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Panel Releases Benghazi Report; Interview with Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, 13 Days Until Fiscal Cliff; Prisoners on the Run in Chicago; Painful Memories for Child Survivors of Shootings

Aired December 19, 2012 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The failures of Benghazi -- a scathing new report on the attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bridging the fiscal cliff. A Republican congressman joins us live to talk about the latest proposals from both sides.

BERMAN: And childhood innocence stolen by unspeakable violence. We're going to hear from some of the few who know what the young survivors of the Newtown tragedy are going through. It's got to be difficult.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty minutes past the hour here.

The State Department getting the bulk of the blame for the September 11th terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. An independent panel releasing a blistering report that includes 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 as well, and that there was a lack of transparency, responsiveness and leadership at the senior levels -- this in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is live from Washington this morning.

And what did we learn from the report that we did not already know, Elise? Because a lot of these things we were talking about as they were investigating.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Zoraida. I think the main thing I took from the report is that the State Department, the panel found, really missed the warning signs of what was right in front of them, the deteriorating security situation, what was going on in Benghazi.

You have five attacks leading up to the 9/11 attack, including one on the U.S. consulate itself. An IED attack on some other western targets and I think what they are saying is you really need to look hard and long what's going on right in front of you, especially in these high-threat posts and increase security accordingly.

SAMBOLIN: And at the end of the day, the objective is, of course, that this never happens again. The panel is making some recommendations, what are they?

LABOTT: Well, they made some key recommendations, Zoraida. The first thing is to strengthen security personnel for high-threat posts. I mean, one of the problems is that the consulate relied on temporary, inexperienced staff and also local militias that weren't up to the task.

The panel also called for tighter security standards, for facilities and upgrades if necessary. Also, a review of fire procedures and equipment. If you remember, it was smoke inhalation that killed Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith when they were in the safe house and it was set on fire.

So, the State Department needs to plan for fire as a weapon in these types of instances. Also, in-depth checks of the threat environment, as I said, a big criticism is that they failed to recognize the deteriorating security situation in the face of these other attacks.

And I'd say, lastly, congressional support for resources. You know, shrinking budgets for security was cited here as a major problem. Secretary Clinton said in her letter to the Senate committees when she presented the report that the State Department will do its part, but Congress has to support them, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Elise Labott, thank you for sharing more details. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right. Thirty-two minutes past the hour and 13 days until we go off the fiscal cliff.

But it looks like House Speaker John Boehner and the president might be willing to compromise as the hours tick away. However, the speaker is making a bit of an end run around the White House, proposing in the House legislation that would raise taxes on people making over $1 million a year. It would do nothing to stop the mammoth spending cuts that come with the fiscal cliff, however.

I want to bring in a guest right now. Let's get right to Congressman Paul Broun, a representative from Georgia, a Republican.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. PAUL BROUN (R), GEORGIA: Good morning, John. You hit the nail on the head. We've got to stop the outrageous spending that's going on here in Washington. BERMAN: Well, I'm glad I hit in the head for you. Let me start with the question, though, if I can, you opposed Speaker Boehner's proposal before when he was calling for $800 billion in new revenue. That was before he even proposed raising tax rates.

Let me ask you this. Are you going to vote against his measure in the House to raise tax rates above -- for those making more than $1 million?

BROUN: John, this is not about tax rates. We've got -- we already passed a bill in the House that would keep tax rates as they are right now today for everybody.

We've got to stop the outrageous spending that both parties have been doing here in Washington, because the real fiscal cliff is the economic failure of our nation. That's what we're headed towards because of the outrageous spending that is going on. It just has to stop.

BERMAN: Sorry. But yes or no -- do you plan on voting against the speaker's proposal?

BROUN: Well, I haven't seen it in its entirety, but yesterday when I was asked about where we were, I said lean no on that proposal.

BERMAN: Do you think he has the votes to get it through the House?

BROUN: I really don't know, John. But the president has been missing in action on this. The economy is poor because the president's failed policies and we've got to change.

The president has been playing political games and he's failed policy is what causes the situation where our economy is not growing. It's the spending and we just got to stop the spending here. And this bill doesn't deal with the real problem.

BERMAN: Well, you know, the president's proposal has changed over the last several days. He is offering tax cuts -- tax rate hikes or the ones before. And he's offering new cuts in spending including the cost in cost of living index. He has a lot of liberals really upset, because it effectively in some way, some people say cuts Social Security. So, the president has moved here.

BROUN: Well, he's moved very well. In fact, I think the president's playing political games. I think the president actually wants us to go off this so-called fiscal cliff and then come back and look like a hero next year when he offers actual tax rate cuts for those making under whatever, whether it's $400,000.

But the thing is, the real problem, John, is spending. We've got to deal with the problem and the president is unwilling to do so. He wants to spend more money.

BERMAN: Well, he's got -- depending on how you measure it, over $800 billion, $900 billion in cuts in his proposal. But let me move on, because while I have you here, you've been very vocal on the Benghazi issue. I just want your reaction to the new report out today that is very critical to the States Department.

BROUN: Well, I think the report is absolutely accurate. The State Department, as well as the administration across the board is at fault in this. They knew very well that there were security risks there. And they did not give our ambassador and those that were in the consulate the support they needed. And the blood is on the hands of this administration of those four Americans.

BERMAN: And, finally, while I have you, Congressman. And thank for coming in this morning. It's great talking to you.


BERMAN: You raised some eyebrows in September on a comment you made, I believe it was in a church, on the subject of evolution. I want to listen to this.


BROUN: All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.


BERMAN: I just want you to help me understand that. That the science teachers I had all through high school and college, that they were telling lies straight from the pit of hell?

BROUN: Well, John, we've got to deal with the spending and that's I'm focusing on. I came here to talk to you about that issue. And in fact, I'm a Bible-believing Christian, that's what I was saying in that instance.

But we've got to do is we've got to focus upon the problems at hand, and that's out of control, outrageous spending that's been going on here in Washington, and what I'm focusing on now.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Broun, I do thank you for coming in this morning.

BROUN: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: We should have an interesting vote in the days ahead in the House with the speaker's proposal. As you said, leaning against it right now. Very interesting. Thanks, Congressman.

BROUN: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-seven minutes past the hour.

Newtown continues to bury its dead from last week's shooting that claimed 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are four more funerals today, including one for teacher Victoria Soto who helped shield her students during the rampage. She, of course, is a hero, being remembered that way.

Jessica Rekos and James Mattioli, two of the slain first graders, were laid to rest yesterday.

I want to tell you about Jessica Rekos here. She's the one that we've been calling cowgirl. She loved everything about horses, horse movies, horse books, drawing horses and writing about it -- writing about them. Her parents say, "She had an answer for everything. She didn't miss a trick and she outsmarted us every time. We called her our little CEO."

And then I want to talk about James Mattioli. He was quick to remind everyone that he was 6 3/4 years old. He loved to wear shorts and t- shirts in any weather and grab the gel to spike his hair.

His parent says that he was born four weeks early because he was hungry, that's what they joked about him. James had a voracious appetite. His favorite, his dad's egg omelets with bacon and his mom's French toast.

Those two little ones being buried today, along with that teacher, Soto, who, you know, tried to shield the children with her body, and it cost her her life.

BERMAN: The spiked hair and the smiles on those kids are unbelievable. In many ways, they will last forever.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes, yes.

BERMAN: Meantime, schools in Newtown, Connecticut, reopened yesterday with the exception, of course, of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, which is still a crime scene. The Sandy Hook kids will return to class in January after the winter break. It will be in a different building in a neighboring town and, of course, tragically, 20 bright young faces will be missing.

SAMBOLIN: And there have been reports that the gunman had Asperger's syndrome. CNN has not been able to confirm that Adam Lanza did, in fact, have that. Asperger's is a form of autism and is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness. That's a very high- functioning form of autism.

Already, experts are concerned that Asperger's will now be linked to violence due to what Lanza did. So last night on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," Anderson asked Dr. Sanjay Gupta if there is any evidence of a link to violence.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There is not. And I don't want to dance around the edges here at all or beat around the bush, because this has come up quite a bit. And, you know, I knew that there wasn't since we started reporting on this. I talked to several experts in this -- about this specific issue. There just isn't.


SAMBOLIN: Connecticut's medical examiner said officials are working to confirm if Lanza's Asperger's diagnosis was correct.

I will add this. I've done a lot of work of children with autism and they do tend to be violent sometimes and angry, but it has nothing to do with that type of violence and anger that we think about. It's frustration that they cannot communicate.

So, nobody wants this connection made that children with autism are violent, because they are not.

BERMAN: It really important to understand in this case.


BERMAN: All right. Forty minutes after the hour. In other news, the International Space Station's three newest crew members expected to blast off in about 35 minutes. An American astronaut, a Russian cosmonaut and a Canadian space agency astronaut are on Soyuz aircraft which is set to launch at 7:12 Eastern from Kazakhstan.

We'll join the three men already on board. Canada's Chris Hatfield becomes his country's first space station commander. Good for Canada, when he takes over control of the station next March.

SAMBOLIN: And if you are flying home for Christmas, beware of the blizzard about to slam parts of our nation's midsection. We're going to have all the details coming up, so that you can plan accordingly.


SAMBOLIN: Soledad O'Brien is with us now with a look what is ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Lots to talk about this morning. We're going to take a look a new report about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi -- what went wrong, what can be done to protect Americans overseas and in the future.

And then four of the 26 victims from the Newtown school shootings will be laid to rest today. We'll hear from a woman who knew one of the children who was killed and talk to gun control -- and we'll talk about gun control around the world with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

And Florida Governor Rick Scott will join me with an exclusive announcement about the plans to fix all of those problems around voting in the state of Florida.

"TIME" magazine is announcing its Person of the Year. We'll have the writer behind the profile of this year's most influential person.

And you know him from "Everybody Loves Raymond". Actor Brad Garrett is here. We'll look at this new movie that's called "Not Fade Away". That's all ahead this morning, right at the start of the hour.

BERMAN: It'd be nice if they fix those voting problems in Florida.

O'BRIEN: Some time before the next election --


O'BRIEN: Now is sort of a good time to start working on that.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Soledad.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

All right. Bracing for a bitter blast. A huge winter storm is stretching from Colorado to the upper Great Lakes, expected to cause blizzard or blizzard-like conditions today. The Northwestern U.S. also getting a share of cold, stormy, nasty weather. Alexandra Steele joins us now from Atlanta with details. Hey, Alexandra.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, good morning. You, guys, were talking about 17 states, tens of millions of you impacted by a winter storm that begins this morning in Denver, Colorado and rolls out and doles out snow as it goes, moving today from Denver toward Omaha, Nebraska, and Kansas today, and then getting toward Iowa, Wisconsin, and also Illinois as we head for tomorrow into tomorrow night.

So, here's how the models see it. You can see Denver, Colorado, in toward Kansas as it moves from Wednesday night through the day, overnight into Thursday morning, and then, Chicago's first snow of the season, tomorrow night. It will wind up at about two to four inches of snow. But guys, this is not just a snow maker. This is an incredible wind maker as well. So, blizzard warnings posted for places like Des Moines and many places in the plains.

BERMAN: All right. Alexandra Steele in Atlanta, thanks so much. Bracing for that storm.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-six minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date on this morning's top stories.

We go over the fiscal cliff in 13 days, and it looks like House Speaker John Boehner, and President Obama are more willing to compromise as the hours continues to tick away.

And the speaker's latest counteroffer, he agrees to tax hikes on families earning $1 million and up and across the board spending cuts to military and domestic programs. The president wants tax hikes for families earning $400,000 or more.

BERMAN: Sounds like a plot from an old movie, but it just happened in Chicago. Two convicted bank robbers are on the run this morning after authorities say they escaped federal prison, scaling down 20 stories on a makeshift rope made of bed sheets.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, boy.

BERMAN: Joseph Jose Banks and Kenneth Conley weren't there for a head count yesterday morning. Reports say the FBI stormed one home, and they might have just missed them.

SAMBOLIN: Wow! That's incredible that they were able to get away with that.

Investigators will be at the scene this morning trying to determine what caused a 1,000 gallon propane tank to ignite and explode at a shopping center. This is in Virginia, folks. That blast damaged half a dozen businesses, and it actually injured a firefighter as well. It happened at the Ambriar Shopping Center in Amherst on Monday night.

BERMAN: Here are some images that are striking and scary. Check out this video of more than a dozen tiger sharks feeding on a dolphin off a popular beach in Perth. That's in Western Australia. This all going down less than 100 feet from shore. Look at the people on the beach. My God, run. Run away. Some of the sharks swam so close to shore that witnesses say they could see its stripes.

SAMBOLIN: Don't go in the water.

BERMAN: All right. Fortunately, most of us do not know what it's like. I can't even imagine, to face down the barrel of a gun as a young child. In a second, you're going to hear from someone who does know that awful feeling. We'll tell you about it coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. 6:50 here on the East Coast. We've seen the pictures of terrified children as they were led out of Sandy Hook Elementary School. We've heard stories about children walking past dead bodies and broken glass. As they get older, can Sandy Hook's young survivors get past this horrific trauma?

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen asked child survivors of an earlier mass shooting who are all grown up now.


UNIDENTIFIED KID: I saw some of the bullets going past the hall.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: -- heard yelling, put your hands up. Don't shoot. We heard lots of scary stuff.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These innocent eyes have witnessed unspeakable horrors.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Everybody is like crying.

COHEN: Images that could haunt them forever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She walked past the body. She saw the principal, she saw the blood.

COHEN: Physically, they escaped, but how will these young survivors do mentally?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very serious situation at the North Valley Jewish Community Center.

COHEN: Ben Kadish and Josh Stepakoff know what it's like to face the nightmare. Thirteen years ago, the boys were at summer camp in Los Angeles when a gunman stormed in and shot them. Ben was five.

What do you remember happening around you?

BEN KADISH, SURVIVED MASS SHOOTING AS FIVE-YEAR-OLD IN 1999: Screaming, tons of screaming.

COHEN: Josh was six.

JOSH STEPAKOFF, SURVIVED MASS SHOOTING AS SIX-YEAR-OLD IN 1999: He came in and shot all the way around, and the next thing I remember, I was just getting up and running as fast as I could that way.

COHEN: The boys survived, but were never the same emotionally.

STEPAKOFF: I didn't live a normal childhood. In no means did I have a normal childhood.

COHEN: The shooter, Buford Furrow, had robbed them of their security.

(on-camera): When you were dropped off at school, you wondered, am I safe?


COHEN: For how long?

KADISH: Probably through middle school.

STEPAKOFF: If we heard helicopters, sirens, loud noises, anything that would startle me, the house was on lockdown.

COHEN: So, you would go around and lock the doors?

STEPAKOFF: I locked every door, I locked every window.

COHEN: Why did you lock every door and window?

STEPAKOFF: It was the closest thing I can feel to safe.

COHEN (voice-over): Now 19, these two young men are among the few people who've experienced what the Connecticut children have experienced.

STEPAKOFF: The pictures of the kids being taken out and all standing in this line, I could accidentally mistake the pictures from when I got shot.

COHEN: They worry for the Newtown children.

KADISH: I think they are going to feel, you know, afraid of the dark, afraid of loud noises.

COHEN (on-camera): What advice would you give to these parents in Connecticut?

STEPAKOFF: Listen to your kids, you know? They're a lot smarter than we take them for. And so, you really have to just listen to them and be understanding to them and know that there will be times when they really do want to talk about it, and there will be times when they don't. And if they don't want to talk about it, don't push them.


SAMBOLIN: Elizabeth, you have to wonder if there is any opportunity for these two young men to actually be a part of the healing process in Newtown.

COHEN: You know what? That's exactly why they did this story with us, Zoraida, because they wanted to sort of have this conversation via television with the parents and with those children. They want to let them know that things are going to be tough. One of them said it's going to be a long road, but eventually, things do get better. They say that this shooting still affects them, but that they do feel better than they did years ago.

SAMBOLIN: I got to tell you, as we were heading into that package, that little boy, if you heard him, there was a siren behind him, the police siren, and he looked back immediately, terrified out of his mind. I spent some time with some teenagers there yesterday who really need some healing as well.

So, thank you for that, because we will continue to share that. And maybe there's an opportunity for those boys to visit Newtown as well. That would be amazing.

COHEN: That would be amazing.


COHEN: That would be -- because they have lots of words of wisdom, lots of guidance. It's very heartfelt for them.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for that. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: We'll be right back.


BERMAN: -- past the hour. We're getting an early read on your local news that's making national headlines.

First up, from the "Hartford Courant," really interesting. A geneticist may join the investigation into the Newton school shooting. The state's chief medical examiner has asked the University of Connecticut's genetics department to help look for possible clues into the gunman's biology. Right now, investigators are waiting on toxicology results on 20-year- old Adam Lanza who gunned down 20 kids and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

SAMBOLIN: In the "L.A. Times," Instagram now responding to instant backlash over privacy terms that stated that Instagram can basically use your photos and ads and sell them without your permission. Facebook bought the picture-sharing site for $1 billion. That was back in April. Instagram now says updated terms of service will be out in 30 days.

BERMAN: Caused quite, you know, backlash on the interwebs last night.

All right. For an expanded look at all of our top stories, you can head to our blog, You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Just search for

SAMBOLIN: I'm laughing at him, because you turn around and -- yes, you do.


SAMBOLIN: You always turn around and then I get your back and you noticed and turned back this way.


SAMBOLIN: I'm just giving you a hard time. All right. That's EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman facing you right now. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.

SAMBOLIN: More love, more love.