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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Riveting Account Of Benghazi Attack; Investigating Security Flaws At Benghazi; Romney's Buckeye State Bounce; Big Bird Becomes Political Football; Lucky To Be Alive!; Supreme Court Hears Affirmative Action Case; Meningitis Death Toll Now At 12

Aired October 10, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, 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.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- balance under the microscope at the Supreme Court. A huge case, justices hear arguments today over affirmative action in college admissions.

SAMBOLIN: Left for dead. Take a look. A man mowed down by a hit and run driver. Look at that, folks. He actually lived to tell about it. It's really incredible video. I'm glad that we are talking about it, right, because that means that it -- it ended OK.

BERMAN: It's crazy.

SAMBOLIN: Yes it is. Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 6 a.m. in the East. We have some big news this morning. The State Department 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 later today. The State Department saying the attack was not -- was not a spontaneous off shoot of protests and saying that U.S. and Libyan security personnel in Benghazi were out manned.

No reasonable security presence could have fended off the assault, they say. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in that attack.

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon helps us piece together what investigators now 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 complexes assault. The compound's first line of defense easily breached.

(on camera): According to one of the Libyan guards 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 a result of a demonstration turned violent.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Putting together the best information that we had 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 t 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)

SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Arwa. And CNN's foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, was on the State Department call last night when it released the new details.

In a few hours, the House Oversight Committee will look into security failings in the Benghazi assault. So Elise, last night, you learned 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, Zoraida. As smoke and fumes really filled the air, Ambassador Stevens, his security guard and Sean Smith, the other diplomat that was killed in the attack were really having trouble breathing. They decided to move to a bathroom where there was a little bit more air. That proved to be unsuccessful. They still couldn't breathe. They decided to try to leave through an adjacent bedroom.

As they were moving there, the security officer, he as protocol dictates kind of try to get out first, when he turned around, Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith were not there. The security officer and several officers took turns going into the smoke-filled, fire-filled building to try to find Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith. They did find Sean, but they did not find Ambassador Stevens.

We found out that hours later, Ambassador Stevens had been taken to a hospital. The hospital fished into his pocket and found his cellphone and started calling people who were listed in the phone and finally found out, reached the embassy to tell them he was there.

SAMBOLIN: My goodness, after U.S. personnel left the consulate, the attacks on them we understand continued. The State Department is detailing a wild car chase through the streets of Benghazi, AK-47 grenade attacks and then an even more violent attack when the remaining group reached their compound. Can you give us more details on that?

LABOTT: Dozens of heavily armed men, Zoraida, we understand, were at this annex and a long-term firefight over several hours. Once it died down, there was still intermittent firefight. This building was somewhat secure, but at some point the security officers dealing with Tripoli, with the embassy, decided to evacuate the entire team. As we know the entire team left Benghazi that night.

SAMBOLIN: And the State Department, they say there is no attack like this in diplomatic history. But at least one security officer who had been pulled from Libya had said publicly that he had told the State Department there was not enough security, anymore on that?

LABOTT: Zoraida, we're talking about Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood, who was the head of the so-called security support team, which was based in Benghazi, but also helping out -- based in Tripoli, helping out in Benghazi, asked for an extension of that mission and State Department said no.

Let's take a listen to what he said to CBS News. He's going to be testifying this morning at that Oversight hearing. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. ANDY WOOD, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: -- or continued security that we had, that we had known, that we had come to live with and work with there for the environment we had, we felt we need more, not less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: And, Zoraida, when asked who felt that you needed to do more with less, he said the State Department superiors. And we also hear that Eric Norstrom who will also be testifying today, a former regional top security officer in Libya, had repeatedly asked the State Department for additional personnel for Benghazi, received no response several times, Zoraida. So this is going to be a key focus, I believe, at that hearing this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And so many concerning details we're hearing. We really appreciate it, Elise.

Today's Libya attack hearing begins at noon Eastern Time. Keep it tuned to CNN and cnn.com for the very latest throughout the day.

BERMAN: All right, call it a Buckeye Bounce, Mitt Romney making big gains in Ohio on the strength of his performance after the first debate. This is a new CNN/ORC poll, likely Ohio voters. The president's lead is shrinking there to four points, which is within the margin of error. That makes the battle for the buckeye state 18 electoral votes, a statistical tie. Before the debates, some polls show the president leading by 10 points. I do assume that the White House though is probably pretty pleased with the four-point lead.

SAMBOLIN: Mitt Romney is not afraid of Big Bird after the GOP nominee promised to cut funding for PBS. The Obama camp went on the attack, accusing Romney of trying to kill the feathered "Sesame Street" character.

But Romney is not backing down. He is doubling 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 funding, but somehow you all stay on the air. I just think that PBS will be able to make it on its own just like every one 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)

BERMAN: The brouhaha at the official news word over Big Bird's has the producers at Sesame Workshop a little peeved. They say this ad from the Obama campaign does not fly with them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The ad mocks Mitt Romney's position on PBS. It is airing nationally on cable, they say, but creators of Big Bird say they want it pulled.

Here is their statement: "Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, we have requested that the ad be taken down."

We will have to see if Big Bird gets a mention in tomorrow night's vice presidential debate, Joe Biden versus Paul Ryan. CNN's live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: Brouhaha is not an official word, Mr. Berman.

Amazing video to show you, look at this folks. A Charlotte, North Carolina man is super lucky to be alive after getting mowed down by that hit and run driver.

Shaun Lewis was on his way to work early Saturday morning when he was hit. He went flying through the air. The driver stopped, got out of the car and got back into his car and drove off. Miraculously Lewis was able to get up and walk away 6 minutes later, yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAUN LEWIS, WALKED AWAY FROM HIT AND RUN: I remember waking up. I was bleeding. My hand was all messed up. My leg was messed up, could have helped me out some way. I know God had my back. That's all I know. God was looking out for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed, Mr. Lewis. The incident was captured by a security camera at a nearby pawnshop. So the owner watched the video fearing the worse. He couldn't believe his eyes when he saw Lewis get up and walk away. Police are still looking for the driver.

BERMAN: This just in to CNN. Two American scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. It was not Zoraida again. Robert J. Leftowitz and Brian K. Kabilka honored for their studies of G-protein coupled receptors. The announcement made in the last few minutes by the Royals Swedish Academy of Sciences.

SAMBOLIN: 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 have a preview coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. This morning, the Supreme Court will hear arguments, important affirmative action case. It involves a student, Abigail Fisher. She sued the University of Texas after her college application was rejected that was back in 2008.

Fisher claims she was turned away because she is white. CNN's Joe Johns is live in Washington for us. Joe, what are we expecting today?

JOE JOHNS, CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, it's just arguments today, but the case has the potential to come out as a very hard fought and close case, a case that could change the way students all over the country get admitted to college and whether it's okay to use race as a small factor in the admission process to achieve diversity. As you said, this case is about a woman named Abigail Fisher who says she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race. She's white. She didn't get in. She ended up going to Louisiana State University. The University of Texas allows the top 10 percent from each Texas High School to basically go to the university.

Then everybody else is subjected to something called holistic review. Abigail Fisher was in the top 11 percent of her class. The question is really whether it's OK to use race in the calculation when you use this narrowly tailored program to achieve diversity -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I know earlier when we aired your package, we talked about race being part of the review process. Do we know how important race or how -- not important, but how they factor race? Is it one of many things that they factor in? Is it more significant than other aspects?

JOHNS: Right. The way it's been described to me by a lot of people -- and we even talked to the university president, sort of one small part, a factor of a factor of a factor.

SAMBOLIN: OK.

JOHNS: Nonetheless, it's still in there and, you know, it could really affect the way people get in for years and years. The question, of course, is whether the court rules very broadly on this or rules very narrowly.

And, Zoraida, it's another interesting fact here, is that Justice Elena Kagan has actually recused herself from this case because she dealt with it just a bit when she was Solicitor General of the United States and the case was in a lower court. So, she's out. That means that there are eight justices actually working on this which opens up the possibility of a 4-4 tie on the vote. If so, the precedent stands.

SAMBOLIN: And I know that this is just one case. But this could have future implications for affirmative action in college admissions as a whole, right?

JOHNS: Absolutely. It certainly could. But again, it's a question of whether they rule broadly, whether they rule narrowly, whether they say this just applies to the University of Texas in this case, or whether we're throwing out racial preferences entirely. It has the potential to have some very far-reaching effects.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Joe Johns, I know that you are closely monitoring this for us. We really appreciate it.

So will affirmative action change as we know it?

Lee Bollinger, Columbia University president, weighs in on that with Soledad at 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT".

BERMAN: All right. People all over the country has the heat turned on earlier than expected this week. Rob, it's a little bit cold out there. Rob Marciano in Atlanta, when is it going to warm up? Please?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, about March, April. I'm curious, what's the day when you guys turn the heat on in your house?

SAMBOLIN: I already turned it on. I was really cold. I typically don't this time of year.

BERMAN: I don't even know how to work it yet.

SAMBOLIN: His wife handles the heating in the house it.

BERMAN: It gets turned on somehow.

MARCIANO: That's right. Kids grab an extra blanket. Throw on the long John, you're fine until Christmas.

Ten to 15 degrees below average. These are some of the low temperatures yesterday morning. Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 21. Waukesha, Wisconsin, 26 degrees. That's certainly enough to convince dad to throw on the heater for sure.

Temps in the 30s this morning. Couple of cool shots across the Great Lakes. And then again, averaging 10 to 15 degrees below normal here the next couple of days. Some rain is associated with this latest pulse is currently 45 degrees and raining in Detroit. It's kind of nasty.

Also raining in New York City. Temperatures in the 50s here. That will probably dry out a little bit this afternoon until the next cool shot that comes through. And then temperatures will rebound nicely. It looks like. But not until Sunday.

When I say nicely, getting closer to average. Temperatures will be more seasonable as we get towards Sunday. Tomorrow morning in the 20s and 30s, it will be frosty as far south as Nashville, Tennessee. But fear not, 54 degrees on Saturday. And New York City that is chilly but maybe near 60 on Sunday.

BERMAN: Fear not, says Rob Marciano. Thank you very much. Great to see you today.

MARCIANO: All right. Likewise.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Now, to remarkable story from California.

Teenager's handwritten note he left on a California mountain peak found its way back to him 40 years later. The note from 13-year-old Tim Taylor asks the person finding it to contact him. Fast forward four decades, that's just what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY WRIGHT, FOUND NOTE 40-YEARS AFTER IT WAS WRITTEN: So I thought it would be interesting to write to him, see if we could contact him and let him know we found the note like he asked.

TIM TAYLOR, LEFT NOTE ON TOP OF MOUNTAIN 40-YEARS AGO: I remember climbing up. I remember having lunch at the top leaving the note. I remember climbing back down. I wanted to, you know, leave -- you know, leave evidence that I had been there and hopefully some day, someone else would climb the mountain and find it and, lo and behold, 40 years later, that came to pass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: What a great story. Taylor says he left the note on a trip with his Boy Scout troop. I suggest that you do that with your little boys. That would be really cool, right? That's incredible.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: It is amazing.

All right. Nineteen minutes after the hour right now. He said the White House cooked the books and fudged the unemployment numbers. Former big time CEO Jack Welch, he's not backing down one bit. We'll have that story coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: We are minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures have turned down, pointing to a lower open.

BERMAN: Stocks not far from five-year highs but it is job market that everyone is worried about. And some people just can't seem to stop talking about the surprising job numbers last week.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And by some people, we mean Jack Welch.

BERMAN: Exactly.

ROMANS: The former G.E. chairman. Today in "The Wall Street Journal", he's got an opinion piece that he wrote an op-ed called, "I Was Right About That Strange Jobs Report." Let's talk about Jack Welch still stirring the pot on this.

Almost all, you know, bona fide economists, many who have advised both, you know, presidents of both parties have said there was a statistically anomaly in that jobs report that show the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, but only 114,000 jobs were created, and anomalies happen when you look over a long data series. It's how statistics and numbers work.

But Jack Welch, actually, this is what he's saying, "The 7.8 percent unemployment figure released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week is down right implausible. And that's why I made a stink about it."

The stink was this, it was a tweet he sent just moments after Friday's job reports came out, "Unbelievable jobs numbers. These Chicago guys will do anything. Can't debate so change numbers."

BERMAN: Yes, but let's be clear. When people were really most upset about is Jack Welch directly saying that somehow the Obama campaign twisted the numbers.

ROMANS: Right. And, look, you can talk about how data are collected, you can talk about statistically anomalies, you can talk about the fact that the recovery has been subpar. That's what Jack Welch is saying he's right about, the recovery has been subpar.

Everyone was having that real conversation. But to say that someone directly changed the numbers because the debate performance by the president wasn't good was something that was way out of the mainstream, and that's what Jack Welch got all that attention about.

He's now having a discussion in this op-ed and I urge everyone to read it -- basically talking about all the things we talk about every month about the jobs report. That it's been a subpar recovery, 7.8 percent still feels bad for a lot of people. You could see it revised up again.

Look, these long data series, I've been covering this one for 14 years. These long data series sometimes have these ups and downs. There's two different -- two different surveys that they put together.

Let's look at the trend then. If you agree that it was a statistically anomaly that dropped to 7.8 percent, look at the trend overall. The trend has been moving lower. That's why when you look at data like this, you always want to look at the trend in the unemployment rate. That's what we see there.

SAMBOLIN: He wrote in there, "I'm not sorry for the heated debate that ensued. I'm not the first person to question government numbers and hopefully I won't be the last."

ROMANS: Skepticism is great, but throwing, you know, petro bombs and conspiracy theories is not helpful.

BERMAN: All right. What's the one thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: I'm not sure can Jack Welch believes this but after four years of layoffs, teaching jobs are finally coming back. When we scrutinized the labor data over the last three months, you can see that teachers are not having the mass layoffs they once were. Not enough teachers added to keep up with the new kids in the classroom, but the teaching job layoffs at least for now seem to have slowed down.

BERMAN: All right.

SAMBOLIN: Very good news.

BERMAN: Good news. All right.

Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now. And a concerned father sticking up for his son by picketing his school. We'll tell you why, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: What went wrong in Benghazi? We're getting new details on the attack that killed an U.S. ambassador just as Congress gets to hear testimony.

SAMBOLIN: The meningitis outbreak. More deadly cases, even as we learn experts have been warning about contaminated medications for years.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: We're going to start with the State Department this morning, giving its most detailed account yet of the speed, brutality, and calculation behind last month's attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in Libya.

The State Department is saying the attack was not -- it was not a spontaneous off shoot of protests and saying U.S. and Libyan security personnel in Benghazi were outmanned. There was no reasonable security presence that could have fended off the assault, they say. U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed there.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (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.

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 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: A national guardsman who headed a lead security force in Libya will testify in front of the congressional committee today. Earlier this week, he told CBS News he asked for more help prior to the killing of Ambassador Stevens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOOD: For enhanced or continued security that we had, that we had known, that we had come to live with and work with there for the environment we had, we felt we needed more, not less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The congressional hearings today on the Libya attack begin at noon Eastern Time. Keep it tuned to CNN and CNN.com for the latest throughout the day.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-four minutes past the hour.

After a rousing performance and the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney is promising to protect home mortgage and charitable tax deductions for the middle class. 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, for us this morning. Nice to see you.

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

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, we're not, Zoraida. We don't expect to. Certainly as we are heading into the closing days of this election, Mitt Romney was on "THE SITUATION ROOM" yesterday with Wolf Blitzer and he addressed what he would do with his tax plan, but he did it in broad stroke. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to layout a piece of legislation here because I tend to work together with Republicans and Democrats in Congress but there are a 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 that total cap they'd like. Or, instead, you could take the posture that Bowles-Simpson did which is going to after specific deductions and limit that in various ways. There are a number of ways we can accomplish the principles which I have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: And there you have Mitt Romney on "THE SITUATION ROOM" yesterday, Zoraida, talking about what his tax plan would be. Again, very broad stroke, certainly trying to appeal as many voters as he can in these closing days of the election -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: We caught you with some show and tell there. What do you have in your hands?

PRESTON: Live TV, as you say. You know, they're talking about tomorrow night being a prize fight here in Danville, Kentucky. Check out this poster they have created down here. I know John Berman loves it that crazy political guy that he is.

But it just goes to show you how enthused they are here in Danville. Paul Ryan and Joe Biden facing off right behind me. A lot of people, Zoraida, are talking about how this is going to be one of these situations where it is going to be a rock 'em sock 'em debate.

They're both going to be seated at a table though. I think they'll be policy disagreements. I don't think we're going to see the prize fight as we're seeing here in this poster -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I don't know. We'll se what we're talking about after the fact. But it's definitely must-watch TV. Mark Preston, thank you so much.

BERMAN: No doubt.

SAMBOLIN: Hopefully, he will bring back a copy of that poster for us here. All right. Thanks, Mark.

Thirty-six minutes after the hour right now.

And Toyota says it is recalling almost 7 1/2 million cars due to a problem with its power windows, including roughly 2 1/2 million vehicles right here in the U.S. The Japanese automaker said the driver side window switch on some models could stick because of a problem during the assembly process. They say the most common fix, with some people applying a lubricant to the switch could result in a fire.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my!

All right. Investigators say an 18-year-old student who was shot and killed by campus police at the University of South Alabama had LSD in his system. Here's a picture of him.

Eighteen-year-old Gil Collar was shot early Saturday morning. The Mobile County Sheriff's Office said he was naked and had attacked two people before a run-in with officers outside campus police station.

BERMAN: And a Texas dad is trying to protect his 14-year-old son from bullying by calling out his school. Randy Duke is home from his job training -- he was a training police officer in Afghanistan. He's been spending several hours a day outside his son Max' middle school wearing a sign that says "bullying victims are punished here". That's because Max finally fought back and wound up getting suspended for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY DUKE, FATHER OF BULLIED TEEN: He feels that nobody has been listening to him and then when he finally has to take matters into his own hands, he gets punished. He's at the point where, you know, dad, I couldn't walk away because he just follows me and beats up on me all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: School district officials say federal laws prevent them from commenting on this case.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. We have a special guest here. Soledad O'Brien who has been burning up her blackberry during the break.

You're going to tell us what is ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, so much ahead this morning.

We're going to be talking about affirmative action, racial battles and college admissions. Lots of controversy over that, of course, today. The Supreme Court gets ready to take up affirmative action again. Remember they said the last time in 2003, this should be a decision that would not be made in 25 years. Well, it's been nine years and they're talking about it again. Could it be struck down?

Woman with terminal cancer says she was humiliated by the TSA at the airport. The agency is telling a different story about what happened that day. What really what happened? We'll get to the bottom of that.

And a world famous singer is getting ready to be among the stars, literally among the stars, not the superstars, the stars. Singer Sarah Brightman apparently always fascinated with space and now she's booked a flight. She will be going to space and she talks to us about that.

Tiger Woods to Arnold Schwarzenegger, is it ever OK to cheat?

SAMBOLIN: Seriously?

O'BRIEN: Seriously. There's a new how-to book. As if men need a how-to book on how to cheat.

SAMBOLIN: Is it for men?

O'BRIEN: It is for men by men. Needless to say they're going to join us and we can rip them to shreds this morning about their new book.

SAMBOLIN: Can I join in?

O'BRIEN: Joe DeRosa and Robert Kelly, they're comedians. Really? Come on. We'll talk to them ahead this morning as well.

BERMAN: All right. Looking forward to that, Soledad.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: I bet you are.

You are all good.

All right. Forty-three minutes past the hour.

The family of a professional basketball player from Connecticut has filed a $210 million wrongful death lawsuit one year after he was killed in a post-game bar fight in Romania. Twenty-three-year-old Chauncey Hardy was celebrating a victory when he was attacked in this city of Giurgiu.

His family is now suing Hardy's attacker, the Romanian Basketball League, his coach, and the two doctors who treated Hardy.

BERMAN: Wow.

We're expecting a cool space rendezvous, a SpaceX robotic cargo ship approaching the International Space Station this morning. If all goes as planned, the unmanned capsule will cautiously approach the station and then get grabbed by its huge robotic arm. That's in about half an hour.

The capsule is loaded with supplies. It's slated to stick around there for about three weeks.

SAMBOLIN: As we've been reporting, two senior State Department officials now say there was -- there never was a protest before the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. That flies right in the face of what the administration was initially saying. And this is all coming out just hours before the House Oversight Committee holds a hearing on that attack.

So we are joined now by Republican strategist Lenny McAllister. He's in Washington, D.C.

Nice to see you, Lenny.

LENNY MCALLISTER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Nice to see you, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And here with us in the studio, we have CNN political analyst Roland Martin.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey.

SAMBOLIN: Hey.

So I want to start with you. I want to play something that the president said during the Univision forum and then I want to chat with both of you about this.

(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. interest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, Roland, now we know that that's not true, right? That the protests did not cause this. We have a lot of reports that are coming out of the State Department. Should the president have known better?

MARTIN: Well, it's a question of what did you know at the very moment. Part of the problem is, if you look at when did the FBI actually get there to find out exactly what took place? I believe what happened was there was such a desperation to get an answer out that explained it.

I remember early on, you heard all kinds of examples, in terms of, oh, it was a protest, it was linked to what happened in Egypt, then you had 9/11. The last thing folks want to own up to is we don't know or we have to find out. And I think ,frankly, that that played a huge role in this. And this is why it was so confusing when you heard so many conflicting stories as opposed to waiting to get all of the facts. Frankly, they didn't. That's why you sort of have these different stories. I remember -- by early on, I heard Ambassador Susan Rice, what did she say? She said what we know today. You're going to hear a lot of that. We knew -- at the time, we thought it was this, now we learned differently.

SAMBOLIN: But they were, you know, jumping to that conclusion rather quickly. And actually, Lenny, Romney took advantage of that very early on. Do you think that he is going to continue to use that now during his campaign?

MCALLISTER: He's going to use it, but he's going to use it in a different way. I think he's going to be less inclined and jump into the fray immediately without letting the facts come out himself, because he got bitten behind when he jumped out and spoke too soon as well.

Plus, he also understands that as the administration is having a hard time explaining all this as more facts come out and you see these contradictions, it's better to allow your opponent to continue to make their mistakes and stay out of their way while they're making these mistakes, specifically while this foreign debate policy -- foreign policy debate comes up over the course of next couple of days.

This was supposed to be the strong suit of the Obama administration. The point that the Republicans don't want to talk about when it comes to this presidential campaign, now it is something that is back on the table. And the more that Governor Romney feels confident and looks presidential, the more he can address these issues with confidence as we approach the 16th.

MARTIN: But he also, he can't be -- continue to be so broad. I mean, look, when it came to his tax policy, same thing. Romney wants to be broad. He gave this big foreign policy speech on Monday. In many ways, he was echoing the exact same position of President Obama. And so, he has to make clear, OK, what are you going to do differently in what we've seen?

SAMBOLIN: But he's got a lot of criticism for now going -- wait a minute, gentlemen. I'm going to lose you. I'm going to lose out on time here if we don't talk about the polls, and we need to talk about the polls, because they're changing a little here.

Ahead of the CNN polls that we have on the key battleground states, I want to put those up for everybody to see. And, Roland, what's happening here?

MARTIN: Easy.

SAMBOLIN: Is the Obama campaign a little worried about this?

MARTIN: Easy. What's happening here is called an election. OK? This was not going to be some kind of blowout. This election was always going to --

SAMBOLIN: But that's who we're talking about -- (CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Yes. It was always going to be a tight race. OK? And you also -- this is about a ground game. This is about getting your base voters out, early voting -- actually, the registration, this week in some states. Early voting had already started in some places. And so, you are going to see this.

Obviously, the debates played a role in it, but Obama supporters who are all hyped two weeks ago because of those polls, I was saying then, you're nuts if you think this is going to hold up. This is going to be very reminiscent of 2004 when President George W. Bush won Ohio by 110,000 votes and went back into the White House. This is not going to be a blowout.

SAMBOLIN: Lenny, I'm going to give you the final word here?

MCALLISTER: Roland's correct. This is a race, and it's going to come down to finish and it is about getting the base out, but let's be clear. We did not expect the polls to move in this direction after the first debate. We expected President Obama to come out stronger in the debate. We expected Governor Romney to kind of have to make sure that he could shift to the middle successfully and have to defend himself for some of the gaffes that he's had over the last several weeks.

He was not even in a position where he had to defend himself and President Obama did not do well last week. Therefore, you're seeing this tighten a lot faster than we expected.

And the Democrats need Vice President Biden and they need President Obama to come out with strong performances over these next two debates or else it's going to get even tighter and you're going to start continuing to see Governor Romney start pulling ahead with slight leads in some of these swing states.

MARTIN: Again, though, it was going to tighten, but trust me, Biden can't wait for the fight because, you know, he loves to do these things.

SAMBOLIN: Listen, here's what I can tell you. It's going to be interesting to watch and great to talk about. So, we'll have you back to do that.

MARTIN: Of course.

SAMBOLIN: Roland Martin, CNN political analysts, Lenny McAllister, senior contributor of Politics355.com. Thank you both, gentlemen, for joining us.

MCALLISTER: Thank you, Zoraida.

BERMAN,: Thank you, Zoraida, for bringing the hammer on the time there.

SAMBOLIN: Good gracious. (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: All right. Forty-nine minutes after the hour right now.

And as the death toll grows in the meningitis outbreak now sweeping through ten states, we're hearing from insiders who is speaking about the dangers of contaminated medications. We'll have more on that coming up.

SAMBOLIN: That's scary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: The death toll in the meningitis outbreak is growing this morning. The CDC now saying 12 people are dead. At least 119 people are infected with cases now reported in ten states. But it turns out some experts have been sounding the alarm over contaminated medications for years, even within the FDA.

Elizabeth Cohen joins us live now from Atlanta. And Elizabeth, you spoke to a former FDA employee. What is she saying?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: She is saying that she saw this coming. Sarah Sellers used to work for the FDA. She's a pharmacist. She testified on this issue to Congress in 2003, and she said she went to go work for the FDA, specifically, to help clean up compounding pharmacies.

She's an expert in sterile compounding. This is these pharmacies in this current outbreak, the medicine was made at what's called the compounding pharmacies. There's been a lot of complaints about how they are and are not regulated. Anyhow, she went to go work at the FDA to write some guidance on how to do this compounding in a more sterile way.

She says she never did it. They never had her do it. She wanted to do it, and she ended up leaving the FDA in frustration. She said that this was in 2006. That document was supposed to come out back then. It is still, to this day, John, as we speak, that document has never come out. That guidance from the FDA has never come out.

BERMAN: Why? I mean, what's taking so long here?

COHEN: Right. I asked that question, and the FDA said, it is, quote, "in progress" and they had no other comment. Now, if you ask Sarah Sellers, she'll tell you it's because there's money from compounding pharmacies pressing them not to do it. The compounding pharmacies say that's not true.

BERMAN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you. A bit alarming as this meningitis outbreak continues. Thanks, Elizabeth.

We have our "Best Advice" coming up from Pennsylvania Cngresswoman Allyson Schwartz. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Right now and as always, we wrap it up with "Best Advice" -- Christine.

ROMANS: And we asked the Pennsylvania congresswoman, Allyson Schwartz, the best advice she ever received. And here's what she told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: I think the advice, whether someone told me I just sort of feel it myself is to really do something you care about and I think that that's important and our profession lives, work lives, that you possibly can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Try to do something that's not important at least once a day.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to join you on that one.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.