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Trail of Destruction; Massive Auto Recall; North Korean Missile Threat; Congress Expected to Take Up Gun Control; Interview with Senator Joe Manchin on Gun Legislation; Interview with Bill Richardson on North Korea

Aired April 11, 2013 - 08:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Happening right now, storms streaking across the east, leaving tornadoes in their path, cars tossed off highways, homes wrecked. We'll tell you where these storms are going next.

ROMANS: Then in just the past few hours, more than 3 million cars recalled this morning over faulty airbags. Find out if your car is affected straight ahead.

BERMAN: Plus, the Senate expected to start debating new gun control laws this morning and we will talk to the man behind them all, Senator Joe Manchin.

ROMANS: And watch what happens when a store owner decides to fight back against armed robbers, incredible video.

Thursday, April 11th. STARTING POINT begins right now.


ROMANS: Our STARTING POINT right now: a powerful storm system on the move after causing a string of tornadoes in at least two states.

Here's what we know, the first one hit around 8:00 p.m. in Hazelwood, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. Neighborhood trashed, trees toppled over and dozens of homes damaged. Missouri's governor has now declared a state of emergency.

BERMAN: In Arkansas, a twister tore past several miles long through Van Buren County. That's about 75 miles north of Little Rock. At least 33 homes that were damaged and a popular church just wrecked. Cars were tossed off the highway, and at least three people injured.

Luckily, no deaths have been reported so far. It's mostly a rural area, but residents definitely waking up this morning a bit shaken.

Let's bring in Samantha Mohr. Samantha is in our weather center right now. It seems there's plenty of activity still out there. Who is seeing the worst of it?

SAMANTHA MOHR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right now, in southeast Texas, John and Christine, we've seen just an explosion of thunderstorms overnight and into the early morning hours. It makes for a nasty morning commute there and in the Tennessee Valley we go, heads up in Nashville. A nasty drive time as well.

You notice we're seeing in the last hour, fewer lightning strikes because we lost the daytime heating overnight. But again today, we expect to see a lot more thunderstorms forming in advance of the front and a lot of snow falling around the back side of this, upper level low across the Northern Plains. We could be talking a foot of snow northwest of Minneapolis, and the flooding, that's an immediate problem across the Great Lakes and down into the Tennessee Valley.

Northwest Mississippi, one of the troubled spots where floodwaters really causing a problem for folks. Out on the roadways, it's really hard to see how deep it is. So, we do be careful out there. And we do expect to see more in the way of severe thunderstorms as the day wears on, some major cities, including Columbus, Lexington, Nashville, and to Charlotte and Atlanta.

Heads up, get that weather radio ready and you need the batteries, change them every year like you change the batteries in your smoke detector.

BERMAN: Great advice. Samantha Mohr at our weather center, thanks so much.

MOHR: You bet.

ROMANS: All right. New this morning: four Japanese automakers involved in a major recall, affecting 3.4 million vehicles. The problem: a malfunctioning inflator that could inadvertently deploy the front seat airbags and even cause a fire.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda all affected by the recall since they all purchase their airbag systems from the same manufacturer in Japan. Twenty-six models are involved. Half of them involving Toyota and its popular Corolla, Matrix and Camry models.

BERMAN: New developments this morning, a hostage drama in Georgia that end with the gunman dead and four firefighters rescued by a SWAT team. Police say the suspect placed a fake emergency call. When firefighters arrived and the suburban Atlanta home, the strained situation in Suwanee County just got ugly in down there.


CPL. EDWIN RITTER, GWINNETT CO., GEORGIA POLICE: When they made entry into the home, they were taken hostage. And then he started making demands. These demands were to have his power turned back on.

Apparently, he's going through some financial issues and the power was turned off, along with the power, and cell phone and so on, and he wanted all these things turned back on. And that's why he was holding them hostage.


BERMAN: Police say when they felt the firefighter's lives were in danger, they made the decision to go in. All four rescued were with minor injuries.

ROMANS: Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing for a visit to South Korea tomorrow as the missile crisis continues to the North continues to unfold. America, Japan and South Korea all on high alert this morning. A U.S. official telling CNN, North Korea raised one missile to an upright firing position and test launch could be imminent this morning.

Jim Clancy monitoring these developments for us live from Seoul. Jim, do we know anything about a possible missile launch here?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. Well, you know, Barbara Starr, coming out with the report from the U.S. official would indicate that perhaps North Koreans were checking, trying to make sure everything was right. Remember, they sell this missile technology around the world to countries like Iran. They want to make sure this comes up.

This is essentially, Christine, an advertisement for them. So, they're going to be very careful. The latest we have is that we expect a multiple missile launch, and they should all be tests. It's going to be quite a fireworks show -- Christine.

ROMANS: The missile that's reportedly in firing position is the farther range than previous missiles launched. So, you know, does that make this more concerning?

CLANCY: It certainly does because it brings places as far away as Guam. It puts Japan in the firing line and, of course, South Korea.

And we don't know much about this missile. I think a lot of people are watching it carefully. The U.S. and South Korea have advanced Aegis destroyers and radar platforms. They're watching it very closely to try to analyze just what are the capabilities of this missile. As far as we know, it's never been publicly tested, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jim Clancy, waiting and watching for fireworks potential in the region, thank you, sir. What's the north's next move?

In about 10 minutes, we're going to ask a man who's been to North Korea many times, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

BERMAN: A lot going on this morning. Zoraida Sambolin has the rest of the day's top stories. Hey, Zoraida.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And new this morning: today marks one year since George Zimmerman was arrested in Florida and charged with second degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17- year-old Trayvon Martin. So, to mark the occasion, Zimmerman's mother Gladys has written an open letter to the public. Mrs. Zimmerman writes, "April 11th, 2012 will forever be remembered by the Zimmerman family as the day the justice system failed us as Americans, and as a consequence, an innocent man was arrested for a crime he did not commit solely to placate the masses."

The letter comes two weeks after his Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., apologized for some controversial postings on Twitter. In one, he tweeted out a picture of Martin, alongside a photo of 17- year-old DeMarquise Elkins, one of the two teenagers charged with killing a baby in Georgia.

And a big development this morning in a murder last week of West Virginia Sheriff Walter Crum. Sources tell CNN that Tennis Maynard, the man charged with shooting Crum to death was able to purchase a gun only 10 months after being released from a mental institution. That's because his mental health information had not been entered into a federal database.

And we have amazing video. As two shopkeepers fight back against two men who tried to rob their store at gunpoint. Eighty-two-year-old store owner Louis Quizhpe grabbed a bat and start the swinging as one of the robbers opened fire. Quizhpe was hit in the thigh by the gunfire, but look at what he did, he continued to fight back. When the gunman jumped the counter, Quizhpe's brother-in-law sprung into action, throwing a chair and fire extinguisher.

Quizhpe is back home after he beat that robber. He is being treated for his wounded leg. And police, well, they are still searching for the suspects.

You keep on watching this video, and are you amazing that somebody goes after a gun with a man with a bat.

BERMAN: Again and again and again and again.


SAMBOLIN: Even after being shot. Incredible.

ROMANS: Thanks, Zoraida.


ROMANS: The Senate takes a vote later on this morning on whether or not to open debate on the gun control bill. Meanwhile, supporters of new legislation are gathering on the National Mall preparing for a 24- hour vigil that begins at 11:30 Eastern. Clergy from Newtown, Connecticut, are setting up more than 3,300 grave markers. They say each grave marker represents one American killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre back in November.

President Obama pushing for a tough new gun measure.

Brianna Keilar at the White House for us this morning. Good morning, Brianna. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and John, President Obama said that he would prefer that this bill was stronger, but he also said that it represents, quote, "significant bipartisan Congress." This amid a week-long offensive leading to the very significant test vote in the Senate this morning set to take place at around 11:00 a.m.


KEILAR (voice-over): First lady Michelle Obama took the rare step of wading into a policy debate on Wednesday describing how she felt when he attended the funeral of teenager Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed in her hometown of Chicago.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Let me tell you, whoo, it is hard to know what to say to a room full of teenagers who are about to bury their best friend. But I started by telling them that Hadiya was clearly on her way to doing something truly worthy with her life.

KEILAR: The first lady's comments came on the eve of the Senate's first vote on a watered down gun bill set to take place later this morning.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin both of whom have an A rating from the National Rifle Association forged a compromise on background checks for gun purchases.

Manchin visibly touched by Newtown families when he met with them on Capitol Hill.


KEILAR: The legislation would require a background check on purchases at gun shows and on the Internet, but would exempt private transactions. It would also require states and the federal government to provide records on criminals and the violently mentally ill through the national background check system.

But can it pass a Republican Congress?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Many of them are looking carefully at the legislation, but I don't know in the end how many will support it.

KEILAR: Many gun owners are not convinced.

RUSS HUDSON, MARYLAND GUN STORE OWNER: None of these laws will stop crime. The criminals will just go on getting their guns like they always have.

KEILAR: While the measure is far from the assault weapons ban, the president pushed for after the Sandy Hook shootings, some of the parents of children killed say it's a first step.

NELBA MARQUEZ GREENE, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM: What I've seen here is people working together on both sides to try to do something to reduce the likelihood of another mother standing in my shoes.


KEILAR: We'll really be watching the Senate floor this morning, Christine and John, because 60 votes are needed to move the gun bill to the Senate floor for debate. There are only 55 Democrats or senators who vote with Democrats. So, they're going to need a little help from a few Republicans if this is going to happen. And we don't know who exactly they may be at this point and even if this is definitely going to succeed.

ROMANS: All right. Brianna Keilar, live for us this morning at the White House -- thanks, Brianna.

BERMAN: So, joining us is the man in the middle of it all, Senator Joe Manchin. He's a Democrat from West Virginia. He co-authored the background checks compromise.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

Before we talk about the proposal, you know, we looked at video of you meeting with the families from Newtown, Connecticut. It looked emotional. Can you tell us what was going through your head during that time?

MANCHIN: John and Christine, thank you for having me. That was very emotional. I never met braver people, stronger people in my life than the families of these beautiful little babies who were slaughtered.

And for them to come in with strength, they are not asking and overreaching, and saying, I think you should ban all weapons, I think you should stop this, or stop that, take rights away from people or ban the Second Amendment -- none of those things.

They come from a gun culture the same as my state and we've put a piece of legislation out there and they are supporting legislation, basically says if you go to a gun show, you will be treated at same as if you go to a gun store today. If you buy online, you will be treated the same.

And I think it's a tremendous process that's moving forward, but if we can keep guns out of the hands of people who have been mentally adjudicated to the courts system and have been a criminal that we know, then we have a chance of keeping those guns away from them and that's really where we need to be focusing on. That's what we are doing.

BERMAN: Senator, you have been speaking with the NRA, the National Rifle Association while you are formulating this proposal and your office sort of indicated that you thought the NRA might stay neutral after you release it.

That hasn't happened. Over the last 24, the NRA has come out and said they are opposed and they are keeping score. They will count the votes that senators make for this bill against them.

Do you feel like are you taking on the NRA right now?

MANCHIN: Well, I don't feel like I'm taking on anybody. I'm saying what we are taking is the most common-sense approach that most Americans. And I can assure you 75 percent to 85 percent of law abiding gun owners that enjoy hunting, the sport of shooting, enjoy all of the pleasures of the Second Amendment, knowing that I will protect that Second Amendment, along with Pat Toomey, they agree with us.

And all I'm asking for my friends at the NRA, let your members see the bill in its entirety. We're putting online. You can get on my Web site, And see it, it has a breakdown.

I can assure you that -- we conversed with the NRA all the way through it. I thought everybody needed to be at the table, and we have a piece of legislation that protects the Second Amendment rights of gun owners like myself.

A very simple thing we should be get cleared up. If I go hunting in another state, and I pass through another state that has different types of gun laws, I don't have a background check, and I shouldn't be having my gun the way they interpret the law, I could be in violation.

This clears that up. A lot of things cleared up what need to be cleared up for years. We're asking our friends at the NRA, please take another look and consider and allow your members to see the facts.

ROMANS: Do you think you have 60 votes?

MANCHIN: I do. Let's just say -- today -- today, we will go to cloture. And that takes 60 votes to get on the bill. The bill that we're voting to get on the cloture on is not the bill that I would vote to pass. Our amendment needs to be in this bill that replaces a big part of that bill, and I give credit to two senators that -- Senator Mark Kirk from Illinois and Senator Chuck Schumer. They have been working and been with us from the beginning, Senator Schumer has moved from a position that I couldn't support, trying to find commonality and --

ROMANS: Senator, there's some though who say that it's watered down. I mean, I want you to listen to something that Carlee Soto said. She's the sister of the teacher who -- a first grade teacher at Newtown. She said that the background check proposal isn't enough. And this is kind of -- I mean, this is really kind of a shocking statement she makes.

I want you to listen to it.


CARLEE SOTO, SISTER OF NEWTOWN VICTIM VICKI SOTO: It was horrible. And I didn't know that there was a difference. The bullet holes that it would leave. I thought it was a normal bullet hole until I saw my sister's clothing that she wore. I saw the baseball-sized holes that were in my sister's clothes. They were huge. It was unbelievable to imagine that a normal person could have this gun and a normal person could walk in a school and start shooting at little kids.


ROMANS: What do you say, Senator, to people who wanted more from gun control?

MANCHIN: Well, the bottom line, that was not a normal person. This Lanza fellow was not normal at all. And with that being said, we've got to keep the guns out of those people's hands. Also, the legislation that Pat Toomey and I have worked on here has a commission on mass violence, and we have to look at how do we, as a society, become so tolerant to the violence?

So, we're going to put people with expertise. I want to know people with expertise that understand guns, understands mental illness, understands school safety, understands video violence, and see if we can start culturally changing.

BERMAN: Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, been working around the clock on this compromise deal. I think you have a very busy few weeks ahead of you still.

MANCHIN: We appreciate your support, too. This is very, very important.

BERMAN: Thank you, sir.

Fifteen minutes after the hour right now. And ahead on STARTING POINT, more on our top story. The world on alert, watching and waiting for North Korea's next move. We're going to be speaking live to former governor, Bill Richardson, from New Mexico. He will give us insights from his visits to North Korea.

ROMANS: And a fish tale you have to see to believe. A great white shark caught off the Florida coast. That's very rare. We're talking to the four teenagers who reeled that great white in. You're watching STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. The U.S. and South Korea militaries on high alert right now for a North Korean missile test that could come at any time now. The U.S. official telling CNN the north has raised at least one Musudan missile into an upright firing position. And amid this crisis, secretary of state, John Kerry, will travel to Seoul tomorrow.

Joining us now from Santa Fe, someone very, very familiar with North Korea, Bill Richardson, former U.N. ambassador, former governor of New Mexico. Governor, thanks so much for joining us. And amid these precautions, amid the words that the missile right now is in an upright position, ready to fire, the question a lot of people are asking is, how can we know if this is serious? And how serious is it? BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, it's -- it's very serious, but we don't know exactly what's going to happen. Two things could happen. One, it's in an upright position. This is a Musudan missile, medium range. It could be in preparation for a launch or it could be a deception move. A move to unnerve the international community.

Either way, the North Koreans have achieved making everybody nervous. What I think we have to watch here is Asian society, Asian leaders. Saving face here is very important in Asia. Now, the problem is that the North Korean leader, the young leaders maybe put himself in a corner, and to show to his North Korean military that his, I think, his main audience, he's going to have to do something. That's worrisome.

ROMANS: So much of this may be for domestic consumption to try to bolster his image, this young leader. But if he paints himself into a corner, governor, what is the way out? How do you taken off-ramp? How do we try to figure out what the off-ramp is to ratchet down the tension?

RICHARDSON: Well, the off-ramp, the way out, a face saver, might be China. If China makes a very urgent appeal, a diplomatic appeal, and maybe this is what the secretary of state is going to discuss in Seoul tomorrow.

Going to the North Koreans saying there needs to be entering into negotiation, I think the main goal has to be long range, get the North Koreans back to the negotiating table to negotiate a reduction or termination of their nuclear cycle, nuclear weapons cycle, because we're not just talking about nuclear weapons. We're talking about export of nuclear materials to countries like Iran.

We're talking about hostile relationships with possible terrorist groups, we don't know that. So, it's a grave situation, but I think it's also important, everybody stay cool. The North Koreans are masters of deception. They're masters of unpredictability. They play the international media very well, especially the North Korean military.

BERMAN: You know, you brought up Iran. North Korea right now not the only diplomatic hot spot in the world right now. Of course, the U.S. at odds with Iran on its nuclear program. The Iranians are probably looking at this right now what's going on in the Korean Peninsula. What do you think the Iranians take from this in terms of how far the U.S. might be willing to be pushed?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think they're watching it very carefully. And what the Iranians want to see is a continuation of North Korea's nuclear program, because right now, Iran is developing theirs, and we don't have concrete information, but there could be some sharing of data, sharing of scientific materials, and, again, as I stressed before, the long-range problem with a country like North Korea is that, perhaps, some of those nuclear materials could be exported, because they desperately need foreign exchange. They've got huge sanctions on them. The country is in an economic crisis. So, relationships, for instance, with Syria, with Pakistan, with Iran, with groups on the black market, international outlaw groups, that's the danger that they might get some of this enriched uranium that the North Koreans have.

ROMANS: There has been, governor, some sense from the Chinese, even say mass sense that, you know, they don't think that one country should be able to destabilize the whole region, which is kind of, you know, a veiled criticism of North Korea. So, maybe, you're right. Maybe the Chinese will be so key in all of this.

Governor Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor, also former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., nice to see you this morning. Thank you.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. Thank you.

BERMAN: And coming up next, we're just minutes away from the first court appearance of a couple accused of kidnapping their children and bringing them to Cuba. We're going to bring you the details in just a moment.

ROMANS: And Kobe Bryant blasting fired Rutgers coach, Mike Rice. What he would have done if Rice had thrown basketball at him from point blank range. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Trending this morning, L.A. Lakers star, Kobe Bryant, with some choice words for fired Rutgers basketball coach, Mike Rice, who was videotaped verbally and physically abusing players. Check out Kobe's response to a question last night from "Showtime" host, Jim Rome.


JIM ROME, "SHOWTIME" HOST: If you were one of the players getting the ball thrown at them, how would you have reacted?

KOBE BRYANT, L.A. LAKERS: I would have smacked the hell out of him. No question about it. No question about it. Probably wouldn't have been the best way to react to it, but that's how I would have reacted to it.


ROMANS: Wow. When the record's taped first surface, Bryant tweeted that "Mike Rice is a bully, not a coach."


All right. Also, controversial. Mattel's new Mexico Barbie getting bashed this morning with critics claiming she reinforces negative stereotypes. Mattel says Mexico Barbie is, quote, "fashionably ready for her fiesta in her bright pink dress." She has her own Chihuahua, but get this, she comes with a passport. Mexico Barbie is part of Mattel's dolls of the world collection. The "Latin Times" wonders if Mattel is making a political statement by providing Mexico Barbie with documentation.

ROMANS: They have dolls from all over the world, too, right?

BERMAN: I don't know if they have documentation or not.

ROMANS: That's a good point.

All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, the parents who are accused of kidnapping their children to Cuba about to face a judge for the first time. We're live outside the courtroom in Tampa.

BERMAN: And two teenage girls, apparently, very strong. They saved their father's life by lifting a 3,000-pound tractor right off of him. This is an amazing story about power and, really, the power of love. We're going to talk to the two daughters and the father, coming up.

You're watching STARTING POINT.