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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

NATO Contractor from U.S. Gunned Down; Fiscal Cliff Finger- Pointing; Interview with Grover Norquist; Real-Life Grinches Caught on Tape

Aired December 24, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: A brazen assault leaves an American dead in Afghanistan. Who officials say is behind this latest green on blue attack.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And they're on vacation, but they're still pointing fingers. Why Republicans say the president wants to go over the fiscal cliff.

CHO: And imagine someone breaking into your home and ransacking your Christmas tree, stealing your electronics. Meet the family who encountered a real life Grinch and caught the thief on camera.

It's an unbelievable story, and the family will join us live in this hour.

Good morning, everybody, on a Christmas Eve. Welcome to STARTING POINT. I'm Alina Cho in New York.

Hey, Dana. Good morning.

BASH: Hey. Good morning, Alina.

I'm Dana Bash in Washington. Soledad O'Brien is off today. It is Monday, December 24th. It's Christmas Eve.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

BASH: And our STARTING POINT, an American contractor in Kabul shot and killed earlier this morning by a woman wearing an Afghan police uniform. It happened inside Kabul's police headquarters, and it's the latest in a string of suspected green on blue attacks.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working her sources, and she joins us from Washington.

Barbara, we have seen a lot of these attacks. But correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the first time it's happened with a woman.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think that is absolutely correct, Dana. U.S. officials, NATO officials looking into all of this, trying to figure out what exactly did happen. A woman in an Afghan police uniform opened up fire, shooting and killing a U.S. contractor inside Kabul police headquarters. Key question perhaps, was she really an Afghan police official, or was the uniform perhaps stolen? Was this an infiltrator of the Taliban? What exactly was going on here?

These are the questions in all of these incidents that get asked. They have a very active program in each case to investigate and try to determine what went wrong, what they might have known, what they might have been able to spot. But again, very sad news for an American family on this holiday, a U.S. contractor shot and killed by a woman in an Afghan police uniform -- Dana.

BASH: It certainly is. It's always tragic news, but it's especially hard when it's on Christmas Eve. Thank you very much, Barbara.

CHO: Well, it's beginning to look like millions of stockings will be stuffed with a tax hike and spending cuts this holiday season. Only eight days left until America goes off the fiscal cliff. Both sides are taking a holiday break, and all we're getting is more of the blame game. Some Republicans suggesting that the doomsday scenario that's now unfolding is all part of a White House plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. He gets all this additional tax revenue for new programs. He gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for, for years, and he gets to blame Republicans for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: White House correspondent Brianna Keilar has the envy of all assignments of traveling with the president and joins us live from Honolulu, Hawaii, this morning.

Brianna, good morning to you.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alina.

The bottom line here, beginning this week, is that substantive conversations between Democrats and Republicans are basically nonexistent. The White House and Senate Democrats are not in communication, not only with House Republicans but now, very importantly, Senate Republicans as attention turns to the Senate.

That's perhaps why you're seeing some Democrats like Senator Joe Lieberman share in the Republican pessimism about whether we may actually go over the fiscal cliff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I feel that it's more likely that we will go over the cliff than not, and that, if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Focus now on the Senate, which will reconvene on Thursday, here in a few days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the task of trying to cobble something together that could get Republican support in the Senate and, of course, also, some Republican support in the House in order for this to pass Congress.

The White House has gone back to its bargaining position of wanting tax rates to expire for those over a quarter million dollars a year. It seems kind of unlikely that Republicans would sign on to something like that, making it a significant possibility, hearing from Democrats and Republicans, that we could go over this fiscal cliff, Alina.

CHO: Brianna, you talk about cobbling together a last-minute deal. The president admits there will be no grand bargain at this point. So, if there is something sort of cobbled together at the last minute, are you getting an indication the president would come back from Hawaii early?

KEILAR: I think that's the expectation. Officially, he's supposed to be here through the New Year, but I think folks at the White House are pretty honest about the fact that he likely will be returning to Washington, around the time the Senate reconvenes. It's really just a matter of when.

If something needs to get through the Senate, it would require unanimous or near unanimous Democratic support, and that may require some cajoling, to say the least, from President Obama.

CHO: Right. But a couple of days of surf and sand is still good, I'm sure you would agree.

All right. Brianna Keilar, thanks so much.

Dana?

BASH: Alina, the fiscal cliff is obviously a very serious issue, but it's bringing out the poetic side of "USA Today," at least their editorial board.

We want to read to you a bit of the holiday poem they put together for this occasion. "Twas the night before Cliffmas, when all through D.C., not a politician was stirring, they decided to flee. Their work was not finished, but what did they care? The fiscal cliff looming, they took to the air. Voters watched this debacle with increasing dread, while visions of total victory danced in pols' head."

CHO: It goes on to say, "Democrats balked at a tight spending cap. Republicans kept pushing their anti-tax pact. Thursday evening, ere Christmas there arose such a clatter, reporters sprang to the Capitol to see what was the matter? House Dems realized with glee: the speaker could not pass his own Plan B." And I know that you know that very well, Dana, because you were there on the Capitol --

BASH: I was there.

CHO: -- saying this is devastating for Speaker Boehner. Everyone is just crossing their fingers, hoping a last-minute deal will come together. Let's hope.

BASH: That would be nice. It's looking a lot less likely. Brianna just reported it and I'm certainly hearing it from my sources. But, you know, we can always hope for a Christmas miracle.

CHO: That's right.

BASH: Well, speaking of Christmas, people are hoping for a white Christmas on the roads and at the airport across the country. They're crossing their fingers for clear weather.

CHO: A big storm out west already delaying travel plans. San Francisco Bay Area dealing with heavy rain and winds. And in Washington -- Washington state, rather, worst driving conditions in 30 years forced crews to shut down highway 2 in the Cascade Mountains. That's near Stevens Pass.

Bonnie Schneider tracking the weather systems throughout the country. She joins us with the holiday forecast.

Oh, man! Delays, delays, delays, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is not right now, Dana. We are anticipating the delays.

So, the good news is, if you have a morning flight this Christmas Eve, I think you'll do OK. But throughout the day, the delays will build across the South and even the Midwest and especially out West because there's snow happening throughout the Rockies and Salt Lake City, and you'll see that building in, especially west of Denver up into the mountains.

Severe storms possible overnight, down into Texas, southwest Louisiana. As this front advances eastward, it's pulling down quite a bit of rain through North Carolina and into Tennessee.

I wanted to show you this division here. We have wet Christmas, and we have a white Christmas. Where will you see each? It's so spread out throughout the country. Places like Kansas and Oklahoma, Arkansas and even parts of Washington certainly will see a white Christmas whereas the rain continues along the south and into the Gulf Coast. And also for San Francisco and Seattle, cities that have been seeing rain all week long.

As we break it down, we'll show you the storm system that's creating that diversity in the forecast for Christmas. We have stormy conditions, actually dangerous ones, setting up for tomorrow, possibly tornadoes in the mid-south and southeast. And then as we go towards areas Wednesday, the day after Christmas, we'll actually see more snow the day after Christmas than Christmas itself. It will be measurable snow all the way from much of southern Ohio and Kentucky to New York state and Connecticut and New England. So, look for a day after Christmas being the snowier one.

CHO: Yes. Well, it's messy after the fact, but it's beautiful coming down, isn't it? I love a white Christmas.

SCHNEIDER: If you're inside, right?

CHO: If you're inside looking out. All right, Bonnie Schneider. Thanks so much.

Other top stories to tell you about this morning. New poll numbers show a majority of Americans say the U.S. and other countries should not get involved in Syria. Fifty-two percent say they're against the idea of using the U.S. or other countries' military airplanes and missiles to try to establish safe zones for the Syrian opposition, 43 percent are for the idea.

All this as a gruesome scene unfolds there. More than 100 people who had gone without bread for about a week killed as they lined up as a bakery. The death toll from that attack is expected to climb.

BASH: And Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho is offering up apologies to his family and his constituents after being arrested and charged with driving under the influence in Alexandria, Virginia. Police say the Idaho Republican was pulled over early Saturday morning after being spotted running a red light. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.11. The legal blood alcohol level in Virginia is 0.08. He was released on $1,000 bond.

And President Obama hasn't even nominated former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his choice as secretary of defense, but Hagel is already taking some heat from lawmakers, his former colleagues, over his past position on Iran in a 2007 interview when he said that, quote, "Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

LIEBERMAN: I would have some really serious questions to ask him, not just about Israel, but to me, the most significant foreign policy challenge for President Obama and our country and the world in the next year or two is Iran and its nuclear weapons program. Chuck Hagel has had some very outlying votes on that.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think he's going to get many Republican votes. I like Chuck, but his positions, I didn't really quite frankly know all of them, are really out of mainstream and well to the left of the president.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BASH: Well, to the left of the president, for a Republican, we're talking about here. And Hagel has also been the subject of a new ad opposing his possible nomination for defense secretary, you're seeing it there.

CHO: Shoppers have spent $38.7 billion online so far this holiday season. That's up 16 percent from last year, according to comScore. And online shopping during the work week last week was up 53 percent last year. ComScore says retailers extended sales, free shipping, and delivery by Christmas deals -- and that certainly helped.

BASH: I'm doing most of my shopping online, are you?

CHO: You know me, I like to go into the store.

BASH: You like to touch. You like to feel.

CHO: I kind of do, yes.

BASH: Life is hard for a fashionista like you.

CHO: Life's rough. That's right.

BASH: Well, ahead on STARTING POINT, does President Obama want to go off the cliff? That's what some are saying. They're saying it's been the plan all along.

We'll talk to Grover Norquist. He's the president of Americans for Tax Reform. That's next.

CHO: And it's not just for Dr. Seuss. A real life Grinch breaks into one family's home. And guess what? It's all caught on tape. Just look at it. The family joins us live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Welcome back to STARTING POINT as we've been telling you just eight days left before we go off the fiscal cliff. And all is very quiet in Washington because Congress and the president, they're on vacation. Want to bring in our guest, Grover Norquist. He's the president of Americans for Tax Reform. 219 Congressmen and 39 senators in the new congress have signed his pledge, vowing not to raise taxes. Grover, thank you for joining us, especially on this holiday Christmas Eve. Appreciate it.

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: Good to be with you.

BASH: First I want to play for you something that Republican senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia said yesterday about what he might do when it comes to taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON, (R ) GEORGIA: No one wants taxes to go up on the middle class. I don't want them to go up on anybody. I'm not in the majority of the United States Senate, and he's the President of the United States. If we get down to the end of this year and the only choice we have is to save taxes going up on the middle class, then I would support that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Grover, as you know, Johnny Isakson is not exactly a moderate. He's saying he would support tax increases for everybody below the middle class effectively, if six, seven, eight, depending on the math, other Republicans agree with him, and many more in the House, this actually could pass next week, meaning tax increases for everybody over $250,000.

NORQUIST: Well, the interesting question is what is going to move forward and you're right. We're talking about three things when we talk about the fiscal cliff. One is the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that the Democrats claim they want to protect for most Americans. They all voted against them. They didn't want them in the first place, but now they recognize how terribly important they are, they claim.

For two full years, all of 2009 and all of 2010, Obama was president. You had a super majority of Democrats in the House and the Senate. They could have passed making permanent those tax cuts for all, some Americans, people making less than $250,000 a year, they could have done that. They didn't. Why do you believe the Democrats really want to do something they no longer have the votes to do when they could have done it when they had the votes?

That's one part of the fiscal cliff. The other part is the sequester, which saves money. The president wants to end that. And the third part is $1 trillion in Obama's taxes that are independent of everything else. That's the Obamacare taxes they hid from you because they're all scheduled to come in after he got safely elected.

BASH: Grover, let's go back to the Bush-era tax cuts. For you, given your position, that's really what we want to focus on here. You make the point that Democrats could have voted before when they had super majorities or big majorities, and that's a fair point. But as you well know in part thanks to you, voting for tax increases is a death- nail politically for many Republicans and Democrats. That brings me to my next question. I've talked to Republicans and Democrats who think we are going to go off the cliff, and here's the reason why. If we go off the cliff, everybody's taxes go up automatically. Then Congress can come back in January and vote for a tax cut as opposed to tax increases. What do you think about that?

NORQUIST: One of the challenges, of course, is people see this happening. They realize the president has not been negotiating at all over the last three months. We learned days and weeks and months afterwards that they had non-meetings where this is going on. I was a strong advocate of having C-Span cameras in the negotiating room so you wouldn't have this situation where the president's spokespeople say one thing happened in a meeting when the people in the meeting said the opposite happened. The American people ought to have the right to see really what's happening and what the president's real position is.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I would certainly be an advocate for C-Span cameras in the oval office.

(CROSSTALK)

NORQUIST: Yes.

BASH: But I want to get to something that happened last week which led to where we are today, which is Speaker Boehner's "Plan B," which would have kept tax cuts where they are, for everybody making $1 million and less, didn't pass, even though you offered him political cover by writing a statement saying you didn't consider that a tax increase. But other anti- tax groups, like Club for Growth, and Heritage Action Network, they worked hard to defeat this before it even happened. I just want to read you a quote from Club for Growth. "on the substance, the plan is anti-growth. It increases tax rates for those making $1 million while also raising taxes on capital gains and dividends. We don't buy into the Washington speak suggesting that these are actually tax cuts. They won the day. You didn't." Does this hurt your clout?

NORQUIST: No. Look, there are people who stake out a position for tactical -- this is a strategic, or tactical question. Speaker Boehner wants to continue the lower tax rates for all Americans. Americans for Tax Reform, the tax group that I run, we want to continue the tax -- lower tax rates for all Americans. We want to go to the tax reform that's in the Paul Ryan budget. The House of representatives has already passed twice the Ryan budget, which reforms taxes for all Americans, takes the top rate to 25 percent, which is what the Europeans do for the business community. We want to go there. How do you get there? I'm not sure that defeating "Plan B" strengthens our ability to get there. I think, in fact, that "Plan B" was a good step in the right direction towards protecting and continuing the tax cuts for everybody.

BASH: And do you think that Republicans sort of shot themselves in the foot because they defeated this. At the end of the day, the votes might be there for tax increases that from the Republican perspective, are even worse than what the speaker offered that they wouldn't let him even bring up for a vote.

NORQUIST: As I read the speaker's proposal, "Plan B," I thought it moved us in the direction of maintaining all the Bush tax cut cuts. Look, this is not a fight that begins and ends the first week of January. There's going to be a regular fight on the continuing resolution because remember the Democratic Senate hasn't passed a budget in three or four years. So we do a CR, continuing resolution, to authorize the government to spend more money. There the Republicans have a lot of clout because they can say we'll let you run the government for the next month, but you've got to make these reforms. That's exactly what they did very successfully two years ago for a while.

Then you have the debt ceiling increase, which is the other lever, the other power that the Republicans in the House have. You want to get a debt ceiling increase, both Speaker Boehner and the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, have made it clear, you want $1 trillion of more debt ceiling, because that's what the president is running, trillion dollar debts, you have to cut spending a trillion dollars at the same time. They won that fight a year ago. They'll win it in the future. This is a long fight. It's four years of a fight. It's not one week of a fight. To your earlier question, does the president want to take us over the cliff? I think now he does. The reason is he needs an excuse for the next four years of failure. Blaming it on Bush doesn't work very much. The regulations and spending he's put on the economy for the next four years is going to put us in recession regardless of the fiscal cliff.

BASH: To be fair, I'm told there are a number of Republicans, especially in the House, who want to go over the cliff for the reason I explained, that they'd much rather vote for a tax cut than a tax increase because they don't want to break your pledge. Grover, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

NORQUIST: No one should break their pledge.

BASH: Merry Christmas. Thank you, Grover.

NORQUIST: Merry Christmas to you.

BASH: Ahead on STARTING POINT, who would do this right before Christmas? Real grinches break into one family's home, turning over their tree, stealing their electronics. What are they going to do about it? We'll talk to them live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Twenty seven minutes after the hour. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. It was a scene right out of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Listen to this: robbers break into an Oklahoma City family's home, tear into their gifts, even knock over the Christmas tree. What the real life grinches didn't count on were security cameras installed by the family just three weeks before. As you can see there, it was all caught on tape. Joining me now, Shawn and Casey Graham and their 6- year-old daughter Saren (ph), the victims of this terrible robbery pre-Christmas. Good morning. I'm so glad you're with us. So tell me, I understand that you and your daughter came home to this, Shawn. Originally, you did not think this was a robbery. What did you think had happened?

SHAWN GRAHAM, HOUSE ROBBED THIEVES CAUGHT ON TAPE: I had thought the dogs tore up the tree for the candy canes, but it was still too hard to believe that they did that.

CHO: And, Casey, the fact that you installed those security cameras three weeks prior is a blessing. Let's hope it helps catch these guys. But having said that, when you saw all of this unfold, literally these guys with their pants down, ransacking, tearing open your gifts, knocking over your tree, when you saw it all on tape, what did you think?

CASEY GRAHAM, HOUSE ROBBED THIEVES CAUGHT ON TAPE: Shocked and surprised. It makes you angry to se somebody going through your stuff and going through your home when there's nothing you can do about it. CHO: What are you doing about it? From what I understand -- and I would imagine you've turned over that tape to police. Shawn, you've even posted some interesting photos on Facebook, haven't you?

S. GRAHAM: Yes. One of our great friends have posted a lot of stuff on Facebook.

CHO: Yes, so tell us what you're doing to try to catch these guys. They still haven't caught them, have they?

S. GRAHAM: No, they have not. From what we hear, they have great leads. Our friends just been really diligent about posting it on Facebook, posting any new information. We're getting a lot of stories from other people that's had the same situation happen to them. It's just really common, and we're fortunate enough it wasn't as bad as these other people.

CHO: And I find that interesting. You say that you're fortunate. I think a lot of people would look at this video and listen to you and hear what happened and think, these people are unfortunate, but you say you're fortunate?

S. GRAHAM: Sure, sure. There were homes that were completely cleared out or robbed in person. We were lucky to not be there when it happened. And they didn't make off with more than they did.

CHO: Casey, you and Shawn have a 6-year-old daughter, Saren, who we were hoping to see. Maybe she's a little bleary-eyes this morning. But for a 6-year-old, something like this is so hard to understand. This is the time where Santa pays a visit and you open gifts, and it's such a happy time, or supposed to be. What have you told your daughter about all of this? Casey?

Oh boy. Right at that moment. All right. Well, Shawn Graham and Casey Graham we thank you both, if you can still hear me, for joining us. And we wish you the very best and we hope that police catch those guys who came into your home.