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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

113th Congress Gets to Work; Interview with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; Ohio Rape Case Outrages the Nation; Interview with Ohio Attorney General

Aired January 4, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: What a Friday morning it is shaping up to be. Thank you for being with us. Good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Soledad is off today. Our STARTING POINT, a fresh start in Washington between the Sandy relief bill and the looming debt ceiling, can the new Congress get anything done or are we in store for more fighting?

BALDIWN: Also social media casting a spotlight on this Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, new details surround willing the case of the two high school football players accused of sexually assaulting the 16-year-old girl and for the first time, we have heard from one of the defense attorneys. Also, the attorney general of Ohio heading up the prosecution will be on.

BERMAN: And you know, you hear, don't mess with Texas, well, the snow is. We have snow in Texas, blizzard conditions shutting down a major interstate and covering the Lone Star State in powder.

BALDWIN: It is Friday, January 4th, STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BALDWIN: And -- oh, we're missing a chair. It's the two of you. She's out and about.

John Avlon, CNN contributor and senior columnist of "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast". Somewhere in the wings, Margaret Hoover, the lovely wife of Mr. Avlon, CNN political contributor who is walking on in.

Good morning.

BERMAN: Dramatic entrance. Welcome.

BALDWIN: Yes, we like it, gorgeous.

Also, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent of "The New Yorker."

BERMAN: Also gorgeous.

BALDWIN: Gorgeous. RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Our STARTING POINT this morning is Superstorm Sandy relief. It's on the to-do list for the 113th Congress today.

The House today will vote on a nearly $10 billion bill to help Sandy victims. It is the first of two votes on Sandy relief and it comes after Speaker John Boehner canceled a vote and reversed course when Democrats and fellow Republicans were outraged

BALDWIN: It has been a tough couple of weeks for Boehner with the fiscal fiasco and everything that came with that. He did survive a challenge to his leadership and retained the speaker's gavel.

Athena Jones is live for us this morning in Washington.

Athena, good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. That's right.

You know, it wasn't really close yesterday that leadership vote, but there were about a dozen members of his caucus who decided they were going to vote for someone else, like Majority Leader Eric Cantor, or they were just going to say present, which is a way of registering some disdain, and there were a few people who just abstained, they didn't say anything when they were called on.

In the end, of course, he got 220 votes out of a caucus of 234. It just shows some dissension in the ranks, but there was never really any question of whether Speaker Boehner was going to be speaker again. So, he gets to try to corral this caucus once again.

BALDWIN: Couple more big moments, other fiscal cliffs in the next what couple of weeks, couple months?

JONES: Yes. You know, that deal from just a few days ago, it seems like much longer than that I few days ago. But that deal, recently, all they really did was -- as we've heard every and over again, kick the can down the road, move that deadline two months down.

And so, we're going to see, you know, we talk about fresh faces in Congress. But we're still going to see a lot of the same old fights over the same old issues, not just the fiscal cliff but also the debt ceiling. We know that this past Monday this week, America reached its debt limit, $16.4 trillion, the Treasury Department will do what it can, take what they call extraordinary measures to try to give some breathing room. But there's no way for Congress to avoid. They have to vote to raise the debt ceiling in late February, early March.

So, a lot of big fights coming up you guys.

BALDWIN: Athena Jones, thank you so much, for us in Washington this morning.

JONES: Thanks.

LIZZA: I think the headline on the speaker's victory yesterday should be House Republicans punish John Boehner, elect him speaker.

BERMAN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA: This is not a job easy to do.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, no.

LIZZA: I was watching him crying, and thinking like, yes, I'd be crying to have that job for two more years. I mean, you know, to have the only central Republican power in Washington is tough.

(CROSSTALK)

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: One person voted for Eric Cantor and at the time, he is reported to put his head down and shook his head.

BERMAN: That was the action on the House side, but the real drama, the theater on the Senate side yesterday, Joe Biden, man. That guy was in his element with kids there at the ceremonial swearing in. At one point, he comforted this small child who was a bit overwhelmed.

BALDWIN: And it turns out this daughter was the daughter of Ted Cruz, freshman senator from Texas.

BERMAN: Let's look at this.

BALDWIN: I don't think we have it.

BERMAN: We do not have it.

BALDWIN: So, what happen was, we'll tell you story. We do a dramatic re-enactment right now.

Ted Cruz's baby, Senator Biden says, let me pick up your baby, the baby starts crying.

BALDWIN: OK, we have it. Your explanation was great.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give him a hug.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a Democrat, I know, but --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LIZZA: That's great.

BALDWIN: I hadn't caught that the last time.

BERMAN: It's good stuff, right?

BALDWIN: It's good stuff. BERMAN: Joe Biden, that was barely the funniest thing he said.

LIZZA: Old school.

BERMAN: Old school on fire all day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go ahead.

BERMAN: All right. One of the newly elected representatives who was sworn in yesterday, Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii made history by becoming the first Hindu-American ever in the House of Representatives.

BALDWIN: Tulsi will also be one of the two female combat vets elected to Congress. She says she's looking forward to bringing her aloha spirit to Congress.

So, aloha to you, Congresswoman, this morning. Nice to see you.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Aloha and good morning. Thanks for having me here today.

BALDWIN: Let me just begin with the moment, the swearing in yesterday. Tell me about your nerves.

GABBARD: It was really a very special day for me personally for a couple of reasons. Lot of folks from Hawaii came out to share the day with me and my family, and really hitting home the honor and privilege that I have and the great responsibility in earning the trust and confidence of the people back home to be their voice and to take on some of the tough challenges that lie ahead here for us across the country and for Hawaii as well.

BERMAN: So, you said you want to bring some of that aloha spirit to the House floor. Let me tell you, right now, the congressional approval rating is at about 18 percent. So, how is the aloha spirit really going to help?

GABBARD: You know, what aloha really means is having respect for other people, regardless of what our differences may be, regardless of where you come from, your religion or ethnicity or your cultural background, and really finding the common ground that we have.

For me, you know, I'm a soldier and when I was serving overseas one of the things that really hit home was the fact that even though we were a diverse team, we were all part of the same team working towards that common goal and mission, and that kind of experience and attitude is what I'm bringing here to Congress and what I think is what we really need is remembering that every single day, we work for the people. It's the people's house, and that's the only way we're going to be able to make any kind of progress.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you that congresswoman as a female veteran, you know, that there is very much so a brass ceiling according to a number of people I had on my show. I had this woman on, Colonel Ellen Herring (ph). She's one of two women suing the Pentagon for discrimination.

She's saying basically, look, all the jobs should be open to everyone, men, women, the standards shouldn't be lowered, it should be one single standard. How can you help make that happen?

GABBARD: Well, first of all, you know, April makes 10 years for me serving in the Army National Guard. We have women who have been serving in combat roles for a long time whether it has been under a combat title or not. If we look all the way back to the Civil War, we had women who were disguising themselves as men, so that they could serve. We have in Hawaii two brigades who have females who are serving in infantry units.

And I think there is so much room for progress and we just need to make the connection from reality of the roles that women are already playing in our military and perception, where people don't have as close an understanding of the great contributions and sacrifices that women have been making for our country for a very long time.

BALDWIN: OK.

GABBARD: And that's what I'm excited about. I'm able to bring my own firsthand experience, my own deployments to the forefront to speak to the issues.

AVLON: Congresswoman, this is John Avlon, congratulations. One other pioneering aspect you do bring to the most diverse Congress in American history is that you're the first Hindu-American member of Congress. What does that mean to you, that new first?

GABBARD: It's really a motivation for me. It's an inspiration to focus on service, that is the most important thing here that I think that is necessary for all of us to remember is that we have been sent here to be servant leaders, that we work for our constituents, we work for the people who elected us to be their voice -- and that's the inspiration that I get from my Hindu practice, and what will help keep me very, very focused on the task at hand.

BERMAN: You know, one of the things that Tammy Duckworth, the other female veteran in Congress, said yesterday, she said that, she thinks that women in Congress can do a better job working across the aisle.

Do you think that's true? Do you think women are better at this than the men are?

(LAUGHTER)

GABBARD: You're focusing on the divisiveness again.

BERMAN: Not to (INAUDIBLE). I'm just sayin'.

LIZZA: That's not the aloha spirit, John.

HOOVER: We know you can do it, you can strike a deal with some Republicans. GABBARD: We can and we have to, and that's really the wonderful thing that the opportunity and that's what I think is so important for us to stay focused on is the opportunity, staying focused on the mission and that is serving the people and doing what's best for them.

And each of us, regardless of whether we're Democrats or Republicans from Hawaii or from the Northeast or the Southwest, each of us come from communities that we're very proud of and honored to serve. And if we stay focused on those people and working together to provide them the highest level of service, that's the only way we'll be able to find in a common ground that we need to achieve.

BERMAN: All right. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, congratulations and good luck.

GABBARD: Thank you so much. Aloha.

BALDWIN: Aloha to you. Mahalo as well.

Two minutes past the hour here. You like that?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Let's take a look at some of the other top stories this morning.

The big December jobs report comes out in just about 20 minutes by now and economists survey by briefing.com predict 150,000 were created in December, close to the average growth for the year. And the unemployment rate, which we watch very closely, that is expected to remain unchanged at 7.7 percent.

BERMAN: Malala Yousufzai, who is the Pakistani education and women's rights crusaders, who was shot in the head by the Taliban, she is now out of a British hospital. She was released yesterday. The 15-year- old will continue undergoing rehabilitation in the United Kingdom.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is raring to go. That's according to a State Department spokeswoman. Clinton is expected to return next week after recovering from a string of medical issues including that blood clot in her head.

Her spokesman said Secretary Clinton intends -- does intend to testify on the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. She says they're working out a date with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Winter has paid a call to west Texas. Look at this coming down. Heavy snow blanketing the area, especially right around El Paso. Up to eight I know, right, El Paso, a lot of snow. Eight inches of snow may be piling up they're saying by this afternoon. Conditions got so intense overnight that large portions of Interstate 10, this is between El Paso and Ft. Stockton to the east, were forced to close.

Meanwhile the only thing two Arizona teens and the bottom of an icy lake was this tree. Look at them clinging on. Imagine. So they're there hanging on the tree for four hours. Think about how cold it was, 20 degrees.

The ice, they start to hear the ice cracking. Later, the boys thank the firefighters. This is the best part of the story. Listen to them thanking the firefighters and they promise never to do this again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIAN VAN ALLER, RESCUED FROM LAKE: Dear firefighters, thank you so much for helping me and my friends be able to get back safely to the ground. We're very sorry about making you all come out and do this. We shouldn't have even walked on the ice in the first place.

ALEX ORTEN, RESCUED FROM LAKE: I regret my choices deeply. Thank you for sacrificing so much to save us. I think I can speak for the three of us when I say we promise to never do that.

BONNIE VAN ALLER & KRISTIN ORTEN, SONS RESCUED: They won't be getting their cell phones taken away, because that's the only reason that they got rescued. Yes. Xbox will probably be gone.

Yes, I think Xbox.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: They said, honey, stand in front of the line of firefighters and say, you're sorry. So, so much for the Xbox.

By the way, third boy who had made it to the shore called for help on his cell phone.

BERMAN: Those kids are in so much trouble, they had that look on their face.

AVLON: That is going to be a "South Park" episode in two, three, one.

BERMAN: All right. Guys, ahead on STARTING POINT -- we're going to change gears here because this is a horrifying case shrouded in secrets and silence. Two high school football players accused of attacking a 16-year-old girl. Next, what the police chief says is the most disturbing part about this case.

BALDWIN: Plus, we'll talk live to the man leading the prosecution, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Twelve minutes past the hour. You are watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: This is a case that really may have never been brought to light just a few years ago, an alleged rape from last August now being pieced together on social media.

BALDWIN: There are videos, there are photographs, there are tweets, they're chilling, in this criminal case against these two high school football players accused of sexually assaulting an underage teenage girl. And when you listen to the details, it really looks like no one stepped in to stop it.

Poppy Harlow is live for us this morning in Steubenville. Poppy, you talked to the police chief. What did he tell you?

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: I did. Good morning, Brooke. I think, first, it's very important to point out to all our viewers. Again, these two young boys, minors are innocent until proven guilty.

They will have their day in court on February 13th here in Steubenville, but I did speak with the police chief here, Chief McCafferty, and he couldn't discuss a lot of the details of the investigation because it is still ongoing, but one of the things that really stood out to me in our discussion is he said he was very, very troubled by this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF WILLIAM MCCAFFERTY, STEUBENVILLE POLICE: The thing I found most disturbing is depending on who actually was there, why didn't somebody stop it. I mean, you simply don't do that. I mean -- it's not done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So, Brooke, he told me that he believes that the appropriate charges, the rape charge against both the boys were brought in this case. That will be determined in court, but as you said, social media is so much a part of this.

Pictures from the alleged incident surfacing online through Twitter, a 12-minute video that just surfaced to the public this week about a young man joking about a rape, we can't say if it is indeed that alleged rape. But, what the police chief is trying to convey here is how troubled he is, and if this happened no one, apparently, stepped in to stop it.

BALDWIN: Poppy, you've been there. You're there right now. I've been there. It's a small, small Ohio town.

HARLOW: Hmmm.

BALDWIN: What are the people there telling you?

HARLOW: Well, I think the real trouble for this community, Brooke, is that if, indeed, this happened, then it was the action of a few people, not the entire community, not the entire football program, and they feel like the entire community is coming under a dark cloud. Here's what one business owner who's lived here for more than 70 years told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY BARILLA, STEUBENVILLE BUSINESS OWNER: The buzz that keeps coming about is that Steubenville is a bad place. Things are being covered up. More people should be arrested, and I feel that's all unjustly so.

HARLOW: Why?

BARILLA: Because I think that to condemn an entire city for something that happened is not right, to condemn a school, an entire school and all the kids that go there for something that took place among a few students is still not right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: And I also had a chance yesterday to speak to a man who said he is the father of one of the football players on the team, and what he told me is that he thinks that this has divided a community over an incident that he says, quote, "may not have even occurred," the alleged rape. So, there are people here questioning, Brooke, whether or not this happened or not and it is dividing them in that way.

BALDWIN: OK. We're going to keep this conversation going. Poppy Harlow, thank you very much.

BERMAN: We want to bring in Mike DeWine, who is the attorney general in Ohio. Thank you for being with us this morning, sir. Let me ask you a couple of questions, first, remind us the role of your office in this case, because I do think it's interesting and also give us an update on where the case stands right now.

MIKE DEWINE, ATTORNEY GENERAL, OHIO: Well, we were asked to become involved in this case really because the prosecutor had a conflict. And, we were asked to come in and assist in the investigation with the Steubenville Police Department as well. So, we're involved in two ways, one in the investigation and we are actually handling the prosecution and will handle the case when it goes to trial on February 13th.

BERMAN: And the reason there was a conflict, my understanding, is there are a lot of ties in this community with the football team. Is that correct?

DEWINE: Well, it's a relatively small community, and it's not unusual to have the prosecutor who might have a member of her family involved in the school. We might have that same situation with the police department. So, it's not unusual at all, and that's when we get called in as the prosecuting attorney.

We're actually involved in many investigations and prosecutions around the state and in similar circumstances where there is a local conflict.

BALDWIN: Mr. DeWine, let me ask you about this. We talked this morning -- I talked this morning to the attorney for the 16-year-old here who's accused, Ma'lik Richmond (ph), his attorney is Walter Madison (ph), and we talked about a lot of things. But I asked him specifically about this photo that Anonymous, this group Anonymous who posted.

And so, apparently Anonymous said they had wanted an apology and if they hadn't gotten the apology, they're going to go ahead and post the photo. The deadline passed and with no public apology, Anonymous posted this picture online. We're going to show this photo, showing this girl who is seemingly unconscious, this is important to say that, here it is, being carried by her hands and her feet by two men.

They say the photo is from the night of the attack. I need to be clear, CNN cannot verify that this photo is of this alleged victim here, but I asked Mr. Madison. I asked him if his client was in this photo. Listen to what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Was your client in that photograph?

WALTER MADISON, ATTORNEY FOR MA'LIK RICHMOND: Well, he is in the photograph, but --

BALDWIN: He is in the photograph. So, you're saying he is one of the men holding either her hands or her legs?

MADISON: Well, let me just explain.

BALDWIN: Sure.

MADISON: You and your question to me, you asked seemingly unconscious and that's correct. The photo is out of context. That young lady is not unconscious. That young lady was capable of walking, and her friends are individuals who indicated that information to the police.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: What is your reaction to that?

DEWINE: I guess, I have two reactions. One is this case needs to be tried not in the media, not in the social media, but in court in front of the judge and it will be on February 13th. That's the way our system works. That's the way it should work. I think the second thing that's obvious, any rape case is a great tragedy.

This one is different only in the sense that the victim has been victimized, but each time something goes up on the Internet, the victim is victimized again. And I just imagine, if I was a parent, Fran and I have eight children and I imagine if this was my daughter, and I kept seeing things on the Internet and knew everyone else was seeing things on the Internet that no one can control is a tragedy. It's just very, very, very sad and it's very upsetting.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Mr. DeWine, this is John Avlon. I'm interested in your take on the hacktivist group, Anonymous. Do you consider them an asset to the investigation at this point, a group that has brought attention to this case, and therefore, possibly further injustice? Or, as more of an online cyber igilante group that may be trying the case in public and inappropriate ways?

DEWINE: Well, people have a first amendment right, but my focus is on prosecuting the case as we have two experienced prosecutors who are handling the case. I think that we need to confine this case to the courtroom. The evidence will come out. The defense is well- represented, as you saw today. They will have the opportunity to present their evidence.

And a judge will decide. And I think that's the way it should work. As far as any outside help, we've asked people, we've told the community, if you have any additional information about what happened that night, that morning, please come forward, give it to us at BCI, which is our investigation unit of the Ohio attorney general's office. So, we are very open for more information and actually the investigation does continue on.

BERMAN: Along those lines, sir, along those lines, in that photo which again we can't verify, there's also a video out there, there are more than two boys that are in some of these pictures, in some of these videos. There were other people around.

BALDWIN: Taking the videos.

BERMAN: Taking these videos when the alleged incident happened. Is there anyone else in legal jeopardy? What charges could go -- could there be beyond just these two boys?

DEWINE: Well, we have filed charges against two individuals. They will stand trial as we said on February 13th. The investigation is continuing, and frankly, I'm not at liberty to say whether anyone else will be charged or will not be charged. We are still trying to find out everything that we can find out.

We think we have a pretty good understanding of what happened, but we're always open for additional information. We don't want to leave any stone unturned, frankly. We want the community to feel that justice was done. You know, the job of a prosecutor is not just to get convictions. The job of a prosecutor is to seek justice and that's what we're trying to do.

BALDWIN: So much of the crux of this case is consent. We're going to follow it all the way through. Mike DeWine, Ohio attorney general, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

BERMAN: We'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, brace yourselves, we are moments away from the new jobs report. How did the fiscal cliff and holiday hiring affect the numbers? We're going to break it all down for you coming up.

BALDWIN: And before we knew secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had a blood clot, many, many critics accused her of faking her illness to avoid testifying about the attack in Benghazi. Question we're asking, should there be boundaries when it comes to political mockery? Howard Kurtz, Lauren Ashburn, they're here. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. We are literally seconds away from the December jobs report. Christine Romans is listening in on a call from the labor department as we speak.

BALDWIN: Listening in.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: It's happening right there. We expect, what, 150,000 jobs added to the economy right now.

BALDWIN: Unemployment possibly staying at the same 7.7 percent. So, we're waiting.

BERMAN: There's also five years of revisions here, and this will get to a subject we're going to talk about in a little while here, but Christine was telling before (ph), conspiracy theorists say if these unemployment rates are actually revised up, particularly, over the last year or two, there's already whispers that some people will accuse the labor department of rigging the numbers to make the president look good.