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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Afghan Shooting Suspect Transferred; Santorum: Speak English For Statehood; North Korea Kim Leads Military Drills; Senate Passes Transportation Bill; Goldman Sachs CEO Responds; Beltway Or Booze Belt?; Blagojevich Heads To Prison; Blagojevich Begins Serving Time; Gingrich Path to Victory?

Aired March 15, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Good morning, everybody. Welcome. Our "Starting Point" this morning is trying to diffuse that anger over the civilian massacre. Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, is meeting with President Hamid Karzai today.

Also, it's back to delegate mass (ph). Rick Santorum kind of mocking Mitt Romney saying he's not playing a number's game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's pretty sad when you all have is to do math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: And it could be addition by subtraction. Some people are hoping for that if they can get Newt Gingrich to bow out of the race. This morning, we'll talk to a conservative leader who'd like to see exactly that.

Plus, it's off to prison for the former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, and he is not going quietly. That was the melee outside of his home. And kind of an odd press conference I thought they held yesterday. We're going to talk to a former lobbyist and also former inmate, Jack Abramoff, about whether the disgrace governor is up for a real change in attitude once he heads off to prison.

It's Thursday, March 15th.

And STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: I like to sing along with that song.

Will Cain is like, yes, yes.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Every song.

O'BRIEN: No, no, not almost every song. Those actually the ones on my playlist. That, of course, was Beyonce and Jay-Z this morning.

Let's get you right to our panel.

We're going to start with Will Cain, who is back with us.

CAIN: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: He is columnist for TheBlaze.com.

Nice to have you. We are having a thing this morning. It's going to go like that today.

CAIN: Really?

O'BRIEN: No, I don't know.

Also joining us is Jeff Toobin. Of course, he's CNN senior legal analyst.

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you. Thank you for joining us.

And we're by Hank Sheinkopf, political strategist, iconic political strategist. It's nice to have you joining us this morning.

HANK SHEINKOPF, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Lots to get to.

Our STARTING POINT is this new information out of Afghanistan -- the Afghan man who hijacked a car and then breached security, drove on to the runway in Kabul just as the Pentagon chief Leon Panetta was arriving, was landing.

That man has died. He died from burns he received after he lit himself on fire. We learned that he apparently was trying to run over a group of Marines who had assembled to greet the defense secretary. The British soldier was also injured in that incident.

Now, Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan. He is in the capital and he's going to be meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. And that sit-down comes days after a U.S. Army sergeant apparently went on a violent attack, alleged to have gone door to door in the middle of the night, ultimately killing 16 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children.

And this morning, that suspect, a father of two have been flown out of Afghanistan and he's being held at a military jail in Kuwait.

Gary Berntsen joins our panel this morning. He's a former head of the CIA Bin Laden Unit in Afghanistan.

It's nice to have you joining us. Thank you for being with us.

Let's start with the suspect in the killings in this massacre. Are you surprised that he's been removed out of Afghanistan and is now in Kuwait?

GARY BERNTSEN, LED CIA FORCES IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN AFTER 9/11: It's probably a good call. The Afghans are not going to be happy about this, but preparations for the trial, for safety and for U.S. forces, you know, in R.C. South where he reportedly conducted this attack, it's probably the best thing to do, is to move him out.

I'm sure that Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Defense Secretary Panetta, and General Allen were probably all in agreement on doing this.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I read that they notified other Afghan or some Afghan leadership, but it was very vague on who was notified. Would you that there'd expect fallout from that? The removal? And what's kind of fallout would you expect?

BERNTSEN: There are members of the Afghan parliament that are complaining already. I am sure they will call members of the Karzai administration in front of them to question them on this. The Afghan parliament has been exercising more authority in the last year. Karzai -- President Karzai was informed of this, I read and, you know, my understanding is he didn't make a formal complaint.

But I suspect the Afghans will want him tried back in Afghanistan. Moving him out to Kuwait doesn't preclude the Army from moving him back in there to Bagram for a trial in the end.

O'BRIEN: We were talking about the guy who drove the car out on the tarmac and then end up by setting himself on fire. He's now dead. It doesn't seem to be specifically connected to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landing -- you know, I don't get the sense that he knew that it was Secretary Panetta, although he did know that there were Marines assembled to greet them.

That doesn't surprise you, does it?

BERNTSEN: Right. Soledad, in the last three or four years, we'd have over 40 attacks by Afghan security forces on ISAF forces there. Part of the problem with all of this is that, you know, they did a poll about a year ago on the Afghan men between the ages of 19 and 32, and 40 percent of them didn't know why we were there, didn't know about 9/11.

Afghanistan is a country with a very, very low literacy rate. We are losing the I.O., the information operations war, the propaganda war. The Taliban respond very quickly to attacks. They put out information that the United States are occupying force, despite the fact that we're there at the desires of the Afghan government that we built thousands of schools. I mean, we've done a lot of good work there.

The majority of Afghans support our presence there, but, you know, Pakistanis, Iranians, militant groups on the Afghan border don't want us there and are conducting a propaganda war against the U.S. with some success.

TOOBIN: Can I follow up on that point? You say, you know, a majority of the Afghan people don't know why we're there. I think you might also include the American people in that group.

What's the goal? How can we tell when we won in Afghanistan?

BERNTSEN: Well, I think that, you know, the issue here is this. You know, we all know Afghanistan was the place where an attack on the United States was launched. The problem is that this is going to look like Korea after the Korean War. There's not going to be any final ending to this conflict. We're going to be there for many years.

I think the president has stated that his plan for the Air Force and Special Operation forces is going to be there for a much longer period than 2014. I think it was 2024. There was a statement made a couple months ago.

So, we're there to stabilize Afghanistan. But more than anything else, you got to remember that the Afghan border and the tribal areas of Pakistan have over 24 militant groups. Many of them are organizing attacks on the West and have been doing so for years.

This was a phenomenon that didn't follow our invasion in 2001. It was something that was, you know, active for years before our entry into that area. We have an interest in, you know, helping to defeat those groups and working with the Afghan government and the Pakistani government to do that and for long term stability of that area.

But, look, forced levels are going to have to be dropped significantly lower, you know, possibly a third of what we got there so we can sustain over the long haul to accomplish the goals of the U.S. in that region.

O'BRIEN: Leon Panetta says, stay the course. Let's play a little bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve to that mission and to sticking to the strategy that we put in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, that, I think, it goes, is consistent with what you just laid out there. You wanted to jump in, Hank.

SHEINKOPF: Yes. Does this mean every week we're going to hear more attacks on American soldiers, on American service people, on a constant basis? What is this? Is this ever going to come to an end? Are we really in control?

Do the schools matter? Does the infrastructure matter, Soledad? Obviously not. Dead Americans is what matters and this is just going to go on, isn't it?

O'BRIEN: And I would add to that, you know, the Taliban has also made threats about beheading Americans. Would you, I guess that's not an idle threat. Do you expect to see the violence just increase?

BRENTSEN: Look, these threats, and we have been fighting this war for 10 years. These attacks on U.S. forces have been going on for three years and a lot of people just weren't paying attention. We're seeing more of it now and it's more in the news.

But, you know, this is a continuation of what has been occurring. If U.S. forces shift the mission, which they're going to, that means we're not going to control battle space any more. We're going to work with the five different Afghan corps of their army to have them take the lead. And I think that with the reduction, you'll see a reduction in U.S. losses.

But, you know, Americans will be on the battlefield in Afghanistan for a number of years to come, regardless whether this is a Democratic or Republican administration in Washington.

O'BRIEN: Gary Berntsen joining us this morning -- thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

BERNSTEN: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Other stories making news. Christine got those.

Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

A deadly collision on a highway in southern Pennsylvania. Police say a truck hit a school bus almost head on. The truck driver was killed. Close to two dozen students were hurt, six of them airlifted to the hospital.

Two families who sued Virginia Tech for a deadly campus shooting in 2007, they've been awarded $4 million each by a jury. The suit claims the school failed to notify the rest of campus fast enough after two students were found dead. Thirty-three people were killed that day in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Ashleigh Banfield spoke earlier to the mother of a daughter who was shot in the head that day. The daughter survived.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLP)

LORI HAAS, DAUGHTER SHOT AT VIRGINIA TECH: I think justice is clearly in the message. The Prydes and Petersons have said from day one, this is not about the money, as have most of the family members. It's not about the money. It's about the truth being told.

The university knew at 7:31 a.m. that there was one mortally wounded, one deceased and a gunman on the loose on campus. And they did nothing to inform students, staff and faculty about that danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: This is not the last word. The state giving strong signals it will appeal.

It's off to prison today for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He was sentenced to 14 years on corruption charges, including the attempted selling of President Obama's Illinois Senate seat. Looking at live pictures of him outside his Chicago home because he has to report to federal prison.

He's going to serve his term at federal prison in Colorado.

Coming up at 7:30 we're going to talk to a man who knows what it's like behind bars after a political scandal. Former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff joins us.

All right. Your A.M. house call, a week after the surgeon general declared teen smoking an epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control unveiling its new, national ad campaign aimed at getting smokers to quit and to keep anyone else, especially kids, from starting in the first place. The ads represent graphic images like this one, along with tips from former smokers showing the severe health effects of tobacco use.

Minding your business this morning. Gas prices up for the sixth day in a row. AAA reports the national average, $3.82 a gallon. Gas is up almost 60 cents a gallon in since January. Prices may well top their 2008 records this summer if oil remains strong.

Quite a guest list at the state dinner at the White House last night honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron. Corporate heavyweights like Warren Buffett and Hollywood hunks like George Clooney arriving solo, each landing of 360 coveted invitations.

President Obama using the occasion to thank Cameron for his consistent friendship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've learned something about David. In good times and in bad, he's just the kind of partner that you want at your side. I trust him. He says what he does and he does what he says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: As for the seating assignments, let's just say it's good to be the first lady. Check out this tweet last night from CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller. He says, "Who made the seating arrangement? Guess, Mrs. Obama seated between Prime Minister Cameron on her left and George Clooney on her right."

Although, Soledad, I will point out that you started the day with -- George Clooney started the day with you.

O'BRIEN: Yes. He wasn't sitting to my right. She's like, blah, blah, blah, the prime minister, hello, George, let's talk about the Sudan. Yes, he's definitely a hunk.

All right. Thanks, Christine. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on "STARTING POINT," we're going to talk about Rick Santorum. He says Puerto Rico has to adapt to English if it wants to become a state because it is the law. Well, actually, it's not the law. We'll talk about that.

Plus, where do America's biggest boozers live? In case you're wondering. There's a new list. People actually make lists about this stuff. And there's a new one. We'll tell you about that.

And our get real this morning, I love this story. This is a guy who took the money and literally ran. He is the man in charge of the office pool for the lottery. I'll leave it at that.

We're going to have our get real straight ahead.

We're going to leave with you with Hank's playlist, Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea."

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This is off of Jeff Toobin's playlist. I haven't heard that song in forever.

TOOBIN: This song was like 20 years older than mine. You made fun of my song, you make fun of me for my song being old.

O'BRIEN: I'm contemporary of that song. I have never heard of your song.

SHEINKOPF: Originally written and very famous French song --

O'BRIEN: It's a little slow. You know, early mornings, early mornings. Let's move on.

Our whole entire playlist can be found online at CNN.com/StartingPoint.

The GOP campaigns are moving -- campaigning to Puerto Rico. There are 23 delegates up for grabs in Puerto Rico. And Rick Santorum was there yesterday. Mitt Romney is going to head there tomorrow. It's an opportunity, of course, to get votes, an opportunity for mistakes, of course.

Rick Santorum was asked if he would support making Puerto Rico a state and he told the local newspaper this. "Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law. And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language, such as Hawaii. But to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language."

But that's not really true, is it? Our many, many lawyers on the panel today. It's not true at all.

All right. Let's bring in Puerto Rico's Democratic Congressman Pedro Pierluisi joining us.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for being with us.

Let me start with what your reaction is --

REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI (D), PUERTO RICO: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you -- to Mr. Santorum's comments. The reaction of yourself and then others in Puerto Rico after reading these comments in the newspaper.

PIERLUISI: Well, first, it's incorrect to say that there's a federal law imposing English as the only official language in our states. The Constitution doesn't provide anything along those lines either.

And in Puerto Rico, as a matter of fact, we have two official languages, English and Spanish. Santorum's view is narrow and limiting view of what America is all about. English is the predominant language in the U.S. and will continue to be so, whether Puerto Rico becomes a state or not.

In Puerto Rico, 90 percent of our parents want their children to become fluent in English. So, it's a nonissue and shouldn't be a factor in determining whether Puerto Rico can join the Union or not.

O'BRIEN: There's a whole vote on this, of course, come November. Puerto Rico, those who want statehood for Puerto Rico will decide that happens in November.

Explain to me the whole federal law in this, Jeff Toobin, about English only, because this has been something that's been debated certainly for a long time.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: It's been debated, but never any federal law that says English is the official language of the United States. In fact --

O'BRIEN: There are 41 states that have decided --

TOOBIN: State provisions. But there are many federal laws that say you have to make available to citizens government benefits, government obligations in the language that they understand. I mean, when you have an American courtroom, I used to be a federal prosecutor.

It is a requirement that you have an interpreter there, whether they're speaking Spanish, or Urdu or Farsi, whatever it is, the idea is the government has to make sure that people understand what's going on, not that people have an obligation to speak English.

O'BRIEN: Politically speaking, as you're campaigning for votes in Puerto Rico, is this a tough issue for him, do you think, Judge?

SHEINKOPF: He ought to save his money and buy a house. He's managed to make everybody angry. This is absolutely nuts.

Puerto Rico is not going to be a state. This is not the first time a referendum on the issue. It's nonbinding. He's not a congressman. He's a resident commissioner. He has no power, the fellow we just saw on television -- $25 billion goes out of this country every year to Puerto Rico in transfers and aid. It's the nuttiest thing you ever heard, it's a colony.

And for him to engage in this kind of behavior, Santorum, shows that he's become kind of Doofus about the matter and shouldn't talk about things having to do with America's last colony at all.

CAIN: That kind of far end run of the spectrum that the judge just excited, I have to then point out, this wouldn't be the first time, although Jeff is right, there is no federal law requiring English the official language. When Louisiana was brought into the country, the government said you need to adopt English as language when you do official business.

When Oklahoma in 1906 came in to the nation, there was a law that said you have to have public schools conduct English as your official language.

It's not the first time. So, let's not paint Santorum as a Doofus or some kind of xenophobic. This is not unprecedented.

SHEINKOPF: But this is not about the language. This is Santorum being used by local politicians, about a referendum that has no binding, whatsoever. Puerto Rico is not going to become a state. These referenda happened all the time. And he's just become like a pawn in this game of local political politics.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back to Congressman Pierluisi.

You have pushed for better instruction in both English and Spanish for students in Puerto Rico. Is the quality of English education in Puerto Rico a problem?

PIERLUISI: We have to enhance it. And, you're right, that's what we have been doing.

But I -- let me clarify the record. First of all, I am a member of Congress. I represent 3.7 million American citizens in Congress. My title is resident commissioner.

But don't forget, Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. We are American citizens and the question of statehood, two things must happen for that to occur. The people of Puerto Rico must request it and then Congress must grant it.

And to say that it is out of the question when you don't really -- we haven't had the vote yet. The last time the people of Puerto Rico were consulted on this issue was 14 years ago. It is about time we know whether the people of Puerto Rico aspire to become a state and that's going to happen in November.

So, you go step-by-step. But to impose on Puerto Rico a condition that no other state has, it's unreasonable.

By the way, federal agencies conduct their business in Puerto Rico in English and our government in Puerto Rico, whenever required, provide service in English, as well.

So, it's just a matter of getting the record straight.

O'BRIEN: What's the fall out been in Puerto Rico in terms of how the election you feel is going to go? What -- how are the polls going in Puerto Rico?

PIERLUISI: Well, our governor is affiliated with the Republican Party and he has endorsed Mitt Romney. I would expect that Romney will prevail, we'll see on Sunday.

And -- but in terms of the general elections in the U.S., President Obama has been great here in Puerto Rico. He included Puerto Rico in our program in the stimulus. He also increased considerably the funding that Puerto Rico gets for its health problems. There's no parity, but we got an enhancement as part of the Affordable Care Act.

And he's been straight forward on the status issue. He has told the people of Puerto Rico that he will support the will of the majority of the people of Puerto Rico when the time comes for them to express themselves on the status issue.

O'BRIEN: Which will be --

PIERLUISI: So, he's being with us.

O'BRIEN: Which will be come November.

We are out of time. But I want to thank you, Congressman Pierluisi, for joining us this morning. We certainly appreciate your remarks on that.

PIERLUISI: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, North Korea's new leader reportedly showing no mercy as he takes control of a military drill this morning. We'll have the latest on that.

And in our "Get Real" a word to the wise, don't trust your co- workers. An office lottery pool cheat is caught after he takes the entire jackpot for himself. I've got that story straight ahead on STARTING POINT.

CAIN: The guy buys (INAUDIBLE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Will Cain has a very diverse playlist.

CAIN: I was waiting for that kind of comment. I assume that's a compliment.

O'BRIEN: Always a compliment when I'm talking to you, Will Cain. You usually have some kind of slow country thing that I also enjoy.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: My Chemical Romance, "Welcome to a Black Parade".

Our "get real "this morning may be my favorite story of all time. The winner is a guy named Americo Lopez (ph). A jury found him cheating his colleagues out of the rightful share of the office lottery pool.

He was the guy in the office who would collect the cash and then go buy the tickets, lottery tickets. He worked at a construction company in New Jersey called the Berto (ph) Construction Company.

So, November 2009, he buys a mega millions ticket and it wins. It hits $77 million. Split two ways because there's two winning tickets in that. And he opted for the lump sum, which was $24 million and didn't tell anybody.

Then he calls in sick and says, I'm going to get my foot surgery done and comes back to work to say, I'm quitting, I won the lottery. Enough time has passed.

He claimed the winning ticket, of course, was his own purchase with his own money, not part of the pool tickets, and the judge disagreed with him and gave his five co-workers $4 million apiece.

CAIN: You know, this isn't that easy of a case. I turned to Jeff during the break and we talked about this. The guy's defense is, yes, I bought a pooled ticket. We all put money together to buy a ticket. But I also bought some of my own, which makes the whole we have a contract among us to split the winnings a little difficult.

O'BRIEN: I think the fact that he'd like to claim that the winning one was not -- you know, he tried to get that sort of time difference. This can't be the first time this happened, right?

TOOBIN: And I remember, there's another famous case in New Jersey where, you know, office workers started having a fight. That one was resolved because it turned out they didn't have a winning ticket. So, you know, too bad.

What's so hilarious about this -- these are not millionaires. I mean, this guy is not a millionaire. Why wasn't $4 million enough? Why couldn't you say, you know what, I hit the lottery, I think I'm going to take $4 million.

O'BRIEN: Given $24 million --

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: Twenty-four million dollars, Jeff

TOOBIN: I never held $4 million. So --

SHEINKOPF: He wanted to do what everybody else has done. Go to Wall Street and make a lot of money.

O'BRIEN: I think it was a brilliant plan, but karma will always get you and karma got him in the end.

TOOBIN: When he showed up to quit in a Lamborghini, it might have raised some suspicions.

O'BRIEN: That's exactly what happened. When he showed up to quit, everyone is like, that's interesting.

SHEINKOPF: Fit right in there, yes.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: Newt Gingrich king maker. The former House speaker's pivotal role in the GOP race, maybe it shouldn't be as nominee. We're going to talk to the conservative leaders who's making a bold call, another one, for him to drop out of the race.

Plus, the Goldman Sachs employee calls the company toxic and then quit. This morning, Goldman Sachs is responding and also taking a bigger hit.

And from governor to prisoner, Rod Blagojevich left his home just moments ago going to serve a 14-year sentence. We're going to talk this morning to convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff about just what prison will hold for the former governor.

You're STARTING POINT. We've got a short break and we're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: You're playing reggae. It's kind of a mellow morning, isn't it? That is Bob Marley, of course, "Get Up, Stand Up." That is off of my playlist. That is usually more of a weekend thing.

All right, got to get right to the headlines. Christine Romans has those for us. Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-Un boxing some military muscle as he tries to bolster his credentials as the country's supreme commander in chief. State media say Kim commanded live fire drills involving all three branches of North Korea's military and ordered troops to mercilessly retaliate against any enemy provocation.

The Senate has passed a bipartisan two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, but the measure faces a major battle in the House where Republicans want to pass a bill to cover five years and their version includes provisions opposed by Democrats. Provisions like expanding oil drilling on federal lands.

"Minding Your Business" this morning, Goldman Sachs is responding to an employee who aired his grievances in the "New York Times." Greg Smith resigned via e-mail just 15 minutes before publishing a scathing op-ed about Goldman Sachs.

Smith complained about the toxic culture at the Wall Street giants. In an internal memo to employees, CEO Lloyd Blankfine says, quote, "Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but it is unfortunate that an individual opinion about Goldman Sachs is amplified in a newspaper and speaks louder than the regular detailed and intensive feedback you have provided the firm."

And this morning, more bad news for Goldman, the investment bank shares dived 3.4 percent in trading yesterday wiping $2.2 billion off its market value.

Let's check in with the markets now. U.S. stock futures trading higher this morning. Many of you watching shares of Goldman today. Yesterday, they lost $2.2 billion in market value as we said. Just a tough day for Goldman shareholders. The Dow though yesterday closed up for the sixth day in a row.

And finally, for single guys and girls, the nation's capital is a booze cruise. A survey by the dating site howaboutwe.com says 34 percent of Washington, D.C., singles rate themselves heavy drinkers.

Number one in the country, New York and Chicago are nipping at their heels with 33 percent each rounding out the top five of the biggest single drinkers, Austin, Texas and Boston.

In case you're wondering the city with the lightest drinking singles, wait for it, Vegas. There you go.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. It doesn't say --

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Free drinks and they're there to keep you drinking and gambling. Shocking.

O'BRIEN: Yes, kind of -- that's exactly --

ROMANS: Doesn't say how many drinks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's nuts. I don't buy it.

ROMANS: It doesn't say how many drinks, Soledad. This is what I was wondering. How many drinks -- are you a heavy drinker? It just says if you frequently drink, that's what the people answered. I frequently have a drink. O'BRIEN: Yes, that's a little vague. But, still, a third of the people saying in New York and other places that they're heavy drinkers. That's interesting. All right, Christine. Thank you.

The former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is on his way to prison right now. We have new pictures of the governor leaving his Chicago home less than 30 minutes ago.

Fourteen years in prison for corruption for trying to sell President Obama's vacated Senate seat in return for political favors and donations.

Outside his home yesterday, he held one of the strangest press conferences that I have seen in a long time and talked to reporters about what he has learned in this entire process. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROB BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: When I became governor, I fought a lot, maybe I fought too much. Maybe one of the lessons to this whole story is that maybe you have to be more humble. You can never have enough humility and maybe I could have had more of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that's right. The lesson is you shouldn't be a criminal.

O'BRIEN: Yes. We're going to talk about that straight ahead because joining our panel this morning is Jack Abramoff. He's a former Republican lobbyist who served almost four years in prison after his conviction of defrauding clients and riving lawmakers.

He has written a new book, which is called "Capital Punishment." It's nice to have you join the panel. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate your time.

You know, what we heard from Jeff Toobin, which is, you know, the lessons learned was really not lessons about humility, really a lesson about, you know, ripping people off and doing illegal things. It's sort of a surprise that press conference. What did you think of it? Did you see it?

JACK ABRAMOFF, FORMER REPUBLICAN LOBBYIST: I did. Frankly, I think the entire media strategy of the governor, former governor has been a little strange and surprising from the beginning.

And probably aided the fact that he got a lot more time than maybe he would have if he would have come forward and been humble and basically admitted what he did perhaps and try to work through it.

O'BRIEN: I guess some of that is because his case, he is going to appeal his conviction, but I want to talk to you about what his first day, which will be today will be like because you went off to Englewood Federal Prison in Littleton, Colorado.

Describe for me when you got there and you know, eventually clang the door shot. You went to a different prison, that's where Blagojevich is heading. When they closed the door on you, where you were, what went through your mind? What is that like?

ABRAMOFF: Well, it's horrible. They strip you out of all your clothes, take away all your possessions and put them in a box and ship them to your family. Put you in the prison garb and basically thrust you among the inmates.

Most of whom are frankly friendly and not hostile, but it's completely disorienting environment. He's a celebrity. So he will be the celebrity of the prison. I think that Jeff Skilling who is there, is probably happy that he is arriving because being the celebrity in prison, take it from me, is not fun.

O'BRIEN: Explain that to me. What do you mean by that? Because I think some people would think that being well known wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing in a prison that is full of white collared criminals.

ABRAMOFF: Well, I don't think there is any prison full of white collar criminals. I think there are more white collar criminals there than in other facilities that are similar, but most of the federal crimes are drug related.

So 90 percent of the crimes are drug related and it's going to be very tough to have a prison that is full of white collar criminals. I think that has a reputation that had more white collared criminals.

But even among white collared criminals, you don't want attention in prison, you want to keep your head down and you want to be humble and get your time done and not attract the attention of the authorities there or those who are setting out to break the rules there.

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you.

ABRAMOFF: No, no, please.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say Blagojevich spoke a little bit about his family. Here's what he said about his wife and kids. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH: Saying goodbye to Patty and to my kids will be the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I have been putting off the thought about what that is going to be like. I can't even think about it now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: You say that one of your biggest mistakes was allowing your children to come when you had to surrender. What was that like? ABRAMOFF: Well, it was horrible. The problem is that going into prison, there's a final moment there where you walk through a door that you can't go back out from and my kids were extremely upset, obviously.

I was upset, my wife was upset and it probably was unwise of us at the end of the day to bring them to that day. We wanted them to see that I was going, where I was going and that everything was going to be OK.

But it kind of had a little bit of the opposite effect. Only after they visited quickly thereafter were they able to see that I was fine and not in any danger and that kind of thing.

O'BRIEN: You broke down in your sentencing hearing. I'm going to read a little bit of what you said in the court and this is after you consistently, you know, sort of started saying that you had tremendous regret and you were very sorry.

You said this, my name is the butt of jokes, the source of laughs, the title of scandals, the synonym for perfidy. I'm not sure that will ever change.

How did you get through and come out the other side and how do you think Governor Blagojevich is going to be able to do that? What strategy would you advise?

ABRAMOFF: Well, number one in prison, one of the most important things is to keep busy and to fill your day with as many activities that for positive, life affirming things that can improve your life as possible, reading, writing, tutoring other inmates if they need help in things and trying to just keep yourself busy.

Number two, hopefully he is a man who has some faith certainly, which impels one to get through it. Number three, visitors and friends, hopefully, who will not abandon him and will come visit him as frequently as possible.

I was in prison for 185 weekends and I had visitors every weekend and that helped me considerably. And frankly, keeping your sense of humor. You've got to be able to not become depressed and it is a place of pain.

People are in pain in prison and some of them are there for much, much longer than Governor Blagojevich is going to go and it's a horrific experience.

O'BRIEN: Why did you write the book?

ABRAMOFF: Why did I write the book? I wrote the book for two reasons. One, I wanted to get out what happens in Washington and what's been going on here in D.C., behind the doors.

The doors that I operated behind in the hope that maybe people would become informed and perhaps do something about it, which is what I'm working on now.

Number two, I wanted to tell my story. My story had become kind of mangled in the press. I sat quietly as this thing happened to me and I couldn't really speak.

And I wound up getting all sorts of tales told about me that I thought were inaccurate. And I thought that was important people hear at least my perspective.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jack, how scary is it? Were you scared for your physical safety at any point?

ABRAMOFF: I think you're scared going in because you don't know what you're about to encounter, but generally you're not scared. The prisons are pretty well maintained in the sense that if there's violence, they'll get down on it very quickly.

That doesn't mean there is violence. There is violence, but for a white collar criminal, what you basically have to do is stay out of the business of people who are making trouble and people who are breaking the rules. It's tempting there to break the rules because too many people are doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What rules do they break in prison?

ABRAMOFF: Well, for example, stealing things out of the kitchen and selling them or engaging in -- my prison, there were people who were sneaking cell phones onto the compound all the time.

That, as well as minor refractions, any kind of infraction that breaks the rules. You got to learn the rules. They give you a handbook, learn them, and obey them.

And no matter what is going on around you, stay away from trouble because it can get very bad in prison if you break the rules.

CAIN: Jack, we're focusing in on this. This is Will Cain. We're focusing in on this because most of us have not and hopefully will not experience what you have here. You talk about celebrity both Blagojevich and yours. So specifically, did that celebrity attract an attack? Were you the focus of attacks?

ABRAMOFF: Not necessarily the focus of attacks. I was a focus at times of a program, but not physical attacks. Again, you know, inmates are like everyone else, an eclectic group. There are different people in there than he's probably ever experienced before.

And some of them are not going to react well to the fact that a lot of attention is going to be paid to him. When I arrived in prison, they locked the prison down that day because the media was all over the place.

I imagine it will be same for him. That's not a good thing to enter the prison under a lock down scenario because the inmates don't like that. They have to stay in their cells or their cubicles or whatever it is.

Basically he has to keep his head down. If he plays to the celebrity, plays to the attention and plays all the hoopla made about him, he will wind up in trouble in prison. The authorities don't like that. They want inmates to be inmates and not celebrities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forget about celebrity and forget about inmates for a second. Let's talk about what gets people in public life into those places where they feel those things.

Tell me about the influence of money in politics today. What would you do about "Super PACs? Would you be raising the kind of money that's required if you were (inaudible)? Would you involved in that system today? What do you think wrong about it?

ABRAMOFF: Well, undoubtedly, unfortunately, I would be right where I was if things haven't gone off the chart for me and that's an unfortunate part of my personality and the fact what I was involved in.

But I think that what we've got to do in America is we've got to get the special interests and lobbyist money out of politics. That's my particular approach to this. The other attempts to limit expenditures of people who are not getting things back from the government, I don't think, would survive in the court. So the attack I'm taking is that people who are lobbyists, people who are getting things back from the government, and people, by the way, when I say lobbyists, I don't mean registered lobbyists, I mean everybody. Even if you call yourself a history professor.

Anybody who's engaged in that influence industry has got to be kept away from giving money and to conveying financial interest to public servants. That is a good start, I think, to getting rid of some of the corruption and some of influence of money in politics.

O'BRIEN: Jack Abramoff joining us. He's got a new book, it's called "Capitol Punishment." He's a former Republican lobbyist who served nearly four years in prison.

It's nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us.

ABRAMOFF: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Your experience is absolutely riveting to hear what you had to say.

ABRAMOFF: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, if you can't beat them, crown them. Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, has called for Newt Gingrich to step aside, says he can be a kingmaker. We'll ask him why he thinks that straight ahead.

Plus, more information about those Mississippi pardons. There are now documents that show the former governor and his wife gave special treatment to a couple of killers. They even arranged for the convicts to get driver's licenses and then new cars. You're watching STARTING POINT. We've got a short break. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: From my playlist, but it's so slow. Tony Perkins is going to join us in just a moment. That's James Taylor, "You've Got a Friend." But it's Tony's playlist.

Newt Gingrich, dropped out already. That's the message from Tony Perkins as well. He's with the Family Research Council, of course. He writes that Gingrich could be a kingmaker if he stepped out of the race and threw his support to another candidate.

Gingrich says he's not going anywhere. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The thing I find most disheartening about this campaign is the difficulty of talking about positive ideas on a large scale because the news media can't cover it and candidly my opponents can't comprehend it. And the result is you can't have a serious conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's Newt Gingrich basically saying, I can't drop out because other people don't get it.

Joining our panel this morning, Tony Perkins. He's the president of the Family Research Council.

Nice to have you. A little slow, I think, on the song this morning, but we're going to forgive you for that and move on. It seems to me like Newt Gingrich, when you look at the delegate count, and he's trailing significantly, let's throw those numbers up on the screen. Mitt Romney at 498, Rick Santorum at 239 delegates, and Newt Gingrich has 139 delegates. So he's obviously trailing in the math. Ron Paul with 69 delegates. He's trailing in the math right there. That it truly sounds, sir, like he's not listening to your calls at all. What do you make of that?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, Soledad, I think you just do the math and you're seeing increasingly that evangelicals are moving away from Mitt Romney. Mississippi, in particular, 81 percent of the voters there were evangelicals, 67 percent voted for Gingrich and Santorum, 35 percent going to Santorum, about 32 percent for Newt Gingrich.

That's increasingly what we're seeing happening especially in these southern states. I mean, look, you add it up, 67 percent of voters didn't vote for Mitt Romney who are evangelical. If one of them gets out, and it makes more sense for Newt Gingrich to get out, the conservatives coalesce around a candidate. I think Mitt Romney then drops into second place. O'BRIEN: So Newt Gingrich's message back is almost, you know, the reason I can't drop out is that the media really doesn't cover these issues that I'm interested in talking about. And my opponents can't even understand the issues that I'm talking about. Does he have a point, that if he does drop out he becomes less of a kingmaker and someone whose messaging, agree or don't agree with it, is going to get lost?

PERKINS: Well, Soledad, look, to win the nomination you not only have to capture the minds of GOP voters, you've got to capture their hearts. And that's not happening either from him nor from Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is not capturing the heart of GOP voters. He might be leading in the delegate count, but he's not going to be able to go into the convention even if he's leading in delegate count -- in the delegate count and not have the enthusiasm of GOP voters and hope to secure the nomination let alone secure the general election and win the White House.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Tony, Will Cain. You talked about the statistics on why or how evangelicals are not going Mitt Romney's way. Why? Why evangelicals -- why won't they move to Mitt Romney?

PERKINS: Well, I think in part because, you know, we started out, you know, this was going to be over after New Hampshire. Then it was going to be over after Florida. And it was supposed to be inevitable that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee. And of course, everybody, conservative voters, I should say, want to see Barack Obama replaced and so they thought that was the case. But with each successful contest that Santorum has or Gingrich had, that Mitt Romney is losing that idea of inevitability. And the gap is widening.

CAIN: But what does that have to do with evangelicals specifically? You pointed out evangelicals specifically are not voting for Mitt Romney. Why?

PERKINS: Well, because they're not comfortable. They're not -- they're not comfortable with him on his policies. When you look at his record as governor of -- Massachusetts, they're just not comfortable with him. And so they were kind of tolerating it initially. But now they see a viable option.

CAIN: So you don't think Mormonism has anything --

(CROSSTALK)

PERKINS: And so they're now voting their heart.

CAIN: You don't think Mormonism has anything to do with it?

PERKINS: You know, I don't know that -- I don't know that people are -- at least I haven't heard a lot of discussion about that because they can't get beyond their concern over his policy positions. That may be an issue if they get beyond the policy concerns, but right now it's focused on his policies. O'BRIEN: All right. Final question for you. You have to sort of position this, I mean, to get Newt Gingrich to take the bait of saying, you know, kingmaker is better than candidate. What do you think you have to do to bring him to that position? Because right now he clearly believes candidate is significantly better position to be in than kingmaker?

PERKINS: Look, Soledad, I understand. I mean I've been in office. I've been a candidate. And I understand when you've invested so much you don't want to walk away from it, but I think, you know, Newt Gingrich understands the significance of this election. He is a student of history, a professor of history. He understands what is -- what's at stake here and how this is unfolding. I think he's one of the most influential people right now in American politics.

He could suspend his candidacy to the -- until the convention, keep it out there. If something goes haywire he could still insert himself once again, but I think throwing his support to a conservative alternative, which would be Santorum at this point, I think would make him very, very powerful and I think would make him a kingmaker.

O'BRIEN: Tony Perkins joining us this morning, the president of the Family Research Council. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

PERKINS: Welcome.

O'BRIEN: Got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: And we've got much more ahead this morning. Mitt Romney does the math. His campaign is playing the numbers game, but are they focusing on delegate count and not the message?

Plus the harsh public message from a former Goldman Sachs employee as he quits. Going to talk to a man who literally wrote the book about Goldman Sachs. And talk about the culture of that company.

Also, Mississippi's former governor's freed killers and helped them buy cars, believe it or not. There's a new report out about that. You're watching STARTING POINT. Got a short break and we're back with these stories right after the break.

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