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113th Congress Begins Official Business; Secretary Clinton To Return To Work Next Week; Private Sector Jobs On The Rise; U.S. Auto Sales Rise In December; Sandy Hook Students Back In School; India Rape Trial To Start Soon; NYC Couple Arrested For Explosives; Newspaper Hires Armed Guards; BP Spill Defendant To Pay $1.4B

Aired January 3, 2013 - 14:30   ET


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: John Boehner, as Dana was pointing out earlier, hadn't had such a good couple of weeks. Will it be Senator McConnell again who managed to cut a deal with Joe Biden? But don't forget Senator McConnell is up for re-election. He is afraid of Republicans running to his right.

Will it be Eric Cantor who voted against the fiscal cliff deal? So we see the same leadership, but we are not actually sure who is going to be cutting these deals if in fact deals are going to be cut.

Another name is Paul Ryan voted for the fiscal cliff deal to the disappointment of many conservatives. Will he now become somebody as chairman of the budget committee who can cut these deals?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think you have to give Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, let's say credit. He may be up for re-election in two years. He may be worried about a primary in his home state, but he stood firm. He worked out this deal with Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States and they delivered an 89-8 lopsided majority in the United States Senate.

BORGER: But it took him less than a week. Today, he had an op-ed that he wrote talking about the spending cuts saying we are not going to give. We didn't do that tax deal in order to not get anything in return. So he kind of put it out there saying, OK, guys, now you have to come to us.

BLITZER: The tax increases now we are talking about spending cuts. We are going to have much more later in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Gloria will be back. My special interview, an exclusive interview with Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff, half of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, he will be joining me in "THE SITUATION ROOM" as well.

Up next, less than 24 hours since Hillary Clinton left the hospital, we're not getting word when the secretary of state will be returning to work. Stand by for that.

Plus, just a short time from now, students from Sandy Hook Elementary School will be leaving school on the first day back since that tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We're going to speak with some parents that is coming up as well. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Johns in Washington here in for Brooke Baldwin today. We will have more on the historic opening of the 113th Congress. Let's look at some other news right now.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is planning to return to work next week. We don't know if work includes testifying about the terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton was discharged yesterday from a New York hospital after being treated for a blood clot. Her spokeswoman said doctors expect Clinton to make a full recovery, but there is no word on when she may testify about the Benghazi attack.

A new report out today shows private employers added 215,000 jobs last month. These numbers a precursor to the official Labor Department report out tomorrow. Job growth to the tune of 150,000 expected in that one and this slowly improving jobs market had more people buying cars.

Felicia Taylor is at the New York Stock Exchange. Carmakers have been reporting sales figures all day. So give us an idea of who is on top and what this says about the state of the economy -- Felicia.

FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL'S "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY": Well, it's definitely a good sign. There is no question about it. I mean, it seems that people are getting a little bit more comfortable making these big purchases.

So when you look at the big three, it was Chrysler that definitely led the way with a 10 percent sales gain in December. GM did pretty well also posting a 5 percent rise. Ford saw just a small increase of about 2 percent. Toyota though we are going to include because the sales rose 9 percent and you know, obviously that is managing to beat out the arch rival of GM in December.

So all combined it wraps up the best year for car sales in the United States since before the recession. So it's great news that, you know, things are moving in the right direction. But there is still a tremendous amount of uncertainty out there about the economy.

You know, you have to wonder why are people buying and there is really just one answer and that's because finally lenders are becoming a little bit more generous about giving auto loans and people have the cash to do so.

You know, there has been a slight improvement in the jobs market that you mentioned. People have become a little bit more comfortable and confident with their financial situations. That's unleashed pent up demand from when the economy was doing a lot worse as you well remember -- Joe.

JOHNS: That's for sure. We certainly have a lot of uncertainty in just two months. We will have to start talking about the debt ceiling that is another issue. Thank you, Felicia Taylor. In Connecticut, Sandy Hook Elementary students return to class today for the first time since the tragic shooting in Newtown, and just a short time from now, they will be getting out of class. We will hear from some parents coming up next.


JOHNS: The children of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut are wrapping up their first day in class since a gunman killed 20 of their classmates and six adults. Buses carrying the students rolled up to a middle school in nearby Monroe this morning.

The building has been reconfigured to look as much like their former elementary school as possible. The children were greeted by ribbons of green, Sandy Hook Elementary School color.


LT. KEITH WHITE, MONROE, CONNECTICUT POLICE: Most of the kids were excited at seeing friends they hadn't seen in a while. They were anxious to get into the hall ways and meet up with the other kids. You can see the teachers had the same response. They were excited to see the students all together.

SARAH SWANSIGER, MOTHER OF TWO SANDY HOOK STUDENTS: Really any anxiety I had was myself. Once seeing the kids were excited to be back and happy and the environment of the school, I can't think of a better place to leave them. If I can't be with them, those teachers and the staff, and everybody are amazing.


JOHNS: Inside the building, the kids found classrooms that replicate their old ones right down to the crayons in their desks. They also found a familiar face, former Sandy Hook Principal Donna Pajay came out of retirement as an interim principal. Even the school's beloved pet turtle, Shelly, made the transition to the new Sandy Hook Elementary.

A New York couple from a ritzy neighborhood behind bars and police say they are shocked about what they found inside the couple's apartment. We are on the case.

Plus the outrage in India continues after a gang rape that left a woman dead. The victim's family and father said he wants those charge to be hanged.


JOHNS: Her deadly gang rape on a New Delhi bus sparked mass protests across India. Now police have charged five men with her murder, rape, and kidnapping. This is the scene outside the court today under India's fast track court system. The trial could start as early as this week. CNN's Sumnima Udas has more.

SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe, the Indian police have formally charged five of the six suspects of that deadly gang rape that shocked this nation. Five of those six suspects face charges of murder, abduction and rape among other charges.

One of the suspects is actually supposedly a juvenile. He is supposedly 17 years old and will be dealt with separately by a different court. Now the maximum penalty these suspects face is the death penalty and that's exactly what a lot of these protesters who have been braving the cold for the past two weeks and are demanding that they be hanged.

And also the victim's father came out yesterday and is demanding the death penalty for these suspects.


UDAS (voice-over): With thousands protesting the recent gang rape that led to the death of a medical student in New Delhi, the victim's father is demanding the harshest possible punishment for her attackers. Though the 23-year-old victim has not been publicly identified, her father went on camera for the first time since her death Saturday to demand justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Laws are made by the government, but all I ask is that the law be the toughest it can be. The death penalty is compulsory for a crime so grave. The assailants must be hanged.

UDAS: A sentiment chair shared by most protesters who brave the cold to march in silence to the memorial honoring the country's founding father, Gandhi. The death penalty is rarely carried out in India, but activists say this is exactly what is needed to end the immunity given to rapists here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): I believe that this rally will have a huge impact on the women of Delhi and the rest of the country. It will lead its mark and will send a message that such heinous crimes must not happen again.

UDAS: Every 17 hours a woman is raped in New Delhi. This victim has become a martyr, a symbol of the daily suffering so many women in India face and the shame rape victims must endure. One reason the victim in this case has not been publicly identified.

She has been various dubbed (inaudible) meaning fearless in Hindi and lightning and precious. And some Indian lawmakers are now suggesting a new rape law be named in her honor.

Parliamentarian Sushita wrote on Twitter, "Wondering what interest is served by considering anonymity of the Delhi gang rape victim. Why not name and honor her as a real person with her own identity. The victim's father agreed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): The law should definitely be named after the girl.

(END VIDEOTAPE) UDAS: There was some question as to whether the suspects will be given a fair trial because some of the lawyers from that fast track court refused to defend the accused on moral grounds. The court has said they will have to appoint a defense lawyer and the trial is set to begin this weekend -- Joe.

JOHNS: Sumnima Udas reporting for New Delhi, thank you for that.

The newspaper that posted the names and addresses of people with gun permits online has now hired armed guards. We'll tell you what prompted that move next.


JOHNS: A wealthy Manhattan couple reportedly hooked on heroin and an apparent fascination with terrorism now under arrest. Morgan Gliedman and Aaron Greene are accused of keeping an arsenal of weapons and terrorist encyclopedia in their Greenwich Village apartment.

Police evacuated the area around the apartment Saturday after allegedly finding seven grams of HMTD, a dangerous white powder explosive. Al Qaeda used HMTD in the London terror attacks.

Hours later, Gliedman gave birth in jail to the couple's first child. Police say the couple appeared to be wealthy heroin addicts with no link to terrorism. Let's bring in CNN legal contributor, Paul Callan.

Paul, they were arrested on weapons charges. How much trouble do you think these two people are in? And is there a way in your mind to discern criminal intent from the items that police actually seized?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the charges are very, very serious charges. This substance, HMTD, is considered to be a high explosive. It has been used in the London terrorist bombings that occurred a few years back. It's a very, very dangerous substance.

They also recovered according to records, two shotguns, a terrorist encyclopedia and other manuals that were highly suspicious of someone preparing to engage in some sort of terroristic activity.

The crime that's charge is a very serious felony under New York law and although they appear not to have any serious prior record, they could be facing many years in prison if convicted.

You know, on the issue of what the motive is, very, very hard to say. Now I have through some of my sources heard that one of the two is known as anarchist. It's possible that this is not related to any of the external U.S. terrorist threats like al Qaeda, but could in fact be a political movement from within the United States. We are awaiting more information and we don't have any at this point in time.

JOHNS: Certainly worth following up. Another topic now, a newspaper outside New York hired armed guards to deal with the outcry after posting addresses of gun permit owners. You know the story.

The "Journal News" said they received an envelope containing suspicious white powder. The police say the substance was not dangerous. The newspaper posted this map you see here online showing gun permit holders in two New York counties.

But when the paper asked for the names of gun owners in a third county, the county clerk refused to give them the names. Paul, is it really up to the clerk to determine whether he can deny a freedom of information request on that basis?

CALLAN: Well, ultimately it's not. You know, under New York law and our law is similar in New York to laws in other states, if something is a matter of public record and people who apply to have guns, that's a matter of public record in New York.

The newspaper has a right to publish that and get that information through freedom of information law. Now the clerk in this Putnam County area is now refusing to give the information out. He can be hauled into court by the newspaper eventually and the attorney general's office in New York will probably get involved.

So he can make the decision to deny giving the information over, but ultimately this is going to be decided by either the attorney general of New York or somebody in higher authority. It's an important principal with open and free public records.

JOHNS: You would certainly suspect this case everybody is getting lawyered up and the question, of course, is who can sue? The gun permit holders, can they sue the newspaper?

CALLAN: No, they can't really. Under New York law if you apply for a gun, that's a public record. The freedom of information law in New York says that some records can be kept secret. For instance, obviously, your hospital records if you went to a state hospital wouldn't be open to public disclosure.

But the statute that creates the right to apply for a gun had to include a provision with the secret information. It doesn't have that provision. So presumptively these are public records.

Now what we are talking about though is a question of journalistic discretion and ethics. I mean, should the paper have published this and did they put people in danger? I think there are legitimate questions that could be asked about that issue.

But whether it's legal or not, the paper certainly had the legal right to publish these names if they wanted to.

JOHNS: Paul Callan, thanks so much for that.

CALLAN: Nice being with you, Joe.

JOHNS: It was the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. Now the company responsible admits its guilt and is willing to pay up, but just how much. We will hear the price tag, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: Transocean, you have heard that name, the maker of the oil drilling equipment on the ill-fated deep water horizon rig has agreed to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines for their role in the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

CNN'S David Mattingly joins me now. David, this is actually millions of dollars less than the company had set aside. Why this figure and is this settlement in any way an admission of fault?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is very clearly an admission and that is what is so significant with the settlement with the U.S. government. The Justice Department today putting out a statement saying that this is clearly a Transocean saying they were negligent in their role in the disaster that happened in the Gulf two and a half years ago.

What it is also saying is this company is agreeing to criminal and civil penalties. So at this point, the Justice Department now done with Transocean after Transocean agreeing to admit to guilt and to pay that $1.4 billion settlement, $400 million of that in criminal cost for settlement.

And some of that money is going to be going to some of the Gulf states that help pay for repairs and for continued management of some of those biological areas hit hard by this disaster.

JOHNS: So where does this thing really stand in the courts? BP still has civil claims pending and the question is whether Transocean now has gotten a case closed.

MATTINGLY: Well, case closed with the U.S. government, yes. But remember, all parties involved in this are pointing the finger at one another. BP had to pay $4.5 billion to the U.S. government and that was a settlement they reached in November. That was just on the criminal aspect of this.

They are still looking at working out a figure on what they are going to pay in terms of clean water act penalties, civil penalties. That could be billions more and they always argue and putting out a statement in the last hour pointing out the fact that there were multiple parties and multiple causes that led to the disaster.

And they are pointing out that Transocean is admitting to its part in the disaster and waiting for Halliburton to do the same. We reached out to Halliburton for a statement and we have not heard back from them.

JOHNS: David Mattingly, thanks so much for that report.