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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Emanuel Cleaver Interview; Decision Due on Assange Asylum Request; Penn State to Hold Sex Abuse Conference; Drought Leads to Water Warning; Campaign Trash Talk Getting Even Nastier; Navy SEAL Video Criticizes President Obama; Fierce Five Celebrate Victory; Wildfires Plague California; Vice President Criticized for Comment in Speech; Atheists Sue over 9/11 Symbol

Aired August 16, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, heartbreaking loss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM SEEMEYER, EVACUEE: Everybody's house is gone. All my friends, my neighbors, people I care about and we're all going to have to move, rebuild, hug, shed some tears and start over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: As wildfires intensify, ravaging California and Washington, people are packing their most important belongings and running for their lives.

Decision day. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange wanted in Sweden for charges of rape, but he's been holed up inside Ecuador's embassy in London for two months. We're standing by for breaking news on his request for asylum.

Plus, defying the president: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issuing her own executive order last night, banning benefits to young, illegal immigrants.

Got a packed show ahead this morning. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver is with us. Actor Stephen Baldwin will join us. Actor Dane Dehaan, and from Team USA, the fierce five gymnasts are our guests. It's Thursday, August 16, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning is a developing story. Homes, lives threatened, 13 states in a heartbreaking battle with wildfires, and unfortunately there's no end in sight. Right now at least 70 large wildfires are burning west of the Mississippi. They already consumed 1.3 million acres, burned more than 60 homes, dozens more in the danger zone. Victims are shell shocked.

California has the most fires burning right now with 13. They've had to call in the marines to help 8,000 firefighters try to beat back those flames. Folks in central Washington state have been hit the hardest, though. The wind whipped Taylor Bridge fires torched nearly 40 square miles so far destroying at least 60 homes.

We want to get to Rob Marciano who joins us from Washington, this morning. How's it looking?

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: We're stationed at the command center which is quiet but will pick up activity as the morning goes along. On the fire lines themselves they've been working all night long as winds have laid down. This area is no stranger to winds, especially during the summertime. There is a gap in the cascades and that west wind blows almost daily and they fear fire nearly every summer. And they got it Monday night when a spark flew near a construction site and the following day dozens of homes were engulfed in flames, at least 60 homes both in and on the outskirts of town. Some farm buildings as well on the outskirts of town. Livestock and other animals were let to flee. And all in all 450 families evacuated right now and remain so.

They are worried about some of the fire lines, only 10 percent containment right now. They will be working. They brought more reinforcements both man and equipment yesterday.

As you mention, Washington not the only state dealing with this. California has its hands full from San Diego to San Bernardino all of the way up to Lake County just north of Napa. They've been having to deal with big-time fires there. Mostly because of the lack of snow and then the record breaking heat they've had the past several days and that is beginning to surge northward. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Rob Marciano updating us on what's happening there. Thank you, rob. Appreciate that. In just a few moments we'll talk to the California fire chief who will join us live. We want to get to John Berman for a look at the day's top stories. Hey, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. This morning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will learn if Ecuador will grant him political asylum. He's been held up in the embassy since June. CNN's Atika Shubert is live in London outside of the embassy. Atika, when do we expect Ecuador's foreign minister to announce this decision?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He should be making a decision in about two hours. That's when the announcement is expected. It could slide a bit. Julian Assange is waiting and watching inside the Ecuadorian embassy behind me. Police presence has increased here. They don't seem to be making any moves to go in. That does not seem to be happening at all. They are staying here because of the WikiLeaks protesters that have come here in support of Julian Assange. Already at least two protesters have been arrested. There could have been more. It was a bit of a scrum as they were taken away. So it was a chaotic situation, but quickly recovered calm.

Police are waiting in front of the embassy. We're waiting to see what happens. Will Assange be granted asylum and even if he is, will he get out of the embassy or does that mean he'll be holed up inside and risk getting arrested as soon as he steps out?

BERMAN: The site of a tense and unusual diplomatic standoff. We'll watch all morning.

Moving on to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer defying the president again. A few hours ago the Republican signed an executive order directing state agencies to deny benefits, including driver's licenses to deferred action recipients there. Thousands of young undocumented immigrants applied for deportation relief after it went into effect this week. This just happened. This was created in June under an executive order signed by President Obama giving those who arrived in the U.S. as undocumented children the right to work for two years and access Social Security numbers and driver's licenses. We'll talk about this to CNN Latin affairs editor Rafael Romo in the next hour.

We may get a break from campaign rhetoric today but only because the guys won't be on the trail. President Obama and Vice President Biden will be lunching, their weekly sit-down lunch. As for Mitt Romney, today is about fund raising with events in South Carolina and Massachusetts. Only Paul Ryan will be working on his stump speech at Walsh University in north canton, Ohio, before he attends an evening fund-raiser in Virginia.

Meantime, the president is coming to Joe Biden's defense over those remarks about putting people back in chains and Obama is not the only one. Joe Biden was referring to what he sees as Romney's plans to deregulate wall street. The president says Biden meant Americans will be worse off if we roll back financial reforms. Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Corey Booker said the vice president is a victim of sound bite politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR COREY BOOKER, (D) NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: I beg America, listen to the whole speech by the vice president. Don't let the sound bites that the media is presenting to you affect your mind. Listen to the whole speech. This was a substantive speech about how we're going to reform Wall Street about how we're going to protect consumers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Booker says he's tired of politics fueled by super PAC money and sound bites. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been ripping into Joe Biden questioning the vice president's intelligence and his capacity to lead after making those controversial remarks. Listen to what Giuliani told Piers Morgan last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: The vice president wasn't very nice yesterday. The vice president did something disgusting yesterday. If Vice President Cheney did this, if Sarah Palin did this, if Paul Ryan did this, it would be on the front page of "The New York Times" and you all would have been outraged. Someone had to be outraged and it's going to be me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Giuliani has been saying that in all his years, he says he's never seen a vice president who has made as many mistakes or said as many stupid things as Joe Biden. That was Rudy Giuliani's words.

And only one winning ticket was sold for last night's $337 million Powerball jackpot purchased in purchase and not here. Unless you live in the great lakes state, call off the retirement party. You may have won something smaller. Let's give you the winning numbers -- 6, 27, 46, 51, 56, and the Powerball number is 21. If you hold that number, I love you. You're my new best friend. Call me.

O'BRIEN: Michigan, huh?

BERMAN: It's a bummer.

O'BRIEN: I guess I'm at work tomorrow. All right, John, thank you.

Right back to our top story now, fires ravaging California and Washington. Chief Ken Pimlott is the director of California Forestry and Fire Protection. Talk to me about what the strategy is especially in California where you are dealing with so much. The pictures we've been looking at are horrible.

KEN PIMLOTT, DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: We have nearly a dozen fires burning across the state predominantly from lightning. We've had storms come through the state in the last week or so dealing with temperatures well over 100 degrees for almost a week. And this is on top of fuel conditions that are very, very dry. We had well below normal rainfall throughout the state this winter.

So we're seeing over 1,200 more fires this year than we did last year. This is combined to keep us very busy. But this is not something that California hasn't seen before. We are prepared for it and used to these kinds of conditions. We are coordinating resources with all of our partner agencies across the state and nationally.

O'BRIEN: And the marines, I understand, have come in to help out the 8,000 or so firefighters that you have working the lines. Tell me about that. How many people do you have helping?

PIMLOTT: Again as you said, we have over 8,000 firefighters from local, state and federal agencies. And that includes our partners with the California National Guard, Navy and marine corps.

O'BRIEN: Rob Marciano who was just giving us a weather update does not have a good picture for you. The weather is not going to be helping you. What's the plan without a forecast that has a lot of rain or at least cooler temperatures for you?

PIMLOTT: The plan is to continue to do what we're doing. We are every day coordinating resources. We prioritize the fires both in northern and southern California. We get with our partner agencies to determine those highest priorities and we move resources to meet those priorities.

Fortunately we've been able to as new fires emerge, other fires are being contained and we're able to quickly move resources from those contained fires to the new fires and this is something again we're very practiced at in California. We're very busy obviously and resources have been on duty for quite a while but again we're able to rest folks when we can and again move them where we need to get them.

O'BRIEN: Ken Pimlott is the director of California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, thank you, sir, for your time. We know you're swamped so we really appreciate it.

PIMLOTT: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead, the shooting at a conservative group headquarters in Washington, D.C. now sparks a debate over hate group label. And latest move in the fight over the so-called 9/11 cross up, a powerful symbol to many first responders. The 9/11 museum fighting atheist over that cross now. It's our "Get Real" this morning. We'll tell you about that. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Minding your business today. I'm Poppy Harlow. It could be a day of reckoning for Facebook. Investors can sell 271 million shares of Facebook today if they want to. Today marks the end of Facebook's first lockup period. Facebook stock is down 45 percent since that public offering in May.

Meantime, stock futures are pointing higher today. Investors are waiting on several important reports including weekly jobless claims and housing starts. Cisco Systems is seeing shares move up 5 percent right now. The tech giant reported very strong earnings and boosted dividends. Ikea branching out reporting that the Swedish company plans to open hundred hotels across Europe catering to cost conscious customers. No word on whether guests will have to assemble their own furniture in the rooms.

O'BRIEN: For a discount, why not. That's easy to assemble. I don't know why they don't keep that Ikea name.

BERMAN: I wonder if Swedish meatballs will be at the restaurant.

O'BRIEN: What's not to love? All right, Poppy, thank you.

No word on a motive for that shooting at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the conservative family research council. The suspect is 28 year old Floyd Lee Corkins in custody now charged with assault with a deadly weapon. A security guard was wounded in the shooting and he was able to help capture the gunman. The gunman made comments about the council's work before opening fire and we know that he volunteered, the gunman, at a local LGBT center. CNN's Sandra Endo is live in Washington, D.C. this morning at the scene. Good morning.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. This morning we saw the blood splatter still left behind in the lobby of the building here and they are cleaning it up as we speak. We also saw an armed security guard enter the building with the bulletproof vest but yesterday police would not say if the security guard who was shot was actually armed or protected. We're learning more about the suspect in this case, 28-year-old Floyd Corkins. We know that police retrieved a 9 millimeter handgun they say he legally purchased at a Virginia gun shop recently. We also know that law enforcement officials retrieved a backpack from the lobby they believe belongs to the suspect and have identified and found his car which was parked at a nearby metro station in Virginia.

And of course as you mentioned, we do know that he was a volunteer at the D.C. center of the LGBT community, and the center's leader says that he's outraged that a volunteer would perform such an act of violence like this one. So of course heightened security here today at this center and investigators are still trying to piece together a motive in this case. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Earlier we were talking to Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. He was saying in his interview on "EARLY START" that he felt labeling FRC as a hate group which has been done by various organizations brings scrutiny and anger and he says that's correlated then in some ways to this shooting. What is frc saying about that?

ENDO: We're still trying to figure out in terms of the investigation where law enforcement stands on piecing together alleged comments the suspect may have said before the shooting broke out. We understand from a law enforcement source the suspect said that he was against the policies of FRC. FRC only said the police is investigating the case and their concern is for their employee who was shot yesterday. Luckily that guard is in stable condition but again this investigation is just beginning as they are piecing together the evidence.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see if they are considering hate crime charges or terror charges they start to consider in cases like this. Thank you, Sandra, appreciate that.

Remember the 9/11 cross that cross shaped steel beam found among the wreckage of the world trade center? It's now under assault by atheists on our "Get Real" this morning. Our STARTING POINT team is heading in to talk about that. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm John Berman. And you're going to have to wait longer to go from New York to London if you want to do it in under an hour. A hypersonic test flight spiraled out of control. The Pentagon saying the wave rider aircraft was destroyed before reaching its target speed of 4,600 miles per hour. The air force said a problem with a tail fin caused it to spiral. The jet was talked about as a game changer for the military and civilians much further down the road.

Starburst, scientists discovered a new cluster of galaxies more than 5 billion light years from earth. It's one of the most illumines ever identified.

Are hackers known as unanimous trying to hijack the Curiosity rover? Some say it may be a fake or attempt to track hackers. As far as mars rover motion, it's now becoming a pop song parity on YouTube. You have to look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I love this. Obviously a spoof on the song "Sexy and I Know It." Lyrics filled with references from the mission if you watched it you're familiar with them. What I really, really truly like about this is over the last two weeks, all of a sudden NASA has become cool. It really has. Cool and sexy.

O'BRIEN: Right. Of course. That's the whole point, got a video.

BERMAN: And sexy. I'm going to have to think about that.

O'BRIEN: NASA.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Times change, man. Our team this morning, Richard Socarides is with us, a writer for NewYorker.com. Ryan Lizza is a Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker," Will Cain is a columnist at TheBlaze.com, and John Berman is staying with us.

Let's get to our "Get Real." The National September 11th Memorial and Museum is fighting a group of atheist in or the. The issue is that amazing 17-foot tall cross, the World Trade Center cross. The museum is trying to get this lawsuit that's been filed by the group American atheists thrown out. The group claims the cross shaped steel artifact in the museum's collection violates the first amendment. According to the museum, the cross is a key component in retelling of the story of 9/11 in particular the role of faith in the events of that day and particularly during recovery efforts. They are fighting this group to get that cross removed.

What I find strange about it is the cross was taken obviously out of its area which was by World Trade 6 I believe and moved and lowered by crane into the museum. I don't know how you could effectively argue that an artifact, a religious artifact is violating church and state in a museum.

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": Given its historic importance, it also has importance as art and as history of the city and history of what happened to us.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's part of the story. Not just a religious symbol, part of the story of 9/11 now.

O'BRIEN: Even if it were just an amazing looking religious symbol, it's in a museum.

BERMAN: How many nationally funded museums have religious artifacts?

LIZZA: The atheists need a better case. This case may not work for them.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, I respect their opinion to believe or not believe whatever they want to but I wouldn't say that they are really on the upswing. It's not catching on.

O'BRIEN: I didn't know that. Still ahead this morning --

SOCARIDES: I don't base that on anything scientific. It's just my hunch. A small asterisk on that comment.

O'BRIEN: There are no foot notes for this comment at all. This is just how Richard feels. It's not siding against or for atheists. To me who is not a lawyer and Will Cain is, there is no legal ground for removing a religious artifact from a museum.

LIZZA: From a nongovernment agency.

O'BRIEN: A crazy lawsuit, that's what I would say. Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we'll talk about vice president's Joe Biden back in chains comment was that comment to black voters intentional. Remember, this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: He said the first 100 days he's going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They're going to put you all back in chains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: They'll put you all back in chains. There was he was talking about Mitt Romney. Up next we'll talk to Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, chairman of the congressional black caucus about that and more and a new video on the web features former special forces officers blasting President Obama for something he did after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Stay with us. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. In just a few moments, we're going to be talking to Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver.

He is a Democrat from Kansas City. He is also the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He'll be talking to us live about Vice President Joe Biden's remarks and does it take away from the party's message or is it trying to reinforce something? That's ahead in just a moment.

First though, we want to talk about diplomatic tensions that are rising across the pond where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is about to learn whether or not he is going to have a home potentially in Ecuador.

He's been hold in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London ever since he petitioned for asylum back in June. The country's foreign minister says British authorities have threatened to assault the embassy if they don't hand Assange over to face those sexual assault allegations in Sweden.

Security right now tight outside that embassy. CNN's Atika Shubert is live for us in London. Atika, good morning.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. You can see increased police presence right in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy where Julian Assange is waiting and watching -- waiting to hear whether or not he will be granted asylum by Ecuador.

But even if he is granted asylum that's no guarantee that he won't be arrested if he walks outside of the embassy and that's why we have the standoff we're having today.

I just want to show you the scene quickly. While police are on this side, we got protesters over there. You can see quite a few of the Wikileaks supporters in their V for vendetta masks on, their blasting music.

There's an Ecuadorian contingent that's also here saying, hands off Ecuador and of course, the media, all staked out here to see what is going to be happening with Julian Assange at this diplomatic standoff.

O'BRIEN: All right, Atika Shubert for us this morning. Atika, thanks. What's the time line that we're expecting to know because I have seen certainly a growth in sort of the noise and the police presence? I know there's a decision coming down soon. When?

SHUBERT: Well, we are hoping to get a decision within possibly the next hour. That time could slide a little bit. But even once that asylum decision is made it doesn't mean that anything substantially changes here because Julian Assange must remain in the Ecuadorian embassy.

If he steps outside of the embassy, he risks arrest by British police because he's on British soil. So it doesn't fundamentally change the situation, but it does ratchet up the tension quite a bit.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see how the decision comes down. Atika Shubert for us this morning. Atika, thanks. John Berman has a look at the rest of the day's top stories for us. Hi, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CO-ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad. Penn State University announcing it will be hosting a conference on sex abuse at the end of October. Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard and Utah kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart, both victims of sexual abuse, they are both scheduled to speak there.

There's also a hearing later this morning for two former Penn State administrators accused of lying to a grand jury in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. Both men are facing perjury charges. Their lawyers will have to try to have that case thrown out.

A court hearing scheduled today in the Aurora movie theatre massacre. It's not known if shooting suspect James Holmes will be in the courtroom. The hearing was supposed to determine if Holmes had an established doctor/patient relationship with a psychiatrist who received a package from the suspected shooter, but the judge postponed that part of it until next week.

Police in Sparks, Nevada, say a man with a gun accidentally shot himself in the backside in a movie theatre. This was during a showing of "The Bourne Legacy." You can understand why this got people's attention.

Cops got several calls Tuesday night reporting gunfire inside the theatre, but by the time they arrived, the victim had already apologized to people sitting around him and made his way to a local hospital to be treated. Police do say he had a permit for the weapon, but he may face charges for illegally discharging a firearm.

At "A.M. House Call" right now, drought has hit the mighty Mississippi hard so health officials in Louisiana have issued a drinking water advisory. They say the water is perfectly safe to drink but higher in salt because salty water from the Gulf of Mexico is creeping in. People on dialysis or low sodium diets are encouraged to drink with their doctor before drinking the water there.

A person's blood type may affect the risk for heart disease. The study published in an American Heart Association Journal says people with A, B or AB type blood have a much higher chance of developing heart disease than people with type O blood. Those with type AB had a 23 percent higher risk for heart disease, but that's also the least common type of blood.

And there they go again, another Major League perfect game. Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, he tossed that gem last night. It was beautiful. A 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

It's the 23rd perfect game in Major League history, but the third one this year. I thought King Felix was the best of the year. He had 12 strikeouts completely dominant. This is the first perfect game ever in the history of the Mariners franchise.

O'BRIEN: My son who comes in all the time and helps out the guys here. He is so obsessed with perfect games. It's been crazy. There have been so many.

BERMAN: Twenty three in the history of baseball, but 11 of them have happened since 1990.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What explains it?

BERMAN: Pitching is getting better. The athletes in the game in general are getting much, much better. The pitchers are more impressive physical specimens I think.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting. We didn't want that game last night. We were watching the Yankees. We should have watched the other one. I went to bed. Let's talk about the campaign. Let's talk politics, shall we? Why not? The heated battle on the campaign trail continues to show no signs of letting up. Congressman Paul Ryan last night adopted some of Mitt Romney's language attacking the president saying this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama is out of ideas and that is why his campaign is based on anger and division.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That anger word is the same word we heard from Mitt Romney a little bit earlier. Of course, all this comes since Vice President Biden made comments in Virginia on Tuesday when he told a crowd that he, Mitt Romney, would put them all back in chains and that led to attacks on Biden from New York city mayor, the former mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

We're going to play a little bit of what he said in just a moment. First though, we want to talk to Congressman Emanuel Cleaver. He is a Democrat from Kansas City, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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

REPRESENTATIVE EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Let's play again what Vice President Biden said in Virginia and in Danville, Virginia, which was a center where there were race riots back in the 1800s, where in 1963 they are using fire hoses on African-Americans at the same time we saw that in other parts of the country. So here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Look at what they value and look at their budget and what they're proposing. Romney said in the first 100 days he's going to let big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They're going to put you all back in chains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He's going to put you all back in chains. What did you make of that when you heard that?

CLEAVER: Absolutely nothing. I would never have even paid much attention to it, but for the fact that campaigns nowadays are waiting for any kind of little nugget to try to create an atmosphere of more and more discord.

And so it makes absolutely no sense that some kind of a little throwaway line is now being used to make Vice President Biden appear to have been throwing out these words in order to somehow attract dumb African-Americans who if they hear the words chains are going to automatically vote for him and President Obama.

O'BRIEN: I think you're extrapolating on dumb African-Americans part of that. You cannot tell me that if we were talking about Mitt Romney saying a line like that.

If we were in fact discussing that and the quote was he wants to put you all back in chains and that was part of Governor Romney's speech that people would not go crazy and crying about race and talking about tone and tenure and coded language. I think we would, wouldn't we?

CLEAVER: I'm not sure. I think it depends on the context. I know Vice President Biden. And when you look at the video that you just showed, there's only a sprinkling of African-Americans there clearly the minority in that crowd.

If he were at some kind of NAACP, SCLC event or some group with just African-Americans, I would say maybe he tried to generate some thoughts about things gone by.

In that setting, it made no sense. The people out there weren't thinking about the history of race relations in that community. They came to hear the vice president.

O'BRIEN: Our reporting shows -- let me stop you for a second. People who were there said actually the audience was divided similarly to how Danville is divided.

Roughly 50-50 is the demographics in Danville, white to black. That's what we are told was the makeup of the crowd as well. Roughly half that crowd was African-American.

CLEAVER: Yes. I mean, why would the vice president go into a setting like that where presumably half of the people wouldn't have any understanding or feelings about what was going on?

The reality is that the discourse in our politics has become unsophisticated, unpolished, unnecessary and rather than try to raise the discord to some degree both sides look for little things that would remove the discussion from the things that matter to something that's completely asinine.

O'BRIEN: I don't think people would necessarily agree that that's a little thing. You and I talked in the past about coded language, you know and Will Cain and I discussed, you know, the dog whistle all the time.

When we talk back in June, you were talking about I think it has some kind of a smell to it talking about contempt charges for Eric Holder, right?

You said back in May there was a concern about ethics probes of black lawmakers. You were speaking about codes. There's nothing spelled out, but we have a concern.

Yet it seems to me like everybody turns the other way when similar things could be highlighted here. Will, you wanted to jump in. WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I can't reconcile some of the things Congressman Cleaver is saying within the same sentence. Congressman Cleaver, you suggest that our national discord has gotten out of hand and that we focus on silly little things.

And then you call this comment that he wants to put you all back in chains as a throw away comment. I don't understand how you can say national discourse is poor and then say that's no big deal. Perhaps you can do this. Just tell me what he meant? What did Vice President Biden mean by that comment?

CLEAVER: OK, first of all, I've been black all my life so that comment I can tell you would have no impact on me. Number two, the vice president if you look at what he said in context, he was saying Wall Street has created a major problem in this country and Mitt Romney wants to come in and give those guys the ability to do it again.

And it would put you back in chains. You would have another Wall Street collapse that will impact the nation and the world. And I'm not here to defend Vice President Biden. I don't even think that needs to be defended.

I think the defense of Vice President Biden ought to be based on whether or not he made a proposal with regard to the budget or how we are going to deal with minimum wage and how we're going to deal with almost 9 percent unemployment. Those are issues.

I know that that statement by the vice president had absolutely no impact. There's not a single black person in this country who is now going to say by golly, I'm going to vote for Obama and Biden because Biden said something about putting you back in chains.

O'BRIEN: Governor Doug Wilder who has been black all his life too said this about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG WILDER (D), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: First of all, without question there were appeals to race. I don't know why he felt that he needed to do that at this stage. More importantly, the president doesn't need this now. The president needs to be a part of the bringing people together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Does he have a point like let's move off this conversation because it's dragging everybody down and he's also saying clearly coded language there.

CLEAVER: Well, I agree with Doug Wilder that the president doesn't need this conversation to take place in this country. However, for the governor to suggest that this was some kind of plan is just not rationale.

If you listen to it, you can see the vice president veered from the teleprompter as he is prone to do and made comments that he thought would be cute in the context of an unrestrained Wall Street, unchained Wall Street.

So I'm not -- you know, it doesn't bother me that comment doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the tone of things and the fact that right now we're practicing Congress light, 61 bills reported yesterday that we've been able to deal with. We're on track to --

O'BRIEN: Lowest since 1947. Lowest since 1947 I believe. Congressman Cleaver, nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us this morning. We certainly appreciate it.

CLEAVER: Nice talking with you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a group of special ops soldiers are attacking President Obama for what they say is bragging about the killing of Osama Bin Laden. We'll show you that next on STARTING POINT. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Former Special Forces officers accuse President Obama of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama Bin Laden. There's a new video on the web that takes the president and other politicians to task over in their view using classified information leaks for political gain. Here's a little chunk of it.

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BENJAMIN SMITH, FORMER NAVY SEAL: As a citizen it is my civic duty to tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy. It will get Americans killed.

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O'BRIEN: The group that produced the video says it's nonpartisan, but shares an office with two Republican political consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia.

According to Brookings Institution the video blames the president for leaks without any proof that the president has actually leaked.

They go on and some of the speakers talk about, you know, you didn't kill Osama Bin Laden, that the military did and that there were some very detailed methods that were compromised essentially.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: That is not a nonpartisan ad.

O'BRIEN: That's why I talked about -- but you know, I think the point they're making is a point we've discussed before on this show, right, which is outside of the ads and of course, ads are done for political reasons so you're right. I don't think any ad is really nonpartisan. Some of the people who are criticizing before did not. Originally when the comments came out -- SOCARIDES: I think if anything he's been fairly restrained in not bragging about it. I would say that if it were someone from the military, he would be bragging about it.

CAIN: These guys, these former Special Forces officers are worried about details coming out in these leaks and they detail in their ad the effects of that.

O'BRIEN: We'll continue this argument in a commercial break. I have to get to a commercial. Hello. I have to get to a commercial.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we're going to take you outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London that's where they are about to announce whether Julian Assange will get asylum there. We're going to bring you that decision, of course, the moment it comes out.

They were the darlings of the Olympic games. The "Fierce Five" stop by our studio. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: They are America's newest golden girls. The "Fierce Five" are back home after winning gold in women's gymnastics at the London Olympics. It was the first time Team USA took gold in the event since the "Magnificent Seven" back in 1996 in the Atlanta games.

They were unstoppable from the impressive vaults, incredible flips, powerful finish on the floor exercise when they knew victory was there.

Joining me this morning, we have the entire team with us, from left to right. We're starting with Mckayla Maroney is with us and also Kyla Roth and Aly Raisman and Gabby Dougland and Jordyn Wieber, it's so nice to have all of you. Congratulations to you.

Let's start with you, Gabby, about gold, talking about your gold medal in the all-around. Did you know going in, like did you feel confident. Did you feel that you were going to nail it?

GABBY DOUGLAS, U.S. WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS OLYMPIC TEAM: Coming in, I felt very confident. I trained so many years and put a lot of effort and determination into the gym.

And you have to go in and be strong and courageous. And not be scared or be afraid of anything. So you've just got to treat it like any other competition.

O'BRIEN: Jordyn, how is your leg feeling? Is it feeling OK?

JORDYN WEIBER, U.S. WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS OLYMPIC TEAM: It's much better now. I've been able to rest it a little bit.

O'BRIEN: You know, one of the things I thought was most amazing about you, watching you closely, and I was watching the Olympics with my daughters who are gymnasts, to see you come back from a tremendous disappointment and really come back in fine fashion and do really, really well.

Tell me what was the thing that made you able to come back? What did you draw upon to not just wallow in disappointment but really rebound?

WEIBER: I think I just looked to the support of my teammates, and I knew that we had a quick turn-around. We had team finals two days later. So even though I was a bit disappointed and sad, I had to turn it around and get ready for team because I still had an important job to do I knew the team was counting on me.

O'BRIEN: Aly, we have been calling you "The Fab Five," and then it was like, no, no, it's the "Fierce Five." I want to read you a quote, "I guess Fab Five was taken by some basketball team or something."

The Fab Five, of course, was the famous 1991 University of Michigan men's basketball team. How did you come up with the "Fierce Five" as your new name?

ALY RAISMAN, U.S. WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS OLYMPIC TEAM: I think just we're all fierce when we go out on the competition floor. We're really, really focused and we just like to go in and hit our events. And I think we just like that name a lot.

O'BRIEN: One of my favorite things has been Mikhaila's tumbler account, it was hilarious, and it was fun for me to see you sending pictures. That's not the impressed and then they have moon landing. Not impressed by the moon landing. She sees the Sistine Chapel.

MCKAYLA MARONEY, U.S. WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS OLYMPIC TEAM: Pretty much everything that's impressive, I'm just not impressed by.

O'BRIEN: Justin Bieber, she's not impressed by that and that kind of thing could be hurtful, right? But you guys find it funny. And you started submitting your own. The pool is close. Not impressed. All you are submitting your own. How do you navigate that into something fun and start owning it?

MARONEY: You just have to laugh at what happens. Everything happens for a reason. You just have to turn it into something positive because being disappointed about it is not going to help anything.

So all the girls were really supportive about it, and they keep points out the face like randomly. They are like, you are doing the face again, Mckayla. And I'm like, OK, I have to stop doing that.

O'BRIEN: It's been so much fun to watch. Do you have any sense of how much of a big role model you are for young girls? My daughters are here. They never come into the studio for anything ever.

MARONEY: I think that's so important to know we could inspire young girls, gymnasts, athletes, anybody, it means so much to all of us and makes us so happy. And to be a role model I'm sure was all of our dreams.

RAISMAN: And also we used to be those little girls that looked up to the other gymnasts and the other Olympians. So to be that for someone else means more to us than anything. I was the girl that would run up and ask people for their autographs.

O'BRIEN: That's great to hear that, because my daughters are about to run in and ask you all for your autographs today. What's next? Time off?

MARONEY: A tour. We're really excited for that, 40 cities for three months. So it should be really fun and a new experience for all us.

O'BRIEN: Congratulations to you. We are so proud of you. It was amazing to be able to watch you and root for you all, really, really a thrill for all of us.

We appreciate it. We're back in just a moment.

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