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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Obama And Romney: Head To Head; Secretary Clinton Takes Libya Blame; Meningitis Outbreak Grows Worse; Interview with Carole Simpson; Move Over "Obama Girl"; Memorial Today For Ambassador Stevens; Tyra Banks Empowers Teen Girls

Aired October 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: Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, President Obama, Mitt Romney, take two. Here's a live look at Hofstra University. That's where the candidates will be facing off tonight. Can the president make up for his last showing? Will Mitt Romney dominate again? We'll talk about that this morning.

Taking responsibility. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the buck stops with her in the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, love your flaws. Supermodel Tyra Banks is going to join us, telling women everywhere that they are flawsome. She's having a Flawsome Ball this week.

Also a talk with Carole Simpson, she's the first female, the first African-American presidential debate moderator. Other guests, Congressman Steve Israel from New York. Debate is in his district. Jen Psaki with the Obama campaign is going to join us and pop star Mika.

October 16th, a Tuesday, STARTING POINT begins right now.

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O'BRIEN: Morning, welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning is the rematch. In just about 14 hours President Obama, Mitt Romney, will square off in the second presidential debate. It's going to take place here, the debate hall on the campus of Long Island's Hofstra University. It's going to be a town hall-style event, moderated by our very own Candy Crowley. Candidates taking direct questions from a group of uncommitted voters.

CNN's Dan Lothian is live for us at Hofstra this morning. Hey Dan, good morning. DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. And you talked about those uncommitted voters -- about 80 of them will be in the audience, and from that group they'll be the ones asking the questions. Based on the coin toss, Governor Mitt Romney will get the first question.

Now, as you know, the president will be working very hard to try and recover from that first debate performance. He spent the last three days in Williamsburg, Virginia, preparing, prepping for this debate, surrounded by mostly the same team that he had going in to the first debate, with the exception of Ben Rose, one of his national security advisers. According to some of President Obama's top campaign aides, the president will be much more aggressive. He will challenge Mitt Romney when he puts out his plans at this debate.

As for Mitt Romney, he spent the weekend in Massachusetts. He went to church and then spent some time prepping at a nearby hotel. His campaign advisers going after the president, saying that he might change his style and his tactic, but he can't change his record. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian updating us on what we can expect tonight at Hofstra University. I will be there reporting for us. So looking forward to that. Thank you.

John Berman's got a look at some of the other stories making news today. Good moring.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Concerns over anti- Taliban activist Malala Yousafzai's safety and security this morning. The hospital's medical director says specialists think there's a chance, a decent chance, of recovery for Malala. The 14-year-old is in a chemically-induced coma as doctors evaluate the extent of damage she sustained when the Pakistani Taliban shot her in the head.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Pakistan's Interior Minister offered a $1 million bounty on the Taliban spokesman who took credit for the attack. Birmingham police saying some well-wishers were questioned overnight, not arrested as they first reported just over an hour ago.

More than 1,000 mourners are expected today at the funeral service for former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. Vice President Joe Biden will be among them. He called his former Senate colleague a friend who never walked away from his principles. Specter died Sunday after a long battle with cancer. He was 82.

Former presidential nominee and Senator George McGovern has been admitted to a hospice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. No details have been released about his condition. A hospice spokeswoman says the family is asking for complete privacy. McGovern, you will remember, ran unsuccessfully for president in 1972 against Richard Nixon. He served three terms in the Senate, representing South Dakota. He also fought against poverty and poor nutrition around the world. He is 90 years old.

Under the bright lights of Monday night football, the San Diego chargers, man, they had a big time meltdown. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos came back from a 24-0 halftime deficit. They scored 35 unanswered points in the second half. Peyton Manning had three touchdowns, more than 300 yards passing. And now the two teams are tied for first in the NFC West. Yeah, Peyton Manning, that guy can still play.

And in baseball playoffs, NLCS game two of the series, it was all Giants. They tied it up. They beat the Cardinals 7-1 to even the best of seven series at one game apiece. Game three tomorrow in St. Louis.

O'BRIEN: Did my Yankees not play last night?

BERMAN: They play tonight.

O'BRIEN: Oh, they play tonight. They got to win. My kids are a hot mess. They're like crying all the time. Thank you, John. Appreciate it.

With foreign policy a focus of tonight's debate, Libya is very much expected to be a major topic. Lots of finger-pointing in the month since the attacks. But now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling CNN in an interview she accepts the blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah is part of our team this morning. We love having you panel with us. He's also a member -- in his free time, he's a member of the House Oversight Committee, also part of the team leading the investigation into the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Nice to have you with us.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: So you heard Secretary Clinton saying, listen, it's my decision, I'm responsible for the 60,000 people who are in charge. Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani was on our program and it was very kind of an intense debate we had going. And here's what he said about it being a cover-up. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI, (R) NEW YORK CITY: Susan Rice goes out there four days after, says this was a spontaneous demonstration; it clearly wasn't. There was information both in the State Department and the White House that it wasn't. There was no protest in advance.

O'BRIEN: But my question to you, and what I'm saying --

GIULIANI: This sounds like a cover-p. I mean, if this weren't a Democratic president, I think all of you people would be going crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So you have before said that you thought it was coordination between the State Department and the administration to come up with a story that was sort of was around a protest that we now know did not exist. He's saying cover-up. Do you believe it was a cover-up?

CHAFFETZ: I think there are a couple parts to this story. The run up that led to 9/11, what happened that night, and then moving forward and the bungled story. I mean, it's five weeks later and we still don't have some crystal clear answers.

I'm glad to see the Secretary of State - at least somebody's taking some personal responsibility. But leading up to it, how did we get to the point where we diminished security in a very volatile type of situation?

I think it's somewhere between patently false and totally misleading, this story that the administration spun coming out of this. They never said that terrorism was one of the potential parts of this. They very emphatic this was a video, this was a mob, this was whatever words they used. But clearly it was terrorism.

O'BRIEN: They sort (INAUDIBLE). One of the things we lacked yesterday in our interview with Mr. Giuliani was literally, specifically, what people had said. And it was Susan Rice who on the 16th, on "Meet the Press," who was much farther out than everybody else.

She said, "Assessment - what happened in Benghazi was in fact a spontaneous reaction to what had transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat demonstration of the facility in Cairo prompted, of course, by the video."

She was the one who was furthest out. If you look at what Jay Carney said and if you look at what the president said, they did not go as far. They were weak on saying terror, but they also didn't quite say video. They sort of referenced both of them.

CHAFFETZ: No, the day or two afterwards, we'll have to pull up the quote but Jay Carney went even further than that. And so the problem is that you had 230 security incidents there in Benghazi, you had the assassination attempt of the British ambassador, the bombing of the Red Cross (ph), the Brits get out of there, it's Libya, we're coming up on 9/11 -

O'BRIEN: Is that incompetence or is that a cover-up? Right? Because I think everyone would say huge intelligence screw-up, no question. Is it just incompetence or is that - intentional cover-up to me sort of implies there's some kind of criminal act under it all.

CHAFFETZ: Well, look, when the Vice President came out in the debate and said, well, we had no idea they asked for more security. Ignorance is not really a great defense and even when Secretary Clinton said, look, security professionals made these decisions - no they didn't. The security professional that testified at the Committee said, "We were under professional to come up to normal, quote, unquote, 'normalized' on a political timetable."

That is very concerning. When the security professional on the ground is saying we need more resources, just a few more resources, those are denied. In fact, they were diminished.

O'BRIEN: So incompetence or cover-up, right? Cover-up is a -

CHAFFETZ: OK, well, that's the first part of it, the lead-up to it. But then what went down that night? And what was the story that was being spun afterwards? Because I went to Libya two Saturdays ago. I was there a good part of the day. Never once did a single person ever mention a video.

Now, you talk to people on the ground, you talk to people that are involved in this incident, where is the evidence that this video was core and central to the administration's story moving forward? So, look, I think it's still an unanswered question. I really do.

O'BRIEN: Can we talk about the debate for a moment? We're going to have you all morning so we can chat about this. Who do you think a town hall format favors?

CHAFFETZ: Oh I don't know. Look, if you're going to be the President of the United States, you better do good sitting at a table and standing. I don't buy this whole idea that one - We talk about it like it's a sports game. You're going to the President of the United States, you got to step up. You got to be able to -

O'BRIEN: Well, I would guess for both, right? You're going to have regular folks standing up and you have to sort of take questions in a non-completely moderated -

CHAFFETZ: Look, President Obama did exceptionally well in this format before. Really haven't seen Mitt Romney in this type of format. We have, what, 19, 20 something debates during the primary? But most of them were not this town hall format, so the president's expectation was so, you know, after his last performance, so low, he's undoubtedly going to exceed that. I'm sure he'll do pretty well.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I think there's more pressure on Mitt Romney because he did so well last time.

O'BRIEN: Do you think there's more pressure?

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: The expectation game is an interesting kind of calculation, don't you think?

O'BRIEN: All right, we're going to keep you around with us. We appreciate you staying with us all morning. We really love having you.

We're also going to get some more comments about the debate from Democratic Congressman Steve Israel. He'll be joining us. CNN foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, is going to join us as well to talk a little bit more about her interview - it was her interview where Secretary Clinton said that, you know, the buck stopped with her, that she took the blame.

Also special coverage of the debate tonight will begin right here on CNN, also, CNN.com, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be part of that coverage. You can see it live.

And ahead, she was the first ever female and African-American to moderate a presidential debate. We're going to chat with Carole Simpson about the perils and the joy of the town hall-style for candidates. Also, time to get fiscal, an ode to Paul Ryan. I can barely get through this. Went viral, believe it or not. Do 22-year- olds even know what this is about?

ROMANS: They don't realize it.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: This is about Olivia Newton-John. Yes. And believe it or not, Christine is going to talk about that and what's happening in business today. What you got?

ROMANS: Looking for work? Holiday hiring is here, folks. One company has 50,000 job openings, various parts around the country. I'm going to tell you where next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. About 15 minutes past the hour. Time for minding your business.

U.S. stock futures are up slightly. More economic news and earnings today. About 40 percent of S&P 500 companies report their earnings this week. We'll hear from Goldman Sachs, Coke, Johnson & Johnson and a lot of others.

Amazon plans to hire 50,000 seasonal workers at its fulfillment centers across the country this holiday season. It expects thousands of these seasonal hires to stay on full-time after the holidays are over.

Facebook's political action committee has given more money to Republicans than Democrats. This is according to a CNN Money review of federal election record. But Facebook employees, though, well they have favored Democrats. According to the Senate for Responsible Politics, Facebook employees gave nearly double the amount in personal donations to Democrats than Republicans.

Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has given more than $30,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $5,000 to President Obama. And of course, she had worked in the Treasury Department. She's worked in the Clinton administration, I think, so she's been a longtime Democrat.

O'BRIEN: Not exactly a shock on the donations there. Christine, thank you.

Tonight's second presidential debate is a town hall format. It's a campaign tradition that began back in 1992 when Carole Simpson served as the first-ever both female and minority moderator. So both black and female. With that town hall debate came the first memorable town hall moment, if you will, when President George H.W. Bush was caught looking kind of openly at his watch while a woman in the audience was forming her country.

Bernie Shaw did a vice presidential --

BERMAN: No, he did presidential in '88, Dukakis-Bush.

O'BRIEN: Right, as well. Since then the format, the town hall format, has provided a wealth of memorable moments like Al Gore's intimidation tactic that kind of went wrong back in 2000. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, (R) FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not only what's your philosophy and what's your position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He's like, what are you doing? Personal space, please. Senator John McCain roaming around the room back in 2008, which became fodder for late night comedians everywhere. Take a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And your copayments and deductibles have gone up 30 percent just in the last year alone.

TOM BROKAW, MODERATOR: That concludes tonight's debate from here in Nashville. We want to thank our host here at Belmont University in Nashville and the Commission on Presidential Debates. And you're in my way of my script there, if you will move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Oh, that was funny. Yes. Those moments. Veteran journalist and moderator of that first town hall debate, Carole Simpson, joins us this morning. Nice to see you, Carole, great to have you with us.

CAROLE SIMPSON, FMR. ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Good to be here.

O'BRIEN: That was so funny. So funny. Different format. We were talking about this just a moment ago. Who do you think gets the advantage in a town hall debate? SIMPSON: I think it's a people person. And I think that -- that's President Obama. He was a community organizer. He's used to dealing with people. He's comfortable with them. He's a touchy-feely person. He's not afraid to touch people and it looks genuine. And I watched Romney campaign in Iowa, and he tries to do it, but that's been a criticism of his that he doesn't relate to ordinary people.

So I think tonight, Obama has the advantage in that I think he'll be warmer and, you know, closer to the people.

BERMAN: Carole, it's John Berman here. How are you doing?

SIMPSON: Hi, John.

BERMAN: A lot of people say rather than a warmer President Obama, they want to see is a more aggressive President Obama they want to see. So how do you handle that in a town meeting-style debate? How do you turn from a voter question, how do you turn that into an attack on Mitt Romney if you're President Obama?

SIMPSON: Well, it's tough. Because when I did my debate, I asked the audience, you know, what do you want to hear from these people? I don't want to know your questions, but what is it that you want to hear? And they said they were tired of the mudslinging. They didn't like the negativity. And if you go in to the debate with a plan to attack, as Obama probably needs to do, to attack Mr. Romney, the public isn't going to like that. And I don't think they're going to risk turning of that audience.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about what Candy Crowley said last night on "ANDERSON". She was talking specifically about the ability of the person who's moderating the debate to push or follow up. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, after the question is answered, there is this time that there will be a, quote, "facilitated discussion." You know, follow-up questions where you go I didn't totally understand that. Do you mean this or that? Or you know, whatever it happens to be.

So you know, what you want to do is flesh things out as much as you can without staying on the same question for 40 minutes, because, you know, nobody wants that. Not the presidential candidates and certainly not the town hall folks, nor do I think the viewers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Moderator's job, of course, is to keep things from veering completely off the rail. Is that hard, I mean having done this in a town hall format, is that -- is that extra difficult in this kind of format?

SIMPSON: Well, she has different marching orders than I had. I was told only to follow up if the question was not understandable, if it need clarification. My own audience was able to follow up and I don't think her audience can follow up. I think she gets the follow up chances. So there's -- there are different guidelines for her as was given me.

And so, I think it's going to be tough, though, for her to interject herself. I mean, this is the people's -- this is the people's debate. And the role of the moderator, as I saw myself, was to operate in the public interest, to make sure that their questions were being asked, not what I wanted asked although there were plenty.

O'BRIEN: So then let me jump in and ask you this question before we let you go. You've been critical. You say that, you know, women are having the opportunity to, in the presidential format, only do the debate where they really don't get to ask any of the questions. Why is that do you think?

SIMPSON: I don't want to think it's sexism, but it sure does seem like it. That women are only given the vice presidential debate and given the town hall meeting, where basically we hold the microphone for other people to ask questions. Yet Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer got to go one-on-one with the candidates and ask their own questions. So it looks like women have been pigeon-holed into the women slot, which is not the big slot, which I think is one-on-one with the candidates.

O'BRIEN: Well, maybe that will change down the road. Carole Simpson, nice to have you as always. We certainly appreciate it.

SIMPSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, from supermodel to super-mogul, the impressive Tyra Banks. She's going to join us live this morning. She's telling young women how they can be flawsome, which is awesome with flaws.

Also, say it ain't so. It's a war on Cheetos. One of my favorite foods. We'll tell you why a teacher wants to ban the flaming hot flavor from school. It's actually a little bit of a problem. It's our get real this morning. STARTING POINT team headed in to tackle that and much more. We're back after this break.

Good morning, good morning.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. A quick look at some top stories. Hurricane Paul has weakened to a Category 2 storm with winds around 110 miles per hour. It's expected to make landfall at a remote area along Mexico's Western Baja Peninsula. And Hurricane Rafael, a Category 1 storm, is creeping towards Bermuda but is expected to narrowly miss that island.

Medical marijuana advocates will try again in federal appeals court today to change the classification of pot as a dangerous drug. A California-based patient advocacy group is trying to get the DEA to move it out of the same group as heroin, LSD and PCP. And Ricky Gervais may be a tough act to follow, but hats off to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for choosing Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to co-host the Golden Globes in January. The "SNL" alums each have their own successful TV shows, "30 Rock" and "Parks and Recreation". This will be the first time they host an awards show. Ricky Gervais, of course, made some big-time waves the last two years as the host of the Golden Globes.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, by insulting people who were sitting in front of them.

BERMAN: But it's the award show where they can drink. So, you know.

O'BRIEN: Much better awards show, right? If you can drink through it.

BERMAN: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Our team this morning joining us on STARTING POINT: Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz from Utah is with us. Ron Brownstein back with us. He's the editorial director at "National Journal." Richard Socarides, a writer for newyorker.com, former adivser to President Clinton. John Berman sticking around with us from "EARLY START".

Our get real this morning is kind of interesting. Parents, teachers, students at Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School in New Mexico fired up over the Flaming Hot Cheetos. The health teacher at the school sent a letter home to parents calling on a ban of that snack. She says, "Flaming Hot Cheetos are a health hazard. They offer poor nutritional value." That is true. And the janitors are annoyed because they have to clean the messy red dust off the walls and everyplace else. A bag, one bag of cheetos contains 44 grams of fat and 700 calories. I think that's with four servings. But, of course, I scarf the whole bag. It exceeds of course the calorie minimums, blah, blah, blah.

Flaming Hot Cheetos have already been banned in the Rockford School District near Chicago. They used to sell 150,000 bags a year now there. Now they're only selling baked Cheetos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They sound delicious.

O'BRIEN: They are delicious. I've had them.

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORERK.COM: We should have had -- we should have had some Cheetos --

O'BRIEN: No, because they're so bad for you I would not.

RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": I am with the nanny state on this one, right? We are looking at one in three kids are now obese. You know, banning things is tough, as Bloomberg with the big sodas, but you don't really have to make it easier for people to do the wrong thing. It's interesting, you read stories and there's some protests going on in high schools because we're implementing tougher, more nutritional rules on school lunches. But by and large --

O'BRIEN: But there's an argument that says parents should be responsible and they should not -- are you with the nanny state on this?

CHAFFETZ: Come on. Cheetos and some orange juice is the largest issue?

SOCARIDES: Why just the Flaming Hot Cheetos?

O'BRIEN: Because - well, I think apparently they have more of that red powder than just regular old Cheetos. But they're extra good. I mean --

BERMAN: I mean, I have fingerprints all over my walls with two 5- year-old kids. Why shouldn't this school in New Mexico?

CHAFFETZ: Do you lick your fingers? Teach the kids can lick their fingers, for goodness' sake.

O'BRIEN: I think cleaning up after school is kind of the way it goes, right?

BERMAN: Right.

O'BRIEN: But I do think the nutrition thing, I tell you, we got rid of all junk food in our house. I don't let anybody --

BROWNSTEIN: Schools don't need to make it easier.

BERMAN: As an aficiando of junk food, I will say baked Cheetos are really almost just as good as the regular Cheetos.

O'BRIEN: See, a solution.

BERMAN: So everyone can be happy.

O'BRIEN: We've come together on this. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a live look at tonight's debate hall at Hofstra University in Strong Island, New York. It happens to be in the district of our next guest. We're going to talk about the rematch with Democratic Congressman Steve Israel coming up next.

And move over Obama girls. The new viral declaration of love, this time it's for the vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Very Olivia Newton-John there.

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O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I like how we transition into the different music. Debate night is much more serious than STARTING POINT. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

But we're talking about debate night tonight at Hofstra University. Mitt Romney, President Obama will face off for the second of three debates. Just under 14 hours to go. Stakes couldn't be any higher. New CNN poll of polls shows Mitt Romney leading President Obama by one point, 48 percent to 47 percent. Just one month ago, you'll remember, it was the president who was leading.

Congressman Steve Israel is a Democrat from New York. The debate tonight is in his district. It's nice to see you because I am from Long Island and that's where the debate is being held. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

We know for sure that --

REP. STEVE ISRAEL, (D) NEW YORK: Great to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Libya is going to be a topic tonight, I'm absolutely certain. Here is what Secretary Clinton told Elise Labott about Libya. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs, and make a considered decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So she's saying, ultimately, the responsibility rests with me. But none of that really confronts all the kerfuffle around this videotape and claiming there was an argument, a protest, over this movie that we now know did not exist. And we know on September 16, Susan Rice on "Meet the Press" said, "Initially our assessment," et cetera, et cetera, "was prompted, of course, by the video."

On September 18, it was Jay Carney who said, "Our belief based on the information we had was the video that caused unrest in Cairo precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi."

So they're talking about video. They're wrong. They're ultimately wrong. Secretary Clinton, is she ultimately responsible for that?

ISRAEL: Look, there's got to be accountability and there's got to be transparency and Secretary of State Clinton said that she is ultimately responsible. But, Soledad, at the end of the day, national security and foreign policy is about who is keeping us safe? This debate tonight is about 30 or 40 miles away from Ground Zero. Long Islanders understood what happened on 9/11 and this was the president who made the tough decisions to eliminate to Osama bin Laden. This was the president who got us out of Iraq, who is winding down the war in Afghanistan and letting Afghanistan forces, Afghanistan's army and police, take over a war that we have been fighting for over 10 years.

So on the fundamental national security and foreign policy questions facing our country, this is a president who has done an extraordinarily good job keeping us safe, putting additional forces in Afghanistan when they were needed, taking them out, and killing Osama bin Laden and more al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists than George Bush did in his 8 years.

O'BRIEN: But isn't a fundamental foreign policy question one that Mayor Giuliani posed to us yesterday, where he said it's a cover-up. And isn't a fundamental foreign policy is, "Is it a cover-up?" Or is it incompetence that it took so long to figure out. We're now a month out and still haven't sort of - just getting the basic facts of what happened.

ISRAEL: I think it's fair to say that you have certain information on Tuesday, you have more information on Wednesday, more information on Thursday. By the way, with all due respect to Mayor Giuliani, when he makes accusations about this administration and a cover-up for not keeping the Benghazi facility safe, you know, I would never say this but some could suggest that when he was the mayor of New York, why wasn't he better prepared to deal with 9/11? It's just ludicrous. It's ludicrous. You've got to - you have certain information, you do the best you can with that information.

But again, on the ultimate question that the American think about, which is, "Is al Qaeda stronger or weaker? Is Osama bin Laden dead or alive? Is the war in Iraq continuing to be waged or is it over? Are our troops coming home to Long Island from Afghanistan or will they be there for another 10 years fighting another country's battles?" On those questions, this president has performed.

O'BRIEN: I like the way you said, "I would never say this," and then quoted people who you think might say that. Jump in, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I want to ask - Congressman, Ron Brownstein from "The National Journal". There were many blank spots in that first debate but maybe the biggest one was President Obama not really telling us very much about what he would do in a second term. You're trying to elect a Democratic Congress. If the voters do give you the majority in the House and the president is reelected, what can they expect, if anything, from Democrats to try to get the economy recovering faster than it has over the last few years?

ISRAEL: Well, Ron, it's so appropriate that this debate is held on Long Island - or as we say, Long Island - because it is the home to the middle class voter, the home to the swing voter, the home to the defiantly independent voter. And tonight is very important. The central question is what do you do to rebuild a middle class that has, as Vice President Biden said in his debate, been knocked back on its heels by Republican policies that put us in this position?

And I think it's important for the president to remind voters that he and Democrats in Congress want to quit giving tax breaks to big corporations to ship jobs overseas and start providing bigger tax incentives for small businesses to open up on Hempstead Turnpike near Hofstra University, or on Main Street in Huntington. He has to remind the American people that he thinks we should give the middle class more help to send a kid to college. Mitt Romney thinks that we have to give millionaires more help, and big oil companies more help. And the president has to remind the American people that we believe that if you're 25 or 35, paying into Medicare, or 55 or 65, it should not be turned into a voucher. Mitt Romney and the Republicans believe it should.

So those are three critically important middle class principles that the president has to enunciate tonight. And in that debate, Mitt Romney is on defense trying to explain to the American people why his policies, which we tried and failed the middle class, will succeed for them again. And the president is on offense on his relentless advocacy for the middle class.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to hear it actually goes when this debate takes place tonight. Congressman Steve Israel from Long Island, nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

ISAREL: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Coming at the top of the hour, we're going to get reaction from Republican Congressman Peter King also of New York. And of course, you can watch the debate complete coverage analysis tonight on CNN, starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'll be joining out there on Long Island for the pregame, John Berman fact checking candidates' claims as per usual. That's tonight and on cnn.com I should mention.

John's got a look at the rest of the day's stories as well. What do you have?

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. The New York Police Department investigating a possible case of police brutality, the incident was caught by surveillance video and before we show it. We're showing it already. We want to warn you this can be tough to watch.

Police say two officers, one male, one female, responded to a dispute at a community center last week. They attempted to arrest a man then you see on the video the male officer appears to strike him more than a dozen times. The police department is now investigating.

The body of missing University of Florida student, Christine Aguilar has been found. Gainesville police said they used dental records to identify human remains that were discovered last week by hunters.

The 18-year-old Aguilar vanished September 20th. A friend and former classmate, 18-year-old Pedro Bravo has been charged with his murder. Aguilar's father says the teens -- they were fighting over a girl.

Federal health officials now say at least two other drugs may be linked to the growing outbreak of meningitis and those drugs are made by the same Massachusetts company that produced the contaminated pain steroid that's already been linked to the spread of the disease. At least 214 cases of fungal meningitis have now been reported in 15 states, 15 people have died.

A new warning for people who binge drink, research on lab rats shows that intermittent binge drinking can damage brain cells in a short period of time and impair one's ability to control how much alcohol they drink.

Researchers found that the more the test rats binged, the more alcohol they consumed. The scientists hope this research can lead to greater understanding about addiction. The study is reported by the national academy of sciences. Hats off to those rats.

Get your leg warmers out for Paul Ryan. Mitt Romney's running mate has a fan who's turning heads. Model and actress Meredith Walker is showing her support of Paul Ryan, Mr. P90X by literally taking it old school with let's get fiscal.

A parody of the '80s hit "Let's Get Physical." It all brings back memories of 2008 and Obama girl.

That of course was Amber Lee, Obama girl. This is a very good morning here on STARTING POINT.

O'BRIEN: My God, this is like -- moving on. How about that?

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, she's taking responsibility. We'll tell you why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is on her, not the president.

She wants you to love your flaws. Yes, Tyra, I love my flaws. She's here to explain the reasons behind her flawsome ball that she's holding for young women this week. You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not pointing a finger at President Obama because the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last month, she says, was her responsibility.

In an interview with CNN's Elise Labott, Secretary Clinton insisted that she's in charge of security at all foreign outposts and that the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans should not divide the nation.

Let's get right to our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott. She's in Lima, Peru, today. Elise, good morning. How much of a bombshell is this, what Secretary Clinton has now said, the buck stops with me in a nutshell?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Soledad, I think what she's trying to do are a couple of things. I think she's trying to end the political firestorm. I mean, you heard from Chris Stevens' dad just a few weeks ago -- days ago that ambassador, saying listen his death is being politicized.

And you heard, you know, Vice President Biden kind of distancing himself from the State Department, saying we didn't know about those requests for extra security.

Take a listen to what Secretary Clinton said when I asked her whether the White House, whether the administration, is throwing her State Department under the bus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs, and make a considered decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: And Soledad, in addition, kind of taking some heat of the White House, I think she also tries to refocus people to say, listen, let's stop this political gotcha.

Let's stop the bickering and the blame game and remember that four Americans, four brave diplomats, died and what we really need to do is make sure that this doesn't happen again. Make sure those embassies and consulates. Make sure they get adequate security that they need -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to guess that on the eve of a debate those claims to say, let's end it, are going to fall on deaf ears. Elise Labott for us. She is in lima, Peru, today. Thank you, Elise. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning -- you know what, let me get to this response. Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham and John McCain, senators, all of them said this.

"If the president was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there."

Meantime, a public memorial service will be held later today for the late Ambassador Chris Stevens. It's going to take place in San Francisco city hall, 4:15 p.m. local time this afternoon.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, she's a supermodel. But says she knows exactly what it's like to have flaws. Tyra Banks is going to join us to talk about how she's trying to show young women it's going to be flawsome. Back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. From supermodel to super-mogul, Tyra Banks was one of the first African-American models to be on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" and top runway shows like Victoria Secret. She went on to create and produce the hugely successful "America's Next Top Model."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TYRA BANKS, MODEL: Whenever someone tells me you look so much better in person, that's an insult. You want to look better in your pictures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get that all the time.

BANKS: Right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a model. I should look better in my pictures.

BANKS: So that's a compliment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Tyra has created the TZONE Foundation to empower young women and teach them career developing tools. It gets a permanent new home with a newly constructed girls' club here in New York City.

And she is in New York to raise the money for that center with a flawsome ball, which is going to happen on Thursday night.

BANKS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Flawsome is such a great word. I know this is kind of the message to young women.

BANKS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What is flawsome?

BANKS: You, plus your flaws plus awesome equals flawsome so I always say to girls whether it's on "America's Next Top Model" or girls that I'm mentoring just in life that perfect is boring and human is beautiful. I look for things that are interesting and different on a woman's face.

O'BRIEN: How do they believe that from you?

BANKS: Because I got a big forehead. I've got a huge forehead. It's like --

O'BRIEN: You're right. It's terrible.

BANKS: It's under there. You guys see it.

SOCARIDES: You look fantastic, though. You are so beautiful. You are more beautiful in person than you are even --

BANKS: Thank you for insulting me right now. That's an insult. Did you not watch the video?

O'BRIEN: Do girls who looking at a super model really understand the message? You look like perfection personafied. Is it hard to send a message to a young girl that's 12 or 13 that they can somehow turn into you eventually? BANKS: Actually, I don't think so because I actually started "America's Next Top Model" because I wanted to emphasize flawsomeness. I wanted to talk about a girl covered in freckles from head to toe that doesn't feel attractive.

I wanted to talk and have girls on the show with big, red, frizzy hair and they're like this is bad and we're like, no, we're not straightening that, you know so girls with high foreheads, girls with ebony skin or alabaster skin.

So those types of things that people consider to be not so beautiful, we actually highlight and I choose 70 percent of my girls that I call debatable beauty.

BERMAN: Is this just for girls or can boys be flawsome, too?

BANKS: You can be flawsome. What are you insecure about?

BERMAN: I'm saying in theory, theoretically speaking.

BANKS: I tend to focus on girls. You have a lovely -- what I call a five head, big forehead. It's not a forehead it's a five head. You have one, too. Let's see. He's so fine, I don't know.

O'BRIEN: There was a great article in "The New York Times," magazine a while back about you and you talked about sort of the future for your life post modelling. You said it won't always be my face, she said, as he finished up her soap.

I know that nothing lives forever and I'm prepared for that. But there's no end to producing. I'll still be at the helm. Describe for me what your life is as you move forward as a business woman.

BANKS: Well, it's interesting. I do a lot more of this behind the scenes, at a board room, at a table, leading me team, creating new projects, new businesses, finished Harvard Business School program to expand my business behind the scenes.

And to create like industries and things that have a long life, that I don't have to -- what I call, tap dance so, you know, that's very important to me and the public only sees a little bit. I like being off camera because I had to wake up at 4:30 this morning and put this thing together.

O'BRIEN: Tell me, sister.

BANKS: You know how it is, right?

SOCARIDES: The most beautiful thing about you is your energy and your enthusiasm.

BANKS: Thank you!

SOCARIDES: It's just your whole aura.

O'BRIEN: And what a great inspiration for young women. And I'm going to be at the flawsome ball.

BANKS: Yes and we're auctioning off a day with Soledad O'Brien at CNN where you can be her intern and actually like an anchor in training.

O'BRIEN: Or do the show.

BANKS: Do the show so she can stay in bed.

O'BRIEN: Auction off the congressman's job for a day.

SOCARIDES: But no voting.

BANKS: So they can be with you all day.

O'BRIEN: Fantastic. I love that. Maybe I'll bid on it. Tyra, always great to have you with us. You are really a true inspiration to young women.

We've got to take a short break. Still ahead this morning, 13 hours and counting -- I can't believe we're doing a countdown for the debate, but it is a countdown.

President Obama, Mitt Romney ready for their rematch. We'll preview tonight's high stakes debate when both campaigns will join us coming up at our next hour.

Payton back on top, the Broncos dominate the Charges in an incredible victory. We'll bring you the highlights of that as well. Back in a moment.

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