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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Plot To Bomb New York Federal Reserve Thwarted; Accused 9/11 Mastermind Speaks Out; Four More Meningitis Deaths; E.Coli Outbreak In North Carolina; Advantage: Cardinals; New Tax Policy Center Report on Romney's Tax Plan; Face Transplant Patient, Seven Months Later

Aired October 18, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Bomb plot foiled. How the FBI says they caught a man trying to blow up New York's financial nerve center just blocks from ground zero.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Scary for all the wrong reasons. A Halloween display that some say looks like lynching.

SAMBOLIN: And the unlikely hero of St. Louis, a rookie steps up for an injured star leading his team to a big playoff victory!

BERMAN: That's huge hit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East, and we're going to begin this hour with a story that is still developing. The arrest of a young man from Bangladesh charged with plotting to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank here in New York.

Just who is here? His name is Quazi Nafis. He was in the United States on a student visa majoring in Cyber Security at Southeast Missouri State University where he studied earlier this year.

SAMBOLIN: Authorities arrested him yesterday in a sting operation. Nafis allegedly parked a car outside the bank that was packed by a thousand pounds of dummy explosives, provided by an undercover agent and then he attempted to detonate it.

Prosecutors point to al Qaeda as his motivation. National correspondent Susan Candiotti has been on this story since it broke yesterday. Good morning to you. Could you walk us through what exactly happened here?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to prosecutors in all these court papers, apparently he had this plan for months and months and months. So starting back in the summertime, the FBI reached out to him, made contact via Facebook, when he allegedly came up with this plan, according to prosecutors, to destroy America, take down the United States, economically. And they said he settled on a landmark, the Federal Reserve Bank. Here's Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, according to the criminal complaint, at one point, he wanted to target a high-ranking U.S. official. Sources tell me he had mentioned President Obama, but it wasn't operational at any point. He settled on the physical target, the Federal Reserve Bank.

BERMAN: So much of the information they're getting from videotape, from writings that he did, including a videotape he made on his way to what he thought would be the explosion.

CANDIOTTI: All this culminated yesterday. They were on their way to the reserve bank. Authorities say he asked to pull over, went inside a hotel, asked them to pull out a camera, where they allegedly made this suicide tape.

And it 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." So he set out to destroy America. He failed.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that's the good news. I want to bring in chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi. And Ali, I understand you were there on Monday, which is two days before the attempt.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I haven't been to the New York Federal Reserve in years and I happened to be there to interview the president, William Dudley who replaced Tim Geithner.

This was Tim Geithner's old job. He was the president of the New York Fed. So I was there on Monday and in fact, I went in through an alternate entrance and kept having to go through security. Something on me just kept on triggering security. And I go through airports all the time. I generally know what I've got and it just wouldn't stop. So finally, they checked me out and realized there was nothing wrong.

So security -- it doesn't feel like a fortress, but it is one of the 12 Federal Reserve banks in the United States and it is the most important one. It is the one, when we talk about lowering and raising interest rates that means the feds buys and sells bonds from banks. It happens over there. It's also got the world's biggest gold vault. It's 80 feet below street level, probably more gold than Fort Knox. At last count, in October, there were about 7,700 tons of gold there. It's kept for treasuries and other major, you know, global operations. The Fed charges them a fee to keep it in a secure place. So there's a lot of security there.

It doesn't seem like an obvious target for someone to go there. And by the way, I'm very interested in the New York Fed. I think 9.9 out of 10 New Yorkers couldn't tell you what it was or where it was. It's an unusual target, as symbolic as it is.

BERMAN: A specific target clearly for this guy who knew how the financial system works. Ali, you said that you had to go through security and you're stopped a few times. Do you think there was an increased level of security when you were there?

VELSHI: No, there was no sense of urgency about it. There was somebody who's it was job to make sure nobody gets through there without all the metal on them being checked. The machines seemed to be tuned to be quite sensitive.

Like I said, more so than it seems to be when I go through an airport detector. I don't know that as a fact, but it was secure. Once you're in, it feels like the New York Stock Exchange. It doesn't feel like there's a great deal of security around. But you know there are cameras all around the place and you know there's security, but it's a low-key place. There's a trading operation there, there's the vault, and the president of the Fed sits there.

Also, by the way, that's where the big boardroom is where they all met in September of 2008 when they were deciding the fate of the banks. That's where all those deals about the banks were made.

SAMBOLIN: So we're curious about the security and keep on getting back to it, because as Susan pointed out, this FBI investigation has been going on for a very long time. So when you look at the security issue, and before 9/11 versus now, was it beefed up to that point because you were there before and there now. So we're curious about whether they beefed it up because they knew --

VELSHI: That's a good question. I couldn't tell you because I didn't frequent the New York Fed before. Obviously, the New York Stock Exchange, which is just down the road, has changed dramatically. You can't get anywhere close to it. You see a car in front there. You couldn't do that at the New York Stock Exchange. There are police out front. There are external security booths.

None of that happened. You can see the two police officers and the two Federal Reserve police officers posted in front of the Fed. They have side arms on them, not heavy weaponry. It did not look unusual to me.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting. You said nine out of ten people don't know what the New York Fed does. This guy clearly did. Listen to what he said here.

He said, "I came up to this conclusion that targeting America's economy is the most efficient way to draw the path of obliteration of America. I decided to attack the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which is by far the largest by assets, most active by volume and most influential of 12 Federal Reserve banks."

BERMAN: That's pretty amazing.

VELSHI: He knew a lot about it.

BERMAN: If it had been a real plot with real explosives, he could have done serious damage.

VELSHI: Yes, but if you're trying to ruin assets, it's gold. There's cash in there as well, and gold. And that part -- I mean, it's a pretty solid building. You can see. I don't know enough about explosives, but the vault is extra solid. So it's a strange thing. I'm not sure that symbolically, people would say, my God, the guy got some gold, or blew it up. But yes, he definitely knew it was important.

It is a very important place and it's very important to the financial system. It is, also, by the way, the authority that regulates the financial services and the banks. So it's crucially important. He had the right idea about how important it was. I just don't think most people do.

SAMBOLIN: Well, timing is everything, Ali, so we're glad that you were there.

VELSHI: I'm glad it didn't happen.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, that everything was OK. Ali Velshi, thank you and Susan Candiotti, thank you to you as well.

And coming up at 6:30 Eastern, former CIA officer, Peter Brooks will walk us through the plot and the sting.

BERMAN: The confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attack speaking out in court, lecturing his military tribunal and accusing the government of hypocrisy and showing zero sympathy.

At a pre-trial hearing at 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 are 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 of 19 deaths. And federal health officials report that 217 people across 15 states have been sickened. The outbreak has been traced to a contaminated pain steroid made by a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company and federal officials have opened an investigation after rating the company's facility. That was on Tuesday.

BERMAN: In other health news here, officials the in North Carolina investigating a deadly outbreak of E. Coli infection that's been traced to a county fair. At least 61 people, including three dozen children, have become ill. State health officials now saying one child has actually died. Officials believe the source of the outbreak is the petting zoo, as E. Coli's is often spread from animals to humans. I go to a lot of these petting zoos with my children and they always say, wash your hands immediately.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. Look at that, terrible outcome there. The St. Louis Cardinals beating the San Francisco Giants last night, 3-1 in the third game of the National League Championship series. Rookie Matt Carpenter was the unlikely hero, hitting a two-run homer after replacing injured star Carlos Beltran. The teams and the fans endured a nearly three-and-a-half hour rain delay. The Cards lead the series two games to one. Game four tonight in St. Louis. You going to watch it?

BERMAN: It's on late. I go to bed very, very early. The Cards are ahead of the series, but the loss of Beltran could be huge. He is honestly one of the best post-season players ever without him, the Cards' chances could be --

SAMBOLIN: You're going to stay up and watch it.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, Mother Nature pitching a shutout in Detroit. Game four of the ALCS was delayed and finally postponed due to that rain.

SAMBOLIN: Still a chance.

BERMAN: Probably good news for the Yankees. The decision was made to preserve the integrity of an uninterrupted game. The Tigers and Yankees will try again this afternoon at Comerica Park.

Meantime, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, makes about $30 million a year, he was not in the lineup again. A-Rod held court with reporters, addressing questions about his uncertain future with the team. And I want to issue a correction.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, thank you.

BERMAN: Last hour I said that A-Rod threw a baseball with his phone number to some ladies in the stands before --

SAMBOLIN: That was incorrect.

BERMAN: No, he actually threw a baseball and asked these women to put their phone numbers on it. It really changes the whole story. Just to be clear. A-Rod facing a lot of questions --

SAMBOLIN: He did not throw his phone number up. They threw their phone numbers down. There we have it. That was a fact check.

It's 9 minutes past the hour. The question today: Will there be baseball in Detroit tonight? My poor Yankees.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Binders, baseballs, as long as you get the information in hand. That's what's most important.

SAMBOLIN: Spoken like a true dude.

MARCIANO: You know, I'm not terribly disappointed that the game got rained out last night, because this way I can watch it this afternoon and not have to get the news in the morning. Hopefully, it will be good news.

Detroit is going to be OK, St. Louis as well, a rough night last night in Detroit. The rains really didn't arrive until almost 10:00 in the evening, so they probably would have had the rain around the fourth or fifth inning.

Severe weather today across parts of the Carolinas. Right now, we're seeing some rain across the Deep South including Atlanta, back through parts of Alabama and down through Mobile and New Orleans seeing some rough weather. This was the same line that came through St. Louis and also dropped some hail and some storms that created a few tornadoes across the Mississippi, some injuries across Northwest Mississippi. Hopefully we won't have the same today, but we do have the threat for seeing severe weather across parts of the East Coast today. Mainly from Buffalo all the way down to the Carolinas.

The left side of this, on the backside, gusts 60 to 70 miles an hour. It's going to be windy and somewhat cooler behind this system. Temperatures will be in the 40s and 50s, 55 degrees in Chicago, 67 degrees in New York City and 75 in Atlanta and 84, still toasty with Santa Ana winds blowing in Los Angeles. John, Zoraida, back up to you.

BERMAN: All right, thanks so much, Rob Marciano in Atlanta. Hope you get to watch that game today and hope it ends badly for you.

They put the spirit and spirituality. Coming up next, the chapter for some cheerleaders in a court fight over bible verses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: A court order of a high-profile free speech case in Texas is expected to expire today. Cheerleaders at one school were barred by the government from using banners with Bible verses. They sued claiming censorship and got a temporary restraining order against the ban, which ends today. But the squad and their supporters are expected to continue their fight.

SAMBOLIN: The St. Louis Zoo is taking down its Halloween display. Take a look. These hanging ghosts were designed with black faces so they can't be seen at night, but customers complained, calling the display racist because it looked too much like a lynching to them.

BERMAN: Wow. Minding your business this morning, the Tax Policy Center is out with a new analysis of Governor Mitt Romney's tax plan. And the verdict may be not good news for the Romney campaign.

SAMBOLIN: So before we get into what this new report says, remind us, Christine, what this plan actually is -- the Romney plan. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Governor Romney wants to lower tax rates for everyone by 20 percent across the board, lowering taxes for everyone. You've heard him on the stump saying the middle class would pay lower taxes under a President Romney.

How would he pay for that? He would cap tax deductions and he would generate revenue through economic growth. How would he cap those tax deductions? How many deductions, and how would you pay for all those tax cuts? That is what budget experts have been trying to figure out.

This is what Mitt Romney said in the debate that gave a little more detail about this capping deductions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: In terms of bringing down deductions, one way of doing that would be to say that everyone gets, I'll pick a number, $25,000 of deductions and credits. And you can decide which ones to use -- your home interest mortgage deduction, charity, child tax credit and so forth. You can use those as part of filling 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 because every middle income taxpayer no longer will pay any tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So, this new Tax Policy Center analysis looking more closely at this plan and the idea of capping these deductions. And the TPC says this is not the final word, because they still need more details. But 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 he has proposed.

Here is why the Tax Policy Center says he falls short. If you repeal all itemized deductions and you assume a 20 percent income tax rate cut and a repeal of the AMT, you get $2 trillion over ten years -- $2 trillion over 10 years.

Let's look at some of these caps that have been floated around in various debates and interviews by the Romney campaign. A $17,000 deduction cap would raise you about $1.7 trillion. You can see there, a $50,000 deduction cap, $763 billion. A lower cap would affect more people, it would raise more revenue. You don't get all the way, the math doesn't get there.

BERMAN: Surely the Romney team doesn't agree with this?

ROMANS: No, they absolutely do not. And they say that they have reached biased conclusions based on, you know, faulty assumptions. But the Tax Policy Center is very clear. They say, with more details, we would -- we have more details to score, but just so far, there aren't enough details to figure out how you would pay for the $5 trillion.

SAMBOLIN: All right. What is the thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: The one thing we need to know about your money today -- new data showing that the average student loan debt for people who are taking out debt is now close to $27,000. That's basically a record high. This is from the Project on Student Debt.

These new numbers, same old trends, students are borrowing to the hilt still to go to college. And we know, we fact checked a Mitt Romney comment in the debate, right, that half the kids who are graduating don't have a job. And many of them aren't working in their major. Be very careful about your career choice. Be very careful about your student loan choice, so you're not saddled with too much debt on the other side.

SAMBOLIN: That's always a really good advice. I read that this morning and thought, gosh, I hope that's not something she's going to end with.

ROMANS: You did?

SAMBOLIN: I did.

ROMANS: You know me so well. You know, it's empowering because people, a lot of kids don't know how much that debt is. Some kids are still spending this money to live in college. You just -- anything you can do, a state school over a private school, anything you can do to keep the debt down.

SAMBOLIN: No, the information is always good. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: So, a host of new products are all geared towards making travel easier from a suitcase that follows you, to a pillow you wear on your head.

BERMAN: Christine is back! Actually, she never left. She just stays right there.

She has a few of these tips from our week's "Road Warriors".

ROMANS: So when you pay of all that student debt and get a really great job and you're traveling around the world, this is what you need to know. New products to streamline your travel experience.

OK. There's something called a new baseline suitcase by Briggs and Riley. This -- it expands to let you pack in more, you're seeing the video of it there, and then it compresses to fit in the overhead bin once you close it. You used to just sit on the suitcase and jump on it until it closed. Now they have technology that does it.

Meanwhile, there's the thing -- the trip sound suitcase. It doubles as a sound system and a chair. I'm not kidding.

SAMBOLIN: Oh. ROMANS: It can play eight hours of music before it needs to recharge and it can also help you power up your phone. It cannot help your kids do their homework. It won't do that. And if having to grapple with your luggage at all is a problem, never fear, you may soon be able to get your hands on this -- this is called the hop suitcase.

SAMBOLIN: This is crazy.

ROMANS: It follows you using signals from your cell phone. It's like a little puppy.

BERMAN: I have to have one of those now.

ROMANS: If the signal is lost, the hop then locks itself.

And check out these two new items to take with you on the road. The Sony personal cinema system that John is wearing.

SAMBOLIN: I like the side view. Look at that.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: -- TV, laptops, tablets. It hooks in and allows you to feel like you're watch everything in your own --

SAMBOLIN: How does it feel?

BERMAN: I can't see a thing.

ROMANS: Well, if you were plugged in, you would seeing like 150-inch screen and 2 and 3D.

SAMBOLIN: Very cool. Somebody fell over, they were so excited!

ROMANS: This thing is called the ostrich pillow. You wear this on your head and it fights jet lag, helping you nap anywhere you are -- a train, an airport, even your desk. Right.

SAMBOLIN: So your face comes out through here.

ROMANS: Yes, isn't that --

BERMAN: You're not going to fall asleep because everyone will be laughing at you.

ROMANS: Can I have this for my Halloween costume somehow? Yes, here you go. The ostrich.

BERMAN: There is news you can use.

SAMBOLIN: I like this little gadget a lot. Thanks for that.

ROMANS: I want the -- personally, the suitcase that follows you around.

SAMBOLIN: That would be fun. ROMANS: If only my kids would follow me so dutifully in the airport.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So they are four little words from the debate that opened up a whole, big can of worms.

BERMAN: Four words.

SAMBOLIN: Four words.

(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 whole binders full of women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Binders full of women.

BERMAN: Binders full of women.

SAMBOLIN: You corrected me. That was the correction also. I said three words earlier. We say propositions don't count.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

Today, candidates on the trail again with 19 days to go until Election Day. President Obama, Mitt Romney, and their running mate spent the day trashing their opponent, explaining how the other was the wrong choice for a very key demographic: women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 VIDEO CLIPS)

SAMBOLIN: It is a critical demographic to capture. After all, women are more than half the electorate. And with much of President Obama's large lead among women seeming to evaporate over the last month, still a group very much up for grabs.

So let's bring in our CNN contributors. We have Erick Erickson. He is the editor-in-chief of RedState.com. And Maria Cardona is a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.

Before I get into politics here, I understand, Erick, you've got some homemade monkey bread in the oven. You're tweeting that out. Are we keeping you --

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. We don't want to let it burn.

SAMBOLIN: No, we certainly don't. So, we'll try to do this quickly.

I'm going to start with Maria, though. Maria, there's a sense that Romney had gained women in the first debate. We'll talk about those first few polls, the Gallup poll and the Pew poll. We're waiting for some good post-debate polls to see exactly where we stand now.

Women made up more than 53 percent of the electorate in 2008. This is a really important fight right now for President Obama, isn't it?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely, it's critical, Zoraida. And again, I'll say about these polls what I've said before, is that I don't believe that the gender gap is completely closed, but I hope that President Obama is running as if he is five points behind, because that will continue to make him underscore his message, that is, in fact, his policies that will help women to continue to do better in this economy.

Look, we created -- the president has created more than 5 million jobs, a lot of them for women. The unemployment rate has gone under now, 8 percent. A lot of that is helping women.

And while Republicans like to derisively call women's issues in terms of what Democrats focus on, women's health care is a huge economic issue for women. Romney wants to repeal Obamacare, which would take away preventative services for women, cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, and all of those issues do affect women's pocketbooks.

And then you have Romney's binders for women, which underscore his lack of understanding of the whole issue. And then I'll just end it with, he still can't even say whether he supports the equal pay for equal work act that President Obama signed into law. I think that really underscores where he stands with women, and it's not a pretty picture.

SAMBOLIN: Erick, I want to talk about that equal pay for women. It was something that Romney did not answer during that debate. Do you think that that's going to hurt him with women?

ERICKSON: Oh, Lord, no. There are such bigger issues. I mean, the president pays women on his staff 18 percent less than the men on his staff. It's a nonissue. And in fact, the statistic the lady gave in the question was actually wrong. SAMBOLIN: Let's talk about the binders of women, because there's a lot of traction on those -- actually, it was four words. It wasn't Romney who ordered them, it actually came from Massachusetts Government Appointments Project, MassGAP, as it's known. In a statement, the group says they approached the Romney campaign and his challenger before Romney won the gubernatorial election.

And it's up there on that screen. It says, "Prior to 2003 gubernatorial election, MassGAP approached the campaigns of candidates Shannon O'Brien and Mitt Romney and asked them both to commit to make best efforts to ensure that the number of women in appointed state positions is proportionate." Romney said last night, "I went to a number of women's groups." Were those statements untrue?

ERICKSON: No, they weren't untrue. Romney did go to a number of women's groups. He also went to a number of his staffers to reach out to people. This one group has come out, interestingly, with the Democratic Party, it seems. The Democrats are pushing meme out there that he was somehow lying about it.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: But it's because of the choice of words. It's what he said, isn't it, Erick? It's what he said. He said that he actually requested this. And what we're finding out is that he did not request it.

ERICKSON: But he -- no, no, no, listen to what you're saying. You're saying that he didn't request it from this group. Mitt Romney never said which groups he requested it from.

But, I mean, seriously, CNN is going to focus on these four words over everything else? I mean, even the other networks this morning are laughing about this comment, saying it's unserious. And I think 19 days before the election, focusing on a binder full of women as opposed to the unemployed and as opposed to the other data. It seems like such a silly issue to focus on right now.

But if you want to, Mitt Romney said he went to groups. He didn't name the group. There were other groups. And the facts speak for themselves. He had a female lieutenant governor. He had more female cabinet members than any governor prior to him. Do we really want to go there? We can if we need to.

SAMBOLIN: OK, let's talk about Romney's policy of hiring women, it was actually worse than his predecessor. Here's what local "Boston Phoenix" reporter told Anderson Cooper last night. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID S. BERNSTEIN, STAFF WRITER, "THE PHOENIX": There were also some other issues aside from just those appointees. There were issues raised about his judicial appointees, 17 of his first 19 judge appointments were men, and then after some unfavorable press about that, he began appointing more women. Certainly some of the most important positions, the people in charge of budget and transportation and business development, the ones that he was most concerned about, mostly went to men and mostly to men who he had dealt with in his business career.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, Erick, is that going to haunt Romney?

ERICKSON: But his cabinet was majority women. No, it's not going to harm Romney. This is such a nonsensical issue 19 days before the election.

I mean, if the Democrats want to play here, it suggests that they're trying to rally their base. They've given up on independent voters. And the polling suggests, look at CNN's own poll after the debate. Romney did better with women.

And while Obama won overall in the superficial line, Romney won with women and with men on who can better fix the economy? Who can put people back to work? Who's a better leader? Who can fix health care? Romney won all those things.

SAMBOLIN: Maria, I'm going to give you the final word here.

CARDONA: But I think what's important to note is what Eric said at the very beginning. Which he even pushed aside the importance of equal pay for equal work. I think independent women would have a real problem with that.

And let's talk about Romney's record. The amount of women in his administration, again, declined while he was governor. And is it really possible that in 20 years of work in the corporate world, he didn't run into any qualified women? That speaks volumes about the importance that he places on diversity of gender, I think diversity of any kind, and I think that's going to hurt him.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Maria Cardona, Erick Erickson, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. And good luck with the monkey bread, Erick.

ERICKSON: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

Eleven years after 9/11, an alleged plot to take out a vital institution, located just blocks away. A former CIA officer joins us, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Targeting New York. An alleged terrorist caught trying to carry out an attack right near Ground Zero. A former CIA officer will join us live.

SAMBOLIN: Medical miracle. After a horrifying accident, doctors give a man a second chance with a brand-new face. The lead surgeon is going to join us live. BERMAN: Our next-door neighbor. Scientists discover an Earth-sized planet really, really close in near terms, to our solar system.

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

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

We're learning more this morning about an alleged terrorist plot foiled by the FBI. The target, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Lower Manhattan. The suspect, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi named Quazi Nafis.

BERMAN: The FBI says he parked what he thought was a 1,000-pound explosive device right outside the Federal Reserve here in New York and tried to set it off. But the explosives were duds. It was all part of an elaborate FBI sting.

New York City police say this was the 15th terror plot foiled since September 11th.

SAMBOLIN: Investigators say --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: This individual came here with the express purpose of committing a terrorist act. He was motivated by al Qaeda. So we see this threat as, you know, being with us for a long time to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Investigators say the public was never in any danger, at any point. Nafis made his first appearance in court yesterday.

So, we'd like to bring in Peter Brookes. He's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. He is also currently a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation. Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us this morning.

PETER BROOKES, SENIOR FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Good morning to you.

SAMBOLIN: So this is the 15th terrorist plot foiled in New York City, this is since 9/11. Where do you rank the seriousness of this one?

BROOKES: Well, it's obviously very serious, especially since it's the most recent. The threat is still with us. I mean, there have been 53 foiled terror plots in the United States since 9/11. In fact, some people consider what happened at Ft. Hood as an actual terrorist attack. So over 50 plots or attacks since 9/11. This is the most recent.

A young man, a college student came in on a legitimate visa to the United States, was inspired by al Qaeda, especially Anwar al-Awlaki and tried to blow up 1,000 pounds of explosives in downtown Manhattan. BERMAN: So, Peter, the FBI also says Nafis wanted to disrupt the elections and kill a high-ranking official here. Does it seem like he had any real-life al Qaeda connections or real-life al Qaeda training or is this guy just a wannabe?

BROOKES: I think "wannabe" is a good frame -- good term there, John. He says he has contacts overseas with al Qaeda. The FBI is telling us now they can't find at this point. He looked to find people here in the United States. Fortunately, he stumbled upon some of our informants, on some of our officers, on our FBI agents and was not able to get very far.

But the intent is what's concerning to me, especially so many years after 9/11 itself. Now, al Qaeda as an ideology is obviously still alive in the minds of some who want to harm the United States.

Now, one of the things he really wanted to go after was the financial sector. Not just the United States. I think even President Obama may have been on his list of high-ranking officials. That's what press reports are saying. But he wanted to go after the financial district.

And once again, this is something that Osama bin Laden wanted to do. He always talked about that, going after the United States economy as an important target.

SAMBOLIN: Well, let's deal with that, because the FBI is actually releasing some information about his motivations. They quote him here. They say, "I came up to this conclusion that targeting America's economy is the most efficient way to draw the path of obliteration of America. I decided to attack the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which is by far the largest by assets, most active by volume, and most influential of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks."

What kind of damage could this attack do to the New York Fed?

BROOKES: Well, think about -- think about 9/11. I mean, billions of trillions of dollars perhaps effect on the U.S. economy. The economy is struggling right now. This certainly wouldn't have been helpful.

You know, but it's interesting to see that this young man was thinking about this. That it still exists as part of al Qaeda's ideology. And this is something we really need to be thinking about.

One of the things I'm really worried about is a cyber attack against our financial systems. And especially for the private sector, they need to be prepared here. Obviously, this was a public sector sort of target, but that includes the economy and certainly the private sector as well and things like cyber are something that we need to be worried about.

The next one may be attacking -- choosing to go via the Internet as opposed to a van filled with explosives.

SAMBOLIN: Peter Brookes, we certainly appreciate your expertise this morning. Former CIA officer, now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation -- thank you very much.

BROOKES: Thank you.

BERMAN: It is 40 minutes after the hour right now. And you would not looking at him, but this man you're about to see suffered a horribly disfigure accident, until doctors gave him a new face, literally. He had a face transplant. We're going to go inside the amazing surgery with one of the surgeons who pulled this off coming up this hour on EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: I am surrounded by brightness this morning. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.

So much to talk about. You guys have been talking about this brazen terror plot that was foiled. We've got some new details about the man who's accused of planning to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan. And the operation, too, that busted him.

We're going to get some insight from an expert who will join us this morning. Phil Mudd, the former director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center. Also, we'll chat with Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst about what exactly the risk was.

And over pop-up food trucks, now there's a pop-up pop truck. That's Rachael Ray and she's a celebrity chef, obviously. She has moved from cooking for people to cooking for pets. We'll chat with her about her new project.

And it is the debate comment that seems to be bouncing back to Mitt Romney, the binders full of women. You guys were talking about it yesterday. It's an Internet sensation now. We're going to meet the women who created that meme, that Tumblr blog and talk a little bit about what the impact has been on the election as well.

SAMBOLIN: We've been talking about that a lot today as well.

O'BRIEN: I know. Binders of women.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Soledad.

Forty-five minutes past the hour. We have a terrible story in North Carolina. One child has died in an outbreak of E.coli that has been traced to a county fair. At least 61 others, including three dozen children, have become ill. So this is what officials believe. The source of the outbreak, they say, is the petting zoo, as E. coli is often spread from animals to humans.

BERMAN: Confidential files on alleged Boy Scout sex abusers are being made public today. The so-called perversion files identify more than 1,2000 Boy Scout leaders and volunteers from across the country, banned from scouting after being suspected of pedophilia and related offenses. The documents cover a period from 1965 to 1985. SAMBOLIN: Bill and the Boss stumping for Barack Obama. Former president Bill Clinton and rocker Bruce Springsteen scheduled to appear together today at an Obama rally in Parma, Ohio. The president will not be there. The Boss officially endorsed President Obama yesterday.

BERMAN: And astronomers are buzzing about a newly discovered planet, the closest one ever seen outside of our solar system.

SAMBOLIN: Look how bright.

BERMAN: They say the planet is extremely earth-like in both size and mass, but sadly too hot to support life, so cancel your travel plans. Scientists say its existence suggests there may be more planets to be discovered in the neighboring star systems.

SAMBOLIN: Astronomers have got a lot of work.

All right. Coming up, the incredible results of the most extensive face transplant that has ever been performed. Wait until you see the pictures. Oh, you get them. This is the before pictures, and the next picture is a big graphic. This is right after a shooting, folks. This guy was left without most of his face, and then this. This is the young man after his face transplant. We are talking to the lead surgeon, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone. This morning, we are getting a new look at a man whose face was completely replaced by surgery. Take a look. This is Richard Lee Norris seven months after a marathon surgery that replaced his jaw, teeth, and tongue to repair damage from a devastating gun accident.

We're about to show you the extensive damage he suffered. Here's the comparison. Before surgery, then about a week after the face transplant, and now, seven months after the surgery. This is amazing. For years, Norris had left his house wearing a mask to avoid stares and comments on his face, and now, he says no one even gives him a second look.

The surgery came after ten years of research at the University of Maryland Medical Center. It was funded by the office of naval research and the Department of Defense who hopes to serve veterans wounded in action.

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez led the face transplant team. He is the chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the R. Adams Kalie Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. And doctor, this was a 36-hour-long surgery, essentially, reconstructing the entire face here. Talk about this surgery and what was the most difficult thing for you and your team?

DR. EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ, LED FACE TRANSPLANT TEAM: Well, it's an amazing procedure. However, we had rehearsed and practiced for quite some time with our small unit of surgeons, really an elite group of individuals, with specialized training, not only in plastic surgery, but also in cranial facial surgery and microsurgery, which are all the elements to achieve success.

Also, we had the wonderful opportunity through the generous donation of a family and our relationship with our organ procurement organization to do a practice run. So by the time Richard's operation came about, we were ready to really succeed at every level. We used every innovative practice that we could, intraoperatively, to sure transfer of the bones, transfer of all the tissues. And we also did intraoperative imaging to ensure that every millimeter, every inch of tissue was viable, and everything went as planned without a hitch.

And for that note, Richard is doing great. We've only had a minor bump in the road, a small episode of mild rejection at about one month, but since then, he's done great. He's a superb patient. He works incredibly hard. He's been practicing with speech therapy three times a week, physical therapy, really a committed individual, and he is the real hero of this story. And, of course, due to the generous donation of this incredible family.

BERMAN: You say he's been undergoing speech therapy. What does he have to relearn after the surgery?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, he -- when you get a new tongue and you get new jaws and he hadn't had teeth in 15 years, you put all of that together, you have to get used to working with that. And now, his tongue is moving appropriately. His tongue meets the front of his teeth, so he can pronounce the Ls and the Ts, something that he hadn't done in a long time and learning how to eat.

So all of that is progressing wonderfully. If we look at Richard now, he's met every milestone. Not only that, he's exceeded all of our expectations. He's just a remarkable individual, and he works hard to achieve success.

BERMAN: Are there limitations to what he will be able to do?

RODRIGUEZ: Right now, we don't see any.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh.

RODRIGUEZ: Before, he was being fed through a feeding tube in his stomach. He's currently eating everything by his mouth. And I don't see any major limitations as far as what we've been able to achieve technically. Obviously, these patients need to take medications for life. But we are seeing that the amount of a new suppressive medications in Richard are being reduced slowly.

So there is this method of acceptance and we work with a wonderful transplant surgical group here, and we're using all novel medications which have not really been used in facial transportation before. So the combination and foundation of our research, novel, innovative surgical practices, really have led to a solid result. And this is what we're seeing in Richard. But so far, no limitations.

BERMAN: We've seen some 22 other facial transplant surgeries before. This one, just looking at him, it seems so much more successful. Is it really as good as it looks? And have you learned so much hat it makes this one that much easier and better?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, John, you know, in this field which really began in 2005, a short amount of time, we have learned a great deal from the previous groups that have performed face transplants. So, without their experience, there really is no room for improvement, and we've benefited from that practice.

When you look at the aesthetic result of Richard, I think, it's a spectacular result, and that's what we wanted to achieve. Not only in a still photograph, but he has to function well. So by concealing all the incisions so they're not visible, which was Richard's aim. He wanted to blend in with society. He just wanted to be an average person, which is going on today.

The functional status of Richard, he's learning to speak a lot better. Every day, it gets crisper and sharper. His eating is dramatically better, and his face is beginning to move like a normal face. The right side of his face has recovered about 80 percent and the left side of his face is about 40 percent. He's learning to smile symmetrically. So his face is really beginning to animate. So we've benefited greatly from the pioneers.

BERMAN: Doctor, we've got to go. That is fantastic news about him. Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, congratulations on this amazing, amazing, surgery.

SAMBOLIN: That doctor is very proud of his patient.

BERMAN: Absolutely. Today's "Best Advice," coming right up.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh! I love that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Just a couple minutes before the hour right now. As always, we wrap it up with "Best Advice."

SAMBOLIN: Here's Christine.

ROMANS: We asked CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein the best advice he's ever received. Here's what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not surprisingly, the best advice I've ever received was given to me by my mother. And she had many forms of great advice was, one, you can sleep when you're dead. But the best one ever was, don't cry over anything that can't cry over you. Great words to live by.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Don't cry over anything that can't cry over you. I love that. (INAUDIBLE). I said, oh my God! Is that brilliant? (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: That is -- I'll be thinking about that one for six hours, trying to figure it out.

(LAUGHTER)

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

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