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Pentagon Plans for Smaller Army; Interview with Christine O'Donnell; The Battle for New Hampshire; American Goalie's Unbelievable Goal; New Charges Against Alleged Serial Arsonist; Mom To 911: OK To Shoot Intruders?; Corporal Punishment?; Obama Appoints Consumer Watchdog; Romney Picks Up McCain Endorsement; Girl, 14, Deported by Mistake, Still Missing; What People in New Hampshire Think of Primary

Aired January 5, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Good morning, ladies.

I'm Soledad O'Brien. Welcome, everybody, to our new show which starts right now, STARTING POINT.

Today, we are coming to you from Manchester, New Hampshire. We're live here at the Airport Diner.

Five days away from primary day, our STARTING POINT this morning, we're going to hear on the campaign trail today, the future of the American military.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome. I'm Soledad O'Brien. Welcome to our new show, which is called STARTING POINT.

Today, we are coming to you from Manchester, New Hampshire. We are coming to you live from the airport diner. We're five day ways from primary day here.

And our STARTING POINT this morning is something that you are going to hear on the campaign trail today which is the future of the American military.

Just about four hours, President Obama will reveal his plan for a slimmed-down force that will no longer be fighting two full-blown ground wars. We're digging into the details. We'll be talking a lot about it this morning.

Also, Mitt Romney, does he have a Tea Party problem? They didn't go away in Iowa but could New Hampshire be different? We are going to ask the Tea Party favorite and Romney supporter Christine O'Donnell this morning.

And despite the sparring back in 2008 in this very state, Senator John McCain is now backing Mitt Romney. He is going to join this morning to tell us why.

And then oops, we deported your teenage daughter. A family is asking how the government accidently sent a missing runaway teenager, 15 years old to Colombia. Even though she doesn't speak the language and she doesn't know anybody there.

That plus our political panel (INAUDIBLE) that will make you say, get real.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

OK. We start with the military this morning. Bracing for seismic changes and cuts. President Obama is going to join Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. It will happen a little bit later this morning. They're going to discuss the strategy for cutting billions of dollars from the budget.

This is going to include these things. Number one, no longer fighting two ground wars simultaneously, removing 4,000 troops from Europe, and cutting at least 47,000 Marines and troops within the next five years.

The president's opponents say this is coming at a time when China's military is growing, when Iran is growing its nuclear program, and Middle East is more volatile than any time before.

CNN's Chris Lawrence has been talking to his source. We will find out what the president will be saying today. Chris is live for us at the Pentagon.

Good morning to you, Chris. First, why the shift?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Bottom line, Soledad, money. When you've got to cut half a trillion dollars and possibly even a full trillion dollars out of this budget, you can't have everything on the plate.

So, as one official told me, look, if you think the greatest danger to the U.S. is right around the corner, then you keep the military -- you keep the Army size high right now and big. But if you think the greater threat is going to grow over the next five, 10, 15 years, then you keep that money in research and investment and weapons systems and things like that.

And that's basically what this has come down to, a choice. Knowing that the military can no longer buy and fund everything, having to make some tough calls and, of course, you mentioned the big change, not being capable of fighting two large ground defenses, being able to fight one and deploying forces to try to hold off another.

O'BRIEN: Chris, the president is going to make this announcement, talking to reporters at the Pentagon. How unusual is that? And what's the explanation for that setting?

LAWRENCE: Yes. The people I spoke to said they can't really remember the president, any president, doing something like this. Obviously, it's a political year, that's going to play into any calculation. This is a fairly big strategic shift.

So, the president is going to come here and he is going to sort of outline the policy and strategy and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Panetta will sort of answer our questions and get more into the nuts and bolts of it. But, again, you know, I think touched on one of the big points of it. You know, a smaller military -- you know, the military is more likely going to go back to what it was pre-9/11 in terms of manpower because the Pentagon simply can't afford to pay all of these soldiers, Marines, over a length of time.

When you start adding up health care, retirement costs, housing, pay, bonuses, it just doesn't add up.

O'BRIEN: All right. Chris Lawrence, thanks a lot.

I want to bring in now, General Mark Kimmitt, he is U.S. Army retired general.

It's nice to have you with us this morning.

Let's begin with sort of the numbers that would just heard Chris talking about. What do you think is literally going to be the impact if we have fewer boots on the ground in terms of safety and in terms of overall military for the United States?

MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET. GENERAL): Well, I, like many of my colleagues, remain concerned that a budget-driven exercise on our nation's security is not the way to move forward. It is reasonable and rational to talk a hard look at the 21st century responsibilities, threats, and capabilities we need to address those threats.

But to go into an exercise with the intent and express goal of reducing the amount of money that you are paying, in fact, you may take a look at the threats, you may take a look at the requirements, you may take a look at the responsibilities as you reshape the military, and determine that you need more money rather than less. Now, understanding the fiscal constraints of these days, that's a tough sell.

But it is a dangerous world out there in -- our enemies are going to be watching us carefully and our friends are going to be watching us carefully, too, if we are going to honor our commitments or not.

O'BRIEN: How much of this is sort of rethinking of the economic reality which all Americans know and also rethinking of strategic changes in how wars are really fought these days? It is not like how World War II was fought.

KIMMITT: No, you are absolutely right. There are new threats out there. Cyber attack, we never anticipated that we would have to fight our way in and out of the Strait of Hormuz.

We have certainly new realities out there and we asked the military to do much, much more -- humanitarian operations, peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, standing guard on the North Korean border. All of these are different in the threats that we faced and the requirements we faced in the last century.

And my view remains that we ought to be very, very careful before we start shedding missions and asking our military to do less.

O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at another country's budget, and that's the country of China. When you look at the GDP, China comes in right after the United States. But I want to actually look at military spending, $91.5 billion in 2011. That's almost 13 percent rise over the year before. And in fact, the year before, 2010, where they spent $77.9 billion, was 7.5 percent rise over the year before, 2009.

What should Americans take when they look at this figure from China?

KIMMITT: Well, what they ought to be looking at is a clear desire on the part of Chinese to pay a larger role in the world especially as reflected in the military capabilities. And that will incur challenges to U.S. dominance in that region. And I think that's why this administration is starting to focus more and more on that region. And all of those increased expenditures are going to result in a requirement for us to take a hard look at how we are going to maintain our interests in those -- in that region.

O'BRIEN: General Mark Kimmitt for us this morning, it's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate.

KIMMITT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: President Obama is going to be announcing that plan for the Pentagon after a decade of war. And it includes, as we mentioned, some mass cuts. We're going to have some coverage of the president's brief which happens at 10:50 a.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

Round two for the Republicans, it's all happening right here in New Hampshire. This state holds its primary on Tuesday and unlike Iowa, New Hampshire should be a lot kinder to Mitt Romney. In the latest CNN/ORC poll, the former Massachusetts governor holds a commanding lead in the Granite State. He's got 47 percent of the vote, 30 points rather ahead of the second place finisher in the poll, Ron Paul.

On Wednesday, Romney got an endorsement from the man who won New Hampshire back in 2008. John McCain, who had this to say about his former rival. Take a listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I guarantee you one thing. No one will ever say that Mitt Romney will lead from behind. He will lead from in front the way that Ronald Reagan did and not lead from behind which is what this president is doing.


O'BRIEN: Romney has a support of the Republican establishment here in New Hampshire. Picking up endorsements from Senator Kelly Ayotte, former Governor John Sununu, former Senator Judd Gregg.

But do these endorsements really matter?

Jon Huntsman doesn't think so. He, of course, is a competitor. Take a listen to what he said.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can get all the Doles and McCains in the world as Romney probably will. But in the end, nobody cares.


O'BRIEN: Well, my next guest is hoping that her endorsement does matter, especially to Tea Party members. Former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell joins this morning. She is in Philadelphia.

Welcome to STARTING POINT. Nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

You just heard, Christine, the Huntsman sound bite where he said, nobody cares, and listed, you know, that the establishment will weigh in and weigh in on behalf of Mitt Romney and big giant shrub is the way he sees it.

How do you see it?

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), RAN FOR U.S. SENATE IN DELAWARE IN 2010: Well, you look at the fact that Governor Romney has earned not only my endorsement but Governor Nikki Haley's endorsement, you know, figures who have had to fight the establishment. And the resounding message in that is that he has broad base appeal and that, you know, based on the feedback we have been getting from my supporters, it truly is causing people to take a second look because they know that based on Governor Haley's record, based on my record, we would not sell out like that.

I took a close look at Governor Romney's record. I brought all my concerns directly to his campaign and they were able to address them and --

O'BRIEN: What were some of those concerns?

O'DONNELL: You know, that --

O'BRIEN: What were some of those concerns --


O'DONNELL: You know, I -- the impression that's trying to get out there is he's a big spending moderate and the reality is that he was able to balance the budget in Massachusetts without raising taxes and he took a bold approach to cutting spending there.

Obviously, one of biggest concerns of many Americans is Obamacare and, you know to compare the Massachusetts health care bill to Obama care is like comparing, you know, Motel 6 to the Four Seasons. And also, Governor Romney has clearly articulated a strong understanding for how destructive full implementation of Obamacare truly will be and he's pledged over and over to make stopping Obamacare in its tracks his number one priority.

Then he was able to lay out a plan on how he's going to do that.

I'm sorry --

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Tea Partiers across -- no, no, my apologies -- Tea Partiers across the country. If you look at how Governor Romney did in Iowa, actually -- New Hampshire, I'm sorry, New Hampshire, when they asked people primaries -- Tea Party members, primary voters, choice for nominee, Governor Romney does very well. I have a picture of that, 42 percent. He really leads the pack very, very well.


O'BRIEN: But when you look at how it actually went in the state we just left which was Iowa, it is actually Rick Santorum that leads the pack at 29 percent and Governor Romney is down at 19 percent. Isn't that big giant challenge not only does he have to overcome but he needs you overcome it? What are you going to do?

O'DONNELL: Well, a couple of things on that. First of all, Governor Romney earned a lot of the teavangelical support as some people are calling them. And he did that in the last minute because he has the infrastructure to get his message directly to the voters.

And then when it comes to candidates like Santorum and Huntsman, you know, it is hard to stay a step ahead when you are busy catching up. And Santorum, God bless him, he's getting a lot of support right now, but in the short time between New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, can he build the infrastructure, can he get his message out before others define him? And I think that's going to be his biggest challenge.

Whereas people know that Governor Romney is ready to hit the ground running and challenge this massive billion dollar Obama machine that is already, you know, trying to re -- you know, out-organize the Republican Party. That's the only way Obama can win.

O'BRIEN: Look forward for me -- look forward to me in South Carolina for just a second. Here's what a woman named Karen Martin. She's the head of the Spartanburg Tea Party, said this, "I do not personally know anyone that does not despise Mitt Romney." This is her quote. She was on NPR. "And doesn't hate the idea of him being our nominee."

I mean, that's a lot of strong words, despise and hate, and she leads the Tea Party in Spartanburg.

O'DONNELL: Right. Well, based on information that I have got, e-mails I have received from some of my supporters in South Carolina, she's wrong. One thing you have to keep in mind is that there's this visceral response from certain people who are just getting access to the media and, again, evidenced by the fact that Governor Romney was able to win over some of that teavangelical support in Iowa shows that that's simply not true.

And, you know, I hope that that leader begins to take a look at Governor Romney because he has the class, courage and convictions to stand up for some truly conservative principles in a liberal state like Massachusetts and that's overlooked. But another thing going into South Carolina that we have to keep in mind is that there is an unknown factor, this election cycle. When candidates win states leading up to Super Tuesday, not all of the states are winner takes all. These delegates are going to be split. So, we don't know how that's going to impact the process as candidates try to get that, you know, 1,150 delegates.

So, you know, South Carolina might not have the historical precedent that it did.

O'BRIEN: Or it might, the way this race is going lately.

Christine O'Donnell with us this morning. Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

O'DONNELL: Thank you for having me, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Keep it right here on CNN with the best political coverage -- it was our pleasure. You bet.

Senator John McCain is joining us live in the next half hour. Right here on STARTING POINT.

And still to come, Rick Santorum, who is surging after Iowa, campaign contributions are pouring in. But with success comes more scrutiny. There may be a few skeletons or certainly things he's said in the former senator's closet. We're going to take a closer look.

Then, the teenage girl from Texas who ran away from home, somehow wound up being deported to Colombia. As an American citizen doesn't speak a word of Spanish. We're going to hear from her horrified mother.

And finally, something you've probably never seen before. A soccer goalie scoring a goal -- from there. Let's take a look again. With "Get Real" on STARTING POINT.


O'BRIEN: As breakfast being made here at the Airport Diner. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

We're live here in Manchester, New Hampshire, this morning where in just five days voters will get to go to the polls to pick their GOP nominee.

Political panel to start with this morning from Washington, D.C., Ron Brownstein, CNN Contributor, editor of the "National Journal." Also CNN Contributor Maria Cardona joins us.

Right here in Manchester with me is Juliana Bergeron. She's a member of the New Hampshire GOP Executive Committee. And James Pindell, who is a political analyst for our affiliate WMUR. Nice to have you all.

James, let's start with you. You heard that we're going to hear from President Obama announcing this major cut and a major shift also, sort of in philosophy military-wise. What's the impact going to be on the race?

JAMES PINDELL, POLITICAL ANALYST, WMUR-TV: For the New Hampshire primary, probably not all that much. But when it comes to the general election, New Hampshire is still a presidential swing state. So the campaign remains here after next Tuesday and this is a very big fiscally conservative state. And for that sense, it's going to have some impact more on the general election than probably the primary.

O'BRIEN: Juliana, you heard from Christine O'Donnell who now come -- has been really a surrogate for the Romney campaign. Also, John McCain has announced that he is throwing his support behind Mitt Romney. How will that impact the race here? They're politically on two opposite sides with, you know, under the GOP umbrella. Is that a challenge?

JULIANA BERGERON, EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, NEW HAMPSHIRE GOP: I don't think it's a challenge. I think it will help Mitt in the state. You know, the more support he gets, the stronger his -- his lead, you know, which is -- he's running ahead of 40 percent at this point. So I think it's good for him.

O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein, the "Huffington Post" had kind of a funny line this morning. They talked about the Iowa competition as being a competition of the tallest hobbit, which I thought was kind of funny.

One, do you think that's true? And two, could New Hampshire change all that?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and the seven dwarfs from 1980 and the Democrats.

First of all, it's great to see the Dinotaur (ph) of America marches on now to New Hampshire, conquering the other 48 states, I'm sure, before the election is over.

But, look, I mean, New Hampshire -- Iowa, it felt to me kind of reaffirmed two things at once, that Mitt Romney can be beat and that it's going to be very difficult for any one of these candidates to beat him. I mean, in a -- in a very real way, Iowa kind of crystallized what we've seen all year, which is that Romney is a solid but not spectacular competitor for the more centrist parts of the party.

Voters that don't identify with the Tea Party, voters who don't identify as Evangelical Christians, he did pretty well with both of those groups. But, as you pointed out, only 19 percent of Tea Party supporters in Iowa, only 14 percent of self-identified Evangelical Christians, even less than he got in 2008.

So there is an opening on the right. The question is whether anyone in this field is capable of really seizing that by consolidating that support that remains skeptical of Romney after Iowa as before.

O'BRIEN: Maria, when you look at a state like Iowa, that's a non-diverse state, and you -- you look at a state like New Hampshire, kind of a similar thing. Not a very diverse state. And, in fact, in Iowa, we know now there is less than six percent turnout for the caucuses. New Hampshire is a state that has about a million people.

People talk about both of these states helping winnow down the candidates, but in a way is it being winnowed down by states that don't actually represent maybe what your average American, if there is such a thing, would look like?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's no question about that, Soledad, and what we've seen in both parties recently is that that is -- for that process to try to change, you've seen for the Democrats, they moved up Nevada. And for the Republicans, they moved up Florida.

And, to your point, I think what is so interesting coming out of Iowa is that none of these candidates, at least in my eyes and what I can see, is trying to appeal to -- to the diversity that exists in the country.

And you really tried to push Mitt Romney yesterday on his immigration stances because, as we know, that is a very important issue to the Latino community. Not the number one issue, but it is an issue that they care about, and he was not able to answer the question, and, frankly, none of the GOP candidates have been able to answer the question about how they are going to try to appeal to the growing Latino community, and we're going to see how that is going to affect their stances in Florida but, more importantly, into the general election.

BROWNSTEIN: Soledad, Soledad --

O'BRIEN: So James -- hang on one second, Ron. I want to ask --


O'BRIEN: Hang on one second, Ron. I want to ask James a question about clearly the growing power of the Latino community is not an issue here, really, in the state of New Hampshire. What are the big issues that people are dealing with?

You see high foreclosure rates. You see an unemployment rate around six percent. What are the issues that -- that are really at the heart of the people who we'll be going to a primary in five days here?

PINDELL: While the Latino community is one of the fastest growing in this state --

O'BRIEN: But small.

PINDELL: It's still very small. There's no question about it.

In no state, it will be a perfect representation. But I think what you do find in New Hampshire is this sense of empowerment from voters, that they will ask tough questions to these candidates. You saw it yesterday. You saw what the Chinese-American living in New Hampshire at a Mitt Romney town hall meeting, asking very pointed questions about her own heritage towards Mitt Romney.

In terms of the issues, there's no question, it is jobs, jobs, jobs. Yes, the unemployment rate here is lower than the country's, at 5.2 percent. But still, it's jobs, the economy. And then secondly, it's for Republicans and particularly some independents where Barack Obama's approval rating is down here, it's who you -- who you pick to beat Barack Obama.

O'BRIEN: We are going to take a short break. I want to thank our panelists, talking about the state of New Hampshire as we look toward the primary here in five days.

You want to make , of course, that you're watching CNN on Tuesday night, because all eyes will be on New Hampshire. You can join Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, Candy Crowley, John King and the Best Team Politically on TV for the New Hampshire primary. CNN, Tuesday night, 7:00 P.M. Eastern Time.

And still ahead, right here on STARTING POINT, you want to join us live as Senator John McCain from opponent to proponent. We're going to ask him why he is endorsing Mitt Romney now.

Plus, a teenage girl from Texas runs away from home. Somehow, though, winds up being deported to Colombia. She is not a Colombian. She doesn't speak Spanish. She is an American citizen. CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the story for us this morning.

Then, something you don't see everyday, or really hardly ever, but it's great to see over and over again. A soccer goalie scored a goal. We'll see how it played out, when we "Get Real."


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT this morning.

We are (AUDIO GAP) and it really does not get any better than this. One you have to see to believe, and in fact, we've going to show it to you again and again and again.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Take a look at this. That's the goalie. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). Can you believe this? (INAUDIBLE).

O'BRIEN: I love it. Let's watch it again. Let's watch it again.

That was the American goalkeeper Tim Howard, playing on loan to the English Premier League's Everton team, a one-hopper, they call it. Right into the net.

It's Howard's his first ever goal. Turns out it was the only goal that the team would score. It was a 2-1 loss, unfortunately. He's just the fourth goalkeeper to score in Premier League history.

Howard said in spite of the fact that was so exciting, he didn't celebrate very much because it's happened once to him and he knows just how much of a bummer it is to be on the other side of a goal like that.


O'BRIEN: You can watch that a hundred times.

Still to come this morning, an American teen from Texas ends up getting deported to Colombia, despite not being Colombian and not speaking Spanish. We're live with the latest on this pretty incredible story.

Plus, Mitt Romney has got a newly minted ally. John McCain is going to talk to us about his endorsement and the campaign, ahead, in just a few minutes.

A short break. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Shot inside the airport diner this morning in Manchester, New Hampshire. Good morning. Welcome, everybody. It's 7:30 in the morning. I'm Soledad O'Brien. You are watching our new show, which is called STARTING POINT.

In just a few minutes, Senator John McCain is going to be joining us to explain his endorsement of Mitt Romney. What's changed since they did battle here in this state back in 2008?

And then this story deported by mistake. The government accidentally sends a runaway teenager to Colombia. Even though she is an American citizen, she does not speak Spanish. We're going to have more on that story coming up in just about 10 minutes.

First, though, let's get a look at some of the other stories making news this morning. Christine Romans has that for us. She's live at CNN Headquarters. Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. That accused Hollywood arsonist, Harry Burkhart, is now charged with 37 felony counts.

Police alleged that Burkhart set more than 50 fires over New Year's weekend. They say that arson spree was triggered by his mother being taken into custody. She's wanted on a warrant in her native Germany.

When armed intruders broke into her home New Year's Eve, Sarah McKinley, mother after newborn baby, put down her little boy and picked up the phone and a shotgun.


SARAH MCKINLEY, VICTIM (via telephone): I have two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot him if he comes in this door?

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself. I can't tell you that you can do that. But you do what you have to do to protect your baby.


ROMANS: McKinley killed one of the intruders. Police say it was justified. Tragically, she was alone at home with her baby because her husband had died of cancer on Christmas Day.

Army Corporal Jessie Thorson could be in trouble with the brass for speaking at a Ron Paul rally in Iowa while in uniform. Officials are investigating whether it violated military policy.

On this morning's "EARLY START," former National Guard Lieutenant Dan Choi was asked was if service members are typically briefed of what they can and can't do in uniform.


LT. DAN CHOI, FORMER ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: When you do something like this and you believe that it is a moral cause that you are speaking for, then you should be ready for the consequences. I spoke up and I said that I'm gay. I said the truth.

I learned that in the code that I will never compromise my integrity or my moral courage. When we serve in the military, when we raise our right hand to serve, we are prepared for all the consequences. We are responsible for all of our actions.


ROMANS: Choi if you recall was discharged for violating the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy."

President Obama there now turning gears here on a push for summer jobs program for teenagers. The White House hoping "We Can't Wait Program" will create a quarter million job opportunities.

Obviously, not matching pictures you are seeing there. Job opportunities, government, private companies, and nonprofits that volunteer to take part.

The president igniting a firestorm on Capitol Hill by making four recess appointments including Richard Corgray as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Republicans oppose creating this watchdog agency and intended to block anyone named to run it.

And U.S. markets rose from earlier losses to close mixed by the end of trading yesterday. Right now, U.S. stock futures for the Dow, the NASDAQ, the S&P 500 will point into a slightly lower open this morning.

We'll be waiting important jobs data. It could give us a nice hint about where things will go. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks, Christine. Appreciate it. It was a slim victory in Iowa, but it's behind him. Now Mitt Romney is hitting the ground running here in New Hampshire. He's got a big lead in the polls. Just picked up an endorsement from a man who knows a thing or two about winning primaries in this state.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Our message to the President Barack Obama is that you can run, but you can't hide from your record making this country bankrupt, from destroying our national security, and to making this nation one that we have to restore with Mitt Romney as president of the United States of America.


O'BRIEN: John McCain won the New Hampshire primary both in the 2000 and 2008 elections. The Arizona senator joins us live from Salem, New Hampshire, this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

Let's start with the reason behind your endorsement. You sparred, as we pointed out, back in 2008, now you are saying this is the man that should be president of the United States. Why are you supporting him?

MCCAIN: Well, we had a very tough primary in 2008. And that's politics, but as soon as that campaign was over, nobody worked harder, supported me more than Mitt Romney did.

I have watched him grow in accomplishment as a campaigner and I agree with him on issues. I think that he's best suited to run this country and, frankly, the best chance we have against President Obama in the general election.

So I'm proud to support him and I want to emphasize that as you know, Soledad, the people of New Hampshire make up their minds at the last minute. So I don't think he's taken anything for granted here.

O'BRIEN: In the state of Iowa, we discovered just the other day. You criticized Mitt Romney back in 2008 saying that he was a manager, not a leader. That's a quote. What's changed now that you are saying he could be a leader?

MCCAIN: Well, again, politics is a collision sport. Not a contact sport and campaigns are very tough. And we are seeing that again now. But again, I want to point out that Mitt Romney and I, we have -- we had disagreements during the primaries. That's why we competed against each other.

But the fact is that he supported me strongly and we agree on issues. We agree on what the need for the future of this country and we need, obviously, a man, I think, of his experience and talents to be president of the United States.

Is he a perfect candidate? No. Was I a perfect candidate? No. But I think it is far superior to what -- re-election of President Obama, I think would have dire consequences for the country both domestically and foreign policy wise.

O'BRIEN: I never heard anybody call politics a collision sport as opposed to just a contact sport, which makes it sound even meaner than we all think it can often be.

How much of that is part of the endorsement in terms of Rick Santorum? Because 2006, you supported his election campaign. But 2008, he spoke out against you. Is there some of this that is saying anybody but Rick Santorum?

MCCAIN: No. I respect all of the candidates. I respect their willingness to run and it is very tough to do that. It is a grind that is hard to describe unless you have been part of it. I respect Senator Santorum.

He and I had very strong differences on earmarking and pork barrel spending. I believe that earmarking is gateway to corruption. Senator Santorum supported it and engaged in it as much as he possibly could. I strongly disagreed with it. That was a fundamental difference we had in the Senate, but I still respect him.

O'BRIEN: So when you give an endorsement, is that essentially a stamp of approval saying, listen, we ideologically agree on things? Or is there something more you will be doing with a campaign besides doing appearances together? Do you help now with strategy to help Mitt Romney win?

MCCAIN: Well, I help every way possible that I can. I do have some people who, I think, would listen to my views here in New Hampshire and in South Carolina and other places.

O'BRIEN: Just a few.

MCCAIN: Soledad, I think you have to understand -- you have to understand that it is really the candidate. I think in all due respect to -- to myself that endorsements have limited effect, but I'm pleased, however, it might help in some small way to support Mitt Romney. I think this is a critical time in the history of this country.

O'BRIEN: Let me play a little bit of what Governor Huntsman has said and he has this refrain going. I'm sure you heard it, which is sort of the who cares, who cares here in New Hampshire. Let me play a little bit about what he has called the wonderfully -- wonderful for him ambiguous state of this race.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And you can get all the Doles and all the McCains in the world as Romney probably will, but in the end, nobody cares.


O'BRIEN: Nobody cares. He said the -- the race is really up for anybody and it is wonderfully ambiguous. When you were speaking yesterday you said, listen, it is time for people to come together behind a president. How much of a problem is it that, in fact, as we saw in Iowa, it really is very, very ambiguous.

MCCAIN: Well, I think that we are going to go through this process as we should from here down to South Carolina. Hopefully, Mitt Romney will have some momentum if the -- if he wins very big here.

So I understand Governor Huntsman is correct. Endorsements are helpful, I think, but performance of the candidate is really what's making -- what makes voters decide.

I would say that I do have a lot of friends here in New Hampshire that I think at least listen to my views. But overall, he's --

O'BRIEN: You are being a little modest on that front. You're being a little modest on that front. You've won this state a couple of times. So you are being little modest on that front.

I think it is fair to say. Let me finish by asking about Newt Gingrich who is angry, really, really, really angry. What is that going to mean for the candidate that you are now supporting because he could kind of do anything? Are you worried about that?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that -- I hesitate to give any advice since I did not win finally in my race, but I think you have to be careful about being too angry. I have never called an opponent of mine a liar.

That's just sort of a line that you don't usually cross. But look, Newt Gingrich is a very, very smart man. He's very intelligent. I'm sure he doesn't need my advice.

But I think that the people in New Hampshire want to hear your views and your vision for the future rather than, frankly, attacks on other candidates. O'BRIEN: I love the way you say he doesn't need my advice, but let me give you some advice. Senator McCain, thanks for joining us this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. We appreciate it.

MCCAIN: It is good to see you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, the mother -- thank you, sir. The mother of a Texas teenager who has been missing since she ran away in 2010 learns that her daughter has been deported to Colombia.

Now the girl is 15 years old. She is not Colombian. Got a live report coming up from Dallas straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Soledad O'Brien, coming to you live this morning from Manchester, New Hampshire.

We get to the story of a bizarre case, kind of, of mistaken identity. It revolves around a little girl, 15-year-old Jakadrien Turner. She has been missing for more a year after running away from her home in Houston. Turns out, she was arrested. Then she gave authorities a fake name. And through that fake name she was deported, 15 years old, to Colombia by mistake. She's not Colombian. Does not speak Spanish. She is an American citizen. So now the U.S. government is apparently working to get her back.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live for us in Dallas.

Ed, I know you spoke to the family this morning. But this case is so complicated, help me unravel it. Where does it all begin?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It starts in November of 2010, little more than a year ago. And Jakadrien Turner, 14 years old at the time, clearly going through some troubles, decides to run away from home. She goes missing. Family members don't really know much about what she is doing or where she has been. Her grandmother spends hours and hours on the computer and starts finding her through Facebook messages. She turns up in Houston after being arrested for shoplifting at a mall. But she's going by the name of Tika Cortez at this time. What's fascinating about this story is that, at the time --


LAVANDERA: Sorry. Go ahead, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So she has this name Tika Cortez. It really is this fake name that sets the next thing into a spiral. She has been arrested and is now dealing with the Dallas -- the law enforcement really in the state of Texas.


O'BRIEN: But that Texas law enforcement that hands her off, right, to who? LAVANDERA: Yes. She goes threw the criminal proceedings there in Houston and gets arrested for theft. She goes by this name. And what happens here is still where it gets confusing. She tells -- according federal agencies, they said she told them she was Colombian, even though she doesn't speak Spanish and doesn't appear Colombian in any way.

She then goes through the local criminal proceedings. She spends four days in jail. Had pled guilty, we're told, to that theft charge. And then ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, take control of her. And goes through deportation process, the immigration process, and ends up getting deported.

Houston police tell me that, at no point, she declared herself as Colombian. Federal officials say that's not necessarily the case. That's why the hold was put on her. And there's also -- some of the initial reporting in this case that her name happened to match an illegal immigrant that was on the list to be deported. We understand from federal officials that they don't believe that that's the case.

All of this has just come to light over the last couple of days. There's still a great deal of work that's being done to figure out exactly how it was happening.

O'BRIEN: So you're -- you're -- you're going to tell me --


LAVANDERA: But despite all of this, this young girl ends up in Colombia.

O'BRIEN: You are going to tell me a 14-year-old girl manages to navigate around the Houston P.D., navigate around the Immigration and Customs, then has to deal with the Colombian authorities, pretending all the time that she is a Colombian with a fake name and fingerprints that don't match anything, to the point she gets sent of the country to Colombia? This is a 14-year-old girl. What do people really think is behind this?

LAVANDERA: That is what is so fascinating and stunning about all of this. That is what has her family in Dallas extremely worried. They don't understand how a 14, now 15-year-old girl could -- if you want to believe what is happening -- dupe local authorities and dupe federal immigration officials and then dupe Colombian officials because, once -- the Colombians find -- or the Americans tell the Colombians, look, the person says she's Colombian, she has to prove to them she's Colombian. And according to federal officials, they gave her all the paperwork she needed to be sent back to Colombia. The family believes that there's something much more sinister and much more severe going on and that's what they're trying to figure out.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I believe that, too, because that doesn't add up at all. The Colombians wouldn't give you a Colombian passport that easily. That's a little strange.

(CROSSTALK) LAVANDERA: And, Soledad, we should also mention --

O'BRIEN: -- there are lots of unanswered questions. Yes?

LAVANDERA: I was just going to say, the family knows where she is -- believes they know where she is. They believe she is in some sort of detention facility in Colombia. They are trying desperately to work with authorities down there to get to her and get her brought back home. The sad twist to this story is they've been told that they believe this young teenager, in her time that she spent down in Colombia, is now pregnant.

O'BRIEN: It is -- wow. Wow. Wow. We're going to keep following this story because lots of weird, loose threads in this.

Ed Lavandera for us this morning. Ed, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, of course, we're talking politics because the primary here in New Hampshire is what is ahead. We'll ask people here in New Hampshire about what they think about the upcoming primary, sampling people here at the Airport Diner where the food is good, the coffee is great. And we'll have lots of conversations.

Plus, the president and secretary of defense about to unveil Pentagon budget cuts that will effectively shrink the U.S. armed forces. What could the impact be? We'll take a closer look, straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're here inside the Airport Diner, which is just about two miles away from the Manchester Airport. Here, people come to have breakfast. We're pretty busy this morning. We've been talking to some of the folks in the diner about how they're feeling about the upcoming New Hampshire primary just five days away.

And Shannon Devolets (ph) has been nice enough to take a moment from having her breakfast to chat with us.

It's nice to have you.

Have you decided whom you want to support in the upcoming primaries?

SHANNON DEVOLETS (ph), NEW HAMPSHIRE RESIDENT: I'm still undecided at this point. I'm taking this very seriously. And a lot of people I know around me and my friends are doing the same thing. There's a lot of people very, very fed up about how things are going --


O'BRIEN: What are you angry about and fed up about?

DEVOLETS (ph): There are many issues. (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Name one or two.


DEVOLETS (ph): Health care for sure. I, myself, am a physical therapist. I teach people with disabilities and adults with chronic illness. I can't afford my own health insurance. I don't have health insurance. I think people want a candidate who is going to be honest and trustworthy.

O'BRIEN: And who is that candidate for you? Who --


DEVOLETS (ph): That is a good question.

O'BRIEN: You're not even close at all?

DEVOLETS (ph): We want someone who will get in there and say, things are not right right now in Washington. We want people that are going to get in and do it. And you know what? Things are not great right now in Washington. We want people that's going to get in there and not (INAUDIBLE).

O'BRIEN: Shannon, I appreciate you chatting with us. Thank you very much.

I'm going to bring you over here to Mark.

Mark was the first person I saw early this morning.

You run this business.


O'BRIEN: So, the economy has to be the issue for you that's in the forefront of your mind looking into the primary. Who do you support, do you know yet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not real sure. You know, it's --


O'BRIEN: You sound unenthusiastic, really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I am. I like them all. The speaker, Mr. Gingrich, is a very nice man, very intelligent. I have a lot of faith in him, but also Mr. Santorum is very sharp. So I'm kind of up in the air. You know, it's -- I will definitely be Republican, but I'm not sure who just yet.

O'BRIEN: Some of the people we've spoken to, I'm getting a sense that people are very frustrated and angry from four years ago. Is it frustration about the field that the Republicans are presenting or is it frustration about the state of the economy or all of the above?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think all of the above. Like I say, we just don't see our representatives just don't seem to be strong and taking a real command like I wish they would. I guess that's from being a general manager. I control. I like to see someone take control and we're not just jumping out here like we have been (ph).

O'BRIEN: Sounds like a lot of frustration from the folks.

We've heard a lot obviously not only a lot in the diner, but in the state of New Hampshire. Interesting to ask the question then -- Rick Perry -- everyone thought out of the race. But now he says he's staying in. What will that mean for the frontrunner Mitt Romney? We'll take a look at that, straight ahead, right after this short break. Stay with us.