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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

President to Unveil Immigration Plan; Interview with Senator Dick Durbin; New Report Indicates Grand Jury Wanted to Indict Ramsey Family in Murder of Jon Benet Ramsey

Aired January 29, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good to be with you here on this Tuesday. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off this morning. Our STARTING POINT: immigration reform. We're just hours away now from President Obama revealing his plan and already one portion causing a lot of controversy.

BALDWIN: Also, this is tough stuff to look at here. This X Games star, oh, in the fight of his life after this crash. What happened that sent him careening down the mountain?

BERMAN: And an American mother missing in Turkey. This morning, the woman's friends and family speaking out and stepping up their desperate search.

BALDWIN: We got a lot coming up this morning. We are talking immigration reform with Illinois Senator Dirk Durbin, also with Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, and New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. So that's coming up.

Also ahead, if you've seen the movie, the director and the screenwriter of the Oscar nominated "Silver Linings Playbook," David O. Russell in the studio with us.

BERMAN: The "O" may stand for "On the way to winning an Oscar".

BALDWIN: Yes.

BERMAN: It is Tuesday, January 29th, STARTING POINT begins right now.

BALDWIN: Here we are, a matter of hours from President Obama unveiling his plan, his proposals here to reform immigration.

BERMAN: But Democratic sources tell CNN Democrats in the caucus told him not to announce his own legislation. Bipartisan talks on the issue have been just that sensitive, and the "Washington Post" says the president does have a plan that is more liberal than the bipartisan effort in the Senate has yesterday, including a quicker path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

BALDWIN: Here's the thing? Conservatives are not happy with that Senate plan, saying it is a path to amnesty. But Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer speaking yesterday on the hill of New York, says, look, the time right now is perfect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: We believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done. The politics on this issue have been turned upside down. For the first time ever there is more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We're joined by White House correspondent Brianna Keilar who is following the president's big moment on this issue. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brooke and John. That's right, the president is heading out west today. You may not know this, but he's had a plan, a brew print on immigration reform for almost two years now. But it was seen more as a political message ahead of an election rather than a genuine push for change here. The thing is, though, now the administration thinks they may be able to accomplish something.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: In 2011, President Obama went to the border town in El Paso to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Out of many, one. We define ourselves as a nation of imgrants.

KEILAR: That went nowhere. Now in a second term, the president is trying it again. Heading to Las Vegas today to push for border security, a verification system for employers to ensure they hire documented workers with punishment if they don't, and the most significant and controversial part of the president's plan, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It includes registering with the government, undergoing background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, and learning English. A solution has alluded past presidents, including George W. Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people and Congress' failure to act on it is a disappointment.

KEILAR: President Obama did announce during his first term that his administration would stop deporting some undocumented young immigrants would stop. But he was taken to task at a Univision town hall for not doing something bigger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You promised that. And a promise is a promise, and with all due respect, you didn't keep the promise.

OBAMA: What I promised was that I would work every single day as hard as I can to make sure that everybody in this country, regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they come from, that they would have a fair shot at the American dream. KEILAR: Still, Hispanic Americans, the country's fastest growing voting bloc, helped propel Obama to a second term. It was a wakeup call for Republicans.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: I do know that there are a lot of Democrats in Congress who once and for want to solve this problem, fix this mess, a broken immigration system, and many of us agree with that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And you saw that yesterday on the Hill with Senate Democrats and Republicans unveiling this bipartisan plan. And Brooke and John, another interesting thing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is from Nevada where President Obama will go today, S-1, the number one bill in the Senate for immigration reform, signaling that this is a key priority. He did that for health care reform in the president's first term.

BERMAN: That's right, Brianna, it shows you just how important an issue this is for Democrats. Brianna Keilar at the White House. In just a few moments we're going to have Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will be speaking to us. He is one of the so-called "gang of eight," one of the key players in drafting the immigration reform in the Senate.

BALDWIN: Before we talk to him, let's bring in Christine Romans with some of the day's top stories. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to both of you. A wave of new protests in Egypt overnight despite President Mohamed Morsi's 30- day curfew. Demonstrators took to the streets in Cairo and cities along the Suez Canal where they clashed with police and even attempted to storm a prison. At least 45 people, including civilians and soldiers, have been killed in Egypt over the past few days in separate clashes. Our Ben Wedeman live in Cairo. Ben, what are protesters demanding?

BEN WEDEDMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a variety of demands. Some of them are unhappy with the constitution that was implemented in the beginning of December. Some are protesting against 21 people sentenced to death for their alleged involvement in soccer riots a year ago. And many people are simply unhappy with the rule of Mohammed Morsi, who, of course, is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, clashes have resumed in central Cairo. Really, the focus, in cities along the Suez Canal where the 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. curfew has been implemented for the next 30 days, although what we see of course Christine, is that most people in the cities simply are not obeying the curfew.

ROMANS: Ben Wedeman in Cairo as chaos grows in Egypt.

In Brazil, new developments in the nightclub inferno. Police have now arrested four people in connection with that deadly nightclub fire that killed 231. Two of those in custody are owners of the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, two others members of the band, the band playing at the club when the fire broke out. Police say the band used pyrotechnics as part of the stage show.

Last night, mourners held a march in Santa Maria, released 231 white balloons into the sky, one balloon for each killed in the fire.

John Kerry expected to be confirmed as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton's replacement this morning. It's pretty much a slam dunk in front of the Senate foreign relations committee. His nomination is expected to sail through the full Senate after that. When the Kerry confirmation is official the race for the Massachusetts senate seat kicks. Governor Deval Patrick will first appoint someone to fill Kerry's seat until a special election held in June.

Openly gay members may soon be allowed into the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts is considering changing its long-standing policy banning openly gay members. Here is what the human rights campaign had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED SAINZ, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: We would much rather that the Boy Scouts have adopted a national nondiscrimination policy, but this is definitely a step in that right direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Instead of specific national guidelines, the proposed new policy would allow local scouting groups to choose whether to allow gay members.

Take a look at this video. Sea-foam, sea-foam coming out of nowhere. Windy conditions off the northeast coast of Australia, turning up the sea-foam enough to hide a car. Quick thinking police officers have jumped out of the way just in time.

BERMAN: Crazy weather in Australia.

BALDWIN: Fires, flooding, and foam.

BERMAN: This looks like a bubble rave, not that I have ever been to one.

BALDWIN: Spring break, 1997?

BERMAN: Yes, I don't remember it well.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: And now back to our STARTING POINT this morning, the president unveils his own immigration plan a couple of hours ago from now in Las Vegas as two bipartisan committees have come together. First you have one in the House, one in the Senate, been making plans of their own.

BERMAN: We're joined by Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, he is the assistant majority leader in the Senate and a member of that key group, the so-called gang of eight in the Senate that announced yesterday's immigration reform package. Good morning, senator.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Good morning.

BERMAN: So the president coming out with his ideas on immigration reform today in Nevada, and there does appear to be a key difference between his notion and what you put on the table yesterday. You have called for a path to citizenship but only after verification that the borders are secure. The president does not seem to support that delay. He seems to want a path to citizenship much more quickly right away. How big of a difference is this? It seems like a pretty big difference.

DURBIN: It's a difference we can bridge. I was on a telephone conversation with the president and Senator Schumer Sunday night. I think we have the same goals in mind, we share the same values, our approaches may be slightly different. The difference on the ground, we have to put together a bipartisan Bill in the Senate and the house, to send to the president it will look different than what I might right or the president might write. But it will certainly reach the same goal to make sure that these 11 million people living in America have a path to legalization first and then to citizenship.

BALDWIN: Senator Durbin, this is Brooke Baldwin. My question, when John talks about the contingency, the differentiating factor in your proposal versus the president. How do you determine if the border is secure enough? How does that happen?

DURBIN: We'd still have to write the section in detail. But it's a task we understand has to be specific, objective. We need real metrics. Just to say, well, when the boarder is, quote, "safe," not good enough. There have to be metrics we can measure.

BALDWIN: Who measures that? Who is in charge of that?

DURBIN: Ultimately the Department of Homeland Security will make that evaluation. But we create a commission of local, elected officials, who will observe on the ground and be part of the conversation and process. I think we need their buy in and I think we can get it as long as metrics are specific.

BERMAN: How long would be too long to wait?

DURBIN: From my own point of view, the sooner the better. We have invested $18 million on border security. We're spending more on our borders in combination with the Secret Service, FBI, and many law enforcement agencies. But we're seeing real results. In some parts of the border, we can use new technology and the resources that are available. I think we can get an even better compliance. But I don't want this to drag on forever.

BERMAN: You said you spoke to the president before releasing the gang of eight plan, and there was some jockeying over who would announce the plan first. There is this motion that the president may be a liability in dealing with Republicans on this issue. Do you think he makes it harder to compromise in the Senate?

DURBIN: Not at all. The president is an essential part of this. And going back to the piece you ran earlier, I served in the Senate with President Obama when he was my colleague from Illinois. I sat in meeting after meeting when Senator Obama part was part of the immigration reform debate. He's been committed to this as Senate and president. He's an essential part of not only passing this and an essential part of making sure this is a law that works in America.

BALDWIN: Senator, I was watching all of you standing on the Hill for the big news conference yesterday afternoon with Senator Schumer, who said we all really optimistic, but there are still a number of potholes to overcome. And of course one pothole could be folks like Congressman Lamar Smith, who has made his criticism already, quote, "When you legalize those who were in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs, and encourages more illegal immigration." How do you get a version of this through the Republican-controlled House?

DURBIN: Congressman Smith's views on immigration are well-known. He opposed any immigration reform. I would ask Congressman Smith, read what we're proposing here. We're requiring that people pay their taxes, go through a criminal background check, have a job. Basically we're putting them in the back of the line in terms of new employment, back of the line in terms of citizenship, but making certain that the 1 million now living in the United States in the suspended status have a future. Make them part of the future, so long as they are good for the future of America. I believe they will be.

BERMAN: Senator Dick Durbin, thank you for coming in. Again, this is the week, immigration reform really starting on Capitol Hill and in Nevada today with the president. Thank you, sir.

DURBIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We're 12 minutes past the hour. More than 16 years after she died, new information about the Jon Benet Ramsey investigation, why a grand jury wanted to indict her parents, and why prosecutors didn't do it. The family's attorney Lin Wood joins us next.

BERMAN: And we're going to talk about what's coming up today in business. They were bailed out, but they're still getting big paychecks. Yes, it's true. We'll tell you who is getting the biggest coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: This morning we have new details in the case of John Benet Ramsey. A local paper, "The Boulder Daily Camera," reports that back in 1994 a grand jury voted to indict Jon and Patsy Ramsey for abuse that led to Jon Benet's death.

BALDWIN: But the district attorney declined to prosecute, said he didn't have enough evidence to go to trial, and a former assistant DA said that was that right move.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL WISE, FORMER FIRST ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, BOULDER, COLORADO: The state of evidence in that case was just inadequate to file a charge in my opinion, and that obviously was his opinion too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Lin Wood is an attorney who has prosecuted multiple defamation cases on behalf of the Ramsey family. Mr. Wood, good morning to you. Let's just begin, look, you have been in touch with John Ramsey. What is your reaction and what is his reaction to this?

LIN WOOD, RAMSEY FAMILY ATTORNEY: John and Patsy were told back in 1999 that they should expect to be indicted. You have to go back 15, 16 years, remember there was a media frenzy of false accusations against this family. There was incompetent and credulous Boulder police investigation on this. The investigation focused on day one on the Ramsey family and refused to focus on the evidence that would lead to the killer of this child. So they expected they would be indicted and they expected they would have their names cleared and be found innocent in front of the jury.

So if this is true, in terms what anonymous sources have said, it really is a testament to the courage of Alex Hunter, the district attorney, to stand up and fulfill his oath of office as a prosecutor and to not bring charges that would have resulted in a gross miscarriage of justice, because innocent people would have been charged with a crime they did not commit.

BERMAN: He said everyone is sworn to secrecy. A local paper did speak to some jurors. This is what one of them said. He said "We didn't know who did wan what, but we felt the adults in the house may have done something, and that they certainly could have prevented, or they could have helped her, and they didn't." They are not saying that they thought they killed, but saying they thought they were somehow were involved.

WOOD: Or saying as a grand jury that they did not know what happened. We do know if you fast forward nine years later, 2008, advances in DNA technology in terms of r retrieval and testing led to DNA evidence that exonerated the Ramsey family, that proved, if this story is true, the grand jury was wrong, and, again, I think elevated Alex Hunter to the status of hero for preventing the miscarriage of justice.

BERMAN: How rare is it that the grand jury to say we want to indict and the district attorney to say we are not going to prosecute?

WOOD: The saying goes that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, and here there's not even a sandwich. I think you had a grand jury that was likely confused and perhaps could have had some of that confusion cleared up if John and Patsy Ramsey could have been allowed to testify before the grand jury. They offered repeatedly to do so but they were never allowed the opportunity.

BALDWIN: This goes all the way back to 1996. Is this just one of those things that will forever be a misery and any given time, some reporter, some tidbit will come out and continue to haunt John Ramsey?

WOOD: John Ramsey and his son Burke and other Ramsey family members, this is going to impact the Ramsey family for generations because there is always going to be some reporter, like the reporter in this case whose reporting has been inaccurate in the past about the Ramsey family, who is going to want to seize that sensational headline and grab some attention and write and disparage this family.

But they have been exonerated and I think it's important for the public to recognize that the real blockbuster news was the DNA evidence found on this child's body and on her clothing that clearly is the DNA of the killer and perhaps hopefully one day we'll get a DNA hit and the killer will be brought to justice.

BALDWIN: Lin Wood, thank you so much for us in Atlanta this morning.

BERMAN: It is amazing, 16, 17 years, and we're still talking about it.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, crashes are nothing new at the X Games, but this one is just awful, and it has a star fighting for his life this morning. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business. Stock futures slightly lower ahead of earnings reports from Ford and others as well as reports on housing and consumer confidence. The DOW basically paused yesterday. It is up six percent this year. That's the best start to a year since January 1994. In case you're counting, the DOW is up almost 800 points the past four weeks.

The government's top bailout watchdog says the treasury department failed to curb executive pay that bailed out companies after the financial crisis. The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, wrote that AIG, General Motors, and Allied Financial, quote, "continued to lack an appreciation for their extraordinary situations and failed to view themselves through the lens of companies substantially owned by the U.S. government." All three companies released statements defending their pay packages, saying they complied with TARP conditions.

A new study by the Center of College Affordability says -- listen very carefully -- about 37 percent of college graduates in the U.S. employed in jobs that don't need more than a high school degree. One in six are bartenders, one in six are cab drivers.

BERMAN: If I didn't go to college I wouldn't know how to mix drinks.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: In some degree categories, half of the kids are working -- either not working or working part-time jobs that don't require a college education as they start paying back student loans.

BALDWIN: They need to get the education.

ROMANS: Long term it pays off, but getting that first job out of college is difficult.

BALDWIN: Christine, thank you very much. Still ahead here on STARTING POINT, 26 minutes past the hour. First the gang of eight, and now this morning we'll hear the president's plan to overhaul immigration today. But can he get Republicans on board? Tennessee Congressman Marsha Blackburn is here next with reaction.

BERMAN: Plus really some dangerous weather in the forecast, with thunderstorms, a tornado. We are tracking those storms, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. In just a few minutes Representative Marsha Blackburn is here. She reacts to the president and the gang of eight immigration proposal.