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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Dow Poised to Another Record?; Osama bin Laden's Son-in-Law Captured; Clinton Urges Overturn of DOMA; Interview With Sen. Ron Wyden

Aired March 8, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Talking with us this hour, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is with us, Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

And actress Abbie Cornish is going to join us.

It's Friday, March 8th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Howard Kurtz is with us. He's the host of CNN's "RELIABE SOURCES" and Washington bureau chief for "Newsweek/Daily Beast". And Lauren Ashburn is contributor at "The Daily Beast", editor-in-chief of "The Daily Download."

John Berman and Christine stick around as well.

All eyes on Wall Street, talking about that with Christine.

Stock futures higher ahead of the opening bell, could I guess indicate another all-time high is what you're watching also. Good news.

Also, anticipation building for the February jobs report which is due out in just about 30 minutes.

How are you feeling about that?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I feel, you know, both of these really matter for your money. First for stocks, I mean, if you're an investor, if you're run-of-the-mill investor with a 401(k), this has been a good move for you, a good run for you. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 9 percent just so far this year. Hey, we would take that for a whole year any time but just so far this year. We can't predict where it keeps going.

But what you have here is a stock market that is reflecting corporate profits that are still coming in strong and also record amounts of cash from many of these companies. But is that translating into how you feel? Are you feeling better?

Many of you are saying no you aren't and really looking to this jobs report in 29 minutes to find out if we are starting to see hiring coming in. There have been some positive signs recently in the job market despite the sequester and forced spending talk, despite uncertainly about the higher payroll taxes. But we won't know for sure until 8:30 what the job situation is.

What the expectation is 170,000 jobs created in February and unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. And again, a lot of people keep asking me, how can you have a jobless rate almost 8 percent and stocks near records? They do.

O'BRIEN: It is completely contradictory honestly for someone who doesn't follow --

LAUREN ASHBURN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE DAILY DOWNLOAD": But what's the reason?

ROMANS: Because the stock market doesn't reflect how people feel. It reflects how companies feel. And companies, their profits and the outlooks for them are still good, in part because productivity gains have been going to companies not to people.

I mean, I have another chart, I don't know if you guys have it, but it shows productivity in post-war -- look at that -- look at the workers, how much people make versus how much more they're producing, you can see that big disconnect there. It's something people feel.

O'BRIEN: Oh, definitely. All right. Thanks, Christine, we're going to obviously bring those numbers to you, the jobs numbers at 8:30 a.m. and roughly 28 minutes or so. So we're watching that.

Our other top story this morning, from the Middle East to the nation's capital, all eyes on a Manhattan courtroom. That's where the son-in- law of Osama bin Laden is about to be arraigned. His name Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. He was captured in Jordan within the last week, brought to New York on charges he conspired to kill Americans.

Let's get right to our CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti. She's in Lower Manhattan for us this morning. Walk us through his capture and then why there's so much controversy around the fact that he's in a New York City courtroom versus, say, Gitmo.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad.

You know, there are so many questions surrounding the details of how Abu Ghaith got here. Turkey expelled him but why wasn't he turned over to the United States right then and there? He was flown here from Jordan, all of this adding to the mystery and intrigue of this matter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): This photo put Sulaiman Abu Ghaith squarely in al Qaeda's inner circle. He is sitting to the left of his father in law Osama bin Laden, along with top lieutenants Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Abu Ghaith was out front as a spokesman for the terror organization, appearing in videos and making ominous statements.

Quote, "We have the right to kill 4 million Americans with chemical and biological weapons."

Abu Ghaith is also believed to have been in Osama bin Laden's final stand at Tora Bora in December 2001 before escaping into Pakistan. He had lived in Iran since 2002, mostly under house arrest and is said to have arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara, early last month, traveling on a forged Saudi passport. He checked into a luxury hotel and was detained.

Iran refused to take him back, according to Turkish sources. After several weeks in limbo, Turkey decided to deport to the country of his birth, Kuwait. But Kuwait didn't want him back either.

Eventually, Abu Ghaith was transferred to U.S. custody and secretly flown to New York to face trial. Some Republicans argue that makes him an enemy combatant who should be tried by a military commission at Guantanamo.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We're putting the administration on notice. We think that sneaking this guy into the country clearly going around the intent of Congress when it comes to enemy combatants will be challenged.

CANDIOTTI: But the Obama administration says it's trying to close Gitmo, not add to its prisoners, and that trying Abu Ghaith in New York won't jeopardize national security.

PETER BERGEN, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a sort of case that would be relatively easy to try in New York. I mean, New York federal court has a 100 percent conviction rate for people who are accused of al Qaeda crimes.

CANDIOTTI: His indictment unsealed, Abu Ghaith now stands accused of one count of conspiring to kill Americans and allegedly recruiting others to do the same.

In court documents, prosecutors quote him saying this after 9/11: "The storms will not stop, especially the airplane storms, warning Americans not to board any aircraft and not to live in high-rises."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now, some 9/11 families tell us they are overjoyed that finally after so many years, they will be able to sit in a U.S. courtroom and hear a case being put against someone who with direct alleged ties to the 9/11 attacks -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Susan Candiotti for us -- thank you, Susan, for the update.

Let's get right to John Berman for a look at the day's top stories.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Soledad.

New information this morning: the young intern who was killed by a 350-pound African lion at a California animal sanctuary died from a broken neck. According to the local coroner, 24-year-old Dianna Hanson was killed quickly, there was no blood drawn when Cous Cous, a lion she adored escaped from his cage and attacked her in a large enclosure.

Ted Rowlands is live from Dunlap, California, with the latest developments.

Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

The coroner says investigators believe Cous Cous the lion was somehow able to use his paw to open up a gate to get into the enclosure that Dianna Hanson was cleaning. The coroner also says the attack was so quick and so intense that she likely didn't suffer at all, which is giving her family some comfort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CILP)

PAUL HANSON, SR., DAUGHTER KILLED BY LION: There was no blood, and they think it was a quick death, followed just by injuries of a lion probably playing too hard. And also, she was so happy. Her last two months there as an internship at Cat Haven were the happiest of her life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: And the sheriff investigators are continuing their work here, John, until they are complete, the gates here at Cat Haven will remain closed to the public.

BERMAN: All right. Ted, our thanks to you, in Dunlap, California, this morning.

Happening right now, the storm that just won't go away. Morning commutes under siege this morning as much of the Northeast getting hammered by this relentless winter storm. It's bringing with it, winds, rain, coastal flooding and, of course, snow.

Updated forecast, New York City could see three inches today. That's the picture as it comes down at Columbus Circle. The Boston area could get around five inches. The heaviest snow will fall in parts of New Hampshire, eastern Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Some brand new information from the Vatican, Roman Catholic cardinals will vote later today on when to start the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican spokesman telling a news conference that it was likely the conclave and the Sistine Chapel would start either on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. So, very, very soon.

Jodi Arias is on trial for murder her boyfriend and answering tough answers from jurors who seem to be tiring of what they call her lies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JUDGE: After all the lies you have told, why should we believe you now?

JODI ARIAS, MURDER DEFENDANT: Lying isn't typically something I just do, but the lies that I've told in this case are -- can be tied directly back to either protecting Travis' reputation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Travis Alexander was shot and stabbed 27 times, had his throat slashed. Arias has changed her version three times now and she now says it was in self-defense.

O'BRIEN: She's delusional. Do you hear the last thing that she said? You know, the lies were tied to protecting his reputation. She's gone through these three iterations that are just --

BERMAN: And the jurors who are hearing from that do not seem to be buying it.

ASHBURN: She gives it with a straight face, never moving in her expressions.

O'BRIEN: Really? Wow.

BERMAN: Fascinating to hear from the jurors in a middle of a trial.

New developments in the lawsuit filed by Macy's against J.C. Penney and Martha Stewart Living. After three weeks of testimony, the judge has ordered all parties to enter mediation for the next 30 days. J.C. Penney has also been ordered to stop selling Martha Stewart products between now and April 8th. Macy's claims it has a contract with Martha Stewart Living, giving an exclusive rights to sell her bedding, bath and kitchen products.

So, another close encounter right now in outer space. Scientists say another asteroid, this one the size of a football field, will whiz past Earth this weekend. This is happening just days after a different, much smaller rock made an even closer fly-by. The new asteroid is 330 feet wide.

It will miss Earth by about 600,000 miles when it passes on Saturday.

HOWARD KURTZ, "RELIABLE SOURCES" HOST: Are you trying to scare America, John?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: What do you do with that information? What do I do now?

ASHBURN: It's too close, I don't care.

BERMAN: Look to the skies, look to the skies, people.

Former President Bill Clinton wants the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act now. Clinton's signature made the DOMA law of the land back in 1996. He signed it into law.

But in a new op-ed piece appearing in "The Washington Post" he writes, quote, "The justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all and is therefore constitutional. As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and in fact, incompatible with our Constitution."

O'BRIEN: That was kind of a "that was then, this is now" argument.

BERMAN: That's exactly what he said.

ASHBURN: You're allowed to change your mind.

KURTZ: Bill Clinton is awfully late come out for this when it is politically safe to do, as a mainstream Democratic position. And where does he say in this, gee, I made a really serious mistake and I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

ASHBURN: He explains his decision. He doesn't need to apologize, Howie.

KURTZ: He's covering his posterior for history.

O'BRIEN: I think he is giving the context of what was happening while he was making this decision. I don't think -- you don't get the sense that he feels sorry for the decision. I think he's saying here's what we were dealing with at the time. Let me give you the tone of this time.

ASHBURN: And 51 percent according to a CBS poll of people say that gay marriage should be legal.

O'BRIEN: Times have changed.

KURTZ: Clearly.

O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT: Osama bin Laden's son-in-law -- we've been talking about this all morning, it's our top story -- he's been caught and headed to a federal court in New York City. The trial is going to begin in just a couple of hours. But there are some who argue that he should be sent to Gitmo instead and tried in a military tribunal.

We're going to talk about that with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. He serves on the intelligence committee. That's coming up next.

And then it's not a right to bear arms requirement. We'll tell you about the town that wants everybody -- they want to mandate that everyone owns a gun. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Just hours from now, an al Qaeda spokesman related to Osama bin Laden is going to face a federal judge right here in New York City. His name is Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, and he's Bin Laden's son-in-law. And he's charged with conspiring to kill Americans. This comes right after the use of drones was questioned. in the late night filibuster, the attorney general confirming in a letter to Senator Paul Rand that the president does not have the authority to kill average Americans within the country.

We're going to talk about all of this with Senator Ron Wyden. He's a Democrat from Oregon He serves on the intelligence committees and other committees as well. Nice to have you, sir. Thank you for being with us.

SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) OREGON: Thanks for having me back.

O'BRIEN: Let's begin with Sulaiman Abu Ghaith who is now charged with conspiring to kill Americans. Earlier this morning, we were talking to Fran Townsend about sort of the value of a military tribunal versus bringing him into New York City in a federal court, and she said that she thought that that was less relevant than the way he was brought in, that it was very purposeful.

Do you have any idea what she might mean, that, you know, having him sort of moved around and then brought in to the United States seemed to her to raise some red flags.

WYDEN: I can't get into classified matters, Soledad, but let's get to the bottom line. The federal prosecutors have a tremendous batting average in these kinds of cases. In fact, their batting record is better than these military tribunals. And what we need, it's number one, take the fight to al Qaeda.

And number two, when we capture people, we want to make that sure these are going to be people who get prosecuted and end up in these super max facilities behind bars where the American people are going to be safe from them.

O'BRIEN: So, then you don't think -- is there any valuable information that's been gleaned from him, right? I mean, one of the things that Fran was telling us was that the amount of time that has passed, right? He's been basically out of the country and out of sort of the loop, there's probably not that much valuable intel that can be gotten from him. What is the quality of this capture?

WYDEN: I think it's an extremely important capture. We're going to be going into this on the intelligence committee, but right now, we're going to have a debate in this country about whether someone like this ought to be in effect prosecuted in a military tribunal like at Gitmo or in the federal courts. And I just want the viewers to understand that they have a high batting average the federal prosecutors.

What the American people want are tough, effective approaches to make sure that these terrorists are dealt with, that they are behind bars, locked away for the rest of their lives. That's what we're going to get. KURTZ: Senator, It's Howard Kurtz. What's unusual here is that we have somebody captured alive from al Qaeda, I mean, this era of targeted drones, mostly we kill these people while we can. You joined -- you crossed party lines to join Senator Rand Paul in that filibuster slowing up John Brennan's nomination because you were concerned about drones.

I know you think you made your point. You must have gotten a lot of blowback you're your fellow Democrats in joining with conservative Rand Paul.

WYDEN: Not too much, Howard, because I think there is a sense that there is a new political movement emerging in our country and it crosses party lines and it is all about Americans who want to see policymakers strike a better balance between protecting our security and protecting our liberty.

And certainly, over the last few weeks, Americans have seen that there is a sharp difference between protecting secret intelligence operations and not keeping our laws which are public secret, and that's the kind of information we've gotten out. And I'd also like to note that as part of those negotiations over getting those documents, I insisted that the Obama administration answer those questions Rand Paul was asking because I and others have been asking them as well.

O'BRIEN: There was an answer. The attorney general, Eric Holder sent a letter. Part of that letter reads like this. "It's come to my attention that you have now asked for an additional question, does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" This is to Rand Paul, of course.

"The answer to that question is no, sincerely Eric H. Holder." That was yesterday in a letter. So, when you read that and the rest of the contents of that letter, are you satisfied with that answer now?

WYDEN: Yes. And here's the distinction, Soledad. What we had essentially been trying to flesh out is to make sure that a non- combatant, Senator Paul and I, we talk about somebody who is sitting in a coffee shop say in the pacific northwest, that that person was not going to face a drone attack. What in effect Eric Holder has said, if you're talking about something like preventing another Pearl Harbor, an eminent kind of threat, a 9/11, you can use military force to repel a foreign invasion.

So, now, we have been able to establish the distinction between a non- combatant here in the United States and something that is along the lines of 9/11 that threatens the survival of our country.

BERMAN: But in that letter -- John Berman here, senator -- did he distinguish what not engaged in combat means? Do you feel that still gives the administration any White House a tremendous amount of discretion?

WYDEN: I don't. I think we gave enough examples in these kinds of discussions. I asked about it as well in the public hearing. So, we got these documents over, in effect, winning a two-year battle. I had requested these documents seven times over two years.

So, a lot of these issues were aired and I was very glad that on a bipartisan basis and that was why I went to the floor during Rand Paul's filibuster to make sure that the country saw that this new political force. Sometimes, I call ourselves the checks and balances movement where we say the president has tremendous power in the national security arena, but it is not unfettered power.

And I think while we've got a lot more to dig into in terms of looking at these previously secret documents, we've made a lot of headway now.

O'BRIEN: Senator Ron Wyden joining us this morning. Thank you, senator. Nice to have you with us. We appreciate it.

WYDEN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, forced to own a gun? That could be law in one city. We've got details on that story coming up next.

And then, could the whole gang be getting back together? There are reports that the full force, Luke, Leia, and Han will reunite in a new "Star Wars." How long ago has it --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Blast from the past.

O'BRIEN: That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Our big Justin Bieber story this morning, he is recovering after he fainted mid show during his concert in London last night. He's 19 years old, just newly 19, reportedly treated with oxygen before he finished the concert. Some of his fans might have needed some little oxygen, too, because there he is, shirtless.

ASHBURN: Oh, baby.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Conscious and shirtless.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: If you are a little -- a young fan --

ASHBURN: Who's looking at the banner, Howie? They're looking at his abs.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Howie is a guy. Howie is a guy. (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Anyway, he tweeted this out and he said he was feeling better and he thanked his fans for all the love and look at me shirtless.

BERMAN: -- please send shirts to the hospital.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So, Yoda was 900 years old, and so these guys under that, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all in talks, apparently, to be part of a new "Star Wars" film. That was announced after Disney purchased George Lucas' film company. Of course, they played Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker in the original film.

George Lucas basically lets the secret slipped, confirmed the return of the trio in "Bloomberg Business Week" then apparently, he tried to backtrack. But, maybe it wasn't a secret to slip --

BERMAN: These were not the stars we were looking for.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Oh, move along.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: They're going to bring these people out of wheelchairs in ten years?

O'BRIEN: They'll have different roles. It will be cute. I like it.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: They're not going to play the --

BERMAN: No. I think the idea is they're coming back --

O'BRIEN: Same character but they'll be another -- it'll be just later.

KURTZ: It's a great franchise.

ASHBURN: May the force be with them.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the Dow is on a roll. Now, the clock is ticking down to the latest numbers in jobs in America. The monthly report is due out in a minute, and we'll have it right here in just a moment.

And new anger this morning over the name of the Washington Redskins. Should they be able to trademark the term that some people find offensive? That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

We're expecting those February job reports numbers any moment now, and Christine Romans is on the phone waiting for those numbers as we speak. She's going to break that for us as soon as those numbers are released this morning.

Also, later this hour, actress, Abby Cornish, is going to join us. She has a new movie where she plays a struggling single mom who's in some kind of shady dealings across the border. It's really interesting movie. We're going to talk to her about that.

John Berman, though first, has a look at today's top stories.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

The son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden expected to be arraigned in federal court in New York in the next 90 minutes. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and faces life in prison.

In the past month, the former al Qaeda spokesman went from house arrest in Iran, to Ankara in Turkey where he was arrested, later released there. Turkey decided to send him back to his native, Kuwait, through Jordan. That is where the CIA nabbed him. Complicated to say the least.