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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Winter Storms Sweep Midwest; Senator Dianne Feinstein Introduces Assault Weapons Ban Legislation; Manti Te'o Interviewed by Katie Couric

Aired January 25, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning: dangerous freeze. The bitter cold is now taking over the southeast. School systems are closed, hundreds of flights canceled. This morning, we'll have the very latest for you.

Plus, a new push for a tough new ban on assault weapons. We'll tell you why the White House says it's not counting on Congress.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And a powerful new and nasty stomach bug is spreading like wildfire, just much worse. What makes this one so different and so difficult to fight?

And a brush with fate. A truck narrowly avoids hitting a toddler after she's ejected from a car. The heart-pounding moment caught on camera.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And you may be entitled to a lot of cash. Did you know more than $58 billion in unclaimed money is just sitting there, some of it may be yours?

O'BRIEN: It's Friday, January 25th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, waking up to brutal cold, the Arctic air system now zeroing in on the southeast this morning. It's expected to bring snow, freezing rain, dangerous accumulations of ice to the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama. This morning drivers in Nashville, Tennessee, are being warned do not travel if you do not have to. Out west, a rare freezing rainstorm triggered hundreds of accidents and forced airport runways to close. And new pictures from Massachusetts, a car plunged through a frozen pond. Bitter cold blamed for three deaths nationwide.

We've got Alexandra Steele this morning standing by in the CNN Weather Center. CNN's Jennifer Delgado is in Nashville for us this morning. Jennifer, let's start with you. How does it look?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I can tell you right now, we're experiencing rain and it looks like sleet mixing in. As we go throughout the morning, we'll see the potential for more freezing rain to develop. You can see the round is wet. This shouldn't come as a surprise after such a wild week of weather.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DELGADO: Frigid temperatures and record-breaking wind-chills continue to plague much of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Horrible, freezing cold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's freezing out here, man.

DELGADO: And freezing rain and ice in Tennessee. Crews armed with salt trucks are at the ready.

DEANNA LAMBERT, TDOT: We have 32 counties here in the middle Tennessee area that will be keeping an eye on. We have enough people here to make sure roads are ready for rush hour in the morning.

DELGADO: Relentless freezing rain in Salt Lake City forced the airport to close on Thursday. Some parts of the great lakes picked up between two and three feet of lake-effect snow this week, which led to the pileup in Ohio. In New Hampshire, brutal subzero wind-chills continue to plummet, precautions underway at this ski area to keep workers and patrons safe.

JONI ALBIN: We give them hand warmers and foot warmers, rotate them out more frequently and allow them to come into their huts for breaks.

DELGADO: And in the Midwest, a stubborn warehouse fire that started on Tuesday night rekindled in Bridgeport, Illinois, leaving the structure looking like a massive igloo. It' actually so cold in Minnesota, that pipes froze leading to this ice rink melting.

SCOTT RIOPELLE, CROOKSTON SPORTS ARENA: Everything runs through a condenser outside and that started slushing up on us. We couldn't get rid of the heat we needed to keep cooling.

DELGADO: But it could be worse. Wind-chills at the top of Mt. Washington, an unbearable wind-chill of negative 85 degrees.

BRIAN FITZGERALD, MOUNT WASHINGTON OBSERVATORY: the best way I've heard it described. Think of yourself diving into a very cold pool of water. It doesn't matter how much are you covered up, the air finds a way in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DELGADO: And, Soledad, he's right. Doesn't matter how well you are covered up, still bitterly cold outside. I want to point out, some locations to the east of Nashville. Eastern Tennessee, as well as northeastern Georgia, they could see a quarter inch of ice out there. That could be enough to take down some power lines or trees, now, here in Nashville, expecting one-tenth of an inch. Enough to make roadways slippery and, of course, temperatures right now below freezing and expected to stay that way through late morning. Soledad, we'll turn it back over to you and the nice and toasty studio.

O'BRIEN: I don't want to even mention it, Jennifer. You're making me feel badly.

DELGADO: Yes, I'm bundled up and covering the hair up, trying to protect it.

O'BRIEN: Inside where it's nice and warm, we're feeling for you. Let's get to Alexandra Steele with a look where the storm is headed and when it ends for us. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you, Soledad. Here is the big picture, the Arctic cold air is in place, check. We've got that. That mitigating factor, why this won't be a big storm, we're lacking the moisture.

So here is a look at Chicago, finally Chicago getting into a little snow. Chicago hasn't had an inch of snow on the ground since last February 24th. And I don't think they will pick up an inch of snow. Started snowing, just some flurries. Bigger concern is in Tennessee and Kentucky area. Here is kind of that ice sweet spot, Nashville, 30 degrees, maybe a little freezing rain. Right here in Knoxville, freezing rain falling there. I-75 through Knoxville, I-40 to Charlotte, that's freezing rain sweet spot for the next couple of hours, between 8:00 and 10:00 this morning.

Radar, 1:00, you can see where the ice is delineated. Here comes the snow. Again, Washington, D.C., 4:00 beginning, one to two inches. New York City picking up potentially an inch or so of snow, a quick hitter, Soledad. Today we'll see it, tomorrow a different story. A little bit of ice certainly in Kentucky and Tennessee, and that's the end of the as it pushes out tonight.

O'BRIEN: Thank goodness. Thank you, Alexandra.

Other stories making news this morning, the White House making a big push to ban assault weapons. In just a few hours Vice President Joe Biden will be in Richmond, Virginia, to make the case for a ban, and the president also said to hit the road to promote the plan. In a Google plus hangout yesterday, the vice president said this about gun safety yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In California, everyone talks about the big earthquake or some terrible natural disaster as last line of defense. What do you say to those?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I would say guess what? A shotgun will keep you a lot safer, a double-barrel shotgun than assault weapons in somebody's hands who doesn't know how to use it. Even somebody who does know how to use it, you know, it's harder to use an assault weapon than a shotgun. You want to keep people away in an earthquake, buy some shotgun shells.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Senator Dianne Feinstein introduces that new bill to ban assault weapons, including the AR-15, the kind of gun that was used to kill the children and the teachers and administrators in Newtown, Connecticut.

CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser is following those developments for us this morning in Washington D.C. Good morning, Paul.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Good morning, Soledad. Feinstein made her announcement in dramatic fashion. She had on hand the assault weapon and a lot of survivors of gun violence. The bill would prohibit the sale, manufacturer, transport, and importation of more than 150 semiautomatic weapons and also ban large-capacity magazines with more than ten rounds of ammunition. But she also held out an olive branch to gun owners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: The bill protects hunters and sportsmen by protecting 2,200 specifically named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes. They are by make and model exempted from the legislation. When we did this bill in '93, there were 375. Today there are 2,200.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: Does that make a difference with the NRA? Here is the response from the powerful gun organization, "Senator Feinstein has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades. It's disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system."

Soledad, Feinstein, her bill will have a tough time getting through the Senate not just because of Republicans but because of Democrats in the Senate from states that favor gun rights. I think you were talking about Joe Biden, the vice president, his outreach efforts, and I'll think we'll see more from the president as you mentioned and grassroots operations from the Obama campaign. They realize they will have to take their case to the people if they have any chance of getting the bills passed through congress.

O'BRIEN: That's an interesting strategy. If they feel like it won't happen in Congress, go around Congress, get a grassroots groundswell going that could be effective. Thank you, Paul.

A couple of minutes, we'll talk to Richard Feldman, the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, a gun rights advocacy group. We'll talk to him about this proposal by Senator Feinstein.

First, other stories making news for thus morning.

BERMAN: Good morning, Soledad. We'll start in Egypt this morning, where hundreds of protesters are clashing with Egyptian police in Tahrir square. This is on the second anniversary of the uprising that led to the ouster of ex-leader Hosni Mubarak. Today's protests are aimed at current president Mohammed Morsi who critics say is just one dictator replacing another.

First threats against the United States, now North Korea turning its anger toward the south. A statement from the country's unification committee warns of what they call physical countermeasures against South Korea if they directly participate in U.N. sanctions against the north. The statement says Seoul us just a puppet to the west and that the U.N. resolution passed earlier this week is equivalent to a declaration of war.

We told you yesterday about the plan to allow women to combat positions in the military. Now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made it official. During his announcement Panetta sang the praises of women who have served, are serving, or paid the ultimate price. Coming up in our next half hour, Soledad will talk to Marine captain Zoe Bedell, one of four women who joined a lawsuit challenging the Pentagon policy, and author Kingsley Browne who co-wrote "Coed Combat," a book that argues against women in combat.

We have some really frightening video to show this morning. A one- year-old girl barely escapes death after being ejected from a car during an icy crash in Russia. The child laying on the road and a huge semi-truck barely misses her. Here it is in slow motion. Wow. The driver lost control of the SUV while trying to pass another car. Police say the child not strapped in, but instead sitting on a shelf under the back windshield. That's a bad idea. The child suffered injuries to her head and face, but luckily is OK.

O'BRIEN: Look at this. Right, the mom comes out and goes and picks the stuff out of the street. She doesn't go to the baby, something weird about that video.

O'BRIEN: It's disturbing all the way around there.

BERMAN: She was on a shelf in the back.

O'BRIEN: There's something very strange about that story.

BERMAN: We have lighter news. Big news for all "Star Wars" fans. Reports say J.J. Abrams will direct "Star Wars Episode Seven." The new film follows "Return of the Jedi" and will be the first produced by Disney, which bought Lucas Film last year and announced plans for a sequel trilogy. Abrams also is behind the "Star Trek" reboot. His second film "Into Darkness" will be out in May. On behalf of "Star Wars" fans everywhere, I would just like to say thank you. Thank you for letting J.J. Abrams direct this.

O'BRIEN: You're so excited. Christine and I are very happy for you.

BERMAN: Don't pretend are you not excited.

O'BRIEN: I'm so excited. But it's like 20th on my list, not number one as it is for you.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's turn and get back to what we were talking about this morning, Senator Feinstein's new Bill, that she herself is acknowledging likely to face a stiff battle from both sides in Congress. Richard Feldman is the president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association, a gun rights advocacy group. He's also the author of "Ricochet, Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist. It's nice to have you with us, great to see you again, appreciate your time." RICHARD FELDMAN, PRESIDENT, INDEPENDENT FIREARMS OWNERS ASSOCIATION: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. What don't you like about what the senator proposed? What doesn't work for you about another assault weapons ban?

FELDMAN: It really is the animal house approach to legislating policy. We outlawed these guns 20 years ago. It didn't work then. Why by putting American gun owners on double-secret probation we're going to have any different impact this time around? Instead of focusing --

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, sir. I'm sorry for interrupting.

FELDMAN: Instead of focusing on the gun, we need to focus on the problem, which is always in whose hands are the guns.

O'BRIEN: Isn't there some evidence that the ban did have some effect 20 years ago. The updated assessment on federal assault weapons ban impact on gun violence 94 to 2003 done by the University of Pennsylvania. They found that the share of gun crimes involving automatic weapons in that period of time declined by 17 percent. That's on page two of their summary of findings. That would indicate to me when this ban was in place did have an effect on automatic weapons.

FELDMAN: We're not talking about automatic weapons. Those are machine guns, which for the most part have been outlawed since the 1930s. Less than one percent of crime is committed with the use of a rifle. So this is pretty small potatoes in the first place.

Criminals used handguns, not rifles to commit crimes. When we zero in on the problem, and two weeks ago when I was on your show after my meeting at the White House with Vice President Biden, I said I thought we had a conversation and we heard each other. In fact, earlier this week, the White House informed me they are putting $50 million into the NIBAN budget for ATF, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. That's a program that goes against criminals, solves crimes. That's the kind of stuff we need to do in this country, effective things on criminals.

O'BRIEN: The same report found, page 97, that the studies contrasting the different kinds of attacks, and well there is more overall gun violence, when you look at assault weapons, they result in more shots fired, persons wounded, wounds per victim than do other gun attacks. This is the kind of rifle you grab when you want to do a massacre of people. So why would you ban something that showed a 17 percent drop in the study, which no one disputes the study?

FELDMAN: Well, that's -- there are other studies that show that nothing significant occurred during that period. And crime rates in general going down at that period. And, again, the focus has to be on in the hands of the gun. If I don't use one of those guns, I can use a different gun. O'BRIEN: In massacres where people are shot multiple times, and Newtown is excellent example of that. The average is 11 shots per child. Those are the kinds of weapons they are talking about. So I guess there is indications in the reporting that it's not -- let's not talk about gun violence, talk specifically about assault weapons. It does work when they are banned. The report shows that.

FELDMAN: Soledad, this bill doesn't ban the guns. There are 35 million of them in existence, over 100 million high-capacity magazines out there. What will leave an impact on the future ban of those magazines and guns on criminals or crazy people? Zero. Nada. Instead of listening to the American people and doing something related to the problem, Senator Feinstein is resorting to the old politics of the gun issue and not zeroing in on the problem.

O'BRIEN: We'll see exactly how that debate goes as we move ahead. Richard Feldman is the president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. I would like to have a longer debate about this. I think there is a lot that Americans aren't necessarily on one side or the other.

FELDMAN: I look forward to it.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, I appreciate that.

All right, also, Manti Te'o opens up about the whole fake girlfriend hoax thing. He tells us why he kept it going even after he knew she was fake. And then there is that voice mail, the voice of Lennay. We'll play the tape. Lennay doesn't exist. We'll play it for you, and you can tell us what you think.

Also in business news --

ROMANS: Disaster averted, barely. We're learning more about Boeing's battery problems and how dangerous this could have been for travelers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Yes, the girlfriend was fake, but he says the pain was very real. Manti Te'o opening up about the internet hoax that made headlines and then punch lines too all over the web. The Notre Dame star, a football player, tells Katie Couric he has some regrets, but he was telling the truth. Here is CNN's George Howell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o denied any involvement in the hoax about the online girlfriend he never met, a woman we now know never existed.

KATIE COURIC: Either you're the most naive person on the planet, or this is the saddest story I think ever written. It goes on and on and on.

MANTI TE'O, COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYER: Yes. I thought that.

COURIC: This web of lies.

TE'O: And I thought this is -- how could all this happen to one person? And I had my -- I had my doubts.

HOWELL: Te'o says he got a phone call in September telling him his girlfriend died of cancer. Then in December, before the Heisman trophy ceremony, he got another phone call saying she was alive. But Te'o didn't change his story.

COURIC: At the Heisman trophy ceremony, you were interviewed and repeated the story that your girlfriend had, in fact, died of cancer. That's a lie. Why would you say that?

TE'O: At the time I didn't know. Let's be honest with you. I did not know.

HOWELL: Couric asked for proof of an intimate relationship. And Te'o provided phone records, even voicemail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you and I will talk to you tomorrow. I love you so much.

COURIC: You have you no idea who the voice on the other end of the phone was. Do you think that might have been a man on the other end of the phone?

TE'O: Well, it didn't sound like a man. It sounded like a woman. But if he somehow made that voice, that's incredible.

HOWELL: Te'o says this man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, called him to admit his part in the hoax. The same man whose voice may have been on those voice mails. He also learned the identify of Lennay Kekua was actually a picture of Diane O'Meara, a 23-year-old marketing executive that never met Te'o. Both Te'o and O'Meara apparently knew Tuiasosopo. Te'o says his biggest regret is the impact it had on his family.

TE'O: The greatest joy in any child's life is to make your parents proud. The greatest pain is to know they are experiencing pain because of you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: It was the interview that left a lot of people scratching their heads. Some who find sympathy for what they heard, Others, not so much. Throughout the interview, Te'o insists he believed his girlfriend was real, and, Soledad, he insists he was not part of a hoax.

O'BRIEN: That's a crazy story, isn't it?

HOWELL: It's interesting.

O'BRIEN: It really is. We'll talk about Diane O'Meara next. She's the woman, of course, whose picture was used as the Lennay, the fake girlfriend. We'll talk to her about that and what the fallout has been for her.

First, though, a man squatting in a 2$2.5 million home, and police cannot stop him. We'll tell you why the law is on his side. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back. I'm Christine Romans minding your business. Stocks looking higher for the open today. Wall Street will closely watch earnings from Honeywell and Proctor & Gamble and we'll get fresh data on housing at 10:00 a.m. Starbucks shares rise two percent after the company posted earnings in line with estimates.

Many Americans missing out on billions of dollars in forgotten cash. The government and other organizations are holding -- get this -- $58 billion in unclaimed cash and benefits. It's from abandoned stock accounts, bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, unclaimed life insurance payouts, forgotten pension benefits. States try to find the owner through websites, newspaper ads even booths through state fairs. A lot of money is sitting in the states. Every year, funds left in state coffers unclaimed.

BERMAN: I will watch over that.

ROMANS: One thing for families, talk to your grandparents and parents about what they have safe deposit boxes.

O'BRIEN: I can tell you from personal experience that someone gets ill and all of a sudden you are doing detective work to track down.

BERMAN: The $58 billion they left behind.

O'BRIEN: The medicine they are taking, where the bank accounts are, and all of it -- do it early.

ROMANS: "Dear honey, this is what I have and where it is. I love you."

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, we're going to talk about that powerful new stomach virus. John Berman has an up close and personal story about that one. We'll tell you seriously why this one is so different, why it's tough to fight and also tips to prevent it. That's coming up next.

Then a reporter learns that animals and live TV, never a good mix. Yes, that goat got the last laugh. We'll tell you what happened. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Joining us this morning, Will Cain is back, a CNN contributor and columnist for TheBlaze.com. Richard Socarides is with us, former senior advisor to President Clinton. We'll talk with marine captain Zoe Bedell and also author and professor Kingsley Browne. They're two people with very different takes on whether or not women should serve in the military in combat positions. We'll chat with them together coming up next.

And then a little bit later this morning, Dr. Ian Smith has a new book. It's called "The Shred Revolutionary Diet." He says you can lose four inches, two sizes, six weeks. I guess I shouldn't have had a candy bar for breakfast this morning.