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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Negotiations with Taliban to Release American Prisoner Break Down; Police Search Home of Suspect in Art Theft Case; Actor George Clooney Holds Fundraiser for President Obama; Prosecution Rests In Edwards Trial; U.S. Airways Flight Diverted; JPMorgan Chase's $2 Billion Bombshell; AIDS Preventing Drug Nearing Approval; Girl Scouts Under Scrutiny; Classmates: Romney Bullied Boy In High School; Briston Palin Under Fire; Challenges Of Fatherhood

Aired May 11, 2012 - 06:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Thank you, ladies. Good morning, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, he was on the FBI's most wanted fugitive list. Well, this morning, it turns out that Adam Mayes is dead. The dramatic and abrupt end as cops closed in on him in Tennessee. That murder/kidnapping suspect, we're going to tell you what happened.

Plus, it was the biggest art heist ever. We're going to tell you about the hunt for $500 million worth of art that was stolen from a museum 22 years ago. Right now, federal agents are all over the home of a reputed Connecticut mobster. We'll tell you what they found, so far.

Also, was presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, a bully? He's now responding to allegations that he harassed a prep school classmate who later came out as gay. His adviser from the campaign will join us live.

It's Friday, May 11th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning is with headlines. Lots of news to get to. Zoraida Sambolin has an update on what's happening in that manhunt. The two sisters have been found alive and unharmed. Zoraida, good morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely, that manhunt is finally over, the two missing sisters found alive and physically unharmed. The accused kidnaper is dead. Authorities say fugitive Adam Mayes shot himself in the head after a SWAT team tracked him down in union county, Mississippi. The FBI had just put Mayes on their ten most-wanted list. He was charged with kidnapping the two girls after murdering their mother, Jo Ann Bain and older sister, 14-year-old Adrienne. Mayes was a family friend of the Bain's and a relative says he believed he was the girl's biological father. CNN's George Howell is live in Atlanta with more details for us.

OK, we're going to mind your business instead this morning. U.S. stock futures are down right now, indicating markets here are expected to open lower this morning. Lots of uncertainty in the markets this week over instability in Greece and overall concerns about growth of the economy. One stock taking a beating overnight, JP Morgan-Chase, did you hear about that? It's down about six percent in pre-market trading right now and last night, the bank's CEO announced a $2 billion loss in April over some badly hedged bets.

In an apology to the boss from the vice president, senior administration officials say Joe Biden has apologized to President Obama for painting him into a corner on the same-sex marriage issue. CNN's Jessica Yellin broke that story for us. Biden came out in support of same-sex marriage on a Sunday morning talk show, and that may have forced the president to make his own announcement ahead of schedule.

President Obama's change of heart on same-sex marriage made history in more ways than one. Moments after he made the announcement on ABC news his official twitter account posted the tweet, "Same-sex couples should be able to get married," and that is on its way to becoming the most re-tweeted message of all-time. A hacker who actually tracks the president's tweets says it's been shared more than 56,000 times and counting. This is as of yesterday.

Twitter says president Obama's announcement also generated more than 1.6 million reaction tweets. That number peaked at 7,000 tweets per minute yesterday afternoon.

And it was "starmageddon" last night at the estate of George Clooney. President Obama rubbing elbows with 150 guests each of them donating $40,000 for the privilege. Among them, Barbara Streisand, her hubby James Brolin, and actor Toby Maguire, the fundraiser bringing in a stunning $15 million in contribution to the president's reelection campaign.

O'BRIEN: How many of the folks do you think were there for the president and how many were there for George Clooney?

SAMBOLIN: You know what? The president actually said most of them were probably there for George Clooney.

O'BRIEN: He might be right about that. Zoraida, thanks, appreciate it.

The family of army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl so frustrated they are revealing potentially a secret deal between the United States and Taliban for a prisoner swap, exchanging their son, who is a POW in Afghanistan, for five prisoners who are being held in Guantanamo Bay. An administration official is telling CNN they were trying to work out a sequence, moving two prisoners to a third country Qatar and Bergdahl would be released and the United States would let three other prisoners go.

The negotiations though stalled, prompted Bergdahl's father to become so desperate that he tried to reach out to the Taliban on his own. And he told the "New York Times" "The rhetoric is that we don't negotiate with terrorists, and therefore what do we do? Well you push it hard with everything you have."

Bergdahl was captured June 30th, 2009 in Afghanistan. In one video he claims he was captured after he fell behind on patrol. His message was posted by his captors online in 2009, obviously in a hostage situation. We wanted to play a little clip of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOWE BERGDAHL, PRISONER OF WAR: Well I'm scared. I'm scared I won't be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Obviously a brutal experience for Bergdahl's family and one man who might have insight is Michael Berg. His son, Nicholas, you might remember, was also captured by insurgents back in 2004. Nicholas Berg ended up being beheaded. Mr. Berg, I appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you so much for being with us.

You I know in the past -- looks like I've dropped -- there your shot is back. Forgive me. We had a little technical difficulty. You advocated for a prisoner exchange in the past after your son was executed and you were blasted for that. Now we see this negotiation for a swap of prisoners out of Gitmo for Bowe Bergdahl? Do you think it's a good thing, and if you do, why?

MICHAEL BERG, FATHER OF NICHOLAS BERG, WHO WAS HELD HOSTAGE AND KILLED IN IRAQ: Obviously it's a good thing, lives could be saved on both sides. How could anyone lose in that situation?

O'BRIEN: The argument as I'm sure you're aware, against would be that if you in a way reward a kidnaper by doing a swap, it encourages more kidnappings, anybody who agreed not to be an insurgent in terms of release probably would, the minute they're released go back to being an insurgent. Do you worry that some of these arguments could have some truth to them?

BERG: Well, first of all, I don't think that this is a kidnapping. This is a political action, and the attitude of we don't negotiate with terrorists is what's gotten us into the terrible mess we're in, in Afghanistan, and Iraq, as we still are in Iraq. It's the same kind of attitude that probably prompted the attacks on the twin towers. We don't negotiate.

Well, if you don't negotiate, you don't use diplomacy, then people fall to violence. So to me, that's -- negotiation, diplomacy is what you should do. Negotiation, diplomacy is what you must do.

And as far as these people in Guantanamo who would be released going back to being terrorists again, none of them have been proven to be terrorists. What happened to the United States of America, where you're innocent until proven guilty? These people haven't had trials and it doesn't look like they're going to get any kind of a fair trial. And if they did go back and they did become insurgents, they would be in the same category as Americans who wanted to right a wrong. And I think the invasion on Iraq and Afghanistan were wrong, and I don't agree with violence. I don't agree with war. But these people are not doing anything any differently than we would do. O'BRIEN: Mr. Bergdahl has said that he's become so frustrated with the process, the secret negotiations, potentially with a swap that would involve his son that he just started doing direct negotiations with a person he believes at least has links to the Taliban. And he's told them, stop sending videos and messages to the American people and instead, try to speak directly to the president. Do you think that's good advice? Would you if you were advising him in any way tell him a similar thing?

BERG: Probably. I think with this president, he's fortunate in a way that he's dealing with this president, and not the president that I had to deal with, whose only political statement about that kind of thing was we don't negotiate with terrorists. From what I know, offers were made by Al Qaeda for my son, money or prisoner exchange, I don't know what the details were. But they were rejected just on point, just because they were negotiations. So I think that dealing with the president, who seems to be a human being, who is the current president, seems to be a human being, seems to be the kind of person who would react to a father's plea like that.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Bergdahl, we've seen him in videos that he directs to his son's captors. I want to play a tiny bit and ask you a question on the other side, sir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERGDAHL: It's past time for Bo and the others, to come home. To the nation of Pakistan, our family we wish to convey our compassionate respect. We have watched the violence of war, earthquake, epic floods, and crop failures devastate your lives, all while our son has been in captivity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: You, sir, have been in the horrible position as well as trying to figure out what is happening to your son. What kind of advice would you give Mr. Bergdahl as his family tries to navigate who has got to be an absolutely horrific experience for them?

BERG: Keep on trying, to try everything that you possibly can, and especially to take advantage of a resource that he has that I did not have, and that was the attention of the media. When my son was missing, I contacted the media. I contacted every television station, every major newspaper that I could think of, and since my son's disappearance wasn't public, no one wanted to have anything to do with it.

He's got that resource. If I were him, I would go to the media. I would be on the media as much as I could every day, every minute of every day, letting people in the United States know that we've got a president, we've got politicians that could bring his son home. All they'd have to do is say the right words and do the right thing, and we need to have that kind of pressure on our politicians, because they don't really respond to what we want generally, but I think if enough people tweeted about that, he might get some action.

O'BRIEN: Michael Berg is the father of Nicholas Berg, who was killed back in 2004. Thank you for your time. Appreciate it, sir.

BERG: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we'll tell you why Mitt Romney says he's sorry for an incident that occurred nearly 50 years ago, when he was in high school. He's being accused of bullying when he was a teenager.

And masterpiece mystery, and the mob -- new clues in the biggest art heist ever, that's the FBI to the home of a mobster.

Panel heading in to talk about all that and much more. This morning we're joined by Abby Huntsman, Mark Lamont Hill, and Will Cain. And this is Mark's playlist, Anthony Hamilton featuring David Banner "Cool." What a good way to start the morning. Good morning, guys.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Some new developments in the case of history's biggest art heist. And 22 years ago, I was a producer in Boston when this happened, this was a huge story, 22 years ago, 13 priceless pieces of art went missing or were out and out stolen from a Boston museum including one of only 36 Vermeers that exist in the world, One Monet, three Rembrandts, and four drawings of Edward Degas. The total estimated value of the heist was up to half- a-billion dollars.

A New break led FBI agents to the home of Robert Gentile, an alleged mobster who lives in Connecticut, being held on bond with totally different charges. They found in the search two guns but no art. This morning we're joined by Mr. Gentile's attorney, Ryan McGuigan. Why are they back searching your clients' home and yard, using beagles, a ferret material to examine things under the ground, I'm not joking, right, beagles, ferret, digging in the backyard?

A. RYAN MCGUIGAN, ATTORNEY FOR ROBERT GENTILE: No, there weren't any beagles. There wasn't a ferret, but there were two Labrador retrievers, ground penetrating radar, about 30 agents, and about all the resources that the federal government could utilize to find something. The reason that they were back is that they did not find the paintings in the original search, so they filed for a second warrant, looking specifically just for firearms. But really what this warrant included was the ability for them to search the proper surrounding the house so they could dig up the property to look for the stolen art.

O'BRIEN: So here is what they found in the original search back in February. I'll read it, because it's a lot -- four guns, ammo, explosives, including two dynamite sticks, homemade silencers, bullet proof vest, a stun gun, police scanners, $20,000 in cash stuffed in a clock, and a set of brass knuckles. What is the connection that led to a second search warrant and the artwork stolen more than 20 years ago?

MCGUIGAN: Between those things? Absolutely nothing. They weren't looking for those things. I'm sure they would have been happy if they found the art. The reason why my client is facing serious problems in his federal case now is because he was a convicted felon for a larceny case back in 1996 and because of a federal statute, and he was found with in possession of weapons faces ten years in prison. But I can assure you, they were looking for art, not guns, because if they were looking for guns, he's already facing potentially 30 years in prison for the three guns that they actually did find so why would they need to go back looking for guns? How did they miss them in the first place?

O'BRIEN: Right.

MCGUIGAN: I think the first -- I think the fact that he's facing 30 years in prison, that he's being held without bond, he's a 75-year- old man, the co-conspirator in the underlying case has been released on essentially a promise to appear. He has a non-surety bond so he didn't have to post any money, and he's out on the streets. So the underlying case doesn't really look like a very serious one, unless of course, they're actually trying to apply pressure on my client to give up information that honestly he just doesn't have.

O'BRIEN: So your client has associates who the police suspect are actually involved in the art heist, unless you think that they're really digging up dirt to see if they can find artwork that's been buried in the ground. Does your client know anything about the art theft? Does he know associates who could reveal some information about this?

MCGUIGAN: He has spoken to the grand jury. He's not a new person of interest to the FBI. They've known about him for years. He's spoken to the FBI about the information that he does have. He's not a suspect in the heist itself. He may have been associated with people that the FBI suspects actually committed the heist.

O'BRIEN: Does he have information that if he turned it over, he has given all the information -- that's the $64,000 question, at the end of the day does your client have information if he gave it to the FBI they'd be able to track down half a billion dollars in artwork?

MCGUIGAN: That's a good question, and the answer is this, that if he does have the information, it certainly would be in his interest to give it, because the underlying case, I'm assured, would go away amicably. And he also -- that means he'll be able to go home to his wife and his family, and he'll also be given a $5 million reward. Now, any person in their right mind would take that deal, wouldn't not? Unless you don't have the information to give them.

O'BRIEN: I guess that's not quite a no and not quite a yes. We'll have to wait and see, and also be interested to hear what he's been telling the grand jury. Ryan McGuigan is Robert Gentile's attorney. Thank you for joining us. This is a strange and interesting case. We appreciate your time.

MCGUIGAN: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT it's going to trick your pain to help shrink your belly, the FDA giving the OK to another weight loss drug. Watch CNN live on your computer or mobile phone go to CNN.com/live. This is Will's playlist, Nashville Blues. Of course it is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. That's Abby's playlist, Train, "Bruises." We'll look at the morning paper. Who wants to start today?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do.

O'BRIEN: Someone has had coffee clearly. Cain, you go.

(LAUGHTER)

CAIN: I'm currently reading "Unbroken" by Lauren Hillenbrand about Seabiscuit, about a plane that crashed over the Pacific and survived a month and a half on the pacific was taken as a POW by the Japanese. The reason I bring that up this story in "The Wall Street Journal" on page three talks about the coast guard preparing for litter from the Japanese tsunami to start arriving on the west coast of the United States in California and Washington, a year after the tsunami, I think this is fascinating, took all this time and now a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a soccer ball are showing up on the Californian and Alaskan coasts. It just shows you when I talk about "Unbroken" a vast expanse the pacific is, and how terrifying that situation must have been.

O'BRIEN: The amount of debris, when I cover tsunamis the debris is just incredible.

CAIN: It's chock-full of debris from Japan from the tsunami.

O'BRIEN: I like that. Abby what you got?

ABBY HUNTSMAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we're covering this later. The FDA approving the new drug for obesity, it just seems to me like it's in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning and it seems like another quick fix of how to solve the issue. We talked about how 40 percent are going to be obese by 2030, 40 percent of Americans and you know you think about 75 percent of health care costs today has to do with diseases linked to obesity, and this new drug says there's a small risk of cancer and heart valve disease and you think there's never going to be the perfect answer. I think we need to start talking about personal responsibility and not looking at drugs to solve the problem.

O'BRIEN: Multifactorial. I think approaching it from that and also prevention and I think clearly we have to rethink how people are eating.

HUNTSMAN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: You see some young teenagers who are obese.

MARC LAMONT HILL, COLUMBIA PROFESSOR: Exactly.

HILL: And 30 pounds overweight at 11, 12, 13.

HUNTSMAN: They shouldn't be taking pills at that age either.

HILL: Unless it's extreme circumstance, fine. My worry -- I have people on the outside will be no longer obese but the inside still be messy.

O'BRIEN: You got to approach it from several fronts. Mr. Hill, what have you got?

HILL: Reading in "The New York Post" as I do every morning.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: I was reading the story of Obama the at the Clooney fundraiser, $15 million he raised, and that's an amazing amount and it's a great sequence of events. Obama steps out on gay marriage and the next day the awful story about Mitt Romney being a bully presumably against a gay kid and suddenly Obama is striking big at a fund-raiser.

CAIN: It's incredibly fortuitous, wouldn't one say? What a chain of coincidental events.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say what a shocker.

HUNTSMAN: Are you agreeing?

CAIN: This might come up again this morning. Let's tease this.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I think we're going to be discussing this interesting circumstances of events this week, huh.

HILL: Which began with Joe Biden's slip-up last week.

CAIN: An accidental slip-up that led to this chain of events.

HILL: It's President Obama's week. That's all I'm saying.

O'BRIEN: I hear you, yes, yes, yes. Thank you, guys. Ahead on STARTING POINT," was Mitt Romney a bully in high school? He's now apologizing for what he calls a prank, does that go far enough? His campaign adviser will join us live to talk about it.

Bristol Palin is weighing in on same-sex marriage and the TV show "Glee" all at once. We'll tell you why, giving advice as well. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I want to do a whole compare and contrast between Zoraida's playlist, that's Shakira "She Wolf," with Will Cain, slower, more southern.

SAMBOLIN: That would be really crazy.

O'BRIEN: It's like my playlist with my husband when we got march rid, my CD collection and his CD collection and never the two shall meet.

SAMBOLIN: Just for the record I like country music.

O'BRIEN: I know you do.

SAMBOLIN: Typecasting him all the time. Thank you so much.

All right, the John Edwards corruption trial reaches a crossroads today. The defense plans to ask the judge to dismiss all charges against the former senator claiming prosecutors have not proven their case.

The prosecution rested yesterday without calling Edwards' former mistress, Rielle Hunter to the stand. If the judge allows the case to go forward, the defense begins presenting its side Monday. No word if they plan to call Hunter to testify.

A U.S. Airways commuter flight from Maine to Philadelphia had to be diverted to Boston when a disoriented passenger allegedly tried to open a cabin door while the plane was in the air. A spokesman for the airline said the passenger was subdued by a flight attendant. He is in police custody this morning.

A $2 billion bombshell from the CEO of JPMorgan Chase making the banking giant the stock to watch this morning on Wall Street. Jaime Dimon admitting in a conference call that a trading portfolio designed to help JPMorgan Chase hedge its credit risk actually lost $2 billion and that it could lose a billion more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAIME DIMON, CEO, JPMORGAN CHASE (via telephone): The new strategy was flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed and poorly monitored. The portfolio has proven to be riskier, more volatile and less effective an economic hedge than we thought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: JPMorgan Chase's stock is down about 6 percent in pre- market trading so far this morning.

And the drug Truvada already approved for treating AIDS might soon be approved for preventing the disease in high-risk patients. An advisory committee recommending the Food and Drug Administration bless Truvada as a preventative medication by a 19-3 vote.

The FDA does not have to abide by the committee's recommendations, but it generally does. Truvada works by preventing the AIDS virus from replicating in the body. The Catholic Church is now investigating the girl scouts. Bishops say that they are concerned the scouts are promoting abortion and contraception. The girl scouts have been criticized for some of its materials that feature links to groups like Oxfam and the Sierra Club.

Critics say those groups promote access to contraception. The girl scouts say they have responded to the bishop's concerns and changed some of the material as well. The Catholic Church could ban scouts from holding meetings in its churches. Catholic girls make up a quarter of the nation's 3 million girl scouts. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Zoraida, thank you.

Mitt Romney is now responding after his former high school classmates accused him of bullying a vulnerable student as it was first reported in "The Washington Post."

Romney's former classmates say he was part of a group of students who targeted a boy many thought was gay. They then accused Romney of cutting clumps of the boy's hair off. One of those classmates, named Phillip Maxwell, told ABC News this.

"It is a haunting memory. I think it was for everyone who spoke up about it, because when you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified and you see that look in their eyes, you never forget it."

Mitt Romney was asked about the account on Fox News yesterday and he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be. Going back to the 1960s, that wasn't something that we all discussed or considered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The Romney campaign put forward two classmates who countered those accounts. John French wrote a statement, "Mitt never had a malicious bone in his body, trying to imply or characterize him as a bully is absurd."

Kerry Healey is a Romney campaign adviser. She is a former lieutenant governor as well. Nice to see you, Kerry. Thanks for talking with us.

KERRY HEALEY, ADVISER, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Good to see you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. In the "Washington Post," they talked to several people who recall with great detail and what sounds like a tremendous sense of guilt about that attack on this kid. It's a hack job, it was vicious. You see the look in the eye. You never forget it. That's Phillip Maxwell. To this day it troubles me. That's a guy named Thomas Beauford.

He was just easy pickins say Matthew Friedman. People might wonder that Governor Romney now says he does not even recall the event today when others seem to remember it so clearly. How is that possible?

HEALEY: Well, I think we have to take Governor Romney at his word about this. Obviously, our memories of the past are very different. I just spent a week sitting in the hospital with my 86- year-old mother talking a lot about the 1960s and 1970s.

And we remembered very different things and even the same things differently so I think we have to take him at his word. But what everyone wants to know, the real question here is, is Mitt Romney a bully and the answer is no.

Mitt Romney is absolutely, as his other friend from high school said. He does not have a vicious bone in his body. If the American people want any evidence of this, all they have to do is go back and think about the 20 different debates that they got to watch him in during the course of this primary season.

Where he was being attacked from every side, and his response was always professional, calm, civil, in fact he even intervened on behalf to try to help Governor Perry when he was stumbling.

So I think his impulses are very kind impulses, and there should be no debate about whether or not Governor Romney is a bully.

O'BRIEN: So one area I'll correct you the governor is, of course, not an 86-year-old grandmother who is, you know, recalling the '60s and the '70s. The newspaper goes on to tell a pretty harrowing story later one of the attackers runs into the victim, whose name is John Lauder, I believe, and sees him in a bar.

He says, Lauber paused and then responded it was horrible. He says he went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, acknowledged it was something I've thought about a lot since then.

Do you think Governor Romney actually owes a bigger apology or needs to say something more about this or is "I don't remember" and "if I did something bad I'm sorry" enough?

HEALEY: I think he's gone beyond that already. I think he said that he has done a lot of dumb things. He's done some stupid things in high school. I believe we all have.

I think that anyone watching this today would feel a little bit uncomfortable about having their high school years completely dissected and taken apart in this manner. It was 48 years ago, so the question of how much one remembers I think is very valid.

So the main question for the American people is, is this a character trait that they should have any concern about? I've known Governor Romney for the last 10 years and I can tell you that he is unfailingly kind.

He's deeply concerned about what goes on in other people's lives. He's been terribly moved by the stories that he's hearing out on the trail about the economic impact of the downturn across America, the unemployment.

And so I have to say that what people really want to hear about is, does he care, and I can tell you that he cares deeply. It's a deeply compassionate person and that bully something not something that he has ever knowingly engaged in.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Kerry. This is Will Cain. You know, Soledad just asked you if the governor should say more on this topic. I'm quite confused as to why he would say anything on this topic.

You know, again, Kerry you said the real question is, is Governor Romney a bully? I don't know, is that the question? Is that the news value of this story of something that happened as you said 48 years ago?

I don't understand what we're supposed to do here. We're supposed to look back into history at various candidates' high school years and draw a larger lesson about what kind of people these guys are?

This seems like a dangerous slippery slope and I'm quite confused why you guys are even talking about it, why you're entertaining this issue?

HEALEY: Well, I couldn't agree with you more. I think that the purpose for us to be out here talking about this today is to simply draw attention back to the real issues in this campaign, to talk about the economy.

To talk about that, yes, he is actually deeply concerned about the plight of the American people, that there are 23 million people still unemployed. That unemployment has been over 8 percent for 29 consecutive months now.

Five million people have stopped looking for work. Those are really the things we should be talking about, not something that happened 48 years ago.

MARC LAMONT HILL, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Yes, but Kerry, I mean, it also seems that the American people care about the rights of gay people, right?

And part of what might make the story resonate with people is the fact that we just had an entire week where the country made progress on gay rights. And at the same time a story comes out that shows that perhaps Governor Romney at some point in his life was abusive to a gay person.

Don't you think the governor has some responsibility to address that issue from the perspective of protecting the humanity and the safety of gay and lesbian people?

HEALEY: I think that he has addressed that issue to the extent that he said he had no idea that this individual might be gay, and Governor Romney has an excellent record in terms of employing gay individuals in his administration, making sure that they are treated with respect. So I don't think that he has any record to be concerned about in this record.

O'BRIEN: Kerry Healey is a Romney campaign adviser. It's nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. Appreciate it.

HEALEY: Good to see you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, Bristol Palin rips into President Obama for taking his daughter's advice on the same-sex marriage issue. We'll tell you what she said that fired up everybody on Twitter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And J. Lo tweeted back, J. Wow.

CAIN: Voices of authority.

O'BRIEN: Plus he is not only a shot blocker on court, but defender of fatherhood as well, NBA star and father of three, Eton Thomas will stop by our studios. You want to be an all star, he's got some good advice. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: President Obama making history this week when he announced his support for gay marriage, mentioned two young advisers who helped him in his evolution. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Malia and Sasha have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and talking about their friends and their parents.

And Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them somehow their friend's parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So after taking his own daughters' words to heart the president under fire this morning from another political daughter, Bristol Palin, the daughter of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wrote on her blog this. "It would have been nice if the president would have been an actual leader and helped shape their thoughts instead of merely reflecting what many teenagers think after one too many episodes of Glee."

She goes on to say "in general, kids do better growing up in a mother/father home. Ideally, fathers help shape their kids' world view." So?

HILL: It's ridiculous.

HUNTSMAN: It went wrong when she mentioned "Glee." You can't just "Glee."

HILL: I mean, it's redundant to suggest that the president after consulting from Malia and Sasha decided to change the entire way -- you know, America thinks about marriage.

He was using that as an example to show that we now live in a world normally two people who are loving same-sex partnerships can have a bond.

O'BRIEN: I thought he was trying to do is say this was not a political evolution. This was a personal evolution that I came to.

CAIN: Exactly, that's why it rang so false because it was a political revolution. Bristol was rebutted by J. Lo. I can't wait to hear what she has to say about the Fed monetary policy.

O'BRIEN: Here's what J. Wow said, Bristol should keep her uneducated ignorant mouth shut. If you are living in the past, you wouldn't have a kid without marriage, hypocrite. It's 2012. Hard core --

ABBY HUNTSMAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We were talking about this earlier, if anyone could make this point, it could be someone like Bristol who has had a child, been under her mother and father's roof. I think she worded it the wrong way is the problem and I think it turned people off.

O'BRIEN: Or really turned them on to tag them on Twitter.

CAIN: Look, the president did open up to this criticism because Mark, it was a political evolution. This is apparently --

HILL: Also personal.

CAIN: -- through all these events you were laughing at with me earlier, somebody picks up on his principles that drove him to the decision that looks a little false, you know what? It's obvious it wasn't principled.

HILL: I don't doubt there's a political dimension to this, having Joe Biden do it on Saturday either by accident or --

CAIN: Friday. HILL: Friday, excuse me, but the point is that the president has a political dimension to this. But clearly has been struggling with this personally and to suggest he didn't there's no reason to.

CAIN: He's been struggling how it appears in the polls. Not with his position.

HILL: On what basis do you say that the president does not have a legitimate personal struggle on this issue?

HUNTSMAN: I think, Will, he has been honest the whole time about --

CAIN: He was for it in '96, against it in 2004, against it 2008, evolving in 2009 and '10 and for it now in 2012, but not willing to fight for it.

HILL: That's evidence struggle the fact that you go back and forth over something. Now, I have no reason to believe, neither do you.

O'BRIEN: I believe politicians are political when evolving and there is a personal evolution that's part of it as well.

CAIN: By the way, Mitt Romney and gay people, that happened today. Do you ever feel like we're just a chorus being conducted by President Obama according to the new cycle he wants to control? Here you go, talk about this now.

HILL: There is an argument to be made Mitt Romney will lose the election because he never seems to get ahead on any news cycle, I agree with you to that extent but --

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, I'm going to move off of this. We'll continue to talk about it on our next hour.

Supermodel Christy Turlington Burns is going to joins live. Her campaign to boycott Mother's Day this year, it's kind of brilliant. No Mother's Day she's saying and she's a mother of two kids.

Also, we're focusing on fathers today as well. Etan Thomas has some tips on how to be an all-star dad. Abby's playlist the Wanted "Satellite." You're watching STARTING POINT.

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O'BRIEN: Twenty million children live in homes without a father. That's nearly one out of every three kids in America according to U.S. government statistics. Those children overwhelmingly have a tougher time.

Higher poverty rates, they have more drug use, they have less education. All problems that former NBA star, Etan Thomas hopes to help end by teaching men to be better fathers.

He's got a new book that includes life lessons for many famous fathers. It's called "Fatherhood Rising to the Ultimate Challenge." It's nice to have you. Thank you for joining us.

This book is so great. I'm not a father. I'm a mother. But reading a man's perspective on raising kids or in some cases not being there for kids is really, really moving.

You start the book though by saying I'm not a fatherhood expert. It's the first thing you start off by saying. So why write a book about fatherhood or put together a book about fatherhood?

ETAN THOMAS, NBA PLAYER: It's something I have a passion of. I work with a lot of young people, work a lot in the correctional facilities and you know, speaking to young people it's been a passion of mine.

I don't want to come across like I am an expert in any way, shape or form. I have three wonderful kids. They're young, 6, 4, and 2.

O'BRIEN: I think that counts as an expert.

THOMAS: I want this book to be inspiring for a lot of different reasons. I wanted to inspire a whole generation of young people who are growing up without fathers and here a lot of the negative statistics that I always heard when I was growing up.

O'BRIEN: So you're saying I wish I had this book when I was a young boy and the list of who's of who contributed is amazing. Howard Dean, Reverend Al Sharpton, Ed Gordon, our own Roland Martin, Chuck Dee and you, of course, contribute as well. Was it hard to get those guys to tell their stories?

THOMAS: No, it was really amazing how much they opened up. They really came as a blessing. When I first started this book, I thought of it being on a smaller scale. Why just keep asking people?

I've come across a lot of different people playing in the NBA and being involved in politics and things I've been involved in. I asked Dr. Cornell West and they all said, yes, we would love to and the way they opened up.

O'BRIEN: It seems like women will go on and on about being mothers. But men you don't really hear that much in open settings about what it means to be a father and sometimes even the challenges of being a father.

Chris Paul who plays with New Orleans Hornets writes this. "Now to have my own son is the best thing ever. When I'm home I try to do everything with him. Take him to school. Pick him up from school. His first word was dada."

THOMAS: That's a warm story. You can see Diggs smile beaming from pages. It's the joy you get from being a father. I wanted to show that. I wanted to show Grant Hill talking about how much he loves his father and admires him and respects him.

O'BRIEN: Yao Ming talked about his culture and how his parents were very, and his father, were very important in bringing sort of the impact and the importance of his culture as someone who is from China playing in the United States.

He writes this, "When I was in high school in China, history was my favorite subject. My mother and father really wanted me to know everything I could about our past, our family and our country.

They would buy me lot of storybooks about the history of China and heroes in our country's past. Books that had stories about famous generals and leaders, good ones and bad ones, they would point to the bad generals and tell me we don't want you to be like that.

THOMAS: Right. I mean, knowing about your history and culture is so important. I talk about my history and culture. Yao Ming talks about his.

O'BRIEN: Parents give it to you straight. That's why I liked this book. I felt like these dads are talking sort of the ups and downs and challenges and joys of fatherhood in very blunt ways.

That I think if it's your child reading this one day or maybe someone else who is reading it that can identify with you as a father figure, is that the goal ultimately?

THOMAS: Definitely. Like I said, I wanted this was the book I would have loved having when I was younger to read and hear people going through the same struggles and learning process I'm going through.

That's why I said I'm not an expert. This book was therapeutic and learning for me. I loved hearing the different men giving different their perspectives and something I learned for myself.

O'BRIEN: I think if you have three kids does make you an expert. I disagree with you on that. The book is called "Fatherhood Rising to the Ultimate Challenge." It's a terrific book. Thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, liberal activists livid at North Carolina's new constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage so much so they want to pull the plug on holding the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. We're going to speak to the city's mayor about that straight ahead.

Is it true? A secret society of police officers called the jump out boys. They supposedly gain membership by shooting gang members. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

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