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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Marriage Cases; Royals Issue Statement Regarding Suicide of Nurse After Radio Prank Gone Wrong; Preparing Yourself and Your Budget for the Fiscal Cliff; Interview with Former Middle East Peace Envoy George Mitchell; Indian Child Welfare Act and Adoption Cases

Aired December 8, 2012 - 09:00   ET

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


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. Victor is off today. It's 9:00 on the East Coast, 6:00 a.m. out west. Thanks so much for starting your day with us.

We start this morning with the Supreme Court and the decision to hear two major cases on same-sex marriage. Justices will hear arguments against the federal government's Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition Eight. Prop 8 banned same-sex marriage in California while the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA as it's called denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. A decision on both cases could be reached by June.

It is one of the oldest radio pranks going. The hosts make a call pretending to be someone else, but the call that two Australian deejays made to the hospital treating the Duchess of Cambridge has turned deadly. They tricked a nurse to get information about Katherine's condition.

Well, two days later that nurse committed suicide. Her body was discovered on Friday. The CEO of the radio station's parent company says he's confident the deejays did nothing illegal, but they have been taken off the air.

Prince William and Duchess Katherine released a statement Friday saying they are deeply saddened by the nurse's death.

Internet security pioneer John McAfee could be released from an immigration detention center in Guatemala as soon as next week. A judge is allowing him to stay in the country until his immigration case is heard. He was arrested in Guatemala after weeks on the run. He is seeking -- Belize is seeking McAfee's deportation. Authorities there want to question him about his neighbor's murder. McAfee had argued with his neighbors about his dogs barking but he insists he had nothing to do with the man's death.

Under new Washington state law are you not allowed to smoke marijuana in public, but one Olympia bar owner has found a way for patrons to legally light up. Friends of Frankie's is a private smoke club above a bar where the ten bucks a year -- just for 10 bucks a year anyone of age can smoke tobacco or marijuana. Some love it, but let's just say others are against this change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like the smell of it. I don't like being around it, and to me you get those young kids up here drinking and smoking and just asking for trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: To Washington, D.C. now and the fiscal cliff negotiation. The back and forth between both sides hasn't been complimentary. Quite the opposite, in fact, which means the country needs to prepare for what comes next. That would be automatic spending cuts and the expiration of Bush era tax breaks. The Pentagon has been preparing, and as our John Couwels reports, so have families who have a whole lot to lose if a deal doesn't get done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN COUWELS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeremy Connor, married father of two.

JEREMY CONNER, PRIORIA ROBOTICS: I've worked recently for a very large defense contractor, and my wife works for that same defense contractor.

COUWELS: He left that job after 18 years for more stability since the couple both worked in the same department.

CONNER: The discussion of the fiscal cliff just made sense for one of us to get out.

MENDI CONNER, JEREMY'S WIFE: You know, we didn't know what it looked like down the road, if we were even going to have jobs at all.

COUWELS: The Pentagon's budget for the next 10 years has already been flashed $500 billion, and could face another half trillion in automatic cuts if Congress fails to compromise on a deficit-reducing agreement by year's end.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We need stability. We want a strong national defense for this country, I need to have some stability, and that's what I'm asking the Congress to do, give me some stability with regards to the funding of the Defense Department for the future.

BRYAN DAFROTA, CEO, PRIORIA ROBOTICS: The biggest effect caused by all of the government indecision, the inability to pass a budget, the looming sequestration is uncertainty.

COUWELS: His small company of 40 employees manufacturers drones, mounts it with cameras for the military and first responders.

DAFROTA: What do we do? Do we contract the business? Do we try to hold the business constant? Do we try to diversify into other market segments? Every small business in the country is asking those fundamental questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to see it? CONNER: Part of the reason I was brought in there was to diversify the type of work that they do. They want to look more on the commercial side as well.

COUWELS: Despite the confidence with their jobs, the unknown is nerve racking.

STEVE WINNINGER, ELECTRONIC TECHNICIAN: With Christmas coming up and some other big decisions as far as home and new vehicles and things like that, you know, we've -- we're definitely waiting until the new year, so we'll see how that cliff goes.

COUWELS: Jeremy is glad with his decision to stabilize his family. He just wishes Congress would do the same for the country.

CONNER: Like our five-year-old and our three-year-old and at sometimes it seems like they will fight and fight for the sake of fighting when all most people want is for them to figure out how to make it down and get it done.

COUWELS: John CNN, Gainesville, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: The historic heart of Aleppo, Syria, devastated by war. We take you to the front lines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: We're focusing this morning on Syria where the violence doesn't just go on and on, but according to secretary of state Hillary Clinton the situation is accelerating.

In the 21-month conflict, more than 40,000 lives have been loss. Our very own Arwa Damon is risking her life there to bring us stories from the ground, and here's her latest report on just how bad things are getting for locals still trying to live their lives in the middle of a war zone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It's hard to fully absorb the scale of the devastation here, how entire buildings seemed to have folded down upon themselves, and then one continues to see traces of the lives of the civilians that called these buildings home, like the clothing that's just hanging right there or children's books like this one, the pages of it that we picked up from the rubble.

(voice-over): But this conflict can be surreal. Just a couple of blocks away, the local barber shop is open, as are a handful of other stores. Women crowd around us, eager to talk but not be filmed.

Both sides have hurt us, wronged us, one says. Basic supplies are available here, although prices have skyrocketed.

Bread, bread, we want it so badly, it's like a drug, this woman tells us. If someone has breakfast, they can't afford dinner.

Please, have mercy, they beg.

On the street we meet four boys. They ask if we think it's safe enough for them to go back home. They talk of tanks firing and seeing other children lose limbs. They say what they have witnessed has made them all decide to be doctors, to save the victims of war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And the conflict in Syria may be close to reaching a whole new level. That level would be the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian opposition. It's been a red line for the White House, and it's a growing concern for congressional leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA : The longer this conflict has gone, the worse it has gotten. All of those who argued for non-intervention because of the things that might happen have now happened because we failed to intervene. And the fact is that we have now reached a point where there are weapons of mass destruction that may be used and also there is a significant question about the security of these weapons, should Bashar Assad fall.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: We've sat for too long on the sidelines. We're now as Americans getting engaged. The need for engagement and more than that urgent action is clear and now, and I think we're all saying to President Obama, who has now stated very clearly that will be drastic consequences for Assad and his government if they use chemical and biological weapons, we're with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Joining me now is George Mitchell, the former senator and former Middle East peace envoy for President Obama. Senator, good morning. Just last month in a speech in Tennessee you said the U.S. should stay out of Syria. Given this new information and the threat of chemical weapons, do you still believe the U.S. should stand aside?

GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER PEACE ENVOY TO MIDDLE EAST: I believe the United States should not intervene militarily in Syria, that's what I said. I do not favor standing aside, and there are many other ways in which we can and have been involved, primarily diplomatically, economically and supporting other of our allies who are providing direct assistance to the rebels in Syria, but I want to remind people. We just finished a 10-year war in Iraq. We're trying to end a 12-year war in Afghanistan.

A military intervention by the United States now to have a third war in the Middle East going I think would be a mistake, and it wouldn't solve the problem. That's the central issue. It wouldn't solve the problem. You said 40,000 people have died in your preparatory report here. That's true. That's a terrible tragedy. Every one of them. But five million people have died in the Congo. Should we intervene there? Of course not. People want us to intervene in Somalia, in the Sudan, other places. We have to be very careful about starting wars in far- flung places every time there's a serious tragedy.

KAYE: The conflict though, as you know, has already spilled over the borders into Turkey and Lebanon. And when you talk about getting involved, I mean, if not the United States, then who does need to get involved militarily?

MITCHELL: Well, I don't think it's going to be resolved by outside military intervention. One of the problems in Syria was a problem in Lebanon. It's a problem in other parts of the Middle East, is that these conflicts are extended and continued by outside actions, in effect proxy wars being fought by neighbors who pour arms and money into the region. Right now Iran is pouring millions of dollars in a lot of people and arms into Syria to prop up Assad's regime. Governments are doing it on the other side.

I think that the regime will fall. I think there's going to be a very long and difficult internal struggle for governance after that occurs, and we should be preparing the ground, as I think the administration is trying to do, for a unified opposition force that will bring about change peacefully after Assad's regime falls, but I repeat, direct American military intervention in my judgment will not solve the problem and will entangle us yet further in conflicts in far-flung countries where it's very difficult to sustain support in this country.

KAYE: And from what I understand, you've actually met with President Assad in the past. What is your sense of him and what he might do here? I mean there are some reports that he has a deputy out there checking on possible asylum in other countries, but he's also said that he's going to live and die on Syrian soil.

MITCHELL: Well, I met him on several occasions. I think right now his principal concern is survival for himself, his family and his clan. The Alawhites are an offshoot of the Shiia part of the Muslim religion, relatively small, but 10 percent, 12 percent of the population of Syria. They have long dominated through Assad and his father the more than 80 percent who are Sunni Muslims, and so I think that his concern is that once his government falls, both he, his family, his clan will be the victims of a strong desire for revenge. So my hope is that it will end soon and peacefully and that there will not be a bloodbath in return, although that's a real danger that exists.

KAYE: Senator George Mitchell, thank you very much for your time this morning.

MITCHELL: Thanks for having me.

KAYE: Next hour I'll talk with Christiane Amanpour. We'll discuss how the president is moving the red line on Syria. Is it a dangerous message to send? That's at 10:15 Eastern Time this morning.

A law designed to protect Native American families has ripped this little girl away from the two parents who love her. Now they are petitioning the Supreme Court to take up this custody battle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Twenty minutes past the hour now.

A married couple has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking custody of a little girl that they plan to adopt. All was on track until the lower courts ruled her biological father could have her back. It is one of the strangest adoption cases I've ever seen, and as you'll see in my report, it all comes down to a little known law designed to protect Native American children.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE (voice-over): This is video from the last time Matt and Melanie Capobianco saw their little girl, Veronica, New Year's Eve 2011. They had raised her for two years and were in the process of adopting her when a South Carolina family court ordered them to hand her over to the girl's biological father.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think this is in her best interest?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so.

KAYE: A man Veronica had never even met.

MATT CAPOBIANCO, FIGHTING FOR CUSTODY OF VERONICA: For a little girl to be put in the car with strangers and driven to Oklahoma and having no recourse or control over it, I mean, you know, we're her parents. I'm her father, you know. I'm supposed there to protect her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to be an engineer when you grow up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

KAYE: Now three, Veronica is caught in the middle of one of the strangest adoption cases we've ever heard.

It all began in 2009 before she was born when Veronica's biological mother put her up for adoption. The couple were thrilled when an adoption attorney connected them with Veronica's biological mom. She told them the girl's father, Dustin Brown, had agreed to waive his parental rights. When Veronica was born, it was Matt who cut the umbilical cord. Ever since she had lived with them in South Carolina.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO, FIGHTING FOR CUSTODY OF VERONICA: I guess people think that we're not supposed to love her until the ink is dry. We're supposed to kind of care for her until, you know, everything is, you know, years down the line and she's adopted.

KAYE: The Capobiancos were heartbroken when just four months after they brought Veronica home her biological father filed for paternity and custody, even though he had already signed a legal document saying he would not contest Veronica's adoption. He was able to do so thanks to a little known federal law from 1978 called the Indian Child Welfare Act.

You see, Brown is part Cherokee and a member of the Cherokee Nation which means Veronica is part Cherokee, too. Congress passed the law after finding 30 percent of Indian children were being removed from their homes and almost all of them were being placed with non-Indian families. The law is designed to keep Indian children with Indian family members and protect the interests of those children.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO: I don't know how tearing a child away from the only family she's ever known without any transition period and no visitation is in her best interest.

KAYE: The attorney general for the Cherokee Nation thinks the law is working.

TODD HEMBREE, CHEROKEE NATION ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's never anyone's intent to -- to rip a child away from a loving home, but we want to make sure those loving homes have the opportunity to be Indian homes first.

KAYE: After the family court ruled in Dustin Brown's favor, the Capobiancos petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court hoping the higher court would overturn the ruling.

(on camera): In July after more than three months of waiting the Capobiancos got more bad news. The Supreme Court here in South Carolina ruled in favor of Veronica's biological father. It wasn't an easy decision for the court though. The justices were split 3-2. In the majority opinion they wrote they are upholding the family court's ruling with a heavy heart.

(voice-over): The majority opinion concluded the biological father and his family have created a safe, loving and appropriate home for her. Those in the dissenting opinion argued federal law shouldn't trump state law finding father knowingly abandoned his parental responsibilities in every respect.

Lawyers for Dustin Brown say, "He is a good parent and Veronica is happy, healthy and thriving." Since she went to live with her biological father, the Capobiancos say they have only been allowed to speak with her once.

MATT CAPOBIANCO: We told her we loved her, and she said I love you, too, and that was it.

KAYE: But Matt and Melanie haven't given up. They are taking their case to the United States Supreme Court.

MATT CAPOBIANCO: You don't ever stop fighting for your child, ever.

KAYE: The United States Supreme Court, according to our legal experts, doesn't take that many cases. They get 7,000 cases a year, and they take about 80.

(on camera): Why do you think they should take this one?

MATT CAPOBIANCO: So many families have been hurt by the misuse of this law, and, you know, we've said before, too, we don't think it's necessarily a bad law or bad intentions, but it's definitely being misused. It doesn't apply. She wasn't remove for an existent Indian home. She was never with an Indian home. She was with us from the very beginning.

This is her home.

KAYE (voice-over): And in some ways Veronica is still with them. Her bedroom is still set up.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO: You know, I look around and I see her toys and her books and her little cook set.

It makes it harder, but taking it away is the hardest.

MATT CAPOBIANCO: You know, this is her home. It will always be her home, but she's going to come home and going to play with stuff again.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO: It's a symbol of our hope that she's coming home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And next hour the Capobiancos will join me to talk about their petition to the Supreme Court and their hope that they will be able to see Veronica again.

Will we see history tonight in New York City? The Heisman trophy will be awarded at the Downtown Athletic Club. We'll tell you why the presentation could be a first.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Checking top stories now.

The Supreme Court has decided to take up two major same-sex marriage cases. The first is the Defense of Marriage Act. The 1996 law denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The second is California's Proposition 8 that makes same-sex marriage illegal in the state. A decision on these cases is expected next year.

In sports news, it's Heisman time. The coveted trophy will be presented tonight in New York to the nation's best college football player. One of the finalists, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, is a freshman. No first-year player has ever won the award. The other finalists are Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

Well, I will see you back here at the top of the hour. "YOUR BOTTOM LINE" starts right now.