pages of evidence in support of our claims. It wasn't just Moussaoui's testimony.
SMERCONISH: You went behind bars of the most secure federal prison in the United States. I want to put up on the screen an oath that Moussaoui offered as you were about to take his testimony. He says that, you know, may Allah curse the liar. There it is. "I swear by Allah that everything I say until the end of this testimony will be true. May Allah curse the liar."
Did you, Sean, find him to be credible?
CARTER: I did as well as the other lawyers and investigators who were out with us. We actually brought some subject matter experts, counterterrorism experts with us so that we would be able to sort of gut check what he was saying throughout the testimony. And he provided incredibly detailed testimony about al Qaeda's operations during that period, the organizational structure and who was responsible for certain activities, the nature of al Qaeda's facilities within Kandahar at that time, and everything he said when he was providing this very detailed, directly responsive testimony checked out for us.
So, we do think what he said was credible. I also saw this week in the last day or so that Congressmen Stephen Lynch and Walter Jones, both of whom are pressing for a resolution to release the 28 pages, have commented that they saw things in Moussaoui's testimony that reflected and were mirrored by what they read in the 28 pages.
SMERCONISH: Why won't the White House release pages? The president has, at least on two occasions, told 9/11 victim family members that he was supportive of the release. Why won't the White House release that information?
CARTER: Well, we've never received an explanation of that, and, you know, the affidavits that we submitted this week, including from former secretary of the navy, John Lehman, who served on the 9/11 Commission, said there's nothing in those pages that would in any way implicate or compromise national security.
And so, you know, there doesn't seem to be a real justification for withholding them on national security grounds. At the end of the day, what we think this all reflects, the interest in Moussaoui's testimony, the interest in seeing the 28 pages released is this overwhelming sense among the American people that we still haven't got an full and transparent accounting of Saudi Arabia's role in the emergence of al Qaeda and the events of September 11th.
And that's what we really need. We don't simply need the 28 pages. We need all of the evidence available to assess whether or not the Saudis had something to do with that.
SMERCONISH: Sean, what is it that you think went on here? Is it that the Saudis -- why in the world would the Saudis want there to be a strike against the United States? Do you believe that at its core what took place here is that the Saudis were buying themselves peace by paying off the Wahhabi clerics and frankly turning a blind eye to what might take place outside of Saudi Arabia? Or do you actually believe that the Saudi royal family wanted there to be a strike against the United States?
CARTER: Well, I think there are many reasons to conclude that members of the royal family would have derived political, strategic, and even personal benefits from contributing to bin Laden during that period of time. One of which is the reason you note, that it would have bought certain protection from al Qaeda attacking within the kingdom. It also would have appeased demands of the Wahhabi clergy who exercise tremendous influence and were increasingly flexing their muscles within the kingdom during that period and making demands of the Saudi royal family to get in line with their sort of Islamist agenda.
The Saudi royal family has also demonstrated its willingness to use Islamist jihadist fighters as proxies in conflict zone where they want to exercise some influence. We saw that most recently in Syria. And so, it's reasonable to expect that al Qaeda would have been viewed as a reasonable proxy during this period in the late '90s for conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere. So, there are all of these reasons.
Within the Saudi royal family there are certainly thousands of princes and some are more closely aligned with the Wahhabi clerics and others. As to the individual motivations of particular princes, I can't really say.
SMERCONISH: OK. And I don't know what the real facts are. I want to read the 28 pages. I think we as Americans are owed the release of those 28 pages. I also want to read the testimony of President Bush, of President Clinton, and of Vice President Cheney. I think we as Americans have a right to all of the facts.
Thank you, Sean Carter.
When we come back, some surprises from an investigation into Obamacare.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to the program.
A lot of campaign promises were fulfilled this week when the newly elected House Republicans got their first chance to vote to repeal Obamacare. This was now the 67th time the house voted to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act. Of course, President Obama is still pledging to veto any attempt to roll back his signature legislation. More than 7 million Americans are currently enrolled in private insurance through Obamacare while tens of millions of Americans still don't have health insurance.
One prominent journalist who has done a yearlong investigation of Obamacare says the law focuses too much on who pays, not enough on how much they pay.
Joining me now is Steven Brill. His new book, "America's Bitter Pill: Money Politics, Backroom Deals and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System," I should point out already a "New York Times" bestseller.
STEVEN BRILL, AUTHOR, "AMERICA'S BITTER PILL": Thank you.
SMERCONISH: You wrote the longest ever cover story for "Time" magazine about health care and then you had an aortic aneurysm, so I guess you could say you had a front-row view. What did you learn from your own experience that you didn't already know?
BRILL: Well, I knew intellectually that health care was a difficult political issue because people really care about their health more than they care about health care policy. I learned that in spades emotionally when I had my own situation and wheat I learned really in spades is there's no such thing as a health care marketplace as we know the marketplace, which is you go into a store, you're a consumer, you have information about what you want to buy, you can comparison shop, decide you don't want to buy it, you can ask questions, look at consumer reports and see what the quality ratings are. None of that happens in the health care marketplace.
SMERCONISH: You pointed out after your discharge, you opened 36 different envelopes which all contained your billing. What I thought when I read that part of the book is, we don't care what it costs. All we want to know is, are we covered? In fact, in the part of the book --
BRILL: Exactly right.
SMERCONISH: You said, there's no such thing as a runaway cost when it's a loved one getting treatment.
BRILL: Exactly right. And when I opened those envelopes, 36 of them, which tells you something about the efficiency of the system, the third one said "amount billed zero, amount you know, $154."
As it happened, I had an interview scheduled a few weeks later on this part of the book with the CEO of United Healthcare, my insurance company. Then at the end I reached into my pocket and took out that explanation of benefits and said I'm wondering if you can help me with this. I'm having trouble understanding it. Amount billed zero, amount I owe $154. What does that mean?
They looked down at it, he looked at it for a while, his PR guy was getting nervous and he looked up and said I could sit here all day and I couldn't decode that for you. I have no idea what it means and I don't know why they sent it to you. I said, well, aren't you "they"?
SMERCONISH: I think for those hoping that the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is going to solve this, my takeaway from America's bitter pill is that the Affordable Care Act is all about who pays but not how much they pay.
SMERCONISH: And that has yet to be reined in.
BRILL: Exactly right. But that's -- you know, it's a good thing. The good news is many more people -- millions of people now have access to health care in this country and it was a national disgrace that they didn't. That's the good news. The bad news is they're going to -- we're going to be paying for it as taxpayers because we're subsidizing their insurance and the prices haven't changed, the irrationality of the system hasn't changed, nothing has been done. It just means that the bill for taxpayers is going to be added on to everything we've been paying for.
SMERCONISH: Final point. You don't just condemn or criticize that which we have. You offer solutions. At the end of the book, Steven Brill lays out, based on your knowledge studying this issue. Give me one example. BRILL: We have to stop being the only country in the world that does
nothing to control the price of prescription drugs. That's one obvious example. We have to rein in the profits of so-called "nonprofit hospitals", which all across the country are typically the most profitable biggest businesses in any community with the most highly compensated executives in that community.
SMERCONISH: And they all seem to be expanding.
BRILL: They're all expanding. And they're all nonprofits, which means they don't pay taxes.
SMERCONISH: Right. Steven Brill, congratulations on a bestseller.
BRILL: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: "America's Bitter Pill" is a great book.
BRILL: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: We'll be right back.
SMERCONISH: Thanks for joining me. You can follow me on Twitter if you can spell "Smerconish." See you next week.