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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tensions Rise Between Israel and Gaza Strip; Interview with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Maine Republican Committee Chairman Makes Controversial Statement about Black Voters; Violence Escalating In Gaza; Benghazi Attack As It Unfolded; Ron Paul Blasts Both Parties; Dangerous Energy Drinks; The Cost Of Obamacare?; Petraeus Beginning His Testimony; Romney: Obama Won By Giving "Gifts"; Major Shake Up In Japan's Government; "Miggy" And Posey Win MVP Awards; Cracker Jacks With A Jolt; Brad Pitt Debuts Furniture Collection

Aired November 16, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning is at the brink of war. Shells pounding Israel, war missiles fire in Gaza, more troops on the move. We're live in the Middle East with a region on the brink of a full-scale eruption.

Plus, General David Petraeus is heading back to Capitol Hill this hour to testify behind closed doors about what happened in Benghazi. This as the agency he led launches an investigation into his affair.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Steering clear of the fiscal cliff. President Obama welcomes congressional leaders to the White House this morning, the same players, of course, who couldn't solve it last time. Can they break the gridlock before it costs all of us?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And what started as a tribute to heroes ends in disaster. A freight train slams into a parade float carrying veterans. Everyone asking the question, why.

O'BRIEN: We have a busy show for you. The Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is going to join us. A former director of the budget office, Peter Orszag is our guest. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith and Kelly Reilly from the new movie "Flight" we'll be talking about this morning. It's Friday, November 16, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Morning. Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, Israel mobilizing thousands of troops for a possible full-scale ground war with Hamas. Violence in the region intensifying overnight. The Palestinian militants launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory, air raid sirens sounding in Tel Aviv. That's the very first time that's happened since the gulf war. Israelis responded by pounding hundreds of terror sites, as they call them, in Gaza with artillery fire.

Ben Wedeman reporting live now from Jerusalem. We know, Ben, that the Israelis have called up 16,000 reservists. What exactly are they going to be doing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they'll be doing is heading down into the area around Gaza. Very similar to what we saw in 2008, 2009, when they had a similar outbreak of violence between the two sides. We also know that there's a lot of heavy armor, lots of tanks being transported to the area around Gaza, as well, for a possible ground incursion.

But what we saw back in 2008, 2009, was that it was several days of fairly intense Israeli airstrikes that preceded ground invasions. Now what we've heard within the last half hour, the air raid sirens went off in Tel Aviv. There are unconfirmed reports there's the possibility of one or two rockets hitting the area, but it's still the situation is unclear. Certainly what we're seeing is that much of Israel from Tel Aviv to the south is on high alert with these missiles coming in. And here in Jerusalem, for instance, the police are on high alert because there are many people, many Palestinians here in Jerusalem who've come out to protest in solidarity with the situation in Gaza.

And what we're hearing from senior Israel officials, for instance, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, is indicating that Israel is dead-set, not just on putting an end to the rocket fire from Gaza, but on smashing Hamas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: Nothing will deter us from doing it if that's what will be necessary in order to put an end to it. We just cannot afford having those rocket attacks every other day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEDEMAN: Now, we heard similar statements from Israeli officials four years ago, talking about smashing Hamas. But, of course, Hamas has been well in control of Gaza for well over four years. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: That makes me wonder what he really means by that. Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem for us. Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem, appreciate that.

The deadline looming, 46 days now before we go careening off that fiscal cliff, or, as some people said, that gentle slope. Congress, the president, if they fail to reach a budget deal, that's what's going to happen through a series of dramatic tax hikes and spending cuts will kick in.

This morning President Obama and the four top Congressional leaders John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell all will begin talks at the White House. CNN's Jill Dougherty is following those developments for us this morning. She's in our Washington, D.C. bureau. Good morning, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Soledad. Well, this is it. Both sides are going to be there. They're looking at the tone. They're looking at the president, what kind of tone will he set? You have to say that they're coming in both sides with their essential positions intact. All, both sides are saying that there is some room for a compromise. So, the essential thing is how do you compromise? If you look at the positions, let's say, of the Republicans, and it's most strongly, as I say, relayed by Senator Mitch McConnell, he does not, and they do not, want any tax increases. So let's listen to him first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: And let's be clear, an opening bid of $1.6 trillion of new taxes just isn't serious. It's more than Simpson-Bowles or any other bipartisan commission has called for. It's been unanimously rejected in the House and Senate, it's twice as much as the White House seemed ready to agree to during last summer's debt ceiling talks, and looked at it in the context of the spending cuts that are yet to be enacted from the president's other proposal, it amounts to about 20 cents in cuts for every new dollar in tax hikes, in other words, no cuts at all. It's a joke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: A joke. OK, so the president would say it's not a joke, and his position is he wants something balanced. So that means increasing revenue and then also protecting to some degree those benefits that Americans get.

So let's listen to what the president says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right away say 98 percent of Americans are not going to see their taxes go up, 97 percent are small businesses are not going to see their taxes go up. If we get that in place, we are actually removing half of the fiscal cliff. Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: And Soledad, don't forget, of course, this is all in the context of the election which just took place, and the Democrats, I think you'd have to say, feel that strike while the iron is hot, that they do have leverage, and they want to try to use that as they can.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but the leverage is to go over the cliff, which may or may not be a wise thing in retrospect, I guess. Jill Dougherty for us this morning. Thank you, Jill, appreciate the update.

Other stories making news, John Berman has those for us.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. A really sad story out of Texas. A parade honoring military heroes ends in tragedy in Midland, Texas. At least four people were killed when a train slammed into a float packed with veterans and their spouses yesterday. More than a dozen other people were rushed to the hospital. We don't know what caused this crash. Union Pacific says the track's lights and crossing gates were working and that the train sounded its horn before the crash.

A look now at live pictures from the House Visitors' Center of Washington, D.C. We're expecting to see David Petraeus walking through those halls at any moment on his way to a closed-door hearing before the house intelligence committee. That hearing is scheduled to begin at about 7:30 eastern. The former CIA -- the now former CIA director will be asked to tell lawmakers everything he knows about the September 11th attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

President Obama touring hurricane Sandy devastation in New York, flying over ravaged neighborhoods in Queens, and comforting devastated homeowners, in tents and in the streets of Staten Island yesterday. The president also assigned a point person for the sandy recovery effort, New Yorker Sean Donovan, who is the secretary of the department of housing and urban development.

Take a look at this dramatic new video just released by the New York and New Jersey port authorities, two path train stations under water, look at that, one in Jersey City, the other in Hoboken. Service at both stations remains suspended nearly three weeks after sandy. Now nearly all the equipment for signaling and the train equipment was damaged or destroyed. You can see why.

Some of the Obama administration's sharpest critics on Benghazi actually missed a classified briefing about the incident, including most Republican members of a Senate committee investigating the attack, among them Senator John McCain. When one of our producers gave him some pretty tough questions about it yesterday, Senator McCain got rather testy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I have no comments about my schedule and how I spend my time. I will not further comment. I have no further comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why can't you comment about that?

MCCAIN: Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment. Who the hell are you to tell me whether I can or not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Those questions from CNN's Ted Barrett, one of the best in the business. Later a more cheerful Senator McCain explained what happened to Piers Morgan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: It was a scheduling error. I can assure you that I got all the information and in future hearings, including one tomorrow morning with General Petraeus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I should think the senator came back on and talked to piers because he probably regretted being quite as harsh as he was with our Ted Barrett.

O'BRIEN: Next time just a simple no comment is where you want to leave it. Not the "who the you know what are you." Thank you, John, appreciate it.

Christine, let's talk business.

ROMANS: Well, we'll talk fiscal cliff, of course. Stock futures are dawn right now. It would be the fifth straight decline if it holds through the day. The economic calendar, investors are keeping an eye on fiscal cliff negotiations.

And we're also talking about this Hostess drama. Could it be the end of the road for Hostess, the company behind Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Wonder Bread? The announced plans to liquidate its baker unions who have been on strike since last Friday, protesting pay and pension cuts. Earlier this week the bankrupt company told workers it would close its doors if workers didn't return to work by 5:00 p.m. yesterday. That deadline passed, and now Hostess has to decide what to do. Hostess has 18,000 workers and more than 30 plants. It survived the great depression, quite frankly. It can't survive this. A lot of people say that the brands would survive in some kind of liquidation. You have investor who would swoop up and buy it or big companies who would add them to their snack food buys. The workers wouldn't survive a liquidation.

O'BRIEN: Where did the name "fiscal cliff" come from?

ROMANS: Ben Bernanke said it in testimony last year, but it first came from Reuters who was the first one to use it in the headline. Reuters editors say they didn't make it up. It had already been going around the beltway, so then Reuters put it in a headline, and then everyone started to use it.

O'BRIEN: All right, interesting.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, bombs and rockets, rockets exchanged between Israel and Gaza. Are they on the brink of war? We'll discuss that with the Israeli deputy foreign minister amid many real fears of an invasion this morning.

And the costs of Obamacare, we'll see why one restaurant owner says he's going to be adding to every customer's check to pay for it. That's straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Morning, welcome, everybody. Could we be on the brink of a major conflict in the Middle East? Anti-Israeli protests happening in Jerusalem, other protests happening in the West Bank and Egypt and Jordan. They're protesting Israel's strike on the Gaza Strip in retaliation to those Hamas rockets, a tiny Palestinian territory that's wedged into Israel. Hamas is reporting that 19 Palestinians died in missile strikes, Israel reporting that three citizens have been killed. And those rockets continue to rain overnight. This is a video from the Al Quds brigade, claiming that this rocket was aimed at Tel Aviv. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity, though, of this video.

Danny Ayalon is the Israeli deputy foreign minister. He's also former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Let's talk first about the ceasefire. It seemed like it didn't really stick. What's the situation on the ground there right now?

DANNY AYALON, ISRAELI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: The situation is that the Hamas keep trying relentlessly to aim more rockets, and indeed they do fire rockets at Israeli populations. And, indeed, Israeli citizens, like any other people, deserve peace and quiet so they can go about leading their lives, and they have not been able to do it for the last seven years. Ever since Israel left Gaza altogether, we gave Gaza to the Palestinians, and instead of peace and quiet, reconciliations, coexistence, they have fired more and more arms against us.

The situation now has been exacerbated because of the so-called Arab spring. What happened is that the Hamas is able now to get more accurate and long-range missiles from the cachets of Gadhafi, get a lot from Sudan and Iran. And they use it, of course, very irresponsibly. All we have to do as a matter of self-defense.

O'BRIEN: What's the bar? If you've got troops, I think you use the number 18,000 troops. I know right now your ambassador has been tweeting that the sirens are off again, that there are more rockets raining down, what's the endgame?

AYALON: We have to remember, Soledad, that the distance between Tel Aviv and Gaza is less than 60 miles. So once they have rocket of 50, 60 miles they can really threaten the entire country. This of course is intolerable. What we want to do is first and foremost achieve peace and quiet.

O'BRIEN: Can you do that by amassing 18,000 troops on the ground with source of a sense for a lot of people who are watching from the outside that we're on the brink of a ground war?

AYALON: We do not want to get into Gaza. We want to minimize collateral damage. We have been very careful. But the problem is that there is a double crime against humanity by Hamas. First as they target only civilian populations on our side. And secondly they use civilian populations of Gaza as human shields because they specifically embed themselves in and among civilian populations.

O'BRIEN: They'd argue when you're firing back into their territory, that you're actually firing on the civilian population.

AYALON: And they fire, they position their rockets in synagogues, in hospitals, and in mosques, and in school, you know, children gardens. It's very ridiculous.

O'BRIEN: What's the solution? Because you know, as many editorials have pointed out this morning, there was less than 2008, 2009 and you're kind of in that same position. And we heard Ehud Barak sort of talk about stomping out, I'm paraphrasing, but stomping out a Hamas. But, you know, a lot of people said well that's been tried before. That three-week blitz did not kill Hamas. The Hamas is still strong, and there, and now they're firing rockets. What's the bend game for both sides?

AYALON: That's because three or four years ago we stopped short of outputting the entire infrastructure. We are kind of reluctant warriors. We do not want to get into Gaza if we don't have to. They keep firing at us. We will have to do it, so a ground operation is still in the cards. It's kind of a touch and go. And we have very, very simple, specific goals.

O'BRIEN: What would be the thing that would trigger a ground operation? What were happen that you say, that's it, we're in?

AYALON: I would say if we will see in the next 24, 36 hours more rockets launched at us, I think that will be the trigger.

O'BRIEN: So it's just more rockets.

BERMAN: That's not a very long time frame, another day and a half, two days?

AYALON: It's touch-and-go. God forbid if they hit a kindergarten or a school and many casualties in Israel of course we would have to do everything to defend ourselves and we will achieve it. The question is, the question is, how much blood has to be spilled on both sides.

So really the responsibility is on the Hamas and on those who support him, the Iranians. This is just preposterous. So I think it's important for the community to keep the pressure on Iran, on Qatar, on Hamas which is considered a terrorist organization not only in the United States but throughout the world in Europe as well. They should be cut off. From any aid, and this is also our aim, after we successfully will finish the military operation, which I hope will not be too long.

O'BRIEN: Danny Ayalon the Israeli deputy foreign minister, thank you for coming in and talking to us this morning. Very scary stuff you're talking about, frankly, very short time line and not a very high bar. We're talking about rockets being fired as of right now. So that's scary stuff.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a lawmaker is looking into possible voter fraud, and he says this, "there's nobody in my town who knows anybody who's black." Some black people voted in his town. Well that comment is causing an uproar on a lot of fronts. We'll talk about that coming up next. The STARTING POINT team is heading in. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're looking at some top stories this morning. The U.S. Postal Service says it's facing its own fiscal cliff and if Congress doesn't help it might run out of cash in the next year. They reported a record loss of $15.9 billion in the fiscal year ending September 30th. That's more than triple the $5 billion loss in 2011, wow. The postal service lost $8.5 billion the year before. Business is clearly not good.

Business is good for "Twilight." Fans getting their "Twilight" on from coast to coast. So-called "Twi-Hards" lined up for the midnight premiere of "Breaking Down: Part Two." It is the fifth and final installment in the hugely popular "Twilight" film franchise.

O'BRIEN: I haven't waited in line for a movie since "Star Wars."

BERMAN: But it was worth it back then.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You're a VIP. They usher you straight to the front.

O'BRIEN: That's right Will Cain, and don't you forget it.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is why you're our favorite.

O'BRIEN: Right, yes, that would also be correct. Richard Socarides, writer for NewYorker.com, former senior adviser for President Clinton. Zanny Minton-Beddoes is an economics editor at "The Economist." That's tricky. Nice to have you with us this morning. Will Cain is a columnist for TheBlaze.com.

Let's talk about Charlie Webster. Who is Charlie Webster? Why, he is the Republican Party chairman in Maine. His comments about voter fraud, he's very, very concerned about it. But what he has been saying is causing a little controversy itself. Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE WEBSTER, MAINE REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: And some parts of Maine, there were dozens of black people who came in and voted Election Day. Everybody has a right to vote. But nobody in town knows anybody that's black. How did it happen? I don't know. We're going to find out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I don't know any black people. How could they have voted in my town? It must be voter fraud. He didn't give any specifics or any actual numbers of actual black people. He did say that he thought the voter I.D. the voting was fraught with abuse and then in a follow-up interview because I guess people were completely perplexed, he said "I'm not politically correct, that would be obvious. But maybe I shouldn't have said that those voters were black but anyone who suggests I have any bias toward any race or group, frankly, that's sleazy."

BERMAN: He's the outgoing chairman of the Maine Republican party I should add that.

SOCARIDES: And it is true that president Obama's margin of victory in Maine was not several dozen votes or several hundred votes.

O'BRIEN: It was 107,000 people. So let's say 300 anonymous black people came in to Maine and voted surreptitiously. We'll, they're sticking out because they're black in Maine for Obama. It wouldn't matter. He won by 107,000 votes.

CAIN: Can I tell you honestly?

O'BRIEN: Yes, honestly.

CAIN: Personal level. I really dislike stories like this. And I'm going to tell you why. This entire story hinges on what whether or not what Mr. Webster has to say is true or not. The fact that he said a bunch of anonymous black people, as you suggested, surreptitiously went into Maine to vote, in itself, isn't an offensive statement, right?

O'BRIEN: Right. I think he's crazy.

CAIN: It only matters if it's true or not. Evidence doesn't seem to suggest what he has to say is accurate. But we should find out before we say he's a crazy man.

O'BRIEN: Well, you could also do the math on how many African- Americans there are in the state of Maine, and there's certainly enough that you could reasonably say that --

CAIN: I don't know how many districts he's talking about. I don't know the areas he's talking about.

O'BRIEN: What is voter fraud -- by the way I think people would say this is why the GOP lost, right. It's this attitude. It's --

CAIN: And this is why I hate stories like this because what takes place is not the fact whether or not what this guy said is true or not we deal with a world of perception and we perpetuate perception, and the perception is Republicans, they're racists.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: It is a tone and sensibility that black people have somehow voted that, that, that there is a problem. That is a message, by the way, sent to black people in Maine by the head of the GOP in Maine. That's a message. Anybody can read that message between the lines.

MINTON-BEDDOES, ECONOMICS EDITOR, "THE ECONOMIST" MAGAZINE: I just want to say something, what seems to me crazy is that the margin of victory was so enormous, who cares? What's the point of saying this right now. It really plays into this perception of the Republican Party.

CAIN: It plays into a perception.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it's a problematic perception.

O'BRIEN: Again, not racist, just crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Moving ahead, on STARTING POINT, scary new information about energy drinks from Rock Star to Monster to 5-Hour Energy. Why you could be putting your health at risk when you drink one of those. The president's health care law could cost you if you decide to go to eat at a certain Denny's. One restaurant will tell us what his plan is to make us all pay. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Let's get started with John Berman for a look at the day's top stories. Good morning.

BERMAN: Thanks so much. America's closest ally in the Middle East may be on the verge of war this morning. Violence between the Israelis and the Palestinian militants intensifying in Gaza overnight.

Hamas militants firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory setting off air raid sirens in Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War way back in 1991.

The Israelis pounding hundreds of terror targets in Gaza with artillery fire while calling up 16,000 reservists for the possibility of a ground assault.

Senate and House lawmakers describe realtime video and testimony about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi as informative, but not necessarily conclusive.

Senators say the video combines surveillance and drone footage and a source familiar with the House committee hearing says the video includes shots of Ambassador Christopher Stevens being dragged out of the building. He and three other Americans died in that September attack.

Going out guns blazing, Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas gives what's likely his final speech in front of Congress, a 48-minute speech. The libertarian hero slammed both parties saying they're leading the country in the wrong correction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Financial crisis is actually a moral crisis. Many are already saying that a financial crisis looms but few understand it's in reality a moral crisis. It's the moral crisis that has allowed our liberties to be undermines and permits the exponential growth of illegal government power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Congressman Ron Paul is retiring at the end of this year.

And if you drank energy drinks for a pick me up, you better beware. The FDA just posted some eye-popping injury information about three popular ones, Rock Star Energy, Monster Energy, and 5-Hour Energy shots. The records include 13 previously unreleased reports about Monster energy including five reports of death and 90 filings about 5- Hour Energy including reports involving 13 deaths. That's pretty serious. A Florida restaurant owner who operates dozens of Denny's franchises says he intends to add a 5 percent surcharge to every customer's check starting in January of 2014.

He says the money will be used to offset the cost of Obamacare when it's fully implemented. He receives about 1,200 employees and most of them will have their schedule reduced to less than 30 hours to avoid Obamacare fees.

O'BRIEN: He's not the only one doing that.

ROMANS: Retailers are saying that they're going to add lots of part- time workers instead of full-time workers because they don't want to deal with the cost of health care.

O'BRIEN: One week after resigning the former CIA Director David Petraeus is about to begin testifying before House Intelligence Committee. That hearing is expected to get under way any moment.

The former general is going to be -- the retired general is going to be asked to tell lawmakers everything he knows about the deadly September 11th attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

While he's testifying, the CIA is launching its own investigation into his conduct while he was still in charge of that agency.

Brings us to our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, she's in D.C. this morning. So is he there yet? Has he arrived?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has arrived, Soledad. But you wouldn't know it and our television viewers wouldn't know it because we didn't get a picture of him and we're not alone.

I just want to give you the scene of where he is. If you look back there you can kind of seen a brown door. Those are the doors that lead to the classified briefing room where he is.

And despite the fact that CNN and other networks had cameras all over at virtually entrance, this is a bit of a maze out here and people can be protected from seeing reporters, if -- if the members of Congress want to and that's what they did in this case, which is quite interesting.

Although CNN and other networks asked if we could at least have one picture, one shot of him going in, they intentionally snuck him in, and protected him, which is kind of noteworthy that members of Congress decided to do that.

Now, as far as the substance goes, remember, Petraeus did brief members of Congress, this intelligence committee, once and only once in the days after the Benghazi attack back in September.

And at the time, he made clear to them that he thought that it was more likely the result of those demonstrations, and violence out of those demonstrations. Lawmakers I talked to before this said that they were still quite angry about that. What one called a weak presentation so we could be sure those are going to be some of the questions there, but more broadly our Barbara Starr got from Petraeus that he is going to comment and say that he did initially hear that it was Ansar Al-Sharia, which is a loosely affiliated radical Islamist group.

But at the same time, he was also hearing intelligence reports, multiple intelligence reports that the violence was stemming from the demonstrations. So he's going to have to explain that, kind of square that when he's in here today.

That's the main reason why they wanted him to come in, also because he has since been to Libya so they want to get that from him despite the fact he's no longer at the CIA.

O'BRIEN: Dana Bash for us this morning. Thank you, Dana. I want to get right to Republican Congressman Connie Mack joining us this morning. It's nice to have you with us, sir, appreciate it.

REPRESENTATIVE CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You heard Dana say just a moment ago while reporting from our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon that we're expecting that the -- the retired general is going to testify that immediately there was the sense there was this radical Islamist group that was responsibility.

But at the same time a stream of intelligence that might have suggested that there was this anti-Islamic video that was playing a role in some way. What, what do you make -- that's what he ends up testifying, what do you make of -- of that?

MACK: Well, you know, I think, Soledad, that the American people really want to get to the bottom of this and get some answers. I think a lot of people are frustrated that we hear one story one day and another story another day.

And I think, by the way, this isn't just Republicans, this is Republicans, Democrats, independents, all across the country, saying what happened? We want the truth. We want to know to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

I mean remember, four Americans died, and I think General Petraeus and all of the others who have been out there in the past, talking about Benghazi, need to come and tell the American people the truth. And that starts today, I think.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to hear I agree. But could he if indeed he says what our reporting says he's going to say and we've seen the CIA talking points for Susan Rice as well, if he says listen immediately thought radical Islamist group.

Same time there was intelligence that seemed to indicate that the video might have a role would that -- would that explain to you what we now know about Susan Rice's testimony, which has become a big center of all of this. You know, talking certainly about, whether she's going to have a chance to be secretary of state, does that make her position on "Meet the Press" five days later, make some kind of sense?

MACK: Not to me. And everybody will have to judge that on their own, but to me it still falls way short. We know -- we know the events that happened. Those are public -- it's in the public domain. And to blame a video, I think, is offensive, not only to our own, you know, constitutional belief in freedom of speech.

But just the idea that the administration would go out and blame a video, instead of what really happened, that this was a terrorist attack that killed four Americans. So no I don't think it gets anybody off the hook for statements they made early right after the incident.

O'BRIEN: But -- but, forgive me --

MACK: Soledad, just real quick. This is one of those issues that the American people deserve to know the truth, and right now the administration has a problem. And that is that it doesn't look like they were being honest with the American people.

Now maybe they have evidence to show that they were, and if they do, then bring it forward. But right now, this is a big problem for the administration. It looks like they were spinning a story that just wasn't true.

O'BRIEN: Or is it a problem for, in fact, General Petraeus? Because, again, assuming he's going to -- he's going to testify as we've been told that he's going to testify that, that video would come from the CIA.

And we also have those CIA talking points for Susan Rice comes to us from CBS News that read that the demonstrations were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo involved into a direct assault. I mean, it's very consistent.

So doesn't all of that point and I agree with you 150 percent, everybody, you know, wants to understand exactly what happened. But doesn't this seem to vindicate her role when if the CIA talking points that were given to Susan Rice?

MACK: Again, Soledad, not to me. And I think that most people who are watching this, it is -- it is an attempt, but it falls way short of answering the questions I think that the American people have.

And that's what this is really about. So whether it's general Petraeus, Susan Rice, or anyone in the administration, I mean, this is a -- this is an issue of leadership. This is something that the president I think needs to come to the American people and be very straightforward about what happened.

Why it is that statements were made the way they were at the beginning, why it is that they are changing now, and that -- that as commander in chief, as the president of the United States, this is an opportunity for him to look the American people in the eye.

And say -- and my opinion that there were mistakes made, we are sorry for that, here is the truth of what happened, and we are going to make sure it never happens again.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask you a question about when we heard a little bit about Governor Romney explaining to his donors why he lost. One of the things he's talking about is gifts and we heard from Governor Jindal coming out very harshly about that.

Also Susan Martinez as well, the gifts include young people get a gift of forgiveness of their college loans and Obamacare, for college age women get free contraceptives, minorities get Obama care. Latinos get amnesty for the children of Latinos.

All these, you know, sort of these gifts that he talked about, here's what Governor Jindal said, about that. I'm going to play that first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: This is not where the Republican Party needs to go. Look, we want -- if you want voters to like you the first thing you've got to do is to like them first. And it's certainly not helpful to tell voters that you think their votes were bought. That's not a way to show them that you respect them, you like them. We need to stop talking down to voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So what do you make of that? Do you agree with what Governor Jindal is saying? Do you think that Governor Romney is correct that and that there gifts and that's really ultimately why the president won?

MACK: Well, I don't know that I would have used the word gifts. But I also believe that we need to do a better job, and when I say we, I mean Republicans need to do a better job of communicating to people around this country.

And that's not just, you know, it's all people. Regardless of where you come from, what you look like and what your political beliefs are. We have a serious problem in this country about how we're going to move forward.

We see both parties are at their wings meaning there's nobody in the center anymore, in Washington. Everybody is on their wings. We need to do a better job as Republicans communicating to people that we believe in their value as a human being, as a person, as an individual.

We don't do a very good job of that. It is something that I think that Republicans and Democrats need to understand that we shouldn't be dividing Americans, we should be uniting Americans. We should be talking to people about the future of America.

I wish that we were having a discussion about how to make sure that we pay off our debt, our deficits, pay down our deficits, how we get this country moving again. People back to work.

O'BRIEN: OK, we'll do that. You know what? I accept. I know that you're going to be leaving the Congress, but of course, your wife as well, but we would love to have you back.

As you know we have a seat for you for both of you any time you want to come and have that very discussion we'd love to talk about that, of course.

MACK: Soledad if you're serious I'd be happy -- and I love being on your show and we will make that happen. We still have a lot of ideas.

O'BRIEN: Good, good, we'll do that then I'd like that. Thank you, sir. It's nice to talk to you. We appreciate your time this morning.

MACK: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk a little bit more about the fiscal cliff. We're talking about if there are lines in the sand on this issue as the president out of line. Republicans have their line.

Both sides are going to be talking face-to-face at the White House this morning. We'll talk with former Budget Director Peter Orszag right at the top of the hour.

And then take me out to the ball game, classic cracker jacks getting a makeover. We'll tell you why this new logo, though, has some people mad. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. A quick look at your top stories right now.

A huge political shake-up in Japan, the country's prime minister dissolved the lower House of Parliament, setting the stage for general elections next month. The move is part of a deal between Japan's two main political parties, that helps the government avoid a financial crunch, and continue financing itself. Imagine that.

Miguel Cabrera, capping off a Triple Crown year with the American League Most Valuable Player award, this is actually pretty controversial. The Tigers star beat out Angels rookie Phenon Mike Trout for the MVP upsetting statisticians everywhere.

The Giants Buster Posey prevails in the National League. Posey also won the batting title and hit a two-run homer in the Giants game clinching number four of the World Series.

So, next time you open a box of Cracker Jacks you may get more than just a toy surprise. Introducing Cracker Jack'd Power Bites. One serving, true, has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

It's expected to go on sale in late December. Frito-Lay says they'll market Cracker Jack'd to adults only, but they say the fact that a toy surprise is still inside will appeal to kids.

CAIN: First of all, we were just having a commercial near the commercial break about the legalization of drugs. What we're now talking about is making caffeine a regulatable substance.

Because you saw like what are the drinks, outlawed in New York. We're not moving -- well, Washington are -- towards legalization, kind of just fully embracing our prohibition streak.

O'BRIEN: I don't want my kids having something that has caffeine with it with a toy inside. No, no they don't drink caffeine. You've seen them. They're crazy already. They don't need caffeine.

CAIN: They're extremely well behaved. Half the time they're working around here breaking child labor laws.

O'BRIEN: We're not talking about that. All right, we got to take a break. Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, from actor to furniture designer. Brad Pitt's new portfolio and we'll tell you how you can get your hands on it. That's straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Brad Pitt is an award-winning actor, father, producer, won "People's" magazine sexiest man alive, twice, I think. Now you can add furniture designer to his name.

He is debuting his first collection of 12 original pieces of furniture this week. It's a collaboration with luxury furniture maker, Frank Pollaro. It's nice to have you with us. Your stuff is really like art work.

FRANK POLLARO, PRESIDENT OF POLLARO CUSTOM FURNITURE, INC: We've been building museum quality furniture for 25 years and the people who collect it are people who collect art and functional art.

O'BRIEN: So before we get into the back story of how you started working with a guy whose day job is really to be an actor, I wanted to show some of the pieces first. It's absolutely stunning, but looks like a challenge certainly in the engineering.

POLLARO: Well, brad has a unique vision when he gets into a piece like this and we try to realize that in every way that we can. And we try to follow every line and engineering those lines are not always easy.

What I like about him, about brad is that he listens and he's thoughtful. That's the reason I spend time with him. He's good at what he does and I think he -- yes, he puts his mind into it. He understands engineering on some level and helps us.

O'BRIEN: You understand it more so you help him.

POLLARO: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at the bed, which is stunning. A 3,000 man hours of work went into this bed is what I read. Is that correct?

POLLARO: That's correct, just about 3,000 hours. There was a lot of research and development. We took a lot of time to give him what he wanted in the piece, which was a continuous line. His vision was for a line and we decided we're going to make it that way and it required rebuilding the bed probably five or six times before we got it right.

O'BRIEN: Bathtub.

POLLARO: Bathtub, started with a 30,000 pound block of marble and he had about five different designs and we selected this one together. We engineered the inside of the bathtub like we would engineer a club chair so it's comfortable.

BERMAN: Does he use these? Do you know if he has some of these at home? Is this something that Brad --

POLLARO: The pieces we unveiled this week are the first time they've been shown. So some of them are going into his homes, yes, this is pretty exciting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That bathtub looks amazing.

O'BRIEN: It's supposed to be comfortable.

POLLARO: It looks totally like art. Sculptural art and it is comfortable. When you get into a bathtub it's always uncomfortable. We wanted to make it beautiful and comfortable.

O'BRIEN: I need a comfortable bathtub, darn it. That thing is no --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are these reasonably affordable?

POLLARO: I would not say they're generally affordable.

O'BRIEN: You're so cute. No, not even close. They're collector's items. Why would someone who is known mostly as a Hollywood actor would want to try his hand as a furniture designer?

POLLARO: He has been sketching for literally 20 years. We built a piece of furniture for him. When I saw them I said let's make some of these three dimensional.

By the amount of times we talk during a week, I know where his head is. He's really into it. He is excited about it. He enjoys it. We have a lot of fun doing it together and he's very dedicated to it.

CAIN: He has always been a fan of architecture, whether you talk about Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture, interior design.

POLLARO: He sees the furniture as small architecture, complete architecture in a small form.

O'BRIEN: It's absolutely beautiful. Congratulations on the collection. It's nice to have you on the show. We appreciate it.

POLLARO: Thank you. We're excited about it.

O'BRIEN: No, not affordable at all. I have a bathtub that's affordable. That's not. It's nice to have you. We'll take a short break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, Middle East erupting, bombs over Gaza, rockets crashing in Tel Aviv, more troops on the move this morning. We're live in the Middle East on the -- the possible full scale eruption there of war.

Plus General David Petraeus on Capitol Hill right now. It's the first time that we've seen him since he resigned over an affair. Will we put those questions to rest about Benghazi?