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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

North Korea Threatens Nuclear Strike in U.S.; Interview with Jeff Corwin; Woman Mauled by Lion in Captivity; Senator Rand Paul Ends Filibuster; Arias Questioned by Jury; Stocks Up, Economy Down; Obama Dines with GOP Leaders

Aired March 7, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Our STARTING POINT this morning, a deadly cat attack at a big cat sanctuary. A lion killing a young intern. This morning, we'll be hearing from her father. Also talking to animal experts, Jeff Corwin and Jack Hanna, about what the young woman was doing inside the lion's cage in the first place.

Then, droning on and on with some snack breaks in between. It was an epic filibuster by Senator Rand Paul ended early this morning. We'll tell you why vote code pink which supports women for peace and the Tea Party, opposite sides of most issues, well, they're together supporting his efforts this time around.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A developing story out of North Korea, threatening a preemptive nuclear strike on America as the United Nations meets in just hours to lay down some punishments.

Plus, it is just a mess. The storm that snowed in Chicago and the D.C. suburbs now blowing people around in the northeast. We are live.

ROMANS: And the Dow is on a roll, hitting another all-time high. We're going to look at futures this morning right now. What could happen today?

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, March 7th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. We start with breaking news. Tough talk overnight. North Korea threatening a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States as the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on tougher sanctions against that nation. A foreign ministry spokesman made the threat in a statement to a state-run news agency.

South Korea's defense ministry says the North has been conducting a series of military drills on an unusually grand scale. Right now it's believed that Pyongyang does not have the capacity to deliver a nuclear strike on the United States and really can't back up all that talk.

Also a developing story out of northern California this morning, a young woman from Washington state mauled to death by a 350-pound lion. The victim has been identified as 24-year-old Dianna Hanson of Seattle. She was an intern at the Cat Haven Sanctuary in Dunlap, California. Dianna's father said she absolutely adored the African lion that killed her when for some reason she entered his cage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL HANSON, VICTIM'S FATHER: She was so happy when she got that internship. She was having so much fun down there. It was her dream job. She was so happy there it makes it bearable that she died so happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Dan Simon joins us live from Dunlap, California, this morning. Good morning, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. I think the key questions this morning, what were the protocols, were they followed, were they ignored. We are here outside Cat Haven, inside 50 rare exotic, some of these cats very large. They had all the permits. They were regulated by the state. And Cat Haven seemed to have a good reputation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Cousy, a north African lion.

SIMON: A lion shot dead Wednesday afternoon.

DALE HANSEN, CAT HAVEN FOUNDER: A female volunteer intern entered the lion's enclosure where she was attacked and fatally injured. The lion was shot and killed per our safety protocols. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friend and family -- and to her family at this time, at this trying time.

SIMON: The 24-year-old volunteer has been identified as Dianna Hanson from Washington state. Her Facebook page shows her pictured with large cats. Her father released a statement last night saying in part "Dianna was so excited at working at Cat Haven and living in California. Her favorites were the tiger and the lion Couscous, who killed her today."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're moving over to the African lions and I'm going into the den.

SIMON: Jennifer Michaels, also known as "Jungle Jenny," got an up close view of the lion while getting a tour of the animal sanctuary called Cat Haven in central California.

JENNY MICHAELS, THE JUNGLE JENNY FOUNDATION: I didn't see any type of aggressive behavior or anything that I needed to be worried about.

SIMON: Cat Haven is a 100-acre wooded sanctuary, home to some of the rarest cats in the world, including lions, tigers, and leopards. It describes itself as an innovative park, dedicated to the preservation of wildcats. Five-year-old Couscous came to the sanctuary as a cub. Founder Dale Anderson said this species of lion no longer exists in the wild.

HANSEN: The north Africans were killed off in the wild in the 1920s, so all the ones you see are in captivity.

SIMON: As for the victim, Dianna Hanson, it's not clear exactly how she died. But her father says big cats were her passion, writing "We will miss you so much, but I know that you will be happy for now you truly are in the eternal Cat Haven."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: And Soledad, I think what's remarkable about that statement or maybe surprising is that the father seems to have no bitterness or animosity towards Cat Haven. In fact he says that the way to honor his daughter's memory is to support cat preservation societies, just like this one.

O'BRIEN: What a terrible loss for their family. Dan Simon for us, thanks, Dan.

Let's get right to wildlife expert Jeff Corwin, the host of "Ocean Mysteries" on ABC and also the author of "Jeff's Explorer Series, Sharks." It's nice to have you with us this morning. You heard a couple of things I thought were interesting. One, a question of whether or not the protocols were followed or if they were ignored. It seems unusual to me as an outsider that an intern would be allowed close to a wild animal like that.

JEFF CORWIN: Well, Soledad, interns and docents and volunteers are really important and integral to the survival and management of zoos and institutions around the country and around the world. There are many volunteers that have lots of experience working with creatures.

But I have to tell you we can't forget how powerful these animals are. It does strike me as potentially dangerous for someone to be alone with a cat like this. And you can see a tragic outcome when one potentially loses sight on the absolute predatory ability of these incredible cats.

O'BRIEN: That was my second question for you, if I can. We heard a woman saying that she had never seen aggressive behavior. I just wonder if in a wild animal like a lion, is that just innate to the species, that aggressive behavior is part of being a lion?

JEFF CORWIN, HOST, "OCEAN MYSTERIES": Absolutely, Soledad. I mean, these animals are hard wired to be exquisite, pinnacle predators. They are at the top of the food pyramid when it comes to the ecosystems where they live. We can see this even in our domesticated cat. I have a couple of little cats at home, and you see that little instinct kicks in when he shows up with a little gift he found in the garden. That only gets more exacerbated as the creature gets bigger and more wild. They have incredible skills when it comes to being predator. Those skills even in a captive situation like a zoo, they don't go away. That's why many zoos and institutions under the AZA have very strict rules and regulations when it comes to working with these animals.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Corwin, it's always nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us. Lots of questions remain, of course. A little later in our next hour we'll hear from the director of the Columbus Zoo, Jack Hanna will be our guest.

While you were sleeping, an unusual coalition came together to support an epic filibuster by Senator Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky. He finally stopped talking after 12 hours, 52 minutes. He ended at 12:38 this morning, pausing only for water and a Snickers bar. Isn't there a commercial about that? The senator was holding up the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director to protest the attorney general holder's assertion that it could be possible for drones to be used to kill Americans on U.S. soil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: No American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Shannon Travis this morning. He's in Washington, D.C. Hey, Shannon, good morning.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. As you mentioned, the Kentucky senator drank water and took snack breaks and popped candy. He only ended his marathon by joking that nature has its limits and that he reached his. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond's record, but I discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I'm going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS: Soledad, obviously the serious issue here, as you mentioned, can the U.S. government carry out drone strikes against American citizens on U.S. soil. It's an issue that the far right and the far left is concerned about, Americans and even terror suspects not being given due process in the courts. Rand Paul especially concerned after Attorney General Eric Holder told a Senate judiciary panel yesterday he could envision that in an extraordinary circumstance. Holder added that the government has no intention to carry out drone strikes in the United States. The Kentucky senator railed against even the potential for it, at what point Paul used a fairy tale to make his point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: Has America the beautiful become Alice in Wonderland? "No, no, said the queen. Sentence first, verdict afterwards. Stuff and nonsense, Alice said loudly. The idea of having the sentence first? Hold your tongue, said the queen, turning purple. I won't, said Alice. Release the drones, said the queen, as she shouted at the top of her voice." Louis Carroll is fiction, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS: Soledad, several Republicans took to the Senate floor to help Paul. Even Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, he supported it. He's also concerned about it. One last point, although Rand Paul went almost 13 hours, he doesn't hold the record, that belongs to South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond who filibustered for over 24 hours.

O'BRIEN: What was he filibustering over?

TRAVIS: It was over the Civil Rights act of 1957.

O'BRIEN: And still, there it went just like is going to happen to Rand Paul. That's really, really interesting. Thank you, Shannon Travis. Appreciate the update for us.

Weather system is what we're also talking about this morning. A dozen inches of snow on D.C., battering New Jersey and the Massachusetts coast. John has a look at that and other top stories this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Soledad. It is a windy, snowy, rainy mess in the northeast right now. The very same system that rolled through the Midwest buried parts of Virginia under 20 inches of snow and caused a travel nightmare on highways and at the airports is now hitting us here. More than 1,600 flights were cancelled. The Virginia governor declared a state of emergency. At least 215,000 people have no power.

Right now at least seven states are under severe winter warnings from New Jersey to Maine. The biggest threat seems to be winds and coastal flooding. Jennifer Delgado is live in Scituate, Massachusetts, where the wind has been blowing really hard, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's right. Over the last 15, 20 minutes we're starting to see those waves building even more. High tide came at 6:50 and you're seeing those effects with that fetch coming in pushing the waves. We're going to deal with wave heights up to about 24 feet and we're expecting a storm surge at roughly just under three feet. Now, tomorrow it's expected to be even higher than that.

So right now the winds are gusting. We've had gusts up to about 45. We could still see those peaking up to 50, 55. I want to point out to you here's the pier. You see some of the homes on the Massachusetts bay. Keep in mind we do have a voluntary evacuation in place. There are National Guardsmen here just in case we start to see more problems with coastal flooding as well as erosion. This whole area is really a lot more susceptible now because of super-storm Sandy. And of course the nor'easter that blew through on February the 9th.

I also want to point out to you we're dealing with mixed precipitation and with the strong winds around, we're also going to be looking at the possibility of power outages across the region. Again, coastal wind warning as well as flood warnings in place through tomorrow. Back over to you, John. BERMAN: An uncomfortable morning on the south shore. Jennifer Delgado, our thanks to you.

This just in to CNN -- President Obama has invited Congress members Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen to lunch at the White House today. Ryan of course a Republican is the chair of the House Budget Committee and Van Hollen a democrat is the ranking minority member on that committee. This is a bipartisan meal offensive that the president seems to be on. Last night President Obama taking a group of about 12 Republican senators to dinner at a fancy Washington restaurant. He picked up the tab. The president getting generally good reviews for reaching out to rank and file Republicans. One of the dinner guests there, John Hoeven, said the table talk was candid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, (R) NORTH DAKOTA: Very positive, encouraging, candid. Focused on how do we come together. Compromise is necessary and it's possible. The issue is, how do we get there? That's why these kinds of dialogues are so important and there needs to be more of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DELGADO: Coming up at the bottom of the hour we'll talk to Dan Coates who also attended the dinner. I understand sea bass was served, along with a filet mignon alternative, reaching out to both sides of the ding aisle.

O'BRIEN: Starts well, ends well. Thanks, John.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, jurors get a chance to ask the accused killer Jodi Arias some questions. They had 150 of them. We'll talk to one of the country's top attorneys about how that went.

And then a giant shark migration spotted off the east coast of Florida. This is normal. We'll take a look. We're back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. In just a few hours the accused killer Jodi Arias will face more questions from jurors. Arizona is one of just three states that allow jurors to ask questions during a criminal proceeding. It appears from the questions so far the jurors are pretty skeptical of Arias' claims about the relationship she had with her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, and then the confrontation that led to his death. CNN's Miguel Marquez has details for us this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHERRI STEPHENS, ARIZONA COURT JUDGE: How did you have time to get the gun? Why did you confront Travis after seeing him with another woman if it was not due to jealousy? What is your understanding of the word skank? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Questions delivered by the judge written by the jurors. They indicated people who either didn't understand Jodi Arias' explanations for how she killed Travis Alexander or were skeptical of her claims.

STEPHENS: Were you mad at Travis while you were stabbing him?

JODI ARIAS, ON TRIAL FOR MURDER: I don't remember being angry that day. I remember being terrified.

STEPHENS: How is it that you remember so many of your sexual encounters but you do not remember stabbing Travis and dragging his body?

ARIAS: I don't know how the mind works necessarily, but I know that that was the most traumatic experience of my life.

MARQUEZ: Arias was respectful, quiet and calm as she went (ph) through 150 questions from the jurors asked by superior court judge Sherri Stephens (ph). Top of the list, explain how Alexander died on June 4th, 2008. Shot, stabbed and cut dozens of times moments after she was taking pictures of him in the shower and dropped the camera, which she said threw Alexander into a rage.

ARIAS: I had run out of the bathroom and I turned and I just wanted him to stop, so I pointed the gun at him, hoping that that would just make him halt. And it didn't. Instead he lunged at me right around the time that the gun went off and I didn't mean for it to go off. We got -- we fell with pretty good force down in the corner near 15 (ph), but not quite that close, it was kind of near the sink. Kind of sort of that area.

And he fell kind of on top of me but to my right. I didn't want him to get on top of me. He was grabbing at my clothes. He was trying to get on top of me. I don't know where the gun went at that point, it was not in my hands anymore. It got knocked out of my hands or if I dropped it. But I broke away from him and as soon as I broke -- the moment I broke away, that's when he threatened my life. I have no clear memories after that at all.

MARQUEZ: Many questions asked about her adopted Mormon faith and how she reconciled that with a very racy and adventurous sex life with Alexander.

STEPHENS: Does the Book of Mormon go into detail regarding the vow of chastity?

ARIAS: It uses verbiage such as whoredoms, things like that. Being unclean and that's all in reference to sexual sin.

MARQUEZ: Jurors wanted to know how she could stick with Alexander even after she claims she caught him looking at child pornography. There were many questions about her relationships and when and why she chooses to tell the truth and why her memory seems so selective.

Now, this was a very different Jodi Arias than we've seen inspect days past. Every time the judge read a question, she stared at the judge, then would turn deliberately to the jury and address them staring them straight in the eyes. This is a woman who faces the death penalty and she is clearly fighting for her life. More questions from the jury today. Back to you guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Miguel. Let's get right to criminal defense attorney Joe Tacapina. Nice to have you with us.

The questions didn't seem particularly sympathetic. How do you read that?

JOE TACAPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ARROTNEY: It's not good news for Jodi Arias. Without question these questions were either very cynical, skeptical of her story, or just baffling. I mean, you know, she was asked questions about why did you clean up the house after this self defense murder? Then, you know, she fell into her I don't remember routine. But she does remember taking the gun and the rope out of the house. I mean so she has recollection of things like that. However, you know, her story is really not very plausible. And someone --

O'BRIEN: You could sense that from the jury questions, the 100 plus jury questions. You got the sense that they -- even the faces, they would turn and kind of smirk sometimes when the would show the faces of one of --

TACAPINA: If that's an accurate read. You have jurors yawning during some emotional testimony. They're clearly not tuned into her (ph). The worst question I think for her was when one of the jurors asked do you have -- have you got treatment for your mental issues? And she said what mental issues?

O'BRIEN: Why do you think that's bad for her? Because I think there's a read to read that -- I'm not an attorney, as you know, but that would say people are clearly seeing her as very troubled if your only goal is to keep her from the death penalty, doesn't that kind of help?

TACAPINA: She's not right now asserting any sort of a mental defect defense. She's claiming this was self defense, number one. So it's not like they're going to find perhaps she's not guilty by reason of insanity. I'm not thinking there's a lot of sympathy heading in her direction. I think they think she's a sociopath, I don't think they think that she's a poor damsel in distress that needs mental counseling.

O'BRIEN: It is so weird that they get to do that in Arizona. I didn't realize there were three states where jurors are allowed to ask all these questions. How do you think that changes the dynamic of the case?

TACAPINA: Oh, it changes it enormously. Quite frankly, I'm not a proponent of it. Jurors are supposed to be impartial fact finders.

O'BRIEN: Of course you're not. You're a defense attorney. TACAPINA: No, no, no. I was a prosecutor. As a prosecutor I wouldn't be a proponent of it either, because the courtroom, there's certain rules and there's reasons for rules. Jurors are supposed to take facts as they find them and apply the law. That's their job, as impartial fact finders. Once they start asking questions, I think they become advocates and I also think they feel like they're deputized as investigators and I think it becomes -- they lose their role a little bit.

O'BRIEN: I've got to tell you, the questions are fascinating to hear, though.

TACAPINA: It's great TV.

BERMAN: This jury has been paying attention.

O'BRIEN: Clearly, clearly. Joe Tacapina, nice to have you with us. We appreciate it.

Business news, the Dow is going up and up and up. If we see another record high today, what does it mean for our 401(k)s? We'll take a look at that coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sets another record, adding 42 points on Tuesday. It's now up nine percent this year. Christine, what does it all mean?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means if you look at your 401(k) and you're invested in stocks, you're doing better. Overall, the Dow up 30, up 12 percent over the past year, NASDAQ up 10 percent. It's been a really good run over the past 12 months. Here's the case for buying stocks, okay. The fed is stimulating economy every month, $85 billion going right into the economy. There is no alternative. "TINA" investing. There is no place else to put your money to get a return.

Corporate profits are strong. Companies have $1.7 trillion, a record amount of money in cash. They're not hiring us but they're keeping the money in the bank or giving it back to shareholders, and stocks are at a fair value here. A lot of folks are saying when you look at price to earnings ratios, we're right along the historic averages.

O'BRIEN: We're at record highs (ph). We're good (ph).

ROMANS: Record highs for prices but the value of stocks is still pretty fair. Here's the case against buying stocks. Europe is in a recession, that's a problem. Washington, the debt theatrics there. If something goes wrong, you could see interest rates start to move higher and that could really hurt the stock market. The American consumer is strapped. How much longer can people with declining incomes go out there and keep spending so much money? and there's something in the markets called profit taking. When you look at a big rally like I just showed you those numbers, sometimes people take money off the table. There are hedge funds who are betting against the market here for all of those reasons, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So that's one of those yet again confusing two graphics.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Here's why yes and here's why no.

ROMANS: The futures are higher this morning. You could see another high this morning, no question. But that's the landscape you're facing.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, not your usual dinner date. President Obama and 12 GOP senators break bread. The bigger question of course is did they make any progress? Senator Dan Coats was there he'll join us next to talk about that.

And then definitely not a sight you want to see if you're swimming in that water. An enormous migration of sharks spotted off the coast of Florida. We'll get back to Jeff Corwin, explain what's happening there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. our team this morning, Will Cain is back, CNN contributor and columnist for TheBlaze.com, Ted Coppins is with us, political editor at Buzzfeed.com. And Richard Socarides back writer for Newyorker.com former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton. Nice to have you all with me this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about this dinner. This had potential to be a hot disaster. They dined on the president's dime, of course. A dozen Republican senators who were invited to dinner at a fancy Washington, D.C., restaurant. The menu included some serious talk about spending and taxes, and the White House is hoping that it could lead to better bipartisan cooperation.

Let's get right to CNN's Dan Lothian. He's at the White House for us this morning.