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CNN NEWSROOM

Sen. Jim DeMint To Resign; Legal Pot in Washington State; Syria And Chemical Weapons

Aired December 6, 2012 - 14:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me here on this Thursday.

Concerns, they are rising over chemical weapons sites in Syria. And, today, for the first time, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the most recent intelligence raises, his words, serious concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching very closely and the president of the United States has made very clear that there will be consequences. There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Leon Panetta earlier today. We will have a report for you from the Pentagon on Syria in just a moment.

But first, shock waves in Washington. A powerful Republican senator suddenly calling it quits. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint will step down December 31st so he can lead the Heritage Foundation. It's a powerful conservative think tank in Washington. DeMint says he can be more effective outside the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: A lot of my role in the Senate has been stopping bad things and saying no to bad things. But we need to do more than that and tell Americans what we're for. One of the mistakes I think the Republican Party made the last two years is trying to make Obama the issue without sharing with America bold reform ideas that get people inspired to get behind us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Senator DeMint, huge Tea Party supporter. Sometimes clashes with his own party's leadership. He is leaving with four years left in his Senate term. Earlier, he said he'd retire when the term was up in 2017, but gave no previous indication that he might quit now.

I want to go to our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She joins me on the phone here.

And, Dana, huge surprise to a lot of people. What's behind the resignation?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): A huge stunner. Really nobody saw it coming. In fact, I was told by a source close to DeMint that he didn't really even accept the job until yesterday at the Heritage Foundation. He told his staff this morning. Called the governor back home in South Carolina who, of course, will have to appoint the successor and told the Republican leaders here.

But, you know, look, the reason why this is such a surprise is because DeMint really has been, over the past few years, somebody who takes pride in his job and the role that any one senator can do, which is to gum up the works. And that is very much, obviously, an inside job. But he said he could do better outside than inside. But he did say that he feels better about leaving because he has been able to get a number -- really half a dozen Tea Party-like conservatives elected and he's spent millions of dollars doing it.

BALDWIN: Well, let me jump in, Dana, and let me -- I want you to run through them because, you know, when a lot of us think Senator DeMint, we think of really a Tea Party stronghold within the U.S. Senate.

BASH: Yes.

BALDWIN: And I know he helped, but also hurt a number of Republican candidates. Who were they?

BASH: That's right. Well, right. So let's start with the senators now, obviously, who he helped elect. So this is the positive side of his millions and his work. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz. These are all very conservative, kind of anti-tax, anti-government purists in the mold of Jim DeMint. However, he also backed in Republican primaries a number of Republican candidates who simply were not electable according to the Republican establishment and the establishment was right. For example, remember Christine O'Donnell, "I am not a witch," from Delaware. Ken Buck from Colorado. And others. So those are some of the reasons why he definitely has ruffled many a feather with some of his party leaders.

And I've got to tell you that the first thing that I saw when the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, released a statement today was his making the point that DeMint had, quote, "uncompromising" service. You didn't have to read between the lines too much there to see that there was a little bit of a backhanded compliment.

BALDWIN: Dana, what about just bigger picture here, when we talking about the Republican Party, and we were just talking about, you know, folks like Ryan and Rubio, let's say, part of maybe the next generation Republicans. Do you think that DeMint's brand of Republicanism is falling out of favor with sort of the newer version of what the Republican Party's trying to create?

BASH: I don't think so. I think that DeMint himself said today that he feels like I've had, it's easier for him to leave because there are a number of people -- more people like him in the Senate. You know, he -- him saying that he can do more on the outside might be true. You know, what he's done on the inside, as I said, isn't just sort of gumming up the works and making it a case even with his own party for a more strict anti-government platform. But, you know, now he's going to go out and sort of focus on the whole more of the policy than the politics. And I talked to some Republican sources when I heard the news, Republican sources who are not the biggest fans of Jim DeMint because they feel like he really hurt their ability to gain the majority because that he backed some losing candidates, that there actually is some concern that -- among the quote/unquote establishment that DeMint could do more or be even more powerful at the Heritage Foundation than here was here as a senator.

BALDWIN: Outside the Senate. How about that? Dana Bash, as you mentioned, a stunner, stunner today. Dana Bash for me on the phone, our senior congressional correspondent.

President Obama, he is taking his fiscal cliff PR campaign back on the road. Set to visit with a middle class family in northern Virginia this afternoon and push to preserve that middle class tax cut. If the president and Congress can't reach a deal, you know the story, tax rates for the middle class and everyone else will go up the first of next year.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented a simple majority vote on a proposal to give the president unilateral power to raise the U.S. debt limit. Senator McConnell is demanding 60 Senate votes for passage. President Obama had pushed for the debt limit power transfer in a most recent and main proposal last week on the fiscal cliff.

Now no John McAfee. You know the millionaire software guru wanted in questioning in his neighbor's murder in Belize. Maybe you heard McAfee got arrested in Guatemala overnight. Shouldn't come as much of a surprise here. The whole time this guy was supposedly on the run, he was handing out TV interviews like candy. But listen to this. Now the McAfee is in jail, he is blogging from behind bars. This story just keeps getting more interesting, shall we say? More on the blogging here in just a moment.

But first, I have to play you this video. This is the video of his arrest. Surprise, surprise, McAfee was with a camera crew from vice.com when Guatemalan police took him in. The charge, entering that country illegally. Take a look here. This is exclusive video of vice.com.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCAFEE, INTERNET ANTIVIRUS PIONEER: They're trying to arrest me. Guatemalan jails have beds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, where are you going?

MCAFEE: To jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When will you be out?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: And off he goes. To think, just yesterday, McAfee was telling us he was seeking asylum in Guatemala. He's been on the run ever since the 10th of November for that murder -- after the murder of his neighbor, American ex-pat Greg Faull. This is a picture of Faull here. Belize police say they just want to talk to McAfee. But during a news conference in Guatemala, McAfee accused Belize of persecuting him for refusing to pay a bribe to a local politician. Belize's prime minister has two words to describe McAfee, "bonkers" and "paranoid."

In Guatemala just yesterday, McAfee called a news conference. Cameras showed. So listen closely as McAfee tells his girlfriend about the cameras and how they're a big part of his life in the U.S. He's a celebrity. Once again, Vice Media there to catch it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCAFEE: You've never seen this before, have you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, never in my life.

MCAFEE: This is -- this is my life in America, sweetie, so --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE). It's good.

MCAFEE: You'll see that I am quite comfortable with this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So this brings me back to McAfee's jailhouse blog. He has an official one. He calls it "The Hinterland." Listen to how he describes his Guatemalan jailers. I'm quoting his post here. "I am using the computer of one of the wardens or whatever title is used here. He's a sweet man and a gentleman. The world is heavily populated with gentle people. He makes me coffee and tells tinder stories about his life. He's a good companion. I believe I could spend weeks in the desert with him as a sole companion without once becoming irritated. His name is Gino Ennati."

A late development today here about that request for asylum. Request denied. Expect McAfee to get shipped back to Belize, and shortly. Stay tuned on this one.

Smoking marijuana is legal today in Washington state. So, will federal law enforcement look the other way?

I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

Tanks roll into the streets. Protesters target Egypt's president. What is next for this country in turmoil over a constitutional shutdown?

And an Iowa family holding out hope for two little girl who disappeared, but now their bodies have been found and the search is on for suspects in their abduction.

And, might your next computer be made in the USA? After 20 years of manufacturing overseas, Apple says Mac is back to being made in America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Marijuana history takes a new turn in the United States. An impromptu pot party. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: Three, two, one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Yep. Pot party at midnight near a Seattle landmark. The Space Needle. Look at the crowds marking the moment Washington state became the first in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Washington voters approved it in last month's election. So let me throw this at you. There are a couple of ground rules here. You have to be over the age of 21. You can have up to an ounce in your possession. No more. And despite Seattle's overnight smoke fest, you are not supposed to light up a joint in public. Here's a big catch, though. You still have to go underground to get it. Growing and selling pot, still illegal. At least for now they are. CNN's Miguel Marquez has the story in Seattle.

Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, ABC CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, for pot smokers here in Washington state, it is a day for celebration and partying. The legalization of pot. But proponents of this initiative say this is only the first step.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: This is what you assume the stores will look like?

JAMEN SHIVELY, MARIJUANA ENTREPRENEUR: Yes.

MARQUEZ: Our something along these lines?

SHIVELY: So, yes, our stores are going to have the feel of a fine cigar shop.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Jamen Shively, once at high-profile executive at Microsoft, now preparing to open as many as two dozen high end marijuana shops in Washington and Colorado. Yesterday he'd be called a drug dealer. Today, an entrepreneur.

SHIVELY: Our target market is actually baby boomers. So these are folks who maybe tried it in college a couple times. Maybe they didn't inhale. And -- but now it's actually safe to inhale.

MARQUEZ: He's already working on packaging and attractive displays for future clients. The state liquor control board has a year to regulate and license the growing, processing, and retailing of marijuana here. All of it taxable at a very high 25 percent. ALISON HOLCOMB, INITIATIVE 502 DIRECTOR: We are looking at the potential of bringing in more than $500 million each year in new tax revenue.

MARQUEZ: The big question still, what will the federal government do? Pot still illegal federally. Today, a legal toke up revolution burning here and soon Colorado.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: The only thing the federal government is saying right now is that the laws in Colorado and Washington are under review and reminds the states that pot is still illegal at the federal level. When this is all said and done and fully implemented here in Washington, there will be pot stores on certain corners and areas throughout the state, and pot, the processing, the production, and the selling of it will all be licensed by the state of Washington.

Brooke.

BALDWIN: Miguel Marquez, thank you.

Speaking of those pot stores, and Miguel introduced us to one in his piece, there's this new group of business men and women cashing in on legal marijuana. They're actually calling themselves goncha-preneurs (ph). We'll speak to one of them live next hour.

Meantime, Senator John Kerry, he is firing back at former Senator Rick Santorum over his opposition to this U.N. treaty promoting the rights of the disabled. Senate Republicans rejected the ratification of this treaty on Tuesday despite an appearance on the floor by former Majority Leader Bob Dole in his wheelchair, all in an effort to draw support. Santorum explained his opposition in a piece published in "The Daily Beast." He says, in part, let me quote, "our nation has been the worldwide leader when it comes to protecting the disabled. We should be telling the U.N., not the other way around, how to insure dignity and respect for the disabled." Senator Kerry mincing no words, said Santorum doesn't know what he's talking about. Listen to what he said on "The Situation Room" yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I have great respect for both Rick and his wife Karen and their daughter and their family. He's a strong family man. But he either simply hasn't read the treaty or doesn't understand it or he was just not factual in what he said because the United Nations has absolutely zero, zero, I mean, zero ability to order or to tell or to even -- I mean they can suggest, but they have no legal capacity to tell the United States to do anything under this treaty. Nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Senator Kerry referring there to Santorum's daughter Bella who was born with a rare genetic disorder. Kerry says Santorum, and most of the other Republicans who voted against the treaty, did so because they, quote, "hate the U.N."

Tragic ending here to a month's long search for these two missing cousins. Coming up next, the news here today on these Iowa girls last seen in July when they left for a bike ride.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: The families of two missing Iowa girls are preparing for the worst right now. Hunters found two bodies in a wooded area just yesterday afternoon near the area where 10-year-old Lyric Cook and her eight-year-old cousin Elizabeth Collins were last seen in July.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. RICK ABBEN, BLACK HAWK CO. SHERIFF'S OFFICE: I can tell you that we do have two bodies that had been found. Right now it's looking that the outcome was not the one that we wanted, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been praying for the family. Both families. It's heart breaking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The families of the girls asked for privacy as they await for the medical examiners to ID these bodies. Lyric and Elizabeth were last seen by their grandmother on July 13th when they were just out on a bike ride. Authorities hope to release more information at a news conference later this afternoon.

And a number of congress men and women have left town for a long weekend, but before they left, they decided to get rid of the word lunatics before taking off. I know it sounds like some sort of, you know, satirical, far-fetched onion article. But I'm telling the truth, the House voted to ban the word "lunatic" from federal law yesterday while keeping the word "idiot." Let me explain. The word "lunatic" is considered outdated and demeaning because it derives from ancient beliefs that people could get moon struck by lunar movements. The lone no vote, in case you were curious, came from Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert who believes the word still applies in Washington. He saying, "we should not eliminate the word 'lunatic' from federal law when the most pressing issue of the day is saving our country from bankruptcy." Continuing on, "we should use the word to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington," end quote. The Senate, by the way, passed the bill months ago. Now actually it goes on to President Obama for his signature.

Prince William's wife is out of the hospital three days after being admitted with a severe case of morning sickness. Katherine, the duchess of Cambridge here, leaving this morning with her husband, holding a small bouquet of yellow roses. She stopped for a moment, posed for the media, before hopped in a car. Royal officials say she is not yet 12 weeks pregnant. No word yet as far as any kind of due date for the baby.

The possibility here of chemical weapons in Syria. The defense secretary issuing a warning to Syria's president. We're on the story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: It happened in Iraq. Back in 1988, out of control leader Saddam Hussein dropping chemical weapons on his own people to quell this internal rebellion. Thousands of people died. Many, many more suffered grievous lifelong wounds. Could it happen again today in Syria? It's a nightmare scenario made urgent by reports of Syrian forces preparing these chemical agents for possible use on the battlefield.

Late this morning, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta became just the latest U.S. official here to warn embattled Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, don't do it. Listen. He was responding to a question from our own Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Barbara, without commenting on the specific intelligence that we have with regards to these chemical weapons, I think there is no question that we remain very concerned, very concerned that as the opposition advances, in particular, on Damascus, that the regime might very well consider the use of chemical weapons. The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching very closely. And the president of the United States has made very clear that there will be consequences. There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Panetta went on to say that intelligence now in the hands of the U.S. government, quote/unquote, "raises serious concerns" that Bashar al Assad is considering using these chemical weapons. With (ph) added detail on this urgent story from our Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Syrian civilians already terrified and on the run. But it may be about to get worse. With intelligence showing Bashar al Assad's regime is mixing chemical weapons materials, CNN has learned the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services are urgently consulting with Syria's neighbors, Turkey, Israel and Jordan, about what to do if it looks like Assad is about to launch a chemical attack on his own people.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: As part of the absolute unity that we all have on this issue, we have sent an unmistakable message that this would cross a red line and those responsible will be held to account.

STARR: But after tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed in months of war, why so much attention now?

CLINTON: An increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons, or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria.

STARR: A chemical attack could kill thousands of Syrians. But if the regime loses control, what if terrorists, rebels or insurgent groups get a hold of a chemical weapon and flee across the border?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Nobody knows the neighborhood better than the Israelis. I can promise you, they have sources on the ground, they have great, clear intelligence on what's going on.

STARR: A senior U.S. official says all the allies are now considering how to keep Syria of putting chemical warheads on its artillery or missiles, but an air strike to stop it could cause havoc if residual chemicals escape.

MARKS: We're going to affect everything you touch. Your clothes, your curtains, your linens, your vegetables, everything.

STARR: What if Assad is granted asylum? U.S. officials say they have long been planning for the day after Assad, such as training Jordanian troops to provide security. But for now, they just hope Syrian troops will keep those chemical weapons under lock and key.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: (on camera): But how loyal Assad's forces remain and for how long may be a measure of the regime's desperation. U.S. military officials believed the Syrian forces are losing morale, running short on supplies, but for now the killing continues. Barbara Starr, CNN, The Pentagon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Barbara, thank you.