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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Deep Freeze; Interview with Former Florida Senator Mel Martinez; Face Of "Lennay Kekua" Speaks Out

Aired January 25, 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, it's going from bad to worse, ice, snow, freezing rain adding to the bitter cold and causing some big problems. Schools closed, flights canceled.

Also this morning, the new GOP Reince Priebus fights to keep his job. Can he reinvigorate his party?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And she is the face of the Manti Te"O girlfriend hoax. Diana O'Meara is here and reacting to Te'o's big interview.

And Matt Damon's revenge, after years of getting bumped by Jimmy Kimmel the star bites back and it's hilarious.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: New hope for a stronger economy in housing, new numbers about to be released plus interest rates are on the move. I've got everything you need to know.

O'BRIEN: Coming up this hour, Mel Martinez, former senator from Florida and former RNC chairman and Hugh Panaro and Sierra Boggess, stars of "Phantom of the Opera, which (inaudible) a big milestone. We'll tell you about that. It's Friday, January 25 and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Hello. Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Will Cain is with us, CNN contributor, columnist for TheBlaze.com. Richard Socarides is with us as well. He's the former adviser to President Clinton. He's for the NewYorker.com.

"EARLY START" co-anchor John Berman sticks around. Christine is helping us out with business news as well.

Our STARTING POINT, though, this morning is this dangerous deep freeze, snow, ice, freezing rain -- all expected in the Southeast today.

In the Midwest the arctic blast created ice -- I guess, what would you call those? Just big piles as high as 12 feet in Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Winnebago. Lake-effect snow dumped as much as six inches in Syracuse and other parts of central New York state, with temperatures around zero.

We're all used to seeing snow in Utah, but not like this. A rare freezing rainstorm shut down Salt Lake City's airport for a time after a plane went sliding off the runway.

Let's get straight to Alexandra Steele. She's standing by us for at the CNN weather center. And Jennifer Delgado is with us as well. She's in Nashville, Tennessee, where she's kind of freezing.

Hey, Jennifer. Let's start with you. How are you doing?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I am, I think that's a good idea. I'm freezing outside and of course, it's raining. We're still below freezing.

And here in Nashville road crews, they have been coming over here, filling up their trucks with salt and brine and getting the roads ready because morning rush hour is under way, and some of those elevated passes are going to be dealing with some black ice. Of course, we're talking about the threat for more freezing rain as we go through the morning hours.

Now, this shouldn't come as a surprise, after such a wild week of weather.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freezing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold.

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

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

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

DELGADO: Relentless freezing rain in Salt Lake City forced all the runways at the city's international airport to close Thursday. Some parts of the Great Lakes picked up between two and three feet of lake- effect snow this week which led to this pileup in Ohio.

In New Hampshire, brutal subzero wind chills continue to plummet. Precautions under way at Pat's Peak ski area to help keep workers and patrons safe.

JONI AUBIN, PAT'S PEAK: We give them hand warmers and foot warmers. We rotate them out a little more frequently, and we do allow them to come into their huts that are warmed up for breaks. DELGADO: And in the Midwest, a stubborn warehouse fire that started on Tuesday night rekindled again in Bridgeport, Illinois, leaving the structure looking like -- well, a massive igloo.

It's actually so cold in Minnesota, 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. So, we couldn't get rid of the heat that we needed to, to keep cooling.

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

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DELGADO: And, of course, we heard that minus 85, our jaws drop. You know, I have to tell you it feels balmy in comparison to what they felt like in New Hampshire yesterday.

Now, keep in mind everybody still needs to pay close attention. If you don't need to be on the roadways, don't go out there because there are still going to be icy spots out there.

Soledad, back over to you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks, Jennifer.

Let's get right to meteorologist Alexandra Steele for the forecast. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Hey, Soledad, you know the video showed, and you're like, what are those calls? Those ice chunks off Lake Winnebago?

O'BRIEN: Yes. What is that?

STEELE: They're called ice shoves.

O'BRIEN: Shoves?

STEELE: The wind pushed all that ice. Ice shoves.

O'BRIEN: Oh, ice shove -- like shoved by the wind.

STEELE: Like shoved by the wind.

O'BRIEN: Oh, it's interesting.

STEELE: I'm going to shove on over and show what you we're looking at. All right. Here is the big picture, you can see where the snow is. It's very light. It looks like it's heavy. It's light.

Chicago just getting into the snow. Chicago hasn't seen an inch of snow since last February 24th and I don't think they're going to get it here.

All right. South of that, here is where the biggest problems will be -- eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee. That's kind of the bullet where we're going to see the ice today and it's freezing rain. Nashville, 33, it's just rain there.

Knoxville, so traveling on 75 from Chattanooga to Knoxville, and east on 40 towards Charlotte that's kind of that ice or freezing rain bull's eye and actually an ice storm warning has been put in place for that area in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.

We will see snow. Friday today, of course this afternoon. Here comes the snow, Washington, D.C., around 4:00 or 5:00, one to two inches of snow perhaps, maybe in New York City later than that, about an inch of snow.

And, then, Soledad, it all pushes eastward, it's a quick hitter, moves out today. By tonight, it's a done deal. But that cold air certainly in place.

The moisture really isn't. That's why it's not kind of a bigger hit than it could have been.

O'BRIEN: Oh, thank goodness for that. Alexandra Steele for us -- thanks, Alexandra. Appreciate it.

Let's get right to John Berman with a look at other stories that are making news?

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Soledad. In just a few hours, at 11:00 a.m., Vice President Joe Biden kicks off his road tour to push for an assault weapons ban. That after Democrat Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill Thursday on Capitol Hill. Feinstein saying enough is enough, after naming several mass shootings involving such weapons. The bill would ban the sale and import of around 150 types of what she calls military style guns, including the ones shooters used in the Newtown tragedy six weeks ago.

First, threats against the United States, and now, North Korea turning it's anger toward the South. The statement from the country's committee warns of what they call "physical countermeasures against South Korea if they directly participate in U.S. sanctions against the North." The statement says Seoul is just a puppet to the West and the U.N. resolution passed earlier this year is equivalent to a declaration of war.

Newark mayor and probable Senate candidate, Cory Booker, is at it again. Earlier this year, Booker ran into the flames and rescued his neighbor from a burning building, then remember this, the snow- pocalypse? Booker and staff responded to tweets from residents and bounced around Newark shoveling the streets.

So, now, the mayor is being credited with saving a freezing dog who was stuck out in the cold. He saves dogs, too. He responded to a local reporter's tweet after she spotted the dog outside shivering, well, Mayor Booker found one dog and loaded it into a police car. They called the dog's owners to tell them it was unacceptable to leave the dog outside in the cold for so long.

This is happening as Booker is facing withering criticism from Frank Lautenberg, the current Democratic senator there who Booker has indicated that he wants to replace one way or the other. Lautenberg said there's a lot of work to do in Newark that should have been done that hasn't been done.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he was talking about spanking. We'll get Cory back here not only to talk about the rescuing of small animals and all the other heroics, but also talk about the Senate race that could be a little bit of a tough race if the senator decides he's not having it.

John, thank you.

It is time to rebrand the GOP -- that is the message from Republicans. Right now, the Republican National Committee is holding its winter meeting. It's taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina.

And today, the chairman, Reince Priebus, will lay out his vision for party. He's also going to ask members to elect him for another two- year term despite what was a poor showing on election night for the GOP.

Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, last night, in a terrific speech, laid out a number of areas where he thinks the party has to change. The speech was very, very blunt. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We've got to stop looking backwards. We must reject identity politics. We've got to stop being the stupid party. We've got to stop insulting the intelligence of voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I want to get to Senator Mel Martinez. He's a former senator from Florida. He's also a former RNC chairman.

It's nice to have you, Senator. Thank you for being with us. So, give me a sense --

MEL MARTINEZ (R-FL), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Good to be with you. Good morning.

O'BRIEN: I appreciate that.

There's a Web site requesting feedback and recommendations. Walk me through how that will go and what kinds of feedback you're getting and then how you take that and turn that into some real change.

MARTINEZ: Well, I think first of all of a great reassessment taking place within the party and I think it's very, very healthy. I thought the governor's speech last night was very much on point, but I think the entire tenor of this meet something one in which we're taking a deep look inside and I think that's a terrific thing to do.

I'm really quite encouraged not only by the Web site and the fact we're reaching out to people to input because I think we've lost the ability to communicate well and I think that's a beginning. But I think also this group that has been impaneled including someone from Florida that I know very well, Sally Bradshaw and Ari Fleischer. I think these are terrific people and I think they will lead reassessment of where the party needs to go going forward from the political standpoint.

O'BRIEN: There's a guy named --

MARTINEZ: And I think there's other things --

O'BRIEN: Oh, I'm sorry for interrupting. There's a guy named Glenn McCall. And he's a South Carolina committeeman. And this is what he said, and I have you to weigh in on what you think.

He said, "There are large portions of the population -- African- Americans, Hispanics, Asians, young voters -- who simply don't know us. We have to change that."

And my question for you would be: is it that they don't know you? Meaning you as the GOP. Or is that they know you and they decided they don't like you?

MARTINEZ: Look, I think there's a communication gap and I think that our party has done a poor job reaching out to these particular groups. And I think this is about communicating our message.

But, no, I find particularly amongst Hispanics, which is a subset of that I know best, that there's not a rejection of ideas like entrepreneurship or economic growth or a government that is not so intrusive or concerns about schools that don't work and want to see an educational system that really works for all children. These are very constant themes, and entrepreneurship, as you well know, Soledad, is a very strong value within our Hispanic community. These are very Republican value.

O'BRIEN: Yes, there are some other things that are not. I mean, can I show the poll? Because I think you're right. I think the things you've ticked off there's no question but on some other things you might say are core to the GOP message, I think you're going to have a challenge.

For example, taxes, right? When you poll people, you see 69 percent say they favor raising the tax rate on people $250,000 and higher. And I think that was obviously a big sticking point for people in the GOP. Also, if you take a look at, there was a question reduce government programs for people like you, 48 percent, nearly half people and more than those who favored it said, no, they would oppose reducing government programs and obviously lots of conversations with the GOP about the size of government.

So, isn't -- does that mean that you take the assessment and then you change policy potentially?

MARTINEZ: No, I don't think you change principles but I think you change the conversation. We shouldn't be talking about protecting the wealthy from raising taxes. We should be talking about a tax code that promotes economic growth, and that lifts all boats.

A tax code that is fair for everyone and promotes economic growth, it's going to create more jobs, it's going to create better jobs. It's going to allow people to move into the middle class.

So, the bottom line it's about taxes, it's about an overbearing government but it's really about how we communicate it. Are we really protecting a certain segment of taxpayers or are we looking to have a tax code that really promotes economic growth?

It's a great history in our party of people like a Jack Kemp who knew how to speak to folks in a way that was really understandable and reached every man. And I think that's what we have to get back to, is that kind of rhetoric, that kind of conversation that really reaches people where they live. That it's about jobs, it's about opportunity, it's about the rising of the American dream.

O'BRIEN: Senator Mel Martinez, former RNC chairman and also former Florida senator -- nice to see you, sir, as always. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

MARTINEZ: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning: Manti Te'o had a say talking about his fake girlfriend. Now, we're hearing from the woman whose face is used to pull the hoax off. Diana O'Meara is going to join us, up next.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Some new details about that bizarre story about the football star's fake girlfriend. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o spoke to Katie Couric about the deception that tricked him into believing that Lennay Kekua, the girl that he loved and then mourned was real.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANTI TE'O, NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL PLAYER: It didn't start to pick up until my junior year. And, it was just -- since I didn't meet her and I didn't see her in person, and she just seemed nice, and from the pictures, she seemed very beautiful. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well, that girl, of course, Lennay Kekua, didn't exist. The real face is of Diane O'Meara and despite the photos that were sent to Te'o, she says she's never met him or even communicated with him, and she's with us this morning. It's nice to have you.

DIANE O'MEARA, WOMAN IN MANTI TE'O'S FAKE GIRLFRIEND PHOTO: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: How has your month been, crazy?

O'MEARA: Crazy. Definitely unexpected. And, it's really difficult to wrap my head around this and to realize that my true identity is going to be hard to take back.

O'BRIEN: Have you ever -- you never heard of Manti Te'o. You've never heard of Notre Dame football. You've never heard of BCS game?

O'MEARA: Right. No, I don't follow college football and definitely don't follow college football girlfriends, so --

(LAUGHTER)

O'MEARA: So, I would have never known. I literally found out last Monday.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Has he called you to apologize?

BERMAN: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

SOCARIDES: Manti or anybody associated with --

O'MEARA: I never heard from Manti, but Ronaiah contacted me to confess what he did.

O'BRIEN: He's the guy who presumed to be the mastermind of this entire thing. Well, we really haven't heard from his. So, tell us what he said to you on the phone when he called. This is right before the DeadSpin article that broke all of this came out.

O'MEARA: Right.

O'BRIEN: What did he say?

O'MEARA: I mean, at first, he tried to go around in circles and still lie about it. And then, I basically said, at this point, I just want to know answers. I just want to know the truth.

O'BRIEN: What did he say?

O'MEARA: And he basically confessed, in fact, he had been taking my photos for the past five years and the past year and a half. Since 2010, he's been portraying this Lennay Kekua relationship with Manti. WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Ronaiah is the person, I think, that everyone now wants to hear from. The guy who perpetrated this hoax and dedicated so much time to it. You are the closest we have to knowing Ronaiah. Tell us what kind of guy he is? What do you know about him?

O'BRIEN: Is he crazy?

ROMANS: Did he tell you why he did it in.

O'MEARA: I mean, he didn't explain why. He simply explained that he wanted to portray a different life and clearly through my face is the most disturbing thing.

ROMANS: He made up another alternate life and living out this --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: What else did he say about that?

O'MEARA: About?

O'BRIEN: His life. I mean, was he --

O'MEARA: I mean, he seemed, like I said, I don't know him very well and he seems happy, smiling all the times, seemed religious.

CAIN: How did you know him at all? From school?

O'MEARA: Right. He went to my high school. He graduated a year after me, and then, since then, I hadn't heard from him since he contacted me in December and involved me pretty much in this whole thing.

BERMAN: One of the many bizarre things that have come out in this case is a story in "The New York Daily News" saying that it was his voice on the other end of the phone with Manti Te'o. From what you know of this man, could he have ever disguised his voice to sound like a woman for three years?

O'MEARA: Right. And that's a bit shocking because having heard Ronaiah's voice and seeing -- everyone seen his physical appearance, it's really difficult to believe that he has a high-pitched woman voice.

O'BRIEN: Diane O'Meara, I hope the future is better for you than the last month has been.

O'MEARA: Right. And the main lesson that I learned here is that there's definitely a lack of production in internet privacy and they actually wrote an op-ed piece in the "L.A. Times" that should be out this week that really talks about that, really talks about it's very important to realize who your Facebook friends are.

You know, treat them as you would a real friend that you would contact on the street pretty much. O'BRIEN: You become the face of identity theft in a lot -- Diana O'Meara, nice to have you with us.

O'MEARA: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate your time.

Still ahead this morning, CNN is watching your money. And if you're in the market for a new home, interest rates, we've got some news for you about that.

Plus, Matt Damon vs. Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night antics. (INAUDIBLE). We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, watching your money this Friday morning.

Stocks are set to rise today. The Dow, the S&P 500, they're not far from five-year highs. Microsoft shares are down in pre-market trading. Sales of its windows operating system rose last quarter for the first time in a year. That's thanks to the release of Windows 8 back in October, but hey, that was not good enough for investors who wanted more.

New home sales are due just after the opening bell. They're already at a two-year high. Analysts are expecting today's data to show sales rose even higher in December. Home sales, home prices have been rising and so have mortgage rates a little bit. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage now at a four-month high, just want all of you refinancers to know.

OK. Next to your house, your choice of major is your most critical long-term investment. New evidence not all college degrees are created equal. Technical majors got the highest paying jobs last year. That's according to a new stud from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Looking at the top paying majors of 2012, four out of five are engineering degrees with starting salaries in the $60,000 to $70,000 range. That's starting salaries. And NACE credits a low supply of grads in these majors and high demand in the workplace. And John Berman is shaking his head.

BERMAN: We're sitting at a table full of humanities major, so I'm sure --

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: Law school.

ROMANS: Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys or liberal arts major.

(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: Or you'll be paying for your entire life.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Here are some of the stories that are trending online this morning. A first new look at this new movie. Ashton Kutcher is in the lead role, it's about Steve Jobs. Look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHTON KUTCHER, ACTOR: This is freedom. This is freedom to create and to do and to build and artist, it's individual.

JOSH GAD, ACTOR: Look, you're overreacting. Even if you were developing this for freaks like us, and I doubt --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, that's Josh Gad playing the co-founder, Steve Wozniak, and he basically says, ah, so that scene when they talk about the first operating system not even close to how it really happened.

ROMANS: -- he wasn't even there. Steve Jobs wasn't even there.

O'BRIEN: So, it'll be interesting to see. That's the opening volley, right, in how that film is going to go.

Also, everybody is talking about jimmy Kimmel's big face-off with Matt Damon last night. Matt showed up and took over this entire show complete with special guests. Here's how that look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: Let me ask you, guys, this. As an audience, is it weird to see a person with actual talent host the show?

(LAUGHTER)

DAMON: Every time I got bumped off this show, it left a mark. But if you bump a man long enough, a night will come when he bumps you back.

(LAUGHTER)

DAMON: And tonight is that night, my friends. I am in command of this ship!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Matt Damon and Jimmy Kimmel. You know what has been the best thing about this Jimmy Kimmel show, they now run it on all the taxis in New York City so my kids are the biggest Jimmy Kimmel fans.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: -- who could never possibly stay up at late to watch the actual show.

CAIN: That was a cameo by Ben Affleck and apparently was like ten other big stars in the cameos last night.

SOCARIDES: They did that for the whole show?

O'BRIEN: They did. It was hysterical.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, women on the front lines, we're going to continue as promised to talk about it and some of the media backlash against it. Who's speaking out against it and who's for it? Lauren Ashburn and Howie Kurtz are going to join us to talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Coming up in this half hour, the defense department is lifting its ban on women on the frontlines, but some against the decision. We'll talk about that.

And celebrating 25 years of "Phantom" on Broadway. The stars of the show are with us this morning.

First though, an update on the day's top stories, and John has got for us.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Soledad.

The frigid temperatures and wind chills that have gripped so much of the country right now moving into the southeast today.

Exposure to the brutal cold is blamed for at least three deaths nationwide. Two people in Sudbury, Massachusetts, very close to my hometown, are lucky to be alive this morning after their car fell through a frozen pond. One of the occupants is hospitalized. Police don't know why the car ended up in that frozen pond.

And scary moments for a dog who found himself stuck on the ice in Chicago's south side. Rescue crews had to sedate the dog in order to move the dog to dry land. He is luckily safe.

A second suspect has been charged and arrested in connection with the shooting in Lone Star College in Houston, Texas. The Harris County sheriff's office says 22-year-old Trey Foster (ph) was arrested early this morning. He's been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Another 22-year-old Carlton Berry (ph) has also been charged. Three people were wounded.

To Egypt now where at least 35 people including six police officers have been injured just this morning during clashes between protesters and police in Cairo. This, on the second anniversary of the uprising that led to the ousting of ex-leader, Hosni Mubarak. Today's protester aimed at current president, Mohamed Morsi, who critics say is just one dictator who replace anoteher. So, as if the flu outbreak isn't enough. The CDC says a new strain of norovirus has reached the U.S. from Australia. So, thanks, Australia. According to the CDC, the bug accounted for 58 percent of last month's stomach flu cases causing nausea, forceful vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.