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Donald Trump Continues Promoting Birther Line; Reports Indicate Massacres Continue in Syria; Mark Zuckerberg Fails to Tip Waiter in Rome; 17 People Killed In Italy Quake; Former Cameron Aide Detained; Booker's Communications Director Resigns; "Insensitive, Immature, Stupid, Childish"; Romney-Bush In November?; Obama Angers Polish Leaders; Judge Rules Against Mosque In Tennessee; Regis And Dave; A Serious Moment In Comedy; "Al Qaeda In Yemen"

Aired May 30, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, trumping the message. Donald Trump refuses to drop the birther thing on the day that Mitt Romney locks up the GOP nomination. He goes at it with Wolf Blitzer. We're going to show you a bit of that interview.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Donald, you're beginning to sound a little ridiculous. I have to tell you.



O'BRIEN: Oh, and there's more.

Plus, is Syria at a tipping point? The U.S. expels a Syrian ambassador after dozens of women and children are executed on the streets of Houla. Calls are growing louder to get the regime out of there.

And Facebook stocks tank, but Mark Zuckerberg is still worth roughly $14 billion, so why did he stiff a waiter on his honey moon? It's Wednesday, May 30th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning, welcome, everyone. Let's get to headlines. Christine Romans has those. Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. We start with breaking news. Julian Assange's appeal against extradition denied. The British Supreme Court ruled Assange will be sent to Sweden over allegations he sexually abused two women in the country in 2010. Assange fears that if he's extradited Sweden will hand him over to the U.S. where he could be prosecuted for his leaking of classified American documents. Judges did leave an opening for an appeal which is very unusual. Rulings in Britain are usually final. Just in to CNN, a landmark sentence for convicted war criminal and former president of Liberia Charles Taylor. He's been sentenced to 50 years in prison by a special international court. Taylor's convicted of supporting rebels in neighboring Sierra Leon who slaughtered thousands of people during that country's 11-year civil war. Taylor armed rebels in exchange for so-called blood diamonds.

Mitt Romney unofficially clinching the GOP nomination for president. The former Massachusetts governor won last night's Texas primary putting him over the number of 1,144 delegates. He won't be the official nominee until the Republican convention convenes this summer.

Beryl has gained force and is once again a tropical storm, forecast to head up the coast of north and South Carolina today. The storm has already dumped up to a foot of rain. It's packing winds of 35 miles per hour and could lead to dangerous rip currents and rough surf.

Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng says his country lacks the rule of law. In an op-ed in the "New York Times" Chen accuses China of failing to enforce its own laws and insists its abusive treatment of dissidents threatens its political stability. He writes "After the local police discovered my escape a furious pack of thugs, not one in uniform, bearing no search or arrest warrants, and refusing to identify themselves scaled the wall of my brother's farmhouse in the dead of night, smashed through the doors, and brutally assaulted my brother. After detaining him the gang returned twice more, severely beating my sister-in-law and nephew with pickax handles." Chen is now in New York studying law.

All right, you met these five guys and their goat yesterday here on STARTING POINT. They walked nearly 2,000 miles to crack the curse of the Billy goat, the curse that haunted their beloved Chicago cubs since 1945 and to raise money for cancer research. Yesterday the cubs presented them with a check for $1,764, a dollar for every mile. But bad news, Wrigley the goat was not allowed into the stadium, just like back in 1945. That curse was started after a local fan and his goat were kicked out of a World Series game because his goat was too stinky. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 and they are bound and determined there will be no goat in Wrigley field.

O'BRIEN: I'm surprised about that. I mean really --

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm not. You let one goat in you got to let them all.


O'BRIEN: The slippery slope argument.

ROMANS: Try to reverse the curse.


O'BRIEN: We've got get to our top story this morning. On the day Mitt Romney was trying to get voters to focus on jobs and the economy and why he should be the next president he was overshadowed by a man and his issue. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: A lot of people don't agree with that birth certificate.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": If the state of Hawaii says this is official, he was born in Hawaii on this date why do you deny that?

TRUMP: A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate. I know you won't report it, Wolf, but many do not think it was authentic. His mother was not in the hospital. There were many other things that came out.


O'BRIEN: The adviser Kevin Madden was trying to distance the governor from Donald Trump's comments on "Anderson Cooper" last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time this issue has come up Governor Romney made it very clear he disagrees with Donald Trump and disagrees with his emphasis on the issue.


O'BRIEN: White house correspondent press secretary Jay Carney says that's not going far enough.

Our STARTING POINT team has taken their seats with me. Ray Brownstein is the editorial director of the "National Journal" who worked in the Bush White House, and Will Cain and a columnist for Nice to see you all.

O'BRIEN: Good morning. The birther thing won't go away. I thought after it was officially, well, why are you doing this, Will?

CAIN: Because it's not going away because of Donald Trump, so it's still here.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's neat only Donald Trump. There have been other Republican officials in Nevada and North Carolina and other places who have raised it. There is a chunk of the Republican Party that believes this erroneously, and polling is pretty clear there's a core in there that continues to hold these beliefs. Seems indicative of a broader concern of who Barack Obama is and the change that he represents. But the fact is that point of view finds voices within the Republican coalition.

And Mitt Romney as he was earlier with Rick Santorum on the separation of church and state, with rush Limbaugh on the attack on the Georgetown student over the contraception debate Mitt Romney is uncertain when it comes to the voices in his party, and he could do more to squash this if he wanted to.

O'BRIEN: The governor was campaigning in Las Vegas yesterday and then he was talking about something that a voter had said to him, and I want to play that clip. Do we have that? Could you guys play that?


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was speaking with one of these business owners who owns a couple of restaurants in town. And he said, "You know, I'd like to change the constitution. I'm not sure I can do it," he said, "But I'd like to have a provision in the constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president, and the birth place of the president being set by the constitution, I'd like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he can become president of the United States."



O'BRIEN: Will Cain, what was that about?

CAIN: I think that was about promoting businessmen as appropriate leaders of the United States.

O'BRIEN: You don't think there was anything interesting in talking about the constitution saying the age of the president and the birth place of the president and the citizenship of the president, the long run-up to something about business which the Romney campaign consistently says is their focus. Margaret Hoover, come on.

CAIN: You said Will Cain and didn't get the answer you like.

O'BRIEN: It's not the answer I like. I think you're not being honest with me.


CAIN: Excuse me, when I'm accused of being dishonest you can be assured I will respond.

O'BRIEN: Good, you go.

CAIN: I think this is the unfortunate happenstance of including Donald Trump in your news coverage. We need to expand the narrative to assume that everything Mitt Romney says when he's speaking on the value of business experience that --

O'BRIEN: Run that clip again.

CAIN: No, you can play it as soon as I'm done but let me finish my statement here. You can use that narrative to expand it to say that every little thing that Mitt Romney says is an excuse for endorsing birtherism. O'BRIEN: I'm not saying every little thing. I'm saying this particular clip where he talks about changing the constitution because the age, the birth place, the citizenship and then goes on and talks about the business. Let's play the clip and then Margaret, I'll get to you.


ROMNEY: I was speaking with one of these business owners who owns a couple of restaurants in town and he said, "You know, I'd like to change the constitution. I'm not sure I can do it," he said, "But I'd like to have a provision in the constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president, and the birth place of the president being set by the constitution, I'd like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he can become president of the United States."



O'BRIEN: On the day when birther is something that Donald Trump has raised as your top story in the news you're really going to do that? Just happens to be.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Genuinely my view is if you go around the country and talk to the tea party and talking to people, the talk of the constitution is prevalent in every single conversation people are carrying their pocket constitutions, there's been a return to the constitution and return to our roots. I think since they've read the constitution they know that age is in the constitution. They know that birth place is in the constitution. They know citizenship is in the constitution.

I genuinely believe, Soledad, that Mitt Romney who has been accused by some reporters as being a bit of literally this is a quote "malfunctions automaton" sometimes he makes unfortunately parallels at the wrong time. This to me doesn't scheme it was mal- orchestrated or malevolent.


HOOVER: I'm just refuting the notion that this was orchestrated. I just think it was unfortunate.

BROWNSTEIN: First of all it would be great to have a constitutional amendment that would protect us from Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, who did have the business experience Romney called for.

I disagree with you on one big point. I think Romney above all is the one who has let the oxygen into the story by two decisions, first the decision to appear prominently with Trump, and then second the decision to remain silent as Trump doubled down on the discredited allegations. And the fundamental story is not Donald Trump bloviating, as George Will said the other day. The fundamental story here is Mitt Romney really trying to hold him back and being fundamentally silent while Trump is bloviating, as he was on Rush Limbaugh and --

CAIN: I had been on this association with Donald Trump is a bad decision. You do not want to be teammates with Donald Trump. He puts out a negative viewpoint. That being said, I will not allow that opinion and narrative to be expanded into this concept that Mitt Romney is in fact a birth, that is playing into the birther issue.

O'BRIEN: No one has said.

CAIN: Should we play the clip again?

O'BRIEN: The reason I say play the clip again is because what you said is just happenstance. I'm playing the clip again because there are words in there I think there are people who would argue are not happenstance, as Margaret says unfortunate, on the day the thing you probably should not do, ex-nay on the birther thing. You're going to talk about the president's place of birth and citizenship? It seems like an unfortunate --

CAIN: The main thing to take away from the conversation it's a great illustration of why Donald Trump should not attached to Mitt Romney.

BROWNSTEIN: Or vice versa.

CAIN: If that statement lived on its own without Donald Trump in our world we wouldn't be talking about.

O'BRIEN: Exactly right. I'm worn out, only 10 minutes into the program. I'll have to get something stronger than tea.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, as the crisis in Syria reached a tipping point, now 11 countries are kicking out their Syrian ambassadors. And there is talk that this nation should help arm Syria. We'll get a play-by-play on what's happening.

David Letterman opens up in a rare interview about his wife, Regina, coming back to TV after 9/11. Here's Margaret's playlist, a good treadmill song "All the Lights" a little Kanye. You're watching STARTING POINT.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Eleven countries have kicked out their Syrian ambassadors, along with the United States, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Japan. In just a few hours the U.N. Security Council will meet to talk about what to do now after that massacre that took place in a town called Houla, where 108 civilians were killed and nearly half were children, 49 children. U.S. envoy Kofi Annan who -- U.N. envoy, sorry, Kofi Annan, who has been meeting with the Syrian leader Assad, said this, "He's condemned the killings too and even vowed to organize and investigation." But of course many people are pointing to the Syrian leadership as the one to blame. CNN's Ivan Watson has the very latest for us from Istanbul. Good morning to you, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. In addition to those countries you mentioned, Turkey within the last two hours announced that it is expelling Syrian diplomats from the Syrian embassy in the capital Ankara. There seems to be a tit-for-tat dynamic developing. Syria has now announced that the Dutch charge d'affair has 72 hours to quit the country.

These countries are furious that 109 people were killed in Houla on Friday, and the U.N. military observers have concluded that the majority of those victims, including 49 children under the age of 10, were killed by pro-government militias. The question is, will this stop the violence. Apparently not. U.N. observers say they found 13 bodies, all of their hands bound, some appear to have been shot in the head. The commander of the U.N. observer mission says this is an appalling and inexcusable act. No end to the killing in sight. This has been going on for nearly 15 months.

O'BRIEN: Ivan Watson, thank you.

The White House insists that military action is not the right course of action at this moment. Governor Romney thinks otherwise. He released a statement which reads in part "We should work with partners to arm the opposition so they can defend themselves." Republican congressman Mike Rogers is the chairman of the intelligence committee. Nice to see you, sir.


O'BRIEN: What do you think is the right strategy right this moment?

ROGERS: I would be more aggressive with our Arab League partners. I'm not sure arming is the right answer here, mainly because we're just not exactly sure who the bad guys are and who the good guys are right now in Syria, so you don't know who you're giving weapons to. We know that Al Qaeda has been attempting to infiltrate and we've seen them do bombings in Damascus. So I think more concerted effort by taking standing shoulder to shoulder with the Arab League, who does want to do more in Syria is probably the best course of action.

O'BRIEN: You get the sense that allies, even those who have sort of talked about arming the opposition and not even specifically which opposition, seem to see big risks in even diplomacy. It looks to me as if the diplomacy Kofi Annan's plan is failing, and miserably. Exhibit A is the massacre this weekend. So what kind of diplomacy moves from where we are now to something that's aggressive and going to work?

ROGERS: I'm not saying just diplomacy. Remember I'm the intelligence chairman. We have tools at our disposal I believe we're not using in Syria and need to use in Syria, and that comes through our efforts with the Arab League so there are things that we can do without arming the rebels.

And what keeps me up at night we know of at least a dozen or so sites that have serious chemical weapon caches and that's just what we know of in Syria.

So we have a national security interest to say we need to make sure this thing all happens correctly, all the right steps are taken so that we don't lose these weapon caches and something more horrific happens. So it has to be tempered and aggressive.

Now, the one piece that's miss something we're not being aggressive with our Arab League partners in certain capabilities the United States has, really no one else has that can have an impact on the Assad regime in Syria. And the other part of this, we need to put pressure on Russia. We expect Iran to support Syria and they are. Russia needs to decide if they're going to be on the side of the rest of the world or isolate their behavior when it comes to supporting the Assad regime in Syria.

You say tools at our disposal. What specifically do you mean?

ROGERS: I couldn't talk about specifics, but there are certain things and capabilities that the United States has that can in conjunction with our Arab League partners could provide a tipping point so it would provide certain capabilities to units that we know who are trying to overthrow the Assad regime that we can vet, that we can test, that we can understand who completely that they are, and we can empower them to be more effective in what they do. And I think that kind of activity should happen and we need to stop talk about it and start engaging with our Arab League partners.

BROWNSTEIN: Representative Roger, good morning. Going back to your point about Russia, they may be the critical diplomatic variable, the most important point of leverage. What do you think the west can do to make Russia more comfortable with the idea of a regime change in Syria and move them to the side of putting pressure on Assad?

ROGERS: Well, you know, a big part of it is, it's Russia's last toehold in the Middle East and I think there is attachment to the notion that, and by the way Assad is holding on and looks like he's doing pretty well there. They're making this calculation he's going to win and they're going to have the toehold in the Middle East through Syria.

We need to change that dynamic. I think we need to convince our Russians this is not in their best interests, that some of this slaughtering of women and children is going to get on them as well, and that's just not the place they want to be in the world.

And they need, again a little public pressure, a little bilateral effort from the United States and others, other European allies, I think can turn Russia on what's happening. I don't think they want to be on the wrong side of a slaughter in a town like Houla. We need to put the question to them, where do you want to be when this is over? We'd like you to be with the rest of the world. They also have huge weapon sales going into Syria, another big problem we have to deal with.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Mike Rogers, nice to see you there.

ROGERS: Great to see you. Thanks Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

It's interesting he was talking about the opposition, Russia sort of betting on the side of the Assad regime. And clearly no matter how terrible some of these massacres have been, the opposition is clearly not easy to wipe out. They are continuing to fight back.

CAIN: In fact, the congressman said he doesn't think or hopes Russia doesn't want to find itself on the wrong side of the massacres like what took place in Houla. We have a quote from the foreign minister of Russia saying he's concerned certain countries will use the massacre as a pretext or voicing demands related to regime change, basically saying Russia will not come to the side of the good in this. As long as that's true the United Nations basically has no role in the process.

O'BRIEN: He said something interesting, too, I asked him what specifically, obvious he will he's like I cannot tell you specifically intelligence rules will not allow me to do that, but then he went on to say there are people on the inside that maybe could be swayed and there is conversations about the inside the military, if in fact those people are sort of on the fence.

BROWNSTEIN: And the part of the diplomacy with Russia is whether you can make them more comfortable with the successor regime is the one point of leverage.

HOOVER: It's hard to break up the regime because they're sectarians. The other question I have, why don't we know who the rebels are? This has been going on for 15 months. We don't we have any sense of who the opposition to the regime is so we can know who the bad guys are, who the good guys are, who we should or shouldn't arm.


HOOVER: And that's a policy choice if we don't know who the rebels are, we haven't tried to find out.

O'BRIEN: I think it's unusual circumstance unlike something like Libya, where you have many oppositions and it's harder to figure out which to arm.

BROWNSTEIN: We're burying the lead here. The Republican chairman of the house intelligence committee just completely disavowed Mitt Romney's call for arming the rebels, much less John McCain and Lindsay Graham and others who want to go further into airstrikes. So it's an important point to show how little stomach there is for either party becoming embroiled with this. O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, a big "Get Real" to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He's had a few of those last week. He was honeymooning in Italy and not making friends with the waiters in Rome. We'll tell you why.

CAIN: Good news, and I'll tell you why.

O'BRIEN: The president has a problem with the Poles, and I don't mean polls. I mean people in Poland -- the speech the president would like to do over, if he could. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: That's Stevie Ray Vaughn off of Ron's playlist.

BROWNSTEIN: I tried to find the overlap somewhere in the square footage of Boston.

O'BRIEN: Gospel is very good for that. We could do that a little of that.


O'BRIEN: Let's get to our "Get Real" this morning. The billionaire Mark Zuckerberg not adding too many friends in Italy. The Facebook CEO still worth roughly $17 billion despite the fact his stock is tanking. He's in Italy honeying with his new bride, and they were spotted dining on fried zucchini blossoms and sea bass at a restaurant in Rome. The bill came to 32 euros or roughly $40, and the tip was a generous absolutely nothing, like apparently tipped absolutely nothing. Yes. Yes. Zuckerberg and his bride, they stiffed the waiter. The owner is being incredibly diplomatic, he says they were very much in love, they clearly just forgot to tip. He says he is thinking about having that dish, the fried zucchini blossoms named after Zuckerberg.

HOOVER: In his defense, I doubled checked on, is tipping a practice? At some restaurants, they require a minimum 10 percent but some of the restaurants less than 50 euros. They don't actually assume they're going to get a service charge necessarily. He's a billionaire he can afford 10 percent.

CAIN: This is good news for Facebook on the week when the stock is down 24 percent from its IPO the CEO who knows the value of a dollar and understands expenses.

HOOVER: I will tip a waiter if I'm at an expensive meal, but the standard practice is 10 percent-ish.

O'BRIEN: This is my question would you tip the waiter?

HOOVER: If I were a billionaire I would.

CAIN: And not everybody does.

O'BRIEN: I rest my case, Counselor. I rest my case.

CAIN: Don't you think the key word in that sentence is honeymooning? Isn't there like kind of an immunity zone when you're on your honeymoon to being whacked on national television? I feel like when you're on your honeymoon, I don't know.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a Tennessee mosque under construction for two years is now ordered shut down by a judge. We'll take a look at what's at work there, is it religious bias?

The gaffe that has President Obama in some serious hot water with Poland. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Let's get right to the headlines and Christine Romans has that. Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad.

Just in to CNN the last victim has been found in the deadly earthquake in Northern Italy, that's 17 people now reported dead. This is the second quake to hit the region this month. Just nine days ago, seven people were killed in another quake. Officials say 14,000 people now have nowhere to live.

New this morning, the former communications director for British Prime Minister David Cameron is now in the custody of Scottish police. Coulson is being investigated for allegedly committing perjury at a trial in 2010. He was already out on bail in connection with the phone hacking scandal in the U.K.

Is she the fall gal, the communications director for Newark Mayor Cory Booker Ann Torres has stepped down. There are reports Torres was forced out because of controversial statements made by Booker on NBC's "Meet the Press" earlier this month. The Democratic mayor is an Obama surrogate, but said on that show that he was nauseated by the president's attack ads against Mitt Romney.

For the first time we're hearing an apology from the former Rutgers University student convicted of bias intimidation for using a web cam to spy on a roommate who later killed himself.

Dharun Ravi is due in court today before he begins serving a 30-day sentence. In a written statement issued yesterday. Ravi said, quote, "I accept responsibility for and regret my thoughtless, insensitive, immature, stupid and childish choices that I made."

Don't rule out a Mitt Romney/Jeb Bush Republican ticket in November. The former Florida governor tells an Italian news agency he feels a duty to help Romney defeat Barack Obama.

Bush says, quote, "If Romney were to offer me the job of vice president, I would consider the proposal very carefully" and he adds "but I don't think he'll pick me."

A slipup by President Obama has infuriated Poland's political leaders. The White House says the president misspoke during yesterday's Medal of Freedom ceremonies when he referred to a Polish death camp instead of a German death camp while honoring the memory of a Polish resistance fighter during World War II. Here's the comment causing all of this controversy.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Before one trip across enemy lines resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale and smuggled them into a Warsaw Ghetto in a Polish death camp to see for himself.


ROMANS: Poland's foreign minister calls that statement by the president a matter of ignorance and incompetence. Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk is expected to address the controversy publicly today -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that would be a Nazi death camp, not a Polish death camp. That's kind of a mistake.

All right, a judge has ordered the construction be stopped on a mosque in Tennessee. The mosque was a focus of a documentary that I did last March called "Unwelcome, The Muslims Next Door.

And it's being built in Murfreesboro, Tennessee that faced some strong opposition. Yesterday, a judge ruled that the county didn't give proper public notice before they allowed construction to begin.

Saleh Sbenaty is the spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and he joins us this morning. It's nice to see you again. Thanks for being with us. Appreciate your time this morning.

So what exactly does this ruling mean? I know it means construction stops immediately, but what does it mean for the future?

SALEH SBENATY, SPOKESMAN, ISLAMIC CENTER OF MUFREESBORO: We're hoping to apply for the permit again. We really received this sad news and it was really shocking to the whole community.

And we're saddened and we're just trying to perhaps basically see what the next step is for us. We've talked to the various parties. We are a very small community and we are faced with this vicious and unjustified attack.

And therefore, we are just going to sit back and see what the next step is going to be, most likely we are going to apply again for the permit. And hopefully this time the county commissions and the various county officials will make it right.

You know, we were surprised because there were several thousands of decisions based on the same process. We followed the process according to the law, according to the rule of law, and therefore, I'm not sure why we are singled out.

During the day that our site plan was approved there were several permits given. Why we are singled out, it's beyond me. It's really hard to understand. We were really saddened by this news. Our community has been -- yes?

O'BRIEN: I was going to read because you were talking about being singled out. I want to read a little piece of what the judge said in saying that basically the county hadn't given enough notice to the populous.

He said this, "The meeting at issue was a regularly scheduled meeting, but a meeting where an issue of major importance to citizens was being discussed. Thus the reasonably means of notice not only of the meeting, but also the particular issue before the body was reasonably required."

Do you think that essentially he's saying, listen, for this kind of an issue, building a mosque, you have a higher standard for you as opposed to all those others as you point out who not only applied, were also approved.

SBENATY: Well, as you know, you know, we have a church next door and they have applied through the same process -- but also I'm not sure why we would be any different. We are just American citizens as anybody else.

Why are we singled out, just because we worship in a bit different way? This is not justified in my view. I understand that probably there should have been a better way of notifying the public.

But this has been the process for several years, so why now it is so crucial that we need to rectify and do better for a public hearing. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Sbenaty, can you say clearly you believe the reason the permit has not been given is because specifically of religious discrimination against your mosque?

SBENATY: There is no question about it that we are singled out just because of our faith. Our community has been the subject of vandalism, arson, intimidation, lawsuit, bomb threats, and you name it.

And you know, we have in Murfreesboro, which is a small town of 100,000, we have roughly about 180 different religious and worshipping places. So to say that only now we need to notify the public in a better way, I mean, it's to me kind of really ironic.

O'BRIEN: Saleh Sbenaty is a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University. And we'll continue to watch the story.

I know the next commission hearing is sometime right before the middle of June I think. So we'll see what happens when that application process happens. Thanks for being with us. SBENATY: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a reporter blind-folded and secretly taken into al Qaeda's home base in Yemen. We'll tell you what he discovered while he was risking his life.

Regis Philbin and David Letterman open up. The last night host, letterman dishes on his political affiliation and why he didn't want to go back on the air after 9/11. Here's Tom Petty "I Won't Back Down." Will Cain's playlist.


O'BRIEN: So one is a master of morning television, the other a legend of late night TV filling in for Piers Morgan last night, Regis Philbin scored a rare interview with David Letterman.

The first topic was late night and partisan politics.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": I have been guilty of appearing to be playing partisan politics. However, I'd just like to say that for the record I am a registered independent.

You go where the material takes you. Poor Bill Clinton, no president that I'm aware of got hammered harder than Bill president, Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky situation. We beat up on him.

We still use him as a reference. And then we were desperate, we thought well, this was so easy, and then we got George Bush and within a matter of days we realized our prayers have been answered, he's just as good in terms of material.


CAIN: Can I say something? Saying that you're a registered independent does not absolve of you all the other things that come out of your mouth.

Now I like David Letterman. I think he's funny, but it belittles our intelligence when we sit here and listen to you speak that we can't understand what you're saying. People do not object to bias. They object to the pretense of no bias.

O'BRIEN: Are you the man who just said about Mitt Romney that that just stumbled out and now you're saying --

CAIN: What I'm saying that applies here?

O'BRIEN: What you said about Mitt Romney was, well, he just actually that just tumbled out and here you're saying David Letterman just should say who he is.

CAIN: I don't see the connection, but I do believe what I'm saying right here and now.

O'BRIEN: I believe in myself at this moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you were speaking, that's very good.

O'BRIEN: He also talked about, which I thought is very interesting and I remember this really well how do you go back on the air after 9/11, right --


O'BRIEN: For comedians he was deadly, I was working at NBC at that time. You had the sense of urgency, you just didn't get off the air, but here's what he said about going back on the air in 9/11.


REGIS PHILBIN, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Television as we knew it was shut down. It was all about the news and over and over again. We would lived through this horrible phase of our lives and one day you called me about 2:00 in the afternoon and you said I'm going back on the air. I'd like to you join me. I was flattered and sure enough you went back, you remember that night?

LETTERMAN: I remember that night and I remember not wanting to go back or not feeling ready to go back, but knowing we had to go back and my concerns were minimal compared to people who really suffered.



O'BRIEN: Interesting, and I remember that so well. I mean, Ellen Degeneres, anybody who had a show to do, the Oscars had to go on, what do you do? To do something considered to be frivolous after 9/11. It was hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It turns out the capacity of life to go on is irresistible and the urge of people to return to normal life while not forgetting what happened is powerful, and kind of shows like that are the rituals by which we --

O'BRIEN: We needed them to go back on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We needed laughter in those moments, not that there was anything funny, but to bring some levity or perspective to something to tragic.

CAIN: Letterman is great at providing laughter.

O'BRIEN: Yes, even though you were bashing him earlier.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about al Qaeda's strongest most organized cell and it's gaining strength in Yemen. We'll take you inside the terrorist home base coming up next. And a warning from the Food and Drug Administration, a lot of people unknowingly buy a counterfeit version of a drug for attention deficit disorder. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll tell you about that right on the other side of this break.


O'BRIEN: It is one of al Qaeda's strongest cells and it's gaining strength. Yemen's al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it's the group behind the bombing of the USS Cole and the so-called underwear bomber.

The 2010 cargo plane bomb plot and most recently plans to attack a U.S. bound plane using possibly undetectable underwear bomb. A new PBS "Frontline" report, which is called al Qaeda in Yemen takes viewers to the group's home base.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This in a way is the heartland of al Qaeda in Yemen. This is where they set up base five years ago. It is here in the rugged mountains where the leadership of AQAP is based.


O'BRIEN: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is the award winning reporter who traveled to Yemen to report the story. It's nice to have you with us. We appreciate it.

Your documentary focuses on the fact that al Qaeda is looking for a state. How is this strategically a wise move when the fact that they are dispersed seems to be a big part of the strength of al Qaeda?

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD, AWARD WINNING REPORTER: This is the new phase of al Qaeda. It's the al Qaeda post-Osama Bin Laden. We have seen it in Yemen and we've seen it in West Africa.

Al Qaeda is trying to first become independent so al Qaeda in Yemen is independent from al Qaeda of Afghanistan and it's moving down from the mountains. It controls land at the moment and it's basically this state for the first time.

O'BRIEN: In Yemen, you take a look at three different cities. I want to walk through them. First, Jaar, this is a city that's literally run by al Qaeda.

It was captured after a battle with the Yemeni military. I want to play a little bit of your reporting there first and then I'll ask you a question on the other side.


ABDUL-AHAD: All of the shops are empty and open. No people inside. Yet no one is stealing or taking everything. I don't know if it says much about the honesty of the town or the fear. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Tell me about Jaar.

ABDUL-AHAD: Well, Jaar is a town on the outskirts that was built by the British to make it a city. The Jihadists have been in Jaar for a long time used by the north Yemeni government first to find the separatist, the leftist in the south.

Jaar now has become de facto independent state run by al Qaeda. The people live under al Qaeda rule. The police station, the courts, everything is run by al Qaeda.

That is again one of the first times when we see -- I've seen Jihadist and not even in Fallujah I have seen Jihadist set up such a state basically.

O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about the heartland of al Qaeda. I know they had to blindfold you to bring you in to meet some of the al Qaeda leadership, which had to be absolutely terrifying. That's been the focus of the drone strikes, right?

ABDUL-AHAD: Well, it's a different case. I was blindfolded in Jaar to go see the prisoners they have. In it's the deserts of South Yemen. Remember these are the mountains where most of the drone strikes happen.

The tribes there are called (inaudible) and this feels like it is deep inside and isolated. You see al Qaeda flags everywhere. You see foreign Jihadist walking the streets. We met a Muslim and Somali.

They are very confident there. We met a judge about how they learned about their mistakes and don't want to antagonize tribes anymore. They want to build a relationship with the tribes so they can rule in that area.

O'BRIEN: Your final town you say is a town where they have been able to oust al Qaeda, but continually have been able to fight it out. How likely is it that towns like Jaar will become towns like this?

ABDUL-AHAD: It's very difficult. They have a strong tribe. We've seen the same motto. Al Qaeda can take over a town and takeover part of the population, but when that part of the population turns against al Qaeda, this is the end of al Qaeda.

I mean, I know that Americans are focused on drone attacks at this moment. I don't think drones will be the perfect way to solve problems of al Qaeda. They killed Osama Bin Laden, but al Qaeda still exists in different parts of the world.

If the local population are convinced to turn against al Qaeda, that's the end of them. That was actually the first military defeat of al Qaeda in South Yemen.

O'BRIEN: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the report is on PBS' "FRONTLINE." Thank you. It's absolutely fascinating. People can go online and take a look at it. We appreciate your time this morning.

We have to take a short break, but still ahead this morning, Mitt Romney is finally locked up the Republican nomination. But it's Donald Trump's birther comments that have been overshadowing his big moment. Is Donald Trump a liability?

A family survives a plane crash only to be stranded in snowy mountains. We'll hear from them about what went wrong and how they were able to survive. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.