CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Recount in Iowa Gives Rick Santorum Victory in Caucuses; Newt Gingrich Criticized for Using Racial Cues in Campaign; RPT: Captain Fell Into Lifeboat; Timeline of Cruise Disaster; Rick Santorum's Tax Plan; Obama Talks Tourism At Disney; Former Penn State Officials Arraigned Today; Casey Anthony $1M For Interview; Digging Out In Pacific Northwest; AT&T Hiking Prices For Data Plans; Big Banks Report Earnings Today; Gingrich On Ex-Wife's Interview; Gingrich Gaining On Romney In South Carolina; Mark Wahlberg Apologizes for 9/11 Comment; Obama Cancels Pipeline, Blames Republicans; Both Sides Debate Pipeline

Aired January 19, 2012 - 06:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, guys. Good morning. Sorry, I was having a hard time hearing you because there's so much going on. We're back in a diner once again this morning. Coming to you live from Charles, South Carolina at the Bear E Patch Cafe as we count down to tonight's big debate on CNN. It is the final debate before South Carolinians vote this Saturday.

This morning, lots of breaking news to get to out of Iowa, and then, some developments, big developments on big stories we've been covering overnight, as well. So, first and foremost, could Iowa go for Santorum after all? A new recount not so simple, though. We're going to get your reaction this morning.

Then, Mitt is flipping in the polls. Newt is gaining this morning, but, at the same time, Newt Gingrich is dealing with two controversies at the head into tonight's debate. We'll take a closer look at those.

Then, we're talking about the cruise ship, still new revelations in the Costa Concordia crash. According to an Italian newspaper, the captain is now admitting to sailing by sight and turned too late. Police called the ship first and not the other way around. And it took an hour before they declared an emergency. We'll get into some more details, really, shocking details about what happened that night.

And then, the actor, Mark Wahlberg, has a big blunder which he now says he regrets. He says he could have helped safely land one of those hijacked planes on 9/11. That's our get real segment this morning. All that and much more is ahead. "Starting Point" begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Got some breaking news to get to, and it is about a story we've been covering for a while. Iowa, again. Back to Iowa caucus results not officially over yet, because, of course, there is now new information and the fact that Rick Santorum finished ahead by 34 votes. Eight precinct numbers will never be certified and the GOP calling it a tie.

It doesn't change the delegate count. Mitt Romney saying in his statement this, "The results from the Iowa caucus revealed a virtual tie. I would like to thank the Iowa Republican party for their careful attention to the caucus process," people might want to talk about that a little bit, "and recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state. It's a great start to defeating president Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election."

He leaves out a big thing, which is, really, is he 34 points behind Rick Santorum, and does it matter? Let's get to our political reporter Shannon Travis who is in Des Moines this morning. And we'll also bring in our panelists. Let's start at the far end this morning. Roland Martin, finally, has deigned to join us here, Will Cain is back with, Ron Brownstein back with us, again.

Shannon, update us here on what happened and what the implications could be.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a bombshell. Let's say that. This was already, Soledad, the closest vote in Iowa caucus history and Mitt Romney, we thought he claimed Iowa and then he went on to claim New Hampshire. He was the first non-incumbent to claim both those races in history. This reverses that.

But does it reverse, would it reverse the general momentum that Mitt Romney has? Let's think about this for a second. If this had been the case that Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses by 34 votes, by all intents and purposes, Mitt Romney was still looking very, very well in New Hampshire. Yes, Santorum might have had momentum going into New Hampshire, but probably still going to be Mitt Romney's race, and the race still as it is now, largely decided between those two people and maybe even throw Newt Gingrich in the mix in South Carolina as it is now.

So would it change the story arc? Likely not, but it definitely changes the historical perspective of it now with Mitt Romney not having won both. Being the first person to do that in history.

O'BRIEN: All right, Shannon, thank you. It's so interesting, he called it a bomb shell.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I call it an embarrassment.

O'BRIEN: It is, ultimately, how did that happen that they could possibly days later say -- and the way it happened.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The standards of this election. This is a party-run process not uniform from precinct to precinct. And in fairness of them, it's extraordinary close. I remember during the long recount in Florida and election officials said to me at one point we finally reached an election where the margin of victory was less than the margin of error, and that is what we have, again, in Iowa. We probably don't know who won Iowa.

O'BRIEN: The Iowa GOP is telling us that at 9:15 there will be an official announcement.

BROWNSTEIN: Which is incredibly embarrassing.

O'BRIEN: It doesn't matter.

CAIN: I would disagree on Shannon on one little thing. It's not a bombshell, but closer to the inconsequential aspect. It just changed the small little narrative that Mitt Romney is inevitable, he won two states in a row.

O'BRIEN: Here's what Roland Martin is doing.

CAIN: I'm used to that Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Roland, why are you shaking your head?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Because, if you want to win the nomination, it does not matter about a narrative. It doesn't matter how many states you won. It boils down to 1-4-4-5. Can you get the number of delegates?

Now, this is great for us because, oh, he won these states. The bottom line on that night we were all going gaga over Iowa, how many delegates were at stake on that particular night? That's the bottom line. If you're Mitt Romney you're not going to worry about whatever news conference today. You're focused on South Carolina and moving on.

BROWNSTEIN: But the race does not move on until they decide the number of delegates, by the overall sense in a party where the race is going. Money shuts off way before some. Very few races like Obama/Clinton actually go all the way to the end. I do not think this would have had a big effect. Social conservatives generally do not perform there, so it probably would have changed the trajectory of the race.

Plus it gives political junkies to say, six consecutive political races will be decided the same way. Different candidate winning New Hampshire and one of the two winning South Carolina. The streak may live on.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn, let's talk about South Carolina. Since we're here and all, since we came eating grits, which, by the way, you guys should have the grits, amazing here.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: We could put them on. So, here's my question. Let's look at some of these polls. Let's do first this Marist/NBC poll. They did this poll over two days, the 16th and the 17th of January. But the key thing on the 16th, the debate. If you look at the average here, you could see that we have Romney at 37 percent on Monday and then by Tuesday, then after the debate, boom, down 31. Gingrich 22 percent, and after the debate, up to 26 percent. That's, that's a big slide. BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, you can usually tell what campaigns are thinking by what they do. The fact is the way that the Romney campaign has been targeting Gingrich they don't believe the race is as comfortable for them as both the CNN/"TIME" poll with the 10 point lead --

O'BRIEN: If you look at the CNN/ORC poll it says Romney is at 33 percent and Gingrich is at 23 percent.

BROWNSTEIN: Very similar to the overall of the Marist. But the campaign is not behaving the way we believed. Having said that, the basic dynamic in your CNN-"TIME" poll really encapsulates the entire Republican race in one snapshot. The basic story is that Romney in South Carolina is consolidating the center of the party more than anybody is consolidating the right of the party against them.

If you look at evangelicals versus non-evangelicals, Romney is almost up to 50 percent. He's at 47 percent among the non- evangelicals. No one is getting nearly that much of the evangelical vote. Same pattern with the Tea Party. It's divide and conquer.

O'BRIEN: And with these, talk about bombshell and we're going to be talking about bombshells all morning. But Newt Gingrich has a couple bombshells that might be exploding in front of him.

MARTIN: Just two?

O'BRIEN: Just two today.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: And maybe the Jimmy Carter quote out of Piers Morgan interview where we were talking about yesterday, sort of the racial coding. Jimmy Carter was a little more blunt about it, that could be one. But maybe more importantly his ex-wife is now talking to ABC News and they're going to release this morning part of that interview. Roland, what kind of impact will that have on someone like Newt Gingrich?

MARTIN: First of all, the last thing you want in the final 48 hours or let's say 72 hours of a campaign is to be talking about something that has nothing to do with the economy and has nothing to do with Newt Gingrich is a true conservative.

O'BRIEN: I would expand that. The last thing you want ever in the history of forever is your ex-wife doing an interview, ever.

MARTIN: Especially when she really wasn't that cool with you in the "Esquire" article last year.

BROWNSTEIN: That is a point, though. Most of what she says will echo what has already been out there in the "Esquire." Of course, coming out right on television right at the end is never helpful for a candidate who needs to mobilize social conservative voters the most skeptical of Romney. Having said that, I think we've reached the point where voters have shown over and over again they recognize that all of us are flawed and all of us have moments we don't want to read about on the front page of the papers.

O'BRIEN: Back to what Roland said. At some point you spend your energy and your day, even if you're swatting off things that people heard about before and even if it's only reporters who care and the general public doesn't care, that's how you spend your day.

It looks like the daughters of Newt Gingrich sent a letter to ABC news, because they're sort of like the timing is really unfair and suspect. What do you think of the timing of this interview, you know, being released now, which is a day before, the morning of the debate, but two days before the actual --

CAIN: Look, 15 years ago "Newsweek" sat on the story and didn't release it and that put up on the website that "Newsweek" was having a story Bill Clinton had an affair with Chelsea Clinton --

BROWNSTEIN: Her friend. Her age.

CAIN: I'm sorry --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: OK, let's clarify that for a moment.

CAIN: Once again, Matt Drudge is reporting that ABC is sitting on a story for some time and they want to release this event. I'm not saying what is right or wrong, but they are timing the story and we don't know when or why.

O'BRIEN: They're going to have a clip of it this morning.

MARTIN: Here's the deal, OK. We can sit here and talk about, do you release it when you don't release it? It doesn't even matter. This is a woman who listens to a candidate and talk about the sanctity of marriage in debates. You talk about characters in debates. The moment you go down that line, you are going to have to deal with these kinds of questions.

Now, we can say, it doesn't matter to the voters, but when you look at these Republican primaries and when you hear voters talk about this particular issue, it is going to come up and you have to deal with it and you must confront it.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Jimmy Carter's comments on "PIERS MORGAN." We have been discussing this over the last couple days. This is what Jimmy carter told Piers Morgan last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I think he has that subtlety of racism that I know quite well --

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Really?

CARTER: -- knows quite well that appeals to some people in Georgia, particularly the right wing.

MORGAN: You think he's doing it deliberately?

CARTER: I think so. He knows the words that you use, like welfare mommas and so forth, that have been appealing in the past in those days of cherished segregation of the races. So he's appealing for that in South Carolina. I don't think it will pay off in the long run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, is this a bombshell at all? I think this is a debate we were having yesterday, which is racial coating in what Newt Gingrich has said not only in the debates, but in some of the campaign stops.

CAIN: You know how I feel about this, Soledad. I think if you say unemployment is higher in urban areas and then you say children in urban areas aren't acquiring work ethic --

O'BRIEN: Things that I say this president is the president who is the food stamp president, if you look at those numbers, it was George Bush.

CAIN: More people on food stamps were white than black. I think when you make statements that don't have any relation to race certain group of people hear -- maybe I'm naive.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: Yes, you are. You are naive. Yes, you are.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'd say you are naive. You are.

BROWNSTEIN: I think in many ways the heart of the Tea Party movement, the heart of the Tea Party movement is opposition to transfer payments. What Newt Gingrich is doing with food stamps is something that has never been done before. In the 80s, as Jimmy Carter suggested, Republicans talk about welfare queens. Welfare was the symbol of government that took money from people who were working hard and ostensibly gave it to people who didn't deserve. That went away in in the 1990s when Bill Clinton and Gingrich and Bob Dole, Trent Lott agreed on welfare reform.

What you're seeing now, when Gingrich is talking about food stamps is raising that is a replacement for the welfare argument in a way that it has never been used before. But it is the same core argument whether you have a racial development or not. The core Republican argument of our government it is taking money from hardworking people and giving it to those who don't deserve it.

MARTIN: Are y'all done?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Let me help you with something. When Newt Gingrich says, I'm going to go to the NAACP and I'm going to say, stop demanding checks and demanding paychecks. He didn't say La Raza or the National Organization of Women, he didn't say I'm going to a Tea Party rally. He specifically said the NAACP. What does that mean? I'm talking to black people.

O'BRIEN: When he talks about poor children and work as janitors, he says he's talking about kids who are --

MARTIN: Then he comes back to clean it up. And the problem is, look, you knew exactly what you were saying the first time, and so then when you say, what I really mean -- and then you see commentators say, here's what I think he meant. We heard what he said, we know what he meant, and we know the game.

O'BRIEN: We have Hogan Gidley on the phone. He is Santorum's national communication's director and we have an opportunity to ask him about some of these advances and developments this morning in, I can't even call it recount because it's not done. So, Hogan, thanks for talking with us. We appreciate your time this morning. First, I'll ask you, what is your reaction when you hear that your candidate may win in Iowa, after all?

HOGAN GIDLEY, SANTORUM NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR (on the phone): Good morning, Soledad. Thanks for having me on. It's very exciting. I mean, two elections and the narrative for a long time has been mitt Romney was two to zero. If these results are true and rick is ahead by 34 votes, then that's not the narrative any more. Two states, two different victors and we're trying to say that we're the clear, consistent alternative to Mitt Romney and this just bears the fact that we were able to win Iowa.

And, of course, I can understand how Romney campaign is already out there trying to marginalize the victory. They outspent us by 20 times what we spent. But he did the same thing to Mike Huckabee. He outspent him 20 times as much money. So, I can understand he didn't want that narrative out there. But it's a big win for our campaign and we're really excited about it.

O'BRIEN: But is it really a big win when at the end of the day some people say it just really doesn't matter. Here you look at the storyline going into New Hampshire if you're going to talk about narratives, wow, Santorum, big boost. It didn't help him that much. So, 34 votes or even victory there overall wouldn't have necessarily helped him. Would it have made a difference, do you think?

GIDLEY: Absolutely, Soledad. Look, when the thought was that Mitt Romney won by eight votes, it was a huge victory for Mitt Romney. But by that standard, I guess 34 votes is just about a landslide in Iowa. The bottom line is he is really going to make a boost to our campaign today and remind people that we've been able to tackle and take on Mitt Romney head on. We are the alternative to him and we plan on taking this into South Carolina and beyond and showing people that we have the message and the messenger that can beat the guy who is just writing checks trying to buy states.

O'BRIEN: Hogan Gidley joining us by phone. He's Santorum's national communications director. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time this morning.

Lots to talk about. Still ahead, continuing to gather reaction to this breaking news out of Iowa. We left Iowa a long time ago and we're still talking about Iowa. We'll talk about that this morning.

Then, this cruise ship story that we've also been following all week. New twists that the captain of this doomed cruise ship is telling as the timeline comes out. We'll tell you what he's saying. That's straight ahead. Stay with us.

Plus, AT&T hiking rates, going to get ready to pay even more.

And actor Mark Wahlberg, he's backtracking from some unfortunate comments that he made about the 9/11 hijackers. That story straight ahead, as well. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back everybody.

Our top story -- our other top story this morning is the follow-up on the rescue operations for the Costa Concordia --

(AUDIO GAP)

O'BRIEN: -- in Giulio, Italy. There will be more controlled explosions likely today. They're trying to still gain access to parts of the ship.

And according to transcripts today attained by an Italian newspaper, not yet independently verified by CNN, I should mention. The captain is claiming that he tripped and fell into a life boat and this is after he handed off his own life jacket to a passenger.

He also told a judge that he was navigating by sight. He said this, "I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well and I had done this maneuver three or four times. But this time I ordered the turn too late and I ended up in water that was too shallow."

We'll talk about that straight ahead.

Also, new evidence about just what happened onboard on that ocean liner on Friday night.

According to reported full transcript from the Ports Authority, at 10:06 P.M., police on land are made aware of problems because a passenger apparently on the ship has called his mother on the land who in turn called police on the land and they reach back to the cruise ship.

10:14, the Concordia officers tell the Coast Guard, so they answer back and say, don't worry, it's only a power outage.

10:26 P.M., the captain calls the Coast Guard and says there is an open hole in his ship.

By 10:48, the Coast Guard is told there's an evacuation under evaluation.

And at 10:58, nearly an hour after police first made the ship aware of the problems, the evacuation process begins.

I find this timeline absolutely stunning. In addition to our panel, although I should mention, Roland Martin has popped out for a minute so he can talk to Tom Joiner -- Tom Joiner's Morning Show.

We've got Jim Staples back. He's the captain and has been a captain for 20 years, as well as a Master Mariner in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He's been with us the last couple of days.

Sir, thanks for being with us again. I have so many questions to ask you, so I want to run through more stuff on this timeline, because I find it absolutely stunning.

First, the fact that the people who have notified the police on land was a mother of a passenger who apparently reached out to his mother by phone and called her to tell her about the problem from hitting something.

But also, you can follow in this timeline that Patino (ph) admits that he's in the water, that the patrol boat at midnight -- half past midnight informs him that there are 70 or 80 people stuck on that -- that ship still, onboard.

And that eventually at 2:53 in the morning, that patrol boat goes onboard and Patino (ph) an hour later, a little less or 20 minutes later is found on the land.

When you hear this updated transcript, sir, what's your take?

JIM STAPLES, MASTER MARINER, U.S. MERCHANT MARINE: It's just amazing what took place on this ship with this captain. I find this horrifying that that a man in command would even do things like that to get away from the ship. It's bizarre.

O'BRIEN: We also know that there were calls in that hour before the evacuation was officially ordered, there were calls between the captain and the cruise line. So he's basically calling his bosses. How unusual would that be after you've hit something but before you actually call for an evacuation? What could they possibly be talking about?

STAPLES: Well, I don't know what they were talking about. I'm sure he was talking about the possibility of some damage to the vessel. But, you know, to call the office immediately when you have an incident like this is, again, it shows irresponsibility and incompetence. His first order of command was to find out what was going on with that ship and the problems and to see if he needed to get the crew and the passengers off immediately. That's what he should have been attending to and being distracted by calling the office and talking about probabilities or possibilities.

He should have been taking command to that ship and getting those people safely off the vessel. This is -- again, shows irresponsible and incompetence and he's made to call the office and maybe ask for advice. I don't know what he was doing or what he was thinking.

O'BRIEN: Will Cain has said early on, I think all of us are sort of saying, well, before we really know everything, you know, you hesitate. And especially since a lot of this is translated out of the Italian, you want to hesitate. But now, to me, it seems like the incompetence has been fairly well established since it's in his own words and it's been translated.

CAIN: Let me ask Captain Jim, we talked over the last couple of days several times about abandoning ship. We keep talking about the captain abandoned ship. And in fact in the transcript between the captain and the Ports Authority, they're clarifying that with each other.

What, you've abandoned ship? What does it mean to abandon ship? When does that declared? If he fell into the water, as he claims he did, what does it take to abandon ship?

O'BRIEN: No, he claims he fell into a life boat, actually, which I think is even less believable when you talk to the passengers who talked about fighting their way to get on a life boat. He claims he accidentally tumbled in a lifeboat, which is different than what --

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: -- qualifies as abandoning ship.

O'BRIEN: Captain Jim?

STAPLES: Yes, abandoning ship, why he would leave that vessel -- I -- I find this hard to believe. He never should have left the vessel. And, again, the probability of him falling out of the ship and tripping and -- and conveniently landing in a lifeboat, it's what I would call a sea story.

But, you know, for this guy to abandon that vessel like that, you don't want to be leaving your passengers and your crew to fend for themselves. It's your job. It's your duty to make sure that these people are all safe.

Again, this is -- it's unfolding to just be bizarre. It's just a bizarre instance of a captain who really did not have command of his vessel.

BROWNSTEIN: Captain, it's Ron Brownstein. So is the expectation in a situation like that, is the protocol that the captain would be the last person off the vessel? Is that the expectation?

STAPLES: Absolutely. The captain should be the last person off the vessel. Again, for the safety of your crew, your passengers to get them off first, and then also to negotiate salvage rights with -- with a salvage company. And then that would be the time you would be talking to the office, once everybody's removed from the ship.

O'BRIEN: You know, one of the things he said, Captain Jim, was that he -- he was -- oh, I'm sorry. Forgive me for interrupting you.

One of the things he was talking about was navigating by sight so close to the beach and he said actually he had done it several times before. And the way he was almost talking, like the way you'd navigate your sunfish (ph) as opposed to this massive cruise ship. How unusual would it be for someone to -- to navigate by sight in a place that's so clearly close to the beach?

STAPLES: Well, there's nobody that I know that just navigates a vessel by sight. You always use your aids to navigation, your electronics, your radar sets and the other resources you have in the bridge such as your junior officers. They're also the ones that are helping in navigating the ship.

To do this totally on sight at nighttime would be -- it would be equivalent to a -- a captain of an airliner trying to land a 747 at night, not using his instrumentation or tower control. It just doesn't make any sense for this man to be doing something like this. It's -- it's absurd.

It's irresponsible and shows incompetence. You just cannot trust your eyesight at nighttime. It's very hard to measure distance and -- and your judgment of distance from where you are at any point on a ship when you're moving. And to do this at night, it's -- it's incredibly irresponsible.

CAIN: It certainly sounds that way.

I just want to ask one last question or put this on the table. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book a few years ago called "Outliers," and he had a chapter called "The Ethnic History of Plane Crashes." And he talks about cultural differences. We all have strengths, weaknesses and tendencies in our cultures that have contributed to plane crashes over the years.

I'm just curious, is there anything -- this guy was an Italian. This was an Italian cruise ship. Is there anything that we're imposing upon this, you know, through our own lens that maybe needs to be viewed through the Italian culture? Is there some contribution here that this guys was not you, Captain Jim. He was an Italian captain.

BROWNSTEIN: Do Italians dislike GPS, for example?

STAPLES: Well, what I would say is we need to look at the bridge team concept that they were using onboard. A lot of junior officers are -- they don't -- they hesitate to maybe countermand the captain's orders.

But in a bridge team concept, pretty much like in a cockpit of an airline, you have a junior officer who is there to also check that what's being done is the correct thing. A junior officer should have stepped in and said, captain, you're treading into dangerous waters here. We move -- we need to move this vessel a bit further offshore.

It sounds to me like the -- the team bridge concept wasn't working at all there, and it would be very interesting to find out if anybody was monitoring the equipment, the GPSs, and plotting the position as to where they were, looking at the radar sets to see the distances and giving this information to the captain, or if they just stood there and they were quiet because of the -- the command structure on board the vessel, that the captain had the attitude that he was the supreme commander or God, and that the junior officers didn't have a say.

Where -- where we sail now in the American Merchant Marine and in most countries, we use a team concept where the junior officers do have a say because everybody's capable of making a mistake at one -- at some time, giving a wrong helm order or seeing the helmsman go the wrong way --

O'BRIEN: And everybody's capable of stopping that mistake from happening.

Captain Jim, we're out of time on this segment. I want to thank you. We appreciate -- I know we'll see you back here tomorrow, I -- because we see you everyday, sir. So we know we'll be back with you again tomorrow.

He's joining us from New Orleans, I should mention.

We're going to continue this morning to watch the breaking news out of Iowa, results from the Iowa caucus. We're still talking about the Iowa caucus.

BROWNSTEIN: Breaking is the right word. Broken -- the broken news out of Iowa.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: -- the fact that we're in South Carolina.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

MARTIN: Right.

O'BRIEN: A certification with Santorum now on top. The GOP is saying it's a tie.

Plus, in "Get Real," actor Mark Wahlberg says he could have saved hijacked 9/11 planes if he had been on board. He's now apologizing for those remarks. We'll talk about that, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. This is inside the Berry Patch Cafe. Isn't this cute? This restaurant is so cute.

The owner tells me this has been here for 12 years. This is a beautiful restaurant. Have you been seeing the palm trees? The palm trees on the table cloths this morning. I love this place -- Like Hawaii, almost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is in a bad mood.

O'BRIEN: Christine Romans has some headlines for us, some other stories making news. Hi, Christine. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK, you eat your grits and I have a couple headlines for you. And you should be done when I'm done, all right?

All right, GOP candidate Rick Santorum's tax plan would mean lower taxes for millions of Americans. The Tax Policy Center has now examined this plan and found 69 percent of taxpayers have had their taxes cut by nearly $7,800. But that means a big shortfall in government revenue making it harder to cut the deficit and slow the growth of the national debt.

All right, President Obama heads to Disneyworld later today to talk tourism. The president wants to make it easier for people in places like Brazil and China to obtain travel visas.

Former Penn State officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are expected to be arraigned next hour for their alleged roles in a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The two men who have pleaded not guilty are charged with perjury and failing to report an alleged 2002 sexual assault of a child.

This just in to CNN, CNN confirms Casey Anthony will get $1 million for an interview. We'll have more on that and who the outlet is as soon as that becomes clearer.

Now new weather worries for people in the Pacific Northwest after the biggest snowstorm in decades. Warmer temperatures could cause severe flooding and make road conditions dangerous. Nearly seven inches of snow fell in Seattle just what they usually get all year.

AT&T raising the prices of its data plans. The new plans roll out Sunday and it will cost between $20 and $50 a month depending on which data program you go with. That's $5 to $10 higher than current plans available. If you are an AT&T customer, today, right now, don't worry. These new rates, these new plans only affect new customers.

All right, minding your business now. U.S. stock futures trading higher ahead of the opening bell this morning. Bank of America just announced fourth quarter income of $2 billion says solid business activity reflects, quote, "gradually improving economy."

In about an hour, the Labor Department will announce how many unemployment claims were filed for the first time last week. Everyone is hoping this number comes in below 400 because anything under 400,000 new jobless claims in a week shows the labor market is headed in the right direction -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Christine.

So our focus for a little bit this morning has been Iowa. I didn't say thank you enough to Christine and now she's saying you're welcome.

All right, our focus has been on Iowa, but because of the breaking news out of Iowa that we all know. But we also have a focus, of course, in South Carolina, which is where we are this morning.

Here today, Newt Gingrich is answering questions about his ex- wife who has now done an interview and a piece of it I think has already aired on "Good Morning America" and Newt Gingrich was on the "Today" this morning sort of swatting back some of those questions.

So let's listen to what he said on the "Today" show as soon as we get it, but he is answering questions. Here's what he said. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My two daughters, Cathy and Jackie, have sent a letter to the president of ABC News saying from a family perspective they think this is totally wrong.

They think ABC should not air anything like this and intruding into family things that are a decade, more than a decade old are simply wrong.

Now, I'll have my daughter speak for it and I'm sure they'll be glad to come on and chat with you about it. I won't comment beyond that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Intruding into family things is totally wrong. We have to introduce Chad Connelly who has joined us. He is the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. It's nice to have you. Feel free to dig into any of the food, by the way, that we have on the table. Good morning.

CHAD CONNELLY, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Newt Gingrich who should be today talking about his economic policies in South Carolina is, instead, talking about his ex- wife's interview. That's a problem for him.

CONNELLY: Well, you know, it's always an interesting how these things come out right before a crucial election. But I think Speaker Gingrich has done really well here building a grassroots team and I think he will show well on Saturday, too.

O'BRIEN: Do you think this is going to have any impact?

CONNELLY: I don't know, but it's interesting to see. I mean, he came here sort of building a grass roots team a long time ago. I think he has been here more than anyone else except Senator Santorum. So I'm interested in seeing how that translates into votes on Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If at any time you hear someone say let's not intrude on family things, they're likely in trouble. Trust me, I guarantee you out there --

O'BRIEN: Before the full interview comes out, by the way. When you're doing damage control before the interview --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guarantee you out there women who are saying, now you don't want to intrude on family things. I'm sure there are gays and lesbians out there saying, wow, now you're saying don't intrude on family things.

This is what happens when your butt is now on the line and you're saying, stay out of my stuff. This is when you talk about character. When you stand on stage and you talk about your wife and talk about your grandkids and your friends and family, you have to deal with this stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I predict this will have less impact than this suggests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the evidence is overwhelming that voters understand that everybody has something in their life they don't want to read about on the front page of "New York Times" or "Washington Post" or on CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And "Detroit News" and other papers outside of D.C. and New York.

BROWNSTEIN: I think voters have shown they don't judge political leaders by their worst moments and that is actually a healthy impulse in society --

O'BRIEN: Well, and I would add that --

BROWNSTEIN: People who see this as a hypocrisy are the people who would opposed to Republican candidate anyway. It's kind of like, I think it kind of works that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an interview that could end his campaign with one statement. So, you might be wrong Ron Brownstein.

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know. I don't think so. CONNELLY: For social conservatives, for evangelicals he said, I went through a difficult time, I repented and he's been very clear. He's been here a lot of times going around the state talking about stuff like this. I have things in my life that I'm not proud of.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about poll numbers. You see Mitt Romney with a fairly decent slide if you believe the NBC/Marist poll numbers where he is -- Romney on Monday at 37 percent. Six points down by Tuesday, of course, what happened in between was the debate. What's going on do you think in this state about Mitt Romney?

CONNELLY: Like I said before, I'm going to be most interesting to see how the grassroots work is going to translate the votes and I know that Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum have been here a lot.

Governor Romney has been here a lot lately. I knew this would tighten up. South Carolina has, you know, we have a reputation for this. We picked the nominee for 30 years and I tell you, I think people are just now tuning in.

I was with all my families over Christmas and we have four different families and cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents and no one has seen a full debate I think at that time.

With that debate last Monday night and then tonight, I think people are really tuning in. They're focusing and they haven't been decided and they have to make a decision this week.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Also keep in mind, this is the first full primary we have seen the Gingrich "Super PAC." We've seen those levels of attacks as well. He didn't have the money in Iowa.

He wasn't there in New Hampshire and that plays a role in it, as well. but also South Carolina was always supposed to be the conservative fire wall to Mitt Romney and I think it's playing out.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Can I say, in the next couple days as soon as South Carolina is over, we are going to know what matters. We talk around this table this morning about what does and doesn't matter.

We know that most people suggest Newt Gingrich won the debate the other night. We see polls tightening. We know we talked about in the next day Newt Gingrich will have a scandal come out, will that matter.

There's been a lot of talk about whether or not the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon will matter. We'll find that out in South Carolina --

O'BRIEN: Can I --

CAIN: This is my magic wall right here. We're going to --

O'BRIEN: We don't have as much money as most shows.

CAIN: Eat your heart out, John King.

BROWNSTEIN: There is one dynamic not on your wall, which maybe the most important one. Wait, one last thing that's not on the wall.

O'BRIEN: One person at a time, please.

BROWNSTEIN: We know that Mitt Romney, like John McCain before him, has a ceiling in South Carolina. This is not the ideal electorate for him, 70 percent conservative, 60 percent Evangelical.

He is probably not going to get to 40 percent as that poll had him on Monday night. The real question, the overwhelming question which is the same one has been for months.

Can anyone mobilize the big portion of the electorate and skeptical of him? Look what's happening today. If Rick Santorum won Iowa and gains more momentum, that's probably good for Mitt Romney because it further fractionates the vote on the right.

O'BRIEN: What would the impact be? Now that you know that breaking news, if you can call it that out of Iowa, 34 votes instead of down eight. What is the impact here in South Carolina?

CONNELLY: I don't know. It's going to be tough to see. It was the whole national narrative was Romney's momentum. There's no question. Governor Romney came in with steam, but like I told you the grassroots were behind a lot of the people.

Now I got to tell you. With all five campaigns, I can name close friends who helped me in my chairman's campaign last spring, Tea Party, Republican activists.

MARTIN: We wouldn't have a chance.

CONNELLY: Yes, I mean, it's spread out. It's a typical primary and I'm not sure you can put in a box and say this is what it is. It's a primary.

MARTIN: This whole deal with Romney. You're playing long ball --

O'BRIEN: Are you doing sports analogies?

MARTIN: You're saying we spend lots of time saying this state, this state, this state. If you're Romney, all you're simply focused on, I'm playing long ball and trying to play it out. I want to get to that end number. That's the whole goal, the end number.

CAIN: It's going perfectly for Romney.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

BROWNSTEIN: One thing, typical race. It's actually typical of the new race. You know, up until 2008, the winner in South Carolina was at 45 percent or above. John McCain won with only about a third of the vote. Romney may have the opportunity to have the same thing because people are staying in the races longer.

The debates and "Super PACs" are allowing candidates to stay in the race longer, which allows people to win the race with a smaller base of support. And that's why it's possible for Romney to potentially end this race.

CONNELLY: "Super PACs" are a new animal. We don't really know how to put him in a box at all. They're making a big influence in Iowa, of course, and here it has begun to play.

O'BRIEN: Chairman Connelly, it's nice to have you. Thanks for joining the craziness this morning.

Still ahead this morning, the president has rejected the Keystone oil pipeline that would run from Canada into Texas. Republicans are furious say the president is killing jobs. The project, though, might not be dead. We'll talk about that.

Then actor, Mark Wahlberg, said he could have stopped the 9/11 hijackers if he had been on board one of those planes. Now he is apologizing. We'll have more on that story straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to the Bear E. Patch, where we're having breakfast this morning in Charleston, South Carolina.

Our "Get Real" this morning involves the actor, Mark Wahlberg. He made the mistake --

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: He made the mistake of breaking what I consider to be a golden rule. When someone asks you a "what if" question, do not answer that question ever. It cannot end well. Here is a guy that plays these macho characters and he is promoting his new movie "Contraband." "Men's Journal" asked him a question, what if he had been on Boston's flight 11 (ph) when the 9/11 terrorists hijacked it. Here's what Wahlberg said.

He said, "If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn't have gone down the way it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin, and then me saying, we're going to land safely somewhere, don't worry." He was booked on that flight back in 2001 but he changed his plans and ended up flying out a different day.

But family members, survivors are reacting to what he said. One widow, whose husband died on that flight, said Wahlberg's remarks were disrespectful. Her husband was one of the hero passengers on United Flight 93. On that flight, they foiled the terrorists. They were able to crash that plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. This morning, Marky Mark has realized his mistake and he's issued a formal apology, saying this: "To speculate about such a situation is ridiculous. And to suggest I would have done anything differently than the passengers on that plane was irresponsible." So give a little "Get Real" shout out to Mark Wahlberg for backing away and getting real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or at least his publicist.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Some idiot who actually --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: No, no. That's the apology.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: The apology.

MARTIN: Oh, gotcha.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very well crafted though --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I want to believe that he read that and said, do not ever answer "what if" questions.

MARTIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: That was disrespectful. And he has issued an apology. He has gotten real this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Way to go, tough guy.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Next on STARTING POINT, President Obama says not now to the pipeline that would cut through the United States. Republicans say it's killing jobs. We'll hear on both sides of this issue straight ahead as we continue right here from Charleston, South Carolina.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. President Obama is postponing plans for the Keystone Oil Pipeline. He's blaming Republicans, and says Congress gave too short of a deadline for review of the plans.

CNN's Christine Romans is showing us what the pipeline is all about now.

Hey, Christine. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Let's talk about what it is. It would be the biggest infrastructure project underway in the United States, some $7 billion worth.

This is what it looks like, this drawing of this building -- this pipeline here. It's actually connecting some existing infrastructure, connecting the oil sand fields of Alberta, Canada, to the refineries on the gulf coast of the U.S.

The controversy, Soledad, is really the kind of oil. It's unconventional. It's sticky, heavy-like oil stuff mixed with sand, clay, minerals. It takes more energy to turn it to fuel. And it requires extensive refineries.

The part of this giant pipeline everybody is fighting about is this, these two extensions that are 16,061 miles of new pipeline. Environmentalists are worried about the fragile sand hills of Nebraska right here. Then there's this connection. This connection right here that goes down to Houston.

Critics say that TransCanada could actually maybe export oil to refining to other countries, like China, Brazil, cut the U.S. out. There's also concern, quite frankly, that this is all just going to lock us into this -- fossil fuels. It's a deeper commitment to oil sands refining, a difficult job that creates more pollution, other types of oil production.

Environmentalist, they worry that that pipe could leak. What do supporters say? It's about jobs. The builder says it would create maybe 20,000 jobs. It would add $20 billion for the U.S. economy over 100 years.

It's worth noting, Soledad, the State Department says it would only create 5,000 or 6,000 jobs. Others have said they would be temporary jobs, maybe just a couple of thousand.

Plus Canadian oil though, it's a stable trading partner, right? It helps avoid the conflict oil of the Middle East.

As our colleagues at "CNN Money" put it, Soledad, this is really a debate about national security, jobs, the economy, the environment, and energy. Oh yes, and presidential politics, too.

O'BRIEN: I think politics plays a very big role. We'll get to that in a moment.

Christine, Thank you.

ROMANS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Let's get into that debate. Arthur Berman joins us this morning, a geological consultant. He is on one side of the issue. On the opposite side is Jane Kleeb. She's executive director of Bold Nebraska. She fought against the pipeline.

Nice to have you both. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. Berman, I'm going to start with you.

You said this is a perfectly awful decision by the president. Why?

ARTHUR BERMAN, GEOLOGICAL CONSULTANT: Let's talk about the environmental part of this first. The assumption a lot of people make is that the aquifer, the beds that carry the water, is right at the surface and it's an underground cavern and, if there is a spill it's going to go into the water supply. That's completely wrong. The Ogallala, the high plains aquifer, is a rock. It's not a cavern. It's buried several hundred feet below the surface. The likelihood of any spill getting to it is minimal. And there's been evaluations to that fact.

JANE KLEEB, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BOLD NEBRASKA: That's actually not true, Mr. Berman.

O'BRIEN: The president has said essentially -- hold on, Ms. Kleeb. Hold on. Hold on. Stop for one second. I want to ask you a question.

The president has said he's rejecting the bid but he says let's study it more. What's wrong with the take of let's study it a little bit more, sir?

Then we'll get to you Ms. Kleeb.

BERMAN: It's already been studied. The State Department's looked into it. There have been independent analyses. I'm not here to say that having a pipeline doesn't present certain risks of oil spillage. All I'm saying is that the concerns about it getting into the drinking water and the aquifer I think are overblown and based on a fundamental lack of understanding of geology.

O'BRIEN: All right. Ms. Kleeb, why don't you hop in and tell me what your concerns are. Are they overblown and based on a fundamental lack of understanding of geology?

KLEEB: I don't think Mr. Berman is going to be drinking the water in Nebraska, but I am and my kids are. He's not true that the water is not at the surface. In the sand hills, if you stick a pipe in the ground, water will come out. That's often how they feed cattle up there.

So, you know, I don't really appreciate his arrogance, saying that we don't understand what we're talking about in Nebraska. We have a lot of concerns about the water, but we also have concerns about the risks of this pipeline to our energy security. This is an export pipeline. Quite frankly, I don't think us, in middle America, want to be used as a middleman for Canada to make millions of dollars.

O'BRIEN: When you look at what the president said, Ms. Kleeb, he didn't say, "This could be an environmental catastrophe. This is why I'm going to not allow it to happen." What he said was, really the deadline, the calendar -- that means that it sounds like, politically speaking, it's still on the table. Some people said that this is going to happen. We know that the company that wants to put the pipeline, in fact, will go back and re-apply for it. Do you worry about the president's support?

KLEEB: No, I don't worry at all. I think the president is committed to American-made energy. This pipeline is not American-made energy. This does nothing to get us off oil and move us to a new energy economy, which is exactly what we need to do.

And I can tell you that Nebraskans are not done fighting this pipeline. If TransCanada decides they are going to resubmit for a permit for the pipeline, we will be there fighting every step of the way. This is about protecting our land and our water. And this is about protecting our family's heritage, which is why you saw us on, both the Republican and Democratic side, standing shoulder to shoulder to fight this thing. It's not good for our country. It's not good for our state. It's not good for our family farmers and ranchers.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Berman, the oil will eventually go out of Canada. They're going sell it. What's the expectation of what happens with that oil?

BERMAN: The great expectation is that they'll export it to China. People who are worried about the environment, putting this oil on tankers has a much higher probability of spills and other environmental issues. This oil is coming from Canada. I hope that the Canadians make money, as we like to in trade. When they sell, it's also going to go to U.S. refineries where Americans will make money. Some of it'll be exported. Exports are good. We have a bad balance of trade.

So I think in the long run, the concern is, it's great to say we're going to get off of an oil economy. The reality is that we're not going to get off of an oil economy any time in the next few decades. We're going to need this oil. At the moment, at the rate that China and India are increasing their oil demand, they're going to use 100 percent of existing net exports over the next 20 years. There simply won't be any left for the rest of the world.

So I think there is a security issue here. I'd rather get my oil from a neighbor and a friend in Canada than have to worry about the security of supply from somewhere in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world. Plus, we're giving it to competitors so --

O'BRIEN: Mr. Berman --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: So there are some real issues here.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Berman, I thank you for your time this morning. He's a geological consultant. And Jane Kleeb, who is the executive director of Bold Nebraska. Nice to have you both. Appreciate your time.

KLEEB: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning in our next hour, we're watching breaking news out of Iowa, a recant -- recant -- recount --

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You or Sarah Palin.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Rick Santorum in the recount -- thank you my annoying panelists for jumping on my mistake --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.

(LAUGHTER)

OBRIEN: Now show Rick Santorum in the lead. We'll talk about what the implications of that could be.

Also, we'll talk about the new book. It's called "The Real Romney." Two veteran political reporters who wrote it will tell us who they thing the real Romney is. You're watching STARTING POINT. Short break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)