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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Secretary of State Kerry Speaks Out on North Korea; Tornadoes Hit Parts of U.S.; Pentagon Releases Intelligence on North Korean Nuclear Capabilities; Dodgers Pitcher Injured in Brawl; Interview with Buck McKeon

Aired April 12, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Our STARTING POINT this morning, breaking news.

Secretary of State John Kerry sending North Korea a strong warning in Seoul this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That as we're learning North Korea may have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a missile.

BERMAN: Happening right now, deadly storms savaging the country from the Southeast to the Midwest, bringing torrential rain and tornadoes. We are live on the ground in Mississippi.

ROMANS: Developing this morning, a package containing an explosive device sent to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. We're gathering the details on that.

BERMAN: And a brawl that clears the benches. It could cost one team a big money player for a long, long time.

It is Friday, April 12th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

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CHRISTINE: Breaking news this morning. Secretary of State John Kerry with strong words for North Korea.

BERMAN: Kerry touching down in Seoul overnight for talks with South Korean leaders. In a news conference just about an hour ago, he stressed this -- "North Korea will never be accepted as a nuclear power. The only way there will be talks between our countries is if North Korea is serious about denuclearization, and China can play a role in this pivotal crisis."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Neither the United States nor the Republican of Korea nor the international community, we are all unite d in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Jim Clancy live from Seoul for us this morning. He said the United States will defend its friends and allies in the region, and at listening to the beginning of those remarks, he did not mention the North Korean leader's name.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. He referred to him -- he said, first, you know, the leadership there, particularly one leader, they have a choice here. They have to make the right decision. Clearly, what secretary Kerry was trying to do here was seize the initiative. Using diplomacy, yes, but laying it out straight, just as you've described there, notifying the north its nuclear program was absolutely unacceptable. And in talking about that, as you say, he mentioned that the U.S. was firm with South Korea, that it had deterrents in place. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: The rhetoric that we're hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standards. And I am here to make it clear today on behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States, and our bilateral security agreement that the United States will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CLANCY: Well, there was still -- there was still some carrot there, though, for North Korea. Secretary Kerry had this to say, "U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered that a number of exercises, meaning part of that joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises under way, will not be undertaken." He says "I think we've lowered our rhetoric significantly attempting to find a way for reasonableness to prevail here." Now China had mentioned that was one way for the U.S. to step back a little bit, create some room for Kim Jong-un to step back, as well. It seems that even before he's arrived in Beijing, the secretary has made good on that pledge to China. Back to you.

ROMANS: All right, Jim Clancy for us in Seoul this morning. Thanks, Jim.

BERMAN: New this morning, developments from the Pentagon over that surprising intelligence assessment of North Korea's potential nuclear capabilities. Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence joins us. And Chris, it really seems like the Obama administration is attempting to do some damage control over a surprising release of sensitive information.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, the assessment that was released was only one line. And that's all we reported, one line. The amount of clarifications and denials we've been getting from U.S. officials, number paragraphs. The latest coming just this morning from a U.S. official who is traveling in Korea, who says he does not believe that North Korea has put all the components together to be able to put a nuclear warhead on a missile and fire it and accurately aim it.

This comes after late last night the director of national intelligence said, look, this assessment is just one military assessment. It doesn't mean that other intelligence agencies like the CIA have come to the same conclusion.

Bottom line, what we know from the assessment says that it believes that North Korea has nuclear weapons that would be able to be put on a ballistic missile. Officials have since come back and clarified, saying, basically, they don't think the north has been able to miniaturize, to the point where they could take a warhead, marry it to a missile, actually launch it, and actually hit something that they were aiming at.

And the report does caveat and say, look, reliability will be an issue. And that's something North Korea has had issues with before. Being able to say, when they actually push that button, that missile will actually fire, and they can actually hit what they're aiming at. John?

BERMAN: The big question, Chris, would they actually work? Right now the intelligence community saying probably not, it seems. Chris Lawrence, thanks so much.

ROMANS: In just a few minutes, California Republican congressman Buck McKeon, chairman of the armed services committee, is going to join us live and talk to him about today's developments.

BERMAN: Also happening right now, tornado watches have been extended for North Carolina and Virginia after a series of devastating twisters. Also relentless storms ripped a path of destruction from Texas all the way to the Dakotas. Cars were tossed around like toys. Homes destroyed. And entire neighborhoods you can see, just strewn with debris. At least one person was killed and five more injured as this violent twister ripped through Mississippi. Kemper County bore the brunt of this storm. CNN's David Mattingly is there live with the latest. Good morning, David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. This storm was deadly. But it was also massive leaving behind scenes of destruction just like you see behind me for hundreds of miles.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was probably the worst damage.

MATTINGLY: For the second straight day, severe weather, menacing more than a half dozen states. The hardest hit, Mississippi. This tornado caught on video. In one county, one person was killed. Five were injured. In one rural area, there was a path of destruction at least 30 miles long, extending into west Alabama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As I was cleaning up the spot where I'm fixing to put another mobile home and I went home to take me a quick bath and I heard the siren going off. That's when I jumped in my clothes and I come on out the house quickly.

MATTINGLY: The storm system swept across the southeast, knocking out power to thousands. Toppling trees and damaging homes. Into the night, watches and warnings, storm damage all the way into Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've lived up here about two years. About the third or fourth one that's come through this area. So we just seem to be in a topographical situation where the storms come right through here. It's very, very powerful. This one is pretty impressive the way it threw the metal around in the trees.

MATTINGLY: The southeast, accustomed to severe storms, is emerging from a colder than normal spring. These storms, a sign that the season is heating up fast.

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MATTINGLY: Typically in the month of March we'll see about 100 tornadoes across the country. This year because of the colder temperatures, we saw less than 20. So now, for the month of April, it is now definitely roaring in like a lion. John?

BERMAN: All right, David Mattingly in Kemper County in Mississippi, seeing so much damage this morning.

ROMANS: It's not over yet to be quite honest. Like we said, tornado watches still on in two states in North Carolina and Virginia now. Let's get to Samantha Mohr live in the Severe Weather Center for us. What are we seeing now?

SAMANTHA MOHR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All the activity moving into the Carolinas and into Virginia and headed towards D.C. and New York. Now, we don't anticipate seeing severe thunderstorms in those locations but we definitely do here throughout parts of North Carolina heads up in the Raleigh-Durham area, heads up in Richmond, Virginia, as this line moves to the east. Just seeing some light rain in D.C. so far.

But we're definitely going to have that threat of severe with the damaging winds up around 70 miles per hour, and possibly isolated tornados. Also could see some large hail, as well as we head especially through the first half of the day, in this region.

And then we have all that wintry weather moving on the north side, the light rain moving in to D.C. right now. We expect to see thunderstorms moving in within the next 30 minutes or so, and into New York, as well. We'll see that rain on the increase throughout the day, could be heavy at times. Three quarters of an inch to about an inch.

So we're expecting major delays over an hour to develop in New York City, as well as in the D.C. metro today, due to the low clouds and the wind and the heavy rain at times. Also some delays in Philly, Boston, Minneapolis, due to the wintry weather there, and in Cetroit. So we have another nasty day to get through before things improve over the weekend Christine and John? It's almost like we skipped the month of -- the season of spring and went right into summer with the heat that we've seen.

ROMANS: You're absolutely right. All right, thanks Samantha.

BERMAN: New this morning, get this, a mail bomb addressed to controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix. Thanks to a savvy and suspicious employee the package never made it past the post office in Flagstaff. But now a federal investigation is under way to find out just who sent it. CNN's Shannon Travis in Washington with the latest. And Shannon, what can you tell us about this?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, of course we're talking about Sheriff Arpaio. He's the tough talking Arizona sheriff who became famous for forcing his prisoners to stay in those tent houses and to wear those pink underwear. We're trying to figure out if someone is trying to hurt him. Someone sent the sheriff a package with a bomb in it. Fortunately police got to the bomb before it got to the sheriff. A bomb squad neutralized the bomb last night. This happened in Flagstaff some 150 miles outside Phoenix.

The U.S. postal inspector screened the suspicious package and called police. That employee told the local news station they evacuated the post office as a precaution. Of course, the investigation is ongoing. The Flagstaff police, U.S. postal inspectors in the city, and the FBI are involved. The sheriff's office says there's already been progress in addition to forcing his prisoners to wear those pink underwear. You'll remember that he's a hero to many conservatives for his tough anti-immigration stance. Those have caused critics to accuse him of civil rights violations. But the 80-year-old sheriff has steadfastly denied those accusations.

BERMAN: Shannon Travis as you said, a hero to some, a lightning rod to others. Shannon Travis in Washington for us this morning.

ROMANS: New this morning, police in Taiwan evacuating 600 passengers from a high seed commuter train after explosives and triggering devices were found on board that train. The explosives consisting of five liters of gasoline found in luggage placed in a bathroom on board. This train was heading for the Taiwan capital Taipei.

BERMAN: Brand new this morning, in Colorado 31-year-old Thomas Guolee is under arrest. Police took him into custody yesterday in a person of interest in connection with the murder of state prison chief Tom Clements who was shot to death at his home last month. Guolee is said to be an associate of Evan Ebel, the man suspected of killing Clements.

ROMANS: The little boys kidnapped and sailed away to Cuba had no idea they were caught up in an international drama. Little Cole and Chase Hakkens' grandparents say the boys were well taken care of during this ordeal. They think they went on a fun trip. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Told that everyone heard about their sailboat trip to Cuba, another country, as they called it. And their airplane right back to America, and that everyone wants to take their picture. We ask that there be no mention of any events of the past week.

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ROMANS: Take a look. The older boy Cole really hammed it up for the cameras, going down for the big pose. Little guys were in their grandparents' custody when the drama unfolded. Their parents face nearly a dozen charges including kidnapping and child abuse.

BERMAN: I'd much rather look at the pictures of those kids smiling.

ROMANS: How adorable.

BERMAN: The latest CNN/ORC poll shows the mood of the nation is improving. When asked how things are going in the country today, 50 percent of respondents said things are well. Now that is actually a big jump from last summer when only 36 percent believed things were OK. However, take a second look at that number, 50 percent also said things are going badly these days.

ROMANS: All right the Los Angeles Dodgers waiting to find out how long they'll be missing their $147 million dollar right-hander Zack Greinke. Wow, look at this. The scene was last night's dodgers/padres game in San Diego. Greinke hit San Diego slugger Carlos Quentin with a pitch. Greinke breaks his left collar bone. Right now not clear how much time the 2009 Cy Young award winner might miss. It was his non-pitching arm, right?

BERMAN: Still, you kind of need your collar bone if you're going to throw the ball 95 miles an hour. And the "Bleacher Report" they're speculating somewhere between six and eight weeks Greinke could be out. This guy is a bona fide mega star and that's a big loss for the Dodgers.

ROMANS: And the fight just kept going. I mean they were they were it was trash talking all the way into the parking lot.

BERMAN: Greinke has hit Quentin before. Dodger fans don't get angry with me. I'm not saying it was justified. Quentin should ever should have charged the mound like that.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, we're following the newest developments in the fears over North Korea's nuclear capabilities. Congressman Buck McKeon chairman of the armed services committee gives us his insights coming up next.

ROMANS: And then two people dead, another 40 hurt after a bus careened off a Texas highway. Descriptions of what happened inside that bus, harrowing. We're going to talk to a victim ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power. That comment from Secretary of State John Kerry at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, just a short while ago this morning.

ROMANS: It comes as the North is poised for a missile launch and classified intelligence reveals Pyongyang may be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. California Congressman Buck McKeon Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee joins us now from Capitol Hill.

I want to play for you something else that the, the, the secretary said in that speech and get your reaction. Let's listen to how he said that the United States will defend its friends and allies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And I am here to make it clear today on behalf of President Obama, and the citizens of the United States, and our bilateral security agreement, that the United States will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: How clear and precise is this warning to this North Korean -- the North Korean leadership in your view?

REP. BUCK MCKEON, (R ) CALIFORNIA: Sounded pretty clear to me. I -- I'm happy that the secretary has jumped on this and has gone to Korea and I understand he's also going to China to press the case there.

BERMAN: Chairman, some dramatic revelations came out of a hearing you had yesterday about the status of North Korea's nuclear program. It was in some declassified, some previously classified information from the defense intelligence agency, and it said the DIA assessed with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. This caused a giant stir. Presumably you have access to a lot of information we don't have access to. What's your exact assessment, then, of the North Korean nuclear program?

MCKEON: Well, this information did come out in our hearing yesterday with the secretary of defense and the chairman of joint chiefs. One of our members asked that question specifically did not get a definitive answer but the important thing is the president had this information available when he sent his budget up to us where he cut another $150 billion out of defense. You know, we're living in a very dangerous world. And we don't even really know what is happening inside Korea. No one really understands what's in the minds of this new dictator there.

BERMAN: But do you --

MCKEON: So we have to be totally prepared to handle any situation.

BERMAN: Do you believe he can put a nuclear weapon on top of a ballistic missile?

MCKEON: Well, that's what the -- I'm not an intel expert. That's what we hear from the department that the Defense Intel Agency. I have to believe that they know what they're doing.

ROMANS: As someone who has access to a lot of this information, the fact that this one line of declassified information that was mistakenly un -- declassified, I mean, what's your reaction on, on this line getting out and being a read in the committee meetings?

MCKEON: Well, I think it's good for the American people to understand how tenuous this situation is. And how important it is for us to have a strong defense. Our focus has been on the Middle East, on Iran, and then the president talks about shifting to a Pacific (ph) strategy.

He cut $487 billion out of our defense on top of the $78 billion that was cut by Secretary Gates, and then the sequestration, another $500 billion. And the budget that he sent up to us yesterday, another $150 billion. You know at some point you have to look at the dangerous situation we are in the world and say, are we cutting our military? This is the steepest cut ever in our defense and our national security. And we're doing it at a time when we're in a very precarious situation all around the world.

BERMAN: If North Korea does go through with the missile test, which many analysts believe now is frankly imminent in the next few days, what do you believe the U.S. response should be?

MCKEON: Well, I don't want to tip our hand on anything. I know that our military has plans. I know that the South Korean military has plans. I'm glad that Secretary Kerry is going over there, and in no uncertain terms saying that we will defend our allies. We will live up to the commitments that we've made. However, however we do that, we will do it.

ROMANS: All right. Congressman McKeon, nice to see you this morning. Thank you, sir.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, another record day on Wall Street. Christine, what's really behind this rally? We want to know. And what can we expect today? You're going to tell us everything you need to know. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: Welcome back. Minding your business this morning, just in, record earnings for JPMorgan Chase. That banks made a profit, a profit of $6.5 billion in just the first three months of the year. It is going to raise its dividend, meaning people who are shareholders who have JPMorgan shares will get paid a little bit of money. We're looking for those shares right now. The shares are actually a little bit lower. Futures a little bit lower. But an awful lot more, more bank earnings, retail sales, all of this expected this morning. So it's too early to say when the stock market is going to open and the stock market has been on a tear, shattering records. The Dow closed at record highs for three straight days. Fourteen record closing highs for the Dow this year. Your 401(k), if you have stocks in it, your 401(k) is reflecting that. Analyst at Citigroup says JCPenney is likely sitting on $100 million worth of Martha Stewart branded products that it can't sell.

BERMAN: A lot of pillowcases.

ROMANS: A lot of pillowcases. A judge says they can't sell this merchandise. It's wrapped up in a lawsuit brought by Macy's over who has the exclusive right to sell Martha merchandise. We are expecting a ruling on that today. This analyst also commented on Penney's decision to fire CEO Ron Johnson earlier this week. That analyst saying the new CEO, Mike Ullman, is a strong choice.

The Winklevoss twins have found another way to make some bucks online. The twins, Tyler and Cameron, known for their fight with Mark Zuckerberg over who started Facebook, they claim to be the owners of 1 percent of the bit coins in circulation.

What in the world is a bit coin? This is a really interesting, relatively new, very complicated online currency. Think of it as a virtual digital currency. A number of factors caused the price to skyrocket to more than $250 per bit coin this week. That bubble burst yesterday. The price is down to $79. Now for the Winkle-vi, as they are known, that means they saw their online currency fortune of over $28 million shrink to just $8.5 million pretty much overnight. But you know when Cyprus had that run on the banks, people were running in to bit coin currency. It's like an alternative to buying gold if you're worried about things.

BERMAN: Are they the next tulip (ph) though. That's what everyone's asking.

ROMANS: Oh, yes, John with the financial reference. You can Google it.

BERMAN: Thank you very much. That's all I know about finance.

ROMANS: Tulip bulb craze. Google it.

BERMAN: Twenty-seven minutes after the house. Ahead on STARTING POINT, we're learning that the driver of a bus that crashed in Texas killing two people and injuring at least 40 had been involved in another wreck before. Should he have been behind the wheel at all here?

ROMANS: And yesterday we told you about a 79-year-old woman who woke up from a coma, wanted to go to a Bob Seger concert.

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EVIE HANON, BOB SEGER FAN: I'm learning how to stand up, so I can hug him, and I want to hug him and give him a great big smooch.

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ROMANS: She went to that concert last night. Did she get her wish? You're going to find out after the break.

BERMAN: Was there a smooch? Stay with us.

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