Return to Transcripts main page


Radel Resigns; Search for Motive in Weekend Mall Shooting; Cruise Cut Short With Another Illness Outbreak; Former New Orleans Mayor Facing Federal Charges

Aired January 27, 2014 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: That's incredible.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The Florida congressman caught buying cocaine from an undercover agent, apparently giving up the fight to hold on to that coveted seat, word on the Hill is Trey Radel is about to resign.

Also this hour, crossing police lines for a look inside the Columbia, Maryland, mall, the scene of this weekend's deadly shooting, what have police learned about the young gunman's motive and what does the journal he left behind reveal?

And he stormed into office ahead of Hurricane Katrina, vowing to clean up corruption and cronyism in New Orleans, but today, ex-mayor Ray Nagin goes on trial facing 21 federal counts of the very crimes he promised to get rid of.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Monday, January 27th, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW. It is good to have you with us this Monday.

A U.S. Representative who admitted to buying cocaine from an undercover agent will resign today. Congressman Trey Radel was busted in Washington last year.

He agreed to a plea deal in November and he went to rehab, but he had planned, he said, to keep his job.

Lisa Desjardins is following the story in Washington, D.C. So, Lisa, what do we know about the change of heart?

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right, Ashleigh, just in the past few minutes, we actually got a copy of the congressman's resignation letter.

This was obtained by our senior producer, Deirdre Walsh, and let me read a part of it. He doesn't say exactly why now, but he does say, "It is my belief that professionally, I cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States representative."

The congressman says this is after his struggles, as he says, and he says those have serious consequences.

Obviously, this is all a reference to that October arrest. He was busted for trying to buy 3.5 ounces of cocaine. About $250 was the offer on that.

He blamed that on alcoholism then he went to go seek treatment. He came back after taking a self-appointed leave of absence.

But now, we know he is leaving. And, Ashleigh, this letter says he will be gone as of 6:30 tonight, this letter to the Speaker of the House.

Now, a lot of our viewers might be saying, who is this guy again, Congressman Trey Radel?

Here is a couple of things about the man himself. Before he was in congress, he was actually kind of one of us. He was on TV. He was a TV reporter and anchor. He then bought a local newspaper in the Naples area.

After that, he became a freshman congressman. He has only served since last January. He calls himself a hip-hop conservative, trying to present himself as a young, fresh conservative.

On issues, he ran on trying to fight the deficit. And, interestingly enough, he is also in favor of the Dream Act, so not the most conservative stance there, but we know he will not be a congressman any longer as of 6:30 tonight.

One last thing, Ashleigh, in this letter, he sort of leaves the door open for returning. At the very end, he says, "Whether it is as a father, husband or in any future endeavor, I hope to contribute what I can to better our country."

So, perhaps he is thinking of running again in some future year. We don't know.

BANFIELD: For the time being, though, what does this mean, Lisa, for the balance in House? Do the Dems have any shot at this seat?

DESJARDINS: Any Democrats hoping to pick up something here need to just turn around on this.

This is a very Republican seat, and you can bet there will be a fight to take over this position, lots of hungry Republicans in this district right around Naples, just south of Tampa.

Interestingly enough, Ashleigh, there is already a congressional primary in Florida set for August. Now, we have to find out if there will be a special election here, but the timing could be tricky.

The special election may not happen much before the actual election, so stay tuned from the Florida governor's office and secretary of state's office on how they decide to handle that.

BANFIELD: Can I just ask you this sort of a retrospective kind of question from somebody who has worked the Hill for a long time.

This may sound bombshell-esque. This may have reverberations across the country. People may gasp, but it seems as though this isn't so unusual.

We have had plenty of congressmen before have substance-abuse issues, have criminal cases that have been pending, et cetera, and they have weathered this storm.

I would like to get your read on whether this is sort of going to blow over with people nary remembering it.

DESJARDINS: Yeah, that's a great -- that's what a lot of people up here are talking about.

I think one of the differences here, Ashleigh, is we have seen many congressmen that have been busted for DUI, many congressmen who have admitted to that.

But I could not remember in recent times a member of Congress who was busted, caught red-handed with illegal drugs, and for some reason, that seems to be a line that is different here.

One other note about timing that's interesting, we are having this conversation, so are House Republicans that will have their retreat this week.

That's their big moment to plan out the rest of the year to try and keep the House, so maybe not a coincidence that Trey Radel is resigning now, just days before the Republicans gather to try and figure out their strategy for the rest of the year.

BANFIELD: All right, Lisa, thank you for that. Appreciate it.

DESJARDINS: You got it.

BANFIELD: Lisa Desjardins reporting live for us in D.C. today.

So, a long way away from D.C., the Olympic athletes are going to start arriving in Sochi, in Russia, today, all of this amid reports of yet another terror threat. It is kind of getting sickening hearing all of this over and over.

The new threat emerged from the embattled region of Dagestan, which is where the Olympic torch was today. The threat wasn't specific to the Olympic games, but it did promise more attacks.

Yesterday, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. says that he is certain the games will be safe. That's a pretty broad promise, especially since there are others who are certain they will attack.

So, this morning, we are getting our first look at the crime scene in a Maryland mall where, this weekend, a gunman walked into a store and just killed two people before killing himself.

As investigators search for a link, any link, if there is one, between the shooter and the victims, our Erin McPike got a chance to take an escorted tour of the crime scene.

So, walk us through it. What have you found out, Erin?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, construction and cleaning crews got access early Sunday morning, so they have been working around the clock to get the mall ready to reopen today at 1:00.

When we took a tour of this, just within the last hour, you could not see any damage inside. Everything has been cleaned up.

I will say, though, that Zoomies -- you can probably see there -- is boarded up. It has white boards all over it, and it is closed until further notice.

But I also want to stress where that is in the store, Ashleigh. It is in the center of a long hallway on the upper level.

And any mall that you're in, when you're on the second level, there are all kinds of railings that overlook the first floor, so you can imagine the amount of chaos that sound created from all of the gunshots.

It is right in the center there, and the food court spans the entire first level of that corridor, Ashleigh, so, obviously, a lot of people could hear that.

Now, we did see two memorial sites, too. There is one inside and one outside. You may be able to see those there, as well.

But, again, this mall is opening in about two hours.

BANFIELD: So, as we get a look inside of the crime scene, I find it astounding that this many days after it's happened, especially with social media, we still don't know any kind of connection, if there even is one, between the killer, Darian Aguilar and these two victims, Briana Benlolo and Tyler Johnson, or even if the two victims have a connection.

And yet we are finding that the gunman apparently had a journal. What are police saying about the journal?

MCPIKE: Ashleigh, let me back up a little bit to tell you that one of our producers spoke to a family friend of the shooter. The name is Ellis Cropper, who spoke to Aguilar's mother this morning, and what she said was that the shooter woke up around 5:00 a.m. Saturday morning. He had a 5:30 a.m. shift at Dunkin' Donuts.

She offered to take him. He said no. Well, later in the morning, she went to that Dunkin' Donuts to check on him. The store manager said he never showed up to work.

So, she went home, called the police. They, at first, didn't even want to check on that or come to her house, because he is 19-years-old, but they finally did. They asked if he had a journal. She produced it for them. And in it, apparently, there were typical teenage writings about rejection from girls, some image issues, but apparently, nothing about depression.

But at that point, she had also done the FindMyiPhone, the missing iPhone app, and found out that he was at Columbia Mall, which is why the police had asked for that journal, Ashleigh.

So, still, nothing in there about how he may have known either of the victims, but a little more insight into who he was.

Also, we know, Ashleigh, from the family friend that he was supposed to start college today.

BANFIELD: Well, let's just hope if he has a computer that there are some police forensics ongoing with his hard drive at this time, if we could just get some answers on what seems so incredibly senseless, not that it will do any good, though.

All right, Erin McPike, doing the job for us today in Maryland, thank you for that.

More than 600 passengers get sick on a cruise. I know you have heard this story before, but now, that trip has been cut short.

What legal rights do you suppose all those folks have against that ship and its company and the way they do their business?

And what about you? What kind of rights do you have if you are planning any kind of trip like this?

We are going to fill you in on all of that, next.


BANFIELD: So, a Royal Caribbean cruise, wouldn't that be fantastic in this really cold weather?

Not when you're heading home a couple of days early because hundreds of passengers are sick. Some crewmembers are sick, too, with symptoms like barfing and diarrhea.

Elizabeth Cohen reports on how an illness like this can spread so quickly on a ship.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Another cruise ship cutting short its planned Caribbean island hopping in a maritime version of the "walk of shame," this one, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, now heading back to home port after hundreds of passengers and crewmembers fell ill due to a fast-spreading virus whose origins remain a mystery.

One passenger, Arnee Dodd, said her gastrointestinal symptoms came on quickly. ARNEE DODD, EXPLORER OF THE SEAS CRUISE PASSENGER (via telephone): It was vomiting and diarrhea. It almost had no warning. And there was, like, high fever, chills, aches, dehydration.

COHEN: By the next morning, she says the infirmary was packed with sick passengers.

DODD (via telephone): As soon as I got down there, the nurse walked out and looked at everyone and said, if you're not sick, you have to leave right now, because this is spreading faster than we can contain it.

COHEN: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still investigating why so many passengers got sick, but the typical cause is norovirus.

DR. CHARLES D. HUMPHREY, VANDERBILT MEDICAL CENTER: You have all those people in a confined space over a long period of time, and this is an easily transmittable virus, person to person.

COHEN: Unfortunately, this cruise ship scenario has happened before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were here with them two years, the same thing; the ship was overrun with this sickness.

COHEN: Last year, according to the CDC, nine cruise ships reported illnesses among passengers. The year before that, 16. Royal Caribbean said in a statement that once stopped, the ship underwent an extensive and thorough sanitizing.

ARNEE DODD, EXPLORER OF THE SEASE CRUISE PASSENGER: They were sanitizing the hallways. They did ceiling to floor, nonstop for about 24 hours.

COHEN: Infected passengers and crew were advised to stay in their cabins until they were well for at least 24 hours.


BANFIELD: Elizabeth joins me live. Here is what I don't get. How is a ship any different from a big old resort hotel where hundreds of us go all the time and we don't get these massive sicknesses?

COHEN: You know, I think on a ship, Ashleigh, people are -- you are kind of stuck there. You are not going anywhere else. It is a relatively small area. Look at it. It begins and it ends. Resorts are way bigger. So germs are kind of more diffuse in a way. On a ship, you are eating there, playing there, staying there. You have basically have nowhere else to go and you are sick.

BANFIELD: And is there anything you can do? Look, a lot of people really like these cruises. Can you do anything to limit yourself?

COHEN: You can wash your hands a lot and that would certainly help. You can go on the CDC website and you can look up the ship that you are thinking about taking a cruise on and see how they scored on their health inspections. But I will say that this particular ship here, it scored really well. They did terrific. So, you can have a clean ship, but if some sick people get on it, you can have a situation like we have now.

BANFIELD: Oh, yuck. All right, thank you, Elizabeth.

It sort of begs the question, can you get your money back? Can you get a free trip out of it? Do you want the free trip? I want to bring in CNN's legal analyst Paul Callan. I always wonder, when those cruise ships say we're sorry for your loss, come on back and do it again. After you've had that experience you may not want to. What are your rights? What can you recoup, who can you sue, if anybody?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's amazing. We're seeing this happen so many times. I was thinking when you just asked the question, what can you do to prevent this? Maybe bring a lawyer on your cruise. That would probably --

BANFIELD: Are you angling for a free trip?

CALLAN: Well, I don't know. It's a thought.

They're hard cases to prove. This one might be a little bit easier, because you have a massive outbreak of what looks like food poisoning or a viral infection.

BANFIELD: Hundreds of cases.

CALLAN: Then, it's easy to assume this might have had something to do with how the ship was maintained, whether there was negligence in terms of preventing it.

However, when smaller groups, and a lot of people go on these cruises and they get food poisoning, and maybe a couple of friends do, but how do you know that that came from the ship as opposed to a port of call and the passenger brought it back onto the ship? Of course, that's always the problem with these cases, because if the passenger brings it into the ship, is the ship negligent or responsible? Diseases spread and they spread with confined quarters like a ship.

BANFIELD: It kind of makes you want to sue the guy who showed up and ruined everybody else's vacation.

CALLAN: Well yeah, you might have a case against him, but they're hard cases and that's why usually people take the free cruise that they will be offered as a substitute.

BANFIELD: Wash your hands. Can I just reiterate? I have to read it verbatim what Elizabeth Cohen said, the maritime version of the walk of shame. One of the best scriptings I have ever seen on that. Stick around. We have another big one.

The controversial New Orleans mayor, he's so popular remember, Ray Nagin? He was a hero after Katrina. Well now he's going on trial. All that national spotlight he got, now he is at the center of a legal storm facing federal charges that he took bribes while he was in office. Let me give you the whole story, what he is facing and what his chances of beating the rap is and who might testify against him. That's next.


BANFIELD: Time for law and disorder, New Orleans style. Jury selection is getting underway in the federal corruption trial of former New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin. You may remember well from the hell that was Hurricane Katrina. For a while, he was the city's hero, at least he was its loudest advocate. That's for sure. You may also remember some of his more pronouncements too.


FMR. MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: It is time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. I don't care what people are saying uptown or wherever they are, this city will be chocolate at the end of the day.


BANFIELD: It's funny to look at the people behind him. They were, we weren't expecting that one.

What you may not know is that Nagin is the first New Orleans mayor in that city's 296 year history to face federal charges. Other officials have yes but not mayors.

The feds are alleging that that man took money, took trips, took free granite for his countertop business from city contractors who he allegedly rewarded with city business. He is charged with bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy, 21 federal counts in all.

Robert MCclendon of the "New Orleans Times Picayun" joins me now to break it all down. Robert, thanks for taking the time to be with us. You've just come from the courthouse where you will have to correct me if I'm wrong here. I understand it is a closed jury selection process. This seems to be pretty gagged. What's the big secret?

ROBERT MCCLENDON, NEW ORLEANS TIMES PICAYUNE: Well, it remains to be seen if all of jury selection remains closed. They are supposed to break it for the voir dire process. For the time being, no media in the courtroom or members of the public. It is strictly jurors. That may have changed in the interim. I left about half an hour ago. It's possible that this could be opened back up to the public. We certainly hope so.

BANFIELD: I am going to give you a twofer in this next question. Did you get a look at the mayor coming into the courthouse or coming into the courtroom, and did you get any indication at all that there may be any semblance of a plea agreement in the works before they actually get down to business of starting the trial?

MCCLENDON: I did see the mayor as he was limping his way into the courtroom. It looked like he was suffering from gout maybe. As for a plea deal, I mean that would really be trying to read tea leaves when there are none. There was no indication that was going to happen as he walked in. He is facing up to 20 years in federal prison. You have to believe that he is at least considering it.

BANFIELD: From what I understand, they have a lot on him. They have a lot of cooperating witnesses who are scheduled to testify against him which may have lent credence to this whole gag issue and they have some really serious, hard evidence like electronic, e-mail, I believe maybe wiretaps. I'll double-check that. Bank statements, tax statements, et cetera. They have a lot of material against him. I think that's why I'm angling towards the notion of is it so far off he might consider a plea deal.

MCCLENDON: When you look at the evidence that's compiled against him, you have to wonder why he would risk going to trial, but you also have to wonder if the feds believe they have them dead to rights, then they have very little incentive to offer a plea deal. It kind of goes both ways.

BANFIELD: Very good point. Thank you so much for being with us. Good luck with the coverage. This should be an interesting one to follow. Robert McClendon.

MCCLENDON: Thanks a lot.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Paul Callan back with me again. You are perfect here today because you have watched the New York seen, the New Jersey scene. You have seen the organized crime trials. You mentioned before the break that often times there were gag orders in jury selection on organized crime trials, jeez. This is not an organized crime trial, to my knowledge, but it does involve cooperating witnesses. Does that make sense to you?

CALLAN: Well, I am very surprised here. This is a trial of a public official, a mayor - a former mayor. The sixth amendment of the Constitution says our trials are public. It's very, very rare that a courtroom will be closed down, closed to the public during jury selection. Sometimes one juror might be questioned out of the presence of the press. But to exclude the entire public, very, very rare. I think a mistake in the sense that the public suspects corruption in the process. You want to keep it open to the public so that the public sees an honest trial is taking place.

BANFIELD: So let me read you -- and keeping in mind I have not been able to read through the evidence. I am not sure that all of it is public. I think there will be some surprises in the courtroom. Electronic communications, financial reports, tax returns, banking records, telephone records, that's some serious stuff. I mean that's -- you don't come after a guy with a 21-count indictment if you are the feds if you don't have the goods.

CALLAN: And you know, that's only a partial list. They have made deals with some of the people who allegedly bribed him. They are going to come in and testify against him.

BANFIELD: Yeah, but that's a he said, she said. You can always say you are a rat. You got a deal on your sentence. (CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: When you have him on tape as well, and I'll tell you something else about federal indictments. Over 90 percent of federal indictments result in convictions when these cases are taken to court. He is looking at 20 years in prison, potentially, if he is convicted in this case. The feds have a lot of leverage. That's why you usually see pleas. It's very usual to see a case like this actually go to trial.

BANFIELD: P.S. remind me really quick, because we're out of time and that is, when you get a federal sentence, you do a very large portion of your federal sentence. You don't get all this time off.

CALLAN: You are not getting off early. You pretty much serve all of your time.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Paul Callan. We will continue to watch that. We are just in jury selection in that story. So, we've got a lot more to go on that.

A heartbreaking story we have been following. The family of a brain dead Texas woman wins, if you can call it a battle, to remove her from a ventilator. Questions, however, still remain in this case, like who is going to be on tap to pay all those legal bills and medical bills?