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Fury over Delayed Superstorm Sandy Aid; "Zero Dark Thirty" Investigation; "The World is Going Mad"; Sperm Donor Held for Child Support

Aired January 3, 2013 - 10:30   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Victor Blackwell in for Carol Costello.

Stories we're watching in the NEWSROOM right now. For the first time since the tragic shooting in Connecticut, school is back in session for Sandy Hook Elementary students.

Classes are now being held in a school in nearby Monroe, Connecticut. We have video of students heading to class. The students' desks have been moved to making the set scene as normal as possible.

It's the first day at the office for 90 new lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The 113th Congress begins at noon Eastern, and it sets records for the number of new democratic women including Senator Elizabeth Loren of Massachusetts.

Now that fiscal cliff debate is over, lawmakers will have to quickly tackle issues, including the sequester, the debt ceiling and as we just spoke about, aid to Superstorm Sandy victims.

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is throwing down the gauntlet for a showdown with the President over spending and the debt. He wrote an op-ed for Yahoo News and here's part of it. "The President may not want to have a fight about government spending over the next few months, but it's the fight he's going to have, because it's a debate the country needs."

Now let's turn to another crisis facing a lot of American families the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. More than two months after landfall, the latest disaster is manmade. House Speaker John Boehner now says the new Congress will vote tomorrow on finally providing federal aid. He fast-tracked the vote after unexpectedly shelving it earlier this week.

And that delay really blindsided and outraged the hardest-hit states. And even his fellow Republicans lashed out with extraordinary anger.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: This used to be something that was not political. You know, disaster relief was something that you didn't play games with. But now in this current atmosphere, everything is the subject of one upmanship, everything is a possibility, a potential piece of bait for the political game. And it's just -- it is why the American people hate Congress.


BLACKWELL: Boehner's delay lit the fuse on a powder keg of frustration. And here's why. A lot of Sandy's victims are living in shelters or shivering in the unheated wreckage of their homes. They've been waiting for help for 66 days and they're still waiting. Compare that to Hurricane Katrina, just ten days from landfall to the signing of the initial relief package. Hurricane Andrew, 30 days that's still less than half of the delay for Sandy.

And here's the story behind the numbers. Look at this. Cute little cottage on Staten Island, it was the retirement dream of a couple you're about to hear from. Today, this is what's left, a heartbreaking reminder that their lives, their future, all in limbo. Last hour, I spoke with Dominic and Sheila Traina.


DOMINIC TRAINA, SUPERSTORM SANDY VICTIM: We've been here my whole life. We moved down here in 1959. My parents' house down the street, we lost that. We lost the store that we had that was our retirement and then to look at our house. The kids grew up here. They loved the beach. They loved the house. It just was heartbreaking.

BLACKWELL: Where are you living now?

D. TRAINA: Terrible thing. We're in a little apartment that my niece she fixed it up for us. It's great. Her father-in-law, he took us in and it's really a nice little place. We feel comfortable there.

BLACKWELL: And Sheila --

D. TRAINA: And hopefully down the road we can get a house.

BLACKWELL: Sheila, we've spoken several times before. And when you heard that Congress had ended the session without passing any relief or aid package, what did you feel?

SHEILA TRAINA, SUPERSTORM SANDY VICTIM: Let down. We live on Staten Island and we're known for being the forgotten borough. I guess it wasn't any shocker. But --

BLACKWELL: You say it wasn't a shocker. Why?


S. TRAINA: To help the people. Because we're always the last ones to receive help around here it seems. Staten Island is known as the forgotten borough in the five boroughs of New York City. So it's just, well, now we're the forgotten borough in the country. But it's not just us, it's the whole East Coast that was affected by Sandy, so they are getting it -- everybody is getting a taste of what we've been used to all along.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: Sheila and Dominic Traina who lost their home in Superstorm Sandy.

It's been a rough couple of months for Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner. He had a very public fight over the fiscal cliff and then of course there was a fall out over the Superstorm Sandy aid or lack thereof. So is there a rift within the Republican Party?


BLACKWELL: In just about 90 minutes, the 113th Congress will convene. And it's going to give the Republicans a chance to start over. They have been involved in some high-profile fights, including the election and the fiscal cliff. Then there is the house not taking up aid for Superstorm Sandy before it adjourned.

All of this have left the GOP battered and bruised. Congressman Steve Latourette is a Republican from Ohio. He joins me from Ohio -- from Washington rather. I'm going to start with just the general question -- is there a division within your party?

REP. STEVE LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: Well there's not a division, but what there is, is a feeling after the 2010 election that leaders of both parties weren't doing enough to rein in the deficit and the debt. Those would be the Tea Party candidates that are referred to every once in a while. And so as a result they have laid the obstacles in front of the Speaker for the last two years the fight on the -- the fiscal cliff and Hurricane Sandy are the most recent examples.

BLACKWELL: You have said that and I want to get you right on this that some of the GOP -- some of the Republicans must have been drunk --


BLACKWELL: -- to vote for the fiscal cliff deal.

LATOURETTE: Yes that was -- well I voted for it --


BLACKWELL: Yes that was my follow-up.

LATOURETTE: Yes well I was referring to the senators. That was the question and -- and my wife has chastised me and says I'm supposed to say nothing good happens after midnight on New Year's Eve, that would have been -- that would have been the more tactical quote. But look the fiscal cliff negotiation in the Senate is what I eventually vote for. I mean, it was a no-brainer to vote for it at the end of the day because you saved 98 percent of Americans from getting a tax increase.

But what it -- what it didn't do is do anything to address the massive deficit and debt that we have in this country. And that's what I was referring to and that quite frankly is what gets in the way of the Hurricane Sandy bill. Because if you look at the -- about $60 billion a year is how much is going to come into the government from new taxes, but what's the Sandy package? $60 billion a year. And so it's a push.

And so again these people and I happen to be one of them is concerned about spending says well all you've down is push sequestration and spending and dealing with the deficit down the road.

BLACKWELL: Some have said that the Sandy bill of $60 billion is too much. Would you be part of that chorus to say that $60 billion is too much for the legislation?

LATOURETTE: Well listen, the guys in New York, Peter King, Michael Grimm they are friends of mine. My family settled on Staten Island in 1693. I don't think there's any amount of money that is too much.

The question is, you know right after the fiscal cliff vote, which was a tough pill to swallow, but you know the reality was the President won, he wanted to raise taxes, he got to raise taxes, then to vote for another $60 billion that was unpaid for, I would have voted for it, I was helping those guys whip the votes, but let me just say this about the $60 billion.

I serve on the interior appropriations subcommittee. We sent people up to New York and New Jersey. And just our small little portion of it was $1.5 billion was the ask. After talking to everybody we could only justify $250 million. So that -- you know again, there has to be, you know Rahm Emanuel, the President's former chief of staff said never let a good disaster go to waste.

The people in New York and New Jersey and the Eastern Coast deserve every penny that we can give them to help the suffering. They -- they do not deserve spending on things that has nothing to do with the disaster.

BLACKWELL: Well, right now you're Representative Steve Latourette. In about an hour and 20 minutes, you'll be former Representative Steve Latourette. You're leaving Congress. Thank you for speaking with us this morning.

LATOURETTE: Thanks 80 minutes and I'm a happy guy.

BLACKWELL: All right. It's hard to tell who is paying more attention to the new film "Zero Dark Thirty" -- movie watchers or Congress. The latest on the government investigation.


BLACKWELL: It's one of the most anticipated films but now the Senate Intelligence Committee is looking into whether "Zero Dark Thirty" and it's director had just a little too much access to classified material from the CIA in what happened in the Osama bin Laden raid.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I be honest with you? I am bad news. I'm not your friend. I'm not going to help you. I'm going to break you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: It looks like a great movie. I mean, I'm definitely going to see it. A.J. Hammer joins us now. A.J., this -- this is pretty serious now. An investigation into this movie?

A.J. HAMMER, HLN HOST, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": Yes, Victor, this movie has basically been a political target ever since it was first announced. Congressman Peter King actually started asking the House of Representatives to investigate the access film makers received from the CIA more than a year and a half ago.

And now that the movie is out it is getting all this attention as an Oscar favorite it appears the Senate wants its turn at bat. According to Reuters, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has started to look in to the connections between the CIA and filmmakers Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow. Senator Dianne Feinstein who chairs the committee has already publicly attacked the film over scenes that depict the CIA operatives getting important information by torturing detainees.

Now she did say those scenes were inaccurate, but now she seems to be leading the charge to see if Boal and Bigelow actually got improper access to top secret material about the search for bin Laden.

Now we have reached out to Sony Pictures, they are the studio behind the movie and the filmmakers themselves. The studio didn't directly address the controversy with their statement to us which says "As the studio distributing Zero Dark Thirty in the United States we are proud of this important film. Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and their creative team have made an extraordinary motion picture and we fully support bringing this remarkable story to the screen."

And while we're continuing to pursue reaction from Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal we should note that CNN's Barbara Starr did recently put the question about access to the pair directly. They declined to give us any information about their access.

And Boal told us specifically "We take protecting our sources and the exact methodology of our sourcing is pretty seriously. So Victor, I expect we'll be hearing a great deal more about this in the coming months.

BLACKWELL: Just the start of this conversation.

Let's talk about a social media scandal, no shortage of those. Former "American Idol" winner, Fantasia Barrino posted something online, and a lot of people are offended by this.

HAMMER: Yes, you really have to be careful about what you put out there. I mean Fantasia's comments are getting a lot of attention online right now. She posted a picture of herself on Instagram and here's what she said in the caption, "I rise above it all. The world is gone mad. Kids, the government, the church house, everybody trying. It's a lot that going on that the Bible speaks about we should not being. Weed legal in some places, gay marriage legal, but yes I'm judged. I'm not doing nothing for you -- my life."

Now, it's not clear exactly what set Fantasia off but that caption was, of course, picked up by some bloggers. It's gone viral. A lot of people taking it as a slam on gay marriage. So she responded to that criticism on social media, saying she was taken out of context, she doesn't judge people. So take it as you will Victor.

We have reached out to Fantasia for more comment on this have not heard back just yet.

BLACKWELL: A.J. Hammer, thank you.

HAMMER: You got it?

In Kansas a man thinks he's helping a lesbian couple to conceive by being a sperm donor. Now the state is forcing him to pay child support.


BLACKWELL: About 12 minutes to the top of the hour now. Let's check your top stories.

Christmas came early for the Big Three U.S. auto makers. This morning we learned Chrysler saw a 10 percent spike in sales for December. General Motors enjoyed a five percent bump in sales last month. And Ford saw some modest gains, a two percent sales increase in December.

Feel like you're spending too much on gas? CNN Money is out with its list of cheapest cars to fuel. This year it's full of electric cars. Number three on its list, Mitsubishi's electrice iMi; number two, electric Honda Fit; and number one Scion electric IQ getting 121 miles per gallon electric.

But don't rush out to a dealer for that one. It's only being provided to certain ride-share programs.

A strange story out of Kansas today. You're going to be talking about this one. A lesbian couple places an ad on Craigslist searching for a sperm donor -- no financial strings attached. A man responds to the ad, delivers the goods to their home and the couple conceives a child.

But after the couple broke up and the child's mother applied for Medicaid, the state said that the sperm donor has to pay child support, all because the donation did not happen in a doctor's office.

To discuss I'm joined now by attorney B.J. Bernstein. I mean when we sat down for the first time just a couple of seconds ago and I said I've never heard anything like this, you said it's that he did not go to a doctor and that's the problem.

B.J. BERNSTEIN, ATTORNEY: That is the big problem. What happens here is as a policy, when people go on Medicare or get government support, and there's a parent potentially out there who could help pay, we look for that money. I used to do that when I was a baby lawyer working for the government. It makes sense. What happened here is they didn't go through the process, this man and this couple, of using a doctor or a sperm clinic to make the donation. That's what's causing the hang-up in Kansas law. The reason they usually require that is they don't want every one night stand that turns into a pregnancy, where you are liable for the support of that child, because you did conceive the child.

BLACKWELL: And the guy comes back and said she wanted a baby, so I just helped along.

BERNSTEIN: Exactly. And that's what they don't want. Now, the issue will be interesting here, if a way can be carved out because I think our shock at this case is "My gosh, how can that be? That will break down the entire sperm donor system. That will cause problems for gay couples to conceive, and that's not really fair especially with the changes that are going on state to state.


BERNSTEIN: With our laws in gay marriage. So what needs possibly is to have some sort of proof. Would the court in Kansas accept proof outside of just going through what the law says as the only way to be able to show that in fact there was an ad on Craigslist, that he's responded to it, and that this wasn't done in any other way other than a private sperm donation.

BLACKWELL: Now, there was -- there's one of the moms who says I'll pay. He shouldn't have to pay. But the state of Kansas is still going after this guy. Why isn't the state just respecting the mom's wishes?

BERNSTEIN: That's the part that is a problem where we have policy makers and these rules that we have no vision to blur slightly to say, wait a minute, let's look at this exact situation. And that is a problem here because you know, if the other parent would participate, then potentially we wouldn't even be involved in the court system and having state money go, you know, for the care of this child.

So, again, it's going to be up to this court a to whether there is a loophole that is allowed under Kansas law to be able to allow that parent -- the co-mother to step into the plate.

BLACKWELL: Should we expect to see more of this?

BERNSTEIN: This is part of the fallout from, again, state to at a time to state, having gay marriage, what are the rules? And technology changing. How we conceive. How we put together families, how it looks, and we do need adaptability in the law to keep up with that because the number one thing is the care of the child. And that's what we should be worried about.

BLACKWELL: Absolutely. B.J. Bernstein, thanks for sorting all this out for us because the headline enough is enough to say, "What?" But once you unpack everything, it all makes sense. Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thanks Victor. BLACKWELL: A pint-sized pundit reviews the play on the field and delivers judgment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reds are (INAUDIBLE) touching that hole, but it's really not.


She may have been disappointed by the call, but something later on delighted her.


BLACKWELL: Referees are used to being questioned usually by a slovenly-dressed, loudmouth, beer-cup carrying fan. But look at this one. A three-year-old girl put a play from Tuesday's Outback Bowl under the review and she said the ref blew the call.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really not touching it. It's really not, because it's closer to that, and that's a little bit of spot, and the refs (INAUDIBLE) touching that pole, but it's really not.


BLACKWELL: Look at that -- pencil out and everything. The young South Carolina fan may have been disappointed in that one call, but not by the result of the game. South Carolina beat Michigan 33-28.

I'm Victor Blackwell. Thanks for joining us today. "CNN NEWSROOM" continues after a short break with Ashleigh Banfield.