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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Riveting Account of Benghazi Attack; Affirmative Action Case; Talking Taxes; No Protests Before Libya Attack

Aired October 10, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It came without warning. Riveting new details of the attack in Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador, a different story than we were told.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: The battle over Big Bird. Shout out from both candidates on the campaign trail. Now, "Sesame Street" is saying stop!

BERMAN: Racial balance -- under the microscope of the Supreme Court. Justices argue today over affirmative action and college admissions.

Big news day here. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Glad to have you with us this morning. Five a.m. here on the East.

So, let's get started.

The State Department is giving its most detailed account of the speed, severity and calculation behind last month's attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in Libya. The House Oversight Committee will weigh in on security failings during a hearing scheduled for later today.

The State Department saying the attack was not a spontaneous offshoot of protest and saying U.S. and Libyan security personnel in Benghazi were outmanned, that no reasonable security presentation could have fended off the assault.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed in the attack.

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon helps us piece together what investigators say happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid the ashes, soot and debris, remnants of the life that was. It's all that remained in the unguarded U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi when CNN arrived on the scene three days after the September 11th attack. Eyewitnesses told us it was a complex assault. The compound's first line of defense easily breached. (on camera): According to one of the Libyan guards who was stationed at the gate armed with only a radio, the assault happened simultaneously from three different directions. He says that he initially heard chanting growing increasingly louder, and then suddenly the gunfire, the rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy machine gunfire all began attacking the compound.

(voice-over): This is where Ambassador Chris Stevens slept, part of a small suite also meant to be a makeshift safe room. Here on the floor between the bed and the chair is where CNN found the ambassador's journal.

It is also the same room where the ambassador was located hours after the attack first began, separated by smoke from his security detail. The U.S. initially said the assault was the result of a demonstration that turned violent.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted of course by the video.

DAMON: That was not the case. The State Department is now saying that there was nothing unusual prior to the attack.

At 8:30 p.m., everything was calm. And just over an hour later, armed men launched their assault.

Libyan officials say they warned the Americans on many occasions about the growing threat from extremists. The compound had already been attacked in June and there had been numerous attacks on other Western interests in Benghazi.

And yet it remained a poorly fortified soft target. Documents recently obtained by CNN indicate that the State Department's top security official in Libya asked for extra security but received no response from superiors.

Why? It's just one of many questions still to be answered.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: And our thanks to Arwa for that reporting.

CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott was on the State Department call last night when it released the new details, that just hours ahead of the House Oversight Committee hearing this morning.

Today, they are looking into the security failings at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Elise, last night you learned more detail, including the fact the attackers couldn't get into Stevens safe room, so they set it on fire. What happened next?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, John. Ambassador Stevens, another gentleman, Sean Smith who also died in the attack and a security officer were in that safe room as smoke filled up into the room, they couldn't get out. They felt the window was unsafe. They made it to a bathroom where there was another window.

The regional security officer tried to get both of those gentlemen out. Proper procedure is that he gets out first and then brings the two people that he's guarding, turned around and found that Ambassador Stevens was not there.

So what happened was this officer, other officers took turns going in to this burning building, heavy smoke, wasn't able to find Ambassador Stevens. Did find Sean Smith.

Hours later, we understand people at the hospital, we are not sure really how Ambassador Stevens made it to the hospital, but we understand the hospital fished out a cell phone from his pocket and started calling people on this phone. People that he received calls from and finally determined it was the ambassador, John.

BERMAN: Elise, I'm here looking through this time line, it really does seem harrowing after the U.S. personnel left the consulate, the attacks continued at the State Department detailing a wild car chase in the streets of Benghazi with an ak-47 and grenade attacks going on everywhere, more violent ultimately when they reached the compound. Do you have more details on that?

LABOTT: Yes, when they reached the compound there was more firefighting. Basically it was a sustained assault -- that's what officials are telling us -- sustained assault for several hours after they were able to calm the situation slightly, although there was still intermittent fire. The security officers determined that they better get out of dodge and they basically evacuated the whole convoy of officials and were able to retrieve Ambassador's Stevens' body and they all, as you know, no personnel left in Benghazi after that night.

BERMAN: The State Department said there's no precedent for any attack like this in diplomatic history. But at least one security officer says they had publicly asked for more security and were basically denied.

LABOTT: This is one of the things, John, that's really so disturbing and we'll definitely see this go into this hearing today. Eric Nordstrom, who was a security -- top security officer in Libya, says he repeatedly asked the State Department for more guards at the State Department. There are numerous requests for not only more armed guards at the Benghazi facility, but a special security team that was in the country to stay there and received no response.

They were told they needed to reduce resources, keep the security presence low. And we see what happened. And a lot of questions will be asked about whether there was enough security.

But what the State Department is saying, listen, there were about 40 armed guards that night. This is an unprecedented attack as you said in history. And no amount of reasonable security presence would have been able to fend off those guards.

I think that's one of the things that the committee will try to determine.

BERMAN: Yes, almost definitely will be a key focus of the House committee hearing today. What else do you expect from the hearing, Elise?

LABOTT: Well, I think there'll be a lot of questions about this timeline, about why the administration originally called it a spontaneous protest gone awry. I think that there will be a lot of questions about the security that Ambassador Stevens and his team had asked for, not just in Benghazi but also in the whole country of Tripoli.

And also about whether there were any warning signs. We know that there were no warning signs at night. The intelligence community has said they had no specific and credible evidence that there was a planned attack.

But if you see what happened in the months leading up to the attack, there was an attack in June on the embassy with the IED. There were several other attacks on Western targets, on the British ambassador, on the United Nations, on the International Committee of the Red Cross. And the question being here, did the intelligence community, did the embassy and its security personnel miss the signs here? Was there a storm brewing that nobody was able to take care of in the end?

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Elise Labott, at the State Department, in our D.C. bureau.

We will hear a lot more about this today. The hearing begins at noon Eastern. Keep it tuned to CNN and CNN.com for the latest throughout the day.

SAMBOLIN: A new CNN/ORC poll showing Mitt Romney registered a big bounce in the Buckeye State right after the first presidential debate. Likely Ohio voters now have the president's lead dwindling to four points, that's well within the margin of error. And that makes the race for Ohio's 18 electoral votes a statistical tie. Before the debate, some polls showed the president leading by as many as 10 points. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio.

BERMAN: I think there's probably relief from the Obama side that our poll shows him leading though.

Nine minutes after the hour, Mitt Romney is not running from Big Bird. In fact, he's embracing Big Bird after his pledge to cut funding from PBS. The Obama camp went on the offensive, accusing the Republican nominee of trying to kill the popular "Sesame Street" character.

But Romney is not backing down. Listen to what he told Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Big Bird is going to be just fine. "Sesame Street" is a very successful enterprise. I don't believe CNN gets government funding, but somehow you all stay on the air. And I just think that PBS will be able to make it on its own, just like everyone of the other stations and does not require us to go to China to borrow money to keep PBS on the air.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Well, the battle over Big Bird has the folks at Sesame Workshop a little ruffled. They say this ad just doesn't fly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD NARRATOR: Big yellow, a menace to our economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: We have been showing that you. The ad mocks Mitt Romney's position on PBS. It's airing nationally on cable. But the producers of "Sesame Street" would like it pulled.

And here is their statement, quote, "Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads and is our general practice have requested that the ad be taken down."

So, we'll see if Big Bird gets a mention tomorrow night in the vice presidential debate. Joe Biden versus Paul Ryan.

CNN's live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

BERMAN: So people all over the country have the heat turned on a little earlier than expected this week. So Rob Marciano in Atlanta, when will it feel like fall again?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it does, right? I think a lot of people, October 15th, for my father it was more like November 15th. But October 15th maybe the time you turn it on and it's a little bit early this time of the year. You're right about that.

Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 21; Waukesha, Wisconsin, yesterday morning, 26 degrees. So, yes, we are about 10 or 15, in some cases, closer to 20 degrees below average as far as temperatures are concerned.

Thirty-six right now in Minneapolis, 36 degrees in Kansas City, 42 in Chicago. You had a mild, windy day yesterday, but things are changing. We've got multiple pulses of cool air coming down, of course, from Canada, and not one but two or three shots of it coming through.

Ten to 15 degrees below normal with this little clipper coming through today with some rain. On the backside is cool rain in places like Minnesota and Michigan seeing temperatures in the lower 40s with a little rain. Also some rain, although temperatures in the 50s right now in New York, so kind of a miserable fall morning with temperatures in the 20s and 30s across parts of the western slopes of the Appalachians with the frost and freeze advisory there. There's the cool shot.

So, yes, we are in for a couple days, maybe Saturday and Sunday we'll get temperatures a little closer to average and it won't feel so much like fall then.

BERMAN: All right. We are counting on that. Rob Marciano in Atlanta, thank you very much.

All right. Denied admission to the college of her dreams, a Texas woman blames affirmative action. Today, her case is before the highest court in the land. We will have a preview coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: This morning, the Supreme Court will revisit the decades long debate over the use of affirmative action in deciding college admissions. The justices haven't heard an affirmative action case since 2003 when they upheld the policy, giving minority students a leg up at public colleges and universities.

This one involves a white student who sued the University of Texas, claiming she was denied entry at account of her race.

CNN's Joe Johns has a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Abigail Fisher dreamed of going to the University of Texas at Austin for most of her life. After applying, she didn't get in, attending Louisiana State University instead.

But the rejection from U.T. led Fisher to file a lawsuit against the school, claiming she was squeezed out, unfairly denied admission because of her race. She's white.

She said in a statement, "There were people in my class with lower grades who weren't in all the activities I was in who were being accepted into U.T., and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin."

She declined an interview with CNN.

Whether race should be part of the application process at the University of Texas is the issue that will come before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Edward Blum recruited Abigail Fisher to file the lawsuit.

EDWARD BLUM, PROJECT ON FAIR REPRESENTATION: The most important question is should a university judge a student by his or her skin color when it comes time for admission? And the answer is no. JOHNS: Here's how the admissions process at U.T. works. The top 10 percent of each high school class statewide gets in automatically. For those below the top 10 percent like Abigail Fisher who was in the 11 percent, the university uses what it calls a holistic review where race is one of many factors considered -- one that university president Bill Powers says doesn't get much weight and didn't play a role in Fisher's rejection.

BILL POWERS, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: We take ethnicity at one of many factors in the holistic review to make sure that three quarters coming in under automatic admission, that we add to that with a quarter coming in where we can look for the other characteristics, including diversity.

BRADLEY POOLE, PRESIDENT, UT BLACK STUDENT ALLIANCE: I think she's fighting the wrong fight.

JOHNS: Minority student leaders on campus like Bradley Poole agree with Powers that the process is fair despite Fisher's claims.

POOLE: Saying race is one of the least parts of the holistic review process. I felt like it's harping on the wrong -- on one of the things that -- on the easiest things that she could have -- she could have went against.

JOHNS: Others think offense that the lawsuit implies some minority students are less deserving of admission than their white counterparts.

CATHERINE RODARTE, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: To hear people saying that some of us Latinos got in here easily and the only reason we got in here is because of our race, that's really disappointing. We worked just as hard as anyone else did to get here to U.T.

JOHNS: But conservative groups siding with Fisher argue it's not just about getting in. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission says studies show that using racial preferences can hurt minorities by starting them out near the bottom of their classes.

GAIL HERIOT, MEMBER, U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS: If they're towards the bottom of whatever class they go to, they are much more likely to give up on an ambition to major in science and engineering.

JOHNS (on camera): Almost a decade ago, then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a majority opinion that said the University of Michigan Law School had a compelling interest in suggesting affirmative action might still be needed for another 25 years. O'Connor has since left the court, leading the speculation that the court's conservatives could now strike a blow to preferences.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: A big case that will be before the Supreme Court today. All right. It is 5:19 in the morning. Time for early reads, your local news making national headlines.

Up first, would you like more fries with that? An article in the "Tri-City Herald" says a surplus of Idaho potatoes is hitting Washington state potato farmers in the wallet. Farmers in Washington are still digging up potatoes but industry trade groups say there are already too many fresh potatoes on the market, driving prices down. Potato wars!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there's been a significant increase in potato acreage this year, mostly in Idaho.

SAMBOLIN: I say yes to more French fries.

BERMAN: More fries.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

All right. And the "Dalton Daily Citizen" has a story of a Georgia woman who was reunited with her dog -- listen to this -- after being apart four years.

Heather Jackson's Siberian husky, oh my gosh, what a gorgeous animal, Shakira, disappeared from her backyard four years ago but recently Jackson got a call from a shelter hundreds of miles away in McHenry County, Illinois. Workers say someone dropped Shakira off at a shelter in Georgia. The dog was sent to Illinois to avoid being put down.

They found Jackson through an I.D. microchip that was implanted in Shakira. Over the weekend, Jackson made the 700-mile drive to Illinois to bring her beloved Shakira back home.

BERMAN: Those microchips -- they identify so many dogs. That would be a good idea.

SAMBOLIN: You know, what's surprising to me is why didn't they find the owner earlier?

BERMAN: Well, the dog has to be reported lost. They won't check for a microchip unless she shows up in a shelter. So someone maybe Shakira themselves, which is what happened right there.

SAMBOLIN: Beautiful dog.

All right. Coming up, a boss who may have crossed the line telling his employees who to vote for or else.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

We are minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures pointing to a flat open this morning after markets closed lower yesterday. BERMAN: In turning to business and politics, Christine has a story about Mitt Romney's other 47 percent.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Business and politics, my favorite.

Yes, this is a small business from the third quarter showing that shows that 47 percent of small business owners and entrepreneurs support Mitt Romney, 35 percent go for Obama.

What's interesting about this survey, actually Obama has been gaining ground over the past month, month and a half among small business owners. When you look at swing states and the small business vote, 48 percent are leaning Romney, 38 percent leaning Obama right now.

Another interesting part of the survey about small business owners, they say they support Mitt Romney and they want his pledge of lower regulation, fewer taxes, getting government out of the way so small business can grow. They really like his pledge to take apart health care reform.

But they say they think President Obama will win. So that's an interesting part, they think President Obama will win, but they would prefer a Mitt Romney presidency.

Now, someone else who would prefer a not Obama presidency, have you heard of the CEO named David Siegel?

SAMBOLIN: No, I read this. It's incredible.

ROMANS: He's the CEO who made a fortune during the boom, the period of easy money. What you're seeing right now is a documentary called "The Queen of Versailles" about he and his wife building this 90,000- square-foot home in Florida that had to be shut down.

He wrote a letter to all 7,000 employees saying, don't vote for Obama. "The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is another four years of the same presidential administration."

He says people will lose their job if Obama is still in the White House. And there's a lot of, you know, -- he's kind a character, actually.

BERMAN: He seems like a little pressure replying to 7,000 employees.

ROMANS: He says he won't fire them. He doesn't know how they're going to vote. But he just says that keep in mind that an Obama presidency would be bad.

SAMBOLIN: It's very detailed. He talked about the recession and it affected his business and how he's finally made it back and what's potentially happened. It's very detailed.

ROMANS: The business fell in the credit bubble.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thank you very much.

And when we come back, what not to wear at the airport. Body armor for one. And that is just the start of what one man had with him when trying to board a flight. We have the full story coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): what went wrong in Benghazi? We're getting new details on the attack that killed a U.S. ambassador just as Congress gets ready to hear testimony.

BERMAN (voice-over): The final insult. What a dying woman claims she went through at airport security during what very well could be the last trip she'll ever take.

SAMBOLIN: Trouble at Toyota. The car giant recalling millions of vehicles over a power window problem that could become dangerous.

BERMAN: Pay attention car owners.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Stay tuned for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START. We are happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. It is 30 minutes past the hour. Great to see you.

The State Department this morning giving its most detailed account of the speed, severity, and calculation behind last month's attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. The House Oversight Committee will weigh in on security failings during a hearing later today. The State Department saying the attack was not a spontaneous offshoot of protests and saying U.S. and Libyan security personnel in Benghazi were outmanned, that no reasonable security presence could have fended off the assault. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American were killed in that attack.

CNN international correspondent, Arwa Damon, helps this piece together what investigators now say happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): Ashes, soot and debris. Remnants of the life that was. It's all that remained in the unguarded U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi when CNN arrived on the scene three days after the September 11th attack. Eyewitnesses told us it was a complex assault. The compound's first line of defense easily breached.

(on-camera) According to one of the Libyan guards who was stationed at the gate armed with only a radio, the assault happened simultaneously from three different directions. He says that he initially heard chanting growing increasingly louder, and then suddenly, the gun fire, the rocket-propelled grenades, and other the heavy machine gun fire all began attacking the compound.

(voice-over) This is where Ambassador Stevens slept. Part of a small suite also meant to be a makeshift safe room. Here on the floor between the bed and the chair is where CNN found the ambassador's journal. It is also the same room where the ambassador was located hours after the attack first began, separated by smoke from his security detail. The U.S. initially said the assault was the result of a demonstration that turned violent.

RICE: Putting together the best information that we have available to us today. Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially, a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.

DAMON: That was not the case. The State Department is now saying that there was nothing unusual prior to the attack. At 8:30 p.m., everything was calm, and just over an hour later, armed men launched their assault. Libyan officials say they warned the Americans on many occasions about the growing threat from extremists.

The compound had already been attacked in June, and there had been numerous attacks on other western interests in Benghazi. And yet, it remained a poorly fortified soft target. Documents recently obtained by CNN indicate that the State Department's top security official in Libya asked for extra security but received no response from superiors.

Why? It's just one of many questions still to be answered.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Our thanks to Arwa Damon for that report. The House Oversight Committee will take a closer look at security failings at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi today. Of course, all this new information adding to the confusion. The hearing begins at 2:00 Eastern. Of course, CNN will be monitoring it all of it for you all morning and we'll bring you the latest developments.

SAMBOLIN: After arousing performance in the presidential first debate, Mitt Romney is promising to protect home mortgage and charitable tax deductions for the middle class, and he's firing back at the White House over claims that his tax cut numbers don't add up.

CNN political director Mark Preston is live from Danville, Kentucky, this morning. Thanks for being with us, Mark.

So, they say, Mark, that the devil is in the details, and we're not getting too many of those details from Mitt Romney, are we?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, we're not. And in fact, we started an interview yesterday on CNN with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" where he discuss what had he would want to do, but he talked about cooperation in Washington which is something that we're hearing a lot from the voters wanting to hear from these candidates. Let's hear what he told Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to lay out a piece of legislation here, because I intend to work together with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but there are number of ways one could approach this. One would be to have a total cap number, it could be 25,000, $50,000. And people could put whatever deduction in the total cap they'd like, or instead, you could take the posture that the Bowles-Simpson, which is going after specific deductions and limiting them in various ways. There are a number of ways we can accomplish the principles which I have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: And then you have Mitt Romney just yesterday on CNN talking about the broad strokes about what he would do if elected president when it comes to taxes. When he talked about the home mortgage deduction, this is certainly something that appeals to a lot of people.

And as we're heading into these closing days, Zoraida, it's very important for him to really reach out to everybody. This is going to be a very close race. We've seen it as the polls are closing right now. The new confident Mitt Romney we're seeing that on display and we saw that yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Those polls are coming out fast and furious. So, you are in Kentucky for tomorrow night's vice presidential debate, what can you tell us about the strategies of the two sides?

PRESTON: Well, interestingly enough, we're going to have two members of Congress, two veteran members of Congress will be squaring off. Joe Biden, who's been in Congress since the 1970s, and of course, we have Paul Ryan, who's the budget chairman. You know, a lot of people say that Joe Biden has the upper hand because he's been around longer, but let's not underestimate Paul Ryan.

He is a very effective communicator. He's been studying very hard. He's been in Florida just prepping for the debate. We expect him to arrive here in Kentucky later tonight. Joe Biden has been at his home in Delaware going over the strategy. So, I don't expect him to come out swinging necessarily.

A lot of people think that's going to happen given what happened to President Obama last week in the debate where Mitt Romney clearly won, though, expect Joe Biden to punch back at the Paul Ryan-Mitt Romney vision for the future.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. But there are some really high expectations of Paul Ryan, right? At least, early on, everybody was saying that they thought he would beat out Joe Biden. PRESTON: True. But again, we have two veteran members of Congress. They know how to debate. They know how to go toe-to-toe. I think we'll be evenly matched debate tomorrow night, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: It will be fun to watch. Thank you so much, Mark Preston.

BERMAN: And of course, you can watch it right here on CNN. Our coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. eastern time.

Thirty-seven minutes after the hour. A body armor --

(CROSSTALK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): -- Boston man. Get this, flying from Japan to Los Angeles. He got stopped to LAX. When investigators say they found inside his check luggage, this will just shock you, a smoke grenade, a hatchet, knives other weapons, a full-face respirator, body bags, even a bio hazard suit.

He's trying to get on a plane with this. A 28-year-old Yongda Huang Harris is charged with transporting hazardous materials. He's a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Chinese descent, and he's scheduled to be in court later this week. I got some questions for him.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Oh, no kidding. It'd be interesting to watch as this continues to unfold.

All right. A dying woman is accusing the TSA of humiliating and embarrassing her on the last trip that she is ever likely to take. Thirty-four-year-old Michelle Dunaj has leukemia. She was carrying large amount of prescription drugs for an end of life trip to Hawaii last week and cleared them with her airline ahead of time.

But when she got to security at Seattle airport, she says TSA agents punctured one of her saline bags, refused her request for private screening, and forced her to lift her shirt to pull back her bandages in front of everyone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE DUNAJ, DYING OF LEUKEMIA: When somebody wants to take a trip, especially what I call an end-of-life trip because you want to see your family and friends, then it's even more important than just taking a trip.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The TSA says it has reviewed videotape of the incident and it insists that proper procedures were followed.

BERMAN: A huge auto recall. Toyota says it is recalling almost 7.5 million cars due to a problem with its power windows, including roughly 2.5 million vehicles in the U.S. The Japanese automaker says a driver-side windows which on some models could stick because of a problem during the assembly process. They say the most common fix, applying a lubricant to the switch that could result in a fire.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama has been focused on the key battleground state of Ohio. Has it paid off? Brand new poll numbers and analysis coming right up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: As we've been reporting all morning, new information is contradicting what the administration has said about the deadly attack on the American consulate in Libya. Two State Department officials now saying there was never a protest before it happened. And this is all coming out just hours before the House Oversight Committee holds a hearing on that attack.

I'm joined now this morning Republican strategist, Lenny McAllister, live in Washington, and here with us in the CNN studio, our political analyst and good friend, Roland Martin.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's happening?

BERMAN: I want to start with you this morning, because it was at the Univision forum on September 20th where President Obama was asked about the attack in Libya and this is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, that was September 20th. The president still offering the possibility that the attack in Benghazi happened after protests that were over this anti-Islamic video. Now, the State Department saying that is not the case. Is this change, is this juxtaposition harmful to President Obama, Roland?

MARTIN: Well, in the sense that it makes it sound like there's a failure of intelligence in terms of the knowledge. Also, for this to these hearings to take place in the middle of the presidential election, it is going to come up in debates as well. And so, you want to be clear or salvage it that you know exactly what is happening.

And early on, he's also -- you don't hear this out of Washington, D.C., we don't know yet. And so, I think that was his total rush to lets get an answer versus what's the correct answer in terms of what's going on. And so, it makes the White House look confused and the State Department look confused. And that's a problem to the American people.

BERMAN: Mitt Romney, from the beginning, was very critical of how the administration was handling this. Does this provide some justification?

MARTIN: Well, remember, his initial criticism also dealt with what took place in Egypt. So, it wasn't necessarily the criticism of what took place in Libya. And so I wouldn't be surprised if obviously his folks are going to jump on this as well, but this also was a volatile situation where we were not sure what the heck was going on.

Again, the problem is, when you assign statements as to what took place when you aren't quite so sure what took place there on the ground.

BERMAN: Let me take this to you down in Washington, because there was a lot of criticism about how this is being politicized by both parties, Republicans and Democrats. Isn't it fair to suggest that maybe the Republicans are pushing too hard here and that this isn't political, this is just the case of the information becoming available as it becomes available?

LENNY MCALLISTER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, they have pushed it a little too hard previously. It will be interesting to see what they do over the next several days with both the vice presidential debate coming up and the second presidential debate coming up. One of the things that the Romney campaign has miscalculated is their definition of presidential.

They have seen this as being aggressive and being strong and showing might where presidential also means having some temperance, having some poise and having some patience. And that's what you saw previously not being applied with the Benghazi situation before. Let's see if they do it now because this is one of the first times last Wednesday that Governor Romney looked presidential at a time where President Obama did not.

Now, with these issues and the new details coming out, it looks even worse for the administration. And if Governor Romney and his campaign can take a step back and look presidential in a more holistic way, not only show the strengths in some of the tough talk that they've been doing, but also show some poise and temperance with their approach as the details come out.

I think it can play well for them and it can go very well for them going into the second debate.

BERMAN: That's interesting advice. You're advising restraint to the Romney campaign. I want to move on to get to the swing state polls with both of you guys, because there's a lot of interesting numbers we're seeing from across the country.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Roland, just yesterday, you were saying to me, let's wait until we see some numbers from the battleground states. And now, we have. If you look a Ohio, you look at Michigan, you look at New Hampshire, President Obama's lead that he had before the first debate is shrinking a lot. In some cases, he's still ahead in these states, but isn't this the evidence you were looking for that the debate clearly made a big difference?

MARTIN: It's also the evidence I was looking for that as you got inside that 30-day window of the election, you are going to see a natural shrinkage. Also, 2008, huge election for President Obama. How many points did he win Ohio by?

BERMAN: Four.

MARTIN: Four. And so, look at 2004. This election is going to compare to 2004. President George W. Bush beat Senator John Kerry by 110,000 votes in Iowa. He wins the presidency. This was going to be natural from day one. The Obama supporters were all excited about these early polls. That took -- they want to -- may say it -- that makes no sense whatsoever because this is going to be a tight election.

BERMAN: Lenny, quick last question to you, four points is still four points. There are no moral victories here, you know? Even if he gets close, he still loses Ohio, Mitt Romney. So, doesn't this bounce need to be bigger than it is?

MCALLISTER: No, because, let's remember, too, we also thought that President Obama was going to knock Governor Romney out of the box last week in the debate and widen the lead. So, what actually happened is the lead shrunk in a way that we didn't expect and the debate went in a completely different direction.

So, this bounces more than, perhaps, the campaign expected, and this is something that President Obama and his campaign have to fix immediately.

MARTIN: This is why he (ph) run.

BERMAN: This is why we watch him --

MARTIN: This is why he (ph) run.

BERMAN: Roland Martin, Lenny McAllister, it's a wild ride. Thanks for being on with us. Take care.

MCALLISTER: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It is 48 minutes past the hour. Controversy at a Minnesota high school. It's not what is in the yearbook that has some students upset. It is what's not in it. That story coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-one minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with our top stories.

ROMANS: Good morning to both of you today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): The House Oversight Committee will take a closer look at security failings at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi today and whether there were any warning signs that an attack was imminent. Last month's assault at the compound killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The names of nearly 1,900 men expelled from the boy scouts for alleged sex abuse have been released. They were exposed by a lawyer who represents more than 100 alleged victims. According to his files, many have never been reported to police or face criminal charges.

Some students in Minnetonka, Minnesota, they're upset. They say pictures in their public school's yearbook are being censored. The school is not allowing a photo of a teen and her baby and it isn't allowing remembrance page for a student who killed himself. The school says it's standing by years of tradition showing only one student in a senior photo.

School officials all say experts advise them not to start a remembrance page but some hard feelings happening in that school right now, guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: That's tough.

All right. Fifty-two minutes past the hour. A packed hour ahead on EARLY START, including the latest on a desperate search for 10-year- old Jessica Ridgeway. She left for school five days ago. She has not been seen since. The only sign of her, a backpack six miles from her Colorado home. Police say a new home video may help you spot her.

BERMAN: Also, a crazy hit-and-run caught on tape. A man was going --

SAMBOLIN: Oh!

BERMAN: Oh, my! He is plowed by a car. Somehow, he survives. Whoa! And now, he's speaking out. My goodness!

SAMBOLIN: Boy, that's tough to watch.

Plus, an incredible story fit for a movie. A message from the past found in the forest and the search for the teenager hiker who wrote it 40 years ago. Is he still alive? EARLY START comes back right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Fifty-seven minutes after the hour. Here is what is trending on the internet this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Well, first, fat chance, Santa Claus. Neiman Marcus is out with its 86th Christmas book featuring nine fantasy gifts. Are you curious? Hey, guys, for $150,000, you can be the envy of every sports fan in the parking lot with this bullet bourbon tailgate trailer which comes complete with a flat-screen television, state-of-the-art sound system, and leather furniture. Or if you want to beat the traffic to the game, there's the jet lab R- 200 jet pack. Price tag of $100,000. If I had the money, I would buy one from you and I would set it -- for you and set it off.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Exactly. (INAUDIBLE).

SAMBOLIN: That looks cool.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: All right. Check this out. This is one big fish. An Ozark couple caught this rare and massive 85-pound catfish while they are fishing in the Missouri River. Look at that. The woman who hooked the monster says it's more than twice the size of the one she's been pulling up. Look, this is twice the size of the car. And it's not going in the deep fryer. She's going to keep it alive and she's going to hope to find it a home. I don't know what that means, like a zoo?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, wow!

BERMAN: That's crazy.

SAMBOLIN: One big fish tank.

All right. Jimmy Fallon welcomes a visitor to Mr. Romney's neighborhood in this edition of late night laughs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Mr. Obama. You remember Mr. Obama, right? Last week at the debate, Mr. Obama taught us all a new word. Choke.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What brings you to the neighborhood today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, since my sleepy performance at the debate, Mr. Romney, my wife, Michelle, has insisted that I pick up some new job skills. So, I'm now a mailman part-time.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, oh, look here, special delivery, October jobs report, and the unemployment numbers are down. So, in your face.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's just wonderful. Did you know that Mr. Obama is the President of the United States? It's a very important job. You have to make big decisions and you're in charge of a lot of people for four years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Romney, I think you made a mistake. I think, you mean, eight years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see, kids, Mr. Obama just did something called using your imagination.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, if you take a look at the polls, I think you'll see that a number of the key states --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: All he's missing is the sweater.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.