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Al Qaeda Militant Takes Hostages in France; Interview with Representative Peter King; Interview With Rep. Barney Frank; Southern Baptist Convention Elects Black President; Interview with Reverend Fred Luter

Aired June 20, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: a bank terror in France. A man claiming to be part of al Qaeda is taking hostages. The standoff is unfolding right now. We're going to take you live to France, just ahead.

And the $2 billion question is this.


JAMIE DIMON, JPMORGAN CHASE CEO: JPMorgan Chase's six lines of business provide a broad array of financial products and services to individuals, small and large businesses, governments, and not-for- profits.


O'BRIEN: That's JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon facing a firing squad of sorts on Capitol Hill, and then lawmakers turned on each other. The ranking member of that committee who grilled him is going to talk to us this morning.

And it's going to be scorcher. The heat is set to blast the Northeast on the first day of summer. Temperatures in the 90s.

Lots of big guests ahead this hour as we talk to Congressman Peter King, Barney Frank, and the first African-American head of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Reverend Frank Luter, is going to join us.

It's Wednesday, June 20th. And our -- I call you panelists, but I don't really call panelists anymore.


O'BRIEN: My team.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Let's get right to breaking news happening out of Toulouse, France, where four people are being held hostage by an armed man in a bank. Police say he is claiming to be an al Qaeda militant. He is demanding a dialogue with them.

Toulouse, of course, was the scene of the deadly rampage in March when a gunman shot and killed seven people.

CNN's Jim Bittermann has the very latest for us from Paris this morning.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Police have now sealed off the neighborhood where this is taking place. Basically, a gunman holding four hostages, four bank employees, in their bank, as well as the director of the bank is one of the hostages.

The gunman went in this morning. And apparently what was an armed robbery attempt at the bank failed or went wrong at some point. The gunman shot into the air, didn't hit anybody. But is now holding the hostages and has asked to see the elite police negotiating group, hostages negotiating group.

He claims to be a member of al Qaeda. And for that reason and for another, police are taking it seriously. And the second reason is the fact that this is all taking place just a few hundred yards away from the home of Mohamed Merah. Merah, who was shot and killed by police back in march, was responsible for seven killings in the Toulouse area before he himself was killed in the police shootout.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.


O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Republican Congressman Peter King. He is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

Let's start with that report from Jim Bittermann. What do you know about the situation unfolding right now in France, and how concerned should we be if in fact this gunman is indeed part of al Qaeda?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Well, obviously, our intelligence people are looking at this carefully to see exactly what they can find out. If he is al Qaeda, it raises it to a new dimension because generally they have not been involved in these type of bank robberies. But it's really too early to tell. It could be he is just a bank robber who was caught and is now trying to use al Qaeda as a shield to get himself into negotiations or maybe work a deal for himself.

But again, it is a reminder that al Qaeda is a presence and can be a deadly presence. Whether this is al Qaeda or not, it's really too early to tell.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about what's being accomplished or as some people might say, not accomplished some might say at the G20 summit. When you look at what's coming out of that, especially when it seems like Chancellor Merkel does not necessarily seem to be 100 percent onboard, what do you make of that?

KING: I would say so far it's been pretty much nonproductive, starting with the side bar meetings with President Putin. And then also as far as trying to come to an overall arrangement as far as Europe's economic troubles, because those troubles, as the president says, definitely will have an impact on the U.S. So it's important for the president politically but more important, it's more vital for him as president to try to work out a better arrangement with Europe, to have Europe address its problems in a way which is not going to roll over onto the U.S.

Just from what I've seen of the summit so far, it did not seem to be overly productive. Now, again, there could be agreements we're not aware of. As of now, it does not seem to be very productive.

O'BRIEN: Earlier this morning I was talking to Senator Jack Reed. I want to play a little chunk of what he said about the global economy.


SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have seen many, many months of private job growth but not sufficient to carry us forward and to reduce overall unemployment. So we have to have worldwide growth. And that is the new phenomenon in the world.

Thirty or 40 years ago, we could do some things in the United States and sort of get our economy back on track. Now, it's a global economy.


O'BRIEN: How do you think that's going to play out in the presidential election, sir?

KING: Well, the global economy is a factor but we also have to get our own house in shape. And the fact is that I believe the president's policies such as the stimulus, such as Obamacare, have not helped the economy. I believe we have to do more as far as controlling spending. We should not be increasing taxes.

And I think the American people are looking also for a sense of confidence in the executive. Right now, I would say one of the problems that the president has with the overall economy is that people do not have faith in him or the direction which he is taking the country.

So, yes, obviously, what happens in Europe and Asia, particularly in Europe, is important to us. But we can't just blame it all on Europe, the way the president tried to blame it all on George Bush for the last three years.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a final question about the attorney general, Eric Holder. He could be in less than two hours held in contempt of congress. First, how likely do you think that is?

KING: Well, right now, unless -- again, I'm not privy to what's going on between Darrell Issa and Eric Holder. But unless there's a dramatic change, I would think the committee is going to go ahead and vote a contempt citation.

I heard Elijah Cummings saying it would be along party lines. I think he's probably right. And really it's an issue as to how many documents and what documents if any the attorney general has a right to withhold. Darrell Issa is very aggressive. Eric Holder seems to be somehow willing to make a deal, but then not really making the deal he said he would make.

So, I'm supporting Chairman Issa. He's really done an outstanding job I think in driving this issue home, making it important for the American people to see what happened there.

And, again, I think the attorney general would do himself and the Justice Department a favor to find a way to turn over more documents and find a way to make this work. Right now it just seems both sides are locked in place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, don't you worry that the -- that this contempt of congress citation may back fire on the Republicans? It looks to me a little bit like a campaign trick.

KING: No. First of all, I'm never one who is enthusiastic about going after presidents or cabinet officials. But I think in this case where there are real issues and where the attorney general does certainly appear from my perspective to be holding back. And this has been going on now for several months at least. And the attorney general knew this was going to be happening. And he seems to be digging in.

And again, there could be political consequences. I think the important thing here is to find out what happened with Fast and Furious. And if he's talking about handing over 1 percent or 10 percent of the documents, or 1 percent of the overall documents, that's just not the type of cooperation that the Congress has to get from a cabinet official.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Peter King joining us this morning. I know one day he's going to come and sit on the set with us. Every time he's on, I ask, and he's like, no.

KING: I'll be there, OK, Soledad. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I see a promise right there. I appreciate that. Take care.

KING: You got it. OK.

O'BRIEN: Got to get to Christine Romans, who's got a look at the day's top stories.

Hey, Christine.


Following more breaking news this morning out of London, where there's something of a standoff between police and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange is holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy. He's asking for asylum as he fights extradition from England to Sweden on allegations he sexually assaulted a woman. Assange is afraid that if he is sent to Sweden, he'll be sent to the United States where he could be charged for leaking hundreds of thousands of national security documents.

CNN has learned Jerry Sandusky is prepped and ready to testify today in his child sex abuse trial. The defense is expected to rest its case this afternoon. Lawyers for the Penn State assistant football coach have to decide whether to put him on the stand.

Closing arguments could be heard tomorrow with the case then going to the jury. We'll have a live report from outside the courtroom in about 30 minutes.

As Soledad just mentioned, in just a few hours, a House committee will meet to a consider a possible contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder. They want Holder more documents on the botched Fast and Furious gun-walking operation. A meeting with committee Chairman Darrell Issa yesterday failed to produce an agreement.

Earlier on STARTING POINT, we asked Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, what he expects to happen.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I expect that it will come to a vote. I expect that the -- it will be a vote on party lines. And I think that it will be -- and I still believe that this is an effort to try to embarrass the president.


ROMANS: Congressman Issa says the contempt vote can be averted if Holder just produces those documents.

Minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures are higher ahead of the conclusion of the Federal Reserves big two-day meeting. Markets closed higher yesterday. There are high hopes that the Fed will announce more stimulus to support the economy. Its current Operation Twist, a maneuver meant to prop up the economy, expires June 30th.

All while Europe's problems are beginning to drag on U.S. businesses and the American consumer is beginning to show signs of stress. Fed chief Ben Bernanke will hold a news conference this afternoon at 2:15 Eastern in Washington.

We're watching a heat wave moving into the Northeast today. Let's check on the weather with meteorologist Rob Marciano.

Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey. Good morning, Christine.

It started in Chicago. Record highs yesterday in Nebraska and Detroit. On the heat pump it's wrapping everything around towards the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. Heat and humidity, not only today but tomorrow as well. And we'll see some record breakers in some cases. A dozen states, actually, 13 states, under heat advisories and heat warnings.

With the humidity, it's going to feel well up and over 100. We may even have actual temperatures measured in the shade that touch 100.

Ninety-four expected in Boston, 96 degrees in New York City, 99 degrees in D.C., and similar numbers expected tomorrow. A slight cool-off over the weekend. Try to stay cool.

Christine, back over to you.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Rob.

Soledad, this is a forecast where you tell your neighbors check on your elderly friends and relatives. And make sure they can get to a cooling center if they need to.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. This is the kind of weather our parents would bring us to the mall. Our parents who hated the mall would spend the day walking around the mall because it's hot. All right. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a bank beatdown. The head of JPMorgan Chase grilled over that $2 billion loss the we'll talk a little bit about what happened with Congressman Barney Frank about the reforms that he drew up. Is it going to stop something like this from happening again?

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're going to take a break.


O'BRIEN: Heated exchange on Capitol Hill yesterday as JPMorgan chief, Jamie Dimon, was grilled by members of the House. Dimon again was apologizing for his bank's multibillion dollar trading loss. He said it was embarrassing.

But unlike his testimony before the Senate, yesterday's House Financial Services Committee here was far more contentious. In fact, the Senate was almost like a love fest (ph). If you listen to this snippet, it really underscores the two sides of the argument to what degree of these banks playing fast and loose with taxpayer money and are they too big to fail. Listen.


REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D) FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: You said you have a fortress balance sheet. That assumes some special about the way you are that made us not to worry about, but we can't assume that's going to be the case for every financial institution.

JAMIE DIMON, JPMORGAN CEO: We also said it would be solidly profitable this quarter, so relative to earn --

FRANK: That's not the question. Please don't filibuster.


O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. That got kind of nasty. Congressman Barney Frank is the ranking member of that committee which was questioning Mr. Dimon. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us.

FRANK: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: You said you were disappointed in Jamie Dimon's testimony. What exactly were you disappointed in?

FRANK: His failure to recognize that we need to change public policy, particularly, with regard to derivatives. He acknowledged that the bank made a mistake, a pretty big mistake that will cost $3 billion or more.

But, he then said, but change nothing. In fact, he told us that he continues to support a bill, which I believe we're going to be able to bock that the Republicans have been pushing that would exempt the kind of transactions -- exactly the kind of transactions that cost the money from any regulation over derivatives.

And what he said is, my bank is very safe and we have a lot of capital. And we answered, we can't legislate just for his bank. There are other banks that are less well done. There are other institutions that aren't banks that don't have the same kind of rules.

So, I was disappointed that he wants us to treat this as just kind of like somebody tripped on the curb and do nothing to make it less likely that there could be problems in the future.

O'BRIEN: He was questioned a lot about lobbying against Dodd- Frank. Let's listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you for Dodd-Frank?

DIMON: That's a hard one to say.

We had a major crisis, and we never denied that. The crisis unveiled lots of flaws in our system, not one flaw, lots of flaws. So, we understood the need for reform. There are parts of Dodd-Frank we supported. There are parts of Dodd-Frank we didn't.


O'BRIEN: He went on to say that, hey, it's well within my rights to -- our rights to lobby against Dodd-Frank. Isn't that true? Doesn't he have a point?

FRANK: Well, of course, it is. I never questioned that. No one questioned it. Actually, Ms. Waters said about lobbying, and he said, I have a right to lobby. And she said quite eloquently, no one is questioning your right to lobby. We're arguing about what we think is in the best interest of the American public. That's a storm in [INAUDIBLE].

I've never heard anybody in any way interfere with his right to lobby or hire people to lobby. What we want to get to is the substance. And the substance is this. Much of what the bill does regulates derivatives in ways that hadn't ever been done as derivatives were developed. And derivatives were a major part of the crisis.

AIG in London was exactly the kind of issue that caused the problem that his bill that he supports would exempt from regulation. And that's the debate. Should we go forward with regulation of derivatives or should we not? That's a legitimate debate. And by the way, he says he supports some and not others.

I'm not surprised that the financial institutions whose behavior collectively, I believe, caused this problem and who will be somewhat restricted in their ability to do things that they think are good because they make money, but we think cause too much risk, we didn't do this for them. We did it for the economy.

O'BRIEN: He says, JPMorgan, too big to fail. Let me play -- or not too big to fail is really what he said in his testimony.

FRANK: Right.

O'BRIEN: Let me play a little piece and ask you a question on the other side of it.


DIMON: With JPMorgan's size and capability and diversification in 2008, 2009, and 2010, allowed us to continue to do the things that you want us to do. We never stopped making loans. We bought Bear Stearns at the request of the United States government. We helped the FDIC fund by buying WaMu.


O'BRIEN: So, basically, he's saying, they're big, but they're not too big to fail. But at the same time, they're big so they can be helpful and stable. Did you see contradiction in that?

FRANK: No, I don't. He's the story. First of all, he's right. He did respond with regard to Bear Stearns and WaMu. Those were responsible actions, and the bank deserves credit for them. And they took on these things that could have been liabilities and managed them well.

As to too big to fail, the point he was making is the point, frankly, where he and I are in great agreement and where he agrees with the financial reform bill. What we are saying is that -- and he said this explicitly, if a bank, any financial institution of great size got so indebted that it couldn't pay its debts, under our law, it is put out of business.

That's where the debt panels are. They don't put all the (INAUDIBLE) to debt. They put (INAUDIBLE) to debt. And, it also says that if that happens, nobody in the federal government can use any tax money to pay to get rid of it. They can advance the money, but every penny that's expended has to come back from an assessment on big banks.

And the other point is that if a bank can't pay its debts, it fails under our bill. They're fired. The shareholders are wiped out. So, on that one, he is correct. It may be that a particular institution is so big that when it fails -- if it fails, it will cause some problems. We have in the law ways to deal with those problems or to guarantee that there's no cost to the taxpayer.

In 2008, when President Bush was president, Ben Bernanke used a law to give money to AIG and keep them in business. We repealed that law, so there was no longer any possibility of any federal official using federal tax dollars in any permanent way. It can be a temporary loan, but it's got to be immediately repaid by an assessment on the big banks. So, in that one, he's accurate.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Barney Frank joining us this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

FRANK: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, LeBron James just one win away from the NBA title. He's got this leg injury. We'll see what happens with that. Talking about straight ahead.

Don't forget, you can watch us on TV or you can watch on your computer or mobile phone while you're at work. Go to or follow me on Twitter @Soledad_O'Brien. Go to make a graphic for myself and hold it up so people can see it.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: During the commercial break, I'll see if I can grab you some red and black poms-poms.


CAIN: Surely, we got some backstage.



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans with a quick look at the headlines.


ROMANS (voice-over): New information about a Russian ship reportedly carrying military helicopters to Syria. It appears to have turned back for home this morning. But another ship loaded with weapons may be on the way. British officials report the original ship has changed course from the North Sea off the coast of Scotland and appears bound for Russia.

Russian officials are not commenting, but Pentagon officials told CNN the Russians may be sending another ship carrying weapons, ammunition, and a small number of Russian troops to Syria to help fortify its naval base there as the violence gets worse in Syria.

More evidence about a slowdown in the U.S. jobs market. The labor department says the number of job openings in April fell from March. There are now 3.7 job seekers for each job opening. That's better than the record high in 2009, but still far worse than before the recession started.

Hebrew National, the hotdog maker that's long claimed to answer to a higher authority, must now answer charges of false advertising. A class action consumer lawsuit against ConAgra Foods claims hotdogs and other meat products sold under Hebrew National brand aren't 100 percent kosher as advertised. The company denies the claim.

And the Miami Heat now just one win away from an NBA title led by LeBron James. The Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 to take a three games to one lead to the NBA finals series. LeBron and company can wrap it up tomorrow at home in game five.

It would be the Miami Heat's second NBA title but the first in LeBron James's career. And, Will Cain, did you find the pom-poms?


CAIN: I didn't find the pom-poms, but do we have the tape? How many times -- how many did LeBron James promise to win?

O'BRIEN: Seven.


O'BRIEN: I think it's seven.

CAIN: It's almost --

O'BRIEN: Well, this would be one. Check that off. Move on to two for next year.


O'BRIEN: But can we talk about Hebrew National? What? Not kosher?


O'BRIEN: I guess they say that that's not true, but it will be interesting to see how that turns out. Yikes. All right. Christine, thank you.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Jerry Sandusky, is he ready to testify? Will his lawyers put him on the stand today? We're going to take you live to the court house for a look at what could happen in that trial.

And a first for the southern Baptist convention. An emotional moment for this man right here. We're talking to the Reverend Fred Luther Jr. (ph). He is the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We got to take a break. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We've been following this breaking news all morning out of Toulouse, France. A gunman claiming to be an Al Qaeda member is holding four people hostage at a bank. CNN's Jim Bittermann has the very latest for us from Paris.


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Police have now sealed off the neighborhood where this is taking place. Basically, a gunman holding four hostages, four bank employees, in their bank, as well as the director of the bank, he is one of the hostages.

He came in and went in this morning. And apparently what was an arm the robbery attempt at the bank. That failed or went wrong at some point. The gunman shot into the air, didn't hit anybody. But is now holding the hostages and has asked to see the elite police negotiating group, hostage negotiating group. He claims to be a member of Al Qaeda, and for that reason, and for another, police are taking it seriously.

And the second reason is the fact that this is all taking place just a few hundred yards away from the home of Mohammed Mara. Mara, who was shot and killed by police back in march, was responsible for seven killings in the Toulouse area before he himself was killed in the police shootout.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Christine Romans for a look at the day's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Soledad. CNN has learned that former Penn State football coach is prepped and ready to take the stand -- Jerry Sandusky. Whether he does won't be decided until later today right before the defense rests. Susan Candiotti live from Bellefonte this morning. What are the chances that Jerry Sandusky testifies today?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, hard to say. I think we can compare this to a high stakes chess game where every move is risky. If Jerry Sandusky takes the stand, and as you said, his attorneys have prepped him, he's ready to go, if he runs into trouble like he did with the bob Costas interview, that could be a problem. But if his own attorneys are able to control the line of questioning, perhaps they might be able to blunt a tough cross- examination.

But certainly yesterday the defense had its best day. They challenged, for example, investigators, attacked them for allegedly trying to coach the accusers in this case. And then of course Dotty Sandusky taking the stand. She defended her husband of more than 45 years. She said she never saw any inappropriate behavior with the boys. She never heard any yelling coming from the basement. And when -- she also accused one of the alleged victims of being conniving. And when prosecutors on cross-examination asked her, can you come up with a reason as to why all of these boys would lie, she said, I don't know. The question now is, will he take the stand? We'll soon find out.

ROMANS: All right, Susan Candiotti in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

To Cape Canaveral now, where the Atlas-5 is set to take off. It will carry a classified payload into orbit on behalf of the U.S. national reconnaissance office. Its Monday launch was delayed because of a faulty environmental control system duct. That duct has since been replaced.

If you believe this sort of thing, there's only six months left until the world ends. With the summer solstice arriving today, it marks six months until the winter solstice on December 21. Now, according to some readings of the Mayan long count calendar that's when the world will be destroyed. Scientists and archaeologists have debunked the doomsday theory, but it remains alive and well, of course on that font of misinformation, the web. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Should I bother to clean my apartment out as I usually do at the beginning of summer? Because if the world is going to end in six months, really, what a waste of time.

CAIN: The long count calendar.

O'BRIEN: Stop going to the gym. Just have ice cream every day.

It's an historic day for the Southern Baptist Convention as they have elected their first African-American president, the reverend Fred Luter Jr. His election 150 years after the SBC was founded as a pro- slavery church and 17 years after the church's apology for supporting white supremacists. Reverend Luter Jr. officially becomes president this evening. Nice to see you, sir. Congratulations to you, and thanks for being with us. I can't say you're surprised. You ran unopposed. But it still is a tremendous honor. What's going to be your agenda as the new president?

REV. FRED LUTER, JR., INCOMING PRESIDENT SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Well, thank you, Soledad, for being on the program. I'm very honored to be here with you and with CNN. It was a surprise that I was unopposed, particularly because it's a large convention and it's the year of a presidential election. I was really, really surprised that no one stepped up and wanted to run against me. And then to see the support I got from the floor, it just brought tears to my eyes. I'll really grateful for that.

My agenda first of all will be learning what I have to do. So I'll be meeting with the staff there at the headquarters in Nashville and talking to other former presidents and finding out, you know, specifically my duties and responsibilities. I know I'll be representing our convention across the country and across the world, but there are other things as far as working with our Southern Baptist entities and working with other churches and denominations across the country.

O'BRIEN: You have said that you want to help solve the church's divisive civil rights history. What specifically would you do on that front?

LUTER: Well, we cannot deny the fact that of our history. It's there. Everybody knows about it. I'm sure by now they do. But one of the things I'm so proud about this is that, understanding the fact that every one of us has a history. I've got a history. You've got a history. Everybody watching this program has a history. There's nothing we can do about our past. But there's a lot we can do about our future.

And so one of the things I like to do is first of all say to those outside of the SBC that this is a brand-new convention. Yes, we started out as a result of slavery. But that's behind us now. And we have proven the fact through the years that we want to move on from there. And I think by electing me as president of this convention is exhibit A to the world that this convention is now ready to open its doors to different groups no matter your background, your race, or your color. And so that's some of the things that we hope to put out there that people will understand, that we need to learn to get together here, because if we don't get together here, we're not going to get together in heaven.

O'BRIEN: Some people might say, though, exhibit B would be what Dr. Richard Land said not too long ago about the Trayvon Martin case.


O'BRIEN: And I think he said that the president has poured gasoline on racist fires. Then he did an apology, and then a second apology after that. So it's not really, really history for some people in some ways.

LUTER: Yes. You know, that's something that Richard Land -- if he can go back and do that over again, I'm sure he would. All of us -- I know I've said some things in the pulpit and things in interviews, hopefully not in this interview, about you in interviews that I have regretted that I have said.


O'BRIEN: So far, so good.

LUTER: But you cannot deny the fact that there will be some, and there are some, who still have a problem with the skin. And I told folks yesterday that I was talking to, we don't have a skin problem in America. We have a sin problem. And until we deal with our sin problem, we will always have a skin problem.

O'BRIEN: Reverend Fred Luter joining us this morning, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

MARGARET HOOVER, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN INDIVIDUALISM": Reverend Luter, your election is a huge triumph for civil rights. And I wonder Pastor Worley, Baptist preacher in North Carolina, has made headlines recently. I wonder if your agenda will include a new civil rights issue, inclusiveness of gay Americans.

LUTER: Can you are repeat that? I didn't hear the last part.

HOOVER: Will you include gay Americans, a new civil rights issue?

LUTER: Well, no, no, no. I'm a man of the book. I believe in the word of god. I believe in the bible. And god has specifically spoken about marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman. You know, that's biblical. No president, whether it's a president in the White House, no governor, no mayor, no one can change that. God has already established a marriage between one man and one woman. So I will stand for that because that's what the word of god says and that's what I believe in.

We want to love -- I love all of us as believers. All of us love everybody, including those in the gay community. We're going to embrace them as far as who they are, but we are also going to stand on biblical principles that the word of god has already established, that marriage is between one man and one woman.

O'BRIEN: Which puts you directly, sir, in opposition to president Obama.

LUTER: On this particular subject, yes. I support my president. He is my president. I pray for him and Michelle and his daughters on a daily basis. But on this issue, the president and I have two different opinions for sure.

O'BRIEN: Reverend Fred Luter, nice to see you, sir. Congratulations again on your election.

LUTER: Thank you, Soledad. Listen, thanks for all you've done for New Orleans. We appreciate you.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure. I'm going to be there this weekend. Maybe I'll get a chance to run into you, sir.

LUTER: That would be great.

O'BRIEN: Take care, sir.

LUTER: Thank you very much.

CAIN: He is inclusive up to a point.

O'BRIEN: Clearly, he is making it very clear that he is inclusive up to a point.

STARTING POINT continues. Exploring Michelle Obama's roots, the author of a new book reveals her family's complicated journey from slavery to the White House.

And Aaron Sorkin says that the beautiful actress Olivia Munn, her character is actually based on one of our own right here on STARTING POINT.

CAIN: Oh, thank you, Aaron.


O'BRIEN: No, it is not you, Will Cain.

CAIN: Wait until you find out who it is.

O'BRIEN: Richard's playlist, Carly Rae Jackson, "Call me Maybe." This is so overplayed.



O'BRIEN: Rick James, really we could just do a rick James best one day. That's rick James, "Busting Out."

CAIN: Speaking of hot.

O'BRIEN: Speaking of hot.

CAIN: There's a particular glow about you today, Christine.

O'BRIEN: "The Newsroom" premieres Sunday night on HBO, and Aaron Sorkin says the hot and nerdy financial whiz reporter played by the gorgeous Olivia Munn is actually loosely based on our own Christine Romans, the gorgeous Christine Romans. The gorgeous Christine Romans, you went to the party last night. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I went to the party last night. And I met Aaron Sorkin and he told me he said, look, no -- none of these characters are -- are based on anyone. Except there's you in the Olivia Munn character. And he said now she'll grow on you.

And I said, wait a minute, what is that supposed to mean, am I not going to like her? Is she's like crazy and socially inept? He said no, no, no, she always goes back to markets and the money. How every story is about the markets and the money. And who has the money and who needs the money and wants the money and how people are trying to get the money.

And he said I've been watching you for years and that's what you always talk about. It was really, really flattering.

MARGARET HOOVER, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN INDIVIDUALISM": And you're a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin.

ROMANS: I know I mean in "Social Network" --


O'BRIEN: How does the new show look?

ROMANS: The show looks pretty good. You know I think that Jeff Bridges did a great job as this anchor. And of course I watched it in the screening with a bunch of TV people. So we were all really scrutinizing that lead character trying to (inaudible) which anchor is this who I have worked with before. But I see no Soledad O'Brien resemblances.

O'BRIEN: Thank God.

CAIN: You wish.

ROMANS: But there's a big love story in it too. And an EP, an executive producer that was pretty cool. And I remember one time a couple of years ago in the morning, one of the wardrobe people came through here and was looking around. And somebody said to me, you know we work for Aaron Sorkin. And What -- what does an executive producer wear? And I thought, wow, I don't know, we're all too busy running around in the middle of the night trying to get TV on. I hadn't thought about it.

So it was interesting they did a lot of work for a long time trying to understand how cable news works.

O'BRIEN: That's awesome I can't wait to watch that.

CAIN: Ok Christine when you found this out, whether or not you read it in the paper or one of your colleagues told you, and they said, hey, you inspired one of the characters in "The Newsroom" Aaron Sorkin's and they told you who's playing it, tell how many you people run and told Oliver Munn is playing me?

ROMANS: I know first I Googled her on Oliver Google --

O'BRIEN: To make sure she was cute.

ROMANS: And she is. And I can't wait to see what her -- oh well thank you, but I can't wait to see what her -- what her character is like. And I'm a little worried because --

CAIN: You do not care Olivia Munn is playing you.

ROMANS: He said loosely -- he said loosely based. Loosely based.

O'BRIEN: I love it, I love it.


RICHARD SOCARIDES, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: I remember when I was at the White House they came and interviewed us for "The West Wing", when they were putting together characters for "The West Wing."

ROMANS: I know. As a nerd, it's really nice to be recognized every now and that.

O'BRIEN: Olivia Munn, she's hot.

ROMANS: I know. She really is.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the story of black, white, and multiracial ancestors of the First Lady Michelle Obama. A "New York Times" reporter and author Rachel Swarns is going to join us with that.

And Margaret Hoover's play list will play us out. It's U2, "Beautiful Day".

You're watching STARTING POINT.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

We know a great deal about President Obama's history. We're just talking about it a few minutes ago. But First Lady Michelle Obama's family tree has largely been a mystery.

Back in 2008, then candidate Obama spoke about it in a speech about race.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners, an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.


O'BRIEN: The First Lady's ancestry was a little more defined than that; a descendant of slaves and slave owners until now. There a new book it's called "American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama." And it explores the First Lady's roots dating back to the 19th century.

Rachel Swarns is the author. She's also a reporter for the "New York Times". It's nice to have you.


O'BRIEN: How complicated and how challenging was it to research this book?

SWARNS: It's hard work. Digging back into history and I really try to trace her grandparents basically back as far as I can. It's challenging because for folks who were enslaved, there simply isn't much in the historical record. People were barred from being able to read and write. There aren't letters and journals and diaries.

And the census record didn't name people until 1870.

O'BRIEN: So often, unless the slaveholder himself kept good documents and good notes, you wouldn't necessarily know anything about the slaves. All this centers around a slave named Melvenia, who was the great, great, great grandmother of Michelle Obama, right?

SWARNS: That's right. And we were very lucky with Melvenia because she actually appeared in her owner's will. And that's why we were able to trace her from the 1850s to when she appeared finally in the census in 1870.

O'BRIEN: It was her son who she had with you believe the white slaveholder that actually sort of really I think gave a lot of interesting branches to Michelle Obama's family tree. Tell me about that.

SWARNS: Basically, what we were able to do is Michelle Obama always suspected that she had white ancestry in her family tree. And through DNA testing and research, we were able to fill in those blanks. And the most likely candidate is the son of her slave owner.

So you had a chance to go and interview some of the white relatives from the family tree. And what was it like when you came to them and said, you know, one, you might be related to Michelle Obama.

And -- and two, you might have black relatives in your family too. Was it -- were they shocked? Were they thrilled?

SWARNS: It's a hard thing for people because on the one hand, being related to the First Lady --


O'BRIEN: That could be the understatement of the year probably. But go ahead.

SWARNS: That is pretty amazing. On the other hand, these ties date back to a painful time in our history. So you're telling someone you may be related to the First Lady, but your family also owned her family. That's -- that's hard stuff.

SOCARIDES: Yes but so interesting, I also read where some people didn't want to be publicly identified when they -- when their ancestors -- when it became known that their ancestors might have been slave owners.

SWARNS: This was true. I -- I interviewed many relatives, and some of them just didn't feel comfortable. They were afraid that people might view them as racist or that they might be forced to atone for their forebears.

SOCARIDES: Did the First Lady help at all with the book?

O'BRIEN: Has she weighed in what she thinks about her own history? They could have competing books. His and her biographies.

SWARNS: You know, the First Lady has a policy of not doing interviews with books. But I did interview members of her extended family and briefed her staff. She had the book and her staff did ahead of time.

So she's had a chance to read it. I don't know what she thinks yet.

O'BRIEN: It's fascinating.

CAIN: You know more about her life than she possibly does.

SWARNS: I did, I did.

O'BRIEN: Thank you so much it's so nice to see you.

SWARNS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Rachel Swarns, the book is called "American Tapestry."

We've got to take a short break. "End Point" is up next.


O'BRIEN: It's time for "End Point". Who wants to start? Will Cain?

HOOVER: Will. Secretariat.

CAIN: Yes. I want to talk about Secretariat some more. Christine Romans' story earlier, the Secretariat's times in his races from back in the '70s still stand as the fastest times today, which fascinates me for this reason.

Swimmers, track stars, they get faster every year. In a sport where we talk about milkshakes and steroids with horses, that time stands from the '70s.

HOOVER: I don't know that everybody -- that performance is getting better because of performance-enhancing, artificial drugs.


CAIN: Right.

HOOVER: I do think our athletic training has gotten better. It's gotten more sophisticated. Our nutrition has better. So that actually factors in.

CAIN: But all those factors together make them amazing.

O'BRIEN: You would think that would be the same for horses, right? The breeding would be better --

CAIN: Right.

O'BRIEN: The nutrition would get better and more efficient. SOCARIDES: Here is how it's been like ancestry day today on the show. We talked about the Obamas and now we're talking about the breeding of horses.


O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, absolutely. It's all about where you are from today. If you own a little piece of Secretariat because of that news, you'd be a wealthy person.

HOOVER: And it's incredible too. We were talking about the ancestry that has happened because the Obamas have ascended to the White House. You know, Michelle Obama didn't even know her own history until she got to the White House. And now this thorough genealogy has been done on her family. It is now -- as a contribution to her family that America's talking about.

CAIN: We were talking in the break, how interesting is it that Americans care so little -- carry so little curiosity on their own ancestry.

O'BRIEN: I don't think that's true. Go to

CAIN: Comparatively. Comparatively.

HOOVER: There is a curiosity but it's not a deeply grounded identification that defines the course of your life.

CAIN: That defines -- right.

SOCARIDES: I think the (inaudible) book is going to be a big factor, big in the election.

O'BRIEN: It is big already.

SOCARIDES: I think it's going to factor big in the election, yes. And I think it's going to be a very nasty election on both sides. I think there's going to be a lot of mud thrown. And I'll bet you that the Republicans are going to talk a lot about this book.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to agree with you on all of those fronts. We've got to take -- I was going to say a break. But I guess we're done for the day.

Tomorrow on STARTING POINT, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on the ropes. Republicans trying to vote him in contempt of Congress. We're going to talk about that.

We're going to have Congressman Elijah Cummings back with us to discuss what happened. That's ahead. We'll see you tomorrow morning.


O'BRIEN: Let's get right -- yes, he will. He would not say he is and not come. We'll get right to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. It begins right now. Hey Carol, good morning.