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Romney Romps in New Hampshire; Next Stop: South Carolina; Joran Van Der Sloot Trial; U.S. Drone Strike In Pakistan; Fannie Mae CEO Stepping Down

Aired January 11, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my Lord, it is early. Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. And we are bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started here.

BANFIELD: Woo-hoo! Did you hear the news? Yes, that would be the sound of sweet victory for Mitt Romney, just breezing through New Hampshire. That sure looked presidential, didn't it? But he is facing a pivotal test in South Carolina.

So, what's going to happen? Time will tell.

SAMBOLIN: And Mississippi's governor is under fire, 200 pardons in his final days. New information on who was set free and what these convicted killers are now allowed to do.

We also understand that these are unconditional pardons, which means that their constitutional rights are restored. We're going to find out a little bit more about that. Apparently, they're going to be able to vote and own guns.

BANFIELD: And, you know, 2011 was so last year because 2012 got some stocks on a tear. The Dow climbing to the highest level since July.

SAMBOLIN: Incredible.

BANFIELD: What the what?

We're going to figure all this out with Christine Romans in just a few moments.

SAMBOLIN: And the death of actress Natalie Wood, who died back in 198 1981. Was she killed? Well, new this morning, what police found since they reopened this investigation just two months ago.

BANFIELD: So, that woo-hoo you heard at the top of the newscast could be sounding like the train, the power train for Mitt Romney as he heads towards the next stop on this. I'm wondering if this is going to be a sweep. Is South Carolina going to sweep the table for Mitt Romney? Because that was some serious history being made.

Ninety-five percent of the votes have been counted, still counting this morning.


BANFIELD: But you know what? It's a foregone conclusion. Romney dominant.

Look at that, 40 percent of the vote. Ron Paul coming in a sweet second at 23 percent. Jon Huntsman not to shabby. As he said, I'll take third, thank you very much, at 17 percent. Didn't do badly at all.

SAMBOLIN: But look at the rest of the field here. Newt Gingrich fourth with 10 percent. Rick Santorum 9 percent. Rick Perry at 1 percent.

Romney says, "Tonight, of course, we made history," and then he turned up the attacks on President Obama. Listen up.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We do remember, when Barack Obama came to New Hampshire four years ago, he promised to bring people together, he promised to change the broken system in Washington, he promised to improve our nation. Those are the days of lofty promises made by a hopeful candidate. Today, we're faced with the disappointing record of a failed president.


SAMBOLIN: Political director Mark Preston joins us this morning.

So, the history that he was talking about, first non-Republican incumbent to win Iowa and New Hampshire back to back. We did just mention with 95 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney has 40 percent. A lot of people saying he was going to be somewhere in the 30s. So, he actually beat expectations here.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He beat expectations and he reached the threshold right now. Had Mitt Romney ended up somewhere around 34 percent, 35 percent, 36 percent, there would be an argument made that he still was not able to grow the support.

And he showed that last night in New Hampshire. He grew the support. A lot of people will still say there's a conservative movement against Mitt Romney. But the fact of the matter was he has won the first two, and as Ashleigh said, he's got momentum.

BANFIELD: He's got the freight train going, and you know what? It started with not only the 40 percent but this speech that we're looking at right now. I can't tell you how presidential that seemed to me.

I was a little measly little viewer watching the TV set last night as the returns came in. And I thought a teleprompted speech which he'd done away with before, and something that sounded very presidential as opposed to a man still on the campaign.

PRESTON: No doubt. And you know what? They're all heading down to South Carolina now.

So, while we'd been spending the last week in New Hampshire, and last week, we're sitting right here and we talked about the big win out of Iowa for Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Well, now, we're just talking about the big win out of New Hampshire for Mitt Romney and we head down to South Carolina.

SAMBOLIN: And let's talk about the Tea Party because, I mean, I have here 40 percent of the Tea Party vote went to him. I don't know if those numbers changed this morning. But that was a big win for him.

PRESTON: It was a big win because, again, it goes back to can Mitt Romney get the Republican base to get behind him. And we saw that last night.

And what we should note is that Tea Party supporters in New Hampshire tend to be fiscal supporters. Tea Party supporters out in Iowa and perhaps down in South Carolina, will also tend to embrace more of these social conservative views.

BANFIELD: So the Tea Party in South Carolina may not be the same as the Tea Party in New Hampshire. I was talking to Christine Romans about it a little earlier this morning. It's almost like, if this is a family, they're fourth cousins.

PRESTON: They're fourth cousins, but they're still family, remember.

And the hope is, of course, if you are a Republican, that at some point, the family will come together because they have one enemy, Barack Obama.

BANFIELD: Yes. But will Newt Gingrich be able to chip away at what we just saw happen in New Hampshire down in South Carolina? Because he's been pushing some mean old ads down there.

PRESTON: Not only Newt Gingrich but we saw Rick Perry on "PIERS MORGAN" last night say that he plans to go right at Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum is going to go at Mitt Romney. It's going to be very ugly the next few weeks.

SAMBOLIN: So, as he's headed in to South Carolina, what do his numbers look like?

PRESTON: Well, Mitt Romney is going to do well. You know, the fact of the matter is, Mitt Romney got two big endorsements in the past two weeks -- John McCain, of course, who won South Carolina in 2008, and Nikki Haley, who's the governor of South Carolina.

BANFIELD: I don't know if this outdated, it probably is. January 4th to 5th, but it's Romney at 37 percent in South Carolina so far.

PRESTON: Yes. And the question is, can he hold on to the evangelical vote down there?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we're wondering what those ads, the impact of those ads are going to have.

Thanks for joining us. I think you're going to stick around, right?

PRESTON: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: We'll have you all morning. All right. Thank you.

All right. So, let's bring in the political panel. We have John Avlon, senior political columnist with "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." Will Cain, columnist with "The Blaze". And Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.

So, Will, I want to begin with you because as we're here with this big win for Mitt Romney, the question is will this momentum continue into South Carolina?

So, here are some things that are happening: the super PAC is beginning a $5 million ad campaign against him this week. We heard that Perry said in South Carolina, I know the difference between venture capitalism and vulture capitalism.

And I want to listen in here. Piers Morgan asked Rick Perry last night if any candidate could seriously beat Mitt Romney. Here's what he said, and then we'll talk about it.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the reasons is because South Carolina is a winner-take-all state, and so winning here, I can promise you, wipes out the caucus victory and New Hampshire. So, if Mitt's thinking he's got it in the bag, I think he's going to be in for a great surprise in South Carolina when he shows up here.


SAMBOLIN: What do you think? Can he keep it going into South Carolina?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: All indications are yes. Look, he's got momentum and money. There's no indication that Mitt Romney is going to be tripped up any time soon.

That being said, look, we've performed primaries now in two states. There's a lot to go. All of these guys -- Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman -- their future relies on the other opponents getting out. They each need each other to get out.

There needs to be a solid, unified alternative to Mitt Romney, but no one's doing that. They all want to be the guy that hangs on until someone else is out. Until that happens, Mitt Romney is running away with it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So -- is somebody weighing in here?

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I was going to say it's instructive to know why the other guys are staying in, which as he saw from the exit polls last night, there's still over a third of the Republican primary voters that are not happy with their candidate. And of those people who are not happy, you know, half of them actually voted for Mitt Romney.

So there's just no intensity for this candidate, and there's no passion for it clearly among that Republican base. So they are still searching. Those other guys see those polls, and they say, you know what, it could be me still.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, Hillary, let's talk about Ron Paul then. He came second, but he actually won 3 percent more of the independent vote than Romney, and he is the only one to also finish in the top three outside of Romney.

So what do you think is his end game? Because a lot of people say that he is not electable.

ROSEN: Well, I'll just say this about Ron Paul. You know, most people think that last night was his high watermark. You know, the kind of candidate he is appeals mostly to these early primary states.

But, you know -- and the Romney people clearly are thrilled that Ron Paul is coming in number two to sort of back stop all these other candidates from getting position.

But here's my warning to Mitt Romney, which is be careful what you wish for. Ron Paul is not going to get out. Eventually, these other guys will get out, but Ron Paul will stay in to the end and needle him for a long time, getting his 10 percent, 11 percent, 12 percent in almost every state.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, he has a lot of passionate supporters out there.

So, John, let's go back to Mitt Romney and the good news coming here out of the exit polls. The question is: will it continue to translate into South Carolina? We were just talking about the conservative vote there, that Tea Party support. Do you think that they will rally around him?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, you know, you've got two dynamics. The South Carolina electorate is fundamentally different than the New Hampshire electorate. Here, you've got 40 percent are independents. It's the least religious state overall.

South Carolina, the real key players are the social conservatives, and that sort of tea-vangelist overlap between the Tea Party and the evangelical community. Those groups had historically been very counter to Mitt Romney because of his record as Massachusetts governor.

Now, last night, you've got to give Mitt Romney. This was a solid win. He had impressive margins across the board with evangelicals, with Tea Partiers, et cetera.

But South Carolina is a tougher sell. That's why Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum have all decamped to South Carolina. Their focus is wining in that state and the base in that state.

It si going to be a tough sell for Mitt Romney. Last time, though, John McCain won. Mitt Romney came in fourth in the state. There is room for a center-right candidate to win in South Carolina. It's a much more complex state than all the stereotypes.

But it's an uphill climb for him. And he's going to have to show a continued ability to broaden his base. South Carolina will be his toughest test yet by far.

SAMBOLIN: So you don't predict a sweep here?

AVLON: Look, Romney's in good shape. They clearly want to go through the January gauntlet and, you know, run the table. But, you know, remember this is a March ultimately to 1,143 delegates.

And this has been a drop in the bucket to date. He's in a very strong position, but anybody who passes forward and says this is done isn't paying attention to how things get done. South Carolina traditionally has been a dirty campaign, and it can be tough going.

SAMBOLIN: All right. John Avlon, Will Cain, Hilary Rosen -- thanks for chiming in. We'll get you next time. Thank you very much.

So, you can keep it on CNN all morning for the best political coverage on television.

At 7:30 Eastern, winner Mitt Romney will be live on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien.

BANFIELD: And it's 10 minutes past 5:00 on the East Coast. Every morning, we like to give you an EARLY START to your day by alerting you the news that's happening later on, and stories that are just start to go develop but are ill probably going to be pretty big by tonight.

Texas is about to start enforcing a law today that requires doctors to provide a sonogram to pregnant women before they get an abortion. Yesterday, a federal appeals court cleared the way by overturning a lower court's decision that had blocked that law.

SAMBOLIN: Penn State looking for a new quarterback coach today after Jay Paterno handed in his resignation. His father, the legendary Joe Paterno, was fired in the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

BANFIELD: And you can crack that ice. Coast Guard arctic icebreaker and a tanker hauling 1.3 million gallons of fuel should be getting through the final 100 miles of ice to reach Nome, Alaska, sometime today. The city is running pretty low on fuel supplies because it's been iced in since last November.

Don't complain about the weather, folks.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, right. No kidding.

And power to the people. The People's Choice Awards are happening tonight. And one of the fan faves, Katy Perry, with seven nominations, announced she's not going to be there. The ceremony was Perry's first public outing since her divorce with actor Russell Brand was announced.

So, maybe she's invoked privacy right now.

BANFIELD: I'm just not going to get over that, but she's not going to be there. I'm sure my night would be ruined.

Twelve minutes past 5:00 now. So, if you haven't been in the shower yet, don't -- don't do it just yet, because Jacqui Jeras is in the house.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's going to be a bad hair day anyway, right?

SAMBOLIN: Is it really?

JERAS: If you live in the East anyway, because there's a lot of moisture, we got a lot of fog. Give it another day, though, because we're going to dry things out and cool things of quite a bit.

BANFIELD: Like Nome, Alaska cool?

JERAS: Not quite that cold, but it's going to be darn close across parts of the Upper Midwest.

We'll show you the magic wall here and the big stories that we're watching today.

And it's really two systems that we're going to be dealing with. In the Southeast, we've got our big rainmaker here and a very strong Arctic cold front. Yes, a true Arctic cold front is going to be making its way through. You're not going to believe the difference in the temperatures that we're going to be looking at ahead in the upcoming days.

As we take a look at the radar picture here, you can see we've got showers, even some embedded thunderstorms. Very wet go around Nashville. It's pushing up towards Indianapolis as well as the Cincinnati area. And we've got winds coming in with that cold air that could be gusting up to 50 miles per hour, causing delays today in places like Minneapolis and down towards Des Moines.

Look at the temperatures. It still isn't too brutal just yet. We're looking at some 30s into the Upper Midwest. Highs today, staying in the 30s, which means the temperatures are changing a lot until they start dropping in the afternoon highs.

Tomorrow, we'll be back in the teens, ladies. So that cold air is on the way -- one more day for us here in the East.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Jacqui.

SAMBOLIN: It is 13 minutes past the hour. It's time to check the stories making news this morning.

Mitt Romney solidifying his lead in the GOP race with a big victory in New Hampshire. Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished in distant second, but told reporters they are now nipping at Romney's heels. And former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman was putting a happy face on his third place showing.

BANFIELD: And happening overnight in Iran, a nuclear scientist killed in a terrorist blast. Iran is now blaming Israel for this and said it's a car bomb attack. Government officials say the attack is pretty similar to other ones in recent years that have targeted Iranian scientists.

SAMBOLIN: And they are back. Occupy Wall Street protesters returned to their original camp at New York City's Zuccotti Park. Hundreds of people filled that park last night after police barricades were removed.

BANFIELD: Don't know if you heard this one, but we've got a couple of good stories coming up. This one is just -- it's outrageous honestly.

In Mississippi, the governor, on his final day in office, the parting gift was pardons and lots of them, and not to just run-of-the- mill, you know, convicts. We're talking convicted murderers, ruthless murderers. CNN's Ed Lavandera is on that story, and he's going to let you know not only what these folks did but now what they're going to be allowed to do now that they're out.

SAMBOLIN: And Natalie Wood's death investigation was reopened. It's about to get a new ruling. CNN is talking with the sheriff's office. We're going to try to find out the details of that. Did they find out anything new?

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. And good morning to you, New York. It is 37 degrees right now. But guess what later? Sunny and 44 headed your way.

BANFIELD: That ain't bad for January.

SAMBOLIN: No, it's great for January. I believe the temperatures are going to be plummeting soon. We'll pay for it.

BANFIELD: We always do. Whether it's 17 feet of snow last season at my backyard because we had no snow right up until Christmas, and, bam, that was it.

Eighteen minutes past 5:00 on the East Coast, 18 minutes past 2:00 a.m. on the East Coast. So, good morning.

Early reads -- this is a great time we get to pick out local papers and grab headlines that are actually making national news. And we want to get you up to speed on something going on in Anchorage, Alaska, as well as L.A.

But let's start in Alaska, shall we? "The Christian Science Monitor" in Alaska has some fabulous reporting out of Cordova. Look at these pictures, folks. You think you've got problem? Try about 17 feet of excess snow.

And how about this?

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

BANFIELD: Twenty-four days of snowfall -- 24 days straight.

They are shoveling like mad men and like mad national guardsmen because they need the help.

And here's the weirdest part. Are you ready? It's not just that they are running out of shovels and having a tough time buying shovels, the shovels are breaking. People are using shovels, and the snow is so heavy that their shovels are breaking. And when they go to their local store to try to get a shovel, there aren't any left.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. And you know buying a snow blower probably would have no effect, right, when it's that deep. However, you know, when people are shoveling, heart attacks go up. You got to be careful.

BANFIELD: Be very, very careful. I mean, it's just a remarkable story.

Not only that. Building roofs are collapsing in because it's so heavy. So, think about it next time you complain about the weather.

SAMBOLIN: About our snow? Yes.


SAMBOLIN: All right. And this comes to us from "The Los Angeles Times." So, the reports that the country sheriff's department has uncovered no new evidence in the case of Natalie Wood. So, that would suggest her death was anything but an accident, or was an accident, anything but an accident.

Chief of detectives is quoted as saying the actress' demise was an accident. But, OK, here's the deal. Kareen Wynter checked with the sheriff's office, and they tell us the investigation is actually not closed yet. It is still open. There is a potential for new information that is headed our way.

So, we're going to check in with her in about 20 minutes from now, and she's going to tell us why they're not closing the investigation.

BANFIELD: Is it weird they haven't talked to Robert Wagner yet?


BANFIELD: Considering all the news that's been made in this case lately was about things that Robert Wagner allegedly said or didn't say and they haven't interviewed him?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, but they talked to the captain of the boat.

BANFIELD: He's always talking. That guy's had a different story every decade, are you kidding me? But it's really his information that got them kind of wound up.

SAMBOLIN: That's right. It started them back up again.

BANFIELD: Fascinating. It's a real CSI in any case.

And there's this other crime making headlines, you probably heard of it. Joran van der Sloot, remember him? if you don't, here's the primer.

He's involved in a murder trial in Peru that's actually getting back under way today. It was put on hold last week because he was charged with killing 21-year-old Stephany Flores, a local who lived down there. That happened in a Lima hotel room back in 2010.

So the reason things were suspended was because he needs to decide whether he's going to plead guilty or a certain kind of guilty or whether he's going to go straight through to trial and really risk a very long sentence in a Peruvian prison, which I'm sure you can understand is not hat pleasant.

Now, why does he name sound familiar to you? Because he's also the prime suspect in Natalee Holloway's unsolved disappearance that goes back to 2005. He was arrested twice, never formally charged in that case.

But Cole Thompson, the co-author of "Portrait of a Monster" knows all about both cases. Not only are you the author of that story, but you're my former colleague from Court TV.

And I remember living this story with you, Cole. It's nice to see you. How are you?

COLE THOMPSON, AUTHOR, "PORTRAIT OF A MONSTER": Good. Good. Congratulations on the show.

BANFIELD: Thank you.

THOMPSON: So, you went from Natalie Holloway to -- Natalie Wood to Natalee Holloway.

BANFIELD: Can you believe it? Well, listen, it's great that you came in because you're really a great definitive source on this story. You spent a bunch of time in Peru, didn't you?

THOMPSON: Yes, I did.

BANFIELD: So, give me the rundown here. He is in a very uncomfortable circumstance in the Peruvian prison where he is. Why is there this issue between pleading to a certain kind of murder? What's the hold-up?

THOMPSON: Well, basically, they're charging him with the equivalent, I guess, of second degree murder here. The family wanted him charged with first degree murder, premeditated murder, where he would have served life in prison -- life sentence in prison.

But he's trying to cop his own plea, work out his own plea deal, in which case he would basically plead guilty to manslaughter. He doesn't want to plead to any of the aggravating circumstances though he's willing to admit to the murder.

BANFIELD: Aggravating. OK, wait, stop there, because I remember hearing -- you got the case file, I think I heard at one point. You actually got what the police --

THOMPSON: I do. When you look at the three judges sitting at the bench, they all have a binder in front of them, and we were leaked the same binder they have in front of them.

BANFIELD: All the details?

THOMPSON: All the details. We have a pretty good idea who all the witnesses are, what they're going to say.

BANFIELD: Is it true when I heard that this murder was not just your garden variety murder. This was horrifically violent. This woman suffered immensely and was left for dead and struggled. It was extraordinarily painful.

I mean, if you want aggravators, you got your aggravators, if that's true.

THOMPSON: Oh, yes. It was brutal. The lead detective took us into a room and kind of pantomimed what he thought happened to Stephany. They sat on the bed. He elbows her in the back of the face -- or right in the nose. And they struggle. Some punches are exchanged.

He told the police that she was a very strong girl. He grabs her by the throat, throttles the back of her head against the wall. They believe he's torturing her for her PIN numbers to her credit cards at that point.

She drops down to the floor. He believes she's dead. The police believe he jumped into the shower, cleaned up, walked back into the room, and heard she was still making noises.

He might have even gone on a coffee run while she was still alive on the floor. At that point, he smothers her with a shirt that he's seen on surveillance tape walking into the hotel room with.

BANFIELD: Well, if that's not bad enough -- and it is -- her dad -- we have a quick picture. I have to wrap this up. We have a quick picture of Ricardo Flores, her dad. We may have it, I'm not sure. But he is a hero. He's a race car driver in that country, and he is beloved in Peru, and so you can bet your bottom dollar that country is none too thrilled having Joran van der Sloot.

THOMPSON: Yes, he's a powerful man.


Hey, Cole, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming in with all that info.

THOMPSON: Oh, thanks for having.

BANFIELD: Appreciate it.

THOMPSON: I'll come back again sometime.

BANFIELD: It's guaranteed. Thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: It is 25 minutes past the hour.

Still to come: convicted murders now free. They're back on the streets. They could be among you at some point.

The fallout now continues over the former Mississippi governor there and all these pardons that he granted. It's not the first time either that he's been involved in controversial pardons. We're going to take a look at his record and what freedom means for these convicted murders.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Hey. It's 29 minutes past 5:00 in the East, 29 minutes past 2:00. So, night, night if you're in L.A.

Hello. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, good morning to you. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Welcome back to EARLY START.

On the agenda in the next half hour:

This one is mind boggling. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is under fire. He granted more than 200 pardons. And we're learning more this morning about who has being pardoned, including relatives of famous people. These are convicted murderers, folks.

BANFIELD: And if overnight you heard the rattling of your 401(k) -- yes, hey, things are looking pretty good. I mean, hey, we're only, what, a week and a bit into January, but the Dow has climbed to its highest level since July. What a difference just New Year's Eve can make.

SAMBOLIN: It's so nice to be able to share some good news, right?

BANFIELD: I'm not used to saying it. I'm just not used to saying it after a year of doom and gloom.

SAMBOLIN: Let's hope we do get used to it. That would be great.

BANFIELD: Yes, don't forget, reallocate. Go in. Take a look at what you got.

And Christine is really smart at all that. So, we'll talk to her a little while, but, in the meantime, it's 5:30 on the nose. If you got a bus to catch, don't go yet, because these are the top stories making news this morning.


BANFIELD (voice-over): The Republican candidates moving on to South Carolina. All of them. None of them dropped out. This after the nation's first primary in New Hampshire. If you were sleeping, it was Mitt Romney, folks, walking away with the big one. Ron Paul coming in second, and a very respectable third going to Jon Huntsman who is accentuating the positive of the third place finish.

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here we sit tonight, ladies and gentlemen, with a ticket to ride and to move on. Here we go to South Carolina. Thank you all so very much. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The U.S. is confirming its first drone strike in Pakistan since November. That's when an attack mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border. Officials say the latest missile strike killed at least four suspected militants in the North Waziristan border region.

BANFIELD: And the revolving door seemingly just continues at Fannie Mae. CEO, Mike Williams, is stepping down after a little more than two years of running the government-backed mortgage giant. He was tapped to run Fannie back in 2009 just after it was placed into a federal conservatorship.


BANFIELD (on-camera): And there is some serious outrage this morning in Mississippi and right across the country.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): It's incredible.

BANFIELD: It really is and a bit mind boggling. The outgoing governor, Haley Barbour, famous, everybody knows him. He's a respectable politician. He's been around a very long time, and he did something very strange to some. Pardoning nearly 200 criminals, and not just any -- rapists, killers, in fact, 14 convicted murderers.

SAMBOLIN: And some of whom were working at trustees at the governor's mansion. And get this. This is not the first time Barbour is involved in controversial pardons. Taking a closer look at his record and what freedoms these pardons actually give the criminals. This is mind boggling.

Ed Lavandera is live in Dallas. Ed, you know, we started the conversation yesterday. We want to continue it today because we are really just shocked at this. I just want to mention this one incident. One of these men actually killing his wife back in 1993 as she held a baby in her arms. How does the governor explain these pardons?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, frankly, he hasn't, and we've tried desperately over the last 36 hours to try to get a response from the former governor, Haley Barbour. We've reached out to his spokesperson. They've made no comment. He was at the swearing in ceremony for Mississippi's new governor yesterday.

He was asked by reporters there yesterday and blew off those questions as well. So, there's simply been no explanation at this point to explain what his decision process in pardoning so many people.

SAMBOLIN: So, you know, a lot of times, we listen to these pardons that happen at the 11th hour, and we understand that, perhaps, there's some rehabilitation involved. Most of these folks actually lived or worked at the governor's mansion. Was this part of some program? Is there some sort of an explanation that way?

LAVANDERA: Well, some of the murders you're referring to that were pardoned, and these are full and unconditional pardons. This will not be on their record. They can go back as if nothing had happened. Some of these inmates were working as trustees, and these are inmates -- this happens across the country.

Trustees are these inmates that get good behavior are essentially trusted by the prison guards, and they're allowed to have jobs or duties that are much -- gives it much more flexibility to compare it to other inmates. So, some of these trustees or some of these inmates did work as trustees around the governor's mansion, but quite frankly, there's almost 200 in all.

This is a wide ranging list. There are some 14 murderers, another 16 or so that were convicted of homicide or manslaughter. The range of punishment and the range of crimes that were committed by these inmates run the gamut. There is everything on this list. It's eight pages long. BANFIELD: If he's not talking, what about the program? I mean, if Haley Barbour's not going to talk about this, can the program be changed or people talking about the program being changed?

LAVANDERA: Well, I've been watching a lot of the talk in Mississippi, a lot of blogs and that sort of thing, people debating this. There's already talk of trying to change this, but you know, you see this talk a lot after there's some sort of controversial pardon.

This isn't the first time where an outgoing governor or politician has made these kind of remarkable last-minute pardons that have shocked a lot of people. And this pardon, these whole pardon process and these pardon privileges really haven't changed all that much. So, we'll see how it goes from here.

SAMBOLIN: This one is totally mind boggling. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.


SAMBOLIN: We're actually going to talk a little bit later to somebody who live in that state and who is also as outraged about this, because they have a big domestic violence issue in that state.

BANFIELD: And Soledad O'Brien, our colleague, in her program, (INAUDIBLE) is going to talk with some of the victims of these killers who now walk among us, folks. So, these killers walk among us, and they'll be at your ballot boxes, too.

SAMBOLIN: That is just outrageous. Unbelievable.

BANFIELD: OK. We'll switch gears to something that will make you feel better.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, the Dow closed at its highest level since July. This happened yesterday. The Dow gained about .5 percent yesterday. The NASDAQ was up about one percent. S&P 500 up about .9 percent.

BANFIELD: And of course, that will make you feel great as long as you don't sell short, like a lot of people were doing.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: As long as you're in the stock market so you didn't run away scared when we had that downgrade, when the U.S. was downgraded.

BANFIELD: There's a lot of money in people's mattress.

ROMANS: Absolutely. Look, you've got, slowly but surely, I keep saying, if you blinked, you missed it, but suddenly, we are back at the highest level since July and what that tells you is that, quite frankly, we had a really rough summer and a really rough early fall because there were big concerns about Europe and the U.S., the own the credit rating (ph) of the United States. And remember that our sterling credit rating was downgraded. That was a big problem. These are the chart (ph) on how things are gone now. Suddenly, the Dow is up nine percent -- seven percent rather for the past year. There's the chart. You can see it's been a slow climb up, but it has been a climb up.

And now, the Dow over the past year, highest since July. Financial stocks did very well, you guys. So, Bank of America, that stock was one of the biggest financial gainers yesterday, up six percent. It might be in your 401(k). A lot of the financial stocks doing better because there was an assessment from Fitch that Europe is on the right path. And how many times have you heard me say that Europe is really important for us --

BANFIELD: OK. Now, you're freaking me out. Europe is on the right path, seriously?

SAMBOLIN: Optimism? Is there optimism here?

ROMANS: And I will say that what has been the hallmark of the stock market since the U.S. debt downgrade is that it's three steps forward and two steps back, you know? And that's been the way it is in the U.S. economy, too. You look at jobs, front page of "USA Today" big analysis, probably going to be stuck in eight percent unemployment rate range for this year.

This is going to be a very political number. Even when you look at, for example, New Hampshire, unemployment rate 5.2 percent. Going down to South Carolina, unemployment rate 9.9 percent.

BANFIELD: Nine, yes, right.

ROMANS: So, even there's been steady slow gain in the jobs market, it's going to be micro again. It's going to become talking about battleground states and how many jobs they are short from when the president took office.

BANFIELD: So, my brother is this investing tycoon, and he said to me, here's the deal, Ash. You've got to sort of lay of the European stocks, European financials. Focus, perhaps, maybe on the American financials, and then go big in Asia.

ROMANS: Well, I think I need to have your brother as one of my sources.

BANFIELD: No, he's mine.


BANFIELD: But that's not too crazy, right?

ROMANS: But we're watching the Asia carefully because, you know, China, there was a manufacturing number yesterday that showed that China's factory powerhouse is slowing a little bit. And so, there are worries about China hitting a rough patch, too. They've been a great gang buster growth in Asia. Can they make it forever? So, slow, three steps forward, two steps back, I think, that's going to be the theme for the stock market this year. Job market also, eight percent unemployment rate range, but we're going to be talking about battleground states, and their unemployment rate, that's going to dominate the headlines.


BANFIELD: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: All right. So, it's a story that you may have been following for 30 years, Natalie Wood. That is such a bizarre care. I mean, talk about a cold case. It is black and white cold. But now, there's some weird reporting on the fact that it may be closing again, or is it? We're not sure about this one yet, but you're going to get some clearing up in just a moment. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Buenos Diaz, Miami. It is 70 degrees there right now, Ashleigh. They have chances of storms. They're heading up into 82.

BANFIELD: I'd still take it.

SAMBOLIN: We wish we could join you there.

BANFIELD: Storms or no storms, that's like my winter vacation place, I tell you.

SAMBOLIN: So beautiful.

BANFIELD: Hello, Miami.

SAMBOLIN: Sometimes a little muggy, but nice shot.

BANFIELD: It's a lovely shot, and it's still dark there because it's only 5:41 in the morning eastern time, which means it's 5:41 -- excuse me 3, 2 -- forget it. I can't do math at this hour. 2:41 in L.A. Let's take you to L.A.


BANFIELD (voice-over): Big story there, the Natalie Wood case, sort of being invigorated by some new reporting not too long ago. Reopened by the authorities out there, and now, we're hearing some strange reporting in the "L.A. Times" that detectives have found no evidence of foul play in her death. We're going to tell you why that may not exactly be the definitive word in just a few moments.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): First, you'll remember, Wood drowned back in 1981. The actress was on a yacht with her husband actor, Robert Wagner and actor, Christopher Walken. She, somehow, fell of a boat. And right now, investigators are trying to figure out how that happened. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): CNN's Kareen Wynter is live from Los Angeles, and she's been talking with the L.A. County sheriffs deputies who say the investigation is actually not over yet. So, it's open. People think it's closed.

BANFIELD: What's going on?

SAMBOLIN: What's going on? Yes.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Well, I can tell you because we have -- CNN has independently confirmed this, that the Los Angeles County sheriffs department is not closing the books on this case.

Steve Whitmore (ph) with the L.A. County sheriffs department told me just last night, that as of right now, well, this is still an open investigation despite the story in "The L.A. Times," which Whitmore says is not completely accurate. That new report that the investigators have found no new evidence and have ruled out foul play in Natalie Wood's death.

Now, just to make it clear here, Wood's death is still considered accidental at this point, but Whitmore, he says it's possible investigators could still find new information that would change that conclusion. He says there are leads they're still following up on, interviews that are, in fact, taking place, as we speak.

New information that, basically, they have to sift through and close out before they say for sure whether this actress' death was a result of foul play or not. The problem here, you know, and you can understand with a case like this that's several decades old, they're keeping a lot of things close to the vest.

They're not offering a play by play of the direction that this case has taken since the time it was reopened. So, there's a lot of speculation it seems as to whether or not Wood's death, the mystery behind it, will ever be solved.

BANFIELD: Do we know who they're talking to? Like Robert Wagner?

WYNTER: That's a good question. I asked Whitmore that point blank, and he answered, surprisingly, because again, they're keeping so mum about everything. I said, have you interviewed Robert again? He said, no, we haven't. But remember, when they opened this case back in November, we said at that time, he was not a suspect.

We interviewed him years ago. Basically, they have all the information that they need from him. So, there's no point to interview him again. So, no, they have not interviewed him.

BANFIELD: I don't get that. I'm sorry. I don't get that, because the new information that came from the boat captain was that Robert Wagner did say something different. So, it did change it -- WYNTER: You know, I couldn't agree more, and that boat captain, Dennis Davern, he came forward saying, you know what, Robert Wagner, he basically told me to shut up, to keep mum, and he alluded to a cover-up, so why wouldn't they interview him? We asked investigators at that time in November why not?

They wouldn't elaborate, but they're saying now, no, we haven't spoken to him. There's no need to. So, that's where things stand.

SAMBOLIN: Well, Kareen Wynter, thank you for joining us and clearing that up this morning.

BANFIELD: That's an early start for her, right.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh!

BANFIELD: It's 2:45 in the morning for Kareen Wynter, folks. We got a big thank you --


BANFIELD: Don't you just hate it when a pipe comes flying through your window and you nearly die? Don't you just hate that?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, wow!

BANFIELD: Yes. Folks, you're going to find out how this happened, where this happened, why it happened, and why it's not a horrible story. The man in the car survived to tell the tale.

SAMBOLIN: Start counting your blessings, right?


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with Ashleigh Banfield.


SAMBOLIN: It is 48 minutes past the hour here. It's time to check stories that are making news this morning.

SAMBOLIN: The Republican presidential race heading south now after New Hampshire. The nation's first primary was no contest with Mitt Romney winning big. Ron Paul finished a distant second, but told supporters it is clear his message is being heard.


REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's no longer that irate tireless minority that is stirring up the troops. Now, that irate minority, and so tireless as you have been, is growing by leaps and bounds. It's going to continue to grow by leaps and bounds. And we will restore freedom to this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: Well, in another country, Joran Van Der Sloot returns to court in Peru today facing a murder charge there because he's accused of killing Stephanie Flores in a Lima hotel room back in 2010. Hei expected to finally enter some kind of plea, guilty, not guilty, sort of guilty, after requesting more time to reflect on his decision.

SAMBOLIN: And Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, continues his whirlwind tour of Latin America today. He will be in Cuba to meet with President Raul Castro. Ahmadinejad has already visited Venezuela and Nicaragua --

BANFIELD: Say it again. Say it again.

SAMBOLIN: His final stop will be Ecuador. That's for you.

BANFIELD: I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it. Can't get enough of that.

OK. This is one of those for the record books, and if you're the guy who went through it, it's something to tell your grandchildren. California.


BANFIELD (voice-over): The guy is driving along, I don't know, 65 miles an hour.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Come to the TV. Come to the TV. Look at that.

BANFIELD: Yikes. Make sure you come out of the bathroom right now and take look at your TV, like Zoraida said. The pipe that you are seeing in that windshield is like a four-foot metal pipe. It came flying through his windshield as he was driving on the freeway, stopping just inches from his face. See the steering wheel? It stopped the pipe and saved his life. And of course, this near death accident left him just a little shaken.

MARCUS KASPRZYK, DRIVER: I was in shock at first. And all I could stare at after my car stopped was the bottom of the pipe.

BANFIELD: OK. I'm hearing like a buzz saw in the background, and I'm guessing that maybe they were trying to remove the pipe. Who knows? But, he's a lucky man. The California Highway Patrol says it's probable that there was a truck driving in front of his car, and the pipe somehow ended up flying off the truck and into the windshield.


BANFIELD (on-camera): That's a lucky man, folks.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Some minor injuries, right? I wonder what his minor injuries. He looked really good --

BANFIELD: I would say -- SAMBOLIN: -- and not very rattled.

BANFIELD: -- stress. Buy a lottery ticket, my friend.


All right. Fifty-one minutes past the hour here. So, what's trending? Tim Tebow. He has a Twitter record now. Those 80 yards, a very big deal on Twitter. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Folks, we are keeping you in the loop on pop culture this morning by taking a look at what is trending on the web and in social media. We begin with the one and only --

BANFIELD: Tim Tebow!

SAMBOLIN: Tim Tebow. There he is praying, love this guy. So, let's see. Twitter says there were 9,420 tweets per second about Tebow's 80-yard game-winning touchdown pass on Sunday night. It's the most for any sporting event ever. It beat out the Women's World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan.

You know what else it beat out? Beyonce's pregnancy announcement during the MTV Video Music Awards. Yes. But number one, this one really shocked me, and please e-mail me. Come to Facebook, Twitter, whatever, if you have ever heard of the Japanese movie "Castle in the Sky" because that got the most tweets.

BANFIELD: It's anime, right?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, that used to be in the number one spot. So --

BANFIELD: "Castle in the Sky," who knew?

SAMBOLIN: Have you ever heard of it?

BANFIELD: I have never heard of it. I've heard Japanese anime, but I've never heard of that one and certainly never heard that it had, you know, really rated high on the Twitter.



BANFIELD: There she goes. I'm so old.

SAMBOLIN: You know we have a Facebook page.



BANFIELD: Oh, there's that.


BANFIELD: Don't ask.

All right. So, there's something else that's trending on buzz feed. A certain "Daily Show" clip. I'm just going to say it right now. Jon Stewart, up until yesterday, you were my hero, and now, I'm devastated that you ripped on us.

SAMBOLIN: He's still my hero. Can we watch?

BANFIELD: No, we cannot watch. Oh, there they go. So, Jon Stewart rips on us --


BANFIELD: -- calls it waking bad our wakeup segment, and I'll have you know, Mr. Stewart, you're not the only man who's allowed to have fun on TV. It is five o'clock in the morning.

SAMBOLIN: I want his phone number. He would be so much fun to call in the morning. So, if you happen to be watching, if you're people are watching --

BANFIELD: The first thing I thought was, I'm going to wake him up.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to find a way.

BANFIELD: I could not believe he did it. He was so mean. It was in fun. The editing was all that (ph).

SAMBOLIN: My mom says that if somebody's talking about you, it's always good. It's all good.

BANFIELD: But I mean, it's kind of like, you know, Stewart, if you're watching this, it's like superman telling you, you suck. OK? That's what it was like.


BANFIELD: I really do love you, and I was so upset.

SAMBOLIN: Greatest form of flattery.

BANFIELD: It is. You're absolutely right.

SAMBOLIN: All right.

BANFIELD: So, we've got a couple of things still coming up on the program. What should we call? The blowout?

SAMBOLIN: The blowout in New Hampshire.

It's a crucial test, though, ahead in South Carolina. What will happen with Romney there? You are watching EARLY START. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)