Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Versus Romney; Tax Hike For Millionaires Fails; GSA Grilled Over "Wild Spending Spree"; Prostitution Scandal Rocks Secret Service; Zimmerman Lawyer Asks For New Judge; It's Tax Day!; Zimmerman Trial Twist; Interview with Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske; Secret Service Scandal Widens; Romney Tells President To "Start Packing"

Aired April 17, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Kate is dancing.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Whatever gets you going. When I'm in Washington, I'm a correspondent. I'm always dancing before the show.

Anyway, more than you need to know. I am Kate Bolduan in for Ashleigh Banfield today. It's 6:00 a.m. in the east. Let's get started shall we?

Mitt Romney telling President Obama, quote, "start packing." But a new poll shows Romney has a lot of catching up to do if he wants to win the White House.

SAMBOLIN: A military's top general now apologizing to the commander-in-chief for that sex scandal in Colombia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We let the boss down because nobody is talking about what went on in Colombia other than this incident.


SAMBOLIN: The Secret Service now yanking security clearances for several agents accused of bringing prostitutes to a hotel before the president arrives. They have new fallout from the scandal ahead.

BOLDUAN: And a new legal move by George Zimmerman's attorney. Trayvon Martin's accused killer is asking for a different judge. Plus new concerns for Zimmerman's safety.

SAMBOLIN: And he has a hotdog tong and he's not afraid to use it. An attempted robbery that had the victims laughing. You're not going to want to miss this video, folks.

But up first here, we have Obama versus Romney straight up. A new CNN/ORC poll tracking their general election match up shows President Obama strong pretty much across the board.

Overall, 52 percent of registered voters chose Obama compared to 43 percent for Mitt Romney. Still the GOP nominee in waiting believes the outcome is inevitable. In an ABC interview, Romney had this message for the president.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Start packing. That's what I'd like to say. Obviously, we have a very different view. The president, I'm sure, wants another four years, but the first years didn't go so well.

And they've added trillions of dollars of debt because he doesn't understand the economy. He doesn't understand what it takes to get jobs for the American people.


SAMBOLIN: CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser joins us now from Washington. Paul, we have been talking a lot about gender lately and our poll digs really deeply on these specific issues. So let's start with the gender gap. What can you tell us?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It is alive and well, Zoraida, at least according to our new poll. This was conducted over the weekend, about 1,000 people. Take a look at this.

Among men basically all knotted up between President Obama and the former Massachusetts governor. Mitt Romney, a look on the right there.

Boy, a 16-point advantage for the president over Romney among women voters. We've seen that gender gap in other polls as well over the last few weeks.

One reason why, go to the next board. This is interesting. Who is more in touch with the problems of women, look at that, by more than 2-1 margin, Americans say the president, not Mitt Romney -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And I was also reading here that two-thirds say that they have actually made up their minds with just 29 percent saying that they would change their minds.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, that is a pretty high number considering it is only April. We have 6-1/2 months to go until the election. I think things may change between now and then.

SAMBOLIN: All right, so -- the gender that's pushing the president's numbers higher, can you tell us about some of the other factors that are bringing them up, those gender differences there?

STEINHAUSER: Exactly, likability. Take a look at this. Our poll asked who's the more likeable of the two candidates, well, you can see, President Obama way ahead. Who's more in touch with the middle class? Again, the president with a big advantage, you know, Romney is considered very wealthy. That maybe hurting him here. Who is the stronger leader, again, the president by double digits and who stands up for what he believes in, again, the president by double digits -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right, so I'm looking at this poll. We're really beating up on Romney. Did he win anywhere?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, there is an important issue. It's called the economy. It's still number one with Americans. Look at this, who has the better way of helping Americans with the economy? Who has got the better solutions to get the economy moving?

Basically all knotted up between the president and Mitt Romney. Also go to the next in number, independent voters, we always talk about these, Zoraida, how they are crucial in the general election.

And when it comes to independents, the president's advantage, pretty slight there, 5 points, again, 6-1/2 months to go, the numbers are going to change.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, well, there are a lot of polls, right, in those six months to go. I was reading a Gallup poll this morning and it actually puts Romney and Obama in a statistical tie. How is that possible that we have this and they have that?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, right on the same day. This is the Gallup tracking poll. They just started up. It's going to be every day right now. You could see a dead heat there. They're poll pretty much in line with a Fox poll that came out a few days ago.

Our poll pretty much in line with an ABC/"Washington Post" poll, listen, different questions are asked and methodology is a little different. One thing that stands out between our poll and Gallup, ours had the president ahead among independents and the Gallup poll had Romney ahead among independents -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Really interesting. A lot of reading as folks get prepared to decide who their candidate is. Thank you so much, Paul Steinhauser.

BOLDUAN: An attempt to hike taxes on the richest Americans dead on arrival in the Senate. Last night, Senate Republicans voted down a plan to move ahead on the so-called "Buffett Rule," which would require millionaires to pay a minimum 30 percent tax.

The president responding to the vote blamed Republicans for, quote, "choosing once again to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest few Americans at the expense of the middle class."

The GOP argued though, it would hit small businesses and even though the Treasury says it would only hit 1 percent of them. They also argue that it wouldn't even put a dent in the federal deficit.

A new CNN/ORC International poll though shows an overwhelming amount of Americans support the "Buffet Rule," 72 percent in favor of the tax hikes, only 27 percent opposed.

SAMBOLIN: It is 6 minutes past the hour. A honcho at the GSA exercising his right to remain silent. Can I show you a picture of him this morning?

This is the "New York Post." I don't know if you can actually see it, if you want to zoom in there. He is pleading the Fifth at a Capitol Hill hearing that looked into a wild spending, at an $800,000 Las Vegas conference.

This photo is from that conference and he organized it two years ago. Jeff Neely, another official, grilled about mock-up videos, and lots of parties that included a taxpayer-funded booze, meals, clowns and even a mind-reader.


REP. MIKE KELLY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It's pathetic and I got to tell you. I can't tell you how disappointed I am.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Working for the government is a sacred trust, which you have blown.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: When you see this widespread abuse of money and then you as the former administrator say well they were entitled to it, that's where there's frustration steaming out of our ears.


SAMBOLIN: The head of the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, said she found a badly managed GSA when she took over in 2010. She has since resigned over this mess.

BOLDUAN: The prostitution scandal that is shaping up the Secret Service appears to be widening this morning. Eleven members of the agency have now had their security clearances revoked for allegedly bringing prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia.

Two days before the president arrived for a summit and at least, 10 members of the U.S. military are now being investigated as well. Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer why this type of transgression can be so dangerous.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: No matter what the ultimate penalty is, this is a serious, serious violation of everything the Secret Service stands for.

What these 11 agents did potentially puts any president at risk plus themselves at risk and at least themselves open to blackmail and to threats.

But obviously finding out who those 11 women are and exactly what their backgrounds are, what their connections associations are is extremely vital to this investigation.

BOLDUAN: And for more on all of this, Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon. Good morning, Barbara. So what do we know -- do we know more about the military members being implicated and their possible role in the scandal and generally, what is the latest on this investigation?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. At least five members of the U.S. Army we are told and perhaps five additional members of the U.S. military being questioned about this entire matter.

The Pentagon saying very little officially about it, but look, what happened yesterday was the top military adviser to the president had to issue an extraordinary apology.


GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: So we let the boss down because nobody's talking about what went on in Colombia other than this incident. So to that extent we let him down.


STARR: "We let the boss down" extraordinary words from the top general here at the Pentagon. We are told, Kate, that the members of the U.S. military like the Secret Service members being investigated were not in direct contact with the president of the United States.

They were part of this advanced security team and then they were providing support, we're not told what that is, to the entire presidential trip.

But the real question here, of course, is by virtue of these actions taking place, were these members of the U.S. military making themselves open to blackmail or other threats about presidential security -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and many, many questions, not enough answers, but this obviously will continue. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you so much, Barbara.

SAMBOLIN: It's 9 minutes past the hour. Still ahead on EARLY START, the defendant in the Trayvon Martin shooting asks for a new judge. George Zimmerman's attorney says his client is frightened behind bars and he is concerned about Zimmerman's safety.

BOLDUAN: And a drunk man armed with a pair of hotdog tongs, yes, people, tries to hold up a store. How do you think he did it? We'll have more on that. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: It is 13 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. It's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

The attorney for George Zimmerman has filed a motion to have the judge in the Trayvon Martin case recused because of conflict of interest.

Zimmerman is being held on a second-degree murder charge in the 17-year-old's death. Attorney O'Mara says his client is frightened.


MARK O'MARA, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: There have been a lot of emotions that have come forward in this case and some of those emotions are showing themselves in bad ways and I'm just hopeful that we can get him out, keep him safe and give me the time to do my job.


SAMBOLIN: The lawyer also says he hopes Zimmerman will get bail at a hearing on Friday.

Australia is speeding up the timetable for its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Prime Minister Julia Gillard says some of the 1,500 Australian soldiers now stationed in Afghanistan could come home within a few months and all of them could be out by the end of next year, and that is 12 months ahead of schedule.

A powerful 6.7 magnitude earthquake shook Chile last night. It head near the coastal ford of Aparizo, but it was strong enough to shake buildings in the capital city of Santiago, which is actually about 70 miles away.

There are no immediately reports of injuries or damage there, but that same region in Chile, take a look at this, was devastated by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in February of 2010, hundreds were killed then.

Rick Santorum resurfacing. The former presidential candidate tells supporter he has not spoken to Mitt Romney since dropping out of the race last week but he plans to. When he asked how he'll advise his backers to vote in upcoming primaries, Santorum said, quote, "Stay tuned."

BOLDUAN: And a California teenager locked up after she claimed she was raped is now finally free. The 17-year-old was thrown in juvenile hall for 20 days because prosecutors feared she would not show up to court to face her alleged attacker.

Prosecutors say the man, 37-year-old Frank Rackley, is a serial rapist and they were hoping the teen's testimony will help convict him. But when she failed to show up at two court hearings, the judge ordered her detained. That judge is now apologizing. The teen's attorney says she shouldn't have been locked up in the first place.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am truly sorry for all that she's been through.

AMINA MERRITT, TEENAGER'S ATTORNEY: I do believe it should not have happened in the first place. I do believe that there were less (AUDIO BREAK) to obtain her statement.


BOLDUAN: The teen will now be monitored by GPS.

Very, very different story but one we've been talking about quite a bit, laughing about quite a bit, assault with a hilarious weapon, a man arrested after attempting to hold a convenience store in Ft. Smith, Arizona, with a pair of thongs he grabbed from the hotdog tank. You can see him chasing customers around with the tongs when someone called 911.


CALLER: He's trying to stab us and he keeps saying "give us money."

911: What does he have?

CALLER: He has a tong thing. I don't know. It's like a silver tong thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He attempted to rob the place but really I guess nobody took him serious enough to actually give him money because of his state of intoxication.


BOLDUAN: I really can't believe this. And I think a man is trying to attack me with tongs.

No, police say the man dropped the weapon and was waiting outside when they arrived. Police say he'll be charged with two counts of attempted aggravated robbery despite the apology note he wrote to them.

SAMBOLIN: All righty then. That's a great story.

Let's check your weather this morning. Jacqui Jeras is in for Rob Marciano.

Nice to see you.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey! Nice to see you, ladies, this morning as well.

It's a great start across much of the East today, a few hot spots we're concerned about and have to talk about and primarily just to the west of New Orleans right now where some heavier showers and thundershowers are rumbling through. The ground already very wet, so we're worried about some standing water on the roadways, be aware as you head out. Just light rain on the northern tier up towards Nashville, might spit at you just a little bit.

The rainfall will be spreading throughout the Southeast throughout the day today. Some much needed rain for you in Atlanta, up on towards Charlotte. But be aware that that could cause some delays on the roadways as well as into the airways.

Now, this front kind of lingers into the Northeast, but it's already offshore. So, we're looking at dryer conditions today and much cooler conditions in the Northeast, and for a plethora of record highs. Look at that -- Hartford, Connecticut, 92 degrees yesterday. Today, we're going to be back down into the 70s.

But the weather is going to be gorgeous to view the space shuttle Discovery that's going to be leaving Kennedy Space Center.

SAMBOLIN: We're very excited.

JERAS: Isn't it great? It's going to be at the Smithsonian at Washington Dulles Airport. And we should be able to see it. It's going to fly really low all over the special sites into Washington, D.C., like near the monument at 1,500 feet, around 10:00. You want to be out there to get a glimpse.


SAMBOLIN: Send up pictures this morning if they take them -- it's supposed to happen at 7:00. So we're keeping an eye on that because we would like to see it take off.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

JERAS: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Jacqui.

JERAS: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Up next on EARLY START: it is Tax Day -- I don't think you needed me to remind you of that. I hope, but that means time is running out to get those returns in.

Feel like you're overtaxed? How your fellow Americans feel? Ahead on EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Apparently we have a surprise this hour. Stay tuned for that.


SAMBOLIN: Minding your business this morning.

It has to do with this, stocks ended mixed on Monday with a NASDAQ taking a hit because of a 4 percent drop in Apple. The tech giant stock has fallen for five straight days. It's noteworthy because Apple shares have surged more than 40 percent this year and recently hit a record high of more than 600 bucks a share.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And when thinking about your money today, most of us are thinking about taxes, of course, and a new CNN/ORC poll is out, showing just says how Americans feel about this ritual.

Alison Kosik is in for Christine Romans. She's here.

Alison, how do people see it?

SAMBOLIN: Surprised, I think, right?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is. And you kind of approach this like Goldilocks in the three bears, right? Too much, are we paying too little, if it's just right?

So, the biggest gripe for people, believe it or not, is actually the tax system itself -- are people paying their fair share? And so, we turned to a CNN/ORC poll that found out that 68 percent of the respondents actually found out, actually said that the tax system benefits the rich and is unfair to average workers versus 29 percent who disagreed with that view. So, the biggest beef there is the system itself.

Now, here is the surprise for you: people are pretty OK with how much they're shelling out to Uncle Sam. Take a look -- 50 percent says that the federal income taxes they pay are about right, with 45 percent saying taxes are too high. So, it's kind of split down the middle.

Now, part of the reason they may be more OK with writing that check when they send in that form today is because these tax cuts were put in place by President Bush which are set to expire December 31st. But that pretty much lowered those marginal income tax rates across the board.

One more thing that really struck me with this CNN/ORC poll is where people are skewed politically as far as they feel about how much they're paying and 53 percent of Republicans say their income taxes are too high, 41 percent of Democrats say they're OK with it, that they're not paying too much. So, this kind of rolls into the whole Buffett Rule that failed in the Senate yesterday where you see the Republicans, you know, shooting it down and the Democrats voting in favor of the Buffett Rule.

So it's interesting to take a step back as we rush to the post office and take a look at how everybody feels about how much we pay and what we feel about the tax system.

BOLDUAN: Zoraida, you looked at this as well, too high. How much -- how do you feel about how much you pay? Too high, about right. Three percent say what they pay is too low. I would love --


KOSIK: But you have to remember also, you know, we don't -- no one likes paying a lot of taxes. But think of the government like a business. You know, we're paying our taxes for a reason. This money goes to services, so it makes your town go round and round, your and city go round and round, talking about snow removal, the library, police, good schools.

I mean, yes. You know, you get what you pay for and when we pay our taxes, it's painful to write that check. Believe me, I know.


KOSIK: But it's going to something -- at least you want to believe it is.

SAMBOLIN: That's the key right there.

BOLDUAN: But then you have stories like --


KOSIK: It's not perfect.

BOLDUAN: Services and government waste, that's another (INAUDIBLE).

KOSIK: Yes, there you go.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Alison. Thank you, nonetheless. A little bit of an education today.

And still ahead: new developments in the Trayvon Martin case. The attorney representing George Zimmerman wants the trial judge replaced.


ANGELINA PAGLIA, PROFESSIONAL POOL PLAYER: Hi. I'm Angelina Paglia, and I'm a professional pool player. I travel around the world playing pool tournaments.

I would say that I play about maybe 13, 14, 15 major tournaments a year. If there aren't any major women's tournaments, I certainly will jump in with the men. I have no problem with that.

Not only do I travel as a professional player, but I really do like to be involved in charity. This shot is called the Evel Knievel shot. We do a lot of trick shots, exhibitions and a lot of challenge matches to raise money.

They'll charge $10 to be able to play us a game of pool. I mean, when do you get a chance to play a professional, right, and for such a great cause?

I normally always travel by plane. We have to check our pool cues because they're considered a dangerous weapon.

We really worry about checking our pool cues obviously for safety and damage. Sometimes, if I'm going to a place that's really far away, I will actually Federal Express by cues.

That's how a pool player travels. Thanks for watching. Off to my next tournament.



SAMBOLIN: It is 29 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BOLDUAN: I'm Kate Bolduan, in for Ashleigh Banfield.

Good morning, everyone, once again.

It's time to get a check of the stories making news this morning.

The chairman of the joint chiefs saying, quote, "We let the boss down." Members of the military now tied to a prostitution scandal in Colombia and the Secret Service now yanking security clearances for 11 agents accused of bringing prostitutes to a hotel before the president arrived.

And Mitt Romney telling the president to, quote, "start packing," in an interview with ABC News. But a new CNN/ORC International poll shows President Obama has close to a double-digit lead on the likely GOP nominee, 52 percent to 43 percent.

SAMBOLIN: The space shuttle Discovery's final flight. This time, it's a passenger on the back of a jumbo jet soaring into retirement this morning. We are live at the Kennedy Space Center monitoring when it takes off.

And anger over at the Summit of the Americas over the USA's hunger for drugs. The government now set to unveil an alternative to the war on drugs. We'll talk to President Obama's drug czar.

BOLDUAN: And it has divided a community and the country. Now, a new legal twist in the controversial Trayvon Martin shooting.

SAMBOLIN: The judge at the center of the case is being asked to take herself off of the case.

Alina Cho is here to talk about this latest development.

Good morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Good morning, Kate. Welcome back. Good morning, everybody.

You know, this case has been controversial from the beginning. Zimmerman, of course, now officially charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It happened on the night of February 26th and now this latest twist, listen carefully, Zimmerman's new lawyer, Mark O'Mara is now asking the judge hearing the case, Judge Jessica Recksiedler, to step aside.

This is where it gets a little complicated. So, listen carefully. Judge Recksiedler's husband works at the same law firm as CNN legal analyst Mark NeJame. Zimmerman originally asked NeJame, the analyst, to defend him. He declined and instead referred Zimmerman to several lawyers, including Mark O'Mara who ultimately took the case.

Now, on Monday, O'Mara filed paperwork with the court, requesting that Judge Recksiedler step down and give the case to another judge.

O'Mara told our Anderson Cooper why last night. Watch.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Earlier this afternoon, you filed this motion to recuse the judge. Are you confident that your request is actually going to be granted?

MARK O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S ATTORNEY: Yes, I do. The way the rule is set up is that once the presentation is made by verified motion, the court should grant it. She could have an inquiry if she wanted to. I don't think she will. I think she's going to go ahead and grant it and move the case on to another judge.


CHO: Now, I tried to speak slowly. I tried to speak clearly. But in case anyone missed the potential problem here is people are concerned about a potential conflict of interest, right, between the CNN legal analyst and the judge's husband who work at the same law firm. Of course, given the scrutiny in this case, they're thinking maybe not such a good idea to be so closely associated to somebody in the media.

BOLDUAN: So, what do we know about this judge and the options for replacing her?

CHO: Well, we could find out very, very soon. As for the judge, we can tell you that Recksiedler only found out, this is remarkable, just last Thursday, that she had been chosen to hear the case. And this was at random.

Now, here's what we know about her. She's 39 years old, relatively new to the bench, elected in November of 2010. But she has been a lawyer for 15 years.

She lives in Sanford, Florida, with her husband, a personal injury attorney who as I earlier mentioned works with one of our legal analysts. Now, there are three judges who could possibly replace her, Judge John Galluzzo. He was appointed to the bench by then Governor Jeb Bush in 2006. Another possibility is Judge Kenneth Lester, on the bench since 1996. And third judge, Debra Steinberg Nelson, she was appointed back in 1999.

SAMBOLIN: And when do you think we'll find out whether or not, or whether or not she'll be replaced?

CHO: Well, I think very soon. I think very soon. It could happen as early as this week.

Now, the judge did not say when she can make a decision, but there were a bail hearing that is set for Friday. So it is possible that Zimmerman could make bail at that time. But this issue of this potential conflict of interest would have to be resolved before the judge could make any decision on Zimmerman's bail.

Obviously, defense lawyers are going to be very inclined to get this settled right away. And, and by the way, under Florida law, there only needs to be a reasonable belief that there might be a conflict of interest and doesn't appear as though the judge is fighting it. So, it looks it's going to happen.

BOLDUAN: And even on the prosecution side, they want to get this handled as well. They don't want to be clogged up and have to restart again or whatever.

CHO: That's right. As Zimmerman's lawyers said, let's not find out two months down the road that we've got a conflict of interest. Let's settle this now. That would be a real problem two months down the road. So, let's get it buttoned up right now.

BOLDUAN: We'll be watching. Thanks, Alina.

CHO: You bet.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Six-thirty-four here on the East Coast. The U.S. is waging a new war on drugs and prescriptions are at the center of the fight. Coming up, we're talking to the person that is leading the battle. The White House drug czar has a new strategy he's unveiling today.

BOLDUAN: But, first, let's get a quick check of your travel forecast with Jacqui Jeras.

Hey there, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey. Good morning, ladies.

Most of the trouble is going to be confined to the Southeast. And we're really looking at places from Louisiana, stretching on into the Carolinas, concern about flooding along the Gulf Coast.

And then just looking at the delays at the airport then as we head into places like New Orleans, Atlanta, as well as Charlotte. And most of those will be arrival delays. So, if you're somewhere else in the country trying to get into the cities, that's where you're going to have the problem.

The Northeast could be a little windy so be aware for the approach on the runways. Seventy-five, though, in New York, 73 in Washington, D.C. It should be wonderful weather for viewing the space shuttle Discovery landing today.

That's the latest on your forecast. We'll be right back after a break. Don't go away.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 39 minutes past the hour.

The so-called war on drugs began when Richard Nixon occupied the White House. Now, decades later, it is hard to say if we're actually winning it. Elicit drug abuse has declined by one-third since the 1970s. Big drops in cocaine and methamphetamine use.

But prescription drug abuse has tripled in the past two decade, with fatal overdose involving prescription medications up nearly 400 percent since the end of the last century.

So later this morning, the president's drug czar will unveil the administration's new drug policy strategy.

Gil Kerlikowske is the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and he joins us from Washington with an exclusive preview.

Thank you for being here this morning.


SAMBOLIN: We're delighted to have you. In this new policy, you state the drug addiction is a disease that can be treated and can be prevented. How big of a change is that from the previous drug policy strategy?

KERLIKOWSKE: It really brings to fore all of the parts of the public health system. You know, for too many years, we looked at this as mostly just a criminal justice problem. I was a police chief for a long time. We can't arrest our way out of this problem.

SAMBOLIN: I'm struck by the language that you used, as I was reading through it. It says, it causes substance use disorder, disease of the brain. It feels like conscious decisions to use those terms. Why that specific type of language? Does it have anything to do with some of it being treatable than through health care?

KERLIKOWSKE: It is treatable through health care, but what we've often found is that people just look at this as, you know, some moral failing. The person just needs to straighten up.

We know from the science that addiction is a disease, but we also know that we can treat it. And more importantly, we know people can recover and be back taking care of their families and paying their taxes.

SAMBOLIN: And you're proposing changes to how the country actually prosecutes these folks who buy, sell, and use illegal drugs. What are those changes that you're proposing?

KERLIKOWSKE: I think the most important changes and what we've seen is that the work gets done at the local level, at the state and local level, and when we propose new policies and new programs that actually help people get in to recovery, we know they're not going to continue to be recycled back through the prison system which is not only incredibly costly but really doesn't do anything to make this country safer.

SAMBOLIN: Do you have any details on when somebody would be arrested with what particular type of drug?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, they're another group of experiments going on in different departments, police departments across the country, from Providence, Rhode Island, to Seattle, Washington, in which they are looking at and using ways alternatives to both arrest and alternatives to incarcerating people that again both keep people in the community safe but also recognize the addiction and the disease problem of drugs.

SAMBOLIN: I want to talk about prescription drug abuse because this is a big one, right? Up 300 percent since 1990, and doctors inadvertently become a part of the problem by providing the drugs, the people who abuse them, right? So how do you deal with this problem?

KERLIKOWSKE: We have a plan that we put in place that is just about one year old and it works really well and we think it's going to make a lot of progress. We're all actually starting to see it. It's about educating parents about the dangers of prescription drugs, it's about cleaning out medicine cabinets in a safe way, it's about enforcing on the so-called pill bills, and these are important ways that we can deal with a substance that's really coming right out of our own medicine cabinets.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you mentioned those medicine cabinets earlier when we were talking some months ago. And you highlighted something that nobody ever thinks about, perhaps sometimes if there are folks who do abuse these drugs, that they may go to open houses and actually go through the person's medicine cabinet.

KERLIKOWSKE: We've seen that, when realtors tell you, that if you're going to show your house, you need to not only lock up your jewelry, you need to lock up your medicine cabinet.

In my old job as a police chief, I call that a clue to the problem.

SAMBOLIN: So, this is quite an extensive effort. You have budgeted $10 billion for prevention and treatment, slightly smaller amount for incarceration and law enforcement. It would leave fewer non-violent offenders behind bars, you say. And you say you want to get rid of the revolving door to prison.

But what plans will be put in place so there's not a revolving door in and out of treatment as well?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, the most important plan is to recognize the nexus between drugs and crime. And when that is recognize, then you put in treatment programs so that the person doesn't continue to get recycled through the system, it makes a huge difference. And we're seeing that done whether they're projects for instance called Hope in Hawaii that's being replicated across the country.

These are important ideas that save money, save time, and most importantly, keep the community safe.

SAMBOLIN: And Pat Taylor, who's the executive director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, this was another tidbit that I found -- information in there, praised your proposals but mentioned this, "Expanding efforts to build recovery community organizations across the nation."

Are those buildings? Or is that part of existing hospitals? And who funds that?

KERLIKOWSKE: I think what we're really talking about here is to remove the stigma around drug use so that when people can get their civil rights restored, if they've been arrested, so that people aren't embarrassed and don't have to hide.

I mean, people in recovery hold important jobs. It isn't an issue of class or race. This drug issue affects everyone. And when we recognize it more as a disease and less as a criminal justice problem, we help to remove that stigma.

SAMBOLIN: And lastly, I want to ask you very quickly about teen drug use. Half of all 12th graders have used some illicit drug in their lifetime and that's including inhalants. Anything different in your approach for teenagers?

KERLIKOWSKE: You know, the most important thing is when they get a message from someone they trust, like a parent. And actually, kids do listen to their parents.

When they get a message it isn't a scare tactic and they get information, you know what, a lot of kids will make the right decision, but it's important that we give parents the information that they need to have that conversation, and then, the parent has to have that conversation with their child.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Gil Kerlikowske, White House drug czar, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. And good luck. All right. Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Zoraida. I want to show you some live pictures real quick. We are waiting, counting down. You're seeing right there live pictures from the Kennedy Space Center where the space shuttle "Discovery" is getting ready to take a bit of a piggyback ride off to its final location near Washington, D.C.

We are counting down for that liftoff if you will, that flight. We're taking a look at that. We'll be following that also as we follow the rest of the show, but first, I have the opportunity to welcome Soledad to the desk.


BOLDUAN: What's going on?

O'BRIEN: Lots coming up this morning on "Starting Point" which you'll see right at the top of the hour. The Tulsa shooting suspects have said that they are not guilty in what is believed to be a racially motivated killing. This morning, one of the suspects' mother who is serving time in prison has written a letter saying that her son is not a racist.

She says that he's had a very tough life. She's going to join us by phone from the prison to talk about exactly what has happened in his life and why she said he is not guilty.

Also, major league pitcher, Jim Abbott. You're right. Remember, he was born -- if you seen this picture -- born without a right hand. Major league pitcher, played in the Olympics, pitched a no hitter for the Yankees back in 1993, he's written a new book. It's called "Imperfect: An Improbable Life." We're going to talk about his amazing story straight ahead.

Plus, we talked about this yesterday, amazed some people, freaked out a lot of people, but everyone was talking about it, which means that there are now plans to take Tupac on the road, have him tour even though he's been dead for roughly 16 years, but he's a hologram, and we'll talk a little bit about the technology behind that. It's a hologram now, but that doesn't mean he cannot continue to be a successful recording artist as we've seen.

So, if you're about to head to work, you don't have to miss the rest of our show. Check out our live blog at I'll see everybody at 7:00 a.m. at the top of the hour.


SAMBOLIN: It is 50 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Eleven secret service agents who allegedly brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia two days before the president's arrival have had their security clearance revoked. At least 10 members of the U.S. military now being investigated for their possible involvement in that scandal.

Mitt Romney has some ground to make up if he went the GOP nomination and goes head to head with President Obama in November. Romney sounded really confident telling ABC News the president should start packing. But now, a new CNN/ORC national poll of registered voter shows President Obama with a near double-digit lead over the presumptive Republican nominee, 52 percent to 43 percent.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): And two Oklahoma daycare workers charged with felony child abuse for feeding a 13-month-old boy green beans doused with hot sauce. Authorities say Tracy Owens (ph) and Rosie Hicks (ph) were caught on video. Hicks blames the incident on job stress.

New video released in the case of the deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair. The band at the center of it all, Sugarland, speaking on camera at the deposition. The band is being sued over the collapse. Last year, seven people died and more than 40 were injured when scaffolding fell -- you saw it right here -- on a crowd during a storm.

It happened right before Sugarland was set to perform. Lead singer, Jennifer Nettles, says it's not their responsibility to make sure funs are safe.

JENNIFER NETTLES, SINGER, SUGARLAND: I don't feel it's my responsibility or my management's responsibility to evacuate the fans in the case of danger. Do I care about their safety? Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Attorneys for the victims and victim's families say Sugarland is responsible. They claim the band was aware of the storm and should have either postponed or canceled that performance.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And still ahead, you are looking -- you're about to look at a live picture from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There it is. Rolling, rolling, rolling. The shuttle "Discovery" is about to take its final flight. We're tracking it. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-five minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. The space shuttle "Discovery" just about to liftoff on a trip to its final resting place.

BOLDUAN (on-camera): This is her favorite story of the day. Zoraida is so excited.

SAMBOLIN: I am excited. "Discovery" will travel atop, look at this, atop 747 jumbo jet to Washington, D.C., where it will go on display at the Smithsonian. We get to go see it.

BOLDUAN: We get to go see it, but Zoraida, this happens sometimes. And John Zarrella can tell us why we've seen space shuttles ride on top of planes before.



SAMBOLIN: You're treating me like a child. BOLDUAN: No, I'm not.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. That's my question of the morning, nothing more difficult than that?

BOLDUAN: Oh, don't worry.

SAMBOLIN: We have more. We have more.

ZARRELLA: -- when they landed in California.


ZARRELLA: When they landed in California at Edwards Air Force Base because the weather wasn't good here or in the early days the shuttle program before they started landing here, they would have to stick the shuttles on top of the 747 to ferry them back here to the Kennedy Space Center for liftoff.

So, there's your answer to that. The space shuttle is down to my left here. In the next ten minutes or so, we expect it to come from my left to my right, south to north and then lift off here and start heading down the beach. I want to bring in Robert Cabana. He's the director of the Kennedy Space Center, former astronaut.

You're never a former astronaut, right, Bob. And he flew as pilot twice on "Discovery" and commander of a couple others, and you told me I could touch your shirt.


ZARRELLA: You wore this in space when?

CABANA: October of 1990, 22 years ago.

ZARRELLA: Twenty-two years ago you wore that.



ZARRELLA: This is -- this -- and you would said to me just a minute ago, you thought the emotions were over.

CABANA: I did. When it stopped taxiing down the end to takeoff and I thought I was passed it, but I'm not. It's hard to see it leave KSC.

ZARRELLA: This is for you, guys. It's for everybody here at the workforce. This is a tough, tough thing to see the shuttle being retired like this.

CABANA: It is. I think I hear it. I think I hear it.

ZARRELLA: We think -- here it is. It's coming down the runway now. Take a look. It's off. Here we go!

SAMBOLIN: Here we go.


SAMBOLIN: Oh, and liftoff.

ZARRELLA: Wow! Wow! Look at that -- yes.

CABANA: Yes, I know.

ZARRELLA: It's clearing the trees here now. We can see it heading down to the south, and again, what's going to happen now, Bob, is going to go down the beach, fly down the beach. You're going to fly, actually, over pad 39A, right?

CABANA: Right. Turn around and come back by and head on up to the air and space museum.

ZARRELLA: So, we'll get to see it one more time as it flies back over the Kennedy Space Center. You've almost got tears in your eyes. And I know why, and we all do.

CABANA: It's just -- you know, it's special. It's a special vehicle, and -- but you know, I wish it were flying -- I was in it before they closed the hatch. And it looked like it was getting ready to go fly in space not fly to the air and space museum. But if you're going to end up in a space museum, that's the place to be.

ZARRELLA: Bob, thank you so much for spending time with us in this really great moment. It is on the way. Ladies.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: That's why I'm excited. It's headed in our direction!

BOLDUAN: So, just real quick, everyone. It's flying to Washington, D.C., actually Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., where it will be in the Smithsonian Museum, and that will be its final retirement location. You can see it there.

SAMBOLIN: Wasn't that cool?


SAMBOLIN: Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: That's all for us this morning. I'm Kate Bolduan.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.