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Reports: Armstrong Admits to Cheating; Political Battle Begins on Debt Ceiling; Interview With Rep. Greg Walden; Coca-Cola Joins Obesity Fight

Aired January 15, 2013 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Our STARTING POINT this morning a powerful admission, Lance Armstrong reportedly telling Oprah that he's doped for years after denying it over and over again and tarnishing his reputation, will his admission work and what about the timing of all this? Why is he coming clean now?

Plus the White House considers new gun proposals. We'll take a look at what could be on the table and how the president could toughen up laws that already exist.

And as Washington gears up to duke it out over the debt ceiling, should we scrap it all together? It's what Fed Chief Ben Bernanke is saying, something to consider.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": She is the newest Miss America. New York's Mallory Hagan is here live. We're going to talk to her about her surprising views about guns in school.

O'BRIEN: It's Tuesday, January 15th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Charles Blow is an op-ed columnist from "The New York Times". Ron Brownstein is the editorial director from "National Journal". Former U.S. Representative Nan Hayworth is with us -- I can't speak this morning -- and "EARLY S TART's" co-anchor John Berman sticks around with us.

We're talking this morning about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong who's confessing apparently to Oprah Winfrey. There are reports that say that Armstrong is admitting to using performance enhancing drugs after years and years of vehement denials.

So, just how far does his admission go? That remains to be seen. The interview will air on Thursday.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Austin, Texas. What about the fallout in Texas and around the country, I think, for Lance Armstrong now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think everyone's trying to gauge just how much fallout there will be. You know, we're here at a bike shop called Mellow Johnny's, which is in downtown Austin, not too far away from where the Livestrong Foundation is headquartered. Lance Armstrong is part owner of this bike shop. This has been for years. Seven yellow jerseys hang on the wall back here, become a popular spot in downtown Austin over the last few years. But, you know, there's a lot of distancing going on, the Livestrong Foundation trying to make its own way without Lance Armstrong's footprint over that organization. So, that's what we'll have to wait and see.

And I think how Lance Armstrong confesses and how he does it. And then his body language, you know, this is someone who hasn't been very contrite over the last few years as he's battled the people who criticized him and accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs, you know, he's going to have to flip that image 180 degrees now, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ed Lavandera for us this morning -- thank you, Ed.

We're going to get right to Reed Albergotti. He is a legal reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," has an article in the paper today about the timing really, why Armstrong is talking now.

Good morning. It's nice to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: So, there are a lot of details that we don't know about what he's told Oprah and sort of the quality of the confession I think is going to be really relevant in all of this.

But talk to me about the timing. Is this something that he had to do? And why?

ALBERGOTTI: Well, I think it was really the last option. I mean, what our story said today was that he actually had a meeting with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in the hopes -- that's the agency that stripped him of his Tour de France titles. And what he hoped was that he could reduce his ban and get back to cycling.

O'BRIEN: You write about the negotiation around that meeting was very challenging, intense, finally it happened. What came out of the meeting?

ALBERGOTTI: Yes. I mean, what happened was at the meeting, Armstrong was not contrite. He didn't say, "I'm sorry" and, you know, I'd lied and I feel really bad about it. What he said was, I'm being singled out here. I'm not the bad guy that people have made me out to be.

And it was pretty aggressive toward Travis Tygart, the U.S. Anti- Doping Agency head. He said, "You know what, Travis? You don't have the power here. I have the power. I'm the keys to my redemption" is what he said. So --

O'BRIEN: That might fall under famous last words --


O'BRIEN: -- because really when you say not contrite, I think this is what people are going to be looking for in his interview with Oprah.

ALBERGOTTI: I think what we tried to do with the story is take you behind the scenes inside the Armstrong camp, which is a tight-knit group of high-powered lawyers and advisers, and sort of show you his, what he really feels like, and I think you'll see something else, which is sort of the public image that he wants to portray on Oprah on Thursday and the two I think are very different.

CHARLES BLOW, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": You do believe he's not contrite at all.

ALBERGOTTI: That's not what he's been saying to people.

BLOW: And that the persona he's built over his entire career is a hard-nosed, really competitive, very strident human being, and that this is just P.R.?

O'BRIEN: We don't know what this is because it hasn't aired yet.

ALBERGOTTI: I think what we've shown in our reporting and, you know, we broke the story a couple years ago and gotten very deep inside and shown that there's always been a public image of Lance Armstrong and that's always been very different from the private Lance Armstrong.

The competitive nature of his personality is definitely, that is there on both sides of those things.

O'BRIEN: 2005, let me play a clip of the deposition from 2005, because a lot of conversation is focused on this in terms of legal jeopardy, looks like perjury is off the table since so much time has passed. Let's play that first.


ATTORNEY: You have never taken any performance-enhancing drug in connection with your cycling career?


ATTORNEY: And that would include any substances ever been banned, is that fair to say in?



O'BRIEN: So when Travis Tygart was interviewed on "60 Minutes", he said, in fact, when they retested the samples back from '99 and retested them in 2005, they were positive for EPO, there was no test for it at the time back in '99.

ALBERGOTTI: That's correct and that tape there was from an arbitration in the 2005 time period where an insurance company that owed him bonuses refused to pay because they said he had cheated. That insurance company was SCA, and part of that arbitration focused around like you said the 1999 urine samples, six of the samples that were retested that belonged to Lance Armstrong turned out positive for EPO.

O'BRIEN: This brings us into the legal questions.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: (INAUDIBLE) can you explain why it is in his interest at this point then to go public and appear contrite? What specifically does he get out of that either legally or in terms of his ability to compete?

ALBERGOTTI: What we've learned, what he's hoping is that if USADA is unwilling to reduce his ban and let him get back to competing --

BROWNSTEIN: That's the Anti-Doping Agency.

ALBERGOTTI: That's the Anti-Doping Agency -- if they're unwilling to let him get back to competing in triathlons, he hopes that by going on Oprah and turning the public opinion more in his favor, that it will put pressure on USADA and he can maybe get back to it.

O'BRIEN: Oprah has been doing an interview on CBS and she said he did not come clean in the manner she expected, which can be read a couple of different ways.

BLOW: Come on, Oprah. Give us something.

O'BRIEN: But, you know, I mean, there's also all this potential legal jeopardy, there are people who will sue him in civil suits, right? There are people he could now testify against, forget the whole how do I rehabilitate my image and my career? Like there is a lot of litigation that's going to happen around this.

ALBERGOTTI: That's a great point, and actually, his legal team is very divided on whether he should have done this Oprah interview and whether he should have gone and had that meeting with Tygart. In fact, his legal team was very against it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, they try to keep you out of legal jeopardy so I can see why.

ALBERGOTTI: Other story today, he's facing a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by his former teammate where, you know, he's accused of defrauding the United States Postal Service in the contract with USPS. You know, there was an anti-doping clause and he's accused of flouting that clause.

So, he is in a lot of legal jeopardy.

FMR. REP. NAN HAYWORTH (R), NEW YORK: I don't know how he gets public sympathy, it appears the only motivator he has right now for doing this is because he wants to compete again. It's not guilt.

O'BRIEN: Here's what else Oprah said, Armstrong answered the questions in the way he was ready which to me sounds like he was coached by a legal team and that legal team, he has stuck to the points to make sure that he does not sort of implicate himself I guess legally in some capacity, but it also would go against a heartfelt, breaking down apology that reveals all and says all. ALBERGOTTI: Yes. I have spoken to people who are his former teammates, former enemies of his who he has called privately and apologized to and he does -- he has appeared more contrite in those phone calls, but, you know, people still have their doubts.

BLOW: What is the nature of the apology, is it I'm sorry that I called you a liar and I was actually lying or is the apology I feel badly that I did something and it caused you pain, one of those kind of more blanket -- I mean, apology can mean a lot of things.

ALBERGOTTI: Well, here's what you have to know, when people spoke about doping and cycling and said the truth, Lance Armstrong took a very proactive approach.

BLOW: He attacked --


ALBERGOTTI: And he really did ruin some people's careers so the conversation goes a little bit like, will you try to destroy me. How am I supposed to forgive you? You know, it takes more than that. You know, I think that's the process here. It's more than just going on Oprah.

BROWNSTEIN: What is the process by which the Anti-Doping Agency decides, is there a formal arbitration process or is it just, you know, that he makes a case and they -- I mean, what has to happen next?

ALBERGOTTI: There is a formal arbitration process. That process has passed. He had his opportunity, like many, a dozen other former teammates had to come in and say the truth and you know, have a reduced ban of maybe six months. He didn't take that opportunity so now there has to be another process, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has to agree to re-arbitrate this, so it takes a lot of, there's a lot of legal implications that involves multiple international sporting agencies.

O'BRIEN: Back to what I said about your legal advisers. Interesting, everything has been said makes me want to watch this interview even more. It's going to be fascinating.

Oprah said they were exhausted at the end of the two and a half hour interview, which is going to be cut down to 90 minutes. Looking for that.

Thanks for being with us. We certainly appreciate it.

John Berman has got a look at some of the other stories that are making news today that don't involve Lance Armstrong.

BERMAN: There are some stuff out there, Soledad. Thanks very much.

Vice President Joe Biden is sharing his gun task force findings with President Obama. The vice president reportedly recommends background checks on all gun sales, some kind of assault weapons ban and keeping guns away from the mentally ill.

President Obama also taking on pro-gun groups saying they're using fear to sell more firearms.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've seen for some time now that those who oppose any common sense gun control or gun safety measures have pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal government's about to take all your guns away.


BERMAN: President Obama is expected to formally lay out his gun control proposals later this week.

A freshman Republican in Congress is not happy about the idea of President Obama issuing executive orders on gun control and he's threatening to impeach the president if he does so. Representative Steve Stockman from Texas said in a statement, quote, "I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House and filing articles of impeachment."

So, fresh off the fiscal cliff, President Obama is digging on his heels on the budget battle, raising the debt ceiling. He says he will not trade cuts in spending, which Republicans want, in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. The president says trimming the budget deficit should be a different discussion.


OBAMA: So, to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible.


BERMAN: House Speaker John Boehner responded to this by saying, "The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time." You can see the battle lines there very clearly.

So, are you in Hawaii or headed there? Think twice. Beware of getting in the water.

Check out this video. That's right. Sharks near Oahu's Yokohama Beach. Honolulu City and county officials had to post warning signs at local beaches after two sharks were spotted swimming dangerous, I would say very, very dangerously close to the shore. I hope that guy's feet are not in the water.

O'BRIEN: Wow, that is super shallow.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I would say, if Steve Stockman was serious, I don't think he's serious -- if he was serious, he would have mentioned secession. Secession is the line --


O'BRIEN: Don't open any can of worms with secession, when I need to go to a break.

Ahead on STARTING POINT: polls are showing that more Americans support tougher gun control laws. And the Republicans say they won't support of them. Or is there any common ground in Washington, D.C.? We're going to talk with Republican Congressman Greg Walden. That's coming up next.

And Miss America Mallory Hagan joins us live. She's going to talk about gun control debate as well.

We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. President Obama is currently reviewing Vice President Biden's gun control proposals. We don't know the exact details of those proposals yet. They haven't been made public, but the president gave a preview of how he's likely to act on them when he said this.


OBAMA: what you can count on is that the things that I've said in the past, the belief that we have to have stronger background checks, that we can do a much better job in terms of keeping these magazine clips with high capacity out of the hands of folks who shouldn't have them, and assault weapons ban that is meaningful, that those are things I continue to believe make sense.


O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Congressman Greg Walden. He's a Republican from the state of Oregon. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: You've heard, I'm sure, the list of potential proposals that are in front of the president right now.

Here is sort of in a nutshell what many people think is on that list that has not been made public: universal background checks including those between individual citizens, defining gun trafficking as a federal crime, improving federal and state data collection, limiting high capacity magazines, ban of certain rapid-fire weapons, encouraging more gun violence research. Which of those things on that partial list would you support?

WALDEN: Well, first of all, let me say, as a parent, we're all very concerned about what happened in all of these shootings whether it was in Connecticut or out in Oregon at Clackamas Town Center, and in most all of the cases, the guns were acquired illegally. But the one thing that is common regardless of what was used was the mental health problem underneath it with the individuals who used them.

So our energy and commerce committee announced last night that we will begin hearings on the mental health portion of this that's under our jurisdiction. And I think there's -- that's clearly an area where you can find common ground.

My own state of Oregon has pretty aggressive laws in this area in terms of the sale of firearms and background checks. We're going to look at what Oregon does. I was part of the legislature when we made some of those reforms, and then, I think the other piece is, are we adequately enforcing the gun laws that are already on the books?

That's always been an issue of question and the final piece is, does another law on guns really stop these sorts of insane actions that result in tragic deaths?

O'BRIEN: I think it's terrific that your focus on the mental health problem and I think many people would agree with you. However, of that list that I read, I think there are people who say yes, enforcing some of those things, doing some of those things could make a big difference.

Is there anything on that list where you would say this could be a starting point where a very divided Congress could come together and actually get something done?

WALDEN: Well, Soledad, obviously, we'll take a look at that list. I want to see, like you've said at the beginning of the topic this morning, what is the president actually going to put forward? How has it come forward, you know, figure out what the details are, but certainly, we don't want firearms in the hands of people who are criminally insane, who have felony records that might use firearm inappropriately and cause mass casualties --

O'BRIEN: So, would you support --

WALDEN: So, let's take a look at it.

O'BRIEN: Would you support then universal background checks that are even when the sellers are individual citizens?

WALDEN: You know, I want to see what's being proposed so I'm going to withhold judgment on these various points because I don't know what all that means, per se. It's one thing to say it in a broad term. It's another to understand fully what's at risk there. Does that mean that my brother and I can't exchange guns without getting a full background check, firearms my father had? You know, do we have to go through a whole system like that?

I want to know what's at stake here. Then, we'll have time to take and evaluate all that.

O'BRIEN: I want to throw some polls out to you. ABC News/"Washington Post" has a very interesting poll I thought. It was taken between January 10th and 13th.

WALDEN: I saw it this morning.

O'BRIEN: I bet you did. Do you support or oppose ban on assault weapons? Support -- 58 percent. Ban on semiautomatic handguns? 51 percent. Opposed, by the way, 39 percent; 46 percent opposed for that second one. Ban on high-capacity clips? 65 percent.

And then it continues on. If you look at -- there's a great one from Pew, let's get down to that one. Do you oppose a ban on assault weapons? 55 percent. Ban on semi-automatic weapons? 58 percent. Ban on high-capacity clips? 54 percent. Ban on online ammo sale? 53 percent.

Do you feel like the numbers, the public is beginning to really shift on this issue? This is the big change as you well know, I don't have to tell you, from what we've seen before.

WALDEN: Well, it is a change in some respects. We've had an assault weapon ban before, you know, it was in place for, I think, nine years. The preceding nine years before the assault weapon ban, there were actually fewer assaults with assault weapons and fewer deaths than during the period when the assault weapons ban was in place.

What I want are effective laws that will reduce gun violence, commit use -- when somebody has a mental illness or suicidal, which has been the common theme throughout this. Also in that poll, Soledad, as you know is that you've read it, a lot of Americans say that they wish we were focused on the big issues of deficit, the fiscal cliff and all that as well.

They don't rank this as their top issue. Clearly, it's one we'll address in the Congress and we're open to that discussion.

BROWNSTEIN: Congressman, can I ask you a quick process question that may determine how the gun control and the debt ceiling play out? There are reports that John Boehner has promised his caucus that he will not again bring a bill to the floor that does not have support from a majority of Republicans. Has he made a commitment like that to the caucus?

WALDEN: I would refer you to the speaker's office. I'm not aware of that, per se.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for talking with us Congressman Greg Walden --

WALDEN: Delighted to be with you.

O'BRIEN: -- from the state of Oregon. We appreciate that. Thank you.

WALDEN: You're welcome.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Coca-Cola says they're trying to fight obesity with a new ad that they've released. Is it effective contribution or is it thinking ahead about their own industry? A panel is going to talk about that straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Our "Tough Call" this morning is about this new Coca-Cola ad joining the fight, they say, against obesity. Here's a little bit of the commercial.


NARRATOR: For over 125 years, we've been bringing people together. Today, we'd like people to come together on something that concerns all of us, obesity. The long-term health of our families and the country's at stake. And as the nation's leading beverage company, we can play an important role.


O'BRIEN: I think that that last words they said were true as the nation's leading beverage company, we can play an important role. I mean, clearly, you need to keep your product in the hands of people and I think it makes sense to me.

HAYWORTH: They're very wisely responding to change in our culture, public pressure, consumer pressure, and I know for my own family, I'm a mom and I'm a doctor.

O'BRIEN: Do you and your kids drink soda, as a mom and a doctor?

HAYWORTH: Actually, I assiduously tried to keep them away from soda and also from sugary drinks. You know, a lot of moms and dads will say, well, fruit juice is fine. Actually, fruit juice, not to denigrate it, but you know, everything in moderation. Fruit juice has a lot of sugar in it, too.

O'BRIEN: I gained a lot of weight drinking orange juice when I was pregnant.



BLOW: Everything you do is a step forward, and I think transparency is good and putting labels on sodas is good, but what the scientists told us is that that also creates a halo effect. That really doesn't solve the problem. So, once you say, this is 140 calories and they get two instead of one because they think somehow in the brain that you've figured it out because all of a sudden you see it, so, when they started putting calories on the back --

O'BRIEN: That doesn't help?

BLOW: No, it didn't. Actually, people --

O'BRIEN: Help me.

BLOW: They started putting their calories on fast food menus and they found that it created a halo effect. People thought, oh, I'm doing a good thing and they ordered more like of the bad stuff because they were doing a good thing.


BERMAN: You know, with companies a lot of time is they try to get rid of the veto vote. You try to get rid of the mom who won't buy or dad who won't buy Coca-Cola because it's Coke. And now, they'll buy another product that Coke made it might be in that ad. You saw in McDonald's, too, where they put apple slices in the happy meals is to get rid of that veto vote for the health conscious family who'll say I'm never going to touch --


BROWNSTEIN: Unless you're going to ban it, the only other response is the company is responding to the pressure in the market.

O'BRIEN: I think it's really -- it makes a lot of sense.

All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the House may vote on a $51 billion superstorm Sandy relief bill. Not everybody is supporting it, though. We'll talk to Congressman Mick Mulvaney who says he will not vote for it. We'll talk about that up next.

And Lady Gaga during outrage over an outfit she wore. Wait, Lady Gaga stirring outrage over an outfit?


O'BRIEN: Some people say it was very insensitive. We'll talk about that ahead in the wake of Newtown.