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Presidential Polls Tighten; Former Goldman Sachs Employee Criticizes Company; Todd Akin Makes Another Controversial Remark; Lance Armstrong Stripped Of Titles; Jordan Foils Terror Plot; Lebanese Protesters Held At Bay; Fungal Meningitis Outbreak; Sunday Night Football; Football Fan Injured; Race In A Dead Heat; Obama And Romney's Final Showdown; The Real "Argo"

Aired October 22, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Monday, October 22, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Lots to talk about. It's the final showdown. You're looking at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. In 14 hours, President Obama, Mitt Romney, will be on that stage in those chairs, they'll be facing off for foreign policy. It will be their third and final debate, 15 days until the nation votes. And this could be shaping up to be one of the most critical events before that vote, because a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, which was conducted after the second debate, shows the two rivals are locked in this absolute dead heat.

Let's get right to White House correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's in Boca already this morning. Brianna, good morning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning to you, Soledad. That's right, when you look at that poll, 47-47. Neck and neck, that's what this is telling us, still a neck and neck race, margin of error there about 3.5 points, and also continuing kind of the trend that we've seen in recent weeks which is a shift towards Mitt Romney.

A couple of important things to point out that we're learning from this poll. One, when you look at women, president Obama still has a sizable lead, 51-43 percent. You say, oh, that's obviously eight points. That's pretty sizable. But actually this might be kind of alarming for the president because this is the smallest lead that he's had.

And the other thing we're seeing is that in battleground states, Mitt Romney actually having a little bit of a lead there. For their parts, the Obama campaign kind of downplaying these new poll numbers and the Romney campaign looking at them more favorably.

Let's also talk a little bit about some of the endorsements that the candidates picked up over the weekend, a number of them from key papers in battleground states. Here's the other thing to focus on. Not a whole lot of enthusiasm, even in these endorsements. For Mitt Romney, a couple of Florida papers, "Tampa Tribune" and the "Orlando Sentinel," both of them kind of a lukewarm endorsement. The "Columbus Dispatch," Ohio, obviously key. And the New Hampshire union leader, no surprise that went for Mitt Romney. President Obama, two Ohio papers, "Akron Beacon Journal," the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" and the "Denver Post." And just to give you kind of a sense of maybe the lack of enthusiasm here, Soledad, even though the "Denver Post" did endorse president Obama, it said that neither candidate has a plan for the future. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's almost the opposite of lukewarm. That's like, eh. Brianna Keilar for us this morning.

KEILAR: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: In just a few moments we're going to be talking with Obama supporter the Maryland congressman Chris van Hollen will be our guest. First John's got an update on some of the other stories making news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, happy Monday, Soledad. A full 10 days after the attack in Benghazi the CIA was still telling president Obama they stem from spontaneous protests. According to reports first published by "Wall Street Journal" the CIA did not alter its assessment from the daily intelligence briefing for the president until September 22 even though witnesses and other sources disputed the assumption early on that protests sparked the attack. U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in last month's terror attack in Libya.

The 45-year-old ex-marine who opened fire at a walk area spa was allegedly hunting down his estranged wife. Three women were killed in yesterday's rampage but police haven't said if Zena Haughton was among them. Police say the suspected shooter Radcliff Haughton was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the spa.

Former senator George McGovern is being remembered as a war hero who became a champion of peace. McGovern died over the weekend at the age of 90. He was a democratic nominee for president in 1972 but lost in a land slide to Richard Nixon. Bill and Hillary Clinton among a number of other Democrats cut their teeth by working in politics for McGovern in the early '70s. The Clintons say he was a tireless advocate for human rights and dignity.

Cycling's governing body will decide if it will strip Lance Armstrong of his seven tour de France titles, a decision being made right now by international cycling union president Pat McQuaid. The U.S. anti- doping agency made its decision on Armstrong saying there's overwhelming evidence that he took part in, quote, "the most sophisticated professionalized and successful doping program while he rode for the U.S. Postal Service team." Armstrong's attorney called the report a one-sided hatchet job.

"Saturday Night Live" getting the last word on the Obama-Romney town hall debate that at times resembled a verbal street fight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, so how much did you cut? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't cut anything? You're not going to cut anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm about to cut you!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'd like to see that. I'd like to see that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Governor Romney just said is simply not true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I want to fight you!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any time, Casper.



BERMAN: Can't tell if that's the real debate or "Saturday Night Live." It's so realistic.

O'BRIEN: "I'm going to cut you." All right, John, thank you.

In fact tonight's debate is going to focus on foreign policy. And of course, poll numbers just a moment ago, anybody's race at that point, 47 percent to 47 percent in that brand-new NBC news/"Wall Street Journal" poll. Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is an Obama supporter and joins us this morning. Good morning, sir. Nice to see you.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND: Good morning, Soledad. Great to be here.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. Let's start with the polls. We just showed neck and neck with the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. If you also look at the registered voters choice for president, a little bit of a gap there. It's Mitt Romney at 44 percent, President Obama at 49 percent. And if you look specifically at women, President Obama holds a lead there, with registered female voters, 51 percent to 43 percent. That tightens up a little bit, though, when you look at likely female voters, 52 percent to 41 percent.

None of those numbers, though, should make anybody on either side particularly comfortable. How worried are you when you look at those polls, 47 percent to 47 percent?

HOLLEN: Well, you're right, Soledad. I mean the polls are showing this is an extremely close race. I think everybody expected this race to tighten up as we got toward the finish line. I do think if you look at the battleground state polls, which will determine the election, the president still has a lead in places like Ohio. But nobody should be taking anything for granted, and the president certainly is not taking anything for granted. Turnout is essential as is that battle for the dwindling number of undecided voters.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about endorsements. I'm going to read some of the ones that have now endorsed Mitt Romney. This one from the "Tampa Tribune," "Under President Barack Obama's liberal and inconsistent leadership the country has limped along barely a step ahead of another recession." This one from the "Columbus Dispatch," "In 2008 Americans made a leap of faith when they elevated the inexperienced Obama to the White House. That faith was not rewarded." This one from the "Orlando Sentinel," "We have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget for the next four years. For that reason, though we endorsed him in 2008, we are recommending Romney in this race." Wow. That's bad.

HOLLEN: Well, you know, Soledad, you get editorial boards from around the country that have been expressed a diversity of opinion that you see in this country. But the reality is the president came into office, we were losing 800,000 jobs every month. We've now seen the 31 consecutive months of positive private sector job growth, over 5 million jobs created. Things are improving. I mean the American people see that. That is also reflected in polls of consumer confidence. The economy is coming back. We're not where we want to be. But as the president has said the very last thing we want to do is go back to the same set of policies that got us into this mess to begin with, which is exactly the prescription that Governor Romney's proposing. I don't think anybody wants to do a U-turn back to those days.

O'BRIEN: We know that tonight's debate, which will focus on foreign policy, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Benghazi is going to come up yet again. Here's what the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting this. "President Barack Obama was told in his daily intelligence briefing for more than a week after the consulate siege in Benghazi that the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest despite conflicting reports from witnesses and other sources that began to cast doubt on the accuracy of that assessment almost from the start."

Is this essentially saying that intelligence failures are to blame here for what the president and also the Susan Rice was saying, and Jay Carney was saying and all their various coming out in public and talking about what exactly what had happened in Benghazi in the weeks after the, the killing of the ambassador?

HOLLEN: Well, there's no doubt we should get to the bottom of the intelligence information. But what this clearly shows is that the president and Susan Rice and others were presenting with the American people with the facts as they were provided to them by the intelligence agencies, which really makes, I think, Mitt Romney and his team look pretty small for the way they tried to exploit this whole thing for political purposes, drumming up these kind of conspiracy theories.

And, Soledad, my dad was a career foreign service officer, like ambassador Chris Stevens. And I have to say that from the very beginning the way that Mitt Romney's tried to exploit this for political purposes is a real violation of the tradition we've had in this country where we come together at these moments of tragedy when Americans are killed overseas. And it was just unfortunate that they decided, instead, to try and exploit the situation there.

O'BRIEN: But if it's an intelligence failure, and it's a failure from say, looks like the CIA, isn't ultimately that an administration failure, since that's really who put the, you know, leader of the CIA in this position?

HOLLEN: Well, there's no doubt we should constantly be trying to improve the way we gather our intelligence, and the way we assess that intelligence. The way it works is that you have different intelligence gathering organizations, the CIA is one of them. They then feed that information to the director of national intelligence. So to the extent that there was a system that did not gather the information quickly enough or accurately enough, we should take a look at this.

But, you know, it's just ironic to hear many of the folks on Mitt Romney's team who were there during the Bush administration who were part of what was probably the greatest intelligence failure we've ever seen, which were the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Coming forward now to try and cast aspersions on the president, on his team.

What we know now from the report that you just cited, is that the president and his team briefed the American people on the information they knew, as they knew it. And, this effort to try and spin some kind of conspiracy theory that Mitt Romney and his team had been doing from day one, is clearly way off base. And they tried to create the notion that somehow the White House was putting out a narrative, inconsistent with the facts that they were being given. And now we know that's just not the case.

O'BRIEN: Chris Van Hollen is congressman from the state of Maryland, thank you for talking with us.

HOLLEN: Nice to see you.

O'BRIEN: Coming up at the bottom of the hour we're going to talk with Republican Wyoming Senator John Barrasso will be our guest. We want to make sure you tune in to CNN's live coverage tonight, the final presidential debate, that begins at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

Let's get right to some breaking news this morning. The International Cycling Union has now stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. The president of that union saying this, "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling." The decision comes after a U.S. anti-doping agency accused him of doping. We'll have more details on that developing story straight ahead this morning.

Also ahead this morning, he famously quit Goldman Sachs in a scathing public resignation letter in "The New York Times." Now the former banker explains why he did it. But is he telling the full story? We'll hear from someone who knows Goldman Sachs inside and out.

Also game seven between the Cards and the Giants, who is heading to the World Series in that showdown? Just ahead.

Christine what do you got in business? CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's a big week for tech this week. I'm going to have a market check and let you know what it means for the economy as well. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business this morning. Gas prices falling for 11 days straight. The national average for a gallon of regular fell more than a penny in the past 24 hours according to AAA. New average $3.67 a gallon. Don't spend it all in one place. Oil analysts expect gas prices to drop further in the coming weeks in part because of slowing demand.

U.S. markets poised for a bounce after a dismal day Friday. The Dow lost more than 200 points on Friday. This morning U.S. stock futures for the Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all trading a bit higher. It's a big week for earnings, a big week for tech. We're going to get Yahoo!'s quarterly earnings after the bell today. New CEO Marissa Myers just back from maternity leave. This will be her first earnings call with investors. Facebook releases its second earnings report since becoming public, and stock down of course 50 percent now since the IPO. Apple and amazon report their earnings on Thursday. Really big week. Housing news, GDP -- this is going to be a really big week.

O'BRIEN: Not everybody needs a long maternity leave. I took four weeks.

ROMANS: You took four weeks?


ROMANS: Maternity week two weeks sparked so much controversy. I think the great thing about what does it say about us if we want to take four months?

O'BRIEN: If you're the CEO and you have a gajillion dollars take the maternity leave you want and if you're an employee, do what you have to do.

ROMANS: She is a very unique person.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Moving on, let's talk about continuing talking about CEOs and banking in this case, one of the most spectacular resignations in corporate America, the Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith quit his firm in a very public way, maybe the most public way if you'll remember. After a dozen years he wrote this scathing op-ed, which was published in "The New York Times." now he's expanding his public resignation letter into a book which is called "Why I Left Goldman Sachs." The book is out today and he spoke to Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes" last night.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So an op-ed resignation, you hoped it would be a wake-up call? GREG SMITH, FORMER GOLDMAN SACHS EMPLOYEE: I really did, because a lot of people who acknowledge these things internally, but no one is willing to say it publicly. And my view was the only way you force people to change the system is by saying something publicly.


O'BRIEN: Joining us this morning, the author of "Money and Power, How Goldman Sachs came to Rule the World," William Cohan. He's also worked on Wall Street as an investment banking working for JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley as well nearly two decades. Nice to have you with us. You called this guy, Greg Smith, a con man. What do you mean?

WILLIAM COHAN, AUTHOR: Look, I haven't met Greg, nor have I read his book.

O'BRIEN: Clearly you don't like him, though? You called him a con man.

COHAN: It's not -- it's a type, Soledad. I've seen this type, 17 years on Wall Street, this is a guy who was very happy to take Goldman Sachs' money year after year for twelve years. And then he wants to get promoted, and he wanted to get paid a million dollars.

O'BRIEN: Sounds like a banker.

COHAN: This is what I want. I want a million dollars and when I don't get it.

O'BRIEN: I'm mad.

COHAN: I'm mad and I'm going to take it out on you. Wall Street does have a very big problem. And it got us into this financial crisis, and no one's been held accountable for that. There are cultural problems on Wall Street. Part of the cultural problem on Wall Street is people like Greg Smith who are not happy with making $500,000 a year, who are 33 years old, and single. I mean I don't understand it.

O'BRIEN: Last week we were talking about the, the Goldman report that was released before the 60 minutes story came out. And, and it sort of painted him as a disgruntled employee. So is that just trying to provide some context for everybody as they cover the story or is that like character assassination? I mean couldn't he be a jerk and be right?

COHAN: Yes, he could be a jerk and be right. And frankly, it's pretty ugly for Goldman Sachs to release his personnel files to the public. They did the same thing with Fabreese Toure the French banker who was involved in the abacus trade that they got sued on with the SEC.

O'BRIEN: Which he wrote about.

COHAN: That is ugly, too.

On the other hand, Greg Smith opened himself up to this. He wrote the op-ed in "The New York Times." he's now written this book. But he points out I think very big flaws in Wall Street. There are flaws on Wall Street. Let's face it. It's not a perfect organization.

O'BRIEN: Here's what I thought were -- I thought he was on very thin ice last night when he was talking to Anderson. Let's play this chunk where he, Anderson asked him, if you got your million dollars, if you got your promotion, would you have still quit?


SMITH: Well, what I can say to you is, and this may seem stupid, but I didn't go to Wall Street purely to make lots of money.

COOER: But I don't know anybody who's ever gone to Wall Street with -- and not had the idea of making money.

SMITH: No, I definitely wanted to make money. But I left because things had veered so far from what I actually believed was right, that I could have just left and walked out and said nothing about it. But I would have felt that it was not the right thing to do.


O'BRIEN: Christine your face when he says that. You're like --

ROMANS: Well, look, anybody who has twelve years in their job, or in the place where they work, things are different twelve years into it than when you -- than when you started, right? And you may -- maybe it's his perceptions of the culture that began to change, as well.

Look, this is a guy who, who, who is probably the middle of the pack. You know, he was two years away from becoming managing director, probably. Many of his friends he started with in the internship, a third of them I think were already managing director. He's sort of -- his arc had played out. He seems like a really decent guy, honestly. You call him a con man but he seems like a decent guy.

COHAN: I don't know him personally.

ROMANS: I don't either. You read about his background, family, he came from South Africa. What he wanted to do, you know, he picked the best investment bank he could think of Goldman Sachs because of the culture. Look it's a leadership factor. Goldman Sachs is unlike other investment banks in that it has this culture of pleasing your clients, which is why this is so newsworthy, the accusations he makes. But also all these really important world leaders have come out of Goldman Sachs.

O'BRIEN: But the basic gist of what he's saying is that Goldman Sachs or one of the points he makes is Goldman Sachs was not really protecting their clients. That they openly called them "Muppets" --

COHAN: Not serving.

O'BRIEN: And openly calling them "Muppets" and he talks about not only do junior people do that their senior and hierarchically senior people would laugh about it. Isn't that devastating? No?

COHAN: Soledad --

ROMANS: It's a pretty crass and --

COHAN: Goldman Sachs is still a leader on Wall Street. Even through this financial crisis, even through everything that has been heaped on them by senator in Congress. If they weren't serving their clients every day, you know, to like 99 percent quality control, then they would not still be a leader on Wall Street. Trust me. These are very sophisticated --

ROMANS: Clients don't care about being called "Muppets" by the junior people and senior managers.

COHAN: They want -- guess what? They don't. They care about whatever it is that Wall Street can provide when they go to Wall Street to get. They don't care about what somebody says behind their back at midnight.

ROMANS: They care about money. They care about money.

O'BRIEN: And they all care about money. Nice to have you with us this morning.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Todd Akin, he's back. Remember he, he was the guy who started the legitimate rape comments. Now he's comparing his opponent to a dog. Our get real this morning. The STARTING POINT team is headed in. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Our team this morning, Ron Brownstein, editorial director at "National Journal, also a CNN senior political analyst, nice to have you with us. Suzy Welch is back. She's a columnist and best-selling author. Roland Martin is a CNN political analyst with a show on TV one, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."


O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. We kind of match today. John Berman kind of matches with us, as well. John Berman stuck around from "EARLY START" to help us with the news this morning.

Our get real is about Missouri Republican Todd Akin. I don't know, this guy taking a lot of heat because he compares his Democratic Senate incumbent Claire McCaskill to a dog. Actually he just called her a dog. He was abandoned, you'll remember, by his own party back in August after he talked about legitimate rape. Here's what he said about Claire McCaskill at a fund-raiser on Saturday which took place in Springfield, Missouri.


REP. TODD AKIN, (R) SENATE CANDIDATE: So she goes to Washington, D.C., and it's a little bit like a, you know, one of those dog, you know, fetch, and she goes to Washington, D.C. and gets all of these taxes and red tape and bureaucracy and executive orders and agencies, and she brings all of this stuff and dumps it on us in Missouri.


O'BRIEN: I was surprised he didn't say "Missoura," first of all. That was my first shock. And then do you think like is it just a new low for like calling your isn't it an unusual thing to call somebody a dog who you --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, yes. I mean, look, this is a candidate who has basically just dropped verbal grenades on himself through the whole campaign and may, in fact, cost Republicans the Senate in the end. Very difficult, you know, to see him recovering from just one after the other after the other.

SUZY WELCH, COLUMNIST, "BESTSELLING AUTHOR": I don't like it. Who can like this? And yet I wonder if part of it is because she's a woman. What if he called his male opponent a dog? I don't know if there would be the same sound and fury.

BROWNSTEIN: The other things he said earlier, it's all in the context.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We're not dealing with the brightest bulb in a dark room. OK? I mean, so, if you look at the previous comments, look, you can -- you can criticize your opponent without going -- without going to this extent. And all he is do something giving Republicans more reasons to run from him. Just makes no sense. It also, this is a tight election. Election here is --

O'BRIEN: This is a Democratic polling thing, Public Policy Poll which is democratic pollster but they say that McCaskill is leading Akin 46 percent to 40 percent. Do you think dog is sexist?

WELCH: I think it's rude across the board. I think when you call a woman a dog it has a different connotation.


BROWNSTEIN: You say Republicans are running from him, maybe. Not all Republicans are running from Akin. Some are running back to him.


O'BRIEN: He's a gift that keeps giving in terms of news coverage because we keep talking about him.

A major shock to the rules of sports -- Lance Armstrong, breaking news on this, he's been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles following that doping scandal. We've got details on what they have said coming up next. Also, how would the new information about the deadly consulate attack in Benghazi affect tonight's debate? We're going to talk with Wyoming Senator John Barrasso. He's straight ahead as well. We're going to take a short break. We're back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Morning, welcome, everybody. Some breaking news to start with this morning. Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour De France titles. While levelling the punishment cycling's governing body had very harsh word for him. This is what they said.


PAT MCQUAID, UCI PRESIDENT: UCI wishes to begin that journey on that path forward today by confirming that it will not appeal to the court of arbitration for sport, and that it will recognize the sanction that they have imposed.

UCI will ban Lance Armstrong from cycling, and UCI will strip him of his seven Tour De France titles. Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling.


O'BRIEN: The decision comes on the heels of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's damning report, which concluded that there is, quote, "overwhelming evidence" that Lance Armstrong took part in, quote, "the most sophisticated," professionalized, and successful doping program while he was riding for the U.S. Postal Service team.

Armstrong for his part didn't respond directly to the USADA's report, but he has long denied doping. John Berman's got a look at some of the other stories making news for us. That's a bombshell.

BERMAN: None bigger than that. The last ally Lance Armstrong had, had been supportive of him for some time. Now he's essentially got no one left, interesting.

Other news, it's 33 minutes after the hour right now. CNN has learned that the U.S. Embassy in Amman appeared to be among the targets of a major terrorist plot that was foiled by Jordanian authorities. That's according to a source close to the investigation.

The 11 terror suspects are all Jordanians who recently spent time in Syria. They allegedly called their plan 9/11-2 in a plot, which was supposed to happen on November 9th called for the suicide bombings at two shopping malls along with attacks on diplomatic targets in Amman.

Now the latest in the unrest in Lebanon, three people were killed in violence overnight. Political and religious leaders held back a mob of street protesters yesterday following the emotional funeral of a top intelligence official.

He was killed in a car bombing Friday, which has widely been blamed on the Syrian government. The protesters tried to storm the Lebanese prime minister's office after mourners denounced the government as a puppet of Syria.

The CDC says the recent outbreak of fungal meningitis appears to be slowing down. Only one new case was reported on Sunday. So far 285 people have been sickened in 16 states since the outbreak began. Twenty three people have died.

The outbreak has been linked to three lots of contaminated medicine, which is used in spinal injections to help control back pain. The tainted medicine has now been recalled along with all other products made by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Sunday night football action, despite a sloppy first half and being down four starters the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to keep things close against the Cincinnati Bengals until the fourth quarter. Game tied at 17.

The first touchdown of Chris Rainy's NFL career proved to be the game winner as the Steelers went on to beat the Bengals 24-17. Soledad, you're going to like this story. The New Jersey State Police say -- no this is a different story than I thought.

O'BRIEN: This is a terrible story and it's weird, too. You know this story about this is the guy who fell, right?

BERMAN: Yes, it is. Listen to this. A fan suffered severe head injuries when he fell off an escalator at MetLife Stadium following Sunday's Giants/Redskins game. The 42-year-old fell 21 feet onto a metal stage.

O'BRIEN: How do you do that because that actually is not easy to do? You have to be kind of you know out on the edge.

MARTIN: On the escalators? Remember that another fan in another stadium same thing happened. This is not the first time.

O'BRIEN: Crowds are huge.

BERMAN: Crowds are huge, and -- we do have some happier sports news. The San Francisco Giants did it again. They avoided elimination. They beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1. They squared the National League Championship Series at three games apiece. That forced a deciding game seven tonight. Tonight's winner will play the Tigers in the World Series.

O'BRIEN: Going to pretend that's the Yankees playing.

MARTIN: -- Lance Armstrong, Max Robertson said in 1988, never, ever lose your integrity or credibility because in the end that's all you've got.

O'BRIEN: That's true. I mean, I think a lot of athletes who have some kind of very bad thing like Marion Jones and several others, they look back and say --

MARTIN: Roger Clemens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- the question is, is there a way back for Lance Armstrong?

O'BRIEN: Not at this moment. Certainly doesn't feel like it. All right, let's move on and talk a little bit about this debate. There is a final chance for both President Obama and Mitt Romney to battle each other in person. It's the third final presidential debate in Boca Raton in Florida.

It's anybody's race at this point. If you look at the polling from NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" all tied up 47 percent apiece. Let's get to Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.

He's on the Foreign Relations Committee. Tonight's debate focuses on foreign policy. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Soledad, thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You belt. Let's look at those polls. I showed you the first one a moment ago. All tied up 47-47. Then if you look at registered voters' choice for president, President Obama is ahead 49 to Mitt Romney's 44 percent.

That's also NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" polling. Sampling error is just over 3 percent. Even that shows it's very, it's very tight. How worried are you when you look at numbers like this?

BARRASSO: Well, when you notice that Mitt Romney is doing so well on the issues of who's best qualified to handle jobs, the economy, and the debt, which is the overriding issue in my opinion all across the country.

What people are focused on is the economy, but I think this is going to do very well for Mitt Romney over the next two weeks and for Election Day.

O'BRIEN: Let me read to you some endorsements that the president has gotten. I was reading to Chris Van Hollen just a moment ago, some of the endorsements that Governor Romney has gotten.

But for President Obama, the "Denver Post" says on policies ranging from tax reform to immigration, from health care to higher ed, none of Romney's numbers add up. Moreover, he's been unwilling or unable to outline for voters specifics that demonstrate his math works probably because it doesn't.

The "Durango Herald," which is in Colorado said Romney has publicly demonstrated no core convictions behind his obvious belief that he should be president. He apparently thinks that simply not being Obama is qualification enough.

And finally, the "Cleveland Plain Dealer," all politicians change positions over time, Obama in 2008 shifted his position on health care reform more to the center.

But Romney's frequent changes raise questions about his core principles and make his lack of policy details all the more troubling.

You've got two issues that they keep going to. Number one, he shifts. Number two, where are the details?

BARRASSO: The -- when you take a look at all of the polls, even the endorsements of the president have been very tepid. There's not a lot of support for the president out there either.

You're going to hear tonight in the debate Mitt Romney getting back to the core, since it's a foreign policy debate, the most important issue, the biggest threat to our national security. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said is our national debt.

And what did the president promise? He promised that over the first term that he would cut the deficit in half. He has not. We've added $5 trillion to our national debt. This is terrible for our nation.

And Ronald Reagan supported peace through strength and strength a lot has to do with our economy and how strong of a nation we have and Mitt Romney is the right person to lead on that.

O'BRIEN: As you know, if there were a Democrat sitting up here that person would tick off all the things that the Democrats would say, which is look at the trending. Certainly the, the unemployment numbers are now down.

The president was talking about that the other day. And all these other sort of indicators, I'm trying to think of them of the top of my head, housing starts and consumer confidence, et cetera, et cetera, they would say, it's been slow for sure.

But look, it's finally turning around and, and that's an indication that the president's been on the right track. I mean we hear that a lot whenever someone who's representing the Obama campaign comes and talks to us. Why are they wrong about that?

BARRASSO: The country can't afford -- can't afford the next four years to be like the last four years, is what we've gotten with the president. The president for his first two years had everything he wanted.

He had 60 Democrats in the Senate. He had the House, and he had -- and the White House and they gave you everything they wanted. And I'll tell you the country is in worse shape as a result of it. The so-called stimulus package has failed. The health care law I believe is going to bankrupt the country.

We cannot afford that for the next four years. I believe that the president has failed to lead. He's failed to lead internationally as well as nationally with the economy. All he seems to want to do is just spend more money, add more to the debt, and I don't think that's the right prescription or solution for our country.

We need a bold leader who can actually get people working again. We still have 23 million Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed. If you take a family and they go to -- their income has dropped about $4,000 over the last number of years.

And yet the president said their insurance premiums, health insurance premiums would be down $2500 a family instead they're up. I think Ron's trying to get in a question.

BROWNSTEIN: Good morning, Senator, Ron Brownstein from "National Journal." Yesterday, there were reports that the administration is considering a moving toward direct negotiations with Iran over its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Do you think that would be --

O'BRIEN: The White House has denied that --

BROWNSTEIN: No, no, they denied that they've reached an agreement in principle, but there's no question they seem to be discussing the possibility of -- of direct negotiations with Iran. Do you think that would be a good idea or a bad idea? And do you think Mitt Romney would pursue direct negotiations with Iran if he is elected?

BARRASSO: The president's been saying this, he said this when he ran four years ago that he would open up negotiations with Iran. Four years later, under the president and the promises that he's made, Iran is much closer to a nuclear weapon.

They have four times as much enriched material as they had when he took office. The sanctions that we have basically forced upon the White House and the president has finally gone with, then they gave a lot of waivers -- money to Iran. We need to do anything possible to make sure Iran does not have nuclear weapons. The White House denies the story. So it will probably come up in the debate tonight.

O'BRIEN: And you didn't answer the second part of that, which was Mitt Romney where would he stand on that? Would he do the same thing in -- in discussions with the Iranians?

BARRASSO: I think Mitt Romney will do anything he can to make sure that the Iranians do not get nuclear weapons.

O'BRIEN: Senator Barrasso, it's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us this morning.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: CNN's live coverage of tonight's third and final presidential debate will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be coming to you from Boca Raton in Florida.

Coming up next, the true story behind the hit movie "Argo." We'll tell you what really happened when six Americans went into hiding during the Iranian revolution.

CNN's exclusive interview with five of the six diplomats who survived that frightening ordeal. That's straight ahead. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Ben Affleck's new movie "Argo" is the little-known story of six Americans who eluded capture during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. And the covert CIA operation that got them out of the country. CNN's Alina Cho spoke exclusively to the real-life embassy workers upon whom that film was based.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six of the hostages went out a back exit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are they?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Canadian ambassador's house.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the movie "Argo," Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a real-life CIA operative who hatches a plan to rescue six Americans who eluded capture during the Iranian revolution.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a Canadian film crew of a science fiction movie. We all fly together as a film crew.

CHO: That fake science fiction movie is called "Argo."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I'm doing a fake movie it's going to be a fake hit.

CHO: These are the real embassy workers on which the film is based.

(on camera): What was your first thought when you saw it?

BOB ANDERS, FORMER CONSULAR OFFICER: It was more exciting than the real thing.

CHO (voice-over): Bob Anders, Lee Schatz, Mark and Cora Lijeck, Cathleen Stafford, five of the six. The first time they've all sat down together for a TV interview.

The only one who couldn't be with us is Kathleen's husband Joe, currently working for the State Department in the Sudan.

(on camera): These are the actors who played you. What do you think?



STAFFORD: They even got his little sweaters right. He used to wear these little sleeveless sweater vests.

CHO (voice-over): They took me back to the day, November 4th, 1979, when Iranian students climbed the walls and stormed the U.S. Embassy.

(on camera): What went through your mind? LEE SCHATZ, FORMER AGRICULTURAL ATTACHE: This will only last for a little while before the government will come and stop this and I just tried to keep my staff kind of calm and collected.

STAFFORD: I remember calling my mother after about the first 24, 48 hours, and said don't worry, you're going to see some things on the news, but I'm safe and I'll call you in a few days. Of course, I didn't call back for three months.

CHO (voice-over): Seventy nine days, they hid from the Iranians in the homes of Canadian diplomats and came to be known as the house guests.

STAFFORD: People would come to the house. We'd go upstairs and hide. And at one point, there were revolutionary guards posted outside door.

CHO: Then, on January 26th, 1980 --

SCHATZ: There's a knock on the door. I opened the door and there's two guys standing there in trench coats. And I said, really, trench coats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. This is what I do and I've never left anyone behind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tony is a very charming guy.

CHO (on camera): Did you trust him?

MARK LIJEK, FORMER CONSULAR OFFICER: We didn't have a whole lot of choice. I think if we said no thanks, send in another infiltration expert.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Do you really believe your little story's going to make a difference when there's a gun to our heads?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think our little story is the only thing between you and a gun to your head.

CHO (voice-over): Movie spoiler alert. It worked and once they cleared Iranian air space --

SCHATZ: We all ordered drinks and I'm sure that the people on the plane, if they wondered, you know, wondered why there were these arms that went up, as we made eye contact, because we were sitting in different places but we knew why.


CHO: Part of the reason why it took so long for this movie to come out is it wasn't because they were working on the script for this long. It's because the information was classified for 17 years.

In fact, it wasn't until it was declassified during the Clinton administration in 1997 that Hollywood started to think about it. And a big reason why it was kept secret for so long, according to these embassy workers, is because the CIA wanted to keep this option on the table in case they wanted to use that option again. Isn't that interesting?

MARTIN: A read a ton of books dealing with the CIA. You're right. Some of the stuff they do is amazing once you find out about it. This story here is just stunning.

O'BRIEN: The movie is supposed to be fantastic as well.

CHO: The movie is incredible. I know all of you have been very, very busy.

MARTIN: Just a little.

CHO: Take a moment. Will you? Take a moment and watch the movie.

O'BRIEN: After the election. Alina Cho, thanks, Alina. Appreciate it. Got to take a break. "STARTING POINT" is back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We begin with a quick check of your travel forecast. Alexandra Steele has that for us. Hi, Alexandra. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you, Soledad. Two things on two sides of the country, snow or a potential tropical storm could slow you down. To the west we go, today, tomorrow the biggest news, the first major real winter storm of the season although not officially winter yet.

We're talking about the Sierra and the Siskiyous above about 5,500 feet. We could see about a foot of snow. To the other side of the country we go. This time of year, actually, tropical season in the Atlantic goes until November 30th.

This time we look a little closer to home. There's an 80 percent chance that we could see this tropical disturbance develop. Computer models taking it -- look at this consensus.

Slamming over Jamaica, Eastern Cuba and then it is such a big system even if it stays just east of Florida in the eastern seaboard we still could see rain and wind so a lot to watch as we head toward the weekend.

O'BRIEN: All right, Alexandra, thank you. We're watching it.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, the countdown to the final showdown. Mitt Romney and the president 13 hours from now -- sometimes I just run words together to tighten it up a little bit.

We're going to talk about that final debate straight ahead. Also, Stephanie Cutter from the Obama campaign will be our guest. The former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be talking with us as well about the debate straight ahead. Ten days after the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, why was the CIA telling the president it was caused by protests over an anti-Islam video? New report of the day on the foreign policy debate, as to what we know, we'll talk about that.

We also know that presidential campaigns make for very good political humor. Comedian D.L. Huguely will join us and assess how it's been going. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Final face-off, President Obama and Mitt Romney and their final debate tonight. Who will come out on top when it comes to foreign policy? We'll analyze that this morning.

Plus some breaking news, Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour De France titles in the wake of the doping scandal. We'll discuss that.

The Goldman Sachs employee with the incredible public resignation goes on TV for the first time. His name is Greg Smith. He says he was trying to change a toxic culture. One man who worked on Wall Street for 17 years says actually he's a con man.

Packed show ahead, Obama campaign deputy manager, Stephanie Cutter, is going to join us. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor will join us.

Ambassador John Negroponte is our guest and comedian D.L. Hughley will be talking with us. It's Monday, October 22nd. STARTING POINT begins right now.

Morning. Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning, Ron Brownstein, he is the editorial director of "National Journal," CNN's senior political analyst, Roland Martin joins us well. Stop. What's that about? It's too early on a Monday.

MARTIN: Peace sign. What up? It's Monday.