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Report: "Systemic Failures" At State Dept.; Gun Control in the Wake of Sandy Hook; Boehner Presents Plan B

Aired December 19, 2012 - 05:30   ET



SAMBOLIN: The failures of Benghazi -- a scathing new report on the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

BERMAN: Dangerous weather. A major winter storm prompts blizzard warnings across the nation's midsection.

SAMBOLIN: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

All right. Gun rights advocates upping the ante. One group sponsoring a raffle for an assault rifle.



SAMBOLIN: But you know, be careful what you ask for, because there's some serious weather headed our way, folks. Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 30 minutes after the hour right now. And we are bracing for that winter blast that may cause Zoraida to sing a whole lot more.


BERMAN: A huge winter storm stretching from Colorado to the upper great lake expected to cause blizzard-like conditions today. The northwestern U.S. also getting a share of cold stormy weather.

Alexandra Steele joins us from Atlanta with the details. It looks like the winds are real problem here, too, right?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, John. And that's part of the problem. Not only will snow be coming down, six to 12 inches, but coupled with gusty winds to 50 miles per hour. So, hi, everyone. Good morning. We've got really the breadth and depth of really a veracious storm.

And just want to give you the big picture, all the way from Colorado around Denver through the upper Midwest in the next 48 hours. And look at this, red denotes where the blizzard warnings are. Blizzard warnings will see snow. We'll see a minimum of winds, 35 miles per hour. Visibility less than a quarter of a mile. So, blizzard warnings for sure posted in the next 48 hours. And again, here's that swathe. So, it's a pretty tight band, but it is snow and it is incredibly strong winds. So, what we're going to see in Denver by the time it all wraps up, the snow hasn't started in Denver, but it will, one to three inches in Denver, Omaha, 6 to 12 inches, Des Moines, blizzard warnings for you, 6 to 12 inches. Chicago, by tomorrow night, gets into 2 to 4 inches.

So that's kind of the track of this thing. And, farther north than that, Milwaukee and Madison get into it, as well. So, here's the timeline this morning in Denver, then it moves towards Kansas. You can see how small and tightly packed the winds are and how narrow the snow is. And then, by Thursday morning, it's rain in Chicago, but then we see a change over.

Look how tightly wound the storm is. Chicago then by tomorrow night gets into the snow and sees about two to four inches. But there's also a severe side to this. On the south side, it's rain and it's storm, so we're going to see it in the south really for tomorrow.

BERMAN: All right. Alexandra Steele in Atlanta, thanks very much for that update.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-two minutes past the hour. The State Department getting slammed by a review board investigating the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The independent panel's report concluding systemic failures at the State Department led to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The panel also finding security in Benghazi was grossly inadequate and that repeated requests to beef up personnel at the consulate were ignored by leaders in Washington and that, ultimately, there was a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels both in Washington and in Libya.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is live from Washington this morning. Elise, what is your takeaway from this report?

ELISE LABOTT, FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Zoraida, I think that basically what this report is saying is that there were repeated not only requests for security, but warning signs. There were a lot of attacks on western targets in Benghazi in the months leading up to the September 11th attack. There was even an IED attack on the consulate itself.

And what it's saying is that these senior leaders of the State Department kind of failed to see those warning signs and act accordingly. They were relying on local militias to protect the consulate and also kind of not seasoned security personnel, sending a lot of temporary personnel to the site to protect the embassy, which obviously didn't prove to be enough.

Let me read you a little bit from the report. It says, "Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a special mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

And I think there's going to be a long hard look at operating, Zoraida, in these what they call expedition posts, where it's very high threat environment, but the State Department wants to stand up some kind of presence. There's a risk, but they need to balance that risk with the need to kind of set up shop there so to speak.

SAMBOLIN: So, squarely putting the blame on the State Department. Have we heard from Secretary of State Clinton or anyone else at the White House about these specific findings?

LABOTT: Well, in presenting the report to some of the Senate committees that deal with the State Department, Secretary Clinton sent a letter that said she accepts that all of the -- there were 29 recommendations of this report. Secretary Clinton said she accepts all of them. She's already set up a team of senior leadership at the State Department to try and implement some of them.

And they're going to take a long hard look at how they have to operate in these posts. She said that all these recommendations will be in place before the next Secretary of State, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, that's good news at least. Elise Labott live in Wasghinton for us. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Thirty-five minutes after the hour right now. Let's go back to Connecticut. Newtown continues to bury its dead from the shooting that claimed 26 lives at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Four more funerals will be held today, including one for teacher, Victoria Soto, who helped shield her students during the rampage and is being remembered as a hero. Jessica Rekos, James Mattioli, two of the slain first graders were laid to rest yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Can I just say something about both of these kids, because we haven't -- Jessica Rekos we talked a lot about yesterday. And her parents called her the CEO of the family. She was in charge. She always made the plans. I talked a little bit to these young girls who spent some time with her, some teenagers who taught her dance. And they said she was just a sparkle in dance. And that she always led the way. And she wanted to make sure everything was in order.

And then, Little James Mattioli, six years old. He was quick to remind everyone that he was six-and-three-quarters-year-old.

BERMAN: Of course.

SAMBOLIN: He loved to wear shorts and T-shirts in any weather and to grab the gel to spike his hair. So, you know, just -- I know a lot of this we got from a lot of the family members the way that they wanted these children remembered. So, I just want to, you know, always keep that front and center.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thirty-six minutes past the hour. The parents of another shooting victim, seven-year-old Grace McDonnell, are telling CNN about their daughter who they say was the ultimate girly girl. They spoke to Anderson Cooper last night.


LYNN MCDONNELL, MOTHER OF GRACE MCDONNELL: She was just the light and love of our family. She was just truly a special, special little girl. She loved her school, Sandy Hook. In fact, in this week, I was telling somebody she had a stomachache one day, and I said to her why don't you stay home with mom, and she said, no way, I have too much fun there and I don't want to miss anything.


SAMBOLIN: Lynn McDonnell says they are comforted by the fact that Grace was in a place that she loved when she died. This little girl was all about peace. If you have an opportunity to find the Anderson Cooper's interview, I strongly recommend it. It really is very, very powerful.

BERMAN: You know, what's so important for us to see these stories and see these faces, I think, it gives us a chance to share what all those families are going through.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And to -- and end here on a more positive note, right, how these children lived as opposed to how they died.

BERMAN: In the meantime right now, schools in Newtown, Connecticut, they reopened yesterday with the exception, of course, of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Still a crime scene there. The Sandy Hook kids will return to class in January after the winter break. They'll be in a different building in a neighboring town, and of course, there will be 20 bright faces that will be missing.

SAMBOLIN: The Connecticut massacre caused a scare at elementary school in Utah. Officials in Kearns, Utah, say an 11-year-old boy, a sixth grader, brought a handgun and ammunition to school yesterday. Why? Because he was worried about the events in Connecticut. Well, it turns out that the gun was not loaded.

BERMAN: So, 37 minutes after the hour right now. Are airport scanners a health risk? Gosh, I hope not.


BERMAN: I go through a lot of them. The Transportation Security Administration will try to answer that question and will conduct a study to determine if the effects of radiation from imaging machines on travelers in airport personnel, we'll try to see if they're doing bad things.

SAMBOLIN: I thought they did this before they put them in.

BERMAN: They're doing it now. Like I said, I hope they're safe. Some people have expressed concern about the repeated exposure to radiation.

SAMBOLIN: The White House getting ready to launch a new gun control push. We're going to go live to Washington coming up.

BERMAN: Plus, giving away a gun. More on the strange move by one gun rights group coming up, straight ahead.


BERMAN: Well, we are seeing a shift in the polls on gun control after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Many gun right supporters seem to be doubling down like a Tea Party chapter in the mountains of North Carolina which is raffling off a rifle. The Asheville Tea Party boasted an announcement about the raffle Monday, the day of the first funeral in Newtown, which the group is calling a "Great Gun Giveaway"

Twenty dollar tickets for a chance to win an AR-15 rifle with two 30- round magazine. The same style and caliber gun, just a different brand. A spokesman says the raffle was planned before the shootings. The group is also urging teachers to carry guns to prevent future mass shootings. That is controversial but very much out there.

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the White House has signaled it is ready to act on gun control, and the NRA is weighing in for the first time since the massacre. Let's go now to CNNs Dan Lothian. He's live in our Washington Bureau. Good morning, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, you know, shortly after the shootings, the president talked about action, making sure that this didn't happen again. And so, there've been pressure on the White House to deliver specifics. Now, we are getting some of those specifics.

White House spokesman Jay Carney weighing in saying that the president would, quote, "actively" be supportive of Senator Feinstein's effort to reinstate that ban on some assault weapons. In addition to that, he would look -- like to ban high capacity ammunition clips, wants to take a closer look at how to address those mental health concerns.

So, there's a very passionate debate going on here about getting tougher gun laws, but on the other side, those gun owners who want to make sure that their rights are protected.


LARRY PRATT, EXEC. DIR., GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: In the very places that have been sought out by monsters such as the murder of these adults and children, we're saying, no, we don't want you to be able to defend yourself. It's better that you just sit there and wait to be killed.

And we find that morally incomprehensible and deeply disturbing that the desire to defend life has been so cast aside and to whatever political correctness views guns as the ultimate evil. Evil is in our hearts, not in the guns.


LOTHIAN: Now, the National Rifle Association has been largely silent throughout all of this debate back and forth. Not anymore. Putting out a statement saying that its membership was shocked and heartbroken and that, quote, "Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting."

The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again. And by the way, the NRA is planning what they describe as a major news conference here in Washington on Friday, John.

BERMAN: Interesting to see what those meaningful contributions are that they offer on Friday. All right. Dan Lothian in Washington, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-four minutes past the hour. More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, an extensive study just out on the cancer risks of Ground Zero. A look at some of the findings coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. A new Ground Zero health study concludes that rescue and recovery workers who toil at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11 have a higher risk of prostate and thyroid cancers as well as multiple myeloma and blood cancer. But there is no increased risk for residents and others near the Ground Zero site. The study was extensive looking at nearly 56,000 people from 2003 to 2008.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-seven minutes past the hour. This morning, the resolution on the fiscal cliff and the future of your taxes is still very much up in the air. Republicans reportedly meeting late last night to see if they can get enough votes to bring a new Plan B on to the House floor. It would extend tax cuts for those making under a million dollars a year.

Speaker John Boehner introduced it yesterday.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: So, I believe it's important that we protect as many American taxpayers as we can. And our plan "B" would protect American taxpayers who make a million dollars or less and have all of their current rates extended.


SAMBOLIN: Of course, Democrats say the bill has no shot. Here's Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.


SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) MAJORITY LEADER: Everyone should understand Boehner's proposal will not pass the senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: So, my next guest actually agrees with the Democrats for once and thinks that this bill is a mistake. Ron Meyer is a spokesman of American Majority Action, that's a national conservative organization.

And I just want to make sure that I let people know that you don't agree with the Democrats. It's not like you're switching sides here. You just have a lot of criticism of Speaker Boehner. You haven't really appreciated the way that he has handled these negotiations. What do you make of this Plan B?

RON MEYER, SPOKESMAN, AMERICAN MAJORITY ACTION: Well, I have some news to break on it actually. I talked to some really good sources in the House of Representatives and staff members, and they think that this plan has no shot to pass the House, that it doesn't have the conservative votes, doesn't have the Republican votes to pass the House of Representatives.

There is a growing number of Republicans who are frustrated with Speaker Boehner, frustrated that he's come out with another tax hike offer when it's clearly a non-starter with us. The problem is not tax revenue. The problem is spending. We've increased spending a trillion dollars in the last five years, and you know, we can't have enough revenue to make up for that.

We would have to have the biggest tax revenue increase ever as far as the relationship to GDP than we've ever seen and that's not going to happen.

SAMBOLIN: So, we're trying to figure out who how do we achieve compromise here, because President Obama says that he will not pass any bill without increases to the absolute wealthiest, right? This week, he went from $250,000 to $400,000. And here is White House spokesman, Jay Carney, explaining the president's viewpoint. Let's listen to that.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has made abundantly clear that Republicans need to accept the fact that rates will go up on the top two percent, and that we should extend tax cuts for the remaining 98 percent. Thus far, we have not seen an acceptance of that by Republican leaders.


SAMBOLIN: So, now you're telling us that there are House Republicans that are saying that, you know, they're not going to support Boehner here. First of all, I'm going to ask you which House Republicans were those. Can you name names?

MEYER: Soon. Like I said, the reason why I can speak to the members and the staff in the first place is because I wouldn't say their names yet. But I can think you (ph) didn't say that the vote is not going to happen today, because I don't think there's any way Boehner is going to let that happen. He's going to lose the vote, unless he somehow gets Democrats and Nancy Pelosi to agree to the plan.

By the way, it looks like a plan Nancy Pelosi produced just a couple months ago, but of course, she's not going to get her members behind something Boehner is trying to push as a political ploy. The fact of the matter is that --

SAMBOLIN: Ron, wait a minute here. What we want to know is how do you achieve compromise then, because we're stuck in the same place again.

MEYER: Well, we're compromising down -- we're compromising my generation, our generation, young people, going right off the cliff. If we don't handle any entitlement programs right now, if we don't reform spending, people my age will spend their prime years paying just the interest payments on the debt. We'll have to spend half of our income just paying the interest payments every year on the debt.

That's not sustainable. That's something that can happen in the future. Right now, interest payments on the debt are already $3,000 per taxpayer. That means you and me and everybody else on average is paying $3,000 to just service the debt. It's not sustainable.


MEYER: And if we don't address it -- yes?

SAMBOLIN: Let's talk about the American public then, people like you and people like me. Most people in the country want to raise taxes on those earning above $250,000. In fact, just about three quarters of them want to. Why should Speaker Boehner listen to you instead of listening to the rest of the country? Look at the numbers.

MEYER: Well, look at how they're raising taxes. Do you favor getting rid of the charitable deduction? Do you favor, do the American people favor slashing the budget for charities right now? Going after the Red Cross? Going after the people who are trying to help Hurricane Sandy right now and others? That's what these revenue plans do. Most of them go after deductions, Speaker Boehner's plan, in particular.

And yes, now Boehner says we will raise the rates, well, guess what, taxing productive money that's going to go to investment, job creation, and spending on products which actually get people employed is not the way to start this economy. A tax hike on the wealthy has never created jobs. We know it will lose jobs. So, why are we -- like, why is that what we're talking about? I know --

SAMBOLIN: So, let's focus on that. The president of your organization says this will hurt job creation, that it will not stimulate the economy, right? But Congressional Research Service released -- or re-released, I should say, a report from September that disagrees with you. We're going to put that up on the screen so everybody can see it.

They're a nonpartisan group. I would like your reaction so I'm going to read a little bit of it. "Reduction in the top tax rates has little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. It is reasonable to assume that a tax rate change limited to a small group of taxpayers at the top of the income distribution would have a negligible effect on economic growth." So that argument, you know, is not a strong argument.

MEYER: Well, I think the strong argument is that when we actually cut taxes for all Americans, which we should be advocating for, when we had a fiscal problem, when we had an economic problem in 1981, Ronald Reagan cut taxes for all Americans. Revenue from that top bracket doubled. The economy created 20 million jobs by the end of his term and youth unemployment fell 43 percent.

That's what we should be advocating. Remember, as far as the American public goes, (INAUDIBLE) go back to this. "The Hill" did a poll right before the election and asked how many Americans supported having a 40 percent tax rate for any Americans. Do you know how many people supported that?

Four percent of Americans supported raising taxes to 40 percent for anyone, including the most wealthy. And that's what we're proposing right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ron Meyer, I'm going to invite you back when you're ready to name names. I would really appreciate that. Ron Meyer, spokesperson of American Majority Action, thank you for joining us this morning.

MEYER: Thanks for having me on.


BERMAN: All right. Interesting interview.

Meanwhile, we have a packed hour straight ahead on early start, including failure in Benghazi. An independent review board blasts Washington for ignoring requests for more manpower before the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador. How is the White House going to react to this? We're going to go live to Washington for that.

Also, they survived the Sandy Hook shooting, but will the kids' mental wounds ever heal? Chief medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen speaks with survivors from the JCC shooting 13 years ago to try to explain what lies ahead for their recovery.

And you'll love this one, young enough to belief in Santa, old enough to be the Grinch. Wait until you see who was caught stealing presents from people's doorsteps.


BERMAN: This really happened. But first, Insta-mad. Some Instagram users jumping ship in fear that their photos may pop up in ads without their permission. This is like rage online. Everyone is mad about this.

SAMBOLIN: And thanks, it'll just take -- I'll just take the stairs. The dizzying photon of an escalator. Oh, look at that, floating high above Lower Manhattan on its way to the top of the Word Trade Center.

BERMAN: Stairway to heaven. Anyone? Anyone?


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 58 minutes past the hour. Nice to have you with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with -- who are you?

BERMAN: I'm John.

SAMBOLIN: John Berman.


SAMBOLIN: We're taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web this morning. Actually, I missed you. So, good to be here with you.

BERMAN: One of the trends is just like ignited the interwebs is this Instagram thing. Instagram now responding to the Insta-backlash over privacy terms that say that Instagram can basically use your photos in ads and sell them without your permission.

SAMBOLIN: That sounds crazy.

BERMAN: Yes. More than popular. Facebook bought the picture-sharing site for $1 billion back in April. You remember that? Instagram now says updated terms of service will be out within 30 days. They sort of a backtrack some. They promise to explain more what they're trying to do here, but a lot of people yesterday were, Zoraida, saying they're going to cancel their Instagram accounts. They're trying to copy their pictures from their accounts to other places because they want out.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Well, I totally understand it. If they can take any picture that you have, tons of pictures of my children. So, you can use it in an ad without my permission?

BERMAN: Instagram is now saying that's not their intention. They seem to imply that that will not happen, but we will see.

SAMBOLIN: OK. All right. Stairway floating in the heavens. Take a look at this. This is a photo of an escalator being hoisted up to the 101st floor of the new One World Trade Center. Wow! Look at this. The picture was first posted on Reddit. The perspective is a little off. It could make you a little dizzy. That's because it was taken from the top of One World Trade. The escalator is attached to a crane on top of it behind the camera.

The building you see in the background is actually the smaller Four World Trade Center. Everything makes me dizzy. So, that makes me dizzy and nauseous.

BERMAN: Clearly what Led Zeppelin meant all along. It is an amazing, amazing picture.

All right, everyone. EARLY START continues right now.