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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Pardoned Criminals Back To Prison?; Judge Halts Mississippi Pardons; Dow Down Slightly; Home Foreclosures Down To 2007 Lows; U.S. Marine Corps Investigating Shocking Video; Mississippi Attorney General Challenges Barbour Pardons; New Swine Flu Cases Reported; Nasty Campaign Hits South Carolina

Aired January 12, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. We started at 6:00 in the east and we are really awake because we've been up for, I don't know, six hours. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're very happy that you're joining us this morning. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

So let's get started here. A judge halts Mississippi pardons. The victim who was shot in the head hoping the shooter will not come back to finish the job.

BANFIELD: A very serious story there and we'll talk about some of the potential loopholes to what happened there. But if you're just about to pour your glass of orange juice for yourself, for your family this morning, hold up and listen up.

Apparently, there is a bit of a fungicide fear and that is causing the United States to halt all shipments of orange juice coming from outside this country.

When we came into work it was just Brazil, the shipments from Brazil, and now it is shipments across the board. They're going to be testing these. It could have profound effects on the prices.

SAMBOLIN: But they are saying that the orange juice you have right now is OK.

BANFIELD: -- should OK.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

So new IVF risks for moms and for babies. How many embryos are ideal to implant? How many could actually cause health risks to both? We're going to talk to our medical correspondent about that, as well.

BANFIELD: Some very bad weather in North Carolina. Apparently, take a peek at this funnel cloud. The picture is from a long way away and that's a good thing because anybody close to it had a terrible night.

A mobile home park completely torn up, people were trapped, people were injured. We have some aftermath video we're going to show you a little bit later on to find out just what happened there in North Carolina.

SAMBOLIN: And this story has been all the talk here for a couple days here. New developments in Mississippi where a judge last night issued a temporary injunction that will keep pardoned prisoners behind bars at least for now we understand.

The problem here is that many are already out, pardoned criminals are already out. In response to a move by outgoing Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, hundreds of convicted criminals were granted pardons, including rapists and killers.

The state attorney general now suggesting that they will have to go back to prison. Martin Savidge is live in Jackson, Mississippi, specifically, with the details.

I would imagine that some people are hoping that there are all sorts of loopholes so that these folks can go back to prison.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. Exactly and right now what they are focusing and this is the point that the attorney general made was that there is a specific part of the law of the pardon process here in the state of Mississippi.

That says in advance of the pardon being granted, there has to be notice given to the public. That notice has to be in the form of a publication of the newspaper for 30 days at least in a row in the newspaper.

The attorney general is saying many of these cases of these pardons, at least maybe 175 of them, that was not done, which means those pardons were granted illegally on the part of former Governor Haley Barbour.

At least, that was the point that was made to the judge. That's why the judge issued the temporary injunction. As you say though, the cat is already out of the bag, in many respects.

So this is why right now we are hearing that there are about 21 prisoners that are still in prison that are going to remain there, but the rest are already out and the big concern is for those murderers, the four of them that were released on Sunday.

Right now they're still free, but they are still supposed to report in on a daily basis to the Department of Corrections.

SAMBOLIN: But a lot of the victims there are worried about retaliation because this was a full pardon that was granted to them, they are allowed to carry guns, right, and to vote?

SAVIDGE: Right. And this is something that many people may not realize, perhaps, that this is a full pardon. In other words, it's not just that you're let out of prison.

But by giving them a full pardon, they are completely restored with all of the rights that any person has. It means their record is essentially wiped clean. That means they can vote, and also means they can go out and buy a gun.

Of course, they were put in prison in the first place because of murders and homicides that were carried out, and in most cases, carried out because of a use of a gun and that's why there are victims' family members who really fear that they may try to come back and do harm to them.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Martin Savidge live in Jackson, Mississippi. Thank you for that.

BANFIELD: And there are so many ways this story can turn legally so the perfect person to speak to is our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin who I am thrilled to be working with.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm thrilled to have you both here.

BANFIELD: Let's chew on this for a bit. Because when we first heard the story we were outraged, we were told there's nothing that can turn this clock back.

Now we're starting to dig through the constitution and some of the guidelines for this program and it turns there maybe a few other potential loopholes other than that publication notice that Marty was just --

TOOBIN: Potentially, that's right. I mean, you know, I have to say I had never heard of a publication requirement, but in the Mississippi constitution it is quite clear about this requirement.

That the pardons are only valid if the person applying for the pardon has posted this notice within 30 -- 30 or more days before the application. You don't have to be a lawyer. You just take a look at the Mississippi constitution.

BANFIELD: Right, and the newspaper. You have to put it in the newspaper.

TOOBIN: And we'll see how many of these people did actually do that.

BANFIELD: If they did that and they did put the notice in the newspaper, all right, so they can check that off the list. What about the notice to the families because that's in there, too. That has to happen. The governor has to notify those families or, once again, it's a violation.

TOOBIN: Well, that's, I don't think, is in the constitution. That may be in a law. For those of us who are not from Mississippi, we don't realize, this is a quite a long-running story there. Barber earlier in his term did some controversial pardons. Mississippi amended its laws to include this family, the victim notification. That's a law. That's not in the constitution. Whether that is enough to invalidate the pardon is more of an open legal question.

SAMBOLIN: And those specific four cases where they were released. They're not still sitting in jail. They weren't halted from their release. Do we know if they met any of this criteria that we're talking about, particularly the one that it has to be published?

TOOBIN: We do not know. In fact, what the judge's temporary restraining order said is, well, I'm going to hold a hearing on January 23rd and that's when we'll find out about the notices.

That's in part why he didn't order those four who were released rearrested because he says, I don't know whether they publish the notice or not, but I want to find out by January 23rd.

In the meantime, the judge says these released murders have to report to the authorities every day at least once between now and January 23rd when the hearing takes place.

BANFIELD: What about the other little thing that I'm sure they're cherry picking everything they can. And that is that you have to have served the minimum amount of time in prison. You have to have served a minimum part of your sentence before you qualify for these things. Are we certain that those qualifications were met?

TOOBIN: No, for many of them we're not sure. Clearly, though, people who didn't serve prison sentences can be pardoned. I mean, that's been true forever. I mean, there's one of the famous pardon stories.

BANFIELD: Marc Rich.

TOOBIN: Well, Marc Rich never served -- he was a fugitive. Bill Clinton pardoned him. George Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to campaign financial violations and later pardoned by Ronald Reagan, he, obviously, was never in prison. In Mississippi, again, you don't have to have served time to get a pardon.

SAMBOLIN: We can talk to you for hours about this.

TOOBIN: It will just be the Mississippi pardon hour.

BANFIELD: Mini court TV right here and I love that you harken back to the Reagan days not because you're old, just because you're smart. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

TOOBIN: I was alive in those days.

BANFIELD: You were 10.

SAMBOLIN: Every morning we give you an early start to your day by alerting to news that is happening later and the stories that are just developing right now, but they will be the big story tonight.

The day after Joran Van Der Sloot pleaded guilty to killing a woman in Peru, a judge in Aruba may officially declare Natalee Holloway dead. She vanished in 2005 and Van Der Sloot was the last person seen with her.

BANFIELD: Also making news, police and family members will be searching for this Virginia college student, Ian Burnett, who vanished during a visit during New York City for a New Year's Eve celebration. Apparently, he caught the bus to New York December 26th, but the last time anyone heard word from him was in a text December 30th.

SAMBOLIN: And same-sex couples will be lining up in Orlando today, why? It is the first day the city will allow them to sign up for domestic partnership.

They don't offer the full benefits of a civil union or a marriage. The couples will have hospital visitation rights and they will also be able to make health care decisions about their partners.

It is 9 minutes past the hour here. The U.S. markets closed mixed yesterday. The Dow was down by 13 points. The S&P 500, the Nasdaq were up just a bit.

BANFIELD: Up just a bit, which is always nice to know on the day of Christine Romans. Look at her. She just does the most research of anyone I know.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: A lot of stuff happening this morning. We just got to report about foreclosures that they fell to the lowest level since 2007.

BANFIELD: Tell that to the people of Nevada.

ROMANS: I know, right. One of the reasons why they're slowing is because the banks are being very careful. They are looking at all the paperwork. They've slowed down the process because you know that robo-signing scandal where the bank was rubber stamping and it turned out they did not need to be foreclosed on.

So they're been very careful over that. Remember six million people now were late on their mortgage in the country. Six million people are late on their mortgage. So you are going to see foreclosures continue.

Another thing that is happening here is a lot of people are trying to figure out, people who are in the foreclosure process or are worried about getting in the foreclosure process trying to figure out how to take advantage of these low interest rates. If you hadn't refinanced, please try again.

BANFIELD: Please, are you kidding me. I tell you what I thought I was getting to the end of it. I was so excited about lower monthly payments and then the appraiser showed up.

ROMANS: The appraiser thought it was worth too much on the way up and now things is worth too little on the way down. Yes, that's common.

So, a lot of people are trying to struggle with how to afford the homes they're in and that's one of the big things we're talking about. So watching unemployment claims and retail sales. A good sense of what's going on in the economy overall on that.

SAMBOLIN: Boy, you have a lot going on.

ROMANS: January airfares, cheapest right now, cheapest they've been in about a year.

SAMBOLIN: I will tell you, I will share. I am flying my parents in from Chicago, $74.

BANFIELD: What, one way?

SAMBOLIN: It's 74 bucks, one way. One way, but, still.

ROMANS: What airline, tell me?

SAMBOLIN: It's Delta, little commercial for Delta.

ROMANS: Sometimes when they don't do a good job, we go on TV and we say that, too. Airfares are going up this year, no question, but this little pause after the holidays, airfares are down.

So, you can ship your bags. That's one way to keep it cheaper. You can sign up for airfare alerts especially if you're doing the Chicago to New York trip. So you should sign up for airfare alerts.

And also according to aircompare.com, you want to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday those are the cheapest days. But remember I think airfares are going to go up.

I mean, if you follow me on Twitter, I'm going to tweet out two stories, this one and another one from earlier this from CNN Money to show that airfares are expected to keep rising this year so you have a little window right here @christineromans. I'll give you some good airfare sites.

BANFIELD: You can buy them now for travel in the summer and all the rest.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Christine. Great advice.

ROMANS: I know those all the political things we have to do this year.

BANFIELD: Did you hear that CNN finance? You know what, poor Christine, her family, they want to get one of the cheap tickets out of here because heavy arctic snow and blasting air is coming through your state of Iowa. I'm sorry to say. Look at the snowfall, not just Iowa, either. It's also going to affect Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit. I love it when you see the sideways snow because it really shows how intense those winds are and then I get a taste of what my childhood was like. It could be a commuter nightmare today, too.

ROMANS: Snow day if you're a kid.

SAMBOLIN: The kids like that. Rob is out, Jacqui Jeras is in. Good morning to you.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. You have everyone fantasizing about a Caribbean vacation right now to try to escape this terrible weather. It's really brutal across the Midwest and the Great Lakes today.

The cold air has arrived and the snow is here and the winds are blowing it sideways like you said whiteout conditions at times. So it's going to be rough travel. This is going to be ongoing through tomorrow.

You know, ahead of this system, we have spring-like conditions. We're still dealing with rain in places like D.C. and on up towards New York City, but that cold air has already snuck into New England.

And this is our big arctic front and that is where the big changes are coming and this will stick around for a while. Accumulations will be heaviest around the lake. So you have to get that moisture coming in off of, say, Lake Michigan in order to get those bigger totals.

But we could see as much as three to six in places like Milwaukee and Chicago and little lesser in Detroit, but you head over towards the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo that's where the five to 10 inches are going to come in.

Strong cold front, it's going to bring those winds strong all the way down to Dallas today. So that could cause you some white knuckles on the roadways, as well. And then airport delays could be expected all up and down the eastern seaboard due to that moisture and then those winds. A harsh reality of those temperatures, minus five is what it feels like in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

But ahead of the storm, guys, it was really serious yesterday. I just want to show you a little bit of video from North Carolina where this was very likely a tornado that moved through two counties destroying dozens of homes and buildings across the area and at least three people were seriously injured.

So unfortunately, this storm not just a winter wrath maker here, but we've got severe weather they had to deal with yesterday.

BANFIELD: All right. Thank you, Jacqui, and thanks for showing those pictures, too, because it really does highlight how bad it was.

It is 14 minutes - no, 15, 15 minutes past the hour. Fifteen minutes past 6:00 on the East and 15 minutes past 3:00 on the West. Time to check your headlines if you're getting ready to head out the door.

A fine mess, Governor Barbour left behind on Mississippi on his final day in office. Granting near full pardons to nearly 200 prisoners in his final days in office, including 14 real friendly convicted murderers.

A judge has decided, though, no, and blocked the release of any more prisoners until they can get a handle on all of this. Mississippi's Attorney General, we should add, is a Democrat and probably not much of a friend of the Republican former governor is calling these last-minute pardons, quote, "unconstitutional" and, quote, "a slap in the face to law enforcement."

SAMBOLIN: Everybody's outraged about it as well.

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Syria's opposition rejecting the government's claims that an armed terrorist group is responsible for the death of French journalist Gilles Jacquier. They say security forces fired the mortar shells that killed Jacquier. He was attending a pro-government rally in Homs. He's the first western journalist to die in the 10-month-old uprising in Syria.

BANFIELD: And our Nic Robertson is there, as well. So a huge concern for all journalists there.

SAMBOLIN: He's OK, though.

BANFIELD: Putting the squeeze on orange juice. The government state officials have halted all imports - foreign imports of orange juice to this country while they test for a fungicide that is not approved in the United States. It was found in juice that was imported from Brazil, but like I said, just to be safe, they decided to halt the shipments from everywhere.

SAMBOLIN: And still ahead, the Taliban are responding to video that appears to show Marines urinating on insurgent corpses in Afghanistan. We're live and full (ph) after the break.

BANFIELD: And also, there is a new study on some potential health risks. If you're considering in vitro fertilization and you think you might be able to benefit from having more embryos, well, our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has some news for you that may change your family plan.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Welcome back to EARLY START. Nineteen minutes past 6:00.

We have some breaking news for you. We're getting some reaction now, international reaction to that awful video that surfaced of U.S. Marines apparently urinating on the corpses of dead insurgents.

The International - the ISAF, the International Security - I don't remember what that acronym stands for - International Security Assistance Force releasing a statement right now denouncing this and suggesting that this is absolutely unacceptable, really not surprising.

But if you look at your picture, this is a still picture from the video of Combat Marines apparently snipers because our Barbara Starr from the Pentagon tells us that their gear that they're wearing on their helmets and their rifles are telling signs of the job that they do, showing just, you know, inexcusable behavior.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is live in Kabul, Afghanistan. It's not just the ISAF that's reacting to this at this point, Nick. It's also the Afghan government. What are they saying?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm assuming why you say the Pentagon, they still have caveats about the authenticity and location of this. So, one U.S. official saying to me, it probably happened here.

The Presidential Palace has been pretty straight forward in their response, a few caveats from them. Saying simply to us earlier on the government of Afghanistan is deeply disturbed by a video that shows American soldiers desecrating dead bodies of three Afghans. This act by American soldiers is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms. We expressly ask the U.S. government to urgently investigate the video and apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime.

A really stinging environment there frankly from the palace at a time when many are seeing damage perhaps in U.S.-Afghan government relations. This is not going to help at all also make Afghans feel more comfortable by having American troops around - Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And, Nick, there's one thing here in America where this is one story among many in our newscast today, but where you are in Afghanistan, is it "the" story?

PATON WALSH: It's beginning to get people's attention. We haven't seen the protests you've seen previously from other instance in which U.S. troops have been accused of misconduct, but, yes, it's been getting to get certainly traction in the political sphere.

People talking about it in those opinion-forming circles. The Taliban coming out very clearly calling it a barbaric video, saying the same language that the Presidential Palace used, calling it an inhuman act that reveals the real face of U.S. and NATO troops here to the world.

So, yes, people beginning to voice their fury and disgust here and certainly a concern that this could generate into something much worse at a time, really, when U.S. troops are looking to leave, not try and convince Afghans, again, that they're here for good - Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Nick, just real quickly here, the Uniform Code of Military Justice suggests hat that is just downright illegal and that could be serious problems for those actual Marines. Can you just quickly tell me if they've been able to find them? If they're in country with you or if it's going to be a much bigger project?

PATON WALSH: I mean, let's be clear about this. This is the early stage of their investigation. Off the record, you hear U.S. officials saying, yes, they have a good idea where this is, they're pretty sure it's Afghanistan.

BANFIELD: OK.

PATON WALSH: Their indications from the posting on the Internet that it may have happened in Northern Helmand. But at the end of the day, yes, these men are being looked for as we speak. There's a suggestion in the ISAF statement just released they may have left the country, but, still, early stages as of yet on the U.S. side - Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right. Way to scramble for us, Nick, thank you very much for that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And let's bring in Retired Army General Mark Kimmitt. He joins us, again, from Washington.

So the concern here, General, is that the folks, or the Americans that are on the ground there now and whether or not this is going to affect them because back in 2004 insurgents actually took responsibility for the beheading of Nick Burg and they said that that was in retaliation for what happened in Abu Ghraib.

So do you think that perhaps the Americans there are in trouble?

GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I don't think they're in trouble. I think that there probably will be an increase of violence attributed to this and used as an excuse, but I find it interesting that the Taliban who have been perpetrators of some of the most heinous crimes against civilians would become so sanctimonious on this issue.

It's inexcusable. It doesn't reflect the standards of the U.S. Military and it's wrong, but, nonetheless, I think it's important to keep this in context.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And when we talked about what happened in Abu Ghraib and the pictures that were taken of some of the prisoners there. There, you know, there were punishment. Seventeen soldiers and officers removed from duty between May, 2004 and March of 2006, certainly there is some training that happens with these Marines and these soldiers.

Could you - is everybody that gets that type of training and understands the consequences? KIMMITT: Listen, we don't necessarily have to get into the military to have this kind of training. We are trained from day one as citizens that you don't treat other citizens this way. But the military does specifically train the troops on what's proper conduct on the battlefield and what's improper conduct and there's just no justification for this kind of activity.

SAMBOLIN: And we were just talking about the fact that the desecration of a body by troops could be considered a war crime. What can you tell us about that?

KIMMITT: Well, it certainly will come under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There will be an investigation. The investigation will take as long as it needs to ascertain the facts and then I would expect that following that investigation there will be a prosecution. And there are many, many articles within the Uniform Code of Military Justice that this could fall under. Dereliction of duty, violation of numerous rules and regulations.

SAMBOLIN: And you are retired brigadier general from the U.S. Army. How did you feel when you saw this video?

KIMMITT: I felt very much the same way as when I saw those photographs for the first time in Abu Ghraib, absolute disgust and disappointment, because there's so many troops over there that are doing the right thing every day. The vast majority of them and they're all going to be broad brushed in general by the actions of few and it's unfortunate for the mission over there.

It's going to set our - not only our military efforts, but our diplomatic efforts back a bit and just in many ways I grieve for the troops on the ground that have to live with this as a cloud over their heads.

SAMBOLIN: All right. General Mark Kimmitt, thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate your perspective.

BANFIELD: Still to come on EARLY START, the case that just seems to get traction every five years, Joran van der Sloot, who was the prime suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, you might say he is getting what a lot of people said was coming to him.

He finally, well, smiling in a Peruvian Court, I don't know why. Admitted to murder and not just murder, a whole lot of other things. Not about Natalee, about a young Peruvian woman. Find out what's going to happen to him. Hear from Natalee's father and why there is a connection to something with Natalee just today, a day after he said, I did it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: It's very early. It's 6:29 on the East Coast. And if you're just waking up, we've got some top stories we give to you before you head out the door.

Mississippi's attorney general is trying to undo what the governor did on his way out the door. A temporary court injunction has now blocked the release of any more prisoners that were pardoned by Governor Haley Barbour during his final days in office. Some 200 of them, too. He approved full pardons for so many of these people, including 14 convicted murderers.

SAMBOLIN: A tragic anniversary in Haiti. Two years ago today, a devastating earthquake hit, killing 3,000 people, leaving 1.5 million people homeless there.

BANFIELD: And there are some signs of progress in Haiti, but they're pretty hard to see. We've been doing a lot of coverage here at CNN, particularly Anderson Cooper. Many of them are still living in makeshift camps but there are some bright starts. We'll continue to watch that as well.

You drink orange juice?

SAMBOLIN: I do drink orange juice.

BANFIELD: In the morning?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

The imports to the United States have been banned, halted, while the FDA tests all of the shipments of imported orange juice for traces of a fungicide. Traces of that chemical were found in orange juice imported from Brazil originally. And now they're saying, hang on, let's check all the orange juice before you drink it. But we were told earlier today by Christine Romans that the orange juice that is in your refrigerator right now is safe to drink.

BANFIELD: I just wonder how long it's going to take them for them to go through all that orange juice and whether that's going to make it really expensive.

SAMBOLIN: I'll tell you, it just confuses me that the ones that we have in our refrigerator are OK to drink.

BANFIELD: I know. How do we know that?

SAMBOLIN: I'm a little confuse by that.

BANFIELD: You need the home kit for testing.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

Get ready for Armageddon. Did you hear?

BANFIELD: No!

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it's coming. Candidates have arrived in South Carolina for the January 31st primary. It's getting a little ugly.

Candidates throwing millions into attack ads and they must slow down Romney or the race could be over.

In Chicago, we have conservative commentator Lenny McAllister, who's going to chime in there. From Washington, Democratic strategist Kiki McLean. And Shira Toeplitz, staff writer for "Roll Call".

Did I get your name right?

SHIRA TOEPLITZ, ROLL CALL: Yes, you did.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Wonderful.

So, Lenny, I want to start with you here. Gingrich has been releasing all sorts of ads against Romney. TV ads slamming Romney for changing his mind on abortion. Gingrich's super PAC airing clips of a documentary about Bain Capital.

And now, we have a web ad that shows Romney's verbal gaffes. Let's look and then let's talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We love the dog. It was where he was comfortable. We have five kids inside the car and my guess is, he liked it better in his kennel than he would have liked it inside.

Who let the dogs out? Who?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Were you squinting? That was a little tough to read there, Lenny.

Anyway, can Romney survive the onslaught?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: He can survive the onslaught, but what we're looking at are these polls where he's not as far ahead in the lead as he probably would like going into next weekend. Santorum's right on his heels and Gingrich is within striking distance. And now, the tables are being turned. Now, there are some super PAC money coming after Romney and reminding folks why didn't like Romney in 2008, reminding him why he did not run for re- election, if you will, in Massachusetts.

And if these super PAC ads are effective reminding folks of these negative things and the debates that are going to come up before the 21st do an eloquent job of people such as Gingrich and Santorum doing an eloquent job of hammering home these points, that lead is going to shrink. I really think this is the litmus test for Mitt Romney.

Let's forget about New Hampshire. Let's forget about Iowa. This is the litmus test for Mitt Romney. If he doesn't get out of South Carolina, his campaign is going to be on rocky road all over again.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I want to stay here with this onslaught of the negativity.

So, Shira, let's talk to you about that. South Carolina is known as a place where the gloves come off. So, let's look at some history here. In 2000, there were robocalls that said that McCain fathered a child out of wedlock. Back in 2008, there were negative Web sites against candidates in Christmas cards allegedly sent by Mitt Romney with controversial quotes from the "Book of Mormon".

What else is coming? And how is this going to affect the vote there? How do South Carolinians feel about all this negative campaigning?

TOEPLITZ: Well, I think in general when there's a lot of negative campaigning, it tends to suppress turnout. Voters become non-enthusiastic at all about any of the options and they decide to stay home instead. That's the general principle of politics.

I think if we continue to see the barrage of negative ads over the next nine days before the South Carolina primary, that's the kind of thing that we'll see on primary night and the results, turnout won't be as strong as it was maybe four years ago or eight years ago.

I think South Carolina is a really tough state to run. In many ways, it's a pivotal test for Romney because he has not been hit very hard yet. He got away unscathed in Iowa. New Hampshire obviously, a big win for him yet.

There hasn't been anyone really attacking him. He hasn't really passed that test yet. This state is going to serve as that test.

SAMBOLIN: So, Kiki, let's talk about that test --

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: -- because there are some really negative ads about Romney and Bain Capital. How do you think that is going to play out there in South Carolina?

MCLEAN: Well, it's a real problem. When you see what happened to sort of the outsourcing of jobs and the closing of industry in South Carolina over the last couple of decades and what kind of profile that builds for Mitt Romney, this isn't a problem just in a primary. If he is going to be the anointed nominee of the Republican Party, this is the soft underbelly of his candidacy in a general election. It's that profile.

This is what hurt him when he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy. Also, long ago, I happened to be on that campaign staff and watch that race up close. And that combined with what Shira raises, which is the sense of apathy. He's not bringing anyone new to the game, new voters aren't lining up to get involved because of him. What we see is apathy.

So, the negativity and the negative attacks on him, or Newt Gingrich's Armageddon, really becomes apathy and it builds on this continuing sense of apathy for him. You know, I was in New Hampshire, while he had a big night, no crowds in the streets, signs in the yard. There was a huge lack of energy.

We see it in the polling. We see it in social media when my Porter Novelli team looks at that online. We were talking about that for the last week because I think it's an interesting view of the window of what's going on.

So, it's just this apathetic sense of, well, maybe him.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Lenny, Shira and Kiki, thank you for joining us this morning.

TOEPLITZ: Thank you.

MCALLISTER: Thank you, Zoraida.

BANFIELD: And ahead on EARLY START, he is officially now a convicted killer and a nasty one at that. Joran van der Sloot saying I did it in Peru to a Peruvian young woman. But what does that have to do with our American Natalee Holloway? Where does that case stand?

SAMBOLIN: That smirk on his face is just remarkable, isn't it?

BANFIELD: And the judge even said so. You'll find out a lot more about what happened in that courtroom and what's happening in America with Natalee Holloway's story. Sunny Hostin is coming in next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Welcome back to EARLY START. Thirty-nine minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast.

And if you were following the Natalee Holloway case that started seven years ago, it might have come to somewhat of a conclusion yesterday with Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in Natalee's disappearance from the state of Alabama when she went on vacation to Aruba. He, sitting there kind of slouching and yawning actually through much of his appearance finally just decided to plead guilty, but not to Natalee's disappearance and murder -- to the murder of a Peruvian student named Stephany Flores.

It was all on videotape anyway. The decision, though, by the way, to plead could dramatically reduce his sentence.

Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JORAN VAN DER SLOOT, DEFENDANT: I want to give a sincere confession. I am truly regretful for what I have done. I feel very bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Do you, now? Because it doesn't really sound like you do, especially if you know what happened to Ms. Flores in that room. She was brutalized. It was a horrible, horrible murder.

Van der Sloot was the prime suspect in Holloway's disappearance, as well. Arrested a few times, but never charged.

And last night, Natalee Holloway's father spoke to HLN's Nancy Grace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE HOLLOWAY, FATHER OF MISSING TEEN, NATALEE HOLLOWAY (via telephone): It kind of surprised me that the defense attorney used our case in the death of his father to try to reduce his sentence in the Flores' family case. And the judge was able to stop it and not allow him to present that information. You know, he created all this, if he has any stress, created all this stress himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Not exactly sure what Van der Sloot was smiling about in that Peruvian court because this family, Natalee Holloway's family, has been devastated by all of this, not to mention Flores family in Peru.

And when we talk about Natalee, something could be happening today. The timing is bizarre, but it could be particularly poignant for her family. A judge in Alabama could declare Natalee Holloway officially dead.

I know that sounds odd, but there are some reasons for it.

Our Sunny Hostin is CNN legal analyst and a contributor at truTV's "In Session." I get chills when I talk about this because what that family, the Holloway family has gone through, notwithstanding the Peruvian family that has been destroyed as well, the Holloway family for seven years has no answers.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They have no answers. He's the prime suspect and has always been. He was the last person who had been seen with her. He claims he left her drunk on a beach, body never found. And I think that's probably every parent's nightmare.

BANFIELD: So, I actually sort of thought that perfunctory thing about certain number of years that you're missing, you are declared dead. But you have to fight for this and Dave Holloway kind of did. I mean, he put in the application to have Natalee declared legally dead in Alabama.

HOSTIN: That's right. And we knew that her mother, Beth Twitty, fought that and she's obviously now come to peace with it and come to terms with it and she is contesting this hearing that's going to happen today, on Thursday.

But apparently, one of the reasons is because they have this sort of scholarship money that they want to used that was earmarked for Natalee, but they want to use it for one of their other children. And so, that makes sense and I believe there's also some sort of health insurance issue, as well.

But I think -- of course, you know, we're talking about almost seven years of Natalee Holloway, you know, body never having been found. I think it's very difficult for the family, but, perhaps today, they'll get just a little bit of closure.

BANFIELD: A little bit of closure. Whatever that's worth. Closure.

SAMBOLIN: I know, but, it's tough, it's constantly being talked about, especially now, as Joran sits there and pleads guilty. I don't know, I'm watching this, it's the first time I saw him. I'm watching him and I'm thinking, I don't know, maybe somehow the family feels like, OK, he's admitted some guilt in something and maybe they could feel, that, yes, he's guilty of this one, as well. Maybe he never said it, but he is guilty.

HOSTIN: Perhaps some justice.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

HOSTIN: I'm not sure. We also know he's facing some charges here in the U.S. because he defrauded Natalee Holloway's mother --

BANFIELD: Allegedly.

HOSTIN: Allegedly.

BANFIELD: Allegedly, we have to say that.

HOSTIN: So, perhaps he'll meet that sort of justice here in the United States. But he's looking at almost 30 years.

BANFIELD: So, I'm glad that you said that, because 30 years -- a lot of people in the U.S. would say that was an aggravated killing. It was ugly and violent.

HOSTIN: Oh, it's horrible, violent.

BANFIELD: So, let's say he served a solid part of that 30 years. Can you keep these fraud charges alive in the U.S. so that if he does actually end up out in Peru -- oh, I don't know, in 20 or 30 years, they can extradite him and put him right back in American prison?

HOSTIN: Well, he's been indicted, so absolutely. But my understanding is the minute he gets sentenced, and he's supposed to be sentenced on Friday, authorities are going to try to bring him to the U.S. to face those charges. So, we probably won't have to wait the 30 years. I don't think any federal prosecutor is comfortable with that.

BANFIELD: You want him to serve in a Peruvian jail or you don't get those --

(CROSSTALK)

HOSTIN: I got to tell you, I haven't been to the Peruvian jail but I have seen footage of it. And, you know, they're making ceramics and they aren't real steel bars. I don't know. I almost feel more comfortable with him being here in the United States because I've seen those prisons and they're not that nice.

SAMBOLIN: How do you wrap your brain around that?

HOSTIN: Very difficult. But at least a sociopath in my view is going to be away from the general public, unable to harm any other young woman for a long time.

BANFIELD: Sunny Hostin, on the job --

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: -- thank you, appreciate it.

SAMBOLIN: Six-forty-four in the East. Now, still to come: a new study says women undergoing in vitro fertilization should receive no more than two embryos. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen on the potential health risk for the mom and the baby. You are watching EARLY START.

We are saying good morning to our friends and family in Atlanta. Forty-eight degrees. Little later today, showers and 59 degrees. They treated us really well when we go (ph) there with (INAUDIBLE) face.

BANFIELD: I love the people in Atlanta. Nice weather, too. I mean, rain, no biggie, but the temperatures were pretty mild, though Jacqui Jeras says it's going to get real cold this weekend.

SAMBOLIN: I'm just going to go blah, blah, blah, blah.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Ignore it. Enjoy now.

BANFIELD: Yes. Twelve minutes to 7:00. So, you might be getting ready for work, but not before you hear the top stories this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: A Mississippi judge is stepping into it all, guys, in controversial over those pardons that were issued by Governor Haley Barbour just as he was walking out of office. The judge has blocked the release of 21 prisoners who are not yet out of their prisons and jails. They got the pardon, but they may have an oopsy on their hands.

The state attorney general, at this point, may have to concede, though, that the law can't touch five particular inmates who were already freed, including four convicted murders. SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And a new outbreak of swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control report 12 people have been infected with a new strain of the virus. The swine flu cases have been reported in five states, so far, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

BANFIELD: And to our good friends in the Midwest, I am so sorry. Look at your weather. Heavy snow, blizzard conditions. Oh, really sort of stocks (ph) Iowa, but it's possibly going to dump about a foot of snow in Zoraida's beloved Chicago as well as Milwaukee and Detroit.

SAMBOLIN: I don't know that we can complain, though, because we haven't shoveled much this. We shoveled (ph) anything this year in Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, let's check in with Ms. Soledad O'Brien. She joins us now with a look at what is ahead on STARTING POINT. Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Hey, ladies, good morning to you. We're back in a diner. Even though I'm in New York, we're back in a diner. I'm never going to get into an actual studio. Your "Starting Point" for the day is roughly ten minutes away.

This morning, we're talking about jobs, keeping jobs here in the United States. The president held a meeting yesterday talking about in-sourcing, making stuff in America, keeping jobs here. This morning, we'll talk to a CEO who was in the room with the president yesterday and see what his take on that meeting was.

Plus, America apparently loves Tim Tebow. A-ha. And count myself among those people. He's been voted the favorite pro-athlete in the United States, but there are some people who say, they hate him. We're going to talk about both sides of that very important issue, the love of Tim Tebow, this morning.

Got a short break. "Starting Point" begins in roughly ten minutes. We're back right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

A new study warns against transferring more than two embryos during in-vitro fertilization because of possible health risks for mothers and the babies.

BANFIELD: Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is on the case. She's live in Atlanta with important details for us. Good morning, Elizabeth. It's good to see you. I have thoroughly flummox by this, because I've always known that, you know, the way in- vitro works can definitely lead to twins and triplets and all the rest.

And I've always known that sort of dangerous, but why are we just now hearing this in a study?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's because the Brits decided to take a look. They said, really, how many embryos do you need to transfer to get a baby, but not too many babies? If you transfer maybe just one embryo, you might not get a baby. You transfer 12 embryos into woman's uterus, you get octomom, and you definitely don't want that

So, what this study concludes is that no one should ever get more than two. That once you -- when you do three embryos, it doesn't help. It doesn't increase your chances of getting a healthy baby at the end. What it does do is it increases the chances of getting multiples which can put the mom's health at risk and also put the baby's health at risk.

So, what the Brits are saying is three doesn't help, so stick with one or two.

BANFIELD: Does age matter here?

COHEN: Age does matter. And so, let's take a look specifically at what they recommended, what they say -- you know, obviously, a younger woman is more likely to conceive. So, they say, never transfer -- two embryos is the limit for women 40 and older.

One embryo should be the limit for women 40 and under, but notice that this is a British IVF recommendations. You know, things are very different in this country.

BANFIELD: Well, and it's also very expensive. People who go through -- not to mention it's emotionally exhausting to go through the process. So, we might -- chances it could happen here in the United States and see limits to people who go through this process and they're told, sorry, you can only have one.

COHEN: Right. That's not going to happen. It's not going to happen in this country. In Britain, their medical system is completely different. Their medical culture is different. In Britain, they tell doctors what to do to a large degree. And so, they can say, they don't do more than two or don't do more than three.

In this country, those limits aren't going to happen, but doctors grapple with this issue everyday. If you transfer three or four embryos, you do increase the chance of having a healthy baby, you also increase the chances of twins or triplets, which really can hurt a woman and her babies.

BANFIELD: Oh, they also have their medicine paid for in Britain. So, that's also a different issue there.

COHEN: That's true.

SAMBOLIN: But it's really nice to have this information, Elizabeth, right, as you're making decisions, decide, you know, what's best for you.

COHEN: That's right. It's important. Speaking of information, if you go to CNN.com/empowerpatient, you can see an article that my colleague, Caitlin Hagan wrote, and it gives a lot of great information about how you make those decisions about how many embryos to transfer.

BANFIELD: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much. Good to see you this morning.

COHEN: Good to see you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 55 minutes past the hour. EARLY START right back after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Good morning to you, New Orleans. It looks beautiful there in your city. And, you know what, I hope you do well in your game with the Saints against the 49ers, even though I don't know a lot about football, I do know, I do know this. The Saints were pretty magical after hurricane Katrina.

So, I wish them the best. If I have to pick a team, I would definitely consider the Saints as one of them just because they rallied so much good love in that community after --

SAMBOLIN: I love them, but I also love the 49ers. I think I'm going to root for the 49ers.

BANFIELD: Well, they had that canceled quarterback several years ago. What's his name, the good-looking -- like I'm asking Pete. No, not Joe Montana. No. The other one. Steve young! That's it. Steve Young.

SAMBOLIN: I like Kyle Williams there.

BANFIELD: Look at you --

SAMBOLIN: Anwaya --

BANFIELD: Going all football on me.

SAMBOLIN: That's it for us on EARLY START, the news from A to Z.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Ms. Soledad O'Brien headed your way next.

BANFIELD: In a diner maybe, potentially, possibly?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. I'm in a diner once again. You know what, I've gained 15 pounds on this tour. No, I'm kidding about that. We are continuing our tour.