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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Flying The Unfriendly Skies; Toddler Allegedly Slapped On Airplane; No End To Deadly Gun Violence Near Chicago; Details Emerge From Cruise Fire; Russian Meteor Aftermath; Letters From John Lennon's Killer; SNL Pokes Fun At Rubio; Obama's Immigration Plan Leaked; GOP Slams Obama's Immigration Plan; Danica Patrick Takes Pole In Daytona; High Flying At The All Star Game; Nothing But Net!; Youngest "Best Actress" Nominee

Aired February 18, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


RENEE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- started crying as the plane made its dissent because of the altitude change. Now Hundley, who was seated next to the mother, Jessica Bennett and her son allegedly told her to shut that "n" word baby up then with an open hand slapped the baby, causing him to cry even louder. That's according to the FBI affidavit. Take a listen to the mom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA BENNETT, SAYS TODDLER WAS ASSAULTED ON PLANE: When I had looked at Jonah's face, his eye was swollen here and it was bleeding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARSH: All right, well, Soledad, there were witnesses and the mother said in court documents that the man appeared to be intoxicated. So much so, she was forced to leave the seat and stand in back of the plane with her son for most of the flight.

We reached out to Hundley. He declined comment, but his attorney told the "Minneapolis Star Tribune" that her client will plead not guilty. Now as for his company, they said that his behavior was, quote, "offensive and disturbing."

He did work at AGC Aerospace and Defense. The company sells technology and other services to the military and businesses -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Does he have like any kind of a -- you know, record in any way? I mean, what a crazy story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sure is crazy. We know this about Hundley. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault in Virginia so not his first brush with the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not surprising.

O'BRIEN: Renee, thanks a lot. Appreciate it. It's interesting. I mean, what a crazy story. You can imagine the shock of these parents. CONNIE MACK, FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: First of all, I don't know. I mean, imagine -- we have children. Imagine that someone puts their hand on your baby.

O'BRIEN: Right. Touching your kid at all. Touching him and calling him the "n" word.

MACK: What they should have done is they should have taken that guy and strapped him to a seat somewhere else for the rest of the flight. Because not only did he put the baby in danger, but the reaction on that plane could have also been horrible, people trying to protect the mother and the baby. I just -- I can't imagine.

O'BRIEN: He would not be al live to tell the tale. What a crazy story.

MACK: It really makes my blood boil to think someone would put their hands on a little baby.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Is he being criminally prosecuted? I mean, this is an assault.

O'BRIEN: Charged by the FBI with simple assault. It will be interesting to talk later to John Thompson, who is the attorney for the parents to see if they are going to pursue any charges on their own, the couple obviously white. The boy, who is adopted is black. They never really thought they would be dealing with race issues early on. He's just 2 years old.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Do you know when in the flight does this happened?

O'BRIEN: Yes, it was getting ready to land, so his ears were hurting him, of course. Everybody who has had a child on the plane knows that's the most nightmarish time to have a baby. Interesting story. We'll talk to that lawyer, straight ahead.

First though, John has a look at some of the other stories making news this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad. This morning, police are questioning two men in the death of a Chicago woman killed just hours after her teenage sister attended President Obama's speech on gun violence.

Jenae McFarland was shot Friday night. The 18-year-old victim's mother says Jenae was out walking with friends and one of them may have been an intended target of the gunman. Just hours before McFarland's 14-year-old sister heard the president's plea to end gun violence. This girl is a freshman at the school where President Obama spoke.

It could take investigators up to a year to figure out what caused the engine fire on board Carnival's ill-fated cruise liner "Triumph." That sounds like a long time, but they do know where it started apparently. The ignition marks on a wall indicate the fire began in front of a generator in one of the ship's two engine rooms. That fire left the cruise ship crippled and more than 4,000 people on board stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for five difficult, trying days.

So scientists confirming this morning, they've recovered the first fragments of that giant meteor that exploded over Russia on Friday. State media says pieces were found on the edge of a giant hole of this frozen lake thought to be caused by falling space rock. More than 1,000 people injured when that meteor exploded, just amazing pictures from there.

So four letters written by John Lennon's killer up for sale today. Mark David Chapman mailed them to the cop who arrested him. In the letters, Chapman tells Steven Spiro he hopes they can be friends and that he felt close to the officer ever since his arrest. Listen to Spiro explain why Chapman told him he killed the former Beatle back in 1980.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN SPIRO, GOT LETTERS FROM MARK DAVID CHAPMAN (via telephone): I spent five hours with him after I arrested him, and he was telling me about all of the phoniness in the world that all of these rich people don't give to certain charities, that, you know, he would like. Three years after this guy killed John Lennon, that he admits that he had a hit list.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So Spiro claims that Chapman's hit list included Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Walter Cronkite, and actor, George C. Scott. Those names, they are not in Chapman's letters. Those letters are being sold for an asking price of $75,000.

So, you knew this was coming, "Saturday Night Live" poking fun at Senator Marco Rubio for reaching for that water during his delivery of the Republican rebuttal to the "State of the Union."

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you not see? It's never that far away. It's right here. It's back where you were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which way? Back where you were. And there it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My God! So good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So all appearing on weekend, Senator Rubio played by Terrim Kelian. The parched throat from participating in a cinnamon challenge, he also explains that before his national address he ate dry roasted peanuts and beef jerky, which would explain it.

O'BRIEN: Well, Marco Rubio gave an 18-minute long speech in Spanish right before he delivered the rebuttal. He was parched.

SOCARIDES: If you make a donation to his political action committee now, you get a Rubio water bottle.

MACK: Perfect.

O'BRIEN: He really had the best embracing of something that went viral and then trying to leverage it.

SOCARIDES: Embracing of something that went wrong.

O'BRIEN: And he did it fast. There was no -- boom and now they are making money selling water bottles, cute.

MACK: He did a great job in the response overall, and I know Marco, and I'm sure he is -- he's a good sport and probably having fun with this.

O'BRIEN: Laughing all the way to the bank, they made $100,000 in water bottles.

SOCARIDES: I thought on the policy he did a horrible job. I don't think anything he said convinced anybody that the Republican economic program would deliver outs of this problem.

BROWNSTEIN: He delivered a speech with very little new in it.

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk a little bit about immigration today. We're not going to talk about "State of the Union" since that has passed. We're moving forward, talk about immigration. That's for you.

SOCARIDES: We only get to talk about things in the future.

O'BRIEN: No, we don't. But today we're going to talk about what I want to talk about, the president's draft plan to overhaul the country's immigration system. It's been leaked to "USA Today" and it included a pathway to citizenship that would let undocumented immigrants become permanent residents after waiting eight years.

Now, as Senator Marco Rubio immediately said the plan would be dead on arrival, his fellow Republicans were not much kinder than that. Here is what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Leaking this out does set things in the wrong direction. This is the president torpedoing his own plan and shows me he is really not serious.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Does the president really want a result or another cadre of beat up Republicans?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So let's get right to Congressman Michael Burgess. He is a Republican from the state of Texas. It's nice to talk to you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Walk me through what they're calling this leaked plan "B." What do you like about it, if anything? What do you not like about what's been leaked?

BURGESS: Well, I'll tell you. It reminds me of 2007. Remember Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy were working on a big plan and they came up with something called the "Z Visa." As I understand, the president is talking about a visa for legal perspective immigrants.

And it was at that point that the 2007 plan sort of cratered because, look, even back then, Congress had an approval rating that was pretty minimal, and nobody believes the United States Congress can do something this complicated competently.

So for it to be push it out into center stage like this by the president, you know, he has a history of ignoring people with whom he should be working. Constituencies with whom he should be working.

Think of the governors during the affordable care act program. There was a good chance for the president to reach out to governors who are doing a lot in health care, and he never bothered to pick up the phone and do that. So it's --

O'BRIEN: Let me interrupt you one second. Many times on this program complaining that the president doesn't show leadership. That he is not stepping out with a plan. That have him do something, I mean, literally, specifically on immigration.

I've heard a dozen times and now when he finally has a plan that's leaked and maybe it was a real leak, and maybe it was a fake leak, you get -- everyone is mad that he leaked some plan that as you say harkens back to 2007.

BURGESS: Well, no one, of course -- nothing happens in Washington by accidents. I do believe this may have been an accidental on purpose leak.

O'BRIEN: I thought so.

BURGESS: There was a reason to want to get it out there, but at the same time, you know, this is activity that's going on the Senate side. There's really not much happening on the House side. We're all focused on debt and deficit and rightfully so and will be for the next several months.

But if the Senate were to actually get something done, obviously the House will look at it from what I heard yesterday from the people talking about the leaks, it makes it less likely to happen. But I wouldn't say it's because the president showed leadership.

And you have eight senators working and why not -- why not huddle with them and see what you can work on collaboratively, rather than this go it alone approach? BROWNSTEIN: Congressman, good morning. Ron Brownstein from "National Journal." Can I ask you -- you mentioned that Senate --

BURGESS: Good morning.

BROWNSTEIN: -- they seem to be moving toward a pathway to citizenship for people here illegally, conditioned on some progress on the border. If the Senate does pass something like that the key question is, would the House? How many House Republicans do you think would be willing to accept a pathway to citizenship for people here illegally?

BURGESS: Obviously not my job to count votes in the House. I don't think it would be an easy trajectory in the House. Certainly, not something that -- that I am anxious to see us do. Look, people make a mistake when they think that all Hispanics want is to see an amnesty program and then they are going to love Republicans again.

It didn't happen in 1986 or 1988 when George H.W. Bush probably got the same portion of Hispanic voters as Governor Romney this time. Two years after this massive -- this massive amnesty program, which by the way, didn't work at the end of the day.

In 1996, Bill Clinton legalized about 1.3 million people, just -- two months before Election Day, so they could all vote. It's that sort of activity that, again, forgive me, it makes me cynical about the process.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, well, Congressman Michael Burgess joining us from the State of Texas. He is a Republican. Thank you, sir, for your time. We appreciate it.

BURGESS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: It raised interesting point about this leaked or not leaked, leadership versus collaboration question that we've been discussing also in the last couple of weeks.

MACK: Look, to your point, we want to hear more from the president and what his positions are. And, of course, this wasn't a -- an accidental leak it doesn't happen in Washington. They are called trial balloons. They wanted to see the response they would get. We should be welcoming all -- the president, the House, and the Senate to engage in a robust debate about securing our borders and about immigration.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk more about this as the morning continues.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a coach sinks out an incredible half court shot, helps out a student in a huge way. We'll explain what happened.

And then Quvenzhane Wallis. Learn how to pronounce that name, my friends. She has been nominated for a best actress Academy award. We'll ask her what she would be if she were not an actress, that's ahead, stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Danica Patrick will race in the top spot this Sunday at the Daytona 500 after winning the pole. She is the first woman to do that, but does that mean she actually has a better chance of winning? Joe Carter has got the morning's "Bleacher Report." Hi, Joe. Good morning.

JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good morning, Soledad. You know, winning the pole at Daytona means that she's is going to start in the front row on Sunday. That of course, gives any driver a great advantage, but doesn't mean that the driver is guaranteed a win.

The last time a driver won both the pole and the Daytona 500 was 13 years ago, but this is still a very historic moment for her, for women out there, and, of course, for the sport.

Jeff Gordon saw firsthand what kind of buzz yesterday it created. That is Gordon's daughter posing next to Danica Patrick. And last night, Danica was asked that question on CNN. What does this mean to your young fans out there?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANICA PATRICK, WON POLE POSITION FOR DAYTONA 500: One of the coolest things, to be able to think that parents and kids are having that conversation at home about it. I've heard stories about a kid, a little boy or girl saying, but mommy, daddy, that's a girl out there racing and then they can have that conversation to say, you can do anything you want to do and gender doesn't matter. Your passion is what matters and that's cool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: All right, the NBA's biggest event brought out some big stars, Diddy, of course, the king and queen. And Spike Lee never misses a game. NBA All-Star Houston got love it, a lot of dunks. D. Wade and Lebron James, off the back board alley-hoop. Look how close Lebron's head gets to the rim, total elevation.

Carmelo Anthony dishing off Lebron right here, very nice exchange, dunk. Chris Paul made the game's MVP. He scored 20 points, dished out 15 assists. The West actually beat the East in a very close game, 143-138, lots of offense.

So the tuition shoot-out is a Friday night staple at Brandon University basketball games in Canada. You make the half court shot and you win a free semester of school. Last week, the athletic department gave the participants the option of picking anyone in the building to take the shot for them.

Instead of picking a player, one fan picked the men's basketball coach. The guy gave a shot and as you see in the video, the guy hit nothing but net. For all your entertaining sports news, go to bleacherreport.com. The question is, Soledad, who is going to pay the taxes, the coach or the kid? O'BRIEN: The kid, the kids' parents. But the coach running around, that was awesome. All right, Joe, thanks very much.

She is up against the likes of Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. So does Quvenzhane Wallis think that she could walk away with an Oscar? We'll tell you what the feisty 9-year-old says about her Academy award nomination in my interview with her up next.

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O'BRIEN: She's making Oscar history, 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis is the youngest person ever nominated for an Academy Award for best actress. Her role of hush puppy in the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild" tells the story of a little girl and her ailing father trying to survive in the Louisiana Bayou.

Quvenzhane Wallis joins us this morning. Is it hard for you to look at yourself on screen when they run clips of your movie?

QUVENZHANE WALLIS, OSCAR NOMINATED ACTRESS, "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD": Kind of because it's like something that I went through. It kind of makes me sad, but like I don't cry. So it's just like some scenes that is funny -- well, most of the scenes. It's just fun to see them.

O'BRIEN: So you were 6 years old when you started shooting this movie, 5 when you tried out for it.

WALLIS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What was that like? I mean, tell me a little bit about that.

WALLIS: For a kid my age, it was kind of like, why not? Let's go. It was just something I wanted to try. So it just all went through. Something I wanted to try.

O'BRIEN: You tried, and you ended up being great at it. You're 9 years old now. What was it like to get word that you, in fact, had been nominated for an Academy Award?

WALLIS: I was half asleep. So nothing reacted on the outside, but in the inside, I was doing cartwheels, back flips, and these are some things I can't even do.

O'BRIEN: But in your mind, you were doing them. That's pretty amazing. So at this stage already, are you trying to figure out what you're going to wear? What you wear to the Oscars, obviously, you've been on the red carpet now a bunch of times. Are people calling you saying, Quvenzhane, wear my dress? My stylist is going to help you.

WALLIS: My mom has that.

O'BRIEN: Your mom is all over it.

WALLIS: Yes. O'BRIEN: So will your mom pick out what you wear or will you find a happy medium in between?

WALLIS: She picks it, and I say if I like it.

O'BRIEN: So you have the final say?

WALLIS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: So the story of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a complicated story. It was hard. What was the best thing about shooting it, and what was the toughest thing about shooting it?

WALLIS: The best thing is playing on set.

O'BRIEN: What do you mean?

WALLIS: We get to play on set every single time. So we get to always play tag and stuff. And then the toughest part is whenever it's night time, the mosquitoes and the scenes with mud in it, the mud.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that you really, really, really want to win this award or do you think, as many people will tell me, well, it's just an honor to be nominated. It's good enough to be nominated, no one has ever said, I want to win.

WALLIS: It's just not about winning. It's about being there and being nominated. It's not about trying to win the award. It's having the pride enough to be nominated and being in the history book and being nominated or just being nominated. Everything is great, what you have. Whatever you win, that's great too.

O'BRIEN: What will you do next? Are you in the middle of projects already?

WALLIS: No. I finished three other films.

O'BRIEN: Three others?

WALLIS: Yes, "Bone Shaker," "12 Years of Slave," and a charity film.

O'BRIEN: Wow. So you've got four films under your belt by fourth grade. That's a lot. Do you see yourself continuing as an actress? Is that your ultimate dream job?

WALLIS: Yes. But I also want to be a dentist. That let go of my acting.

O'BRIEN: So you're going to be an actor who moon lights as a dentist in your free time?

WALLIS: Maybe, yes.

O'BRIEN: Or maybe a dentist who moon lights as an actor in her free time? Congratulations to you on your success so far. We'll be rooting for you. I'm going to be cheering and rooting for you to win even if you're not going to say it. I want you to win. Great to have you.

WALLIS: You too.

O'BRIEN: My God, she's so cute. I absolutely love her.

BROWNSTEIN: Late bedtime for the Oscars?

O'BRIEN: I bet she'll get to stay up. She's a lovely, grounded little girl.

BROWNSTEIN: So smart.

O'BRIEN: You know she's going to be a dentist and an actor for sure.

Still ahead this morning, some new details to talk about in the murder investigation of the Oscar Pistorius case. We'll tell you what investigators are now saying about this crime scene. It's really bizarre.

Also, a shock to the country music world, troubled star Mindy McCready has been found dead just one month after her boyfriend's apparent suicide. We'll tell you what police say happened right at the top of the hour.

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