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Obama and Congressional Leaders Meet on Fiscal Cliff; Four Days to Fiscal Cliff; Desert Storm Commander Dies; George H.W. Bush Still in Hospital; Nelson Mandela Doing Well; U.S. Deeply Regrets Russian Adoption Ban; Scientists Study Shooter's DNA; Army Mom Says Toddler Was Abused

Aired December 28, 2012 - 13:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I want to get right to it. The high-stakes meeting getting under way at the White House in just about two hours. The outcome could determine whether or not all of our taxes go up. President Obama and Congressional leaders, they're trying to come up with this last-minute deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. This is the massive tax increases, the spending cuts that are set to take effect in just four days.

The president, the vice president, they're going to be meeting -- be meeting with house speaker John Boehner, minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and the minority leader, Mitch McConnell. And watching all this, Jessica Yellin live at the White House. Jess, what do we think is going to happen here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, based on the expectations around town, the thought is the president and Democrats will lay out an alternative, scaled-down proposal. And there will be discussions about what could be in the details of a proposal they could vote on, in theory, this weekend. The ideal outcome would be all the members agree to the terms of that deal. And then the two senators in the room agree that they can get their parties to bring it to a vote with no one filibustering it. And then, on the House side, speaker Boehner would agree that he will put it on the House floor for a vote on Monday. And then it would pass in the House and in the Senate, and it all gets done before New Year's Eve. That seems like an awfully heavy lift, but that is the best-case scenario at this point. And, again, --

MALVEAUX: Worst-case scenario.

YELLIN: -- this is sort of the stopgap measure itself, I should point out.

MALVEAUX: Sure. Best-case scenario, we like that optimism. Give us the worst-case scenario that possibly after this 3:00 meeting, they walk away with nothing.

YELLIN: That is a real possibility. The other possibility, as we see things fold -- roll out in Washington so often, we could see members come out and address the press and say, well, there are things we liked, we didn't like. We might. We might not. And it could just be a slow trickle over the weekend because, you know, nobody wants -- none of these leaders want to look like they're just giving up. So, it seems far more likely that they will at least try to do something in the coming days, even if it seems doomed. And everybody is simultaneously posturing for public relations reasons while they're also trying to get this deal.

MALVEAUX: Yes, I don't want to sound skeptical here, but, jess, how much of this do you think really is for the public consumption that this looks good, it's very symbolic that they're all going to be sitting in the same room, and how much of it do you think is really behind the idea that perhaps there will be a breakthrough?

YELLIN: Well, it's -- there's a huge element of optics here. We all call on them to meet. Why aren't the leaders meeting, right? We're always asking that question.


YELLIN: Then they do meet and we say, well, is this just for optics? So, you know, there is always that double-edged sword in it. The bottom line is the principals generally don't work out the final niggling details. It's their staffs that do. But if all of those people in that room can come to an agreement and, you know, give their word, then something could get done before New Year's Eve. But we have to keep in mind that what they're arguing over are the fundamental differences between the two parties, about the role of government in Americans' lives, and that is why this has been such a hard deal to resolve.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jess, we're going to keep -- be keeping up with this because clearly this could be make a huge difference for everybody when it comes to our taxes. If no deal is made and we go over the cliff, it's going to affect almost everybody. Tom Foreman explains how.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As these negotiations go on, everybody says, here comes the cliff, here comes the cliff. It's not a sudden effect because it doesn't all happen at once, but it does happen, and some people will feel it absolutely more than others. Remember, there are automatic mandatory cuts that will kick in in this circumstance and they'll hit many different departments. So, for example, if you are unemployed right now, benefits will stop for 2.1 million unemployed Americans if we go over the cliff. And just as a point of reference here, if, in fact, they wanted to extend those benefits, that would cost about $30 billion, which is not a whole lot in the federal budget, but nonetheless, this is a group that would feel the cliff and feel it fast.

What about people traveling out there in the transportation department? $1 billion in cuts to mandatory spending in the transportation department. What will that mean? Slower air travel and higher fares. And I'll tell you why. Because there would be fewer air traffic controllers, customs officers, security officers out there. That means fewer people to process you through the airport, your luggage and everything else to get you where you're going. And as that happens, they're going to have to have more overtime from the people who are there. That's what's going to run the cost up, so that could also have an impact.

But here's the one that could touch virtually everyone in the country. Go to the treasury department here. 100 million taxpayers would be unable to file until late March because they would not have as many people as they would normally have to process your tax returns. You know what's coming next? That also means a delay in tax refunds. The Treasury Department normally sends out about $72 million in tax refunds in January and February. That would not happen if the fiscal cliff comes. They wouldn't be able to keep up with the workload. And there would be unexpected higher taxes for most Americans because remember, that's another part of the equation.

So, many different groups could be hit in many different ways at many times. But the bottom line is if these negotiations continue to stall and don't come through and the cliff comes, people will, indeed, feel it all over this country.


MALVEAUX: U.S. Army general whose temper earned him the name Stormin' Norman has died. General Norman Schwarzkopf was one of the most celebrated military leaders in the post-Vietnam era. He led coalition forces pushing Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991's Operation Desert Storm. The retired general died yesterday in Tampa, Florida, at age 78.

Former president George H. W. Bush released this statement. He says, General Schwarzkopf epitomized the duty, service, country's creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises."

A spokesman for former president George H. W. Bush says, quote, "Put the hearts back in the closet, yes." Gene Decker says his boss is sick, but his condition is not dire. The 41st president remains in intensive care in a Houston hospital. He has been in the hospital since November 23rd.

In South Africa, the granddaughters of Nelson Mandela say that he is alert and that he is doing well. The former South African president, he is back home after spending eight days in the hospital.


ZAMASWAZI DIAMINI: It's important for people to remember that, you know, he is 95, after all. And that, you know, once in a while, he needs, you know, medical care, medical attention. And you know, we're very -- we're very grateful because, you know, he's surrounded by the best medical team, you know. He's very well taken care of, and he's very comfortable, and he's very happy.


MALVEAUX: Mandela was treated for a lung infection and underwent gallstone surgery. We're glad everyone is on the mend. Heartbreaking development for hundreds of Americans trying to adopt children from Russian orphanages. Well, today, president Vladimir Putin signed a law banning all U.S. adoptions. Why are the Russians doing this? The ban is considered a payback of sorts for an American law passed two weeks ago. Now, that law puts financial restrictions on Russians accused of human rights violations, bans them from also traveling to the United States. Well, the U.S. is not happy about it, and it is letting president Putin know. I want to bring in our Elise Labott in Washington. And, Elise, the State Department is responding. They're reacting to this. Can they do anything?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're frantically trying to convince the Russians, Suzanne, that this is a bad idea and not to play politics with the lives of children who deserve a good home. The State Department who helps U.S. parents try and adopt these children, help with visa and citizen issues issued a statement saying, the Russian government's politically motivated decision will reduce adoption possibilities for children who are now under institutional care.

We are further concerned about statements that adoptions already under way may be stopped and hope that the Russian government would allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families. Suzanne, there are about 46 children already in the pipeline who have met their parents in the United States, have bonded with them. These parents are waiting to get them taken home. So, the State Department is at least hoping to resolve these cases and then trying to work with the Russians on trying to get the ban lifted entirely.

MALVEAUX: Elise, what do they do? What do those families do in the meantime? What is the State Department telling them to do while they wait to see whether or not these adoptions are actually going to go through?

LABOTT: Well, Suzanne, all they can do right now is sit tight. The State Department frantically working on it. It is trying to talk to the adoption agencies and trying to get those parents -- trying to at least give them the latest information. There's not much they can do right now but they are hoping that at least these cases could be resolved. There are some comments coming out of Russia right now that those children might be staying in Russia, put back into the adoption registry which is very concerning. But there are other cooler heads that the State Department hope will prevail. There are some lawmakers, some ministers who are not happy about this bill, are worried that it could hurt relations with the United States, and they're hoping that the -- to lower the temperature a little bit.

MALVEAUX: All right. Elise, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

I had a chance, an opportunity to talk to a New Jersey couple who are in the middle of adopting a little Russian girl who's HIV positive. They promised her that they were going to come back and get her. Well, now they are terrified that they are never going to see her again. We're going to have that interview in about 20 minutes or so. And also, could the DNA of the Newtown school shooting gunman provide clues as to what led him to carry out that massacre? Some scientists actually believe that it could.


MALVEAUX: It was two weeks ago today that a young gunman carried those guns into the school, one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. There are several crime scenes in Newtown, Connecticut now. So, we are talking about the school where 26 elementary school students and staff died. We're also talking about the gunman's home. That is where police say he killed his mother. And as we learned as well yesterday, scientists are also now studying the shooter's body. His DNA. It's a long shot, but scientists are searching for something, anything, that might point to an explanation. The scientific community is split on whether or not that is actually a good idea. Joining me from Houston, Dr. Arthur Bodette, he is a geneticist at the Baylor College of Medicine. And from Boston, Professor Heidi Tissenbaum, a gene function researcher at the University of Massachusetts.

Doctor Bodette, I want to start off with you. You actually think that it would be good to study the DNA of Adam Lanza, the shooter. What do you think you could learn from his DNA?

DR. ARTHUR BEAUDET, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, I think we know that some individuals have very strong genetic variations that can predispose to schizophrenia and violent behavior, aggressive behavior. It's not that we fully understand it by any means, but it seems to me only by studying these kinds of people will we eventually understand what is the role of genetics. And I think they're -- we have some hints, in some cases at least, it's a very strong role and maybe one that could even be approached by some kind of drug intervention.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in professor Tessenbaum because you disagree. You say that this is unsound science and potentially could lead to problems. Why do you believe that there is not a value in at least looking at this gunman's DNA?

PROF. HEIDI TISSENBAUM, UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS: Well, first of all, let me say that my heart goes out to all the people in Newtown, Connecticut. This was a horrific series of events.

Second of all, the major problem that I have as a geneticist is that it's impossible to gain much information with the sample size of one. So what you're looking at is one person's DNA and you're trying to say that it's different than other people. But you only have a sample size of one.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Would it be helpful, do you think, to look at the DNA of other shooters, of those from previous mass shootings?

TISSENBAUM: Well, again, the problem is, we have probably less than five or even 10 people that we're talking about. When studies -- accurate genetic studies are done on a whole population, we look for hundreds of different people, and you have to show a strong correlation with that.

And the second problem would be, what are we trying to look for? I mean, we're going -- the whole idea is you're going in with the notion of looking for something. And that is simply not the way science is done. Science is done where you go in expecting things to be the same. We have a now (ph) hypothesis. And then you try to disprove or prove something. And going in with a preconceived idea that we're going to see something is just not accurate, how science is done in a laboratory setting.

MALVEAUX: Dr. Beaudet, I want to bring you back in here to respond to the professor's concerns, because clearly there is a danger here that if you did find something, if there was something that was in common with this young man and others, that people might be scapegoat, or they might take a look at the genetic components of different people and assume the worst where there is no propensity for them to kill.

DR. ARTHUR BEAUDET, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, I think that it's a very tricky area and people could be stigmatized by having certain genetic variation. But people are stigmatized by having a diagnosis of schizophrenia as well. So we don't withhold the diagnosis of schizophrenia because it may stigmatize some people. We try to handle it in a compassionate way.

I think that there are major changes in single individuals that you can see that are extremely rare that you almost never see in normal individuals that we can't interpret as having contributing to schizophrenia. There are many genetic deletions that are now well published as causing schizophrenia. And one among that group actually is also associated with relatively aggressive behavior difficulties.

So I think that we can learn a lot. I think that it will take time, but I think that we -- I think we're going to be sequencing everybody's genome. Your genome. My genome. And I think we will sequence the genome of these kinds of actors as well, and we may really be able to better help them. I mean, these are sick people. These are not evil people, in my opinion.

MALVEAUX: All right. We're going to have to leave it there. Doctor Beaudet, Professor Tissenbaum, thank you very much. Clearly just looking for some answers behind that horrific school shooting that occurred.

One more thing today from the Connecticut school shooting. There, federal authorities have in custody now a woman in New York City. They say she tried to steal donation money by posing as a relative of one of the children killed in the massacre. The Justice Department says that Noel Alba (ph) used her FaceBook account to trick people into giving her money she said would go to a funeral fund. Well, some people did donate to the PayPal account that she actually set up. Watch what happened when a CNN producer actually went to her home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This says, this has your e-mail on it right there. This is about Noah Pozner's funeral. It -- take a -- UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never sent that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, take a look at it, ma'am. It's got your e- mail all over it. And take a look at the second page. It gives your PayPal account and the bank routing number that you say you've set up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not my PayPal account. I mean, I have a PayPal account like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but that's your -- is that your e-mail?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It says right there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's one of my gmails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is your gmail account?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, my personal account. But I never set up any funds for anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should know that the Pozner family tells us that they're very upset by all this and especially --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I never did anything to hurt them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well who -- then who does -- who sent this e-mail out, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never sent this e-mail out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have a reason to send any e-mail out.


MALVEAUX: Noel Alba is out of jail on bail today.

An investigation into an army day care finds dozens of employees had criminal records, including at least one case of sexual abuse of children.


MALVEAUX: On an army base in Virginia, a parent's worst nightmare is coming true. Two workers at a military day care center have been arrested for assaulting a child. Thirty other workers, we're talking about 30 people, have been taken off the job now after a review found that they have criminal records. Barbara Starr spoke with the mother of a toddler who was reportedly abused.

Barbara, this -- it just doesn't get any worse than something like this. What happens? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it really doesn't. Well, we've spoken to this mother. And I have to tell you, I've spoken privately to at least five other parents very briefly. This began back in September when the child abuse allegations came out against several toddlers at the facility. They then find out at least 30 workers there had questionable backgrounds.

The mother of one of the young children who was abused, alleged to have been abused by a child care worker, talked about how little they told her right from the beginning about what was going on. I want you to have a listen to her story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All along, this first week when we were being sort of given piecemeal information, denied access to the videotapes, we were also being asked if we wanted to seek medical care for our child. So --

STARR: Medical care for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For what? Obviously, we wanted to understand and see with our own eyes since that evidence was available.


STARR: So there was videotapes of the abuse, but the parents were not allowed to see that right away and see exactly what had happened to their children because there was a criminal case pending and they didn't know until very recently about the 30 other workers at the facility. This young mother of two wanted her face shielded for two reasons. She was worried about her children's privacy, and she is worried that her husband, who is in the military, could suffer retaliation if they speak out about this.


MALVEAUX: It really is disgusting, Barbara. You know, just the thought of this occurring. This case made its way all the way up to the president, who reached out to the secretary of the Army, pressing him to look into how these day care workers with criminal records were hired. Is this considered an aberration, or have they found anything where this is widespread?

STARR: Well, I have to tell you, Army Secretary John McHugh is very determined, we are told, to have a full investigation into this. He has ordered that everything be looked at. Secretary Panetta has ordered a look across the military at child care facilities.

But it was unprecedented, Suzanne, for President Obama to pick up a phone, call the Army and say, what is going on? I think the phone call from the president certainly has resonated around the Pentagon. They say they're trying to get to the bottom of this and figure out how this all could have happened.

MALVEAUX: And how many children do we think that were involved in this abuse?

STARR: In this one case, right now, it's a handful, if you will. But what the parents are telling me is, they don't know if that's the entire story because the only videotapes to corroborate this are 30 days' worth of videotapes. The allegation is made on September 26th. The tapes go back one month. And they don't know what might have happened before that.


MALVEAUX: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you for following that story. Appreciate it.

Meet a man who has taken a stand on the national debt by trying to pay it off himself.


MALVEAUX: Hundreds of Americans are devastated after hearing that Russia has banned all U.S. adoptions. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed that ban into law today. Well, earlier today, I talked to a New Jersey couple who were trying to adopt a little girl from Russia. Four-year-old Anastasia (ph) is HIV positive. And Jenni and Josh Johnston were hoping to take her home in just a few months.


JOSH JOHNSTON, TRYING TO ADOPT RUSSIAN CHILD: We're probably smack dab in the middle of the process right now. We made a trip last month to visit little Anastasia. We met her. She was informed that we were her parents. We told her we were going to come back for her. And she said she'd wait for us. And now we're in limbo.

MALVEAUX: What was that like to meet her? How did you know that she was the one that you wanted to welcome into your family?

JOSH JOHNSTON: Well, we went there guided by the Lord. And she was the one the Lord put in front of us. So, we don't say no to the Lord.

MALVEAUX: Jenni, can you tell me what you are going through now, if you are hearing anything at all about little Anastasia?

JENNI JOHNSTON, TRYING TO ADOPT RUSSIAN CHILD: We haven't heard anything. I think there's just the rumors flying around. And I get online to try to see what I can find out, but, you know, that's not helping. And I'm just a wreck.

MALVEAUX: How have you managed -- I mean, you have, obviously, have a beautiful family. You've reached out. How have you managed this time of uncertainty?

JENNI JOHNSTON: We pray. We cry. We get cranky. I mean, my child's a half a world away and I feel like any mom wouldn't be able to get through that very easily.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: The U.S. State Department says it deeply regrets the adoption ban. It is calling on President Putin to allow all pending adoptions at least to go through.