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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Funeral For Senator Frank Lautenberg; Controversial Comments; Heckler Handler; Woman Claims Police Brutality; Ex-Miss America Launches Congressional Campaign; Injured "Miguel" Fan May Sue; Chrysler Rejects Government Request To Recall 2.7M Jeep SUVs; Severe Turbulence Rocks Airplane; Who Has $590 Million Powerball Ticket?

Aired June 5, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.

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

BERMAN: Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be among the speakers at this morning's funeral for New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. That 89 Lautenberg was the oldest member of the Senate and the last World War II veteran. It's a real milestone. He'll be buried Friday morning at Arlington National Cemetery.

Meanwhile New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announcing that he will appoint an interim replacement for Lautenberg's Senate seat. As for a permanent replacement, the governor has scheduled a special election for October, just weeks before the general election.

Meanwhile, take a look at this NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll showing Christie's crossover appeal, 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Democrats, all see the governor in a positive light.

ROMANS: More Democrats than Republicans?

BERMAN: I'm sure it's within the margin of error, but still, that's marginally more Democrats than Republicans.

ROMANS: But look at the negative, 16 percent of Republicans say negative, but only 10 percent of Democrats.

BERMAN: That is pretty broad based appeal for any politician. That would be the envy of any politician anywhere.

ROMANS: And the October election date helps who most?

BERMAN: It helps Chris Christie most. It really helps Chris Christie only.

ROMANS: All right, a top Senate Republican under fire this morning for what he said about sexual assaults in the military. During a hearing Tuesday Georgia's Saxby Chambliss said hormones may be partly responsible for the epidemic of sex assaults in the Armed Forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, the level of -- the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Well, that suggests that most sexual assaults happen among that age category then?

BERMAN: It's an interesting analysis by the senator.

ROMANS: It drew a sharp review from both sides of the aisle. Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Turner who co-chairs a caucus on military sexual assault said that that kind of thinking helps perpetuate the problem.

BERMAN: Bipartisan criticism for Saxby Chambliss' comments.

What do you think about how First Lady Michelle Obama handled a heckler at a fundraising event in Washington on Tuesday? During her prepared remarks, a woman started interrupting Mrs. Obama. The first lady shot right back at the protester, telling her she could either, quote, "Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice." The protester, a gay rights activist, was quickly escorted out of the room.

ROMANS: A violent altercation between a Washington state woman and two police officers captured on a 911 call. As 36-year-old Megan Graham was being arrested, she called police claiming an officer was brutally attacking her. The entire scuffle was recorded by the police dispatcher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: 911.

MEGAN GRAHAM, ALLEGEDLY ASSAULTED BY POLICE: I'm being attacked by this man. He says he's a police officer.

ROMANS (voice-over): For Washington State resident, Megan Graham, what began as a routine traffic stop with federal way police turned into what she calls a brutal assault.

GRAHAM: It escalated into what the heck happened?

ROMANS: According to this police report, Officer Justin Anthold says that the traffic stop took a turn for the worst when Graham got out of her car and refused to get back in. He says he grabbed her by the wrist, but she managed to pull away. Their argument was captured on the police 911 tape.

GRAHAM: No, you attacked me before you said anything. No. You attacked me. You grabbed my hand. You're twisting it.

ROMANS: Graham told CNN affiliate KIRO that she suffers from cognitive and hearing disabilities and never heard what the officer may have said.

GRAHAM: I told him what I had. I told him what's going on that I couldn't understand what was happening. He said, it doesn't matter, you assaulted an officer. Now you're going to jail.

OFFICER J. ANTHOLT: You are under arrest.

GRAHAM: There is no point whatsoever for you to touch me like that! Especially with my condition! So how dare you even touch me! I need him arrested. I want a civilian arrest for this man.

ANTHOLT: No. Put your hands behind your back. Do it now.

GRAHAM: Excuse me?

ROMANS: During the scuffle another officer, Ashley Crispin, responded to Antholt's call for backup. According her testimony, she observed Graham, quote, "reaching behind her head to Officer Jay Antholt's neck area." Officer Crispin then used closed fist strikes to Megan's face area.

ANTHOLD: Stop resisting!

GRAHAM: This man starts hitting me. Each time he hit my face, he's like stop resisting, stop resisting! I'm not resisting.

ROMANS: The officers then took Graham down, handcuffed her and booked her for assault of a police officer, obstruction and resisting arrest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: In a statement to the media, Chief Brian Wilson with the Federal Way Police Department said we are committed to a thorough and complete investigation into this matter. It is important for all of the facts and circumstances to be known. A use of force review has been initiated as well.

We also spoke with Megan Graham's husband, Jeff Richie. Overnight, he told us eyewitnesses say that Megan never struck the officers. He wanted to pass along Megan's message that, quote, "The police provide a valuable public service. They are still people and they sometimes make mistakes, for which the community should hold them accountable. However, we should not let incidents like these destroy our trust in our public servants."

BERMAN: A former Miss America getting into politics. Ericka Herald kicked off her primary campaign yesterday for the Illinois House seat now held by freshman Republican Rodney Davis. Herald was crowned Miss America back in 2003. She's not the only former miss thinking about a political career these days. Heather French Henry, Miss America 2000, has mentioned as a possible challenger to Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. ROMANS: Remember this frightening moment from last month's Billboard Music Award? Singer Miguel attempted to leap over the crowd, but he came down hard on one fan's head. She seemed OK afterwards, even appearing with the performer backstage. Now her attorney, though, says she's having cognitive difficulties, could have a neurological head injury. He says they're awaiting medical results, could still decide to sue. Just add another wrinkle. TMZ now reports that producers warned the singer not to attempt the jump. No comment yet from Miguel.

BERMAN: Wasn't a great jump, was it?

ROMANS: No. That was definitely a misfire.

BERMAN: Lawsuit written all over it.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, Chrysler saying no to a recall of millions of its vehicles said to be plagued with faulty fuel tanks. Why is Chrysler saying no to the recall?

ROMANS: And then food trays flying in the air in what's supposed to be a routine flight. Look at this, this is the result. We're going to look how bad things got on board when turbulence.

BERMAN: What a mess? Residents of one Florida city trying to solve a big mystery. Who among them won a $590 million Powerball ticket? Where's the winner? You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back. Chrysler digging in for a fight with federal safety regulators who've asked the company to recall millions of Jeep vehicles with defective fuel tanks. Chrysler's response, in a word, no.

CNN's Athena Jones following the story. She's live for us this morning in Washington. Good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. This is an unusual story and also an important one for anyone who's concerned about the government's ability to regulate our roads.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): In a rare act of defiance, car company giant Chrysler refuses to recall almost 2.7 million vehicles as requested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For nearly two decades, some Jeep SUV models have had a tendency to burst into flames after a rear end collision. The NHTSA is requesting that upgrades to the older models be installed to keep fires from starting.

JOAN CLAYBROOK, FORMER NHTSA ADMINISTRATOR: The definition of a safety defect it's a bad design, if it's harmful to people and if it occurs repeatedly and that's all been the fact here.

JONES: The models in question are 1993 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberties. The company says it's been working with the government on the fuel tank fire issue since 2010. Chrysler says their SUVs met the minimum standards for rear end collisions. But in a June 3rd letter from NHTSA to Chrysler, the agency said bluntly, quote, "The existence of a minimum standard does not require NHTSA to ignore deadly problems."

Chrysler responded in a statement saying, "We believe that NHTSA's initial conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis of the underlying data. And we are committed to continue working with the agency to resolve this disagreement." But it's the data that's scaring some consumer advocates.

The Center for Auto Safety says its data shows the risk of fire for a Grand Cherokee in the model years in question is more than 20 times greater than the risk in a comparable Ford Explorer.

PETER VALDES DAPENA, SENIOR AUTOMOTIVE WRITER, CNNMONEY: Chrysler contends that their gas tanks on these vehicles were built according to government safety standards available at this time and basically that there is no problem. That the number of people who've died in rear end collisions is far lower than safety organizations are alleging. And that at any rate it's less than the industry average for that type of vehicle built at that time.

JONES: Recalls aren't unusual, but this is the first time since 1996 that an automaker has challenged a recall demand from the NHTSA. That case also involved Chrysler and the company prevailed in a two-year federal court battle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: So we could have another fight on our hands. As one analyst said, Chrysler is taking a risk by taking on the government. Because even if they win this battle, there's no way to predict the impact all this could have on future sales -- Christine, John.

ROMANS: All right, thanks, Athena Jones.

JONES: Thanks.

BERMAN: Singapore Airlines Flight SQ308 was about an hour into a routine flight from Singapore to London last week when suddenly this happened. Look at these photos taken after the plane experienced some severe turbulence in flight. The aircraft dropped about 65 feet in 5 seconds. Eleven passengers were injured as well as one crew member. Passenger Allen Cross took these photos. This is what he had to say about those terrifying moments on board.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALAN CROSS, PASSENGER ON PLANE HIT BY TURBULENCE: Just as we were about to have breakfast, the captain turned on the seat belt sign warning us that it was going to be a little bumpy for the next few minutes. Then it got a little bumpier. He said he was going to ask the cabin crew to suspend breakfast service. Then captain comes on a few minutes later and sort of barks at the cabin crew, flight attendants, please take your seats. I remember thinking that's kind of weird. That's a bit of a harsh tone coming from the cockpit. Then suddenly it felt like we were in an elevator and somebody had cut the cable.

The plane suddenly dropped this 50 feet or 100 feet and everything violently rocketed off all the tray tables into the ceiling. You literally felt your stomach go up through your throat. It happened so quickly, and the aircraft recovered so quickly, that there really wasn't any time to feel anything other than what just happened?

When you look at the picture of the cabin crew sitting in their seats, that picture was taken probably 15 seconds to 20 seconds after I was aware enough to be able to pull my phone out of my pocket. The expression on the cabin crew's faces like yes, this happens. We've been there, done that.

Once everything stopped shaking the captain came on and ordered the cabin crew to go and check on any injured passengers. When it became apparent that nobody was seriously injured or had been killed, which has happened in these incidents in the past, they went into cleanup mode. And they moved at the speed of light.

First thing they did was clean up all the debris, all the glass, all the food that had been spilled all over the place. Once that was out of the way, they put down blankets to absorb all the goo and to protect against any sort of broken glass that might be still on the carpet. Once that was all carried away, they went to -- began scrubbing the ceilings, the walls.

They handed out towels to the passengers so we could wipe ourselves off. It's about a 13-hour flight nonstop from Singapore to London and I was expecting to have a quick breakfast and then to curl up and have a long sleep, didn't quite work out that way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: First of all, Alan Cross, the most eloquent airline passenger in the history of flight. Second of all, can you believe cleaning the coffee off of the ceiling in the airplane? Cross says he feels lucky. He says he'll still fly, but he will definitely keep his seat belt on at all times. That's a good idea.

In a statement, the airline said Singapore Airlines Flight 308 experienced moderate to severe turbulence en route from Singapore to London on 26 May. Eleven passengers and one crew member sustained minor injuries when the aircraft experienced sudden loss of altitude and were attended to by medical personnel at arrival at Heathrow Airport.

The airline also stressed that the seat belt signs were on at the time. It seems like they did everything they could, everything right. There were 328 passengers and 26 crew members aboard the airbus A-380.

ROMANS: Have you ever been on a flight that had really terrible turbulence like that?

BERMAN: Sure. I've never been there when the meals got launched to the ceiling. That seems particularly bad.

ROMANS: I've been on a flight when the iPads, laptops, everything, everything, people were trying to find their phones from each other before.

BERMAN: They can be dangerous.

ROMANS: It's a reminder to keep the seat belt fastened. The flying stuff is what really worries me.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, the talk of the town of one Florida City, who among them might be $590 million richer? Two and a half weeks after the biggest drawing in Powerball history, and no one has come forward to claim that prize. A live report just ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT.

BERMAN: The clock is ticking.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: An eighth grade science class has successfully launched an egg -- an egg, to the edge of space, it went up more than 109,000 feet in a high altitude balloon, more than 25,000 high. These young pioneers in egg aviation also managed to bring their egg safely back to earth. It landed about 217 miles from the launch site, in Pasco, Washington, where a parent and student were able to retrieve it. Bill Gates has now all signed all the students onto a future.

BERMAN: One small step for egg, one giant leap for egg kind.

So someone who bought a Powerball ticket in Central Florida is the biggest Powerball ticket in history. The ticket worth $590 million before taxes was bought at this public supermarket, but the real question right now is does the lucky person even know that he or she or they have it?

John Zarrella is on the case of the missing multimillionaire and joins us from Zephyrhills, Florida. The clock is ticking here -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. It really is and you know, as soon as we got to town, people are coming up to me and asking, what are you guys doing here? Did the Powerball winner come forward? Well, no, and that's the point of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Maybe that guy has the winning Powerball ticket. Maybe it's her. What about them or him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, if I won that, you wouldn't see me.

ZARRELLA: The winning $590 million ticket was purchased at this public supermarket in Zephyrhills, Florida. That was two and a half weeks ago and still no one has come forward. The speculation, someone at the Wal-Mart, an elderly couple in one of the nearby retirements communities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard it was a female, 23-year-old. Maybe they don't know they have it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody thinks it's an old guy or a drug addict. I've heard that.

ZARRELLA: So what's the holdup? Maybe I shouldn't use that word, but the silence is deafening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will take some time. People do the smart thing, get a financial adviser, consult a lawyer and get everything in order.

ZARRELLA: OK, but two and a half weeks, really? Don't you want your money? The clock is ticking.

(on camera): This is starting to look a little bit like Zephyrhills version of where's Waldo. There he is right there? No, I don't think so.

(voice-over): The winner has 60 days to come forward, if he or she or them take the chump change estimated $377 million lump sum payout. If they opt for the 30-year whole enchilada annuity, they have six months, and what if as unbelievable as it may seem, no one claims the prize?

Well, the money distributed back to the 43 member states in proportion to their ticket sales. You know what? Maybe the rest of us are better off losers. As they say, money can't buy you happiness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Now the states can put the money into the general revenue. In Florida it goes to education, the money that comes back. And you know what, John, if somebody gave you $377 million or half a billion, I would like to test out that old adage, wouldn't you?

BERMAN: Yes. You know, yes, no question about that. Appreciate it. John Zarrella hunting for the winner, the missing winner of this $590 million jackpot. Thanks, John.

ROMANS: What do you think? Do you think they don't know or do you think they're just waiting?

BERMAN: I don't know. You have another idea.

ROMANS: Well, what if somebody, you know, is in a coma and they have it in their pocket and they can't communicate, and tell somebody the winning ticket is in my pocket?

Ahead on STARTING POINT, a Major League scandal, the commissioner ready to suspend 20 players for doping, we're live with the latest. BERMAN: And remember this stomach-churning picture of a Taco Bell employee, making out with a stack of taco shells? It turns out the company doesn't like it when you do that. We'll have more in the next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Our STARTING POINT, Major League scandal, here we go again, the MLB rocked by another steroid scandal. Some of the league's top players could be facing suspensions. How big is this going to get? We'll find out.

BERMAN: And then brand new this morning, Susan Rice will be the new national security adviser as news hit that Tom Donilon is resigning. The big news here, she does not need Senate confirmation for this post. Our Jake Tapper explains.

ROMANS: And a heckler goes after Michelle Obama and loses. We'll tell you how the first lady handled an unruly protester who disrupted her speech.

BERMAN: And this could very well be the largest shark ever caught. Check out that thing out. Check out the teeth. Imagine reeling in a 13,000 pound killing machine. The pictures and stories what it took to make this killer catch, coming up.

ROMANS: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Wednesday, June 5th. Welcome to STARTING POINT and this morning the founder of a Miami area anti-aging clinic could write the next chapter in Major League Baseball's steroid era.