Return to Transcripts main page


President Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan; News Corp. Owner Rupert Murdoch Criticized for Illegal Activity of Company; Community Objects to Hooters Restaurant Opening in Area; Secret Service Prostitution Scandal; Aide's Wife Testifies In Edwards Trial; Pettitte: Clemens Used HGH; Hawk Attacks Man In Head; Obama And Karzai Sign Security Agreement; Gingrich To Suspend Campaign Today; Spokesman Quits Romney Campaign; Interrogating Al Qaeda

Aired May 2, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: -- and it doesn't work to fight terrorism. But a former CIA operative who water boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed says the torture tactics helped save American lives.

And it's a disgusting national chain with bad beer and bad food. That's one neighbor potentially of incoming Hooters restaurant. We'll tell you why some people want it and some people don't. It's Wednesday, May 2nd, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. New questions this morning about America's longest running war after a trip to Afghanistan by President Obama. The unannounced visit to Kabul was full of secrecy and symbolism, be but not very many specifics. A car bomb that killed seven people after Air Force One was wheels up served as a pretty tough reminder that there's a long way to go in that country. Suicide car bomber and Taliban militants disguised in burkas attacked a compound housing hundreds of foreigners. Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in Kabul. Hey, Nick, good morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. It appears the suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into what's known as the green village here, Close to the center of Kabul, a place where many foreign contractors and ex-pats live in supposed maximum security and safety. It's unclear what happened after this initial explosion. Some suggesting guards shot back and suggestions other attackers disguised in the head to toe female garments distinctive to the Afghanistan burka.

No matter how this panned out, we saw seven Afghan civilians killed, one of which was a school child and ten school children injured. Many Afghans asleep when president Obama visited under secrecy of the darkness yesterday. Not having seen his speech awoken, though, to the sound of these explosions.

O'BRIEN: Nick, thank you.

President Obama declared in Afghanistan the country is no longer a safe haven for terrorists and Al Qaeda's defeat is now within reach. That trip included an agreement with President Hamid Karzai outlining the strategic partnership between the two countries that will take place after 2014.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace with more and more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014, the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.


O'BRIEN: Lots of people thought that speech, though, was pretty low on specifics. An editorial in the "New York Times" this morning wrote this. "The White House set it up as a big moment, but the president squandered the chance to fully explain his exit strategy from a war Americans are desperate to see brought to an end."

Seth Jones is a senior political scientist for Rand Corporation also a former senior adviser for U.S. special operations command in Afghanistan. He's got a new book called "Hunting in the Shadows." It's nice to have you with us. Thanks for being here. President paints a fairly rosy picture in that speech last night of Afghanistan. The reality, of course, is much less rosy and much more complicated. What did he miss? What nuances did he miss in that speech?

SETH JONES, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND IN AFGHANISTAN: Well, it's important to recognize there is an active insurgency that continues. And we saw that earlier today with at least seven people killed in a car bombing in Kabul. We also have several neighbors including Pakistan and Iran that are providing consistent support to insurgent groups. So there's a lot that has to come between today and peace in Afghanistan.

O'BRIEN: So when the president says this about the tide turning, I'm curious to know your thoughts. Let's play that.


OBAMA: over the last three years, the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban's momentum. We built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated Al Qaeda's leadership taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders. And one year ago, from base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set to defeat Al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild is now within our reach.


O'BRIEN: Is, in fact, that true, the goal to defeat and deny Al Qaeda a chance to rebuild is within the reach of the United States?

JONES: I think that's a little optimistic. I think we see Al Qaeda has partially rebuilt itself across the border in Pakistan. It has pushed some fighters, including Farouk al Qatar, up into northeastern Afghanistan. And we've also seen a relationship, a continuing relationship in Osama bin Laden documents between elements of senior Al Qaeda and the Taliban. So, again, very complicated picture here.

O'BRIEN: In addition to people criticizing the speech, and it was a short speech, I'll give you that, for lack of specifics, I think you have to look at it a couple of ways, right? There's sort of the speech and the content and then there's the political speech. Who is the audience that the president's talking to? I count the neighbors of Afghanistan, the Afghan citizens and civilians themselves, and then, of course, American voters. Who am I missing? Who is the most important?

JONES: Well, I think the American voters are probably the most important here. The fact that the president said he's going to be decreasing on a steady basis the American forces means that we're not going to see over the long run a lot more Americans killed. But there clearly is an audience here both for Afghans and the neighbors. People remember the United States departure from Afghanistan in 1989. The funding dried up after the Soviet wars ended. And I think it is important to demonstrate that the U.S. is not leaving now.

O'BRIEN: He would not comment on troop size, he would not comment on financial commitments. He did say they would not be building bases. He did say there'd be support and support would be in the form of counterterror support and training. But even there, not specifics who would be doing the training. What do you think was the most important element out of that speech?

JONES: Well, again, the U.S. will not be leaving permanently. I think that is the message to send to the Afghans and to the broader region. The U.S. will not after 2014 completely abandon the country. I do think that's an important message to send.

O'BRIEN: Politically, many people have said the timing is interesting, the one-year anniversary of the killing -- I mean literally squeaking in under the wire of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Here's what the president said about Americans being tired of war.


OBAMA: I recognize that many Americans are tired of war. As president, nothing is more wrenching than signing a letter to the family of the fallen or looking into the eyes of a child that will grow up without a mother or father. I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is required for our national security. But we must finish our job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly.


O'BRIEN: What else do you think he needed to say?

JONES: Well, I think he needed to say, again, why are we there? And he started to get to that on the Al Qaeda front. But I think a more realistic assessment of the situation because Al Qaeda today is not a defeated organization. We have branches that have spread out across parts of the globe in Yemen and Somalia. I think it's helpful to make a strong argument this war will not stop in 2014, that this group that's based on the Afghan/Pakistan border will continue to target the U.S. homeland for the foreseeable future.

O'BRIEN: In his speech he glossed over the eight-year Iraq war as well in half a line.

JONES: He also said the war in Iraq is over. It's over from an American soldier standpoint, but that war is continuing to rage and actually levels of violence from Al Qaeda in Iraq have picked up this year. So that war is far from over.

O'BRIEN: When you look at this trip, gauge it for me from a political standpoint and then from a content standpoint and sort of policy standpoint. Victory as it's being touted today by administration sources, all political from folks who are opponents of the president, or as you look forward to this meeting in Chicago with NATO, a wash?

JONES: I think it's a wash to some degree. The NATO summit in Chicago will be critical. We're looking for more specifics from the summit, looking for troop numbers, looking for a better strategy, and commitments from America's allies in NATO.

O'BRIEN: Does this speech and this visit help?

JONES: Well, probably helps because it does show a longer term American commitment, but without the specifics, it's hard to take that too seriously.

O'BRIEN: Seth Jones, nice to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

JONES: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

In about 20 minutes we'll be talking to the former Minnesota governor and the former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. He'll weigh in on the president's visit to Afghanistan. Of course, he is now representing the Romney campaign. First, though, we want to get to other headlines making news and Christine has that for us. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you, Soledad.

Major developments in the escape of Chen Guangcheng. The U.S. has negotiated his freedom. Late last night, Guangcheng left the U.S. embassy and was taken to a medical facility to be reunited with his family and receive treatment on an ankle he hurt escaping from house arrest six days ago. Just yesterday, CNN was chased out of Chen's home village. The crew was followed by an unmarked car for hours, then a crew -- a group of men jumped out and attacked the crew. The entire ordeal has threatened to overshadow Secretary Clinton's trip to Beijing. She arrived there this morning. Clinton was the first person to speak to Chen after he left the U.S. embassy. He reportedly told her, "I want to kiss you."

But now we're learning the U.S. has negotiated Chen staying in China, no longer under house arrest and will be moving to another part of China to study, something he's not been allowed to do until now. Secretary of state Clinton has released this statement, "I am pleased we were able to facilitate Chen Gaungcheng's stay and departure from the U.S. embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values."

Five men are in FBI custody right now accused of trying to blow up a major bridge and plans to reportedly target NATO and the Republican National Convention as well. The FBI says three of the men are self-proclaimed anarchists. They had been monitoring the group since October and provided the fake bombs that the group allegedly attached to the bridge outside Cleveland. Investigators say the public was never in any danger.

Criminal charges are now expected in the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion. A state attorney will hold a news conference this afternoon. Five band members are facing possible felonies. The 26-year-old champion died back in November. Police say he was beaten on a bus as part of a band hazing ritual.

Minding your Business this morning, U.S. stock futures lower ahead of the opening bell. The DOW closed at a four-year high yesterday. It was a boost from a strong report on U.S. manufacturing that took it there.

Plus, a new report says that people are putting more money into their retirement accounts, taking advantage of those stock gains. Fidelity says average 401(k) balances rose eight percent to just about $75,000 at the end of the first quarter compared to the same period a year ago.

Facebook's initial public offering fast approaching. The "Wall Street Journal" reports this morning that face book shares will begin trading publicly on May 18th, that's the plan. The journal also reporting the road show to shop at stocks for big investors will kick off Monday. Company shares will be traded under the ticker symbol FB.

And Fig Newtons are now just Newtons. Craft decided to drop the fig. The cookies have other fillings besides just fig. Fresh strawberries and blueberries and raspberries will be proudly displayed on the box. They were originally named after Newton, Massachusetts near where they were first produced in the 1890s. So good-bye, fig.

O'BRIEN: The passing, the end of an era.

ROMANS: Don't change my Newtons.

O'BRIEN: Children are crying in their coffee.


O'BRIEN: Thank you, Christine, appreciate it. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the British government ripping Rupert Murdoch, saying he's not fit to lead a major international company, and there are calls now for the end of his media empire in the United States. We're going to talk this morning to the man who wrote the book "The Fall of the House of Murdoch."

And our get real, the effort to bring Hooters to Brooklyn is a bust, get it? Our panel heading in this morning t talk about that and much more. Good morning, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. This morning, more fallout in that scathing report that condemned Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. company. A Washington watchdog group is calling on the FCC to revoke News Corp.'s 27 licenses for its local Fox Broadcasting Stations, saying, quote, "When coupled with its conduct in the United States, it is clear that News Corp. has engaged in a pattern of misbehavior that disqualifies it from holding broadcast licenses."

Meanwhile, News Corp. firing back against that British report which said that Rupert Murdoch was "not a fit person," that's a quote, to run a major international company, saying that very conclusion was "unjustified and highly partisan."

So what does it mean for the future of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire? Let's get right to Peter Jukes, a contributor for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." He's also the author of "Bad Press, the Fall of the House of Murdoch." He joins us this morning from London. Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. I appreciate it.

In addition to al we were talking about yesterday happening in parliament, the U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating. So how does what we heard yesterday out of where you are in England affect that investigation here in the United States?

PETER JUKES, AUTHOR, "BAD PRESS, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF MURDOCH": Well, phone hacking isn't within the remit of the Department of Justice's investigation. I think you probably know that's probably more likely to be focused on the foreign corrupt practices act, which relates to something that committee yesterday didn't investigate, which is quite extensive allegations of corrupting officials. The other tabloid paper which Murdoch owns, "The Sun," the daily paper isn't accused or being investigated for payments to police. That comes under the foreign corrupt practices acts. And those investigations are still ongoing.

O'BRIEN: News Corp. currently has 27 broadcast licenses, local TV stations across the country, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, D.C., parliament saying that he is unfit to run News Corp. using the words "willful blindness." How much jeopardy is, in fact, Rupert Murdoch in in this particular country with those licenses?

JUKES: That's the FCC, and that has strict criteria to analyze in the British case. If it goes beyond Britain, there are other investigations, FBI looking at cases in Russia. There's another case ongoing in Sicily about alleged hacking of rival pay TV channels. So the problem is that there's a pattern of these practices, that that would definitely under U.S. law require some investigation.

There's also civil cases pending in the U.S., I believe, which allege phone hacking of British or American citizens on U.S. soil. Now, that could force disclosure from News Corp. That's what happened here. It took 10 years, but the patent of a civil case forcing disclosure from News International led to these revelations. We don't know where it would go in the states.

O'BRIEN: It was quite an amazing thing to listen to Tom Watson, a member of the parliament who was just the -- one of the most damning statements I've ever heard ever on live television talking about Rupert Murdoch. But what kind of weight does it hold? You know, one of the things we heard was an apology might be demanded and might be forthcoming. What would that matter? What would the impact be?

JUKES: Well, I noticed that News Corp. Statement was quite apologetic. I think Tom Watson has a particular beef. He claims he was surveyed several times and followed by News Corp., or News International employees. I think there is a sense that was along with an inquiry, a huge blow against Murdoch and may be a sign that his departing the U.K., at least in newspaper terms.

But remember, that's only 1 percent of News Corp.'s revenues. The B-sky-B thing is much more lucrative and much more interesting to him. But even still, News Corp. is, you know, vast organization throughout the world. It is shaming him and causes acute problems, but I'm not sure to what extent. With the share points going up because of a buy back he's in jeopardy just yet.

O'BRIEN: Peter Dukes, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

JUKES: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: And this into CNN, a brand new photo of human rights activist Chen Gaungcheng. Here is the first photo of Chen since he escaped house arrest and fled to the United States embassy in Beijing, shows him being wheeled by a nurse in a hospital in Beijing. He's been transferred there after six days at the U.S. embassy. U.S. officials negotiated his freedom and we're told he's going to be moving to another part of China where he'll be able to study.

We've got to take a short break, but still ahead on STARTING POINT, the Secret Service agents caught up in the Colombian prostitution scandal now say they're not going to cooperate. We'll tell you why.

And our "Get Real" this morning, folks in Brooklyn happy about getting the nets, less happy about getting Hooters. What they're going to do about it. This is of Meredith Baxter's play list. It's Santana's "Smooth."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Wow. So Meredith, usually Will Cain is our resident Texan and has a lot of Willie Nelson in our playlist. But today it's New York Groove. Look who is liking New York.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I love New York. I wish it was smack dab in between the Red River and the Rio Grande, but I love New York.

O'BRIEN: But it's not.


O'BRIEN: If you ask anybody, they will tell you they go for the wings, they don't go for the waitresses or the tight tank tops, they're not going for the orange shorts. I don't get it. Why would anybody want to stop a Hooters from opening up? According to the "New York Daily News" the restaurant chain is looking to bring the fun to the location near the new Barclay's center, which is the new home of the Nets, the new Nets arena.

AND: They're debating that.

O'BRIEN: They're not only debating that, but debating this. Should a Hooters be allowed to open? Because there's a group of local moms who say, no, a group called save park slope says we will fight Hooters on all fronts. You remember this is the same group that declared that the ice cream vendors were a nuisance to be dealt with proving once again that moms in park slope are not to be messed with.

CAIN: They've gotten to save Brooklyn from a lot of things, ice cream and Hooters.

O'BRIEN: One mother was quoted as saying "It's a disgusting national chain with bad beer and bad food." Another said strip joints are next using the classic slippery slope argument. You start with a Hooters -- so that was the dilemma. But the biggest issue for them might be space because there's not a lot of big store fronts apparently in Park Slope, which is where they want to go.

When I was pregnant, I loved the wings at Hooters. I used to go all the time much to the tremendous embarrassment of my husband and friends --

JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: Thank you. There are straight men who would never set foot in a Hooters. It's embarrassing. I applaud the moms for this. I don't think it's going to be happening. I think the last thing professional sports needs is more ties to juvenile nicknames for the female anatomy.

O'BRIEN: Well, we support you and the women everywhere appreciate that, but I like the wings. Can we get a good restaurant with good food?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, just take -- get the wings, take them out.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I haven't gone since I've had children. But when I was pregnant --

FUGELSANG: It's exciting, and will it be the Brooklyn Nets or the New York Nets?

O'BRIEN: I hope it's the Brooklyn nets. I do.

FUGELSANG: I think they should call it the New Jersey Nets since the New York giants are in Jersey. We can have a hypocrisy sports tradeoff that way.

O'BRIEN: I like that way.


FUGELSANG: It's very, very thrilling and it's great for Brooklyn. I was one that wished the nets moved to Brooklyn when they tore down Shea stadium. Whether there's a Hooters or not, it's great for the economy and great for Brooklyn.

CAIN: It's going to be classy.

O'BRIEN: Keep it classy.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, if we can. It's like a Hitchcock movie, one man fearing an attack from above. We'll tell you what happened.

Plus the GOP reacting to President Obama's secret trip to Afghanistan. Some critics say it was just a campaign stop. Governor Mitt Romney seemed to be OK with it. We're going to talk to his national campaign co-chairman Tim Pawlenty straight ahead.

And actor Jason Segel wants Hillary Clinton to act with him in a movie. This morning, a personal response from the secretary of state. This is Christine's play list, "Moves like Jagger," my 11-year-old likes this song too.


O'BRIEN: I love it when we start our morning with a little Bruce Springsteen. That's Rosalita off Tim Pawlenty's playlist. We're going to be talking with him in just a few moments about the politics of President's Obama Afghanistan trip. That's straight ahead.

First though, a look at the headlines, Christine's got that. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad. Three of the 12 Secret Service agents involved in the Colombia prostitution scandal, they refused to take a lie detector test and were dismissed from the agency.

Nine others implicated in the scandal have taken a polygraph according to New York Congressman Peter King. He says none of those nine agents failed the test, but their responses did lead to some of them being dismissed.

Meanwhile, though, "Washington Post" reports Secret Service personnel did pay 10 of the 12 women they brought back to their hotel in Cartagena.

The wife of a former close aide to John Edwards is back on the witness stand this morning in the disgraced former senator's trial. Sheri Young explaining yesterday why she videotaped the home and the possessions of the senator's mistress, Rielle Hunter in 2008.

She told the court her family's relationship with Edwards had soured and she felt she needed proof there really was a Rielle Hunter.

Former Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte testifying that teammate Roger Clemens admitted to using human growth hormone and suggested it may help with recovery.

Clemens is accused of lying to Congress about using steroids. Pettitte was on the stand yesterday at Clemens' retrial. He also testified that Clemens said the HGH would help with recovery time after injuries in tough games. It was a conversation that Clemens famously once said Pettitte misremembers.

Imagine being attacked by a hawk in your own yard. A man in Ohio now wears a helmet when he mows his lawn after a hawk swooped down and dug its talons right through his hat and into his skull.


RICHARD VARVIR, HAWK ATTACK VICTIM: Cutting the grass over there --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the riding mower.

VARVIR: On the riding mower and all of a sudden I heard a noise. Boom, it hit me.


ROMANS: Boom, it hit me. Richard Varvir had to get a tetanus shot. He and his wife say they literally don't want to ruffle any feathers and will cut down the tree after the hawk's eggs hatch and leave the nest.

Could more sleep be the key to weight loss? A new study claims a full night's sleep may suppress the genes that cause weight gain. Research claims people who get more than nine hours a night are less likely to put on weight.

Those who get less than seven hours up their chances of gaining weight. Scientists suggest shorter sleep helps creates an environment where obesity genes can flourish.

I'm about to read you the best rejection letter ever. Hillary Clinton driving a hard bargain in Hollywood turning down a chance to appear on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" starring Jason Segel.

She wrote to Segel saying, quote, "I was delighted to read about your interest in sharing the big screen with me. As you can imagine, I'm a little occupied at the moment, but perhaps someday I can help you forget Sarah Marshall again."

"My only condition is there be Muppets involved and that is non-negotiable. In the meantime, you have my best wishes for continued success with your career." That's one to frame, I think, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's so lovely. And by the way, I'm secretary of state. I would never, ever do that, but thanks for writing and asking. Christine, thank you. Appreciate it.

President Obama marking a possible new chapter in Afghanistan during a surprise visit that fell on the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden.

The president and Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai signed a new agreement laying out the framework for the partnership between the two countries after U.S. troops withdraw in 2014. The president also addressed the troops that are still there.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I know the battle's not yet over. Some of your buddies are going to get injured. And some of your buddies may get killed. And there's going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead. But there's a light on the horizon because of the sacrifices you've made.


O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney issued a statement on the president's trip writing this, I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan. Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our president about what is at stake in this war. Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security.

Joining us this morning, the national co-chair of the Romney campaign is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: Good to be with you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, I appreciate that. I would love an elaboration beyond that statement that Governor Romney released of what he thinks of the trip, the timing, and also the details or in some case lack of details of what President Obama laid out last night.

PAWLENTY: Well, of course, it's appropriate for the president to visit our troops in Afghanistan and to give them encouragement, express our thanks and to remember the sacrifice that's been made. But beyond that, in terms of this agreement that was signed, Governor Romney feels it's important to define the mission ahead in terms of strategic outcomes, not in terms of days or months on the calendar.

And those strategic outcomes include making sure al Qaeda is defeated, making sure the insurgencies including, by the way, groups like the Taliban are incapable of reforming in a way that threatens Afghan security or the situation next door in Pakistan.

And making sure that the Afghan security forces and police forces have enough capacity to be able to make sure that the country is at least reasonably stable and those goals, I think people agree with.

But what we don't like is the president putting these arbitrary deadlines rather than conditions on the ground governing America's position in Afghanistan.

O'BRIEN: So Mitt Romney would say don't withdrawal in 2014 and don't necessarily give an announcement that extends the support to 2024?

PAWLENTY: Well, Governor Romney has said 2014 may be an appropriate timetable, but let's not announce it ahead of time for those who don't have America's interest at heart can plan around it. Don't give them the blueprint in public with timelines attached to it.

That's what President Obama has done. Governor Romney would have taken a different approach and planned and executed those plans in private.

O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney had said that he felt that the ad that President Obama's campaign was running talking about the killing of Osama Bin Laden was very political and had politicized an issue that really was one that should've united Americans.

Does he believe that this trip, as well, was some kind of campaign trip? This trip to Afghanistan, it was political?

PAWLENTY: No, Governor Romney said he's pleased that the president has made this trip. And I think for the president and commander in chief to visit troops, to give them a boost, to give them encouragement, to remember and speak to their sacrifices fully appropriate, Soledad.

The only real difference here is the president making public pronouncements about timelines on a calendar versus Governor Romney's approach, which is defining it be I the strategic objectives.

And others and making sure those objectives are successful and America's goals are met rather than just putting arbitrary deadlines, in other words conditions on the ground governing our plans not arbitrary deadlines on the calendar.

O'BRIEN: James Inhofe said this, clearly this trip is campaign related. This trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials because he spent the last three years gutting our military.

Would you agree with that? Both that it's an attempt to shore up national security credentials and also that the past three years the president spent the time gutting the military?

PAWLENTY: Well, the president has the country on a trajectory to cut $1 trillion out of the defense budget over the next 10 years. Those would be untenable reductions in American security capability and our defense budget.

So yes, we have severe concerns about the direction that President Obama is heading our defense budget and security capabilities and he should be called to account for that. There's no question about that.

Governor Romney has sharp differences with the president on that. Governor Romney has called for not only maintaining but increasing the defense budget, maintaining and increasing the number of ships within the Navy and down the list.

That's very different vision for America's security and defense future than President Obama has. So that's a legitimate and important issue. But we aren't criticizing him for going to Afghanistan and visiting the troops.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about Newt Gingrich. He's expected to officially, after many announcements, that there's an official quitting of the campaign coming. He's officially expected to officially quit as you know. I don't have to tell you because you were a part of it.

It was an ugly campaign a lot of the time. The Obama campaign is expected to deploy a quick ad showing that Newt Gingrich is going from a non-Romney fan to being suddenly a Romney fan. Let's throw that ad up if we have it.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a man who wants to run for president of the United States who can't be honest with the American people, why should we expect him to level about anything if he's president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?



O'BRIEN: So how difficult -- I mean, you know what? And there are probably 30 to 60 more ads like that that somebody could make. How difficult is that going to be to have -- or is this sort of the etch-a-sketch moment that people have talked about in the past? We shake it, we move on, new day, new campaign, and frankly new audience that you're talking to? PAWLENTY: Well, it's probably not going to be a lot more difficult, Soledad, than bringing out the Hillary Clinton clips about Barack Obama when they ran against each other.

So there's a celebrated and time-honored tradition of people who fight hard against each other for a party's nomination saying some things that are intention or conflict about each other, but then becoming colleagues and teammates as you get on to the bigger goal, which is defeating the other side.

In this case, defeating President Obama, he's been a disaster as a president in terms of his handling of the economy. He's been somebody who has disappointed us with all of these broken promises, his achievement.

His so-called grand achievement from his perspective of health care reform is probably unconstitutional and going to be removed. And so, of course, the president is trying to distract Americans and voters from his own record, which is nonexistent or bad in trying to get people focused on some old comments by Newt Gingrich.

I think shortly, Newt will be supporting and endorsing and encouraging Governor Romney because he's a far better candidate and will be a far better president than President Obama.

O'BRIEN: We'll see how that change of position goes. All right, Tim Pawlenty. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us.

PAWLENTY: OK. Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Mitt Romney's openly gay spokesperson quits. He says the attention that was paid to him became too much.

We're going to talk also to the former head of the CIA's clandestine service who waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohammed. He says enhanced interrogation was key to finding Osama Bin Laden. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. An openly gay spokesperson for the Romney campaign says he's stepping down this morning. Richard Grenel hired to work on the Romney camp's foreign policy message upsetting some social conservatives.

In a statement he said this, while I welcome the challenge to confront President Obama's foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign.

So he is out. Good opportunity for me now to reintroduce our panel this morning. Will Cain is with us from John Fugelsang is back with us this morning, political comedian, and Meredith Baxter joins us.

She has written a wonderful book. We talked the last time when the book came out. This time it's out in paperback. It's nice to have you back. Of course, everybody's favorite mom actor --


O'BRIEN: Over a million other things, as well. It's nice to have you with us. So let's talk about Mr. Grenel. You know, some of the tweets that he -- he had written sort of had him -- had left very angry at him because he was considered to be misogynistic.

He wrote about Rachel Maddow. She needs to take a breath and put on a necklace. He said about Hillary Clinton this is on Twitter. She was starting to look like Madeline Albright.

Note to children, when your mom is a grandmother. Do not let her wear a backless dress. He then deleted. I think something like 800 tweets he deleted when he took the job.

These tweets were taken before he took the job. And then on the left -- I mean on the right, there was a sense that bringing in somebody who was openly gay was a very anti-family. I think is a quote that was used.

CAIN: For the sake of accuracy, let's make clear. This is not about Republicans or Mitt Romney's campaign being unaccepting of gay people. That's not what this is about.

In fact, this guy has been attached to Republican figures for quite a while. He worked for John Bolton. It's not about whether or not this guy was openly gay. The ones -- the people that are opposed seemingly opposed to Richard Grenel were opposed to his advocacy for same-sex marriage.

I'm not excusing that position, one that which I disagree with, but I'm just trying to be accurate on what the outrage was about. Now, is that why he resigned? Because some social conservatives out there put blog posts up saying, this guy's a big advocate for same-sex marriage?

Is that your platform? Is that why he resigned? That seems odd. You pointed out the guy has had a ton of tweets that have ranged from inappropriate to shady, and I don't know why he resigned, but I know he's been cleaning his Twitter. I know a lot of things going on, but it's just not because he was openly gay.

O'BRIEN: No, I don't think people were saying he was openly gay. I think the question was the comments that came out and the word was representative of family. I think is a rough way of putting it.

You know, it's an interesting person to discuss this with because I know when you came out really to Matt Lauer on the "Today" show a couple years ago now, that was one of your big concerns was sort of the everybody's mom, you know, now sort of how will I be perceived as people who see me as sort of the family figure?

MEREDITH BAXTER, AUTHOR, "UNTIED": Well, Grenel didn't seem to have that difficulty. He was open, he knew, and I don't have any opportunities to applaud Romney's campaign, but I do think that they handled this well to the extent of my information.

That they seemed to back him and wanted him there. It was the right wing, the vitriolic, the homophobic comments were just amazing. But my question is the same as yours. Why did he go? That was there --

FUGELSANG: Did Governor Romney have a chance to reject his resignation and say I want you here because a lot of people respect Mitt for having the guy on the bill. However, there's nothing in the bible, there's nothing from Jesus that says being gay is wrong and this man who's been misogynist is now a victim of bigotry and it's completely unfair.

O'BRIEN: But he can now tweet freely. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, does waterboarding terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed keep Americans safe from future attacks? The former head of the CIA said yes, it does. He's going to join us up next to explain. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're getting some new insight this week into the enhanced interrogation techniques that were formally used by the CIA, which setup a nationwide controversy when they were made public back in 2009.

Jose Rodriguez is the former director of CIA's National Clandestine Service. He's the man who ordered the destruction of the tapes of some of those enhanced interrogation techniques and says he has no regrets.

Speaking out for the first time in his new book, which is called "Hard Measures, How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives."

It's nice to have you joining us this morning. Thanks for being with us. This book is really a defense of torture, a defense of waterboarding, what you call enhanced interrogation techniques, but there are plenty of people that would say it doesn't work.

What it does do is get bad information out of people who will just say anything in order to have the torture stop. Why are they wrong and you're right?

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, AUTHOR, "HARD MEASURES: Well, first of all, it's not a defense of torture. It's an explanation of the enhanced interrogation techniques that were approved by the president and certificate fight as legal by the Justice Department and briefed to the Congress and the proof of how successful they were is in the information that we obtained. There is loads of information that came from that program that allowed us to destroy the al Qaeda organization that attacked us on 9/11. So it worked.

O'BRIEN: Waterboarding was --

RODRIGUEZ: Waterboarding was one of the ten.

O'BRIEN: So walk me through because I read that you waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times. Is that right?

RODRIGUEZ: That is not right. It is a myth. Somehow 183 pints of water became 183 times. Actually, he told the Red Cross that he was waterboarded during five sessions and that was it. It's a handful of times that he was waterboarded.

O'BRIEN: Walk me through how it works. When you're going to waterboard somebody, I know you tie hands behind the back and you lean them back.

RODRIGUEZ: First of all, I was not the actual person doing the waterboarding. I was the person in charge of it all. The person lays down inclined with his feet up making sure that no water gets in the lungs.

And then water is poured from a distance of about a foot and the water pouring very specific guidance in the legal opinion says you can do it for up to 40 seconds but in reality it was mostly ten seconds. Water is poured. There is -- the airflow is restricted and there's a sensation of drowning.

O'BRIEN: How quickly do they give you information?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, it depends. You know, there were some detainees that actually in a few days they were cooperating. Be mindful that waterboarding was only done on three occasions to three persons who have American blood on their hands. But in most cases a few days, in case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a couple of weeks, two or three weeks.

O'BRIEN: How did you decide who would be the ones that would be waterboarded and who would not?

RODRIGUEZ: Usually, of course, the high value detainees, people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the architect of 9/11 and killed 3,000 people.

And the person responsible for blowing up the "USS Cole" and killing 17 sailors and the first detainee we ever had and was responsible for the planning for the millennium attacks and had actually dispatched a terrorist to blow up Los Angeles International Airport. He was the first one. So those were the only ones that were waterboarded.

O'BRIEN: John McCain said when he was tortured that he was giving out the line up for the Green Bay Packers. He would just make stuff up. He was literally providing bad information just to get them to stop.

And sometimes he would give a little information, but for the most part he was making stuff up. As a person who experienced a lot of that, that he sees no value in it and he is against it. Does his word have weight?

RODRIGUEZ: Let me tell you that the people who were involved in the debriefing because there's a myth here. The interrogation face of it only took a few days or a couple weeks.

But the more detailed work was the actual debriefing in which the experts that we have at the agency and world experts on al Qaeda were able to vet the detainee because they had so much information.

That they were able to ask him questions that we had answers for and vet these individuals. Later when we had more prisoners, we would be able to use one against the other but the intelligence is compelling.

CAIN: It seems to me, Soledad, Mr. Rodriguez, that the wrong debate is whether or not it works. If we submit to the premise that it does work as a society then what do we embrace and what do we not embrace. I would assume there are many, many legitimately torturous things that work. Where do we draw the line?

RODRIGUEZ: If you look at the techniques themselves and if you actually paid attention and looked at the ten techniques that are used here, they are pretty wimpy if you look at them one at a time.

So you know, these are things that I have no moral qualms on my own or anyone else who work with me in doing mindful of the fact these are people who killed and who are going to kill more of our people.

O'BRIEN: The techniques are in this book, we are out of time, but we can talk on the commercial break and write about it online as well this morning. The book is absolutely riveting.

It's called "Hard Measures, How Aggressive CIA Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives." Thanks for talking. Appreciate it. We'll take a short break. We're back in just a moment.