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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Explosive Devices Found at Univ. of Central Florida; Plane Slams into Homes; RNC "Autopsy Report" Out Today; Market Selloffs Over Cyprus Bailout; Greek Soccer Star Banned after Nazi Salute

Aired March 18, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, breaking story we're following. Explosive device found on a Florida college campus along with a body. We'll tell you what officials say is happening there.

Then homes crushed, a small jet torn to pieces after it smashes into three homes. We'll take you live to the scene this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": New this morning, the Republican Party making public a report saying voters feel the party is marginalized, unwelcoming, and divided. We're talking to CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper about that.

Also developing, wildfires burning from Colorado to South Carolina. Homes destroyed. Roads closed. We'll have the details coming up.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And in business, a proposed bailout of Cyprus is taking a toll right here at home. Stock futures are down this morning. Are we in for a messy day on Wall Street?

O'BRIEN: Later this hour, part one of my sit-down interview with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. We'll tell you why she says people need to stop bristling at the word feminist.

It's Monday, March 18th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Connie Mack is back with us. He's a former Florida congressman. Mary Bono Mack is a former California congresswoman. And Richard Blais is a celebrity chef and author, winner of "Top Chef All Stars." He also wrote "Try This At Home," which we did it. I say we because really my daughter did. But it's a wonderful book. Thanks for being with us.

We're following breaking news this morning.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: News coming to us from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. An improvised explosive device has been found overnight in a dorm room along with an apparent suicide victim who authorities say also had an assault weapon on him. Five hundred students have been evacuated from a dorm tower on the central campus. Classes have been canceled until at least noon. The FBI is investigating, along with the university police and local police, too. And the bomb squad is on the scene.

I want to get right to Grant Heston. He's the associate vice president for communications and public affairs at UCF.

Thanks for talking with us, Grant. Tell me what latest is on this investigation so far. What are the investigators doing on the scene?

GRANT HESTON, ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, UCF (via telephone): Investigators have taken a look at the improvised explosive devices and now determining the best way to make them safe and to get them out of the residence dorm.

O'BRIEN: Can you tell me how many improvised explosive devices we're talking about?

HESTON: I can. I can tell you that they were found inside a bag in one of the dorm rooms. And so, Orange County bomb squad, as we said, FBI and UCF Police Department are working to safely get them out of there.

O'BRIEN: Anymore details at this hour about the assault weapon that was found near the body?

HESTON: No, there are no additional details. As you can imagine, just in the beginning, phases of this and our main focus right now are on making the tower one facility safe and informing the UCF community about everything we're doing to keep them safe throughout the day.

O'BRIEN: And I fully understand that. I'm just trying to update folks with any new information you might. We certainly appreciate your time.

Grant Heston has been updating us all morning. And we appreciate it. And I know you're in the middle of this as they try to neutralize those explosive devices.

So thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.

New developments to get to, as well, from a more guying plane crash that we've been reporting for you in South Bend, Indiana. An evacuation order is in effect this morning. The big concern is jet fuel. An investigation into what exactly caused the private jet to crash into homes on Iowa Street is now under way.

Look at these images. The plane slammed into two homes, damaged a third home, wound up inside one of the homes.

Jim Spellman is on the scene for us in South Bend with the latest on this investigation. Hey, Jim. Good morning.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad. It's an utterly surreal scene here, right in the middle of this residential neighborhood. We're behind the homes. And you can see this white piece of metal. That's a tail section of this twin-engine corporate jet. Right now, all the authorities involved fire, police are all meeting at South Bend Airport to try to get coordinated as the sun comes up. They need to finish their preliminary investigation on the plane itself before they he can even remove it from the home.

Here is how maybes describe the scene yesterday when the plane crashed in to these homes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My roof has caved in, there was glass everywhere. The front of the house, window was busted out. I just grabbed my son and got him some clothes and we ran out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a big picture window and the plane was coming right toward me. And I was afraid it was coming in the house. And it swerved and went across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought that was it. I mean, when I looked up, the plane was right over the top of me right then and my wife was standing in the door and I just hit the ground. I thought it was going to explode when it hit, but it didn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SPELLMAN: Now, we do know the two people who have reportedly died were in the plane, not in the home. And, Soledad, I think it's remarkable the fire department here told us that the people inside this very home were able to walk away. Remarkable.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That's absolutely stunning. Jim Spellman for us this morning. Thank you for the update.

In a few minutes, we're going to be talking Jackie Lincoln (ph). She's a volunteer with the Red Cross, at the scene of the crash. We'll get an update from here as well.

And it's a pretty unusual event in American politics and national political party bearing its soul, telling the country why it lost support. What it's going to do to get voters back. The RNC is what we're talking about. And they spent months investigating why they lost the race for the White House.

It's a so-called autopsy report includes more than 200 recommendations for reversing the GOP fortunes come 2016. And among those recommendations are reducing the number of primary debates, moving the party's convention from August to late June or July. And to go where the report says the GOP hasn't gone enough, talking about outreach and inclusion.

There's definitely work to be done with 62 percent of voters saying the Republican Party is out of touch with the American people.

Jake Tapper is CNN's chief Washington correspondent. He hosts CNN's brand new show, "THE LEAD." It will debut today at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll talk more about that in just a moment.

But, Jake, good morning to you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. O'BRIEN: How unusual is this? I cannot remember a time when there's been this sort of assessment of why we lost full with a complete report which is mailed out to -- e-mailed out to everybody and then a press conference to announce it.

TAPPER: It is unusual. It's unique. But by the same token, the Republican Party is in a bit of a bind. They have lost the popular vote in four out of the last five presidential elections. And President Obama I think even President Obama's top aides would say was imminently beatable last November and yet he really trounced Mitt Romney.

So, in addition to the messaging problem that the Republican Party clearly has, there's also a demographic problem that they face, and that's why you had the soul-searching. It was necessary not only to reassure the party activists, but also I think to get donors reassured, as well. There was a risk there that some people were going to stop giving money to the Republican Party.

O'BRIEN: When I talked to Ari Fleischer in our last hour, he said, listen, the message that we have to have is that it's a big tent and here's what he said.

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ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY TO PRES. BUSH: Both parties have these issues. For the Republican Party, what it means is that Republicans need to adhere to our conservative message, our conservative core, but do so in a way that invites other people to join in. We cannot do it in a way that pushes people out or says they're not welcome.

And that's been a real Republican problem. We give people the impression that they're not wanted. The power of conservative is that it's an attractive position. It should bring people in because it's how you make it, that's how you can be successful, happy, and make it in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: This is a big challenge for them right because I don't think it's just about the dressing up of the message. I think that, you know, is the tent really big enough to take some messaging, some policy messages, that are completely contradictory.

TAPPER: That's right. One of the problems of course is that young people, just to pick one example, young people on the issue of same- sex marriage, I mean, that ship has sailed. Young people in future generations were going to look back at this time and in all likelihood wonder why there was such resistance to embracing same-sex marriage if you look at the polls of young people today. But there is a point that Ari is touching on that this autopsy touches on, as well, which is the way that these issues are discussed. When Mitt Romney talked about self deportation of illegal immigrants, the message he was saying to the immigrant community was we're going to make life so difficult for those who are in this country illegally that they will voluntarily go back to the country that they were fleeing.

And what Jeb Bush in his book referred to this as, he talked about this as a gateway issue. In other words, you can't even get Latinos in the door to listen to the message you have about the economy, about health care, about education, because they're so turned off by the rhetoric about illegal immigration.

And that I think is what Ari and the Republican Party is talking about now.

O'BRIEN: So, around the table with me and John Berman, right, he's covered politics for a gazillion years. And then I have the Macks. And they are both former Congress people.

But, Richard, you are my non-politico. But, I'm curious to know, are you -- are you moved? I mean, if there's sort of the sense of there's going to be a re-launch, do you want to hear what is re-launched?

RICHARD BLAIS, CELEBRITY CHEF AND AUTHOR: I mean, I'm the type of person that, you know, I'm to be persuaded, right? But to me, I know especially this 18 to 29 group, I just feel like it seems like marketing, you know? And like I hear the word brand and to me that makes it seem that it's not authentic. So I think social issues.

But this idea of the package and -- it just seems like a branding and a marketing thing and I think a lot of young people are pretty wise to that sort of approach.

O'BRIEN: So let's go right back then to Jake.

When you look at the CPAC, right, and the straw poll that came out of that, you had Rand Paul winning with 25 percent, right behind was Marco Rubio. I think Marco had -- Senator Rubio had something like 23 percent. And they had very contradictory messages of what they think about, you know, how the Republican Party should be if you -- again, polar opposites on the state of the Republican Party.

TAPPER: They do disagree on a lot of issues, especially when it comes to national defense and international relations. But that is clearly where the energy is in the Republican Party right now. The Tea Party Republicans, the libertarian Republican, and that is why there was so much energy and excitement around individuals like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, and it's going to be interesting to see how much the Republican Party, the establishment Republican Party that is very wary of the libertarian philosophy, especially when it comes to same-sex marriage, especially when it comes to international policy, and the establishment party that is wary of the Tea Party in many ways because of the difficulty they've had controlling their unruly Tea Party Republican base in the House of Representatives. How much they embrace these groups, that is where we'll really see how much the Republican Party is willing to change.

O'BRIEN: In just about 20 minutes, they're going to be at the Press Club in Washington, D.C., announcing the results of this study. So I'm sure it's going to be on your show, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" that airs tonight, at 4:00 -- tonight, I keep saying. That's really 4:00 this afternoon. That is the launch day.

Jake Tapper with us this morning -- thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.

Lots of stories to cover as well this morning. Wildfires erupting across the country. John got has that and lots of other stories, too.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. Happening right it now, devastating wildfires in several parts of the country. A fast moving fire has engulfed part of the mountain resort of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This started yesterday afternoon, at least 213 acres burning so far. More than 30 cabins have been destroyed. The giant fire near Myrtle Beach and South Carolina which has destroyed dozens of homes and injured at least four people.

Our Jennifer Delgado is in the Weather Center. Any help on the way for these communities that are fighting these wildfires?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we are going to see some help in the form of rain moving in, especially to the Pigeon Forge fire. We're going to see the showers popping up as we go later into the morning, as well as into the afternoon.

Here is the forecast for Monday: winds from the south, 10 to 15, so not as gusty as yesterday, and an increased amount of moisture. And that is good news. But keep in mind: it's still a little bit early to see some of these fires popping up. We have warnings for areas even including parts of Colorado down to New Mexico.

Now, for today, with the storms that we're predicting, we are going to see a chance for severe storms from Mississippi, all the way over towards Georgia, and that includes Atlanta. The storms are already fired up, that is what will bring that rain very badly needed to Pigeon Forge, as we go later today.

And then up towards the North, we're talking snow, blizzard conditions are expected through late this evening until about 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday for parts of the Upper Plains. That includes Minnesota. And then we move over to mid-Atlantic, and we're talking light snow out there, mixed in with some sleet up until about 1:00. That is for Virginia, Washington, D.C. area.

And then the snow moves up towards the North, we're going to see potentially 10 to 14 inches, a lot of this coming down New England and those higher elevations. That is really going to start later on this evening into tomorrow.

So, mid-Atlantic, snow and sleet, messy travel conditions out there. Back over to you, John. BERMAN: All right. Jennifer Delgado, sounds like a lot to watch.

DELGADO: A lot out there.

BERMAN: We have some new developments in a dramatic prison escape that went down in broad daylight yesterday at a maximum security facility outside of Montreal. Police say the two inmates climbed a ladder dangling from a hijacked helicopter, from a hijacked helicopter, and were flown away while swinging from the moving chopper. The first inmate and two unidentified suspects were tracked down quickly. The second inmate surrendered overnight.

So, passengers when were aboard the Carnival Legend are now off the ship and unloading on the cruise company after finally making it back to Tampa yesterday.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the worst vacation I've ever had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dining room was shaking violently for at least 35 minutes.

BRANDY SUMPTER, PASSENGER: Oh, I plan on contacting my lawyer, I plan on contacting the Better Business Bureau, I plan on writing plenty of complaints on their Web site.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Those are some tough reviews right there. Propulsion problems last week kept the Legend from moving at top speed, cut off a planned stop in Grand Cayman. The U.S. Coast Guard inspected its repairs and cleared the ship to set sale with new passengers for another week long cruise.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is now pushing for a cruise ship passenger Bill of Rights offering refunds for canceled outing, beefed up medical staffing and backup power sources.

So, it seems that Will and Kate don't quite agree on the gender of their unborn baby.

O'BRIEN: The train has left the station.

BERMAN: The duchess of Cambridge revealed Sunday to a soldier at a St. Patrick's Day celebration in southern England that she would prefer a boy, while husband William would prefer a girl.

Middleton is five months pregnant. She is due this July. I think it was last week, right, where she seemed to let it slip that they think they're having a girl.

O'BRIEN: Oh, please.

BERMAN: The smoke screen now. O'BRIEN: Totally. First of all, the gender of the baby is the gender of the baby. They just need to deliver him or her, and now he says this and she says that? It just covers all their bases. Please. Just good P.R.

All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, more on that deadly plane crash in the quiet Indiana neighborhood, forced dozens of evacuations. Jackie Lincoln is a volunteer with the Red Cross. She's going to join us next to talk about the latest efforts to help the economy there.

Then, my one-on-one interview with Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, what she said when I asked her about the fact that most of her critics are women.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. There are two people dead, three homes damaged after a small jet slammed in to a South Bend, Indiana, neighborhood.

Joining us from there this morning is Jackie Lincoln. She's a volunteer with the Red Cross, was at the scene of the crash. Jackie, thanks for talking with us. Tell me what it looks like now and what's happening right now on the ground.

JACKIE LINCOLN, RED CROSS VOLUNTEER: Right now, it just looks like a big mess. The plane is still in the house. There is emergency people walking all around. It's quite quiet, very serene, very kind of peaceful, too.

O'BRIEN: Really. Is that because there have been evacuation orders and everybody has pretty much evacuated because of the fears of the jet fuel?

LINCOLN: Yes, that's true. Yes.

O'BRIEN: What's the plan?

LINCOLN: Very quiet.

O'BRIEN: It is. I kind of imagine. We can sort of hear it behind you. I don't hear any sirens, all these things that I would have expected behind you, I'm not really hearing. What's the plan? What are they telling you will happen today?

LINCOLN: They're going to try and get the plane out of the house today, but they're still concerned about the jet fuel that's in the basement.

O'BRIEN: Oh my gosh. OK. And, what will happen to the folks? Have they given them any information about when they're going to be able to return to their homes?

LINCOLN: No. They have not yet. The electricity and the water and the gas is still shut off because there was a gas leak yesterday, but everything should be straightened out probably next couple days.

O'BRIEN: This must be such a devastating thing for this community. My goodness. I mean, these pictures are really honestly unbelievable. What is the Red Cross doing for not just the people who've been directly impacted by the little jet, but also the greater community there?

LINCOLN: Well, last night, we opened up a shelter, and we did have a few people in there. And as far as I know, I really don't know what's going on today because I haven't checked with the chapter, but I'll contact them later on this morning.

O'BRIEN: Well, great. We wish you the best of luck. I know you got a lot of work ahead of you, not just when they pulled this plane out, but as this community tries to get back together. Jackie Lincoln is a volunteer with the Red Cross. Thank you, Jackie, for your time. I know you're busy. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we could see a big market sell-off this morning. The teeny tiny country that's responsible for all of it, we'll tell you.

And outrage over this Nazi salute that came from a soccer player on the field. He's learning his punishment. We'll tell you what it is.

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ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Alison Kosik, Minding Your Business" this morning.

Another bailout in Europe wreaking havoc on stock markets around the world. Dow futures are down about 90 points. The good news is that's actually an improvement from a few hours ago when futures were off about 150 points.

In Asia, the major averages overnight dropped one to two percent each. This time, it's Cyprus that needs a bailout. It's a tiny island south of Turkey. It's the EU's smallest state, but it is being watched closely because its bailout is especially contentious because it includes a tax on bank deposits, meaning, people who live there would be tax the on the money that they put it into their accounts. So, they're nervous about this. Many rushed to withdraw their money out of the bank.

A vote on $13 billion bailout has been postponed until tomorrow. This will be the fourth bailout for Europe. You know, this really turns into quite the game-changer for the Euro Zone for this debt crisis because it means a bank doesn't have to fail to take these people's money. Just tax it right off.

O'BRIEN: All right. Alison, thank you.

Trending online this morning, a lineup of stars have been stopping by to visit the rapper Lil Wayne at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in L.A., from Nicki Minaj to Drake to the NBA star Chris Paul. The Grammy-winning hip-hop artist suffered seizures last week; it was all over Twitter. A friend said he's good. He's just resting. And a message on Lil Wayne's Twitter page says, "I'm good, everybody. Thanks for the prayers and love."

And if you think that actress Emma Watson of "Harry Potter" fame is going to be strip naked for "Fifty Shades of Grey" movie? Not going to happen. Hacker group Anonymous claimed production company's internal server indicated that Watson was contracted to star in an adaptation of the hot-selling book. Watson tweeted this, "Who here actually thinks I would do 'Fifty Shades of Grey' as a movie? Like really. For real. In real life?"

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I guess that's a no.

A Greek soccer player has reportedly been banned from his national team for life for allegedly flashing a Nazi salute after scoring a goal. You can see what he did. It's a -- Greek Soccer Federation called Giorgo Katidis, his actions, a deep insult to all victims of Nazi brutality. On Twitter, Katidis, I guess his name is, said he wouldn't have made the gesture if he actually knew what it meant.

First, he said he was pointing to a friend in the stands. Then he said, well, actually -- yes, pointing to a friend in the stands with all fingers of my hand. Video went viral on Saturday. You see the guy to the left here trying to pull his hand down. Same day that Greece marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the country's Jews to World War II extermination camps. So a harsh punishment for him, and no surprise there.

BERMAN: There are other things to do after you score a goal.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, and -- first, he claimed --

BERMAN: He claimed that he didn't know.

O'BRIEN: First, he claimed pointing to a friend, then people are like, that's not believable, try to come up with something else. So then he said, well, I wasn't aware. He didn't know. But very harsh punishment.

CONNIE MACK, (R) FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Of course, he knew. I mean, how do you not know?

O'BRIEN: Yes. It seemed a little strange.

RICHARD BLAIS, CELEBRITY CHEF AND AUTHOR: That looked a little after the goal was scored, too. Like, he's up in the stands. I mean --

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. No. It was a lot of time had passed. He also said I want to clarify I'm not a fascist or neo-Nazi or racist. I have a step-brother from Puerto Rico. That falls in the --

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: "Many of my friends are black" theory. I have lots of friends - "My family is from the Black Sea, experienced racism in the worst way," and went on to apologize. "And the fact that I did not know what I was doing is no excuse. " And that, apparently, is what the club believed, because he's out.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg causing some controversy with her new book called "Lean In." I spoke to her one-on-one about the critics who say her advice might be unrealistic for some women.

Then, the great cookie hoax. This is such a sad turned great story. Girl Scouts duped by someone who ordered 6,000 boxes. So they owe $24,000. It works out in the best way. We'll tell you what happened. That's ahead.

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