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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Mitt Romney Wins Michigan and Arizona Primaries; Senior Al Qaeda Operative Arrested in Egypt; Senior Al Qaeda Chief Arrested In Cairo; One Dead In Missouri After Severe Weather; Twin Wins For Romney; "There's a Student with a Gun"; Restaurant Receipt with One Percent Tip is a Hoax; Answers for Male Infertility; Tornadoes in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska
Aired February 29, 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 HOST: We start with the breaking news, actually, of tornadoes. Happened overnight, turned deadly. One person is now reported dead. People hurt across at least two states. Buildings, you can see some of the videotapes, just torn apart, and there are warnings that extend today into the south and we'll continue into the day.
Plus, there's reports of key al Qaeda (ph), possible successor to Bin Laden has been caught. Spent years detained in Iran when the U.S. was not able to get to him. That's our breaking news this morning.
Plus, we're going to talk politics. Of course, Mitt Romney, he gets a win in his home state of Michigan, not a big win, but it was a win. The next stop, of course, is Super Tuesday. And the question today is, is that win enough and does it provide any momentum to get him to the nomination?
Plus, this morning, we're hearing of the 911 calls being released from the Ohio school shooting rampage. Terrifying as you listen to some of these calls. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911. Where is your emergency?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just had a shooting at our school. We need to get out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: The prosecutor yesterday said this was not about bullying. This was not about drugs. He says that T.J. Lane just took out a gun and started shooting. We're going to talk about that case and where it goes today.
STARTING POINT begins right now.
(MUSIC) ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
O'BRIEN: As I mentioned, lots of breaking news to get to first this morning. We'll start with what's happening in the Midwest. One person is reported dead. Severe storms moved through at least 10 reported tornadoes overnight in the nation's heartland. The person who was killed is a woman in Dallas County, Missouri. Kansas also hit.
These are pictures we're getting in to CNN of the damage in that state. Tiny town called Harveyville which is near Topeka. And that of course seems to be at this point one of the hardest hit areas. Officials say that 60 percent of that town has been destroyed. But no fatalities. Nine people were injured there, one person critically injured. Governor of Kansas is declaring state of emergency there.
Let's get right to our meteorologist Rob Marciano who is tracking these storms for us. Rob, good morning.
ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad. That same line that produced the tornadoes last night across parts of Kansas and Missouri moving into parts of Kentucky and Indiana and Illinois. Dangerous storm with a tornado dropped down to Harrisburg, Illinois, damage there and search and rescue actually under way. That's with this line and this cell moving just to the south of Evansville, Indiana, just to the north of Henderson, Kentucky. And another storm just northeast of Paducah, another one just southwest of that.
These are strong storms moving quickly, 65 to 70 miles an hour. And in some places it's still dark. Tornado watch is up until noontime central for parts of Kentucky and also it's kind of sliding back through just north of Memphis. This storm is a big one. It stretches all of the way to the northeast. You will get a little bit of snow north of New York city. The northern side of this thing, blizzard warnings continue for parts of the northern plains with over a foot of snow and some of it blowing sideways north and west of Minneapolis. Obviously the biggest concern right now are the tornado storms that are rolling across parts of western Kentucky and southern Indiana.
O'BRIEN: Rob, thank you. That looks like a big giant mess heading our way. Appreciate that.
More breaking news to tell you about. A senior Al Qaeda chief was arrested at Cairo airport. According to Egypt's interior ministry Saif al-Adel was arriving from Pakistan. He's believed to have spent years detained in Iran but the U.S. wasn't able to getting access to him. He was talked about as a successor to bin Laden and believed to help plan the bombings in Africa. And this is really what his most wanted page looks like on the FBI Web page where there was a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture or conviction. We're going to continue to follow this story and tell you some details as we get them.
Turning now to politics. Big news there. In fact, let's introduce our panel to you this morning. Ron Brownstein is back, editorial director of "The National Journal." David Frum is back, contributing editor of "The Daily Beast" and "Newsweek," combining "The Daily Beast" and "Newsweek." It's faster. And Jamal Simmons is a former DNC communications adviser. Nice to have you all with me.
And, of course, the big news today is really what happened last night. Mitt Romney winning a pair of crucial wins in last night's primaries. The state was a blowout in Arizona but very close than many people expected in Michigan. That was a state where Mitt Romney was born and raised. But really for Mitt Romney, a win is a win.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first thank you is the first state to call it thank you, Arizona. And thank you, Michigan, what a win. This is a big night. Thanks, you guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: It's like, let's start with Arizona because that was the bigger win. Of course, it is all really a race to the magic number of 44 delegates. Last night he leads with 165 delegates, Rick Santorum at 44 delegates, Newt Gingrich at 38 delegates, and Ron Paul is at 27 delegates.
Let's bring in Bobby Schostak, the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. He joins our panel. It's nice to see you. Thank you for being with us this morning. Out of Michigan we had nine delegates go to Mitt Romney. Seven go to Rick Santorum. And 14 delegates, they still have to decide where they end up going. What does this mean as we move forward into Super Tuesday, this win which was not really a giant win and pretty much kind of eking it out?
BOBBY SCHOSTAK, CHAIRMAN, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, what it suggests clearly is that Michigan was very competitive, as we expected. Both candidates worked hard across the state, appealed to -- their message appealed to our voters. It was very close. And we're still awarding delegates. We haven't completed it at the state party. If you look at miGOPprimary.com you will see that we are still working through it. We're up, I think, until about 4:00 in the morning. Our last posting was in the 3:00 range. It remains to be seen how many delegates each candidate got but it was very, very close.
O'BRIEN: So I'm sorry, repeat that Web site. Gopprimary.com is where people can go to see to figure out how to award those 14 last delegates?
SCHOSTAK: Let me say it -- m -- MiGOPprimary.com.
O'BRIEN: Between the two of us we're going get the Web site out. Let me ask you a question. What did you think about the robo-calls? I think we have a clip of one. As you know, Rick Santorum campaign asking Democrats to really crossover and vote for him. Let's play it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Tuesday, join Democrats who are going to send a loud message to Massachusetts Mitt Romney by voting for Rick Santorum for president. This call is supported by hard working democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: How did the party feel about that?
SCHOSTAK: Well, you know, obviously we were disappointed. That's not the way that we want to see Republicans behave. Our voters are, you know, are informed voters. I frankly don't think that it had much of an impact. I think all of the candidates on the Republican ticket ended up getting a few Democrats who showed up to vote. Obama was on the ballot. If they wanted to come and vote in our primary, it was open. They could have voted for Obama. And at the end of the day, yes, it's disappointing. It's not the way we would like to see Republicans in a primary behave.
BROWNSTEIN: Mr. Schostak, Ron Brownstein from "National Journal." There are a number of commentators who said the net effect of this week was to put Michigan off the table as a potentially contested state for Republicans in November, in particular because Mitt Romney is so doubled down on his opposition to the auto bailout. And 44 percent of Republican voters in the exit poll supported the auto bailout, 64 percent overall in recent polling. Do you come out of this week with the ability to contest Michigan seriously in the fall?
SCHOSTAK: Absolutely. I mean, I think this was an example, is that Michigan voters are going to play an important role. The unity behind beating Barack Obama is very strong. Independents are clearly in our column. We expect will be appealing to them. Our grass roots operations are extraordinary. Volunteerism is way up. I think as you can't to see the numbers develop, you know, we will be a front and center spot in the coming activities.
O'BRIEN: The DNC has a new ad. I'm going to play a chunk of it. Basically it's a compilation of greatest hits made by the now once again front-runner Mitt Romney. Here's a little part of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that connecting is very important. Obviously Mitt Romney is stumbling.
ROMNEY: I'm not concerned about the very poor.
ROMNEY: How about 10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney has to avoid those kinds of gaffes.
ROMNEY: I know what it's like to worry whether you're going to get fired. There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get the pink slip.
I'm also unemployed.
I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: What's the strategy now out of that? Clearly some of those gaffes were actually made as Republicans keep ripping into each other. If the focus had moved on to President Obama you probably wouldn't have had some of those stumbles. It's part of the -- you can see where the DNC is going to head with this and create that as part of his image. What is the strategy for the party about that?
SCHOSTAK: Well, obviously it's hard for me to predict the strategy of a campaign. But, look, I think that we've got to coalesce behind the good of all the candidates and the ultimate nominee, and we will. Romney has a tremendous resume. He's probably got the best resume when you lay them out there against all of the candidates including Barack Obama. And I think, you know, both sides obviously have talking points and blurbs of the other and they will be used and hopefully to continue to build up the prominence of the Republican brand and build up the importance of this election and ultimately our nominee takes the White House.
O'BRIEN: Bobby Schostak is chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Thanks for talking with us this morning. We appreciate your time.
We have breaking news to get to. As we told you, a senior Al Qaeda chief arrested at Cairo airport. His name is Saif al-Adel, and he has been talked about a successor to Osama bin Laden. Let's get right to Barbara Starr who is our Pentagon correspondent. Barbara, what are we hearing?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, good morning again. Well, Egyptian officials are saying that this man has been arrested at the airport in Cairo, coming from, they believe, Pakistan through Dubai into Egypt into Cairo and arrested and detained at the airport.
You see his picture there. The U.S. has a $5 million reward on his head. This guy is extremely interesting to U.S. law enforcement and U.S. intelligence. He is wanted in connection with those 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa. But, it had been believed for years that he was being held, if you will, house arrest inside Iran, that essentially he was under the protection of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, house arrest, technically, in Iran. The Iranians had promised to keep an eye on him. But still, certainly not in detention by any stretch.
So if this is all confirmed in the coming hours that somehow he went from Iran to Pakistan to Dubai into Cairo back into Egypt, his nationality, he is an Egyptian, it is going to be very interesting to determine what role Iran played in this. Did they let him out of the country? Did he escape? Not very likely. The Iranians keep a pretty close eye on these things. So how did he get out of Iran? That's going to be the interesting question.
We can tell you right now U.S. officials are very aware of the reports coming out of Egypt. They know about the statements about this arrest made by the Egyptian interior ministry officials. Still, they tell us they are working to independently confirm that here in Washington and get the final confirmation that this man long wanted for his involvement in the embassy bombings and as a senior Al Qaeda operative close to Osama bin Laden. Do they have him in custody actually in Egypt and will they hold him? What will happen to him now? Soledad?
O'BRIEN: We'll see and watch for that confirmation. Barbara Starr, of course, watch for the details about how exactly it went down. That's going to be fascinating. Thanks, Barbara.
O'BRIEN: Other headlines making news. Alina Cho has got that for us. Good morning.
ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Soledad, good morning to you.
A desperate search is underway right now for three missing people in Alabama. It happened after a Coast Guard helicopter crashed last night in Mobile Bay. That chopper went down during a routine training mission. One crew member who was rescued has since died. The Coast Guard says dense fog hampered the search overnight. Still not clear yet whether the bad weather caused the crash.
He said he didn't even know who he was shooting. Prosecutors say T.J. Lane, the accused Ohio high school gunman admitted to the rampage that has now killed three teens. He also said his targets were random. Lane making his first court appearance yesterday. He is expected to be tried as an adult.
We're also hearing for the first time from Frank Hall, the heroic teacher and assistant coach who put his own life at risk by chasing Lane out of the cafeteria. He says he doesn't feel like a hero.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASSISTANT FOOTBALL COACH FRANK HALL, CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL: I just want to say that I'm sorry to the families, to the victims. I wish I could have done more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: Classes will resume at Chardon High School on Friday. The funeral for Daniel Parmertor, the first shooting victim to die, is scheduled for Saturday morning. And in just a couple of minutes Soledad will speak with one of his friends, a fellow Chardon student.
International police have arrested 25 members of the alleged hacking group Anonymous. Police tracked down alleged members in Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. One of those arrested is 16- year-old girl. Anonymous is suspected of taking down Interpol's website during the sweep and admitting to it on Twitter. Soledad, back to you.
O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Alina, appreciate it. We're going to have much more on those breaking stories that we started our show with. The outbreak of tornadoes overnight turned deadly, one person killed and people hurt across at least two states. And now those warnings are extending into the south. We'll update you on what's happening there.
Plus, reports of that key Al Qaeda get. The person who was claimed to be the possible successor to Osama bin Laden is reportedly caught in Cairo. STARTING POINT is back in just a moment. Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: There are some chilling accounts of the Ohio school shooting to bring to you. 911 tapes have now been released and at least one student is describing his horrific experience. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)
OPERATOR (via telephone): Did you see the shooter? Are you a student?
CALLER: Yes. Yes, I'm a student. I was right by the shooter when he pulled the gun.
OPERATOR: OK. Who is the shooter?
CALLER: His name is Thomas Lane.
OPERATOR: Did you see him shoot how many?
CALLER: I saw him take out two. And then I was -- I was gone, I was out of there.
OPERATOR: OK. Were the students still alive?
CALLER: I don't know, ma'am. I didn't even check. I just got out of there as fast as I could.
OPERATOR: OK. But they went down, right?
CALLER: Yes. They were -- they were laying on the ground in blood.
(END AUDIO TAPE)
O'BRIEN: Oh, goodness.
Funeral plans have now been announced for one of the three students killed allegedly by T.J. Lane. Sixteen-year-old Daniel Parmertor will be laid to rest on Saturday. We're going to get now to the phone. Tyler Lillash is a friend of Daniel's. He's also a student at Chardon High School and he joins us by phone.
Tyler, thanks for talking with us. Tell me where you were when the shooting started and how did you realize what was going on.
TYLER LILLASH, STUDENT, CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL (via telephone): I was in my English class at 7:30 when the bell rang. And we were just sitting there, just talking, and we just heard, you know, three loud pops. We didn't know what it was. Sounded like someone shutting their lockers really loud or taking their locker.
We found out what was going on when nurses started running down the hallway and yelling, gun, gun, everyone -- shut your doors, and that's when we shut our doors and went into lockdown mode.
O'BRIEN: When did you know what was happening? When did you realize sort of the extent that there was a kid, a student who had a gun?
LILLASH: When my dad texted me and let me know.
O'BRIEN: So you were communicating with your parents by text the whole time?
LILLASH: Yes, I was.
O'BRIEN: They must have been terrified, getting texts from you as you're telling them that you're in lockdown in your English class.
LILLASH: Oh, yes. They -- they didn't know where the shooter was or anything. They just wanted to make sure I was safe.
O'BRIEN: Two of the -- two of the students who -- you were friends with two of the students who have died in this shooting. How are you holding up? How are your friends holding up, as well? I know school is going to start again, the classes will resume on Friday.
LILLASH: We're just trying to stick together, you know, keep remembering them, you know, remembering how funny they were and just talking to people, just discussing your feelings. That's the best way to get through stuff -- stuff like this.
O'BRIEN: Did you know T.J. Lane?
LILLASH: I've seen him in school, but I haven't really talked to him before. He was kind of quiet.
O'BRIEN: The prosecutors said yesterday, made a point of saying that he was a kid who was not bullied, that this was not a case of drugs. Did you -- would you agree with that?
LILLASH: Yes, i agree with that. I've never seen him bullied before. I've seen him, you know, with friends. I don't think he was bullied at all. O'BRIEN: Many people credit the teachers and also really good safety plan that you guys ran through back in 2010, or the fact that everybody kind of knew what to do. Is that true? What was that plan like and did you feel like you were following it to the letter?
LILLASH: Yes. I feel like we were following it because they did it in 2010. I mean, my dad participated in it and it was just the way they ran things. You know, it was just very -- very to the point and it was just a really good plan.
O'BRIEN: What did they say that you were able to use, you know, when it wasn't a drill and it was the real thing, not so much later.
LILLASH: You know, they let us call our parents, text our parents, you know, let them know where we are and we're OK and kind of reassuring them.
O'BRIEN: I had heard that one of the teachers, once he made sure that everybody in the class was OK, grabbed a bullet proof vest and then ran out into the hallway in order to drag an injured student into the classroom. Was it standard that a teacher would have a bullet proof vest in the classroom?
LILLASH: I mean, obviously it's a good thing that he had it, you know, for stuff like this. But I mean I'm glad he had it because he's able to rescue my buddy.
O'BRIEN: It was your buddy that he rescues? What were the circumstances?
LILLASH: I don't know. I think it was like shot in the shoulder or something like that. And he just opened the door, looked for T.J. Lane and then saw him lying on the floor there and just pulled him in.
O'BRIEN: So are you anxious about going back to class or do you feel that now that T.J. has been captured and it's all gone into court that you feel secure about your school again?
LILLASH: Yes, I just want to go back to school and see my friends. You know, I haven't seen my friends for the past two days. I just want to go back to school and just actually be with my friends, you know? It's about time and I just want to be with my friends.
O'BRIEN: I bet you do. All right, Tyler Lillash, is a Chardon High School student, thank you for talking with us by phone. I know your classes are about to begin so I'll let you go. We appreciate your time, though.
LILLASH: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to tell you what looks to be a very major arrest of the senior al Qaeda militant. The Egyptian Ministry is reporting that they have taken someone in custody could have very far-reaching implications. We'll tell you about that as STARTING POINT is back in just a minute.
O'BRIEN: All right. That's Alice Smith "Dream." That's Jamal's play list. I like that. I like that.
All right, we're going to talk "Get Real" this morning, because back on Monday we showed you a picture of a receipt. And this receipt was allegedly from a restaurant in California where the customer, allegedly, a guy was an investment banker, left a tip allegedly of one percent with a note that said, "Get a real job." And this is what was posted on a blog called the future ex-banker blog.
So that story was picked up by Web sites and also we talked about it on our show. And also we talked to the Vice President of Operations for the restaurant where apparently it happened, which is called True Food Kitchen. And that Vice President of Operations said, "Listen, if the waitress was, in fact, stiffed, that they were going to make it up to her. They're going to investigate." And the fact that while he was getting calls to ban that person from the restaurant, in fact, what he really wanted to do was sit down and talk to him.
So, it turns out that receipt is a fake. The General Manager said this to our affiliate in Los Angeles.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN GREENE, GENERAL MANAGER, TRUE FOOD KITCHEN: We researched the credit card slips and found that there wasn't such charge. Real people sat at a table and had lunch here. Took their credit card slips, took their copy of it and added a one in front of the $33.54 and added a $1.33 tip and then posted a fake blog onto a Web site.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they wrote in "Get a real job."
GREENE: They wrote, "Get a real job."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: So someone did all of that. You can see the picture of that altered receipt right there which was obtained by the Smoking Gun Web site, which is owned by our parent company, Time Warner, and the original next to it and you can sort of go to that and see the comparisons.
The original bill was for $33, not $133. The tip was a respectful $7, not a one percent tip. And there was no note on the actual receipt, no snarky note about "Get a real job" to the waitress who I believe her name is Brianna (ph) but I'm not even still sure about that.
SIMMONS: This is quite an investigation.
O'BRIEN: But you know what?
O'BRIEN: When we called the restaurant, the restaurant said, listen, whoever did this was not an employee, did not come from -- and the story where it was originally reported the blog has now been taken down.
So the questions now are -- well, who did it? It's kind of elaborate and to what end about the one percent? Was it a message about the one percent or was it a message about the conversations about the one percent?
FRUM: It's a message about how in the future when we are promised that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. People say 15 minutes, that's a long time.
O'BRIEN: I'm worn out by that story. So we are moving on. But, gosh, I wonder what -- I'm kind of interested in knowing who did that.
All right, ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we've got some breaking news to talk about this morning. Egypt says that they have arrested a senior al Qaeda militant. Someone was said to be in line to succeed Osama Bin Laden. And this could of course have far reaching implications. We're going to talk about some of those details coming up.
And breaking right now, deadly storms are racing across the country. Started overnight. One person is dead. Danger may not be over. We're going to track those storms.
And the chairman of the RNC Reince Priebus is going to join us with his reaction of the big primary results last night and what it all means. Let's reflect for a moment and move on to Super Tuesday.
We leave you with Ron's play list. Oh, Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On?"
BROWNSTEIN: Republicans are asking that this morning. Entirely appropriate.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's start with some breaking news. The man who briefly led al Qaeda after Osama Bin Laden was killed has been detained according to Egypt's Interior Ministry.
Seif Al Adel was arriving from Pakistan when he was taken into custody at Cairo's airport. He is believed to have spent years detained in Iran where the U.S. couldn't get access to him.
The FBI had been offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture or conviction. We've got lots more on this developing story.
Let's grab Peter Bergen. He is joining us by phone. Peter, so when you first hear this word, and of course, it hasn't been confirmed yet, but it is believed it is Seif Al Adel is under arrest. Tell me who this guy is in terms of the hierarchy in al Qaeda.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (via telephone): Well, Soledad, he's the military commander of al Qaeda. He's been involved in the group since the late '80s when the group was founded. He is enormously important to the group.
He was reported to have briefly taken over leadership of al Qaeda after Bin Laden's death while they spent six weeks deciding who the leader is. Arguably, he's more important than the actual leader of the group, Ayman Al Zawahiri, another Egyptian, in terms of an operational sense.
However, the plot the thickening because the person who's been arrested at Cairo airport is claiming that it's case of mistaken identity and -- or it's always been some debate among experts if the person who had been identified as the leader Seif Al Adel is, in fact, the right guy.
In terms of the identity that's been assigned to him by the U.S. government. That said, whoever has been arrested at Cairo airport has played some kind of role in al Qaeda, I believe. If it is Seif Al Adel, it's enormously important.
It's really the first senior leader of al Qaeda who has been arrested rather than killed by U.S. drone arguably since 2005. If it is Seif Al Adel, the U.S. government would love to talk to him. He could shed a lot of light on what the group is actually doing now.
O'BRIEN: And the group has done, right? Let's talk a little bit about his history. He has been linked to the killing of Daniel Pearl. He has been linked to the embassy bombings in Africa.
BERGEN: Yes. And you know, mean, most importantly, the drone strikes have obviously put a lot of pressure on al Qaeda, but, you know, dead men don't talk. One of the problems that the drone strikes is there have been no interrogations of the senior leadership of al Qaeda.
If this is Seif Al Adel he would be something of a gold mine in terms of what the group is actually up to now. My guess is that he would say that things are under a tremendous amount of pressure because of the drone strikes.
The generation that he represents, people in late 40s early 50s, many of them are being killed. He's one of the very last leaders left -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: So one of the things that Barbara Starr said when we talked to her last, she said which was going to be interesting was to talk about his path way out of Iran.
If in fact he did go from Iran into Pakistan into Dubai and then into Egypt, what exactly was Iran's role in that because he was supposed to be under house arrest in Iran, correct?
BERGEN: Yes. He's been under house arrest in Iran arguably since 2002, when a number of senior leadership figures from al Qaeda went from Afghanistan to Pakistan through Iran as the Taliban fell. My belief and I think others' belief is that these guys were being held as sort of potential bargaining chips in any kind of bargain.
That the Iranian government might do with the United States government as it became clear they would like a deal between the U.S. and Iran is becoming less and less likely.
Eventually a number of these guys were let go and I think that Seif Al Adel was probably let go at the end of 2010. He then made his way to the tribal areas of Pakistan where he played an important role in al Qaeda.
And even when he was in Iran, Soledad, he was playing an important role in al Qaeda according to Saudi intelligence officials he was the guy who green lined Al Qaeda's campaign in Saudi Arabia, which we had in 2003.
So even on the house arrest he was able to play some sort of role. He basically disappeared into Pakistan. But he took a tremendous risk, I think, obviously wanting to return to his home country where he hasn't been in more than probably two decades. And it appears that this risk has paid off rather poorly for him.
O'BRIEN: It will be very interesting to get more details about this person who has now been arrested at Cairo airport. Peter Bergen joining us by phone with an update on that arrest. Important news enormously important as Peter says.
First senior leader of al Qaeda arrested rather than killed by those drone strikes, could be a font of information once they're able to confirm exactly who it is, who is under arrest at Cairo airport. Thank you, Peter.
All right, other breaking news to get to this morning. One person is dead, several other people injured after severe storms slammed right through parts of Kansas and also Missouri. It happened early this morning.
As many as 10 tornados have been reported. Emergency teams are now on the scene. Severe weather threat isn't over. Let's get right to our meteorologist. Rob Marciano has got an update for us on what happened there last night, this morning as well and what is going to happen later today.
ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Impressive storm system to say the least. Many facets, big one and it's more reminiscent of March or even April than it would be of this time of year. Multiple tornado warnings are in effect right now as well as some watches in effect until about noontime.
As far as what we're looking at right now, this cell just east of Evansville right down the Ohio River next stop would be Troy or Tel City, moving about 65 to 70 miles an hour. This has a history of producing a tornado.
We have damage just south and east of Evansville. Also damage on the other side of the border in Illinois, Harrisburg, Illinois, reporting wide spread damage with this specific cell, which likely still has a tornado in it as it runs down the Ohio River.
Another couple of tornado warnings just south and west of that so we're under the threat here. These really don't show much in the way of signs of weakening. So that's why the Storm Prediction Center has the storm watch boxes up in effect until noontime.
We have a blizzard warning that's in effect for parts of the northern tier and a threat for severe weather will continue today and stretch into the Carolinas and parts of the southeast and that snow and wintry mix will stretch into the northeast as well. Quite a storm. Soledad, back to you.
O'BRIEN: All right, appreciate that, Rob. Thank you.
Let's turn to politics now and the two big primary wins for Mitt Romney happened last night. Romney scored a close win in Michigan. He beat Rick Santorum by just three percentage points.
But power to a very nice, hefty victory in Arizona and that's really where his speech started in the state of Arizona last night. Those two wins though helping Mitt Romney at his lead in the race for convention delegates.
He has now 165 while Rick Santorum is second with 44. Newt Gingrich has 38. Ron Paul has 27.
Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee and he joins us this morning. Priebus -- I butchered it.
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Bizarre name.
O'BRIEN: No more bizarre than Soledad O'Brien, let's be real. Apologies over, let's move on. It was a win, but it was a squeaker. And so now is it fair to say you have an established GOP frontrunner at this point?
PRIEBUS: Well, I think Governor Romney had a good night last night and moving on to Super Tuesday. I think you're putting it in the right perspective, though. You know, according of our numbers, and the AP and CNN and everyone has a little bit of different numbers.
But we were worried 172 delegates so far. Next Tuesday, there will be 400 delegates in one day on Tuesday and so certainly Governor Romney has done well in the states that have awarded delegates.
Obviously we're going to see what happens next Tuesday. I feel good about this. I know that people argue over whether, you know, having a tough primary is a good thing or a bad thing. I just happen to believe that it's good for a party, as you and I have talked about many times. O'BRIEN: Good for your party, bad for independents, though? You keep seeing the independents go on a downward drag.
PRIEBUS: Well, you know, I think that it's important to make the case to all Americans, and not just independents. And I think in the end, independents will come our way based on where we are as far as whether or not we're better off today than we were three or four years ago, where are we in regard to the economy and is it better or worse?
And I think all those things are fluid, but I think all in all, if you look at the president's promises and the standards that he set for himself and really grand incredible fashion in 2008, he's not come anywhere close to meeting those standards.
I think at the end, and I think we all see, you know, the way that media is so intense, even in our own primary here, just imagine what a week is going to feel like in October and September.
O'BRIEN: It's kind of feel longer than it does now? Is that what you're saying? It feels like forever.
PRIEBUS: I just think that sometimes we lose perspective of how long June, July, August, September, October --
O'BRIEN: We believe you on that. We agree on that completely.
PRIEBUS: It's going to be eternity. So I'm not nervous about this at all. I think the drama and the tough primaries is a good thing for us, Soledad. We put people to sleep in '08 with our nomination process.
And I think it's laughable when I hear people claiming that, you know, we ought to put people to sleep again this time around and just move on. I don't think that's the case.
O'BRIEN: Hang on one second.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One thing that Michigan underscored is that you have a sharp and I think by now a very stable dividing Republican Party. If you look at the results in Michigan, Arizona like the earlier states, Mitt Romney is doing very well in what can be done in managerialing the party, upscale voters, better educated, non-Evangelical, non-Tea Party.
Oakland County, Michigan, he won by 32,000 votes. That's his home county. That's the classic kind of place where he's doing well. The other side of the party continues to resist him, the Evangelicals, Tea Party activist, very conservative voters.
And I think one question and I think we'll like to see that divide persist, one question will be, can these two ends of the party come back together as opposition to Barack Obama, which is very real and powerful, enough to knit this back together given a central cleavage that we've seen established in this Republican race.
O'BRIEN: Let me ask you about those robocalls, Reince, because I'm really curious to know what the party thinks about them. We do, in Michigan, it was -- I think we have a clip of it. Let's play that clip so I don't have to describe it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Tuesday, join Democrats who are going to send a loud message to Massachusetts' Mitt Romney by voting for Rick Santorum for president. This call is supported by hardworking Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: So when you heard that robocall from the Santorum campaign, what did you think?
PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, obviously as chairman of the party I wish people would follow Reagan's 11th commandment and not particularly a big fan of that tactic, Soledad, but, you know, as party chairman, playing referee and getting in the weeds.
This little piece is good and that's not good and this 30- second ad is over the line, I really don't get into that. But I want to respond. I think, you know, John King had a couple of poll numbers out last night on your coverage.
And you know, he showed that the split on Tea Party was pretty even at least on the polling that I was watching last night. I think it goes up and down. I think it's an important thing for our party to make sure that we keep not just, you know, people who identify themselves as Tea Party Republicans or regular Republicans, whatever you want to call it, whatever labels you want to put on it.
But we do have to keep, I think, the conservative movement moving in the same direction. I think that's a job that I have as part of my job as chairman of the RNC. What I tell folks in the Tea Party and people worried about the constitution and liberty and freedom as I am, is that we're just part of the conservative movement.
We're not in competition with it. We just have to do our real part in raising money and staying on message and making sure that we provide an alternative to a president who hasn't fulfilled his promises.
O'BRIEN: Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. It's nice to have you joining us this morning. We appreciate it.
PRIEBUS: Thank you. Good morning, guys. Bye-bye.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, has Egypt captured a major al Qaeda player? An arrest at Cairo airport could be the guy who was set to succeed Osama Bin Laden. We're going to follow those developing details and bring them to you.
As we told you about just a moment ago, a deadly tornado outbreak in the Midwest. We're live on the ground in one of the hardest hit areas. We'll update you on what's happening there. STARTING POINT is back in just a moment.
CHO: Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. It's 47 minutes after the hour. Quick headlines to get to.
The vacation nightmare for passenger on board that cruise ship, the "Costa Allegra," may soon be over. Right now, the cruise liner is being towed by a French fishing vessel through pirate-invested waters to a port in the Seychelles. The ship is expected to arrive in port later today.
New safety warning for Statin. FDA now says these drugs can cause memory loss, even confusion and could raise blood sugar levels as well. Regulators are placing new warning labels on the prescriptions. Nearly 32 million Americans use statins like Lipitor to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Soledad, back to you.
O'BRIEN: Thanks, Alina.
Male infertility is a condition that's highly under diagnosed, mostly due to the fact that many men don't think that could be the problem. In this week's "Human Factor," Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a story of a man who was told he would never father a child, but he wouldn't take no for an answer.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Steven and Lindsay Averett always dreamed of becoming parents.
STEVE AVERETT, DIAGNOSED AS INFERTILE: We both knew we wanted to have kids right from the get-go. That was important to both of us.
GUPTA: They got married, bought a house in a good school district and eventually started try for a family. Lindsay was in her 20s and totally healthy. Yet, after nearly a year, they hadn't gotten pregnant.
LINDSAY AVERETT, HUSBAND DIAGNOSED AS INFERTILE: It honestly never crossed my mind for 11 of those 12 months that it would be a male issue. But finally, you know, I said, well, maybe you should go to the doctor.
GUPTA: Urologist and reproductive specialist, Dr. Michael Witt, says male infertility is a more common problem than couples may realize.
(on camera): One of the first things is figuring out how big a problem male infertility problem is? How big is it?
DR. MICHAEL WITT, UROLOGIST & REPRODUCTIVE SPECIALIST: It probably affects 12 percent of the men in general. Though all couples who struggle with infertility, probably in half of those, there's probably a male contribution.
GUPTA (voice-over): It could be caused by a myriad of factors -- genetics, irregular chromosomes, obesity, drug abuse, even smoking. For some men, infertility is the result of something as simple as an undetected cluster of veins.
(on camera): When someone has a varicose seal, a cluster of veins, how is that making a man infertile?
WITT: It's just like a varicose vein in your leg, except it's around your testicle. You can fix it. It's a simple occlusion technique. In about 80 percent of cases, you get improved production and essentially enhanced fertility rates of about 60 percent, 70 percent.
GUPTA: A lot of people probably don't know that. But if that's the problem, it's a pretty high likelihood it can be treated and restore fertility.
GUPTA: Like a varicose seal, infertility caused by obesity, drug use and smoking be reversed in many men. In even more complicated cases, like Steven Averett's, a diagnosis of male infertility is not necessarily the final word.
O'BRIEN: Sanjay is with us in New York.
It's nice to have you here.
GUPTA: Good to be here, yes.
O'BRIEN: So what do you say to anybody watching his story? What should someone take away from that?
GUPTA: I think, first of all, the cultural issues. This couple, they were trying to get pregnant for a year. This is pretty common. You think you have to get the woman examined to figure out what is happening with fertility. As you heard there, 50 percent of the time, it's on the male side. I think a lot of people just simply didn't know that.
O'BRIEN: I thought those stats were so high. It's really women who seem to talk about it much more.
GUPTA: That's right. I think that the more of the anxiety -- because of that cultural phenomenon. There are things that can be done about it. In Steven's case, he actually ended up getting diagnosed with testicular cancer. They did a sperm extraction before he got chemotherapy and they did IVF and they're pregnant.
The technology is remarkable, Soledad. I was in this lab where they're doing egg freezing now, something that people have talked about for a long time. You need to freeze 150 eggs to get one viable egg. Now in these processes, like things called vitrification, which is putting the egg in a frozen glass, five eggs and you can get a viable egg. It's much more likely to be able to egg freeze, to sperm bank, to use surrogates, whatever it takes in these fertility clinics to allow people to have babies.
O'BRIEN: Do you think there's a stigma with it. I mean, conversation -- I mean -- I don't know.
O'BRIEN: I've had a few kids myself. I always feel like the --
O'BRIEN: No, but for girlfriends of mine, and we would get in little clicks and talk about that. I don't know that men do the same thing. I can't imagine it.
O'BRIEN: That's what I would have guessed.
GUPTA: Men don't talk about their health. This is low on the list. But, you know, what Dr. Witt was saying is men are starting to get more proactive. Women say, I'm young, but I know I won't have babies for 15 years. There are things they can do to increase their chances of having a baby. For men, the situation is the same. They're not doing it as much now. But he says he's starting to see a change a bit.
O'BRIEN: Sanjay Gupta, always nice to have you.
I love it when he's in New York.
GUPTA: Keeping you guys healthy.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on --
-- STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about what looks to be a major arrest of a senior al Qaeda militant. The Egyptian ministry is reporting that they have taken someone into custody at the Cairo Airport. We'll have details on that straight ahead. And one person is dead in Missouri. Kansas has declared a state of emergency after severe weather in that area. There are reports are of 10 tornadoes. Some of the videotape really incredible. We're going to show you that, talk about that straight ahead. Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: We start with breaking news. There's a powerful and deadly storm system that is pounding the nation's heartland. At least 10 reported tornadoes in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. A woman was killed in a Missouri mobile home park. Tornado watches and warnings are in effect in the mid south.
Some of the biggest -- actually, we're starting with Reno county. This is some video of the storm. Look at that. That's incredible.
Some of the biggest damage is coming to us from this tiny town called Harleysville, Kansas, which is near Topeka. We're getting reports that more than half of that town has been destroyed.
Rob Marciano is updating us on what's happening there.
Are you hearing more about Harleysville, Rob?
ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, widespread damage there. But as it stands now, injuries but no fatalities. We did have one fatality in Missouri, specifically near Buffalo, Missouri. Also widespread damage in Branson, Missouri. This is a map highlighting the storm reports we've seen. The blue squares are wind reports. In some case, over 70 miles an hour, either from thunderstorms or just the big storm itself. Those red dots, as you mentioned, at least 10 reports of tornadoes. That's how they came across throughout the day, through the night last night.
And what they're doing right now, as they continue to hold together, basically, there's a tornado running right down the Ohio River. It started south of Evansville -- actually started in Missouri. Now heading east across the northern parts of Kentucky. Also in central Kentucky, east of Madisonville, a report of a tornado on the ground there. So two reports of tornadoes on the grouped right now at roughly 7:00 local time. We have tornado watches up for this area until noontime. The threat will continue further off to the east and then that blizzard continues to the north.
Quite a storm -- Soledad?
O'BRIEN: What a mess there.
Rob Marciano for us. Thanks, Rob.
Still ahead this morning, we're taking a look at the capture -- what could be a key al Qaeda capture at Cairo Airport. It could also have some far-reaching implications in the fight against terrorism. We'll talk about who exactly is being held at Cairo Airport today.
Plus, Mitt Romney gets a slim win in his home state of Michigan. Gets a better result in Arizona. A big supporter of his, Connie Mack, is going to join us live.
You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.