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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New Possible Evidence in Michael Brown Shooting; Burger King Accused of Tax Dodging; Will Congress Close Tax Loophole?; Interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders

Aired August 26, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper on our national lead today, a day after Michael Brown was laid to rest, the controversy over his shooting death has been anything but laid to rest. Yes, the streets of Brown's hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, they're calmer perhaps than we've seen them in the two weeks plus since a white police officer gunned down an unarmed African-American 18-year-old, but the shooting laid bare the tensions between the predominantly black community and the predominantly white police force.

And so many questions remain about what exactly happened between the moment Officer Darren Wilson crossed paths with Brown and the moment he shot Brown dead. No videotape of that incident from August 9th has been uncovered, but a new piece of potential evidence may give us a fuller understanding of what exactly may have gone down.

(BEGIN VIDETAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Law enforcement officials are trying to piece together Michael Brown's final moments. Using eyewitness accounts, cell phone recordings and forensic evidence. Today a new piece added to the puzzle. The FBI is analyzing newly released audio -- an excerpt from a neighbor's video chat that may have captured the sounds of the gunshots that ended Brown's life in Ferguson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pretty, you are so fine, just going over some of your videos. How could I forget?

TAPPER: CNN has learned that the FBI has obtained this audio and has questioned the man who says he was talking to a friend online when shots rang out in his neighborhood on that fateful day. The man wishes to remain anonymous.

LOPA BLUMENTHAL, ATTORNEY, CLIENT RECORDED AUDIO: At the time, he didn't even realize the import of what he was hearing. Until afterwards. And it just happened to have captured 12 seconds of what transpired outside of his building.

TAPPER: The FBI is now attempting to validate the authenticity of the tape. The private autopsy that the Brown family arranged shows the teenager was shot six times. The audio, however, seems to tell a different story. According to audio experts. PAUL GINSBERG, AUDIO EXPERT: I hear six shots being fired in rapid

succession followed by a pause of about three seconds and then there are I believe four more shots.

TAPPER: Beyond the number of shots fired, it is also the seconds of pause between the groups of shots that also raises questions.

GINSBERG: This will test the credibility of the officer and whatever else is included in the official report as to how many shots were fired, what type of weapon was used, was it reloaded, and was it from the same gun.

TAPPER: Using this and other evidence including eyewitness testimony law enforcement is trying to piece together what exactly happened here on August 9th.

TIFFANY, MITCHELL, EYEWITNESS TO MICHAEL BROWN SHOOTING: I didn't count the shots but it was more than about five or six shots.

PIAGET CRENSHAW, EYEWITNESS TO MICHAEL BROWN SHOOTING: At the end, he just turned around after I'm guessing he felt the bullet graze his arm. He turned around and then was shot multiple times.

MICHAEL BREAD, EYEWITNESS TO MICHAEL BROWN SHOOTING: He shoots a couple of times. And by the time I get outside, he's shooting again.

TAPPER: The world is still waiting to hear Officer Darren Wilson's version of events. A friend of Officer Wilson told CNN that Brown mocked the officer and charged him. Multiple shots may not have been out of line with the officer's training if he felt his life was in danger. Police aren't taught to shoot at any threat until it stops.

BILL JOHNSON, NATL. ASSOCIATION OF POLICE ORGANIZATIONS: If the rounds - rounds to the body are not effective, the officer in certain departments are trained to work their way up the body until they hit the head. And unfortunately, it's an awful situation.

TAPPER: We know how the confrontation came to its deadly end, but now as new factors, new evidence emerges, we must wait to hear how the grand jury reviewing all the evidence believes it started.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (on camera): Still ahead, the Burger King adding doughnuts and coffee to its fast food portfolio. But could the whopping price tag on Canadian chain Tim Hortons mean the fast food giant can now have its way with American taxpayers? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The politics lead now. Burger King's decision to merge with donut chain Tim Hortons and to move its base to Canada has everyone from customers to congressmen more fired up than a flame broiled patty. That's because the deal would let the fast food giant pay taxes at a lower rate, Canada's rate. But BK insists that is not feeding the move. On its Facebook page, the chain posted, "The decision to create a new global QSR leader with Tim Hortons is not tax driven. It's about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes. So, yeah, it's only a convenient coincidence that by making the deal Burger King can avoid paying double taxes on profits earned overseas. But some fans who accuse the chain of tax dodging are now calling for a boycott. The petition launched on the website from the liberal group moveon.org has already garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

So, as our neighbors to the north would say, what's this deal really all aboot? Sorry about that joke.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns joins me now with more. Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Jake, this merger creates the third largest fast food company in the world. Sure they say it's all about expanding markets, more value to the shareholders, but not everything these companies say on this could be taken at face value. Our friends at CNN Money point out that all companies no matter where they're based are required to pay taxes on profit generated inside the U.S., but with this deal, it's clear Burger King will be able to offset some of its tax bill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNSON (voice-over): It gives new meaning to the classic advertising jingle that helped sell the home of the whopper to American consumers.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE (singing): We at Burger King

JOHNSON: The merger of U.S. brands Burger King with Canadian pastry and coffee giant Tim Hortons makes business sense, but what got people steamed is that another U.S. company is cutting its taxes just by switching its tax headquarters to north of the border. It's called inversion, totally legal.

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: Essentially what's happening here is a company is purchasing another company overseas and then just effectively moving their headquarters whether real or imagined to that other country which then means their foreign earnings are taxed at a much lower rate, the rate of that country.

JOHNSON: Outrage inevitable. Democratic Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown called for a boycott of BK. Michigan's Democratic Senator Carl Levin compared it to BK renouncing its Americans citizenship. Even the White House got in the act, sort of, not calling out BK by name, but calling on Congress to change the tax code.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It certainly isn't fair and an not fair to the millions of middle class families in this country that don't have that option.

JOHNS: In a conference call, Burger King said this is not a tax driven deal though most observers see a big tax benefit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This company could save $5 billion, 10 billion a year.

JOHNS: Not everyone we spoke with on the street said they agree with this deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big issue in this country when American companies are moving overseas to pay less taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that if you are American, you should be headquartered here.

JOHNS: Adding fuel to the fire, news first reported by Bloomberg that two of the most powerful members of Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Kemp, benefited from trades involving another inversion deal.

The merger of Minneapolis-based medical equipment maker Medtronic with Ireland-based Covidian. Spokesmen for both congressmen say they didn't make the trades themselves, a job politicians typically assigned to financial planners.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (on camera): Fifty companies so far have taken advantage of inversion and they are likely to be more. The administration has called for anti-inversion legislation with a retroactive effective date though it's likely to have a problem of getting something like that passed through the House without comprehensive tax reform to go along with it.

TAPPER: Joe Johns, thank you so much.

So what, if anything, will Congress do to stop corporations from exploiting this legal loophole to lower their tax bills? Joining me now to discuss it is Vermont's independent, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders, thanks for joining us. You've been an outspoken critic of these kind of uses, exploitation, whatever you want to call it of the tax code for years. So have many other Democrats in Congress. But I guess the big question is, why has nothing been done to stop this from happening?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, I will give cut short and simple answer is that we have a major political party called the Republican Party, who the apparently see their goal in life is to represent the wealthy and the powerful and make sure that the rich and large corporations pay as little in taxes as possible.

That's the struggle we're having. But to my mind, not only is this tax inversion an outrage, we are losing now about $100 billion in federal revenue every year. Many of these large corporations are putting their money into the Kaman Islands and Bermuda and other tax havens. One out of four large profitable corporations today, Jake, pays zero in federal income tax. We need real tax reform that asks the wealthy and large profitable corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes.

TAPPER: Are there the votes in the Democratic Party in the Senate to the do major tax reform that would do away with this loophole?

SANDERS: There are over 50 votes, but I don't believe we'll have 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.

TAPPER: So business advocates argue that one of the reasons this happens is that the corporate tax rate in the U.S. is one of the highest in the world and that is what is driving companies to go to other countries. What do you make of that?

SANDERS: What they often talk about is the nominal rate, the rate that is on paper which is 35 percent. According to the last GAO report, done in 2010, it should be updated, the effective corporate tax rate is 12.6 percent, not 35 percent.

They're virtually corporations that pay the top rate. As I mentioned a moment ago, one out of four major profitable corporations pays nothing in federal taxes and in a given year, you have companies like General Electric or Boeing that not only pays nothing in taxes, they get a federal rebate.

Jake, here's another important point. In 1952, corporations contributed about 32 percent of the tax revenue of the federal government. Today, that number is less than 10 percent.

So when you wonder why we have a large deficit and a large national debt, one of the reasons is that the federal is that corporate tax revenues and the percentage of revenues that are coming into the federal government is much, much lower than it used to be.

TAPPER: You know, according to the Congressional Research Service, these tax inversions have been on the rise dramatically between 1983 and 2003. There were only 29. That number jumped to 47 in the following ten years. Why do you think this is gaining momentum?

SANDERS: Well, I'll tell you why. I mean, and I think where the American people are really, really angry is you know, we have families that are sending kids off to war, these kids get killed. They come home wounded.

And then you have corporations and we're seeing now corporate profits at an all-time high. Many of these corporations have absolutely no loyalty to the people of the United States or to our government. If they can make an extra buck by moving to the United Kingdom, their headquarters for the United Kingdom paying less in taxes that is what they will do.

The danger as you've indicated is once one company starts doing it or many companies do it, other companies from a competitive perspective feel they have to do it, as well. When you see that kind of exodus or mass bolting out of the country for lower taxes, it is going to mean a sharp reduction in federal revenue, which means that the middle class pays more. We simply don't have the money to provide education or health care or infrastructure to the American people.

TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont. Thank you so much, sir.

SANDERS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, yes, the Phoenix VA made veterans wait an incredibly long time to get treatment, but did that have anything to do with their deaths? What a new internal report says about the scandal that CNN broke wide open.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In National News, the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report today on the absurdly offensively long delays in care for our nations veterans, a scandal first brought to light by CNN in April.

CNN reported that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix, VA hospital, many of them on a secret waiting list that had been covered up.

Today's IG report while not totally absolving the department counted far fewer and it refused to conclude the long wait times caused any of those deaths.

President Obama today spoke at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. While he didn't specifically mention the report, he did address the scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The misconduct we've seen at too many facilities with long wait times and veterans denied care, folks cooking the books is outrageous and inexcusable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A scathing internal audit of the VA in June found more than 120,000 veterans were waiting for or never received care.

Let's bring in our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin. It was his reporting that initially blew the lid off the VA scandal. He's in Charlotte where the president spoke earlier today. Drew, does this report mean in any way that the VA is off the hook, do you think?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. It's a scathing report, Jake. It's been misreported earlier in the day primarily because the VA itself tried to spin this report with a few leaks to some national news organizations. The fact of the matter is thousands and thousands of sick veterans were waiting on secret wait lists and other lists out there in Phoenix. Forty of them on that list did die the report found.

What the report says is we can only link 20 deaths to substandard care and we can't say that it was the wait itself that will conclusively killed them. But as the president said, dozens and dozens of people were involved in cooking the books in phoenix and people were sick and waiting for care.

Let me give you one example. Here's a guy mid-60s. He comes in. There's a lump on his chest. He waits nine weeks to get a biopsy. Of course, by the time the biopsy comes in, it's cancer. He dies, the VA inspector general says we can't count that as died waiting because of the wait for care.

So I believe they're splitting hairs there, but there is nobody apologizing or saying this in any way absolves the VA of what happened in Phoenix. It is a mess, a horrendous mess that needs to be fixed.

TAPPER: Drew, both the president and the new VA secretary, McDonald, said today people need to be held accountable. Has anyone in Phoenix been held account snowball has anyone? Has anyone in Phoenix gotten the ax?

GRIFFIN: Not by our standards. We have even the director, the former director herself is still on paid administrative leave along with two others. There was a retirement of the director of nursing, but we're told she retired after a long career and wanted to.

So we're not seeing anybody really held accountable yet. We're still waiting for the new VA Secretary Bob McDonald to make his move. No one's been axed.

TAPPER: Drew Griffin in THE LEAD on the story for months. Thank you so much.

We do everything we can to make flying as painless as possible. Books, iPods with noise canceling headphones, neck pillows from the sharper image. But one passenger's dedication to not giving an inch got him and another passenger booted from their flight on Sunday.

A United flight from Newark to Denver, which made an unscheduled stop the an O'Hare International after two passengers got into a scuffle over the right to recline one's seat. Both passengers apparently take their leg room very seriously.

The incident occurred in the committee plus section, which gives passengers an extra 5 inches to stretch out. And finally, the pop culture lead, costume mishaps, 16 minutes of nothing, but Beyonce and a cameo from music's royal offspring, Blue Ivy.

Apparently that doesn't measure up to Miley Cyrus twerking. The ratings for MTV's Video Music Awards dipped 17 percent from last year's broadcast because maybe they couldn't glance from the computer screen. The VMA's generated 12.6 million mentions on Twitter. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn. Check out our show page @cnn.com/the lead for video and blogs and extras. You can subscribe to our magazine on Flipboard.

I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer.