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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Interview with Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia; Interview With Rep. Jim Clyburn; Newt Gingrich Denies Claims by Ex-Wife He Desired an Open Marriage; Obama's World View

Aired January 20, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live from Charleston, South Carolina, at the Bear E Patch Cafe.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is Newt Gingrich, who is gaining momentum and rising in the polls. And what many people call a game changer performance at last night's debate.

Plus, Virginia's governor, Bob McDonnell, is going to join us. He says he is making an endorsement. We'll tell you who he is supporting and much more.

STARTING POINT begins right after this.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Well, that's Herman Cain right there. He said he had to run out at 8:00. And there he is, shaking hands. He's still campaigning, he says. He's still campaigning.

Herman Cain is heading from the first hour as we move into our second hour of STARTIGN POINT. We've got a lot to talk about this morning.

But, first we want to get to some other stories making news. Let's get right to Alina Cho. She's at the news desk.

Hey, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Soledad. Good morning.

We begin with breaking news.

CNN has just confirmed that six service members killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan are U.S. Marines. The crash happened late Thursday in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. The Taliban has claimed responsibility in a text message to CNN. NATO says there was no enemy presence in the area when the chopper went down.

The search for survivors inside that Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia has been suspended now because of dangerous weather conditions. You are looking live there at pictures there pictures of the crippled vessel.

Right now, it's teetering about eight feet away from the edge of a rock formation. If it shifts a little bit more, it could go over the edge and plunge more than 200 feet. That would almost certainly cause the gas tanks to implode sending 500,000 gallons of fuel into the sea.

Later this morning, a hearing gets underway in the case of a Rutgers university student who allegedly used a web cam to stream footage of his roommate's sexual encounter with another man. Dharun Ravi goes on trial next month on invasion of privacy charges when his 18-year-old roommate, Tyler Clemente, realized what happened, he committed suicide, jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

The Pacific Northwest is just getting pounded weather wise. Ice storms have knocked out power to a quarter million homes in the Seattle area and parts of Oregon are also dealing with severe flooding.

The Justice Department and FBI Web sites are back on line right now after allegedly being hacked by the group Anonymous. Those hack attacks are said to be in retaliation for criminal charges leveled against the content sharing site megaupload.com.

And it's moving day for Atlantis. The retired space shuttle is leaving its processing hangar this morning and will be moved to NASA's vehicle assembly building where it will be prepared for public display in the Kennedy Space Center's visitor complex in 2013.

Minding your business now:

U.S. stock futures pointing to a flat opening right now. There has been lots of volatility in the markets recently over Europe's debt crisis.

Google says its social networking site called Google Plus has gained 90 million users since it launched in June. That's the good news. The bad news: Google stock dropping about 7.5 percent overnight after earnings missed estimates. The company says profits were lower than analysts expected because spending lots of money growing its business and hiring more workers.

Soledad, I'm going to see you one more time in 30 minutes. Back to you where you're having way too much fun in that diner in South Carolina.

O'BRIEN: Is it coming across as fun, really?

CHO: It is.

O'BRIEN: It's stressful to me. All right, Alina. Thank you.

Right here in South Carolina, the race is now closer than ever. That's ahead of Saturday's primary.

Newt Gingrich is gaining momentum. A poll from American Research Group, it shows a dead heat. Thirty-three percent of likely Republican voters are backing Newt Gingrich. We've got 32 percent who are backing Mitt Romney according to that poll.

And the debate last night may have helped Gingrich win over South Carolina voters. It opened up with a strong response to questions about Gingrich's ex-wife's claims that he wanted an open marriage. And he was able to turn what was a potential negative into a very positive moment in the debate. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News, and another interview with "The Washington Post." And this story has gone viral on the Internet. In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage. Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, but I will.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: I think -- I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So here is what Marianne Gingrich told ABC last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIANNE GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S EX-WIFE: I said to him, "Newt, we've been married a long time." And he said, "Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do."

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: What was he saying to you, do you think?

GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Senior political analyst David Gergen says Gingrich's response at the debate to those claims is a game changer. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Speaker Gingrich got a standing ovation in this auditorium for saying it was basically a completely inappropriate question.

KING: And he also scored points in the Monday night debate by attacking Juan Williams' questions. I had the conversation with the speaker after -- look, you've moderated these debates. This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't. It is a story that is making the rounds in the campaign.

Is it an issue I'm happy came up in the last 48 hours in South Carolina? Of course not. Is it an issue that voters in the state are talking about today? Is it an issue that he several times before the debate talked about in a very calm manner?

ANDERSON: Right.

KING: It is.

ANDERSON: He talked about it today earlier in a much different manner.

But you knew -- I mean, how much of this was debate theatrics on his part? Did you know he was going to have that response?

KING: I knew he was going to challenge the question. I don't read minds. I don't want to make a judgment about the speaker's response. I've been covering politics for 25 years.

I understood that if I asked the question, he was not going to be happy with it and he was going to turn on me. I knew that coming in.

Again, you make the judgment call. Is it an issue in the debate? It might not be a great issue. It might not be an issue we want to talk about, but it is an issue in a debate. Some of the other candidates are talking about it. Voters are talking about it in the states.

It was my judgment, my decision and mine alone. If we're going to deal with it, let's deal it up front. Let's not try to sneak it into the middle of the debate somewhere. And people at home either agree with that or disagree with that. You make a decision, you ask a question.

And this is politics. This is politics. He's trying to promote himself, promote an agenda.

Of course, he's going to attack us. I don't take that personally. We had a nice conversation afterwards.

I've had a long relationship with the speaker. We don't always get along, but I get how the business works.

COOPER: Panelists, what do you all think?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me just talk about this. And this is one of the most explicit moments we've seen in debate history.

COOPER: In debate history?

GERGEN: Debate history. It was also one of the harshest attacks we've had on the press that I can remember in a long, long time, very personal in the beginning.

And as a political matter, I think Gingrich saw a fast ball coming. And for this audience, he smacked it right out of the park. I think there's a reasonable chance, I was talking to people here tonight, that he can win South Carolina based on that answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I want to bring in now Republican Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia. We're joined by David Frum, who's joined our panel. Roland Martin is back with us. Ron Brownstein is still with us.

Nice to see you, Governor. Thanks for talking with us.

You have said that you are endorsing Mitt Romney and yet really the story this morning is Newt Gingrich -- Newt Gingrich in polling, newt Gingrich in his performance, if you'll call it that, in the debate last night.

Are you having any second thoughts?

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: Not at all. Hey, good morning, Soledad. I hope you guys are having a great breakfast in South Carolina. I'll be down there later today.

Now, I'm endorsing Mitt Romney because I think he is the right leader at the right time, to create jobs and get America back on track. He's got a proven record of doing that in the public and private sector. And I think he's the best chance to be able to defeat President Obama in November.

So I'm thrilled to be supporting Mitt Romney. I've said for a long time a current or former governor would be the best leader for America, and he's the one I'm supporting.

O'BRIEN: You know what's interesting -- you were at a town hall with Congressman Tim Scott --

MCDONNELL: Yes.

O'BRIEN: -- who was joining us around the breakfast table a few minutes ago. He was sort of saying that he can't endorse anybody because he genuinely feels split. It's an electability issue on one hand. Mitt Romney is better organized, seems to have sort of the long haul better planned out.

But ideologically and philosophically, he feels closer to Newt Gingrich. Here is what Rick Santorum said about Newt Gingrich last night. I want to play a little bit from the debate. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I've laid out what I've replaced it with. First, it's a bill that does care with people that have pre-existing conditions. If they've got a pre-existing condition and they've been previously insured, they won't be denied insurance going forward. Secondly, I'll allow people to own their own insurance rather than just being able to get it from their employer.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney tells a very nice story about what his plan is now. It wasn't in his plan when he was in a position to do a plan. When he was governor of Massachusetts he put forward Romney care which was not a bottom up free market system.

Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about looking at the paper and worrying about what he's going to say next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Governor McDonnell, good morning. Ron Brownstein from "The National Journal."

MCDONNELL: Hey, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I want pick up on those comments from Senator Santorum because Virginia has really been at the forefront of the litigation from Republican states trying to overturn the individual mandated health care. And Senator Santorum was saying that Republicans can't rely on Mitt Romney to make a sharp contrast with President Obama over the individual mandate because he really is the one who brought it back to life in his op-ed piece in "The Boston Globe" in 2004.

MCDONNELL: Well, I think -- I think that's just flat wrong. What's worth litigating against the Obama administration is to say that the federal government can mandate that an individual within a state has to buy a product of insurance or you get fined. It's the states have that option to do that, different states make different choices.

But what Mitt Romney said is, look, as the president of the United States, on my first day in office, I'll do everything I can to unwind Obamacare administratively and then I'll pursue legislation to override it if the Supreme Court doesn't do it. So, I think that's right. He understands federalism.

That's why I'm supporting a governor in this race because they get it. They've balanced budgets. They understand that government closest to the people works best. They can't make excuses like this president continues to make where we've got a surplus of rhetoric and a deficit of results in Washington.

Mitt Romney doesn't do that. He takes responsibility. He creates jobs.

And he's the leader America needs to turn the economy around. That's why I'm supporting him.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Governor, Roland Martin here.

MCDONNELL: Hey, Roland. Good morning.

MARTIN: Newt Gingrich, more in line -- good morning. He's more in line with the Tea Party than Mitt Romney is. Can Mitt Romney get them enthused for his candidacy? President Obama won Virginia in 2008. Can he do it to get them excited to back him in the race? You need to have their enthusiastic back to go defeat President Obama?

MCDONNELL: Absolutely. I've been so impressed with Mitt Romney in these debates about his positive optimistic vision for America, his quotes of Ronald Reagan about America being the shining city on the Hill. That's what we need.

People are hurting in America right now, Roland. They want jobs. They want to see this crushing national debt that Obama's rung up over the last three years put to bed with tax cuts and spending cuts. Mitt Romney's a proven leader getting elected in a blue state and governing as a conservative.

I'm a pro-family military veteran and that's how we've -- that's the kind of people that we've got in our state that want to see that kind of nominee. And Mitt Romney's going to win Virginia. I think he's going to win South Carolina. And he's the best guy to beat President Obama.

O'BRIEN: You know, about 24 hours ago, or maybe a little bit more than that, 36 hours ago, people were really talking about the inevitability of Mitt Romney. He had won Iowa, he had won New Hampshire. He was polling to win South Carolina.

MCDONNELL: Right.

O'BRIEN: And then really, 12 hours later, everything changed. And I'm wondering if now, what is the strategy with Newt Gingrich surging? Are we going to see the super PAC come in? And as Romney's super PAC has done in the past start flooding the air waves to try to take Newt Gingrich out?

MCDONNELL: I think Mitt has always known South Carolina was going to be tough. But look, he's on a roll. He's won two primaries, so far. I'm a southern governor endorsing Mitt Romney in the first southern state primary. The governor of South Carolina has endorsed him as well.

And I think, hopefully, that will help him some, but he's the one that's been consistent. Other candidates have been up and down. He is the consistent, results oriented conservative, who's got the best record and the best message on jobs and on cutting spending. That's what people are going to be voting for. That's what Americans need right now.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Governor, David Frum here. You're a popular governor in a southern state who has achieved popularity by being very focused on governments, really picking your issues. When you look at Newt Gingrich, get beyond electability, what kind of president do you think a new President Gingrich would be?

MCDONNELL: Look, I like all of these Republican candidates. Every one of them are good conservatives who will be far better presidents than the president that we've got now on jobs, on energy, on understanding that this is a nation of opportunity, not guarantees, which is what this president is moving us towards.

Listen, I'm here to support Mitt Romney. And the reasons for that is he is the leader to turn the economy around and cut spending and lead us into an optimistic future. That's the message and that's the whole issue in this campaign. President Obama continues to blame everybody but himself for the direction of the country.

Eight percent unemployment or more for 35 straight months. We can't have that. Mitt Romney's created 120,000 jobs in the private sector. He knows how to do it. He won't make excuses. And, he's the guy to get this job done. So, I'm behind him.

O'BRIEN: Governor, I like everybody. And I have no comment on your question. Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell with us this morning. Nice to see you, sir.

MCDONNELL: OK, Soledad. Thanks. See you down there later today.

O'BRIEN: Thanks. You bet. Yes. We'll see you then. Thank you.

Still ahead this morning, the Democratic congressman, Jim Clyburn, is going to join us to give us his thoughts on last night's debate and his thoughts on what candidate the Dems would like to run against on the general election.

Plus, President Obama on talking with the Taliban. Fareed Zakaria is going to join us to talk about his exclusive interview with president for "Time" magazine.

Plus, did you know President Obama can hold a tune? Well, if you have a low, bar he can. Yes. Breaks out in song at a fundraiser. We're going to show you a clip of that straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking at the inside of the Bear E Patch Cafe, which is where we've been hanging out for the last couple of days here in Charleston, South Carolina. The food is very good, and we're very grateful for the hospitality. Ron Brownstein says, we can stay forever.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We'd all gain a lot of weight. In less than 23 hours, the polls will open here in South Carolina. This is a state with a very strong record in picking the GOP nominee. In these final hours, Newt Gingrich is gaining momentum. We want to talk about all of these developments with Democratic congressman, Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina. He's joined the panel. It's nice to have you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

REP. JIM CLYBURN, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you so much for having me.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, clearly, part of the message out of last night is that Republicans are very divided in who they're supporting. And even if you look over the last 36 hours, now you have Santorum winning Iowa, Romney winning in New Hampshire. A lot of people are saying Gingrich could win here in South Carolina. What does this mean for the Democratic strategy? And who do you want to go against?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't think we're in the business of picking our opponent, but I do believe that we are seeing a lot of definition coming to this campaign. But I would caution all Democrats that this election is going to be won or lost based upon what's happening within people's families, within their homes, and I would not get to caught up on which room.

I think it's all about the kitchen table and all these issues about what may or may not take place in bedrooms. It will not carry the day for us.

O'BRIEN: One of the things you could tell in this debate last night was all of the candidates were trying hard to attack each other less and focus on President Obama. I want to play a little bit of what Mitt Romney said. I want to focus on his business career and success. Let's play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're a speaker four years.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right.

ROMNEY: I was in business 25 years.

GINGRICH: Right.

ROMNEY: So, you're not going to get credit for my 25 years, number one. Number two, I don't recall a single day saying, oh, thank heavens, Washington is this for me. Thank heavens, I said, please get out of my way. Let me start a business and put Americans to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He got some boos last night, but that was one of just a couple lines where he got applause, which is I'm a businessman, I can fix the economy. Ultimately, isn't this what people are going to vote on?

CLYBURN: Well, being a businessman is one thing. How you employ business practices is still another. And I think that what he's going to have to answer for is not so much for the businesses that he ran, but what he did with his income. Did he re-invest in these communities?

Did he, in fact, help (ph) the economy or whether or not the jobs that were created, these 120,000 jobs, I'm beginning to believe that those jobs were created somewhere offshore where his money was. And that's what he's going to have to answer for.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Congressman, one of the biggest issues that President Obama has to face, dealing with blue collar workers, White, blue collar workers.

When you look at Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, even Virginia, you talk about Florida, move out west to Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, do you believe President Obama can make a stronger argument appealing to those workers than someone like Mitt Romney with the amount of money that he has, the kind of companies that he created, and laying off people as well? Who makes the stronger argument to that working man, working woman?

CLYBURN: Well, look, we have to remember that White, blue collar workers have always had a problem with the Democratic line for a long time now since the 1960s, and that's not going to change with Obama. I think that the extent to which he can get those blue collar workers to think beyond the social issues, get to the bread and butter issues, demonstrate that he is, in fact, growing this economy, getting them back to work because their bookkeeping takes place around the kitchen table.

They are concerned about people's bottom lines, whether or not Romney made millions. They'll be concerned whether or not they can educate their children, pay their bills and enjoy a two-week vacation --

O'BRIEN: I know David Frum wants to jump in, but we're going to hit a commercial break. We're going to ask you to stick around with us, Congressman, if you will.

CLYBURN: Sure.

O'BRIEN: When we come back, we'll continue our conversation right after this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking at the outside of the Bear E Patch Cafe. We are on the inside where they have generously given up like 80 percent of their cafe for us this morning, and we appreciate it. Yes. It's packed because we've taken up all the middle part of the cafe.

We're continuing our conversation with Congressman Jim Clyburn who's been nice enough to stick around with us. David, you were going to ask a question. FRUM: I was struck last night with debate. Newt Gingrich managed to do two things, and the one that say, I'm the real conservative. I'm the real Tea Party candidate. Oh, by the way, I'm the guy you can count on to get federal dollars to dredge Charleston Harbor.

(LAUGHTER)

FRUM: Tell me a little bit about that harbor and is it one of the reasons why you've seen a little bit of an ebbing of Tea Party fervor here in South Carolina, because that is going to need federal dollars if it's going to happen?

CLYBURN: That's exactly right. Thank you so much for mentioning that. It's not just the Charleston Harbor, it's also the Georgetown Harbor. We have two harbors here. And, right now, we have all of our farmers out of the Phoebe (ph) area using the Wilmington Port rather than the Georgetown Port, which is right in their county, simply because they cannot take the ships.

So, we've got to do the dredging if it's ever going to benefit the economy the way it should. And so, people now understand.

(CROSSTALK)

CLYBURN: Well, no, I'm an earmark guy. I really am. The Charleston Harbor is what it is (ph) today, because (INAUDIBLE) and yours truly earmarking that was necessary. They get that port -- that harbor down to the depths that it should be. And that is what's happening in Georgia. If you saw the secretary of transportation, they went down to Georgia and said we're going to spend $600 million that's necessary to do this. That could have been South Carolina, but it's not simply, because we could not get the cooperation from the Tea Party (ph) to get the money necessary.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Jim Clyburn, I know we lose you after this break, so we want to thank you for being with us.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

CLYBURN: I know you're taking some grits with you. I know you taking some grits with you.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, we've been hearing all about this explosive retort that happened from Newt Gingrich right off the bat at the debate last night. This morning we talk to two reporters who have interviewed Newt Gingrich's ex-wife Marianne and ask them what their thoughts were about last night's debate.

Also President Obama on talking with the Taliban. We'll take a look at that with Fareed Zakaria straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. That's the kitchen of the Berry Patch Cafe where we have been hanging out for the last couple of days. Yes, I'm sorry. That's the nerve center where STARTING POINT is operating out of this morning. Thank you, Roland. I appreciate that. A lot to get to this morning. First want to start with some headlines. Alina Cho has those for us. Good morning, Alina

CHO: Good morning, again, Soledad. We begin with breaking news. A U.S. military official telling Barbara Starr that the six service members killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Thursday were U.S. marines. The crash happened late yesterday in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. The Taliban has claimed responsibility in a text message to CNN. NATO says there was no enemy presence in the area when the chopper crashed.

Fire crews are doing all they can to hold back the flames from Reno, Nevada. A wildfire has already destroyed 20 homes and forced 10,000 people to evacuate the area. A state of emergency has been declared there. The fire is blamed for one death so far.

Penn State's board of trustees meets tonight for the first time since the controversial firing of head football coach Joe Paterno. A group of Paterno supporters are expected to attend. The legendary Joe Pa was fired amid the child sex abuse scandal involving his former top assistant Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is charged with more than 50 counts of sex abuse.

It's good to be king again. General Motors has reclaimed the crown as the world's top selling automaker after three years in the number two spot. GM sold nine million vehicles last year. Volkswagen was second. Toyota, the former number one, was third.

Minding your business now, here's your market check. U.S. stock futures are pointing to flat opening this morning.

Proposed changes in the definition of autism will dramatically reduce the rate at which the disorder is being diagnosed. Autism cases have skyrocketed in recent years. "The New York Times" reports an expert psychiatric panel is narrowing the definition, which critics say will make it harder for many to meet the criteria to get health services.

And soul legend Al Green was in the house, but it was president Obama who brought down the house and the crowd to the feet when he broke into song during a fundraiser at New York's Apollo theater. Just listen to him belting out a line from the Green classic, "Let's Stay Together."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And then to know that Reverend Al Green was here.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA (SINGING): "I am so in love with you."

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

CHO: All right, so, Soledad, it might be a tough reelection fight, but the president's got some pipes on him.

O'BRIEN: If only that's what the election is going to hinge on it would really be a walk for him, but maybe not. Alina, thank you. Appreciate that.

(INAUDIBLE)

O'BRIEN: Newt Gingrich -- Roland, shush. I'll introduce the panel. Roland Martin is with us. Ron Brownstein is with us again. Newt Gingrich is gaining momentum because he had a strong performance in last night's debate, lots of cheers for him. The audience was very into what he was saying.

His most powerful response was right in the beginning. He blasted the media for talking about his ex-wife's claims that he wanted an open marriage, allegations that he said were false. There are two reporters who have interviewed Marianne Gingrich and they join me this morning. James Grimaldi is an investigative reporter for the "Washington Post," and John Richardson is a writer at large for "Esquire" magazine.

I want to begin before we get to questions with a little clip of Brian Ross's interview that aired on "ABC News." Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIANNE GINGRICH: -- Been married a long time. And he said, "Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was he saying to you, do you think?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Let's begin with you, James. Walk me through anything that's new in the story. As we mentioned coming in, parts of it were in the "Washington Post," already in "Esquire" magazine. What was different this time around in the ABC News interview?

JAMES GRIMALDI, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think you could say that I talked to Marianne Gingrich briefly after the debate and obviously there's a difference of opinion here. Mr. Gingrich is denying it, and in essence, I guess, calling her a liar. She's sticking by her story. She said it's the truth, and it's pretty consistent with what she told me and she told Brian Ross and she told John Richardson over a period of time. So she's been relatively consistent.

I have not interviewed Mr. Gingrich on this topic, but I have interviewed Marianne Gingrich. You know, she's pretty convincing, at least to me. And as far as what's new from overnight. You know, the polls aren't in, but I assume that John King has dropped in the ratings. That's a joke, obviously.

O'BRIEN: He's not -- I realize that. He's into the running to be a candidate for president of the United States eventually. It doesn't matter on his point.

But let me ask John a question, because I do think there is a good question about timing. And Newt Gingrich brought it up last night in the comments that he said. Let me play you a little bit of what Newt Gingrich said in response to John King's question and then we'll talk about timing on the other side of it. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They're attacking the governor, they're attacking me. I'm sure they'll get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul. I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So he attacked the media, attacked Barack Obama even in that. But I think a very valid point was one of the timing of the interview. What's your take on that, John?

JOHN RICHARDSON, WRITER AT LARGE, "ESQUIRE": First off, she talked to me 18 months ago. Marianne has waited 12 years to talk about this. I think that people are sort of assuming that she's a bitter ex-wife.

O'BRIEN: John, let me stop you for a second. Hey, John, I'm going to stop you. Forgive me. We're going to get your mic issues fixed, because we can't hear you. Let me throw it back to James while we tweak your mic issues so I can get the next question to you. Go ahead, James. I was going to ask you about the timing issue which is what he was having an issue with. Go ahead.

GRIMALDI: Marianne Gingrich, according to a source, thought that interview was actually going to run after the South Carolina primary. She told me yesterday she said she thought the interview was going to be inevitable. She hadn't done a television interview since the divorce. Newt Gingrich was surging in the polls. She thought she was going to have to talk about it at some point. She was sort of the silent woman out there. She's an old political hand. She was hand in glove with Newt Gingrich for 18 years of that marriage. It was a political marriage. And she knows in politics you've got to get your story out there before the other guy defines you. She had not spoken with Newt Gingrich since the divorce. So she was worried there were some whisper campaigns out there that were going to start trashing her, throwing mud her way. So she wanted her story out there. Let it be told and have at it. She thought it was unavoidable.

O'BRIEN: And, John, have you spoken to Marianne Gingrich? What was her take on the debate and sort of the response of her ex-husband while he was standing behind the podium?

RICHARDSON: Well, I didn't speak to her last night, but I'd just like to say, I think that Marianne has, I think, lots of reasons for what she's doing. I mean, obviously she's not happy with being abandoned, lied to for years and then abandoned for a younger woman.

But I think there is an element of genuine patriotism in this. When I spoke to her she had turned down interviews for many years, and she said I'll only speak if he really runs for president because I don't think he should be president.

And, you know, we're focusing right now on one thing, which is adultery, which is a very personal thing. But in the story that Marianne tells, which is the story of an 18 year-long marriage, in "Esquire," she talks about a lot of behavior that's consistent with the kind of lying and, you know, manipulation that goes along with adultery, but a lot of erratic behavior, even breakdowns, mania, and a lot of things that make you think that all of this forms a pattern that you don't want in your president.

I think Santorum got it quite right. He said, you don't know with Mr. Gingrich when he's going to pop and what's going to happen. And I think that that's really what Marianne is all about and why she came forward.

O'BRIEN: John, Richard has been joining us this morning and James Grimaldi, gentlemen, thank you very much. Both of those articles are very interesting reads, so I hope folks will Google them and take a look. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning, CNN's Fareed Zakaria has sat down and talked with President Obama about foreign policy including maybe peace talks with the Taliban. We'll chat about that on the other side of the break. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. We're coming to you from Charleston, South Carolina. Once again back in the Bear E Patch Diner, Bear E Patch Cafe. We appreciate their hospitality.

Fareed Zakaria sat down with President Obama for an exclusive "Time" magazine cover story. They talked about foreign policy and domestic challenges as well and those challenges that are ahead. CNN's host "Fareed Zakaria GPS" and also "Time" magazine editor-at- large is in New York for us this morning.

Nice to see you Fareed, thanks for talking with us. Interesting to see how the President in your interview connects a strong foreign policy with a strong economic agenda at home. What did he tell you about this territory in foreign policy as it connects to economic policy?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Well, you're right. He really sees the revival of the American economy as absolutely crucial to our ability to project strength abroad.

And it was the point at which he got really passionate in the interview was when we talked about Simpson-Bowles. And I said to him, a lot of people, business people say that you haven't embraced Simpson-Bowles, the deficit reduction commission.

And he said, look, there is no moral equivalence here. I set out a framework very similar to Simpson-Bowles. There are things you know I didn't agree with every single thing in it. But I embraced the commission and I embraced the framework. And we put forward more revenue cuts than Simpson-Bowles -- sorry, more spending cuts, more cuts in government spending.

The problem, he said, was we couldn't get the Republicans to agree to any increases in tax revenues. At one point he got very agitated to me and he said, zip, nada, nothing. I couldn't get them to agree to anything. And that was why we don't have deficit reduction.

He said, we're still committed to it. We're still committed to the framework. And I think he really is frustrated by the fact that people see this as a kind of pox on both your houses when, as he puts it, the Democrats have really put forward three times a proposal that has very significant cuts in spending but also asks for some increases in tax revenues.

O'BRIEN: Here is a quote from your article. You write this. And this is part of what President Obama says. "Our whole foreign policy has to be anchored in economic strength here at home. If we don't maintain the upward mobility and equality of opportunity that underwrites our political stability and makes us a beacon for the world, then our foreign policy leadership will diminish as well".

When you have candidates on the Republican side who are duking it out for the primary who are talking a lot about the domestic agenda, is this safe ground, foreign policy, for President Obama? This is what he's been talking about a lot lately.

ZAKARIA: I think it's very safe ground. You'll notice as you put it exactly right, Soledad. You don't hear much about foreign policy during the Republican primaries. That's unusual. Republicans used to talk a lot about it. It was a natural Republican advantage, but President Obama has pursued a pretty effective foreign policy. He's devastated al Qaeda. These drone attacks have essentially destroyed the senior leadership. He's killed Osama bin Laden. He's managed to extricate us out of Iraq from 140,000 troops at $10 billion a year to zero as of two weeks ago. And he has been able to pivot to Asia which is of course the place where the wealth of the world, the power of the world is going to be and position America as an Asian power, a Pacific power. I think all of which says a pretty successful -- suggests a pretty successful record.

Republicans are going to have a hard time outflanking him on the right. They're trying it in somewhat one or two places, Iran, Israel, but if you look at the polls, it isn't working. The public is pretty satisfied with the Obama's conduct of American foreign policy, which is unusual for a Democrat.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a final question. And we don't have a ton of time left. But he told you in the interview that he actually admired George H.W. Bush in terms of sort of framing diplomacy. And I'm curious to know, have you seen actual similarities in his strategy or is it just sort of, you know, saying that he admires him but you haven't seen it play out?

ZAKARIA: I think there are similarities. They both are very practical, very pragmatic. They're very unsentimental. They kind of try to look at the world as it is and not how they'd like it to be. And they are very disciplined. I think if there's one characteristic of Obama's foreign policy it's discipline.

He follows through. He draws down from Iraq when he said he would. I bet you they will draw down from Afghanistan in the same way. And that's very much part of President Obama's character. He's a pretty disciplined guy.

O'BRIEN: Fareed Zakaria is with us this morning. Nice to see you thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next with our panel. We'll get their final words. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Michael was born, he was normal. He was active. He ran around. He played football. He was just like any other child. And one day he just got sick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 2008 when I was 11 years old I was diagnosed with liver failure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told me straight up if he does not get a liver transplant, he will die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was Halloween and then, the doctor came in, Dr. Rosenthal, the liver specialist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He walked in and he said, I hate to sound like the grim reaper, but he said it's raining outside, and it's Halloween. He said, I've been doing this for 30 years. Somebody's going to die. Your son is going to get a liver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this guy right here, his name was Johnny Hernandez. He was 18 years old. And he was killed on a motorcycle accident. His family gave something to me when I needed it which was a liver from their son. So I really couldn't pay them back so I feed the homeless in honor of their son, Johnny Hernandez.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was Mikey's idea to feed the homeless and his vision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: December 25th, 2008, we packed up 25 meals and put it on my mama's truck and drove around. Ever since then we've launched Mikey's Meals. And we've fed over 4,000 people in the City of Oakland. And every time we feed we promote donor awareness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We sign up at least 30 people to become organ donors at each event that we have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really important to help your community because without you there is no community.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mikey is truly a young wonder.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

In the debate last night they stole our idea for "End Point", right? They said to each candidate, what would you do differently? What would you do looking back on your campaign? Here in a nutshell is what the candidates said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would skip the opening three months where I hired regular consultants and tried to figure out how to be a normal candidate.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would have worked to get 25 more votes in Iowa, that's for sure.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what, I wouldn't change a thing.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if I spoke a little slower, with more conviction I could do a better job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: All right. So I'm going to ask you the same question. What would you do differently today -- no, I'm kidding. I'm going to ask you though what is your "end point" for the morning?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Once again the South Carolina Republican primary is living up to its reputation as the most electrifying contest on the calendar on either side. Voters here tomorrow have the opportunity to end or extend the race. And it's increasingly looking like they may choose the latter.

O'BRIEN: David Frum.

DAVID FRUM, EDITOR, FRUMFORUM.COM: Gingrich thrilled the room last night with his answer to his ex-wife. I don't think that answer is going to work over the long haul. Republicans are going to realize when you buy Gingrich you're buying a lot of history, including re- litigating the Clinton impeachment.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I feel so bad for Rick Santorum. It's like Newt Gingrich was Mickey Mantle and he was Roger Meyers (ph). So everybody was talking about Gingrich. Santorum had his best debate of the entire cycle and no one will talk about him. He's sitting there going, man, Newt beat me again. That's unfortunate.

O'BRIEN: Will Cain has promised that this is going to be the best "End Point" ever.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh my God.

MARTIN: Ok. Bring it, big boy.

CAIN: The hardest thing in this business for us and especially for you is to get a candid moment, a real answer out of a political candidate. These answers reveal who they are. At their core Ron Paul admits he's a bad salesman for his ideas. At his core Gingrich says it's somebody else's fault. At his core, Romney really, really wants more votes.

BROWNSTEIN: Way to go, Will.

O'BRIEN: Here is my "End Point". And it kind of goes into your "End Point" which is the race is getting interesting. I am dying to see what's going to happen in South Carolina as Romney's inevitability fades a little bit. As Santorum claimed Iowa but nobody kind of cares at this point. And Gingrich really could make it a one on one race.

That's our "End Point".

Before we go, we have to say a big thank you to our friends at the Bear E Patch Cafe. They allowed us to take over their restaurant. They did. And we're very, very grateful.

Something I've got to tell you. The owners of Bear E Patch are John and Susan halls. Susan has end stage kidney disease and she needs a transplant. And so they have said if anybody is interested in helping out they can call the Bear E Patch Cafe in Charleston, South Carolina to help them out. They have a big bucket for donations.

She's in a tough way. They asked us to point that out to folks who want to help. We certainly are very grateful for their time.

MARTIN: Let's hope somebody does.

O'BRIEN: And a big thank you to our panelists as well. Everybody, have a great weekend and we'll talk about what happened on Monday.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips begins now. I'll see everybody on Monday for STARTING POINT.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Thanks so much Soledad.