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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Explosion Outside U.S. Embassy in Turkey; Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch Dies; Day 4 in Alabama Hostage Standoff; Hagel's Fight for Confirmation; January Jobs Report Out Today; Prosecutor Gunned Down Near Courthouse; Religious Orgs Opt Out of Contraceptive Coverage

Aired February 1, 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: Two big breaking news stories we're following this morning. The first, the suicide bombing that has taken place just outside the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, one person reported dead. At least two others have been injured. We have reporters from the Turkey to the Pentagon who are gathering the details at this hour.

Also the death of a New York legend, former Mayor Ed Koch is dead. We talk to those who knew him, those who loved him and those who fought with him.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And Soledad, the January jobs report numbers coming out in about 30 minutes. I'm going to have them for you live. I'm going to break them down.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And Chuck Hagel grilled on Capitol Hill. The nominee for defense secretary faltering some during the confirmation hearing. The question is: does it matter?

O'BRIEN: It's Friday, February 1st and STARTING POINT begins now.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Let's get to the breaking news this morning. We begin with a story out of Turkey. A suicide bombing has taken place right outside the U.S. embassy there. Second gate is what we're told is the location. Police say one person is dead. Several other people, at least two have been wounded. It happened in Ankara.

We get back to Andrew Finkel. He's a journalist. He's in Istanbul, Turkey.

So, we left our last conversation really talking about who possibly could to be to blame. Walk me through, I guess, the usual suspects potentially in this case.

ANDREW FINKEL, JOURNALIST: Well, it's a very complicated set of scenarios I have to say. I mean, one possibility, one strong possibility is that this is a warning from someone on the Syrian side of the Turkish border of Syria or Iran who are reacting against what appears to be an escalation, outside involvement in the Syrian civil war, that we're talking the Israeli bombardment of targets inside Syria. Syria had promised to retaliate or in a surprise fashion.

Is this the surprise? Well, we just don't know.

One other possibility is that this may be a part of Turkey's Kurdish conflict. At the moment, the Turkish government is engaged in incredibly sensitive negotiations to try and bring an age-long Kurdish conflict in the Southeast of the country to an end, other various people who don't want that those negotiations to succeed, and there have been a series of incidents, an assassination in Paris.

Is this a convoluted attempt to influence the outcome of those negotiations? Or is it just someone with a grudge against America? There's any number of possibilities. No one in the American embassy or among the Turks is speculating on this so far.

O'BRIEN: No, they're not saying anything except that the investigation is now under way.

All right. Andrew, thank you very much.

I want to get right to Chris Lawrence. He's at the Pentagon for us. So, Chris, from a Pentagon perspective, what's happening right now?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the word we're getting, Soledad, is that the governor of Ankara and the U.S. ambassador to Turkey had just made a joint statement on local Turkish television there, basically saying that this was a suicide attack and that a man detonated a bomb in early afternoon just outside the U.S. embassy there, saying also that the man who detonated the bomb is dead as well as one Turkish man who was working for the U.S. embassy. Several other people were also injured and of course they are still getting to the root of this investigation and getting the investigation started with the Turkish police.

On the U.S. side, this is a full-fledged U.S. embassy, unlike the consulate in Benghazi that was in a transitional country like Libya. This is fully staffed with the State Department's diplomatic security services, as well as a detachment of Marines. The U.S. military does have a presence in Turkey but they are mostly based at two airbases near the coast, as well as about 400 troops who have recently arrived to man a patriot missile battery. But, again, they're about 400 miles away at a Turkish army base -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. We're getting some updates as well, Chris. We know the person who is reported dead is U.S. embassy guard, no Americans are among those injured in this attack, the guard, of course, appears to have been a Turkish guard at the U.S. embassy there.

And you heard both Chris Lawrence and you also heard earlier sort of the speculation now about who is to blame. There has been not much coming out of the embassy, sort of from the official standpoint, which is not surprising at all. But I do think this warning I guess from Syria about something unexpected coming is definitely interesting timing.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, look, Syria has a long history of state-sponsored terrorism. I remember doing the conflict, previous conflicts with Lebanon, remember, there was Syrian assassinations? I mean, the one thing to say about this is when Syria does something, they do it in a sort of bigger, more grand way.

I'd be a little bit surprised if this lone person was a state Syrian attack. But it's obviously very early. We don't have the details.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Syria may not have the reach to do this. Obviously, they're embattled but Hezbollah who is often been a puppet of Syria in sort of better standing right now. Perhaps they are involved, all of this of course speculation.

All of this, of course, speculation.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And both of which in alliance with Iran, which also issued a warning yesterday, which it said that all of these warnings, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah are coming because of an Israeli air strike on a Syrian convoy of supposed chemical weapons towards Hezbollah.

O'BRIEN: So, then, let's go right to Jerusalem, which is where Ivan Watson is standing by for us.

You've heard, Ivan, rolling through some of the usual potential suspects when you're looking at Ankara and when you're looking at sort of the -- what has been happening geopolitically over the last days and weeks.

What are the sorts of theories that are going to be thwarted? I mean, to what degree could there be a link between that attack by Israeli forces and maybe this particular incident about which we do not have a lot of information?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, the problem is there are an awful lot of possible suspects behind what a U.S. official is telling CNN, according to preliminary reports was a suicide bombing.

And let me just give you one example. In 2008, a gunman attacked the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, not in Ankara, the capital but the biggest city in Turkey and at least six people were killed in a gun battle at that very heavily fortified U.S. diplomatic mission.

There are a number of organizations internally within Turkey that have claimed responsibility for a whole series, you know, dozens of bombings over the course of the last decade, some that can be little more than a percussion bomb outside a bank or a McDonald's. Others can be far more devastating like in the early, around 2002, I believe, the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul were hit by al Qaeda and that left scores mostly of Turks killed.

There are Kurdish groups, the Kyrgyzstan workers' party that have been fighting a war against the Turkish state that still goes on, that has claimed thousands of lives and people are getting killed every week in that conflict.

So, there a whole host of different groups, from leftists to Kurdish separatists, to al Qaeda, to Islamists, to ultranationalists, that have carried act of violence in Turkey. And some of the groups come out very angrily against the U.S. and its policy not only in Turkey but also in the broader Middle East. We've seen riot police around that same U.S. embassy in years past, breaking up demonstrators, very angry at U.S. policy in the region.

So there are a whole host of potential suspects that could be behind an attack like this -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ivan Watson for us -- thank you, Ivan, for that update.

Let's get right to CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend, also our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Fran, I'm going to start with you. You heard Ivan sort of tick off all the potential suspects and what he described as a whole host of people who credibly could be responsible for this. Obviously, the embassy has been the focus of attacks in the past and there's been a lot of focus on protecting the embassy, which is already described as in a very secure area surrounded by other ministries.

Does any of this surprise you?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, the thing that's stunning about it -- look, that there would be an attack is not surprising given all the geopolitics that you discussed this morning with the panel, particularly with Syria and Iran.

The fact that someone was brazen enough to have launched this attack against the U.S. embassy -- to be fair, in fairness to the State Department, the security worked exactly as it was supposed to have. This is an outer perimeter. It's initially where you're screened. It looks like the blast was contained as the building was designed to do, tragic that anyone was killed, but it really -- the security worked the way it is supposed to work.

But it does take a certain amount of organization, skill and moxie, frankly, to launch it against such a heavily fortified U.S. embassy and that's not an accident. So, that does suggest to me a fairly sophisticated -- whether it's Hezbollah working on behalf of Syria or an al Qaeda affiliate -- this is an organization that knew how to launch this. This was not sort of thrown together at the last minute.

O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, what are you hearing at the Pentagon on this? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Soledad, they're close mouthed about the entire situation. But I have to tell you, the intelligence community has been looking for some time at the very question of some of these affiliate groups said to be affiliated with al Qaeda perhaps that are emerging in the region.

I was just talking to some intelligence officials yesterday. What they are noticing, they say, is a number of groups throughout North Africa, the Middle East, this region including Turkey, where they are sharing fighters, expertise, weapons, technology.

This is sort of the post 9/11 era we're in now, where the small groups are rising up. They may often have their own priorities, their own targets for attack but they're becoming more and more dangerous because of their own ability to network, if you will, to share the expertise.

The intelligence community says fighters are moving between these networks and it's causing a lot of concern. The situation in Syria is certainly exacerbating that. A number of al Qaeda affiliates, al Qaeda fighters rising in Syria, in the revolution there, and moving throughout the region.

So I think it's safe to say they're going to look closely at this attack and see if it has any of those hallmarks.

O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr for us this morning. And also Fran Townsend with us -- I appreciate it, ladies, very much.

We've got another breaking news story that we've been following us well for you. The death of the former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch. He passed away overnight in a New York City hospital. He died of congestive heart failure.

He was 88 years old. Mayor Koch served three terms as mayor beginning in the late 1970s.

In a statement, New York's current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said Koch's wit and wisdom will be part of the city he loved so much.

A spokesman says funeral services will be held on Monday and one has to imagine those funeral services will be jammed from folks in politics of which he was connected to so many and then regular folks who really just liked his personality.

BERMAN: "The New York Times" has a brilliant line of their obit today. They say, "Besides his sister, Mr. Koch is survived by New York itself."

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: It's a great line.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRIER, NEWYORKER.COM: And I bet there will be some sort of formal city tribute to him that New Yorkers --

O'BRIEN: Oh, I bet.

SOCARIDES: -- can attend perhaps some kind of viewing. But it's going to be a big event in the life of New York. I mean, he came to symbolize the brashness and the -- you know, all that's great about New York, with a lot of chutzpah. He was very combative. New Yorkers loved him and he gave back a lot of tough love.

CAIN: This morning, John and Ryan, and Richard and Soledad having grown up in the Northeast have said essentially when you thought of New York, you thought of Ed Koch. Well, I would tell you, as growing up in Texas, I might be speaking for many of us, when I thought of Ed Koch, sometimes, my recollection was the "People's Court".

LIZZA: Yes.

CAIN: He also played a huge role in succeeding Judge Wapner.

O'BRIEN: But in a way, great casting, because he actually took that same personality, which was tough and brash, he was an attorney, and he had gone from being an attorney to really starting in politics, that's sort of like I'm going to be fair but I'm also going to be rational and I'm going to be tough. And he brought that to take over from the very beloved Judge Wapner which is true.

It was excellent casting. I remember when the swap was made.

SOCARIDES: He served during such an interesting time, too, because remember, the beginning of his term, the city was struggling with a financial crisis and with bankruptcy. And he was one of the first big city mayors to lift a city out of that. He helped build a lot of --

O'BRIEN: But he did in two fronts, right? He did it by dealing with the banks and he also did it by literally cheerleading the people to actually like their city again.

LIZZA: I mean, he saved the city. I mean, people forget how bad things were in this town in the 1970s, right? It was on a knife edge. It was on its way to becoming Detroit or something, you know, bad like that.

SOCARIDES: That's exactly right. And he built a lot of public housing, which was the other thing.

LIZZA: Yes.

SOCARIDES: He did that was really left a mark on New York, but he also served as we said before, during an amazingly divisive era in New York where there was a lot of racial issues. It was on the beginning of the crisis and those two fronts, his record is somewhat more mixed. Lot of people he didn't do enough.

O'BRIEN: That he didn't do enough and early enough.

LIZZA: He shut down a hospital, the name escaping me now, in Harlem, that was important to the African-American community. And he later in life said it was one of his regrets, one of the few times he actually he admitted he got something wrong.

BERMAN: At the time, it was one of the only hospitals where African- American doctors could find jobs.

LIZZA: Yes. And he had some reasons for shutting it down, but he regretted that. But he didn't quite -- the racial issues on his watch were not probably the thing that, he didn't handle the best. And, frankly, in his third term, his mayoralty sort of came apart. It ended with a lot of corruption and a young prosecutor named Rudolph Giuliani made a name for himself for prosecuting --

O'BRIEN: Sounds familiar.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Not the mayor corrupt, not Koch himself but the people around him.

SOCARIDES: People, more like people who are appointed.

But you know what I remember growing up, he would stand outside the subway station in New York and he would shake hands and he would say to people, how am I doing? How am I doing? That is one of my first memories as a child of someone in politics.

O'BRIEN: He'll be missed, that's for sure. I'll tell you, I have a prediction that I'm sure that you'll all agree with -- his funeral will be at overflow capacity, with everybody from the top ranks of New York City to regular folks attending that funeral.

You've got other stories making news this morning, too.

BERMAN: Yes, Soledad.

We're also following developments in the hostage standoff in Alabama as a 5-year-old boy being held for a fourth day in an underground bunker. Police say nothing changed overnight. The boy appears to be unharmed physically and they're continuing to communicate with the suspect using a PVC tube.

CNN's George Howell spoke to a neighbor who has seen his bunker.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIMMY DAVIS, JR., NEIGHBOR: He --

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORERESPONDENT (voice-over): Jimmy Davis Jr. and his family have been neighbors to Jimmy Dykes since he moved to this area and brought property here more than a year and a half ago, and Davis says he's seen the bunker first hand.

DAVIS: He told me U.S. a storm shelter and I -- I have not seen it in probably eight to nine months. I'm not sure what he's done to update it or anything.

HOWELL (on camera): So, when you saw that bunker, I mean, what did it look like? How wide? How deep was it?

DAVIS: It was like a 15 by 15-foot, you know, wide in length and about 12-foot deep and it was lined with bricks like the little red bricks.

HOWELL: Davis says Dykes travel trailer where he leaves sits about 20 yards just off the road on his property. Just behind the trailer is a massive steel shipping container that Davis says Dykes used as a shed, and behind that, slightly to the left sits the underground square bunker.

DAVIS: Actually had cinder blocks going down with steps, and it was covered up with two sheets of plywood and nailed together with (INAUDIBLE) and stuff as a door to open to it.

HOWELL: Davis saw the bunker early in its development. He says it had a tarp and sand over the top. He also noticed a PVC pipe buried in the ground that went from the bunker all the way to the front gate. Dykes told Davis that he put it in so that if he was in the bunker, he could hear people or cars approach the front gate.

Did he ever give you any indication as to why he built this bunker? A storm shelter. That's what he said.

DAVIS: He said back when he lived, I forgot where he told me he used to live, but back where he lived, there was a bunch of tornadoes and they would always get close to his house so he was preparing for it and wanted to make sure he had somewhere to get in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: That was CNN's George Howell.

Vice President Joe Biden will meet with the leader of the Syrian opposition movement during his European trip sometime over the next few days. They'll discuss the ongoing conflict in that country as well as Syria's relationship with Russia. The nearly two-year civil war in Syria has killed more than 60,000 people and forced more than 700,000 to flee.

So, he's certainly endured one of the toughest confirmation hearings we've seen in a long, long time. Now, former senator Chuck Hagel's aides are hoping for one-on-one meetings on Capitol Hill to kind of overcome any mistakes. Hagel went before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday as President Obama's choice for Secretary of Defense.

Republicans really turned up the heat, and Hagel often looked like he wasn't ready for it. He appeared flustered at times, confused, and unprepared for some questions as he wracked his memory, served up apologies, and in some cases, misspoke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I don't think there was a letter that I can recall. I don't recall the event.

I don't recall that.

I regret referencing the Jewish lobby.

I regret saying that. I regret that I used those words.

Not the term I should have used. I should have said pro-Israel lobby. I should have used another term and I'm sorry.

I misspoke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, of course, but one of the things we're looking for is the possibility of a filibuster. CNN, of course, keeping an eye on the Capitol for the latest on the Chuck Hagel nomination.

So, did we sprint or stumble out of the gate this year when it comes to creating jobs? We'll find out when the January jobs report comes out in just about 20 minutes. The Labor Department is expected to report that the economy added 180,000 jobs and the unemployment rate is forecast to dip slightly to 7.7 percent from its current 7.8 percent.

When we get those official numbers, we will bring them to you live. Of course, Christine Romans will break down the numbers as soon as they come out. Plus, we'll get instant reaction to that report. That is all going to happen at 8:30. We're talking less than 12 minutes from now, so keep it here.

O'BRIEN: And we continue this morning on STARTING POINT, talking about religious organizations being able to opt out of providing their employees with contraception and their insurance plans, a big change in the president's health mandate. The details on that are straight ahead.

Plus, a prosecutor gets gunned down outside a Texas courthouse. We're going to talk to one his friends about where this investigation could be heading. That's coming up next.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. A manhunt for the gunman who shot and killed a prosecutor outside a courthouse is under way, and there some more that there could be a second suspect in this case. Police are looking through hundreds of criminal cases to see if there's a connection between the prosecutor's work and his death.

His name is Mark Hasse, and he was gunned down in Kaufman, Texas. He worked as an assistant district attorney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIEF CHRIS ALBAUGH, KAUFMAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: It appears that the individual intended to hurt him, but whether or not that was just because he happened on him on the street at that moment or because he had intent and we don't know that yet. We're pursuing all of those possibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Eric Smenner is an attorney and a friend of Mark Hasse, and he's with us this morning. Nice to have you joining us and our condolences. This is just terrible. I guess, many people are now focusing on the cases that Mark was working on to get a sense of if there's some kind of clue in those cases. What can you tell me about the cases that he was working on and where you're heading in this investigation?

ERIC SMENNER, ATTORNEY: Well, I think that any time -- there's going to be a lot of organized criminal groups that a prosecutor's office is going to deal with on a regular basis. And I think that he was working on some things that involved some different groups.

We have prison gangs, motorcycle clubs, street gangs operating in an area, and oftentimes, the prosecutors will deal with those kinds of cases and I think he has been dealing with some cases that may have involved some White supremacists and some other groups. He was a hard nose prosecutor, and so, he was assigned some of those tough cases.

O'BRIEN: Your assistant, I believe, actually, saw the perpetrators driving away from the courthouse right after the shooting. Can you tell us a little more detail about that?

SMENNER: Sure. Mr. Hasse would have parked right here to my right and then he would have walked in this direction towards the courthouse. And, my assistant was just a few blocks away when she heard some gunshots, and of course, that seems to be unusual in this area because we're near the downtown area of Kaufman.

And just a few seconds later, she heard squealing tires and she saw a vehicle making a turn past the area where she was at, and a silver Taurus, Ford Taurus, drove past her at a high rate of speed. So, she began heading into work and she saw the police cars coming to the scene and she figured that one thing must be related to the other so she called the police and she gave them an idea of the direction that the shooters left in.

O'BRIEN: That's where the investigation stands right now. Eric Smenner is an attorney and a friend of Mark Hasse. Thank you for joining us. And again, our condolences. We are so sorry to hear this news.

SMENNER: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate you for being with us this morning.

SMENNER: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a big change in the contraceptive coverage mandate. We'll tell you what it means for religious organizations. Details on that coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. We are discussing this morning this new story in to CNN exclusively. Religiously affiliated organizations are now going to be able to opt out of providing their employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives under updates to an Obama administration mandate. You remember this was a topic of big, hugely controversial during the election.

If an institution decides, in fact, to opt out of paying for contraceptive coverage, individual employees will get coverage through a third entity that separate exchange. According to sources, this is expected to pronounce (ph), I should say, would be paid for by the insurance company. A spokesman for Health and Human Services Department refused to comment on the expected policy announcement.

But that is in essence of what we are hearing is that religiously affiliated organizations won't be able to exempt themselves. So, they won't have to do what they had very much bolt (ph) at doing, which was paying for something they felt they morally did not believe in.

SOCARIDES: So, for instance, if you work for the Catholic Church, right, you'll still get all the same insurance that anybody else would get. You'll still get contraceptive insurance, but the church won't have to pay for it, but the question is who's going to pay for it?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Well, they say a third party insurer.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: -- unanswered, because there was always an exemption, Richard, for the things like the Catholic Church. It's religious affiliated organizations. It's --

O'BRIEN: Like Catholic universities.

CAIN: How broadly are we expanding that umbrella, because the contraception mandate has been the result -- has resulted in numerous lawsuits, almost weekly from organizations like hobby lobby, private employers who have religious objections to this. Will it include them? Most likely not.

But who will it include? How will we define religiously affiliated organizations, and finally, the second controversy is just that, by passing the cost to the insurance company who really will end up with the costs.

O'BRIEN: Well, and also for those who are self-insured, you know, how exactly is that done? They have been -- LIZZA: That was the group that was sort of left out (ph). Just to step back, in March of last year when the HHS first announced this, it was hugely controversial and a lot of catholic affiliated institutions didn't want to come under the Obamacare's mandate to provide pay for contraception.

And the administration sort of did a carve out for them, but there was one group that it didn't cover that this seems to now include, and that is largely catholic diocese who actually pay for their own insurance. So, there was no third party there to pay for it. So, this seems to be a fix for that.

O'BRIEN: Will points out lots of questions, though. They haven't quite, well -- and then, they're expected to announce that later today. So, we'll be watching for that as well.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we continue to watch breaking news, too, out of Turkey, that suicide bombing in front of the U.S. embassy there. We'll update you on what's happening there.

Plus, the January jobs report just a couple of minutes away. We'll have it for you as soon as it comes out along with some instant reaction.

And then, Geraldo running for Senate? Senator Geraldo Rivera. Is he serious? What does it mean? We'll look at that, too. That's ahead.

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