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John Edwards Trial Declared a Mistrial; Obama Administration Attacks Mitt Romney's Record as Massachusetts Governor; College Football Coach Makes Controversial Statement About Hiring Assistant Coaches; Monster Wildfire Spreads In New Mexico; Two Escaped Inmates Captured In Arkansas; JPMorgan Subpoenas?; Reversing Paralysis In Rats; "Excessive Texting"; Bloomberg's Big Idea; 16 Ounces Or Less; Veering Off Message?; The Queen Spelling Bee

Aired June 1, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: And welcome, everybody. Our Starting Point this morning, John Edwards off the hook at least for now.


JOHN EDWARDS, (D) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While I do not believe I did anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong.


O'BRIEN: He's been found not guilty on one charge and a hung jury on five other charges, but will the former senator face a judge again?

And we're just 90 minutes away from the big monthly jobs report. What will it tell us about the economy?

And the queen bee.




O'BRIEN: I don't even know what that means, but we're going to talk to the champion of the Scripps Spelling Bee straight ahead.

Plus, bring your resume and a picture of your wife, apparently. Vanderbilt's head coach, football coach, in hot water after he says he's only going to hire assistants with hot wives.

It's Friday, June 1st, and "Starting Point" begins right now.


(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: And our "Starting Point" this morning, the big question, what's next for John Edwards? The trial finally over, the jury acquitted him on one count of campaign finance fraud. The jury though hopelessly deadlocked on the five other counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges. Prosecutors had accused Edwards of using nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to try to keep his pregnant mistress under wraps during his presidential run. Here's what John Edwards had to say after the trial.


JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make sure that everyone hears from me and from my voice that while I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever thought I was ever doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong.


O'BRIEN: The federal government still has the option of a retrial. That doesn't seem very likely at this point. Joining me to talk about all of that, senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin and David Perel, managing editor of and the former editor-in- chief of "The National Enquirer" which first broke the John Edwards pregnancy scandal. Jeff, are you surprised by this verdict?

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Not at all. This was a weak, weak case, but John Edwards was a deeply unappealing person to the jury, so you can see how the jury was pushed in different directions and I think in a way, a mostly hung jury is sort of appropriate resolution of this case because you wouldn't want to see John Edwards given how he lived his life walking out of there completely vindicated, but this was not a person who deserved to be in prison for this set of activities. I thought his lawyer, Abby Lowell, did a terrific job, had it just right when he said John Edwards committed sins but not crimes, and we don't put people in prison for sins in this country.

O'BRIEN: David, after the verdict in his remarks John Edwards went on to say there's no one else responsible. Let me just say it, it's clearly me. I'm going to play a little bit of that and we'll talk on the other side.


EDWARDS: And if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sins, honestly, I don't have to go any further than the mirror. It's me. It is me, and me alone.


O'BRIEN: What did you think of that press conference afterwards? It sounded to me like there was just such the weight of a guilty conscience and he just wanted to sort of tick through all the things that he had done wrong for so many months and years. What did you think? DAVID PEREL, MANAGING EDITOR, RADARONLINE.COM: One thing I found about John Edwards over the years, chasing him through this scandal, is that John Edwards admits the truth when he has to admit the truth, and usually only the part of the truth that he has to, like when he first confessed to the affair on ABC after "The Enquirer" broke the story, he still denied paternity of the child. When shown a picture he said I take pictures with lots of babies, I don't know who that baby is. So the weight on him certainly for his actions but in terms of ability to tell the truth through the years, not proven.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Toobin, apparently they could retry him, correct?

TOOBIN: They certainly could.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that's likely?



TOOBIN: I think this case is over. This was a very marginal, unusual prosecution. No one had ever been prosecuted under campaign finance laws for these kinds of charges. He's been acquitted on one account and those charges can't be brought again. Campaign finance law has been changed in such a profound way that bringing a criminal charge today is a very different thing than it used to be.

And I don't think, and basically the United States Supreme Court is in the process of deregulating American campaign finance, basically saying the first amendment allows people to give money under more and more conditions. And I think bringing another criminal case after this very expensive case failed in dramatic fashion would be irresponsible by the Justice Department and I don't think they're going to do it.

O'BRIEN: I thought it was interesting and again in the comments that John Edwards had, after the trial, when he talked about his family and sort of named each kid separately and he talked about Cate, who we saw every day going into the courtroom and coming out of the courtroom, really next to her dad all the time. Here's what he said about Cate.


EDWARDS: Cate, who most all of you have seen, has been here every single day. She has been here no matter what, no matter how awful and painful a lot of the evidence was for her, evidence about her dad, evidence about her mom, who she loves so, so dearly. But she never once flinched. She said, "Dad, I love you, I'll be there for you no matter what." and I'm so proud to have had her with me throughout this process.


O'BRIEN: Then he goes on to talk about baby Quinn which I thought was a little unusual, sort of given what the trial was ultimately all about, right? David?

PEREL: Yes, it was a little unusual but that is his daughter and it's time that he recognized her. And the fact is that, after denying paternity, he does see the child on a regular basis.

O'BRIEN: He ended that press conference and I'll ask this question for both of you, saying that "I don't think God's done with me and I still have a future." Do you think, Jeff, that he has a political future? And, David, I want to you weigh in on what is the future?

TOOBIN: I was really struck by the end of his news conference. I thought it was appropriate what he said about his own personal responsibility, very appropriate talking about all his children. But I thought it was just weird at the end when he was talking about God is not finished with me yet.

He seems to think he has a public career, and, in short, I don't. I think he should do something in private life that does not involve the public eye. But people who are in the public eye like to stay there. And that comment he made about god is not finished with me yet and started talking about his work with children, it really started to sound like a stump speech, and I was thinking, are you kidding? I just thought it was weird.

O'BRIEN: It started strong in the coming out of the courtroom and then it sort of started going a little bit in a strange direction. What did you think, David, at the end? God is not done with me yet and I want to go work with the poor children I think is pretty much what he said.

PEREL: Well, I thought the compact same thing. I almost thought like I was listening to a speech where he's getting ready to resume public career, assume public office again or run for public office. I thought can he possibly think after all this that anybody would vote for him?

One of the things that got lost in this entire mess is the message of poverty in America that he espoused when he was running for office. And that's unfortunate, because of all the people he betrayed he betrayed a very important message. So he made a complete mess out of everything. And for him to sit there and think he's going to resume public life in terms of a political career, not going to happen. Do some good, go work on your message, do some public service. I think everybody would be fine with that.

O'BRIEN: I think everybody would agree with you on the big mess of everything. David Perel and also Jeff Toobin, who will stick around and join us at the table in a moment.

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

Christine Romans is updating the top stories for us. Hey, Christine. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Soledad. In the first few months after he was elected, President Obama secretly ordered sophisticated cyber-attacks on the computers that run Iran's main nuclear facilities. That's according to a new report in the "New York Times," it says president Obama decided to significantly expand an operation called "Olympic Games," a program started by the Bush administration by unleashing a worm called Stuxnet. At one point it reportedly took out nearly 1,000 centrifuges Iran had operating at the time in order to purify uranium.

We're hearing for the first time from the two American tourists kidnapped at gunpoint in Egypt, who are both from Houston, told CNN affiliate KPRC that they feared their captors would kill them.


JEFF SZAFLARSKI, KIDNAPPED IN EGYPT: All the windows had bars on them and they nailed the door shut and then they were outside shooting their assault rifles the whole night and all the way through the morning. They were all very loud and aggressive and speaking in Arabic, and I mean, we had no idea, no clue what their intentions were.


ROMANS: The Americans were freed in a trade for a relative of their captors, a relative who had been arrested this week on drug charges.

Minding your business this morning, U.S. stock futures are down sharply ahead of the big jobs report. Economists surveyed by CNN Money expect 150,000 jobs added to the economy that last month, and the unemployment rate they think stayed unchanged at 8.1 percent. The report comes out at 8:30 a.m. eastern. We'll get you the news as soon as it's released.

A big win for supporters of same sex marriage. A federal appeals court in Boston ruling the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Judges agree with prosecutors it was discriminatory because federal benefits like Social Security were being denied to gay couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

The Indiana teenager who was stuck in Mexico because of a visa technicality is back in the U.S. this morning and will graduate with her class as scheduled tomorrow. Elizabeth Olivas was born in Mexico, was trying to follow the law when she returned to apply for a visa 180 days before her 18th birthday. But because of a miscalculation Elizabeth was one day late and had to stay in Mexico as a result.


ELIZABETH OLIVAS, BACK HOME AFTER VISA GLITCH: I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible but I had to continue to wait, but it was worth it because in the end, I'm good and I can continue to pursue my dreams.


ROMANS: George W. Bush making a rare return to Washington. The former president and wife Laura welcomed back by President Obama for the official unveiling of their portraits. Obama thanked his predecessor for his extraordinary service to the country, among other things.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your kind words of encouragement, plus you also left me a really good TV sports package.


GEORGE BUSH, (R) FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you're wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you'll now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, "What would George do?"



ROMANS: Yesterday was just the second time the two have met since President Bush left office, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That was funny. Thanks, Christine. Appreciate the update.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, politics getting kind of personal. We'll tell you how the former governor Mitt Romney and president Barack Obama are digging deep into each other's pasts for some dirt and sending hecklers even to oppositions' rallies.

Plus a "Get Real" to the head football coach at Vanderbilt after he told a radio station he'll only hire assistants who have got cute wives. Play that louder, that's Marvin Sapp, come on, Pastor Sapp, "Power." We're back after this short break.


O'BRIEN: A little more than five months to Election Day, and both sides are getting personal, each taking to the other's home turf to try to plead their case. First it was a former governor, mitt Romney, making a surprise visit to the shuddered solar panel Solyndra, bankrupt in less two years after receiving $535 million in stimulus money from the Obama administration. Governor Romney was there trying to focus attention on what he called a symbol of the Obama administration's failed economic policies as well as its use of cronyism.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This building, this half a billion dollar taxpayer investment, represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team. It's also a symbol of how the president thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.


O'BRIEN: The Obama administration took to the steps of the Massachusetts state house, senior adviser David Axelrod appearing alongside former and current state officials, blasting Governor Romney's record as the state's former governor. Romney supporters held a rebuttal news conference, among them Massachusetts House minority leader Brad Jones, who joins us this morning. Nice to see you sir. Thank you for talking with me.

BRAD JONES, (R) MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: My pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

O'BRIEN: There was so much secrecy in the getting of the people to the shuddered Solyndra plant. Why was that?

JONES: Well, I was focused on Boston yesterday, so I'm assuming it was an opportunity to highlight the failed economic policies of president Obama.

O'BRIEN: Which obviously that was the message but I know that sort of the strategy was to cart people off in buses not really tell them where they were going and sort of a lot of the drama around it. We know there was heckling certainly when it came to the press conference where David Axelrod was trying to talk about governor Romney's policies and I'm curious to know if you feel like to some degree some of this is beginning to feel not very presidential.

JONES: Well, I think it's disappointing that a number of my colleagues and president Obama's chief campaign adviser feels the need to come and trash Massachusetts which is currently governed by one of their leading spokespeople who yesterday was on your show and saying some positive things about Governor Romney's record here.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting. Did you feel he was trashing Massachusetts? They've been trashing Massachusetts in what ways?

JONES: I certainly think there Axelrod was. And some of my democratic colleagues were out there, and you have to understand we have an overwhelmingly democratic legislature when Governor Romney was here, it was north of 85 percent democratic legislature. So for governor Romney to have achieved the things that he did in terms of a $3 billion deficit to a $2 billion rainy day fund to reducing the unemployment rate to increasing the number of jobs, net job growth in Massachusetts, facing a huge head wind, contrasted with President Obama, who came in with a Democratic Senate, Democratic House, and yet has added to the debt, has added to job losses. You know, I mean in the end, I think we can fairly say that the at the end of four years, Governor Romney left Massachusetts a far better place than he found it when he took the oath of office in 2003, and I think that's a happy contrast that the Romney campaign is willing to make with President Obama, because the country is certainly far worse off than when President Obama took the oath of office in 2009.

O'BRIEN: That's a little bit different than what Governor Patrick Deval (sic) was telling us yesterday on the show. I'll play you a little bit of what he said.



GOV. DEVAL PATRICK, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I didn't say he didn't add any jobs. I said that in a good economy we were growing third from the bottom compared to other states around the country. That's no longer true. When he said that, for example, he was going to make government smaller, it is a fact that he added more people to the workforce. He said he was going to show us fiscal discipline. It's a fact that he left a $1.1 billion deficit. These aren't attack points. They're just facts.


O'BRIEN: That's of course Governor Deval Patrick, as I flipped his name. He'd kill me if he heard me say that. I hope he didn't. The long list where the former governor was weak that now Governor Patrick has right now.

JONES: As someone who was here, Governor Romney made a certain series of cuts before he left office to be sure we were on sound fiscal footing. Governor Patrick restored every single one of the cuts. Unfortunately he attributes that level of spending to Governor Romney when in fairness and fact it was Governor Patrick's decision to do that so again, Governor Patrick is obviously entitled to his opinion but not entitled to his own facts.

O'BRIEN: There have been Republican colleagues and really I think many people predicted this from the primary battle that was very, very nasty that people would be cherry-picking sound bites and putting them into political ads, and that's of course exactly what happened. We'll play you a little bit and ask you a question on the other side.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Mitt Romney is an economic heavyweight we're in trouble, because he was 47th out of 50 in job creation in the state of Massachusetts when he was governor.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He ended up third from the bottom in job creation.

RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts.


O'BRIEN: Do you think it's damaging to have all of Governor Romney's Republican colleagues quoted and put into ads?

JONES: Clearly the contrast is in President Obama, that was the point the Obama team was trying to make I think not well yesterday. And the fact is that, from the time governor Romney took office to the time he left office there was net job growth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. That's a fact. I don't think anybody is disputing that fact. And when President Obama took office to the present there's been net job loss.

So, I mean, I think that's a happy contrast and I think if president Obama had anything positive to say about his record, as you said five months out from the election he'd be talking about that. As an incumbent president you'd think you want to talk about the things you've accomplished and say look what I've done and here's what else I want to do and give me that opportunity. He doesn't have that record to run on. It's a pretty dismal record to run on.

The debt issue, the downgrade in the bond rating for the United States, the first time any president's presided over that. That's not something you're going to run on.

O'BRIEN: Certainly you're not going to blame that on the president, that was a Congress arguing as you well know, so that might be debatable in the future. We're out of time --

JONES: I will not dispute there's plenty of blame to go around in Washington, D.C., absolutely. But I think again, governor Romney's record both in the private sector at the Olympics and as governor of Massachusetts is being able to come in and work with quite a disparity of personalities and people to move the agenda forward and accomplish good things, either in the private sector, at the Olympics, in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and hopefully as president of the United States.

O'BRIEN: Brad Jones is the Massachusetts House minority leader, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. Appreciate it.

JONES: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, Vanderbilt's head football coach in a little bit of hot water after he tells a radio station he's not going to hire an assistant unless his wife is hot. The STARTING POINT team is headed in to talk about all the days topics, Jeff Toobin back with us, Abby Huntsman and Will Cain. This is Abby's playlist, "Dancing on My Own." We're back after a short break. Hi guys, good morning.




O'BRIEN: Here it is. Hang on, wait for t wait for it, wait for it. There it is. That's it, see? You would have missed it, Abby, if I hadn't had you wait. That's Will Cain's choice. He's a columnist for Abby Huntsman, political commentator. Jeff Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst.

TOOBIN: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: We start with our "Get Real." The Vanderbilt University head football coach, James Franklin is being interviewed on a Nashville radio station, and they ask him about the criteria he uses to hire his assistant coaches. And basically it turns out he does not check their resumes, he does not necessarily check out their references. He checks out their wives. This is not a joke. He says that he only will hire someone if their wife is hot. Here's what he said courtesy of the radio station which is 104.5, the wave in Nashville. Listen.


JAMES FRANKLIN, FOOTBALL COACH, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: I will not hire an distant coach until I've seen her wife -- until I've seen his wife and if his wife, if she looks the part and she's a D1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. I mean that's part of the deal. There's a very strong correlation between having the confidence and going up and talking to a woman and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.


WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Makes a lot of sense. Makes a lot of sense.

O'BRIEN: Really? Carry on.

CAIN: I've got the field, I've got the mike.

O'BRIEN: No, really.

CAIN: First of all, we don't know how much of this was joking.

O'BRIEN: He said he was joking.

CAIN: I've listened to sports radio and sarcasm and humor are pretty deeply engrained.

O'BRIEN: He apologized said it was all in fun, making a reference to the movie "Moneyball," which has a similar point.

CAIN: I actually think perhaps his joking explanation carries some weight. If you have the confidence to go@ up to the woman of your dreams an convince her, recruit her to commit to you for the rest of your life, then it might show and translate into recruiting a recruit to your college to play for you.


CAIN: D1, division one.

HUNTSMAN: Is it all about looks?

TOOBIN: I left that part out. I mean I think that we are trying to logically analyze this moronic comment is really testament to -- no. The guy, look, he was trying to be funny and then, see the thing was if he was just trying to be funny but then he tries to like explain it logically which was a mistake.

O'BRIEN: And in his apology he said he had two daughters and he thought, I mean, really, is that how you want your daughters judged at some point, really?

CAIN: I think he's judging the assistant coaches.

HUNSTAMN: He says he doesn't want to be taken seriously. He was trying to be funny. Maybe you shouldn't be a comedian full time.

O'BRIEN: Ding, ding, I agree that.

Bill Clinton who has been campaigning for president Obama says governor mitt Romney's record as businessman was sterling. Is that going against the talking point?

Plus, New York City's mayor trying to ban the sugary sodas, a controversial move. This morning we'll talk to the folks from Coca- Cola.

And the Scripps Spelling Bee champion will join us live. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. I want to start with Christine Romans for a look at the day's top stories. Hi, Christine. Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad.

New Mexico now fighting the biggest wildfire in state history and it's getting even bigger. Already nearly 200,000 acres are destroyed with a dozen homes burned to the ground.

The fire is only 5 percent contained at this hour. It started in the Gila National Forest two weeks ago, but the flames have now spread in all directions. Firefighters say the rugged terrain is making it difficult to gain ground here.

Two murder suspects who broke out of a county jail are Arkansas are back behind bars this morning. Authorities say Quincy Stewart and Cortez Hooper were captured after four days on the land.

They used a hack saw to remove the bars on their cell at the Miller County Jail. Stewart's mother and brother have been arrested for allegedly helping him escape. A million dollar blunder or a billion crime. The investigation into huge losses at JPMorgan Chase is widening. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the Enforcement Division of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is issuing subpoenas and requesting e-mails and other internal documents from the financial giant.

The fraud probe focusing on JPMorgan traders and what they told supervisors and staff about their wrong-way bets when those bets began to go south.

A ray of hope for people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. Scientists in Sweden have successfully used electrical stimulation of the brain to train paralyzed rats to walk again and even run.

Ten rats all had nerve connections to their hind legs surgically severed. Scientists stopped short of completely severing their spinal cords.

They began to stimulate the motor area of the brain and the spinal cord below the injury and within three weeks, the rats began regaining use of their paralyzed hind legs. Researchers are now working on a plan for a human trial.

A hockey fan wants the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins punished for excessive texting. Brad Wise filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming he signed up for updates from the team, and was promised he'd receive no more than three texts a week.

Wise says he got five texts in the first seven days, seeking unspecified damages claiming the Penguins violated the telephone consumer protection act.

Something special happened during a field day at Colonial Hills Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio. The 11-year-old Matt Woodrum ran the 400 meter race, even though he had cerebral palsy.

It wasn't easy for him, but he got helped from some classmates who spontaneously broke into tears encouraging Matt across the finish line. Listen.

Matt's coach, John Blaine talked about the race on EARLY START.


JOHN BLAINE, PHYSICAL EDUCATION TEACHER: He's an inspiration. Every activity he gets involved in, it's the same experience. So it's a blast, and he's very inspirational to the whole school.


ROMANS: Matt said he was, it was hard, Soledad, it was hard for him to do that run, but he was determined to do it and kids just encouraged him the whole way. O'BRIEN: I love that story.

ROMANS: Isn't it great?

O'BRIEN: Of course, it was hard, but having a whole entire class of people cheering you on.

ROMANS: He was pretty popular after they wanted autographs.

O'BRIEN: I heard that. His mom bought a new camera to try it out and managed to capture that. I love that story.

All right, we were talking about this yesterday, sugary drinks and sodas, Mayor Bloomberg declaring war on sugary drinks that are bigger than 16 ounces this morning.

The fallout, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley was talking on "EARLY START" in the last hour to get more specific about the ban.


DR. THOMAS FARLEY, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: There are a number of studies done over the last few years that demonstrate people are influenced by the portion sizes given to them.

So if you give people twice as much they'll consume more and won't notice and feel any different about it. If you give people a 16 ounce cup they'll probably consume less. I think the studies suggest this would have a big impact.


O'BRIEN: Mayor Bloomberg downplayed the impact on MSNBC. Here is what he said there.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: We're not taking away your right to buy a soda in a supermarket, which we don't regulate. You can still buy a 32-ounce can of full sugared drinks or bottle, but in a restaurant they can't serve more than 16 ounces in any one cup.


O'BRIEN: The other side comes from Dr. Rhona Applebaum. She's the vice president of Science and Regulatory Affairs for Coca-Cola. It's nice to see you. Thanks for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.

So the mayor's point it sounds like, this is a policy that's intended to make people stop and think, not necessarily go with the big one if they want the big one or the equivalent of the big one they'd have to buy multiple sugary drinks or sodas. Why are you against this policy as proposed? DR. RHONA APPLEBAUM, VICE PRESIDENT, COCA-COLA: Well, first and foremost it's going to be an ineffective policy, so we hope we don't even have to deal with it.

And in terms of the focus on keeping people mindful, what we would like to see is people being mindful about those foods that are adding most to their caloric intake.

When you look at what soft drinks and sugar sweetened beverages across the board contribute to the total daily intake it's between 7 percent and 10 percent.

And if you look at the added contribution from soft drinks, it has been declining and between 1999 and 208 declined by 39% while obesity was increasing.

O'BRIEN: Sorry, explain that to me. You're saying what declined 39 percent?

APPLEBAUM: The added sugars or basically the calories contributed to the diet by soft drinks have decreased by 39 percent between 1999 and 2008, during that same time, obesity rates were increasing.

So the point being is focus on what's going to make a difference, that's the contribution of all calories to the total diet and focus in on those that are contributing most.

In addition, of course, the physical activity, which also decreased in the United States. So we have to look at healthy energy balance.

O'BRIEN: So you don't think soda in any way contributes to obesity and the obesity problem in this country?

APPLEBAUM: let me be perfectly clear, all calorie its count, including the calories contributed by sugar sweetened beverages, first and foremost.

But at the end of the day you need to make sure you're focusing on the interventions that are going to make a difference. If less than 7 percent to 8 percent of our calories are coming from sugar sweetened beverages.

We need to help the consumer look at the diet in total to help him and her and their families be able to choose a sensible, balanced diet, combined with physical activity. Those two together are what's going to make a difference.

Not cup sizes so we don't understand why the focus on cup sizes and why the unhealthy obsession on sugared sweetened beverages in terms of this administration in New York City

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Mrs. Applebaum, this is Will Cain. I'm glad that Soledad introduced you as the head of Regulatory Affairs for Coca-Cola. You can't see this, but what I'm holding up is what could possibly soon be an elicit substance, 20 ounces of Coca-Cola and I can't quite wrap my head around where you will and will not be able to buy this.

And I hope you guys have already figured this out, but from my understanding, I could buy this at CVS, but not the local bodega here in New York City where they might have a deli counter or yes at hot dog stand, no with the hot dog stand, but yes at the newspaper stand? Where can and can I not buy this?

APPLEBAUM: Well, you know, I can't sort it out because it's such a convoluted proposal in terms of what New York City Health Department is trying to do, it makes no sense.

The bottom line is taking consumer choice away is not the way to change consumer behavior, and using this example as a means of trying to make an impact in terms of the obesity rates is just going down a rabbit hole. So you have every right to be confused.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Dr. Applebaum, is Coca-Cola in the business of making money or of making people healthy? I mean, if you make money, you don't care how fat people get, do you?

APPLEBAUM: That's absolutely incorrect because the health of our business is dependent upon the health of our communities. We absolutely need to make sure that our communities and our consumers and the public at large, excuse me, are as active and healthy as they can be. Because that's what's going to make a difference and that's what's going to ensure for the next --

TOOBIN: Why? If people don't die, they'll keep buying soda so what do you care if they're healthy or not? Isn't it the government's responsibility to look into people being healthy?

APPLEBAUM: It's everyone's responsibility. The government cannot do it by themselves, because the government doesn't have the all- inclusive experience that is needed in terms of coming up with solutions that are going to make a difference. We need to look at this --

TOOBIN: The Coca-Cola Company knows better than the public health officials about what will make people healthy?

APPLEBAUM: No, what I'm saying is that we all have to look at this problem together. It is a complex problem, a simple solution is not going to fix and Lord knows, reducing cup sizes is not going to get us out of this obesity problem.

O'BRIEN: Is it part of a solution, though? To me when I hear Mayor Bloomberg talking it sounds like he's not saying that this is the be all, end all solution to solving obesity in the city, and certainly not in the country.

It sounds like he's saying this is part of a solution. Do you agree with the research that people are influenced by portion size, bigger portion, they just eat more?

APPLEBAUM: But one of the things and again I'll repeat the data, 7 percent of consumers' calories are coming from sugar sweetened beverages, 7 percent.

That means 93 percent is coming from something else. So if you're going to focus on portion control, focus in on what is contributing most to the diet and combine it with physical activity, which has decreased in this country to make a difference.

O'BRIEN: You have your PhD in nutrition and I do not, but I do know certain calories also have certain nutritional values and many people look at sugar and say there's no nutritional value.

So 8 percent of your diet coming from something has a net nutritional value of zero, right, is different than say eating a steak, which will have some calories and also some nutritional value to it as well.

So other people could sort of fudge with the numbers a little bit. I guess my question for you is the one that I asked, which is do you think people at the end of the day are influenced by portion size.

And by doing this it's one step to say, we're going to give them, you know, smaller cups so that because they're influenced by portion size, they will choose the portion that ultimately could make them healthier? Are they influenced?

APPLEBAUM: The bottom line is, we need to make sure the consumer understands what the choices are and what they need to select to have that sensible balanced diet.

O'BRIEN: Is that a yes or no? Forgive me, I don't want to press you, but yes or no, do you think people are influenced by portion size. So when only given a small portion they have to pick a healthier option, fewer calories in a sugary drink?

APPLEBAUM: Not when you have a plethora of foods and beverages out there. They have to understand it's about the diet. It's not about a single food or a beverage, especially in our case, which sugar sweetened beverages that are not contributing significantly to the diet.

The data demonstrate, 7 percent of total caloric contribution is coming from soft drinks. We have to look at it in its entirety. All calories count, absolutely. Look at it in terms of the dietary advice we have to give consumers to make the choices they need for their life styles, for themselves and their family.

And physical activity has to be part of this and it's a disgrace that hasn't been emphasized.

O'BRIEN: I would agree with you on that. I think that also has to be emphasized as well. Rhona Applebaum is the vice president of Science and Regulatory affairs for Coco-Cola. Nice to talk to you. Thanks for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

APPLEBAUM: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Got to take a short break.

Still ahead this morning, President Bill Clinton going a little bit off script praising Governor Romney's sterling record at Bain Capital. He's campaigning for President Obama, so that might be a little tricky for him.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're going to talk about that on the other side of the break.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Wow, wow Mayor Bloomberg, wow! I love this idea you have of banning sodas larger than 16 ounces. It combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.



O'BRIEN: Bill Clinton veering off script a little bit, praised Governor Mitt Romney. Remember he's running against Barack Obama. He talked about Governor Romney's time at Bain Capital on "PIERS MORGAN" last night and he praised Romney's career there. Take a listen.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So I don't think that we ought to get in the position where we say this is bad work. This is good work. There's no question that in terms of getting up and going to the office and you know, basically performing the essential functions of the office. A man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.


O'BRIEN: That could be problematic.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, DAUGHTER OF FORMER GOVERNOR JON HUNTSMAN: The third surrogate now in the last two weeks.

CAIN: It's so many.

O'BRIEN: I agree.

HUNTSMAN: It should send a message. I think he's right when he says let's acknowledge, most americans would say Mitt Romney is a good businessman, not because he's invested in companies that have failed, but because he's had a lot of success in the businesses that he's invested in.

O'BRIEN: Really at issue is that politicians take money from places like Bain, so they cannot go out, all of them on the left, on the right, you don't think that's it?

CAIN: What is at issue is the truth. This campaign strategy is running head-long into the truth. You cannot expect Bill Clinton, Deval Patrick, Ed Rendell, Steve Ratner to continue to tell untruth that Bain was bad, Mitt Romney was bad, it did not have a productive use in the economy. You can't expect them to lie.

TOOBIN: I think what Obama personality has said is that he is not saying that Bain Capital is a bad thing. He's saying that is not a qualification to be president. I think that's a tough, rather subtle argument to make and I think it's running into trouble politically.

We're going to talk about that morning on STARTING POINT. Thank you for setting that up for me, Abby. I appreciate it.

In fact, coming up next though, we're going to talk to the spelling be champion. How do you spell success? There she is right there. She nodded and smiled when she saw that you got that right. We'll be talking with her up next. You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Last night 14-year-old Snigdha Nandipati was the last one standing at the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee. It came down to a word that you probably never heard of and definitely don't know the definition of. Here it is.




O'BRIEN: That word means ambush, snare or trapped. Snigdha Nandipati joins us this morning from Washington. Good morning to you. Congratulations. How are you feeling this morning?

NANDIPATI: Good morning. I'm really excited. It still just clicked in this morning that I actually won the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

O'BRIEN: Congratulations. We were so excited for you. Did you know that word? I mean, had you seen it before and practiced it before?

NANDIPATI: Yes. I've seen guetapens before. I just wanted to ask everything before I started to spell.

O'BRIEN: So then what were you thinking when you got a word you knew you probably could spell? That's it. I won. I got this. I'm done. I got it done.

NANDIPATI: Well, I was just taking it one word at a time. I just wanted to get each word right. I didn't really think about winning even. I didn't expect to win. There were some very good competitors this year.

O'BRIEN: It was a tough year. It must have been fabulous. When all of the confetti starting raining down on you.

NANDIPATI: Yes, that's when I realized I actually won.

O'BRIEN: Now, I read that you study something like six hours a day, is that right?

NANDIPATI: Yes. On the weekdays, I study about six hours and then the weekends from 10 to 12 hours.

O'BRIEN: So then now that you are the winner, you get to take a break? Cut back to 30 minutes?

NANDIPATI: Yes. Yes. Well, actually I don't have to do spelling anymore because there are no more spelling bees in the high school.

O'BRIEN: You've aged out now.


O'BRIEN: Before I let you go, last final question, you win $30,000 in cash along with other things. I assume that's going to go right into a college fund for you, is that right?

NANDIPATI: Yes, I'm going to save it all for college.

O'BRIEN: Yes, what do you want to be when you grow up?

NANDIPATI: A neurosurgeon or a psychiatrist.

O'BRIEN: Nice. Those are good jobs and lofty goals. It's nice to have you. Congratulations on your big win. It looked like it was a really, really fun day.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're just about 30 minutes away from the monthly jobs report. What will it mean for the economy? We're going to break that down. Christine joins us.

Also another day at a bar changes in a blink of an eye when a pickup truck comes through the wall. We're going to hear this morning from a man who helped pull those folks out. You're watching STARTING POINT.