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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Americans Held Hostage in Algeria; Interview with Congressman Peter King of New York; Te'o's Bizarre Hoax?; Katie Beers' Survival Story

Aired January 17, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our Starting Point this morning, held hostage, Americans among those held hostage in Algeria. We've learned now that some of those hostages have escaped, but were Americans among that group and how many? The latest on this developing story is straight ahead this morning.

And then, was Notre Dame's star linebacker Manti Te'o, the victim of a sick prank? It turns out his girlfriend, a long story how she died tragically of leukemia, well, she never even existed. We're going to speak this morning with the editor who broke that story.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESOPNDENT: And it just gets worse for Boeing. The U.S. joins other nations and grounds Dreamliners over a fire risk. Passengers are now being moved to other flights.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": She was kidnapped and held in a dungeon for days. Now, 20 years later, Katie Beers is talking about how she survived that unbelievable ordeal.

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, January 17th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. Will Cain is with us. He's a columnist for TheBlaze.com. Richard Socarides is back, writer for NewYorker.com, and former senior adviser to President Clinton. Rana Foroohar is assistant managing editor of "TIME" magazine.

"EARLY START" co-anchor John Berman has some very strong comments this morning about Manti Te'o. We're all talking about that.

Plus, this other lead story this morning. That international standoff that's happening right now in Algeria. There are reports in Algerian media that some of the hostages held by Islamic extremists have escaped. We've not been able to confirm that so far. We have no idea how the number of hostages held and the number of those who escaped if in fact they did escape.

Here is what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: By all indications, this is a terrorist act, and the United States strongly condemns these kinds of terrorist acts. It is a very serious matter, when Americans are taken hostage along with others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Elise Labott is CNN's foreign affairs reporter in Washington, D.C. That's strong words from Panetta.

What do we know about what is happening in Algeria? When there are so many question marks and empty points in the details?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Soledad. It's really hard to get information. Even the State Department isn't sure how many Americans. We're hearing it could be as few as three Americans that were held hostage. We don't know if they're among those who escaped.

We know from the Algerians 30 workers that were there on that gas field have escaped. We hear that some foreigners have escaped. We don't know who.

But why did this happen? Why did this al Qaeda group, the Mass Brigades affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb do it? They're saying that it was because of this French intervention in Mali and the Algerians giving their airspace.

Well, we understand that this has been planned for some time, the sophistication and level of the organization of this is attack. My sources are telling me that they think it was hatched a long time before the French intervention, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Elise Labott for us this morning. Thanks, Elise. Appreciate it.

Let's get more now with New York Congressman Peter King. He's Republican, member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He also chairs the House Committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. He's been briefed on the situation in Algeria.

What's the latest that you can tell us? Because there's a lot that we do not know at this time.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Basically, there's a lot we don't know. I mean, it's not exactly have been talked (ph) to people. I mean, a lot of things have not been reported but nothing dramatic other than this is very tense, very dangerous situation.

And at AQIM or its affiliates extremely dangerous in north Africa, Mali, Libya, Algeria now and this instance itself is serious enough. I think it really portends bad things for the future as far as the severity AQIM has against the West, and the fact that it really is establishing base of operations in North Africa. O'BRIEN: Yes, I think that's very true.

Let's talk about the number of Americans, with he heard at some points there might be seven Americans working in the fields. At some, it was said there were three Americans that may be held hostage. You have a more concrete number of Americans involved?

KING: I have different intelligence sources in the community and they also are uncertain to exactly what it is. I've heard over different numbers and as far as I know. No one is hurt right now.

O'BRIEN: We heard about an escape that had happened, and I'm not sure, it has not been confirmed yet. So, I'm curious to know if you had it confirmed that there was an escape? Some said it was Algerian nationals, others said that there might be foreigners involved in that escape. Can you confirm that for us?

KING: It's not been confirmed to me. I think it's (INAUDIBLE). I will say Algeria is actually very good part on these issues. The security forces are good. They are professional. They resent outsiders coming in.

So there is a bit of a friction there. But having said that, Algeria is a very good partner in the war against Islamic terrorism.

O'BRIEN: The Algerian interior minister said, "We will not negotiate." So, what does that mean for whatever the number of hostages who are there, what is happening now?

KING: Well, the governmental decisions have to be made. But I think it is generally good policy to say we're not going to negotiate. I don't want to do anything that's going to put anyone's life at risk. But you're talking about a number of nationalities here, different countries have different attitudes toward it.

But the general rule is you don't negotiate in the situations.

O'BRIEN: You better to go in and do a rescue attempt than do a negotiation or payoff which is often required by a kidnapping?

KING: That's a decision that has to be made. How difficult it is, this could be a very complex operation. That I can say.

O'BRIEN: Gosh, you're giving me no information today, Congressman. I know, I know there's a lot you can't reveal and a lot that we do not know. So, I appreciate that.

Can we talk about what the president has proposed now?

KING: Sure.

O'BRIEN: There's a to do list for Congress and there's the executive order list, 23 things on that list of executive orders. Some of them seemed, where is my executive order list, seemed milquetoast, call a meeting, you know, send out messages. What do you think of those executive orders? Is there anything in there that surprises you or worries you in terms of presidential overreaching?

KING: For my part, I'm a little different. I basically support what the president is trying to do. So, I'm an outrider on that. Having said that, I think he built up great expectations about the executive orders. I agree with you, there's really not that much there.

I know that Rand Paul was very excited about it.

O'BRIEN: He has these sort of, acting like a king potentially.

KING: I would say most of the. President's gun supporters were disappointed, it was hype and didn't add much. As far as legislation, I think it's going to be difficult to get vey much through the Congress.

O'BRIEN: What could get through?

KING: Maybe something on backgrounds checks.

O'BRIEN: That's it?

KING: Listen, even the president must realize how tough -- remember, after Aurora last year, it came right at the beginning of the presidential campaign. The president barely mentioned that in the campaign. If he thought there was benefit or support for this, that's an issue, forgetting the human factor. The fact it was not mentioned during the campaign, or hardly mention, shows that this is not a selling political issue. It really isn't.

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Can I ask you, you said yourself you're an outlier on this because of your district and your history here, but what can happen? How can Republicans and Democrats come together on this? And isn't it time for some of these reasonable proposals like on the assault weapons ban to go through? I mean, can Congress, will Congress act?

O'BRIEN: Not everybody thinks that's reasonable --

SOCARIDES: All right. But Mr. King does I think.

KING: I hard enough time getting the Sandy legislation through. For the first time in history, they're going to deny aid to an impacted area after a disaster. No, I think it's going to be difficult.

From being in the Republican conference, the issue of guns is a non- starter for the most part. But, now, maybe background checks they can move forward. But assault weapon ban, most Republicans think that is extreme.

SOCARIDES: But if the American public wants an assault reference ban, no? KING: I think they do. But here's the deal, the majority say they're for it. But the majority doesn't feel intensely about it. Those who are against it are very intense.

So, if you're in a primary, all those antis will come out. The others -- do you know how many are going to come to the primary for an assault weapon?

RANA FOROOHAR, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": Yes, it doesn't -- this issue doesn't move votes on the left, I don't think.

But one of the things that's very interesting to me is that the president's come out so strongly at the time when he has so many other fights going on, and I'm really interested in the politics of that. You know, he's got fights around the debt ceiling coming up.

And to make this the issue, I mean, how do you think that that's going to work?

KING: That's why I wonder how serious he is. I'm not questioning his motives. But he never mentioned during the campaign. And now, he knows for the next two months, all we're going to be talking about is the debt ceiling, sequestration, the continuing resolution, you know, ending the fiscal cliff, all of these. I mean, we still haven't --

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You're not questioning his motives of what he's suggesting. He'd rather have a conversation about guns than the debt ceiling?

KING: No, I'm just saying, I think the president is trying to get political support here from his base, maybe he feels it strengthens him going into negotiations with the Republicans on -- or the fiscal issues. Listen these guys won't even ban assault weapons, how can you trust them on taxes and spending?

I just see it as generally building up his political position, which is not wrong but I don't think in his heart of hearts he thinks he's going to pass any significant legislation.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Peter King with us this morning in the studio, after my asking all the time -- nice to have you.

KING: I couldn't stay away from you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You see, you see, I appreciate it. I knew --

SOCARIDES: She's not really a tough interviewer, is she?

KING: She's very nice and she's multiracial --

O'BRIEN: Are we rolling on this? I love this.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Keep the nice part. I would appreciate that.

KING: Soledad, she's being named Irish-American woman of the year, there you go.

O'BRIEN: And I accepted.

Nice to have you, Congressman, appreciate it.

Other stories making news John has got that for us.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Soledad. So, lots of questions this morning about the story involving Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and his girlfriend who was supposed to have died but it turns out she never existed at all. So, was Te'o the victim of an elaborate hoax or was he somehow involved in a hoax?

One thing is just crystal clear right now, the University of Notre Dame is standing by its star player.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is live this morning in South Bend, Indiana. Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Notre Dame is absolutely standing by him. The athletic director here held an emotional news conference yesterday and said that after he talked personally with Manti Te'o for two hours in one session and then in another session, he's convinced that he is nothing more than a victim.

Of course this story really did grab the American people and the media ran wild with it, the story of a star football player enduring the death of not only his grandmother, but his 22-year-old girlfriend on the same day the football player continues to play, the fans reacted, supporting him throughout. And one of the reasons that the story really connected was Manti Te'o and the way he talked about his girlfriend that we now know didn't even exist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANTI TE'O, NOTRE DAME LINEBACKER: I cried, I yelled, I never felt that way before. This is six hours ago, I just found out my grandma passed away and you take, you know, the love of my life. Last thing she said to me was "I love you."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: There are several questions, of course, that still remain. One of them is about the timing. Te'o apparently told the university he found out that his girlfriend was a fake in early December and told them on December 26th. Well, nobody bothered to tell anyone else until after the national championship game, and during the time between December 26th and the national championship game, January 7th, the media ran wild with this story.

The university here says they decided that it was up to Manti Te'o to come clean on this, and to tell the public it wasn't their job to do it, they expect Te'o to make a statement of some sort in the next few days -- John.

BERMAN: That is something I think everyone would like to see. All right. Ted Rowlands in South Bend, Indiana -- thanks very much.

Later this hour on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to the man who broke this story, Timothy Burke, editor at deadspin.com, what an amazing piece of journalism they did.

All right. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Obama told the families of the victims he would take action. Now he is. Yesterday, the president moved to tighten gun control laws and called on Congress to do the same.

He signed 23 executive actions that do not need a congressional approval, but he asked Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and expand background checks to include all gun buyers. Many members of Congress however are lukewarm to these proposals.

Boeing is taking a global hit, the 787 Dreamliner grounded in Europe, Japan, and now here in the United States, due to a potential fire risk from the onboard lithium batteries. United, the only U.S. carrier flying the Dreamliner says it inspected all six of their 787s and insists they're safe but the company will comply with the FAA order.

This just in to CNN, the International Olympic Committee has confirmed they have written to Lance Armstrong asking that he return his bronze medal. He won it for cycling in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Armstrong is expected to admit tonight in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

So, seven Tour de France titles gone and now, an Olympic bronze medal.

O'BRIEN: It's all about sports today, crazy things.

All right. John, thank you.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, it was a shocking kidnapping that captured the nation's attention 20 years ago. The victim is speaking out for the first time now. Katie Beers reveals her incredible story of survival in her new book. She's going to talk about that, next.

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O'BRIEN: It was a crime that gripped a nation 20 years ago. Nine- year-old little girl named Katie Beers had been locked in a dungeon on Long Island and sexually abused by her kidnaper. A man named John Esposito. He kept her for 17 days, chained by the neck in a locked wooden box suspended above the ground.

A television in the corner of this room provided the only distraction, the only light. Her meals were junk food. Well, ultimately, her captors broke down and she was able to be rescued. Beers revealed her story in a new book which is called "Buried Memories." Nice to have you with us.

KATIE BEERS, AUTHOR, "BURIED MEMORIES": Thank you.

O'BRIEN: This book is such a page turner in part because I remember the story so well, the little girl whose poster was everywhere. As a fellow Long Islander, this was headline news. You ended up being kept in this dungeon. I mean, the pictures came out. It was just stunning. You were 10 years old when they rescued you.

BEERS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Did you think that you're going to die when you're held down there?

BEERS: I hoped not. I held out hope that I would eventually go back and live with Marilyn. I thought more that John was going to kill himself. My abductor was going to kill himself or be killed in some way.

O'BRIEN: Which would leave you trapped underground.

BEERS: Correct.

O'BRIEN: That wouldn't be any kind of salvation at all, but there was a manhunt that did not find you, but in the process of this manhunt, it revealed the horrific childhood that you had had. I mean, every detail that was coming up that did not refine you revealed just how neglected you were as a kid. Tell us about that.

BEERS: My childhood consisted of enslavement by my godmother and my godmother's husband. Not only that, but also sexual abuse by my godmother's husband, verbal, physical, and emotional abuse by both my godmother, herself, and her husband, and neglect by my mother.

O'BRIEN: You were dirty. You never went to school. The question at the time was like how did this little girl, this adorable little girl fall through the cracks that no one even was tracking that she wasn't going to school. How desperate was your life before the kidnapping?

BEERS: Before the kidnapping, I loved going to school. It was a salvation for me to be able to go to school, though, one or two days a week that I actually attended, but before the abduction, my life was horrible, but I didn't realize it until many years afterward. I really didn't realize how horrible everything was.

O'BRIEN: Eventually, you would be rescued and then you would go to court and you would testify against grown men who had sexually assaulted you and so many people thought this 10-year-old girl who was so strong. Where did that strength come from, do you think?

BEERS: I really -- I don't know where the strength came from so to speak. My will to survive, though, and everything came from the years. My will to survive during the abduction came from the abuse that I sustained as a child, the abuse that I had from Linda and Sal and the neglect from my mom prepared me for the horrible abduction.

CAIN: Katie, you'd known your abductor for some time.

BEERS: Yes.

CAIN: Apparently, he'd built this dungeon well in advance of your kidnapping. Is it your sense that he had been planning your personal kidnapping for quite some time or that he stumbled into this and took you down there that day?

BEERS: No. He definitely was planning the abduction for a while. He built the dungeon years prior. I actually remember kind of playing in it, my brothers, my brother and my cousin playing in it when we were kids in the late 1980s. And then, John had tried getting me to sneak away with him to go buy me a toy or things like that when I was in my early nine years old age.

O'BRIEN: Your life improved dramatically after you were found. Not only were you rescued but then you went on to live with a foster family. You never went back to your family. You ended up having a boyfriend and a life. You got married. You have two kids now.

Sometimes, I cover the stories and I think like this child, their life is ruined, they will never be -- if they survive it, you know, as a reporter, you just think, they're ruined, and you seem to me to be a living example of the opposite of that. You survived and you thrived. What made you become what you are today and get over all that trauma?

BEERS: My foster parents were an instrumental role in keeping me secure and safe from media attention and not allowing me to see anything that was going on in the news. They kept me very, very sheltered from everything until I was really 18. And therapy, my therapist was phenomenal.

BERMAN: Is there ever a day now when you don't think about it?

BEERS: I try not to think about it. There's no point in really thinking about the past. I've gone through therapy. I've said my piece. I've now written the book, and now, I feel I can finally rebury everything. There's no point in opening up old scars.

SOCARIDES: Do your children know about the story?

BEERS: Not yet. They're 3 1/2 and 17 months old. Eventually, when they're ready, we will tell them.

O'BRIEN: The book is called "Buried Memories." It is such a page turner and you wrote it with Carolyn Gusoff who was the reporter who was on the story for many years. It was amazing. It's an incredible read. I highly recommend it. Thank you for coming in and to talk to us about it.

BEERS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Stunner.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a college student sends a letter that gets attention from bankers from Wall Street to London, says it's kind of an average resume, but everybody's noticing him. Are they laughing at him or they taking a serious look. We'll take a look at that letter straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. All right. Our "Tough Call" this morning, whether it's humility or honesty is the best policy when you apply for a job. That's the debate after soon (ph) who claimed to be from San Diego State sent a brutally honest cover letter to a New York investment firm.

Instead of trumping up his qualifications and peppering it with buzzwords, 22-year-old young man whose name is apparently Matthew Ross (ph), that he was a student from an average university with no special skills.

He wrote, "I won't waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles or feeding you a line of crap about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internships. The truth is I have no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities, but what I do have is a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you." Some people thought it was hysterical, some people said this kid is crazy.

ROMANS: And I've been trying to reach him since Monday, and his voicemail -- his phone was right to voicemail. He's not answering e- mails either. My favorite part of the letter, too, this is viral on Wall Street, by the way, half the people in the e-mail chain -- it was forwarded (ph) to me -- half of the people are praising him saying this kid's got a lot of nerve let's call him. Half of them are saying, wow, this is bold.

(CROSSTALK)

FOROOHAR: He's telling the truth. He's not inflating things. I think that Morgan Stanley should hire him immediately.

O'BRIEN: Which is why they think it's fake, right?

(LAUGHTER)

SOCARIDES: I think you're exactly right. I think, you know, this goes to prove that authenticity and not -- you know, and telling the truth will stand out, will serve you well.

O'BRIEN: But maybe it's fake. But maybe it's fake.

CAIN: But it's not only because we've read these absurd letters, but because we participated in inflating our own letters, our own resumes.

FOROOHAR: Oh, speak for yourself.

CAIN: Please -- everyone will say how can you make this sound the most applicable.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: My leadership on the squash team in high school perfectly suited me for this leadership position --

O'BRIEN: My biggest weakness is how hard I'll be willing to work for this company.

ROMANS: He says he'll fetch coffee, he'll shine shoes, he'll pick up laundry, he will work for next to nothing. "In all honesty, I just want to be around professionals in the industry and gain as much knowledge as I can."

CAIN: Christine, he'll get a job, right?

ROMANS: I think so. I mean, some of the people in my -- the e-mail chain that I was on from bankers were kind of making fun of him, but others were saying, let's give him a call. Give him a call.

O'BRIEN: What do you think the chances are it's fake?

ROMANS: Twenty percent.

SOCARIDES: How did we find out about it? Do we know?

ROMANS: Somebody from Investment bank forwarded it to us, to somebody else who works here, and we went through the chain, but it's all over the place. I mean, a lot of bankers got him.

O'BRIEN: There'll be so much more on this in the near future, I'm sure.

CAIN: Speaking of hoaxes.

O'BRIEN: Exactly. Speaking of hoaxes, an inspirational story about a college football player's girlfriend who died tragically of leukemia, apparently, that's a hoax. But just how much did Manti Te'o know? Why the journalist who broke the story says it's not all adding up and we concur. He's going to talk with us just ahead.

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