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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Manhunt for Former Los Angeles Cop; Blizzard Watch in New England; Pres. Obama at National Prayer Breakfast; Brennan's Confirmation Hearing Today

Aired February 7, 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: Welcome everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, developing story a manhunt under way for a former police officer who is suspected in a double murder. We'll have details on that story straight ahead.

In just about 5 minutes, the president's expected to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast, here's a live look at the Washington health forum, going to be talking about the president's support of gay marriage. Will he mention anything about that today as he talks about faith and his faith specifically at this prayer breakfast?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Getting ready for a winter storm, a blizzard that could drop up to 3 feet of snow on parts of the East Coast. This is on the move. We'll have a live report.

Plus, new developments concerning the U.S. drone program this morning. Iran claims it has hacked an American drone as the president prepares to leak to Congress a controversial memo. What does this mean for our national security?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And Boeing's Dreamliners back in the skies today, but one flight only. Find out what Boeing is hoping to accomplish.

O'BRIEN: Plus, talk to about this morning, we're going to talk to CNN's chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper. Also, fitness guru Richard Simmons.

It's Thursday, February 7th -- and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Let's begin with breaking news. A manhunt under way. Authorities in California say a former police officer is now the prime suspect in the murder of a Cal State-Fullerton basketball coach and her fiance happened over the weekend.

Here's a live look at the search which is being conducted right now. According to "The L.A. Times," the man they are looking for is Christopher Dorner. Back a little bit, he was fired from the force. It happened five years ago. He had falsely accused a female sergeant of kicking a man at a hotel. So, that's five years ago, he was fired.

It's now believed that Dorner may have committed those murders over the weekend out of revenge for that firing five years ago. The father of the female coach that he is now suspected of killing represented him in front of the board that eventually ruled to dismiss him, that would be the connection that would potentially link him to these murders.

We're going to have more on the developing story as it comes in. But you're looking at live pictures of the manhunt that's under way right now.

Lots to talk about as we wait for the prayer breakfast to get under way. Our team Ryan Lizza. He's a CNN contributor, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." Abby Huntsman is host of "HuffPost Live", also daughter of former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. Richard Socarides is former adviser to Bill Clinton, a writer for NewYorker.com.

John Berman helping us out with the weather -- the weather, which is our news --

BERMAN: I'll do whatever you want. I'll take care of it all. Business, laundry, I'm ready for everything.

O'BRIEN: I'm trying to say, the news this morning, which is really focusing on the weather, which is our big story. We're talking about storm systems on a collision course right now. And if they come together the way that the forecasters are telling us that they will, New England could be buried by more than two feet of snow over the weekend. Maybe three feet of snow over the weekend, specifically focused on, I guess, Boston, right, Rhode Island as well.

Let's get to Indra Petersons. She's tracking the system for us at the CNN weather center in Atlanta. All right. Walk us through how bad this is going to be.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. I'm going to start with how it's expected to be formed, because this could be one for the record books. What we are watching right now is some severe weather, or maybe some thunderstorms developing here in the Southeast. Now, this will form a low and then it will start to make its way towards the Carolinas.

And we've been talking about two storms merging and that's what we're watching into one nor'easter. There is the one expected to bring heavy rain and wind as it moves North along the Carolinas.

And there's the second system. As these two come together, we'll see that one large bull's eye of the nor'easter. Now, the one thing we all keep talking about is the variants here, all the models bringing in different amounts of snowfall. The reason for that is the position of the low. If it's close to the coastline, you'll get a lot of moisture here and we're talking about heavier amounts of snow.

The second thing we're watching is the freezing line, you see that colder air farther down to the South. You'll see more snow because you won't switch from sleet into snow, start of earlier with the sleet. We, of course, have the blizzard watches in effect from Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon. Storm surges are going to be out there two to three feet, strong gusts out there.

And keep in mind, this isn't just Boston, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Look at the vast area affected by the storm, all of New England and even snow flurries out toward Michigan, eight to 10 inches is possible.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks for monitoring it for us, Indra, thank you.

John has got a look at some of the other stories making news.

BERMAN: We have a developing story this morning.

U.S. secrets possibly exposed. Iran claims it has decoded and now released footage from a downed U.S. drone. A man identified as a member of Iran's military narrated the black and white aerial footage as it was broadcast on Iranian state media. He claims it's a drone Iran downed in 2011.

Now, CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this video. We reached out to the Pentagon for comment but we have not heard back yet.

Drones will come up at a confirmation hearing today for John Brennan, the president's nomination for CIA director. He's expected the tough questions the use of drones to target Americans suspected of terrorism. Brennan was a chief architect, of course, the Obama administration's drone program. The president has agreed to release classified documents to two congressional committees outlining the legal justification for drone strikes that killed U.S. terror suspects abroad.

The grounded Dreamliner 787 will fly again today, but for one time only. The FAA OK'd a one-time flight with no passengers from Ft. Worth, Texas, to the factory in Everett, Washington, to complete production on one, just one, of the jumbo jets. "The Wall Street Journal" says Boeing is proposing a series of battery design changes that it believes would help minimize the fire risks -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. We want to get back to live shots of the prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C. That's being held right now. People have arrived and they are obviously already at the podium. The president is set to speak any moment.

It is the 61st National Prayer Breakfast. The vice president, Joe Biden, is there. The first lady, Michelle Obama, is there. President Obama as I mentioned, is going to speak in just a couple of minutes. Three thousand people in the audience, 140 countries represented.

It is described as a non-partisan event, and --

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: It's described as a non- partisan event.

O'BRIEN: As I said described as a non-partisan event. Explain to me, we'll take the president live as soon as he starts talking. But what is the point of addressing this breakfast?

SOCARIDES: Well, it's interesting that he's doing this. I mean, historically, this is a -- this is a breakfast organized by conservative religious leaders every year. Presidents have participated for a long time, every president has, usually speaks.

O'BRIEN: The Fellowship Foundation runs it, right? They're a conservative organization.

SOCARIDES: The Fellowship Foundation runs it. Right. They're a conservative religious organization.

And it's important for government and religious leaders to have a dialogue, but it's gotten dicey recently because this organization that organizes the breakfast has been linked to the promotion of anti- gay laws outside the U.S. especially in Uganda.

O'BRIEN: But there's a political process as well that we're watching here, right? It's not just about talking to this particular organization; the fact that the messaging is important, too. It's an opportunity for the presidents to come and talk about faith in this particular forum.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it's a little off that this group has continued to sponsor controversy surrounding them. But it's one of the few events in the spring -- of spring season of Washington politicians, Democrats and Republicans, are getting together at these things that endures, and you have people from both sides of the aisle, usually talking.

And every year there's some controversy in the faith community with the president, will we wonder is he going to bring out issue "x". And this year, it's gay marriage, right?

O'BRIEN: And that's because ever since he talked about his support for gay marriage -- that was back in May -- he really hasn't --

SOCARIDES: The inaugural -- the inaugural most dramatically.

LIZZA: But he hasn't been in a setting like this --

O'BRIEN: Right. So, is there any realistic --

LIZZA: -- where he has an opportunity to speak to an audience that probably does not --

O'BRIEN: How likely is that, that that's going to happen?

SOCARIDES: It is not going to happen. BERMAN: You don't think he'd bring it up at all?

SOCARIDES: No. I don't think he's going to do that.

O'BRIEN: Why?

SOCARIDES: I mean, I think it would be great if he did, but I don't think -- I think it's too in your face. This is not the dialogue that they have.

O'BRIEN: Given the fact this san audience that is listening to words about faith, the whole entire point is to speak about either your personal faith or issues of faith that are under discussion right now, what do you expect he's going to talk about?

ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, "HUFFPOST LIVE": I don't think he'll talk about gay marriage necessarily, but this is a time where he has a platform to talk about equality -- equality for all Americans. I mean, as a country we've always been about equality.

I think he'll make that the focus. Obviously, we know what he's referring to. He's going to be referring to gay marriage that he wants that done in the next four years. I don't think -- I don't know what he will address it head on, but he will beat around the bush.

LIZZA: It's generally very apolitical when presidents talk at this prayer breakfast. It's a time to talk about why faith is important in one's own life, but very rarely do they get up there with an overtly political message and talk about the details of his agenda.

Look, he's going to have the State of the Union next week. He had his inaugural address recently. This isn't the time where he's going to get into those the details.

BERMAN: By the way, the president talked about it being a great deal from way back, even before he was president, he had a very proactive outreach to evangelical groups, groups that Democrats don't normally go after.

O'BRIEN: Let's get to Brianna Keilar. She's at the White House.

And, Brianna, I want to bring you into the conversation, but I also want to warn you that we're live the pictures as they are introducing people on the dais. And so, of course, as soon as the president comes up and starts talking, we're going to jump in and we'll take that live.

Give me a little sense of what you're hearing will be his focus today.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think -- I agree with the panel. I don't think he will be so overt talking about his views on same-sex marriage. It would be very much in your face and I don't think this is really the group that he would be trying to sell his views on same-sex marriage to. So we're not expecting him to necessarily try that. I think you might hear him speak in broad tones about inclusivity, but that obviously could mean a number of things. It's not, Soledad, that he hasn't at times sort of jumped into the fray during this prayer breakfast. In 2010, he actually criticized that anti-homosexuality bill that was being considered by Uganda's legislature, but I just think today we might not be hearing that.

Last year, he talked certainly in evangelical tones. He talked about his personal spiritual experience about how he wakes up in the morning, has a brief prayer, spends some time in devotion and Scripture. So, that was really fascinating to hear him talk about his own process.

And also I have to tell you, Soledad, something that just fascinates me as I'm watching this, and I see Jeff Sessions there at the podium. The sort of fascinating thing about this prayer breakfast is you have the president there with someone who is criticizing one of his nominees. So this is certainly an event that kind of brings some strange bedfellows together and we're watching that play out right now on the screen.

O'BRIEN: That's interesting, because even in the bigger, if you sort of widen out from the president and Jeff Sessions in the shot, and you sort of look at the audience, it also is strange bedfellows, isn't it?

SOCARIDES: This is a hostile audience.

LIZZA: And Sessions is one of Obama's fiercest critics in the Senate. I mean, recently, he's been going after Obama on immigration. Name the issue that Obama has championed, Sessions has been one of the leaders in the Senate hitting him. He's one of the most conservative senators. So I find these events sort of interesting.

HUNTSMAN: They're awkward.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say they're whispering to each other as we get ready for the president to come and take the podium, he's going to make his remarks.

This is the National Prayer Breakfast, 61st annual Prayer Breakfast. I guess presidents since Eisenhower have attended. We're expecting to hear from the president in just a few minutes, as we continue to monitor it.

Andrea Bocelli has just taken put in there and he's singing.

As we leave you with Andrea Bocelli singing. And he is not lip syncing, apparently. We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll bring you the president's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast live.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Some top stories this is morning:

We're going to start with a shocking one out of Kansas City, a shocking discovery there. A teenager was found chained to a pipe in the basement, trapped there by his own parents as punishment. Police found the special needs teen after responding to a tip by a neighbor who suspected the abuse. The frail and skinny 17-year-old told police he'd been locked down in the basement since September. Three adults are in custody and the child is in the care of Protective Services.

In just a few hours, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joints Chief Chairman General Martin Dempsey will testify at a Senate hearing on the deadly U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi and Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack back on September 11th.

The Boy Scouts say they need more time. They put off potentially historic vote yesterday on lifting the national ban on gay members. The organization will take this up now during their annual meeting in May.

Tim Geithner is shopping for a publisher. The former Treasury Secretary is planning to write a book, of course he is, about his handling of the 2008 financial crisis. Geithner came under fire for the bailout of big banks when he was head of the New York Fed. We're told he's hoping to have the book done by next year.

O'BRIEN: That's interesting, too, to hear a public announcement. I'm shopping --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I don't think so at all, actually.

All right. Let's take you back to the National Prayer Breakfast. As I mentioned, it's the 61st annual. We're still waiting for President Obama to get up and speak. Chuck Schumer is now at the podium. He's not a short speaker --

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: -- Senator Schumer, who is my senator, so I think as a constituent, I get to say that.

LIZZA: You all remember his very nice but very long address during the inaugural, right? He gave his own inaugural address before Obama gave his.

(LAUGHTER)

SOCARIDES: Oh, that's a tough cracker.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: It was long as the president's.

SOCARIDES: No.

HUNTSMAN: Close call. It was a close call.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the organization that is sponsoring this. We were talking about that just a moment ago. They have a very spotty track record, certainly, and it's interesting that the president or really that people who don't necessarily agree with their agenda come every year and speak, right?

SOCARIDES: It's almost as if he's coming to pay his respects, right? I mean, it's important that there be a dialogue, but as this group has become more extreme, and as the president has become a bigger, stronger advocate for equality, their views are so diametrically opposed to each other, and so, it's kind of unusual and curious that they, you know, still think it's important to have this dialogue with people with whom disagree so dramatically.

BERMAN: Do you think he shouldn't go?

SOCARIDES: I think he probably shouldn't go. I mean --

O'BRIEN: When every president since Eisenhower has gone, the message that you would send, I think, would be a very --

HUNTSMAN: I disagree with you, Richard, because I feel like, you know, this is, as we say, more about the tradition of it. It's not that either side is going to, you know, influence the other to change their mind about gay marriage, for example, but I think this is an instance where you remember that we're all Americans. We may not agree on everything, and so, if you take away these traditional events, I think, we become more divided as a country.

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: I think this group has become so extreme in their views that there's not like they're out of the mainstream. It's like they're on the extreme right.

HUNTSMAN: They're going to become even more extreme if you don't have events like this where you have the president at least give his point of view.

SOCARIDES: Well, but would you go to the convention of a hate group? I mean, that's what they've kind of become. I mean, they are sponsoring a bill in Uganda that would provide the death penalty for someone who is gay.

LIZZA: So, you're saying a group that is that intolerant, how could they be the sponsor of an event ostensibly to bring people together.

O'BRIEN: I have to say, I think Abby has a point, right, which is if you continue to do this, you end up having very polarized groups. There are certainly groups on the left and groups on the right where people just absolutely completely disagree.

SOCARIDES: Where do you draw the line? Where do you draw the line? O'BRIEN: You know, I think that --

LIZZA: But, Soledad, you wouldn't attend any group that was devoted to that if they had, you know, extreme views, right?

O'BRIEN: First of all, you know I love sitting in and taking notes when people are saying, and you know, especially when I'm not invited because I think that that's the best way to understand what people are talking about, what their agenda is, who their speakers are. I mean, I think when you go to any of these things and you don't bring cameras in, you run the risk, actually, of a bigger problem, but I think as to whether the president should go --

HUNTSMAN: I think we're talking about the president of the United States. We're not talking about myself. We're not talking about Richard or Soledad, would you go to this group or that. You're talking about the president here.

O'BRIEN: And he's being invited to talk about his position, so I agree with Abby on this. Girl power today this morning as we wait for the 61st Annual National Prayer Breakfast to get under way. We're expecting to hear from President Obama in just -- they've told us 8:05, so running up a little bit late this morning.

We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it happens. We're going to take a short break. We'll come back on the other side, hopefully, with the president's remarks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Happening right now, President Obama is expected to speak any moment now at the National Prayer Breakfast. It's the 61st Annual Prayer Breakfast. Presidents from Eisenhower on have attended a series of speakers before, though, are taking the mic, and a long series I should say.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We were expecting to hear from the president about 20 minutes ago. These remarks though that he will make this morning are his first, allegedly, his first to --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I can't see from a distance -- his first remarks to a faith- based group since he announced his support for same-sex marriage which was back in May, right? So -- and then, of course, we've since then had his inaugural address. We're going to hear from State of the Union next week.

I want to get right to White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's been following this event for us all morning long. Good morning, Brianna.

KEILAR: Good morning, Soledad. you were talking a little bit about the controversy surrounding this group, obviously, and its views on homosexuality and some of the measures that it has supported, but I think one of the interesting things to kind of point out is I wonder when people look at this prayer service, the National Prayer Breakfast, if they necessarily associate it with the group.

I think a lot of people actually don't, that they maybe see it as kind of this sort of thing that is about more of the value of prayer or the value of religion, and I do think that's one of the reasons why President Obama continues the tradition going his fifth year here. There's something about religion, obviously, for politicians where it's a common language, that trying to bridge the gap between themselves and a number of Americans.

We've actually heard President Obama do that in past years in very real terms. We've learned things about him. Last year, we learned that he prays every day. That's what he said. He said he gets up in the morning.

He says a brief prayer and he spends some time in scripture and devotion, and obviously, talking, I think, a lot in evangelical tones at the time you look at it in this event that, yes, it's not supposed to be a political event, but it was in an election year where a number of normally, I would say, evangelical Republican supporters had questions about Mitt Romney.

And you saw President Obama may be able to seize this moment. So, I think, sometimes, it serves a political opportunity. Sometimes, it serves this sort of -- it serves as an opportunity for the president to reach out, and certainly, at a time right now when he's dealing with some very divisive issues.

O'BRIEN: They're doing a prayer, Brianna, for national leaders, so I want to dip into that for just a moment so we can hear a little bit of it.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- who have served this great nation. Your world tells us of King David whose willingness to place his faith in you during difficult times serves as an example for us all. Like David, there are many in this nation who have answered the call to serve, both in and out of uniform. Lord, we are thankful for their dedication, their passion, their perseverance, and for the families the support their every effort.

(END LIVE FEED)

O'BRIEN: We continue to monitor the National Prayer Breakfast. This is the 61st Annual Prayer Breakfast, and there's been a lot of debate now that's moved to Twitter, Abby, about the comments you and I had about whether or not the president should even be attending. Every president since President Eisenhower has attended this prayer breakfast.

But of course, the group that is the sponsor of the breakfast, certainly, has ties to legislation that is very, I mean, I wouldn't even describe it -- SOCARIDES: What is the Twitterverse saying?

O'BRIEN: You know, some people agree, of course, and some people disagree, which is kind of how the Twitterverse always goes. But I think for a lot of people are saying, well, what if this was a prayer breakfast that sponsored by a group that thought that women should be killed. You know, how would that -- you know, should the president still address the issue?

I think that's an interesting point. I do think that for the president, there is an opportunity to have a platform to people who do not necessarily or probably definitely do not see eye-to-eye with what he has to say, so he has an opportunity to say something to that particular group.

HUNTSMAN: I think Brianna made a good point that, you know, I'll tell you, look, most Americans watch this don't know enough about the group that's sponsoring this event.

BERMAN: Well, I had no idea that this group sponsored it a few years ago. I just thought it was a Washington thing, to be completely honest. I think a lot of people think that same thing.

LIZZA: A lot of people. And I've been covering this group for years and only in recent years has it become a major issue of the coverage and has this group actually gotten a little bit more coverage. It's frankly a very secretive group that doesn't tell you a lot about what they do and how they operate.

O'BRIEN: And I'm surprised that other groups haven't come in. I mean, you could -- anybody can sponsor a prayer breakfast.

SOCARIDES: And in fact, the president, past presidents, this president, President Clinton, have had prayer breakfasts at the White House that are White House-sponsored events, and they've -- when they do that, they make a special effort to have people from all religious denominations and religion is not intolerant.

I mean, you know, there are many religions and many people who are leaders of religious groups who are very inclusive who support equality, who support the president's positions down the line, so there are many more progressive religious institutions, but this particular group is -- would -- you know, has some political beliefs that are on the right of the spectrum in this country.

LIZZA: Richard, will you be disappointed today if the president does not make a comment. He does not address the controversy surrounding this group?

SOCARIDES: Well, I think if he's going to go, he's obligated to talk directly about the issues that he said in his inaugural address are important.

O'BRIEN: How likely is that?

SOCARIDES: Equality for all. I think it's unlikely, but he could surprise us, because he seems to be more bold.

O'BRIEN: I don't think -- if he ever gets to the mic, because --

(LAUGHTER)

SOCARIDES: But you know, the interesting thing that's happening now, right, is they've got him and they've got the first lady. They are captive audience.

O'BRIEN: And so are we.

(LAUGHTER)

SOCARIDES: And so are we, and they're going to talk about what's important to them while he sits there as long as they possibly can.

O'BRIEN: Well, believe it or not, there are other stories making news this morning and John Berman's got a look at some of the stories for us.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

The manhunt is on right now for a former police officer who may be armed and dangerous. Authorities in California say he is the prime suspect in the double murder of a Cal State Fullerton basketball coach and her fiance over the weekend. The suspect is Christopher Dorner.

He was fired from the force five years ago for falsely accusing a female sergeant of kicking a man at a hotel. It's believed Dorner may have committed the murders out of revenge for the firing.

You're watching a potentially history making winter storm come together. It's about to slam into the northeast. Parts of New England are already under a blizzard watch. Two feet or more of snow could fall in parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island beginning tomorrow. Look at that, 30.8 inches in Massachusetts. A lot of the northeast will be facing freezing rain and damaging winds.

The FDA sends out a warning about a new fake version of the cancer fighting drug, Avastin. It says at least one batch sent by a New York-based distributor contained no active ingredient. The counterfeit version is marketed as Altuzan which is not approved for sale in the U.S. The only approved version for sale in the U.S. is Avastin. The injectable drug treats colorectal, brain, lung, and kidney cancer -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thanks. We're going to take another look at the president who is getting ready to make his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. We'll continue to monitor this and bring the president's remarks to you live right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)