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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

David Petraeus Gives Speech; Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Same-Sex Marriage; North Korea Cuts off Communication Line with South Korea; Secret Service Hires New Director; Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Marriage Arguments.

Aired March 27, 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: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning is new information. David Petraeus is speaking out for the first time about his very public sex scandal. We'll tell you what he said and why he's saying it now.

Then, the Supreme Court is taking up the federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA just one day after the justices took a look at same-sex marriage ban in California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF ANTHONY KENNEDY, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: What do you think? CNN legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, will join us to talk about what to look for when justices grill the attorneys today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama putting a woman in charge of the secret service for the first time. This morning, we're learning more about her background, and ask, can she help turn the agency's image around?

And pictures you have to see. Terrifying. A light pole smashing through a bus window as the bus driver somehow jumps out of the way, but it's what he does next that's even more amazing.

O'BRIEN: It's Wednesday, March 27th, and "Starting Point" begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, a public apology from the former CIA director, David Petraeus. New this morning, the retired four-star general is breaking his silence five months after resigning in disgrace over an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Casey Wian is live for us in Los Angeles this morning. Hey, Casey, good morning.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. It's very clear what's going on here is the beginning of what's likely to be a long effort by General Petraeus to rehabilitate his public image.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Retired general David Petraeus picked a receptive audience to launch his comeback from the sex scandal that cost him his job at the CIA and his reputation with the military.

DAVID PETRAEUS, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret and apologize for the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA, and caused such pain for my family, friends, and supporters.

WIAN: Supporters once were abundant. Petraeus was a four-star general who commanded American forces during the surge in Iraq. He also wrote the field manual for how U.S. troops fight insurgents.

PETRAEUS: I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago. I'm also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing.

WIAN: His undoing was an affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who co-authored his biography, both were married. It came as a shock to many when an FBI investigation into an unrelated matter uncovered his relationship with Broadwell. He resigned as CIA director three days after President Obama was re-elected, and 10 days before he testified about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. Now Petraeus has re-entered the public stage and is reported to be talking to potential employers.

DAN MCGINN, IMAGE CONSULTANT: General Petraeus is just an enormously, gifted, talented guy. He had a great career. He can have a great career going forward. He's got to navigate through this the right way. It looks like he's starting in the right direction.

PETRAEUS: I know that I can never fully assuage the pain that I inflicted on those closest to me and on a number of others. I can, however, try to move forward and as best possible to make amends to those I have hurt.

WIAN: Chief among them, his wife Holly, who did not attend Petraeus' speech.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: The event was sponsored by USC, which has long-standing close ties to the military. And yet is located comfortably a continent away from the Pentagon and the CIA. I also should point out, Soledad, that reporters were kept away from the general. Not allowed to ask any questions.

O'BRIEN: Could you tell, Casey, what the response was from the audience that was listening to that apology?

WIAN: Very enthusiastic and supportive response. Most of the members of that audience were either members of the ROTC at USC or veterans who attended the university. They were very happy to hear the general. There was a long line after his speech to get pictures taken with the general. They seemed very pleased to hear what he had to say.

O'BRIEN: Casey Wian for us this morning. Appreciate it. Let's get right to CNN military analyst retired General James "Spider" Marks. He's known general Petraeus since high school. Nice to have you with us, appreciate it.

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Hey, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Give me a sense of the why now for this apology. There's been a fair amount of time that's passed. He could have done it before. What do you think is the strategy for right now?

MARKS: Well, clearly he has been on a self-imposed isolation for the last six months or so, a little short of six months. And I think, you know, Soledad, it's simply a feel that Dave has for his relationship with his family. There are two very important groups that he had to get right with. Number one is his family. And I won't speculate. That's extremely private. I'm hopeful that that's going well.

And also he needs to get right with the army. This is a guy who went to West Point, spent over three decades in the military, served immensely well in very tough spot throughout his entire career, and he has a huge band of supporters, a coterie followers, and he let them down terribly. So he needs to get right with that group, too. This is a good effort on his part.

When he speaks about veterans, there is nothing that you can say to criticize that. There will be criticism for him, but if he moves forward, that will be muted over time. And when you speak about veterans and veterans issues, everybody can get on board and rally behind that.

O'BRIEN: I have to imagine, then, that this is the first step in that. Do you think having a military background makes the making it right, as you call it, more difficult, less difficult?

MARKS: Well, it's a very difficult thing to do. Look, when you sign up to be in the army, you immediately, on day one, instance one, when you raise your right hand, you underline the army's values and you begin to do those. And then after three decades they're part of your DNA. The very first army value is loyalty. He completely abandoned that. He wasn't loyal to his family. He wasn't loyal to his team that was in the army. And I'm sure he is terribly troubled by this. A mistake he made, his eyes were wide open, and he made this terrible mistake, and this is an effort on his part to get going, to redefine himself. And we're all very helpful that he can, because he's such an immensely gifted guy. He's got a lot to give going forward.

O'BRIEN: General James "Spider" Marks, we appreciate it.

Coming up in our next hour we're going to hear from Lee Reynolds, an army reserve officer who served under general Petraeus in Iraq. He also attended last night's event. We'll have a chance to talk to him about that.

Now to the historic showdown over same-sex marriage -- in just a few hours the Supreme Court will take on DOMA, the defense of marriage act, hearing arguments for and against its repeal. DOMA denies same- sex couples access to federal benefits under its definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But there's a new CNN/ORC poll, and it shows that a majority of Americans, 56 percent, believe the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages from states where it's legal. Crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is outside the Supreme Court for us this morning with that and much more on yesterday's arguments, too. Good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Today's case is much more about the pocketbook, the tangible economic damage that the federal government does when it treats same- sex couples differently from straight couples. The focus is on a woman in her 80s from New York who got hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional estate taxes when her spouse died. It comes one day after the court took up the controversial issue of California's proposition 8.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Same-sex marriage week at the Supreme Court. Day one, culture war on the docket.

CHRIS COOPER, ATTORNEY FOR PROP 8 SUPPORTERS: The place for the decision to be made regarding redefining marriage is with the people. Not with the courts.

JOHNS: Charles Cooper, the lawyer in favor of California's Proposition 8, argued that traditional marriage must be preserved for straight couples because it's all about procreation. But justice Elena Kagan picked apart the premise, asking whether a state could deny a marriage license to people over 55.

COOPER: If you're over the age of 55, you don't help us serve the government's interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?

CHRIS COOPER, ATTORNEY FOR PROP 8 SUPPORTERS: Your honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples -- both parties to the couple are infertile. And the traditional --

ELENA KAGAN: I can just assure you if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNS: Justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly tried to pin down attorney Ted Olson on when gays and lesbians first got the right to marry.

ANTONIN SCALIA, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I'm curious, when -- when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage?

THEODORE OLSON, ATTORNEY FOR PROP 8 OPPONENTS: If I may answer this in the form of a rhetorical question. When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages?

JOHNS: The question even got asked whether same-sex marriage has been around long enough to understand its social impact. Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned whether the court should have taken up the case at all. But he also seemed worried about almost 40,000 children of same- sex marriages, already in California.

ANTHONY KENNEDY, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: They want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Justice Kennedy is seen as the swing vote by many in the event Proposition 8 is a close case. Neither of these cases is likely to be decided until June. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Joe Johns for us this morning. Thanks, Joe.

In just a few minutes we're going to talk to CNN's senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin. He'll weigh in on this for us. And later this hour we'll talk to Florida Governor Rick Scott, get his take as well. He has been against gay marriage.

We're also following a developing story out of North Korea this morning. Christine has that and some of the other stories making news. Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad. New this morning, more rising tension on the Korean peninsula. North Korea now claiming it has cut off an important hotline to the South. This hotline is key because it allows south Koreans to cross the border to work at a jointly run industrial complex in the north. Another hotline dealing with the Red Cross was cut off earlier this month. CNN's Matthew Chance live in Pyongyang near North Korea. Matthew, other hotlines are still working. So what makes this so significant?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are already about eight or so hotlines that exist between this very closed-off kingdom in the north, North Korea, and its rival in the south. And so, the fact that one of them has been disabled now by Pyongyang obviously has an impact on the ability of the two sides to communicate.

And that's important because we're experiencing a very heightened period of tensions on the Korean peninsula. Obviously North Korea tested a nuclear device last month. It carried out what many people believe to be a long-range rocket test in December of last year. And since then the tension has been ratcheted up as we've been reporting, almost on a daily basis. This is just the latest step along that road.

ROMANS: All right, Matthew Chance for us. New this morning, buildings shaking in Taipei, aftershocks jolting central Taiwan after a powerful 6.1 magnitude earthquake shook the island earlier this morning. This is what it looked like, felt like from inside a TV station. Taiwan is said to be largely intact. No reports of major damage. "The Wall Street Journal" says at least eight people were injured, mostly by falling objects.

Death on the high seas, a developing story this morning, the FBI investigating what it calls the suspicious death of a 64-year-old passenger aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. The woman from Virginia was found dead by her husband in their cabin on Sunday. The ship, "Enchantment of the Seas" returned to Baltimore on Monday following a seven-day cruise to Florida and the Bahamas. No word why investigators are calling this death suspicious.

The Secret Service has a new director. It's Julia Pierson, the first woman to ever head up the agency. She inherits a $1.7 billion budget, 7,000 employees, oh, yes, and a department tarnished by scandal. Here's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Julia Pierson is 53 years old, and she has been with the Secret Service for 30 years, working her way steadily up the ladder to become chief of staff, building what many describe as an exemplary record along the way.

What helped open the door for her appointment, however, was a scandal. One year ago the service came under fire amid allegations of agents on assignment in Colombia hiring prostitutes. A half dozen were forced out, others lost security clearance. The whole affair tarnished the record of outgoing director Mark Sullivan and put pressure on the president to clean it up.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're representing the people of the United States. And when we travel to another country I expect us to observe the highest standards, because we're not just representing ourselves. We're here on behalf of our people.

FOREMAN: So where did Pierson come from? According to an interview she gave to Smithsonian.com six years ago, her childhood interest in police work gained traction during a high school job at Disneyworld where she says "I wore one of those character outfits. To this day I think the experience of dealing with large crowds at the park had a good influence on my ability to do that sort of work with the Secret Service."

During college she worked for the Orlando police department, and she joined the Secret Service in 1983, beginning with investigations into credit card fraud. Since then she's been on security details for several presidents, and she's experienced virtually every aspect of Secret Service operations, including fraud and counterfeiting investigations.

In her new job, however, her political skills may be tested first because even though some Congressional critics of the Secret Service scandal are praising her appointment, they're also saying she has a lot of work ahead to repair the agency's battered image.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Next hour you're going to hear from the former Secret Service agent who worked with Julia Pierson at the White House.

Market futures pointing lower this morning for all three major indexes following another record setting day on Wall Street. Stocks surged Tuesday. The Dow finished up 111 to close at a record 14,559. All eyes on the S&P 500 this morning, that index yesterday at 1,563. That's just two points shy from an all-time closing high.

All right, a bus driver in China is being called a hero for somehow stopping his bus after a light pole came smashing through the windshield. It's hard to watch. The incredible surveillance video will make you hit the deck. That's exactly what the driver did with only a split second to spare. He suffered a ruptured spleen, but he managed to bring the bus to a stop, he unbuckled his seat belt and escaped. There were 26 passengers on board. Despite his injury, he helped each and every one of them off the bus. And Soledad, amazingly, no one was seriously hurt.

O'BRIEN: It is so incredible how everybody kind of moved the right direction, because when you watch what happened with that pole and where it went as it kind of swung through that bus, everybody's initial dive was exactly the right thing to do.

ROMANS: What I don't know is why the light pole came in the front -- wow. But he must have -- you could see him sort of bracing and leaning to the right. He must have somehow in the corner of his eye seen this was coming and just barely missed him. I mean, hard to watch that.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the Supreme Court takes up the federal definition of marriage this morning. Up next we're going to talk to CNN's senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin about what we can expect today. And then when a mother and grandmother leave a baby on a train platform, we'll tell you what police say happened that makes it even worse. That's ahead. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. Now more on our top story this morning. Day two of same-sex marriage arguments taking place at the Supreme Court. Today the justices will hear arguments for and against DOMA. The Defense of Marriage Act. Yesterday we were talking about California's Prop 8 which bans gay marriage. We want to get to analysis this morning from Jeff Toobin, he's CNN's senior legal analyst. He was in the court yesterday. Jeff, always nice to talk to you, of course. Let's start with DOMA, and I guess some of the arguments from yesterday, I think, look like they could be foreshadowing what's going to happen today. Here is Chief Justice Roberts talking about the label of marriage. Let's start with that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: If you tell a child that somebody has to be their friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, this is my friend. But it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend. And that seems to me what supporters of Proposition 8 are saying here. All you're interested in is the label and you insist on changing the definition of the label.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So hearing that, what would you take away from that that frames how you think this is going?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the confusion and ambiguity of yesterday's arguments really raises the stakes for today. Because today is actually a somewhat more simple case. They don't have to worry about defining marriage or anything like that in this case. This is a case about states that have already defined marriage. These are not -- this is a law, the Defense of Marriage Act, that only applies in the nine states that have same-sex marriage and here in the District of Columbia, and the question is, will the federal government treat those married people, who are married, as if -- in the same way as they treat straight couples? It's a much more simple legal question.

O'BRIEN: Justice Kagan, on the other side, was digging into the argument about procreation being sort of the basis for -- the basis of the argument against same-sex marriage. I want to play a little chunk of what she had to say. I thought this was really interesting.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ELENA KAGAN, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I suppose if states said, because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we're not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55. Would that be constitutional?

CHARLES COOPER, ATTORNEY FOR PROP 8 SUPPORTERS: No, your honor, it would not be constitutional.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, did that seem to dig a big hole in that particular argument? And what are the implications of that on today's conversation?

TOOBIN: Well, that's certainly one of the strongest arguments that same-sex marriage supporters have. Which is, that marriage is not just about procreation. Older people, people who are incapable or uninterested in having children, are welcome to get married, as long as they are of different genders. So that is an argument very much in favor of same-sex marriage, that it is not just about childbearing.

I think the relevance today is that this case won't have to deal with very difficult questions like that of why do we have marriage. This is a case much more simply about discrimination. The federal law says tax benefits go to straight married people, not to gay married people. It's really a case about money. About benefits. And who can be denied those benefits. I think same-sex marriage supporters probably are, and should be, more optimistic about this case because Anthony Kennedy so often the swing vote has really been sensitive on the issue of discrimination against gay people, and they think he will make a fifth vote with the four Democratic appointees. That's what we think going in. We'll know a lot more when it starts at 10:00.

O'BRIEN: I know you described it as kind of confusing coming out of yesterday.

TOOBIN: It really was. You know, oftentimes, and as many people know, I have definitely, definitely been wrong in my predictions about how oral arguments turn out in the voting. But usually you can at least tell what they're going to decide, if not how they're going to decide. Yesterday it wasn't even clear how they viewed the issue as framed. Today, we should at least have a clearer sense of what they're going to -- what issues they're going to address, if not precisely how it's going to come out.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Toobin for us standing outside the Supreme Court as you mentioned. It's going to start at 10:00 this morning. Appreciate it.

TOOBIN: All right.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, North Dakota now has the nation's toughest abortion law. Bans abortions once a heartbeat is detected. That could be just a matter of weeks. Other states with similar measures. Coming up the legal case for and against when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. John Kerry heading back to the U.S. later today following his first Mideast trip as secretary of state. Kerry is meeting with business leaders in Paris before flying back to Washington this morning. During the trip, Secretary Kerry traveled with President Obama to Israel, and met with leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A moral (ph) victory for the U.S. in its World Cup qualifier against Mexico. Last night's match ending in a nil-nil tie. A huge disappointment for Mexico. They traditionally dominate the U.S. team at the Azteca Center. The Mexican team known as El Tri had many more opportunities to score, taking ten shots compared to just one for the U.S. team. The World Cup will be held next year in Brazil.

Call it "Jaws Two." That's right. Scientists say the first-ever two- headed bull shark was discovered off the Gulf of Mexico. A fisherman made the rare find when he cut open a pregnant shark back in 2011. The two-headed shark died shortly after. Scientists say the rare creature also had two hearts, two stomachs but only one tail. Very, very rare.

O'BRIEN: And very weird, huh? Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Amanda Knox is facing a retrial for murder in Italy. Would the U.S. State Department let her go back?

And man's best friend to the rescue. We'll play (ph) how this dog saved a hiker who was trapped for days. STARTING POINT is back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning, Roland Martin is back with us, he's a CNN contributor. Chris Grace is back, too, he's a reporter for "National Journal," and Joe Solmonese is joining us for the first time. He's formerly executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. He's now the managing directory of Gavin (ph) Solmonese. Nice to have you with us.

New information we're getting on the breaking news story about Amanda Knox. We were talking about that yesterday with her attorney. After an Italian court ruled that she could be retried in the death of her roommate in Perugia, Italy. The big question this morning is could she be forced to go back in order to stand trial.