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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Plot to Bomb New York Federal Reserve; E. Coli Outbreak in North Carolina; "Binders Full of Women"; Battling For The Female Vote

Aired October 18, 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: Plot foiled. How the FBI said it caught a man trying to blow up New York's financial nerve center just blocks away from Ground Zero.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly outbreak. E. coli traced to a county fair kills a child and sickens dozens of others.

BERMAN: Binders full of women. The now famous debate phrase that might have real consequences as both candidates try to win the female vote.

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

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's nice to have you with us this morning. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

So, up first, we're starting to learn more about the young man accused in the alleged plot to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The 21-year-old Quazi Nafis from Bangladesh was in the United States on a student visa. He was majoring in cyber security at Southeast Missouri State University where he studied from January through May of this year. Nafis is in federal custody this morning, charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

BERMAN: The bank building is located in Lower Manhattan, in the heart of the financial district, just a few blocks east of the World Trade Center and all that rebuilding that is under way now at Ground Zero.

Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti has been on this story since it broke yesterday. So, Susan, walk us through this alleged plot and exactly how the FBI says they busted him.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Well, after coming here and after studying in college and then moving on to New York, not surprisingly, this guy uses social media. He gets on Facebook. And according to prosecutors, he hooks up, he connects with someone that he thinks is going to be able to help him. Then he can recruit for the cause.

Unfortunately for him, fortunately for us, it turns out that this is someone who is a source for the FBI. Well, then it's for him, according to prosecutors, it's all about jihad. It's all about destroying America, wrecking the economy. He even talks about the possibility of doing something that would stop the presidential election.

And what he didn't know was that the people that were brought in to this in this undercover elaborate FBI sting were all people who were working undercover for the FBI and for the New York Police Department. Then he set about to select a target. Prosecutors say it was his idea.

Here's what New York's police commissioner has to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY KELLY, NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: He comes here with, again, the avowed purpose of committing some sort of jihad here in the United States. He goes to the New York Stock Exchange. He see that's there is significant security there and he shifts his target to the Federal Reserve Bank.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And, of course, what a target. The New York Federal Reserve Bank is the largest reservoir of gold bouillon, a lot of cash in there, too. He proceeds, he moves on. And he even talked about motivation -- all of this, I'm told by sources, is on audio tape and videotape. A lot of evidence when eventually it moves to court.

But his motivation, he says, quote, "I came up to this conclusion that targeting America's economy is the most efficient way to draw the path of obliteration of America." And in fact, we're also told, according to the federal complaint, that he wanted to take out a high ranking U.S. official. I'm told by a source that that is -- that was President Obama. But it was mentioned in passing. He didn't do anything with it, and went on to select another target, allegedly.

SAMBOLIN: You mentioned a videotape message. The FBI says that he actually videotaped a message right before his attempt.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. All this was supposed to come down yesterday. According to prosecutors, they're on their way to the Federal Reserve Bank just before they arrive on the scene with this supposed bomb in a van. He says, "I want to stop at a hotel." They do it. He wants to make a suicide tape.

And here's what he says in part. He says, let's see, "I just want something big. Something very big that will shake the whole country and will make Muslims one step closer to run the whole world."

BERMAN: Wow. He does that on the way to the bank which he thinks he's about to blow up.

CANDIOTTI: Exactly. And then they pull up to the Reserve Bank. Prosecutors say that when he goes to detonate the bomb, it isn't really a bomb. It's a fake. Uses a cell phone to set it off, that's when they move in for the bust.

BERMAN: Wow. Susan Candiotti, that is a chilling story but fascinating. Thank you so much for being with us this morning. SAMBOLIN: And this just in to CNN. At least eight suspected al Qaeda operatives killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. That attack taking place at a farmhouse in southern Yemen. According to Yemeni officials, a senior leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was one of those killed.

BERMAN: We'll stay on that story.

Meanwhile, the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks speaking in and out court, lecturing his military tribunal, accusing the government of hypocrisy and showing no sympathy. At a free trial hearing in Guantanamo yesterday, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed accused the U.S. of killing many more people in the name of national security than he is charged with murdering. Mohammed and four others were accused of recruiting, funding and training the September 11th hijackers. They are all facing the death penalty.

SAMBOLIN: Four more people have died in the outbreak of fungal meningitis for a total now of 19 deaths. Federal health officials now report that 247 people across 15 states have been sickened. That outbreak has been traced to a contaminated pain steroid made by a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company. Federal officials have opened an investigation after raiding the company's facility. That was on Tuesday.

BERMAN: We have more troubling health news. Officials in North Carolina are investigating a deadly outbreak of E. coli infection that is traced to a county fair. At least 61 people, including three dozen children have now become ill. One child died. The officials believe the source of the outbreak is the petting zoo. E. coli is often spread from animals to humans. That's why people say wash your hands at --

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. That's terrible.

Twenty thousand confidential files of alleged Boy Scout sex abusers will be released to the public today. The organization so-called perversion files identified more than 1,200 Boy Scout leaders and volunteers from across the country banned from scouting after being suspected of pedophilia and related offenses. One of the victims of a Boy Scout predator who was convicted spoke to our Casey Wian.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH EARLY, ABUSED FORMER BOY SCOUT: Just thinking about it makes me angry because how could you do that to somebody? How could you bring yourself to do that to somebody that is so innocent and, you know, has done nothing wrong?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The documents being released today cover a period from 1965 to 1985.

BERMAN: Changing gears to sports news. Advantage Cardinals, the Red Birds beating the Giants 3-1 in game three of the National League Championship Series. Rookie Matt Carpenter, he was the unlikely hero, hitting a two-run homer after replacing injured star Carlos Beltran. Beltran left with a bummed knee.

The game was delayed nearly 3 1/2 hours by rain. The Cards now lead that series 2-1. The injury to Beltran, though, he's one of the best players in the postseason. That could be huge. Game four is tonight in St. Louis.

SAMBOLIN: And Mother Nature threw the Tigers and Yankees a bit of a curve. Game four of the ALCS was delayed and then postponed due to rain but actually never came. The decision was made to, quote, "preserve the integrity of an uninterrupted game". They'll try again this afternoon at Comerica in Detroit.

Meantime, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez was not in the lineup again last night. A-Rod did talk to reporters addressing questions about his suddenly uncertain future with the Yankees.

BERMAN: There is $30 million sitting on the bench there. You know, the story is when he was taken out of the game last week, he was eyeballing a couple women who are in the stands.

SAMBOLIN: I saw that.

BERMAN: He threw them baseballs with his phone number on them.

SAMBOLIN: Not a good idea.

BERMAN: Probably not when you're benched. Tough times for Alex Rodriguez.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Eight minutes past the hour.

It may have sounded funny at the time but Mitt Romney's debate reference about binders full of women is now a serious campaign issue. What both sides are now saying to court women voters. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: President Obama and Mitt Romney will share the same stage in New York once again tonight, not to tear each other down, but to lift others up. Just 48 hours after a bitter, bruising debate, the candidates will be attending the annual Al Smith Charity Dinner.

Brianna Keilar is live from Washington this morning. And, Brianna, this charity event is all about laughs. Do you think these two men can get with the program after what we witnessed Tuesday night?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Zoraida, they have to. They're doing this for the kids, right? This is to benefit the Catholic archdiocese there in New York and this foundation for a charity. And this is something we've seen before. They have to show up. We saw in 2008, John McCain and then Senator Obama going to this dinner putting on the laughs.

Here's a taste of what we might expect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: This campaign needed the common touch of a working man. After all, it began so long ago with a heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as the one. Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him that one.

THEN-SENATOR BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS: Many of you know that I got my name Barack from my father. What you may not know is Barack is actually a Swahili for "that one". And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And, Zoraida, just for a little context, that sort of exchange almost a little back and forth in a way, the way they were playing off each other with the jokes, that happened around the same time right after this town hall style debate that we saw in Hofstra. It was also at Hofstra four years ago.

Yes, I think they'll put on the laughs. I kind of love it. I love that they have to take this right turn from the very serious, kind of smacking each other on the campaign trail and they have to be funny tonight.

SAMBOLIN: Let's hope they can accomplish that.

So the presidential debate seems to have shifted the focus of the race to women. Both candidates now are working really, really hard to woo female voters. What can you tell us about that?

KEILAR: That's right. And, Zoraida, you had to look no further than the president's wrist band yesterday. He was wearing one of the plastic wrist bands as he campaigned in Iowa. Hot pink supporting breast cancer. They are fighting for women at this point.

We saw early this week, a Gallup poll that showed, at least this individual poll, showed that likely female voters in swing states are kind of tied up. And this is something that if true, which the Obama campaign will dispute, is something that will be pretty alarming for the president.

We saw yesterday as he campaigned in Ohio and Iowa, he seized on comments that Mitt Romney made during the debate. Mitt Romney was trying to make the point that he made it a priority to hire women for his cabinet as he was Massachusetts governor but he said he ordered up binders of women and President Obama seized up on that yesterday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented young women ready to learn and teach in these fields right now. JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The idea that he had to go and ask where a qualified woman was, he should have come to my house. He didn't need a binder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So you can se the Democratic ticket trying to get all they can out of this.

Mitt Romney, for his part, his campaign putting out a new ad, they're also trying to woo women, trying to cut into President Obama's margins. This ad sort of tries to soften his stance, at least rhetorically, his anti-abortion stance. He said yesterday as he campaigned that he's really trying to say that -- he's really trying to purport an economic message for women, saying that President Obama hasn't done enough. And he said that President Obama is running on fumes and he's not articulating a message for the next -- or really articulating a vision for what he wants to do for the next four years, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Brianna Keilar, live in Washington this morning. Thank you.

BERMAN: I should say that all the reporting in Boston right now saying that Mitt Romney did not actually order up the binders full of women. He didn't ask for them as he said in the debate, they were provided by a commission during the transition there. So he may have had that story --

SAMBOLIN: By an independent, right?

BERMAN: Quarter past the hour now.

We want to get you up to date on all the other headlines. Here's Christine Romans with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And good morning you two.

We're closely following a developing story this morning, a foiled terror plot. A 21-year-old from Bangladesh is accused of trying to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He's identified as Quazi Nafis. Authorities arrested him yesterday in a sting operation.

He allegedly parked a van outside the bank that was packed with 1,000- pound of dummy explosives provided by an undercover agent. And he attempted to detonate it. Prosecutors say he was motivated by al Qaeda.

A big loss for the state of Alabama and the controversial immigration law. The same federal appeals court that struck down parts of the law in August denied the state's request for a new hearing. Alabama had called the court's summer ruling erroneous. Judges (INAUDIBLE) provisions that made it a crime for illegal immigrants to work and a crime to rent property to illegal aliens.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the law illegal and immoral.

Actress Angelina Jolie has donated $50,000 toward the education of girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She made the donation in the name of Malala Yousufzai, who's the 14-year-old girl, of course, from Pakistan, shot in the head last week by the Taliban for promoting education for girls. Malala is fighting for her life in a hospital in Britain.

BERMAN: Thanks, Christine.

And we are all pulling for Malala as she recovers in England.

It is now 16 minutes after the hour. Right now, time to get an early read -- your local news that is making national headlines.

First up from Florida's "Gainesville Sun". A Gainesville man is under arrest accused of operating a black market in dinosaur fossils out of his home. A federal indictment alleges that Eric Prokopi illegally imported fossils from Mongolia then he turned around and he sold them on the market. Mongolian government accuses Prokopi of taking the bones from an excavation site which is against the law in Mongolia. They like to protect their fossils.

SAMBOLIN: So much for school spirit from the "Dallas Morning News" and our affiliate WFAA.

No one in Texas can ever remember a marching band being ejected from a football game. But that is exactly what happened Tuesday night when a referee ordered the Hudson Middle School Band to stop playing. He said they were too loud. He even threw a penalty flag, threatened to keep penalizing the Hudson football team if band members keep performing. So the band left the field before halftime. It turns out the ref wasn't far behind, because district officials ordered him to leave the field as well. He has been banned from future games and band members have also received an apology.

BERMAN: Turn down that music. That music is too loud.

SAMBOLIN: We'll have to ask how old he is.

All right. Coming up, a closer look at Mitt Romney's tax plan. Do the numbers add up? New analysis after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Minding your business this morning.

The Tax Policy Center, you've heard them. They've been big this presidential election. They're out with a new analysis of Governor Mitt Romney's tax plan. The verdict: probably not good news for the Romney campaign.

SAMBOLIN: Before we get right into what this new report says, Christine, remind us what Romney's plan is.

ROMANS: Right. Mitt Romney has promised to lower tax rates by 20 percent for everyone, across the board tax cuts by 20 percent. How he would pay for it, cap tax deductions and generate revenue through economic growth.

The campaign has said again and again and Mitt Romney said in the most recent debate, we can make the math work. Don't worry about it. I'm going to lower taxes for everyone. The economy is going to grow because of my policies. And you're going to be able to have a lower tax rate. It's not going to blow up the deficit.

This is something new and specific he told us about in the debate Tax Policy Center scored. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: In terms of bringing down deductions, one way of doing that is to say everybody gets a -- I'll pick a number -- $25,000 of deductions and credits. And you can decide which ones to use -- your home mortgage interest deduction, charity, child tax credit, and so forth. You can use those as part of fill in that bucket, if you will, of deductions.

But your rate comes down and the burden also comes down on you for one more reason. And that is every middle income taxpayer no longer will pay any tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So, with this new sort of context in language about capping deductions, the Tax Policy Center, sort of the arbiter of scoring these candidates' plans, this is what they say. They say these new estimates suggest that Romney will need to do much more than capping itemized deductions to pay for the roughly $5 trillion in rate cuts and other tax benefits that he has proposed. That is Robertson Williams, the Tax Policy Center senior fellow.

So, let's talk about why the Tax Policy Center says that the tax plan falls short. If you repeal all itemized deductions, assuming 20 percent income tax rate cut and repeal of the AMT, you raise $2 trillion over 10 years.

So, if you have a deduction cap at $17,000, you're going to generate revenue of $1.7 trillion; $25,000, you'll have revenue of $1.3 trillion; $50,000 -- you get the picture. The lower cap affects more people. So it raises more revenue. But you don't get to the $5 trillion.

BERMAN: There's the math right there.

ROMANS: But the campaign, and I should point out the campaign as they said many times, the Romney campaign's response is saying that this -- these researchers inserted their own assumptions in order to make a biased conclusion work.

So, the campaign has long said, look, we can make this work. The scorers got it wrong. BERMAN: They keep adding assumptions, because the Romney team only gives them so many facts. So, they have to fill in the blanks there, which is what the issue is going forward.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: Twenty-four minutes after the hour right now.

Participating in a presidential debate is tough stuff. Watching while your husband does it, that's no picnic either. We're going to hear from First Lady Michelle Obama watching the debates. What's it like? After this quick break.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Targeting New York. An alleged terrorist caught trying to carry out an attack near Ground Zero.

BERMAN: Dominating the debate. Both sides claim the upper hand in terms of how long and how much.

SAMBOLIN: Our next door neighbor scientists discover an earth sized planet close to our solar system. Seriously?

Welcome back to EARLY START. Happy to have you with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Happy to have a new planet, too.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, right.

BERMAN: Good news.

All right. It is 28 minutes after the hour right now. We're hoping to learn more today about the young man from Bangladesh who was accused of plotting to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

Twenty-one-year-old Quazi Nafis was in the United States on a student visa. He was majoring in cyber security at Southeast Missouri University where he studied from January through May of this year. He's now charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

SAMBOLIN: Nafis allegedly parked a van outside a bank that was packed with 1,000 pounds of dummy explosives. They were provided by an undercover agent and he attempted to detonate it.

Prosecutors say he was motivated by al Qaeda. National correspondent Susan Candiotti joins us with more on this still developing story. And, Susan, walk us through exactly what happened and how authorities were actually also able to uncover this plot.

CANDIOTTI: It's a very good question. They had their eye on him very long time, they say. And to summarize it, he was at school then moved to New York. He got on Facebook, social media. He reached out to people that prosecutors say he thought could help him to destroy America. He wanted to target American and wreck the economy.

He gets on Facebook and connects with someone who turns out to be working for the FBI. And that's when authorities set up this elaborate sting. And so,they said he set about selecting a target, at one time, even mentioned President Obama, but then quickly moved on to some other landmarks in New York City. Here's police commissioner, Ray Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: He comes here with, again, the purpose of committing some sort of jihad here in the United States. He goes to the New York Stock Exchange. He sees that there's significant security there, and he shifts his target to the Federal Reserve Bank.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And, of course, the Federal Reserve Bank, home to the world's largest supply of gold bouillon. And, if this had been an actual bomb, he could have killed a lot of people, authorities say.

BERMAN: They had a lot of information on tape, his notes, including a videotape he made on his way to blow up the bank so we thought?

CANDIOTTI: That's right. Prosecutors say on the way over there, he wanted to pull over, went to a hotel and asked to make a suicide tape which reads in part, quote, "I just want something big, something very big that will shake the whole country and will make Muslims one step closer to run the whole world." Scary stuff.

SAMBOLIN: So is he giving us all of these details? You know, the FBI has been following him for a long time. Why didn't they make an earlier arrest? Why wait until the 11th hour here?

CANDIOTTI: Well, it's not uncommon in these investigations to try to follow it through to see how far it will go. One thing the FBI always wants to do is to see are you working with other people? Who else might he reach out to? And they are satisfied, at this time, that he was working by himself. That's what prosecutors say.

As far as where he lived in his old neighborhood in Queens here, no one seems to know much about this young man. As you said, just a 21- year-old.

SAMBOLIN: You look at his picture, he looks like a baby. He looks so unbelievably young.

BERMAN: It always seems like a movie to me. They follow these guys who they think have a bomb in their vehicle all the way to the point where they think they're going to blow it up. It really -- it's unbelievable --

SAMBOLIN: But he did. He made that phone call, because that phone call would have triggered the bombs, right?

CANDIOTTI: It would have. And that's when they busted him. Authorities say it's like the 15th plot since 9/11 that would have targeted New York City unsuccessfully again.

BERMAN: Suzanne Candiotti, thank you very much.

SAMBOLIN: And, a guilty plea from an Iranian-American charged with plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Mansour Arbabsiar admitted in court he conspired with members of Iran's military to formulate his plot.

Prosecutors say his scheme unraveled when he tried to recruit a Mexican drug cartel to bomb a Washington restaurant where the ambassador frequently dined. He wound up meeting with an undercover agent instead.

BERMAN: Cuba state run media has released the first statement from Fidel Castro in four months, but no new video. Rumors have been circulating about the former president's health. He hasn't been seen in public for more than six months. A lot of people have been asking a lot of questions. In his published statement, the 86-year-old Castro praised the group of graduates from Havana's Institute of Medical Sciences.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-three minutes past the hour. President Obama spoke longer, but Mitt Romney said more in Tuesday night's presidential debate on Long Island. It was a bitter showdown. And when you break down minute by minute, the president spoke for 44 minutes and four seconds. That's three minutes and 14 seconds longer than his Republican rival.

But when it comes to words, Romney is on top. The GOP nominee spoke 7,984 words, seriously, during the 90-minute debate. That's 478 more words than the president spoke. The same phenomenon occurred at their first debate in Denver.

BERMAN: Two thoughts here. One, did Romney use really short words?

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: And number two is who's the poor intern sitting there counting one, two -- anyway. Thank you to that.

SAMBOLIN: Fascinating, though, right?

BERMAN: So, what's it like for a spouse watching these high pressure debates from the sidelines? First lady, Michelle Obama, interviewed on "Live with Kelly and Michael" says she has to resist the urge for a shout-out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I compared it to the Olympic parents watching their kid on that balance beam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

MICHELLE OBAMA: You know, lots of clinching.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And do you ever say -- you know, do you ever go --

MICHELLE OBAMA: Yes, I do. I was sitting next to somebody -- at this debate and I was kind of moving around and but, you know, they really caution you to be quiet. And, I try to follow the rules so I don't get in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to be conscious because the camera is always on you.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I can imagine, in your head, you going get him baby. Get him. That's what I'm talking about. That's my man. I know.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call it like I see it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: Fantastic. That's a true moment right there. That is my man.

BERMAN: The entire Michelle Obama interview airs on Friday.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that was funny. All right. Thirty-four minutes past the hour. There are three little words from the debate that opened up a whole big can of worms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I went to a number of women's groups and said can you help us find folks and they brought us binders full of women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Is that four words?

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

Coming up, how both candidates are trying to win over women voters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You're looking at Washington, D.C., our nation's capitol where it is now 57 degrees. Later, it's going to be (INAUDIBLE), 75 degrees and like summer day in our nation's capital. Meanwhile, today, the candidates are on the trail again with 19 days to go until Election Day. Man, it is close. President Obama, Mitt Romney, and their running mates spent the day trashing their opponents, explaining how the other was wrong, the wrong choice for a certain key demographic. It's hard to say they're demographic. Actually, women.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA: We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women ready to learn and teach in these fields right now.

ROMNEY: Why is it that there are 3.6 million more women in poverty today than when the president took office? This president has failed America's women.

BIDEN: What I can't understand is how he has gotten in this sort of 1950s time warp in terms of women.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI) VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We had a discussion about how women are faring in this economy last night. 5.5 million women are still struggling for work in this economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: You know, you can tell something is going on when every single one of the candidates is basically on the same message. It is a critical demographic to be sure, again, more than demographic, because women, there are more than half the electorate. And with President Obama's lead among women seeming to evaporate over the last month, it is still a group very up or grabs.

Let's bring in CNN contributors, Eric Erickson, who is the editor-in- chief of RedState.com, and Maria Cardona, who's a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. Maria, let me start with you. It's clear in the polls that at least somewhat maybe completely Mitt Romney has closed a lot of the gender gap here. Do you think the president was able to turn that around at the debate the other night?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do, John. And I actually don't believe the polls that said that gender gap has completely closed, but I hope, and I know that president is running as if he is five points behind with women, because I think the important thing here is to underscore the fact that it's actually his campaign that is pushing the policies that help women.

And I don't think Mitt Romney helped himself in the debate two nights ago when he actually talked about the famous binders full of women. I think that even though it was a slip of the tongue, it betrays the lack of understanding, the lack of even a comfort level, John, when talking about issues that are important to women like equality of pay.

He didn't even answer the question. And when he talked about his binders full of women story, the story was even wrong. And I think it's important to underscore that as he was even telling the story that isn't even true, the binders of women actually went looking for him.

During his administration in Massachusetts, the percentage of women in appointed positions during his administration actually declined. So, these are important issues to women. And the Obama campaign is going to continue to underscore these.

BERMAN: Maria, I do want to come back to how he actually got that binder, because it is in dispute right now. Before we get to that, I want to talk to Erick.

Is this a playing field that is somewhat dangerous for Mitt Romney? You heard all the candidates a second ago talking about women, the women's vote, how important women are in the election. Is Mitt Romney comfortable with these discussions, do you think, Erick?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: Oh, I absolutely think so. I mean, the issue is that the Democrats want to talk about what matters to women in the form of birth control and Barack Obama telling women they're qualified to teach, and Mitt Romney is out there telling them he's going to help them find jobs and help them find their kids' jobs and their other relatives' jobs.

I mean, these are some brilliant Democratic talking points from the DNC, but the fact of the matter is, they're not really true, yet, the president of the United States told people in the debate the other night that the jobs aren't coming back. So, the Democrats would rather focus on this binders full of women comment which was a cute comment.

And I would dispute Maria on the facts of the binder, but Mitt Romney is fine here. Look, he's closed the gap with women. If you look at where John McCain was in 2008, John McCain was 12.5 with women and three points behind with Mitt.

Right now, according to the Gallup poll, Mitt Romney is tied with women and ten points ahead with men. That's bad for Barack Obama. That's why he's focusing on Big Bird and Planned Parenthood and can't tell us what his next four years is going to be about.

BERMAN: So, you did bring up, you said you dispute the idea of the binder here. Let's talk about the binder here and lay out what appear to be some of the facts here. We have a statement from the group that says it provided the binder, hopefully, they throw that up on the screen so we can see it here.

This is from the group, Mass Gap, which is a non-partisan group in Massachusetts. They say prior to the 2002 gubernatorial election, Mass Gap approached the campaigns of candidate, Shannon O'Brien, she was the Democrat, and Mitt Romney and asked them both to commit to make best efforts to insure that the number of women in appointed state positions is appropriate.

Now, Mass Gap what they say they then did is they put together this binder, and they say it was a big binder with women's names there. And they provided them to Mitt Romney once he won the election. He never asked for them, they say, as he claimed in the debate. They just handed him the binder. Maria, is that what you're talking about when you said the facts are in dispute?

CARDONA: Yes. That's exactly right, John. So, for him to go before the debate audience and say that he was so -- that he was so worried that there were no qualified women applying for positions in his cabinet that he pro-actively went looking for them and then we actually hear from the actual group that put together these binders full of women that it's not true. Again, I think it betrays the --

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: Eric, it's the truth.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: This underscores what the Republicans are really trying to do which is obviously (ph) what the truth is and what the record is.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: I actually want to go -- I'd like to go back to something that Erick said in terms of democrats pushing women's issues. Women's issues are economic issues. And one of the things that the president did, I think, brilliantly --

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: -- is to connect the economics' of women's health care and equal pay for equal work to actual pocketbook issues for women. And that's what the president is going to continue to do.

BERMAN: We have to give Eric the last word here (INAUDIBLE).

ERICKSON: Yes. It's absolutely phenomenal to hear Democrats, including Maria here, basically to say contraception is an economic issue for women when there are five million of them out of work and looking for jobs. I mean, there are bigger issues here. And it says that the Democrats have given up trying to lure independents that just want to rally the base because they've got three weeks, and suddenly, the president finds himself behind.

BERMAN: All right. Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief --

CARDONA: Fifty-three of the electorate.

BERMAN: Erick Erickson is the editor-in-chief of RedState.com. Maria Cardona, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. Thank you both for being with us. As I said, you can tell by the fact that all the candidates are talking about this issue that it is a big issue on the trail, at least, right now.

It is 45 minutes after the hour right now. We are counting down to the final crucial presidential debate which will focus on foreign policy. CNN's live coverage from Boca Raton, Florida, begins Monday night at 7:00 Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: The world next door relatively speaking. Coming up, a planet the same size -- the same size as Earth discovered closer than ever before.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: It is now 49 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up to date with the headlines. Christine Romans here with the top stories.

ROMANS: Good morning, you two.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): We're starting to piece together information now about Quazi Nafis. He's a 21-year-old man from Bangladesh under arrest accused of plotting to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank of New York right near ground zero. Nafis was in the United States on a student visa. He studied cyber security at Southeast Missouri State University. We're following this still developing story all morning.

Lance Armstrong's legacy taken another hit. Nike has cut him loose citing insurmountable evidence that Armstrong was doping. Another personal sponsor, Anheuser-Busch, followed suit. It comes after Armstrong stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong Foundation saying he wanted to spare the cancer charity any negative effects of allegations concerning his cycling career.

The White House is calling out the big guns in the homestretch of the campaign. Former president Bill Clinton and rocker Bruce Springsteen, will be appearing together at an Obama rally in Parma, Ohio today. The boss officially endorsed the president yesterday.

And scientists coming up big in the hunt for planets just like ours. It's a planet about the same size as Earth in a nearby Alpha Centauri star system. It's the closest one found outside our solar system. Close, of course, is relative. I mean, it's really close, 24 trillion miles away. The newly discovered planet at some four light years or 23 trillion --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: It's like your neighbors, next door, 24 million -- trillion miles -- next door.

SAMBOLIN: And it's being described as a furnace hot surface. So, nobody lives there.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: All right. Severe weather from St. Louis to the Deep South. It is moving east this morning. Rob Marciano in the weather center. I'm going to be able to speak in a moment here.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'll give you a little break.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

MARCIANO: Another cup of coffee, you'll be fine. Good morning, guys. We have some storms that are rolling across the Deep South. This is the same line that rolled through St. Louis yesterday disrupted the NLCS and the same system that brought rain eventually into Detroit last night. That -- the NLCS game four has been postponed until this afternoon.

Here is your front that's pushing slowly off to the east, and we do have a threat for severe weather. By the way, So Cal, another hot day to day. Yesterday, we had a flare-up of a couple of fires in and around the L.A. and Santa Barbara area. We can see the similar situation today. But here's what we expect severe weather from Buffalo back through parts of the Carolinas.

We could see large hail and damaging winds. Maybe an isolated tornado. We saw reports of four tornadoes yesterday. Now, the backside of this thing has got tremendous amount of wind with it, just straight line winds. Gusts 60 to 70 miles an hour across parts of the northern tier and behind it will be slightly cooler.

Temps in the 40s in Minneapolis but not terribly cold. Fifty-five in Chicago, 67 degrees you'll feel the humidity today in New York City, and eventually, we'll see some rain and some thunderstorms with this system as it pushes off to the east. Zoraida, I could use a cup of coffee myself.

SAMBOLIN: I said that. I said that as you were speaking. You're suffering from my same disease this morning.

BERMAN: He did bring us news of weather with a huge backside, though.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: So, I appreciate that. Thank you, Rob.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

A packed hour ahead on EARLY START, including new details on a 21- year-old student behind an alleged terror plot to blow up the New York Federal Reserve who quoted Osama Bin Laden to justify his plan to kill. We'll be joined by former CIA officer, Peter Brooks.

BERMAN: Also, a zoo takes down Halloween decorations after people complained that the faceless ghosts hanging from a tree that they resembled lynchings. The controversy and the response just ahead.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, the incredible results of the most extensive face transplant that has ever been performed. You are going to be shocked. This is the before picture. And the next picture is a bit graphic. This is after a shooting. This gentleman was left without most of his face and then this.

This is the young man after his face transplant. Can you believe it? We are talking to the lead surgeon live on EARLY START in the next hour.

BERMAN: Those pictures are truly amazing. SAMBOLIN: Remarkable.

BERMAN: All right. But first, why this jug of 20-year-old expired barbecue sauce for McDonald's, why it just sold for 10 grand. That is some sauce.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 56 minutes after the hour right now. John Berman along with Zoraida Sambolin taking a look at what is trending on the world wide web.

SAMBOLIN: Rarefied air Jordan memorabilia. A man from Chicago bought a jug of McJordan barbecue sauce for almost $10,000, folks. A North Dakota man who once owned a McD's franchise had the sauce in his basement for 20 years. What did he do? He put it on eBay.

It was the key ingredient in the McJordan burger that McDonald's sold for limited time. Who can forget this iconic ad Jordan shot back in the day with Larry Bird, playing a game of force for a Big Mac? The sauce, listen to this, has an expiration date of December 1992. The seller says that he hopes the buyer doesn't try to eat it.

BERMAN: Ten grand, that's a bargain. Well done.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: All right. Ashton Kutcher's move to "Two and a Half Men" is paying off. He is number one on the Forbes list of highest paid TV actors. Kutcher made an estimated $24 million between 2011 and 2012. Nowhere near the 40 million Charlie Sheen made the year before. Man, I'm in the wrong profession. If I only got like unfunny (ph) sitcoms, I'd be rolling in cash right now.

SAMBOLIN: I wonder how "Two and a Half Man" is --

BERMAN: Former "House" star, Hugh Laurie was second, he made 18 million bucks last year.

SAMBOLIN: Wow!

BERMAN: Ray Romano --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- he also earned $18 million. Alec Baldwin and NCIS star, Mark Harmon, made $15 million apiece.

SAMBOLIN: What do they all have in common?

BERMAN: They're all dudes.

SAMBOLIN: That's right.

All right. Late night laugh time now, Stewart and Kimmel digging into the binders full of women. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMNEY: I brought us binders full of women.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": My guess is they did not refer to what they presented as whole binders full of women.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: But, perhaps, referred to it as well organized collection of qualified resumes, but hey!

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Binder of women, book of broads, notebook and nipples, whatever!

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Whatever!

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": He said he had, quote, "binders full of women which is a little creepy binders. Binders full of women is something they find in a serial killer's basement at the end of a "Law & Order," SVU right? But its policy toward women is clear. We have to alphabetize them.

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: -- will bring that up. A binder full of -- maybe for Mitt Romney, that's the closest thing he ever got to looking at a dirty magazine?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: OK. EARLY START continues right now.