Return to Transcripts main page


Heading South; Ahmadinejad Visiting the Castros in Cuba; Police Informant Faces Deportation; Mitt Romney Wins New Hampshire Primary; Convicted Killer Pardoned by Governor Haley Barbour; Pot Smokers Breathing Easy; New Hampshire Primary

Aired January 11, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I figured why bother to waste time with breakfast food. Go right for the cake.

Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT with our panel this morning. We'll get to them in just a moment.

We're talking first about Governor Mitt Romney. He does something that few Republicans have done before, which is to sweep Iowa and then sweep New Hampshire. He told me the president is going to remain his focus as he moves on.

Take a listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really think we're best off focusing on the failures of this president. And in my case, I want to demonstrate that I have the capacity to make America once again a great place for opportunity, for rising incomes, for job growth. I think that's what people want to hear.


O'BRIEN: Also, a Cuban American congresswoman is calling it a tour of tyrants. Iran's president is cozying up to dictators right next door to America. First, it was Hugo Chavez. Today, it was Castro brothers.

We'll bring you a report from Havana, straight up.

And he came to the United States on a valid visa. He became an informant to help police solve a murder. So, why is this man being deported? We'll explain his case to you.

Plus, a big day on Wall Street yesterday. Christine Romans has an update for us about what is expected today.

STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Inside at Chez Bouchon this morning, as we continue our conversations we're focused on Mitt Romney this morning as a big winner last night, with a win in Iowa, kind of a squeaker. But New Hampshire, he had a big one. He's moving on to South Carolina now.

It was impressive win. If you look at the numbers, right there, Mitt Romney with 95 percent of the precincts reporting -- wards I should say reporting -- 40 percent to him. Ron Paul with 23 percent. It was Jon Huntsman who came in with 17 percent.

Primary day, though, is not very far away as we forget about New Hampshire. Let's move on to South Carolina.


O'BRIEN: It's so yesterday.

Will you guys show those numbers again?

We got Peter Hamby this morning. He is in Columbia, South Carolina.

Ron Brownstein is back with us, director of the "National Journal". David Frum is here. Candy Crowley has joined us. She's CNN's chief political correspondent and the host of "STATE OF THE UNION."

And John King is with us from a distance. He's -- I think he's in D.C. this morning.

And then we have Christine Romans joining us as well.

He's is in Atlanta. Sorry, John. You're in Atlanta this morning.

OK. So, look at those numbers. This is what South Carolina looks like as we look ahead.

Peter Hamby, Romney -- hello, try it again. Romney, 37 percent. Santorum right behind him little bit of a distance at 19 percent and Newt Gingrich at 18 percent. Tell me how this race looks from where you are this morning.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: (INAUDIBLE) last night's results, Soledad, from a South Carolina perspective at least -- I have to question why Jon Huntsman is really going to compete aggressively here because Mitt Romney is completely sucking up that side of the primary, that political space. Huntsman said last night, people in South Carolina are concerned about electability.

Well, you know, if you talk to voters here, electability is a huge concern, that's why Romney is winning, quite frankly, when you talk to voters. Just anecdotally even if they don't love Mitt Romney, grudgingly they acknowledge he's probably the best guy that can beat Barack Obama.

People here don't know who Jon Huntsman is. He hasn't been on TV here. He's barely campaigned here. Mitt Romney is on television running lots of TV ads. He's been campaigning here frankly for five years.

It's going to be very tough for Jon Huntsman to survive. The other thing I would note, when you look at the conservative side of the electorate, Rick Santorum is the guy who I think is really having a lot of evangelical voters coalesce behind him.

There's been a lot of, you know, frustration with Gingrich since I've been down here in the last week or so. And Newt Gingrich, you know -- excuse me, Santorum came down here to campaign. He took a break from New Hampshire. Newt Gingrich hasn't been here since Ohio.

So I think Santorum has a leg up when you look at the conservative side of the Republican field, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Peter, thank you.

Let's turn to John King in Atlanta.

You know, it was interesting to hear Rick Santorum say it is now a one-on-one man race, and me versus Romney. I was like, really? Really?

You know, Romney did well with evangelicals, really well, I think.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you have a very different race now in South Carolina. There's a diversity. Everyone says why do Iowa and New Hampshire go first, largely white states. You know, South Carolina, the Republican electorate is largely white, but there is more diversity. You go along the coast, you have different voters and you have up in the Bible belt, the Greenville area.

Look, this is going to be a huge test for Mitt Romney. But Peter makes an important point, have you Santorum, you have Perry, you have Gingrich, you have Huntsman, you have Ron Paul, all of them claiming they're the best alternative to Romney. In a crowded field, Romney benefits.

But, Soledad, we're going to have testing time for Mitt Romney. You're going to have not only his record at Bain Capital -- Newt Gingrich is on the air now with advertising questioning Mitt Romney's commitment to the anti-abortion cause. They're going to come after him on same-sex marriage. They're going to come after him on taxes and spending.

Gingrich has been calling Romney a moderate. Trust me, they're going to try to call him a liberal in South Carolina. And for the next 10 days, forgive the cliche, they're going to throw the kitchen sink and kitchen counter at Mitt Romney in South Carolina and we're going to find out what he's made of.

O'BRIEN: Well, John King saying it gets harder from here.

CROWLEY: Well, it does because, I mean, there's not many chances left to get at him. I mean, it was interesting to me last night that all of the folks that you talked to in the Romney camp used one word, unity. They're already in the, OK, let's all get together now and --


CROWLEY: Exactly. Behind Romney obviously. But, you know, but this is their last best chance.

And let me tell you, there are people who were down there, most of them knowing they're not going to beat Romney. The answer to Huntsman is there's always another election. This guy is the youngest guy in the race. Republicans have a way of rewarding folks who have already done it before.

So, there's good reasons for Huntsman to be out there.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's another answer for Huntsman. You know, South Carolina is the crucible in Republican politics. It has been the decider of the race since 1980. It's picked the winner.

Right now, the dynamic that's set up is three candidates, Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry dividing the more conservative elements of the party. Romney is having a relatively free hand with those coastal more moderate voters. That's the exactly formula that allowed John McCain to win.

Maybe the only way to stop him in South Carolina and thus prolong the race is if Huntsman can peel away part of that base. And that was what his campaign was thinking. The problem is a third place finish in New Hampshire in which you won only 10 percent of self- identified Republicans doesn't give him enough of a lift to really carve away what Romney needs in his base to get to a plurality victory that really took this race almost a --

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about super PAC money. And I know Christine Romans who is back at CNN in New York has some of these numbers.

Christine, what are you looking at?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's go forward to South Carolina, if you will. This is the candidate directed ad spending in South Carolina. That's a Gingrich-Romney story. Those are the candidates who are spending the most time on the air with TV ads.

But when you add in the super PAC money, this is Perry territory. His supporters are really hoping that South Carolina is going to be his place.

And if you take a look at Florida moving even one step further, this is the super PAC money and candidate money in Florida, that's all Romney. That's all Romney in Florida. He's the only one maybe I guess with the money and the backing to be able to be thinking two states ahead. But there's already an awful lot of activity for Romney moving ahead to Florida.

And back in South Carolina, you can see -- pretty interesting, that's Perry's -- super PACs supporting Perry really, really active now.

O'BRIEN: And so, David, when you see the governor putting money, as Christine just pointed out, into Florida, it's because it's a very different race in Florida, much more diverse.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's TV war in Florida. I mean, it's --

O'BRIEN: An expensive TV war.

FRUM: It's a vast state. Population distributed over a huge area, a very big population. You can't do retail politics. You have to be on TV.

That's the point at which we're going to discover that everybody else in this race has run out of gas. They won't have funds.

O'BRIEN: So, it's just about money at this point?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the problem is you're trailing and you have very little money. You need something that will give you a boost and change the dynamic in the race. And they're not getting that.

I mean, not only does Mitt Romney win Iowa, New Hampshire. But the order of the rest of the candidates fails to elevate one of the clear candidates except for Ron Paul who has a real ceiling.

CROWLEY: Right. And that really was the subtext from, you know, the off lead from last night is no number two came out.

O'BRIEN: The battle for number two.


CROWLEY: It was a battle for number four, you know? So, that's not really a great place to spring off of to go into South Carolina.

O'BRIEN: Is it done? Is it over?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, absent some big change in the dynamic in South Carolina, it's hard to see how this goes on as a real race past that unless somebody can figure out how to get --

CROWLEY: Ron Paul will go on. We know that Ron Paul will go on.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, but not necessarily that he can actually win.


O'BRIEN: In some ways, I mean, it was interesting to hear him sound very conciliatory towards Governor Romney when he was talking about -- like, why are you bashing him on what Bain did? That's the role of that job and that company. And this is about private enterprise, capitalism, free markets.

FRUM: And another thing that's very important, never forget that the Ron Paul campaign is basically a direct mail effort. So, he's had a huge addition to his mailing list. These are now more Republicans --

O'BRIEN: It's about power, too. I mean, maybe not his power, but certainly Ron Paul's power, right?

FRUM: I would never underestimate money as a factor in Ron Paul organization.

O'BRIEN: In politics, what? Money as a factor in politics? I'm stunned.

FRUM: Ron Paul is not that interested. He's never accomplished anything. He's never done anything.

What he has done is raise enormous amounts of money. It has been a very important family business. And now, he has a new mailing list that is a lot more Republican-oriented and he has to be careful not to alienate them by reminding them he's not fundamentally committed to the party.

BROWNSTEIN: But to answer your question, I mean, there is a meeting this weekend of prominent social conservatives in Texas. There really is only one way to extend this race, which is if the right in South Carolina coalesces enough, consolidates enough to deny the victory to Romney.

Historically, even though it's a conservative state, it's actually bent the other way and favored the establishment candidates. That is the kind of do or die.

O'BRIEN: Let me go to John King. So, is there any indication that in fact that could happen? Are there any signs that people are going to coalesce around another candidate in South Carolina at this point?

KING: At the moment, the evidence and answer is no to that question because you have a crowded field. You have Perry and Gingrich and Santorum and Huntsman. Huntsman would be more to the left of Mitt Romney, the others to the right of Mitt Romney, fracturing the vote much like Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson gave John McCain the victory.

And, Soledad, it's hard to stop momentum. And Mitt Romney has momentum. History tells you that a decent chunk of undecided voters pick the guy they think is going to win.

Well, this morning, if you're waking up in South Carolina, Mitt Romney is the guy you think is going to win. So, the other candidates have to stop that.

And here's the question. Candy makes an important point -- the Republican history, the history of the Republican Party is pick the guy you know. Pick the guy who's been there.

But whose turn is it? It was Bob Dole's turn, it was John McCain's turn.

We're having -- where are the Tea Party and the evangelicals? They were the big force in 2010, the Tea Party especially. Will they assert themselves here?

Will this election be decided by the part of the Republican Party that was the force in 2010, or is this 1996 and 2008 all over again? If it is, Mitt Romney wins.

O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to continue our conversation. I have to take a short commercial break. But I don't want to leave without showing what Ron Brownstein is having for breakfast this morning.

So, he goes with the healthy choice, the oatmeal.

Stay with me for a moment. And it is covered in some clearly --

BROWNSTEIN: Candy apple.

O'BRIEN: Candy --


BROWNSTEIN: I thought I was getting out easy.

O'BRIEN: I went for the cake. See? And I bet my cake is healthier than your smothered in sugar oatmeal this morning.

We got to take a short break. You want to stay with CNN for the best political coverage on TV.

Straight ahead, we're going to keep talking about it. Tonight at 6:00 p.m., John King one on one with Rick Perry.

Piers Morgan at 9:00 p.m. is going to sit down and talk to Newt Gingrich.

I want to check in now with Christine Romans. She's got the look at some of the other stories that are making news for us.

Hey, Christine.

ROMANS: Thanks, Soledad.

An Iranian nuclear scientist killed in an attack in Tehran. Government officials say a magnetic bomb was planted on his car. It's the latest in a series of attacks targeting scientists working on Iran's nuclear program.

This morning, dive teams in Waterville, Maine, will begin searching the water for any sign of 21-month-old Ayla Reynolds. The toddler vanished from her home four weeks ago. Police say they do suspect foul play in that case.

And Cordova, Alaska, just can't catch a break. A tiny fishing village getting a foot of fresh snow -- that's on top of the 18 feet of snow that's already fallen there that we told you about yesterday. To top it off, they've also run out of shovels. The town has placed an order for more. But in the meantime, nearly 60 National Guard troops have been called in to help.

The Dow rose to its highest level since July yesterday -- growing optimism about the U.S. economy playing a part there. But this morning, fears about Europe's debt crisis are creeping back in. So, stock figures for the Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all are slightly lower ahead of the opening bell.

The U.S. economy will be back in the spotlight later today when the Federal Reserve releases the beige book. It's a report summarizing the economic outlook for the 12 Fed banks across the country -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine. Thanks a lot.

Iran's president is making his way to Cuba today. He is meeting with the Castro brothers after he toured Latin America and stood side by side with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

We have an update on what is happening to day with Patrick Oppmann. He's live in Havana for us.

Hey, Patrick. What's going on today?


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be landing here in Havana's Jose Marti Airport just in about two hours, Soledad. As you mentioned, he's meeting with both Raoul and Fidel Castro today. We should hopefully see some images of Fidel Castro with Iranian president, which sometimes we've seen him publicly.

Then he'll be giving a keynote speech -- we don't know the subject -- at the University of Havana. This is taking place in a quick 20-hour visit.

You wouldn't think that Cuba and Iran necessarily have much in common. Both, though, are struggling under the United States economic sanctions. And Cuba has announced plans to begin drilling for oil just off the coast in the Straits of Florida. They're hoping in the next few years to begin exploring some 5 billion barrels, billion with a "B" barrels of oil that out there in between Cuba and Florida, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Patrick Oppmann for us with an update of what's happening today with Ahmadinejad -- thank you.

Still to come this morning on STARTING POINT: a police informant in New Jersey is now facing deportation, even though he helped police solve a very big case, and he's saying he's going to be killed if he's forced to go back to Lebanon. We'll update you on his story when we talk to his fiance straight ahead.

Plus, the Mississippi governor on his way out of office has issued nearly 200 pardons of rapists and murderers. I'm going to talk to Randy Walker. He was shot in the head by one of the killers who is now free. And he's furious.

Plus, there's a big study on pot smoking and it might surprise you what they found.

You're watching STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien. We're back after this short break. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We start this block with a CNN exclusive. A Lebanese immigrant who helped police solve a murder case in New Jersey is now facing deportation. His name is Charbel Chehoud, and he missed a court date for his pending asylum case while he was helping authorities on that murder case. Well, now, he's in jail. And he's awaiting deportation.

Chehoud's fiance is Veronica Garcia. She is in New York this morning and agreed to talk with us. Veronica, thanks for talking with us. I appreciate it. We know that he is in custody now. What are they telling you about what could happen with his deportation? When could he be deported?

VERONICA GARCIA, FIANCE FACING DEPORTATION AFTER HELPING TO SOLVE MURDER: He could be deported today. Supposedly, he had a deportation order for today, but we don't know what's going to happen. Charlie --

O'BRIEN: He must be very, very -- yes, go ahead.

GARCIA: Charlie is my fiance. Charlie was born in Lebanon and left Lebanon when he was five, was raised in Germany, and then, he came here to the U.S. And now, he has a deportation order because he missed the court. As you can see, Charlie has done, you know, hard work with the community. He did hard work with law enforcement.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about that law enforcement case, Veronica. The case dates back to 1999. There was a guy named Michael Augulis who drowned, and his drowning was ruled accidentally until Charlie came forward with some information. Can you tell me more about that case?

GARCIA: I don't know too much about the case. I know he was involved, and he, you know, he helped solve the problem and not only that problem, he did other cases also. O'BRIEN: He has said, Charlie has said that he's afraid for his life if he is deported back to Lebanon. He worries about being killed. Why?

GARCIA: Why? Because he doesn't know anything about Lebanon. He left Lebanon when he was five. He was raised in Germany, like I said before. He doesn't know anything about his country. I mean, what they doing is an injustice for him, you know? It's unfair what they're doing to him.

O'BRIEN: Well, we're going to take a short break, Veronica, but I want you to stick around, because on the other side, I want to talk about what you're doing in order to try to get some attention to his case and what you think your next step could be before or to interrupt and intervene in the deportation. We're going to take a commercial break. We'll be back with Veronica Garcia right after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We begin with a CNN exclusive. We've been talking with Veronica Garcia. Her fiance is a police informant. He's a Lebanese immigrant, and now, he's facing deportation, even though he helped the local police solve very big cases. His name is Charbel Chehoud, and he could be deported, Veronica tells us, as early as today.

Veronica, Charlie, as you call him, has actually gotten written support from some of the law enforcement agencies that he has helped in the past. He also is married to an American. He's in the process of getting a divorce. You're his fiance. You're an American. How come it's not as simple as just, you know, you two get married, now he can be an American citizen?

GARCIA: Yes. I am waiting for him to get divorced. He will be divorced any time, and hopefully, with God's will, I will marry him. I did open a petition,, and I have everybody's support all over the country. Charlie has over 7,000 people voted on his favor, on his behalf.

And it's a great thing that I did, you know? Because I'm getting everybody's support. I want everybody to know, people that are going through the same situation that I am, that they should go to and they will help you.

O'BRIEN: How are you holding up? I know, as you say, his deportation could potentially be right around the corner, and you're trying to do all that you can with this petition online. I think it's 7,000 people have written in to support him.


O'BRIEN: How are you doing? I mean, emotionally, how are you doing?

GARCIA: Emotionally, I could be good, and then, I could break down. But I have a lot of faith in God that everything's going to work.

O'BRIEN: Veronica Garcia who is hoping to see if she can intervene in her fiance's deportation hearing, thank you for talking with us this morning. I know this is a tough time for you.

This is a sad case. And of course, you know, when you talk about these immigration stories -- and they're very complicated. I mean, obviously, we've really covered only the tip of the iceberg, but it is a really complicated case. You know, the local officials when this happened, I think in the state of New Jersey, all wrote on his behalf and said that he was someone who was very instrumental and helpful in this case. So, I'm sort of surprised why they would be so aggressive about deporting him.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Especially since we're seeing an easing up of some enforcement of the president issued an executive order last summer saying, listen, you know, back burner if there's not a felony involved here. If these are, you know, peaceable people, that's not where we want to spend our time. So, it just doesn't seem to fit in with that.

RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL JOURNAL: the immigration issue is one that looks so different from the ground level than from 30,000 feet. Public attitudes might be one thing about if you ask the abstract, but when you get down to the individual cases, often very different.


DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think with this case most of it we don't know.


FRUM: And, people don't usually confide in me about murders. If you're hanging around with people who have committed murders, you may have some other things on your record, and that may be the thing that the judge is reacting to. There's a lot more I would like to see reported about this case before I made up my mind about what the truth was.

O'BRIEN: Very complicated, right? Thank you for talking with us.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, going to talk about this case that has many people in Mississippi absolutely outraged. The outgoing governor, Haley Barbour, has pardoned nearly 200 convicts and that includes more than a dozen killers. We're going to talk to a man who was shot by one of the freed criminals. He is furious today.

And then, in today's reveal, Mitt Romney, is the first non- incumbent Republican to win Iowa and then New Hampshire. So, who is the only other Republican to take both of those races? We'll ask you. STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien is back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien. I'm Soledad O'Brien. I like the way that works.

We're in New Hampshire this morning. That's the inside of this really wonderful cafe. We have been eating breakfast this morning. We're talking about outrage in Mississippi. That is because of the outgoing governor, Haley Barbour, has pardoned 200 people, including some people who were killers. We'll talk with some family members of victims who are outraged today.

And then breathe easy if you're a pot smoker. Good news for pot smokers. That's rare for us. Elizabeth Cohen has a result of a 20- year study that focuses on people who smoke pot.

First though how's that for a tease, Christine. First, before we get to the pot story, we'll look at some of the other stories that you are following for us. Good morning, again.

ROMANS: Good morning, that's what we call a hook, right, into the news headlines. We can't wait for that with Elizabeth later. Joran Van Der Sloot returns to court in Peru to face a murder charge. He's accused of killing Stephany Flores in a Lima hotel in 2010. Van Der Sloot's finally expected to enter a plea after requesting more time to reflect on his decision.

Hazing or hate crime? The parents of Robert Champion, the Florida A&M band member who was allegedly hazed to death, they revealed their son was gay. They don't think it had anything to do with his death. Earlier on STARTING POINT, the family's attorney told Soledad they believe the motive is clear.


CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF ROBERT CHAMPION: This is a crime of hazing, not of hate. There is a long-standing decade long history of hazing at this institution in the band. So this is yet another smoke screen, Soledad. It's a very insensitive. It's incomprehensible really that the institution would take such a stance.

But what they're trying to do is throw this on the students. If this is a hate crime, then the students are responsible and the school will say there's no way we would have known that they would punish him because he's gay. And that's just not right.


ROMANS: And a double barrel surprise for two Maryland teenagers yesterday. First, it was their mom returning home early from Afghanistan. And if that wasn't enough, the two girls were each presented with a $20,000 college scholarship courtesy of KFC. Somewhere the colonel is smiling this morning. The DOW rose to its highest level since July yesterday. Growing optimism about the U.S. economy playing a role there. But this morning fears about the U.S. debt crisis crept back in. Ratings agency Fitch put out a note this morning warning about a, quote, cataclysmic collapse of the euro if the European Central Bank does not buy up more Eurozone debt to stabilize the region. Stock futures for the DOW, the NASDAQ, the S&P 500 all trading lower ahead of the opening bell.


O'BRIEN: Let's get back to our panel, because of course our top story this morning is Mitt Romney and his big win. He squeaked by in Iowa. But here in New Hampshire he had a very sizeable win. Throw up those numbers. You can see he was leading the polls at 40 percent for Mitt Romney, Ron Paul right behind him with 23 percent. And it was Jon Huntsman coming in at 17 percent which may not be enough to really launch his campaign as everybody heads to South Carolina.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Not only was it not a strong overall number, it's OK, kind of middling. The composition has to be worrisome. He depended on voters at the periphery, independents, people who described themselves as strong Tea Party opponents. Among actual self-identified Republicans he won 10 percent of the vote. That's really not much of a foundation with which to go forward.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: When we go to South Carolina next, the last hope of all the anti-Romney people is that they can consolidate around a conservative alternative. Here's the problem about doing that. The conservative infrastructure in South Carolina, the important conservative leaders in the state, the people who delivered the state for George Bush in 2000, locked in early for Rick Perry. They all endorsed him. Rick Perry is not a factor. Those people are now immobilized. They can't now say I've changed my mind I'm going with Santorum, Gingrich. So with the infrastructure off to the sidelines unable to help the other not-Mitt, that field will continue to fracture and those will be distributed. Romney will emerge as he has done throughout this as the one man against the field.

O'BRIEN: We spoke to Governor Romney earlier on STARTING POINT, and here's what he told us about the path ahead for him.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand that President Obama is going to try and put free enterprise on trial, but Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are going to be the witnesses for the prosecution. I'm not worried about that. They can take it as they'd like. But you saw last night that that approach didn't work very well for either Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich. And so we'll take it to the next level. They'll find new attacks.


O'BRIEN: Does he seem so not worried?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Honestly, let's look at who came to his defense. Rich Limbaugh, Club for Growth, various folks that weren't out there supporting Mitt Romney came out and said what is Newt Gingrich doing? So I don't think he actually should be worried now.

And I think the other thing that is helpful to Romney, first of all, I'm not sure why it took them so long to get on this, although they could have been subtler about this, is it draws the data for September. He has until September and primetime to kind of figure it out.

O'BRIEN: Figure out the mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How to frame this, as they say.

SIMMONS: When you have a question you can't answer, pose another question. If the race is about who cares about people like you, Romney may have a challenge. If the race is about management of the economy, Romney has a strength.

O'BRIEN: This will be time to hone the message. We'll take a short break. When we come back we'll have a conversation with a number of families who are now outraged about what former Mississippi Haley Barbour has done with this. In fact I think they're ready to join us now, so we'll continue with the story, you've heard us talking about it all morning.

He's granted a pardon to nearly 200 criminals. That number, 200 plus, includes 14 convicted murders, some of whom he worked with at the governor's mansion. One of the men who was released is a guy named David Gatlin. And he was working as a trustee at the governor's mansion. He had been denied parole just a couple weeks earlier.

Randy Walker who was shot by David Gatlin, and Tiffany Ellis Brewer, whose sister was killed by David Gatlin, join us now. And they are furious. Randy and Tiffany, I appreciate you talking with us. Randy, I'll start with you. David Gatlin shot you in the head and he shot your friend who is Tiffany's sister and killed her. And she was holding her baby is what we understand what happened. How did they notify you that he was going to be pardoned by the governor of the state?

RANDY WALKER, SHOT BY DAVID GATLIN: Well, on Friday before the notification I had gotten a letter from Mississippi department of corrections, the parole board, and they said that they had denied him parole and that he would be looked at again in October of 2012, so I kind of breathed a sigh of relief that I'd have nine, 10 more months of pretty much safety.

Saturday morning I got up and went to work at about 10:00 clock I got a phone call that said he had been released with a full and unconditional pardon and that he was -- his release time was -- they wouldn't tell me when he would be released or what day. And then Monday I got an automated call from a system that said he had been released on Sunday. So I was notified that he was out of jail more than 24 hours after he was actually let go.

O'BRIEN: So as somebody who Gatlin tried to kill, he shot you in the head, are you nervous that he might try to come back and try again frankly?

WALKER: Well, you know, yes, it's a concern. I feel like my safety is in jeopardy. Candy's family, the Ellis's, I feel like they're all in jeopardy. I'm married and have a family again and my family I feel the safety for them is an issue. Anybody that might be with me at the time that he decides to do something would be in jeopardy. So, yes, I feel like we are in jail now and David is out of jail. We will forever be looking over our shoulder wondering if today is the day that David decided that he was going to finish what he started.

O'BRIEN: And you mentioned, Randy, I'll put this question to tiffany whose sister was shot and killed by David Gatlin. You mentioned of course there's this non-conditional release. That means there's no conditions. That means that not only can he vote as any citizen can, but he also can go out and purchase a gun if he wants to, is that right?


O'BRIEN: So are you just furious? What are you going to do?

BREWER: There's nothing we can do at this point except try our best to get something changed as for murderers, trustees at the governor's mansion for one man not to be able to release a murder back into our society or anybody who commits a violent crime, because there are so many families out there that are in danger, especially with the people he has pardoned since. You know, David Gatlin was pardoned. I'm sure that they feel basically the same way as Randy and I do. We're both fearful for our lives, our families' lives, and we will live with this for the rest of our lives.

O'BRIEN: He killed your sister, Tiffany, while she was holding her baby -- their baby, a six-month-old who they eventually found her body with the baby right there.

BREWER: Actually, he was six weeks old.

O'BRIEN: I'm so sorry. He was six weeks old. Have you asked the governor, what possibly was the motivation for doing this? Because it seems he's not answering media questions about it. What has he told you?

BREWER: We have actually tried to contact the governor, and he will not respond to any of us. He will not comment on anything. We have no answers as to why he has done this. I would like to think he did not have all of the facts of the case. If he did have all the facts, apparently we haven't had a really good man for our governor. O'BRIEN: Randy Walker and Tiffany Ellis Brewer talking with us this morning. Appreciate your time. Our condolences of course to your family. This is just terrible news for you guys. Appreciate it.

Ahead this morning, we'll bring you up to speed on a new study coming out about what occasional pot smoking does to your lungs. And we'll reveal how rare Mitt Romney's run through Iowa and then New Hampshire really is. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT this morning. And this is what it looks like on the inside of Sheva Shawn (ph) which is where we have set up camp for the third day in a row. We're very grateful that they are hosting us.

Medical report to tell you about this morning. It turns out pot doesn't harm your lungs, in moderation. All medical studies say "in moderation". It's a 20-year study that shows marijuana, smoking marijuana doesn't do the same kind of damage that smoking tobacco does.

Elizabeth Cohen joins us well, from Atlanta this morning. So it feels to me Elizabeth like we always say "in moderation" when we're talking about these stories. Tell me a little bit about this study and what exactly "in moderation" means.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right that is the key question. So Soledad they followed 5,000 people and found that when they smoked at low levels it actually possibly might have helped their lungs. Moderate levels didn't seem to matter. High levels, that did indeed seem to do some damage to their lungs.

So let's take a look at what those levels are. Two to three times a month would be considered low. And that's where it actually might possibly have helped. Once a week over a period of decades, once a week over a period of decades didn't seem to really hurt or help necessarily. What was considered high, what was considered damaging was daily pot smoking for more than seven years.

O'BRIEN: So they weren't looking at -- they were looking at damage to the lungs. They weren't looking at cancer.

COHEN: Right.

O'BRIEN: And they weren't looking at sort of other things as well in the study, is that right?

COHEN: Exactly. And you know what Soledad we've noticed, that this is the number one story on written by my colleague Ann Curly here on CNN Medical.

O'BRIEN: I'm shocked.

COHEN: And right. Exactly.

O'BRIEN: We're stunned. We're stunned here.

COHEN: Because everyone's so excited that --

O'BRIEN: Candy's been Googling it all morning.

COHEN: But what I want to say is that people shouldn't get too excited about this because as you pointed out, all they looked at was lung function. Other studies have shown that people who smoke pot are more likely to have cognitive problems more likely to have memory problems, more likely to develop depression and psychosis.

So you know sure your lungs might be ok but you might be psychotic. So keep that in mind before you light up.

O'BRIEN: But it was interesting to see this report. Right it is one of those either/or. But seriously, it's interesting to see that they thought that there might be something in the smoking of pot that actually could be beneficial to your lungs, like protect you against the chemical compound right, of marijuana, isn't that right? Something tobacco doesn't do.

COHEN: What's interesting is that these low levels where it might help your lungs. It's not really because of the chemical in marijuana necessarily, it's because you're doing such deep inhalations and exhalations. I mean I hate to compare it to yoga but it's a little bit of the same thing. So these folks are inhaling deeply and exhaling and that means --


COHEN: You couldn't necessary remember -- anything.

O'BRIEN: You know what I feel like, I need, we need to go out on a limb here and say we're not comparing this to yoga. Disclaimer. This is not like yoga. Not. Not like yoga. Not like yoga at all.

COHEN: Thank you. I appreciate that.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The other health risk, the other health risk, how much of your life you end up watching "South Park". Ok there's a whole other set of risks.

O'BRIEN: Oh it's all circled the drain. Elizabeth Cohen for us updating us on this story that apparently you know we're laughing. But like this is the number one story on, is that right?

CROWLEY: Yes. Go figure.

O'BRIEN: It says something about our viewership, doesn't it?


O'BRIEN: All right, it's a coveted graph the demographic. Elizabeth, thank you. Thank you, we're circling, we're circling the drain.


O'BRIEN : Still ahead this morning we'll do "Our Reveal". The last Republican to do as well as Mitt Romney right off bat. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Time now for "The Reveal". We've been talking this morning about how Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made history last night. He is the first non- incumbent Republican to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

But do you know who the only other Republican to take both races is? First don't answer, my panel. Little background. Iowa and New Hampshire have been the kind of this one-two punch since 1972 which is when Iowa moved its caucus to early January. Including 1972 and this year that's a total of 11 elections. And in that time only one other Republican besides Mitt Romney has won both races. So who is it? Drum roll please.

BROWNSTEIN: Gerald Ford won them both in '76.

O'BRIEN: Gerald Ford.

BROWNSTEIN: Reagan and H.W. Bush that won them both as well.


FRUM: Bush lost in '92 to Pat Buchanan but in '84 Reagan was the one.

O'BRIEN: Our panel does not know. Back in 1976 Ford took Iowa and New Hampshire unlike Romney. He was the incumbent. You don't see a sitting president challenged too often but in this particularly case Ronald Regan was also going for the Republican nomination. And if you know history he lost to Ford who then went on to lose the presidency to Democrat, Jimmy Carter.

BROWNSTEIN: Heck of a race.

O'BRIEN: You can say hell.

BROWNSTEIN: I can say it's a hell of a race. (INAUDIBLE) Reagan tried to name Richard Schweiger as his running mate trying to bring over moderate Republicans -- the last truly contested convention probably in either party. And Gerald Ford stuck it out but then lost to Jimmy Carter in November.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting to me --

CROWLEY: And the rest is history.

O'BRIEN: And the rest is history.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right. O'BRIEN: People made such a big deal of this -- this sort of historic moment, but I think ultimately the squeak by and then the big win --

FRUM: But think about -- think about this historic moment. How often must the Romney family wonder? How would American history have been different if George Romney had won the Republican nomination in 1968, if this would have happened and Richard Nixon. They must think about that all the time. We could have had a President Romney very easily in 1968.

O'BRIEN: But then you wouldn't have any conversations about all the investment banking, capital, venture capital dollars.


O'BRIEN: Or might have made less because Bain Capital did very well. Interesting take.

All right guys, I think you. We're going to talk about our "End Point", what we take away from this moment with our panel and not just the food and the calories. The ideas, the thoughful ideas. That's straight ahead right after our break.


O'BRIEN: Our "End Point" now because we have reached the end of our morning. Mercifully, I think in some cases. Candy, what do you want to start with?

CROWLEY: You have to start with 40 percent from Mitt Romney. This wasn't just, hey, we won New Hampshire. It was the depth of that win and it was the breadth of that win. It was through a lot of demographics that he needs. This was a huge win.

If he's not unstoppable, we used to call him the weak front-runner. He's no longer the weak front-runner. He is the front runner; they need to stop him in South Carolina. And it's hard to find out who would do that.

O'BRIEN: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, for us in the political press corps, Iowa and New Hampshire like Brigadoon, they come out of the mist every four years. But having been through another cycle, you just have to kind of tip your hat at the seriousness with which most people in both states take this unique and really privileged role they have in kind of winnowing out the presidential field for the rest of us.

It's kind of great to be in both states again. And we'll see you in 2016.

FRUM: One more thing, the high emotion the conservative Republicans brought to this cycle have failed to manifest itself in high discipline. So even in South Carolina, the last chance they will not consolidate. Too many are locked up with Rick Perry who can't go anywhere. Romney may well be a weak front-runner but his opponents, they're weaker.

O'BRIEN: I feel like we've talked enough about politics today as we all head over to South Carolina. So my "End Point" is I just want to reiterate, smoking pot is nothing like yoga at all even though both involve deep breathing. Please, let that be your take away for the morning.

It is now time for "CNN NEWSROOM", Fredricka Whitfield is there for us in Atlanta. Good morning Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": All right. Your punctuation of the day, Soledad.

Thanks so much. Have a good one.