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NATO Chopper Crashes in Afghanistan; Gingrich Fired Up!; Taliban Says It Shot Down NATO Chopper; GOP Candidates Face-Off In S.C. Debate

Aired January 20, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Love that music. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It's 5:00 in the morning in the East.

And -- oh, what a night, shall we say.


BANFIELD: There's a lot to tell you about with regard to politics.

But we want to start with some breaking news in fact that's coming out Afghanistan. A helicopter like this, a Chinook, you've seen many of them, has apparently crashed. Six peace-keeping troops were aboard and have died. And the Taliban is claiming responsibility by sending a text message to CNN.

SAMBOLIN: And last night's debate. That was Ashleigh was referring to.

Newt Gingrich calls out the media, specifically John King, and he calls his ex-wife a liar. We're going to play all sorts of stuff for you this morning, get all sorts of answers and let people weigh in.

BANFIELD: Talk about political heat. Unbelievable stuff.

And, also, and the story we've been watching, the Italian cruise ship where the rescue operations have been on and off is teetering eight feet from an underwater ledge that could drop that ship 200 feet down. And rough weather is moving in, so this is a bad combination. The Italian authorities are trying to stop any kind of environmental disaster because of the fuel that's on board.

SAMBOLIN: And Anonymous strikes again. A notorious group is claiming responsibility for shutting down the Internet -- or actually some web sites. What could be the largest coordinated Internet attack that has ever been launched. Major agencies involved in.

BANFIELD: Sorry about that. I want to get you up to speed on the breaking news because we've been sort of working the phones through our international offices to get information on that helicopter crash.

The Taliban claiming responsibility to CNN for a downed NATO helicopter in Afghanistan. Six peacekeeping forces onboard were killed in this accident.

SAMBOLIN: So, it actually happened late yesterday in southern Afghanistan, in the province of Helmand.

This is what a Chinook helicopter looks like. Let me show that to you now.

We don't have that picture for you. We'll get that for you

NATO officials insist that no enemy presence -- there's a Chinook helicopter -- was in the area when that chopper crashed. The Taliban is claiming responsibility in that text message to CNN.

And this is the worst crash since last August which happened in eastern Afghanistan. Thirty soldiers were killed in that tragedy. The Taliban also took responsibility for that. Among those killed, 22 elite Navy SEAL commandos.

We have a live report headed your way at 5:30 Eastern Time.

BANFIELD: And a lot of other big news happening as well. What? Twenty-six hours to go until voting begins in South Carolina. And the presidential hopeful, Newt Gingrich, is surging in the polls. The pundits are crediting his performance during last night's GOP debate.

If you didn't see it, wow, wow. This was heat. And it all had to do with this. Marianne Gingrich was his second wife. She's in these pictures.

The opening question was to Newt Gingrich. It was about Marianne's interview on ABC where she claims Newt asked her for an open marriage with his mistress. And here is what his ex-wife, Marianne, told ABC.


MARIANNE GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S EX-WIFE: It started with a phone call at my mother's house and he asked for a divorce.

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: On the phone?

M. GINGRICH: On the phone. And he said, "I want a divorce." I said, "Is there somebody else?" And it was quiet. And I knew.

I found out during our conversations that it was occurring in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington. And he always called me at night. He would always end with, "I love you," while she was there listening.

ROSS: Right next to him?

M. GINGRICH: In my home. I said to him, "Newt, we've been married a long time." And he said, "Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do."

ROSS: What was he saying to you?

M. GINGRICH: Oh, he was asking to have an open marriage. And I refused.

ROSS: He wanted an open marriage?

M. GINGRICH: Yes, that I accept the fact that he has somebody else in his life.

ROSS: And you said?

M. GINGRICH: No, no. That is not a marriage.


BANFIELD: Well, this was grounds for some serious light and heat at the debate. Newt Gingrich flat out said what Marianne said was false. And then he went further and he took on the media and slammed the media for running with that interview.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT/MODERATOR: Your ex- wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with "The Washington Post" and this story is kind of viral on the Internet. In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.

Would you like to take some time to respond to that?



N. GINGRICH: I think -- I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.


KING: As you noted, Mr. Speaker, this story did not come from our network. As you know, it is the subject of the conversation on the campaign. I'm not -- I get your point -- I take your point --

N. GINGRICH: John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it.


N. GINGRICH: This story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican.


BANFIELD: Fascinating reaction from all of our political pundits after the debate.

Our senior political activist David Gergen who has seen a thing or two in politics called that a game changer for Newt Gingrich, saying that this could be the moment that helps Newt Gingrich take South Carolina tomorrow.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Speaker Gingrich got a standing ovation in this auditorium for saying it was basically a completely inappropriate question.

KING: And he also scored points in the Monday night debate by attacking Juan Williams' questions. I had the conversation with the speaker after -- look, you've moderated these debates. This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't. It is a story that is making the rounds in the campaign. Is it an issue? I'm happy came up in the last 48 hours in South Carolina. Of course not. Is it an issue that voters in the state are talking about today? Is it an issue that he several times before the debate talked about in a very calm manner?

ANDERSON: Right. It is. He talked about it today earlier in a much different manner.

But you knew -- I mean, how much of this was debate theatrics on his part? Did you know he was going to have that response?

KING: I knew he was going to challenge the question. I don't read minds. I don't want to make a judgment about the speaker's response. I've been covering politics for 25 years.

I understood if I asked the question he was not going to be happy with it and he was going to turn on me. I knew that coming in.

Again, you make the judgment call. Is it an issue in the debate? Might not be a great issue. It might not be an issue we want to talk about, but it is a debate.

Some of the other candidates are talking about it. Voters are talking about it in the states. It was my judgment, my decision and mine alone. If we're going to deal with it, let's deal it up front. Let's not try to sneak it into the middle of the debate somewhere. And people at home either agree with that or disagree with that. You make a decision, you ask a question.

And this is politics. This is politics. He's trying to promote himself, promote an agenda.

Of course, he's going to attack us. I don't take that personally. We had a nice conversation afterwards. I've had a long relationship with the speaker. We don't always get along, but I get how the business works.

COOPER: Panelists, what do you all think?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me just talk about this. And this is one of the most explicit moments we've seen in debate history.

COOPER: In debate history?

GERGEN: It was one of the harshest attacks we've had on the press that I can remember in a long, long time, very personal in the beginning.

And as a political matter, I think Gingrich saw a fast ball coming. And for this audience, he smacked it right out of the park. I think there's a reasonable chance, I was talking to people here tonight, that he can win South Carolina based on that answer.


BANFIELD: Smacked it out of the park. That's big time.

Here's what we can tell you. He's getting momentum. He's got it on his side going into the debate anyway, because the Policy Polling found numbers like these. Again, before the debate, these numbers came in. Thirty-five percent of likely Republican voters in South Carolina are backing Newt Gingrich, 29 percent are backing Mitt Romney, 15 percent come in both equally for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, we want to bring in our political panel: Shira Toeplitz, the politics writer for "Roll Call"; Erick Erickson, editor in chief of; and Maria Cardona, former senior advisor to Hillary Clinton.

Let's dive right in here. We got a lot to talk about. Erick, I'm going start with you.

That Gingrich explosion, it was really powerful stuff. We've just re-watched it. And you saw what our senior political analyst David Gergen said about the debate. That this could actually win him South Carolina.

Do you think it will?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know, we've got some bananas and apples and oranges over there on the table. I think that's the fruit platter Newt Gingrich sent over this morning to thank us for helping him win South Carolina.

Absolutely. That question, he did knock it out of the park. We knew it was coming. It had to answer it.

It was very interesting, after the debate, he went over to John King and thanked him for a great debate. Of course, he did. We just set him up nicely for tomorrow.

And, you know, the question had to be asked, I'm glad John asked it first because it would have otherwise over shadowed everything else in the debate. And it is this morning to a degree.

So, yes, this question won Newt Gingrich the South Carolina primary.

SAMBOLIN: So he was taking a lot of criticism -- John King, that is -- for asking that question first. You think that was a good idea? Get it off the plate?

ERICKSON: Oh, absolutely. Everyone was waiting for the question. Everyone knew it was coming. You might as well get it out of the way up front instead of being -- if he didn't ask it up front, CNN would be accused of dragging out the viewers until the very end in soap opera fashion.

It needed to be asked. Asked up front was the right place to ask it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Shira, let's go back to that poll. The new Public Policy poll that was released yesterday. Gingrich is ahead in that by six points. That does not reflect the debate performance. He already had the momentum.

Do you agree that Gingrich is going to take South Carolina? Or could?

SHIRA TOEPLITZ, ROLL CALL: I think -- well, I think he could, absolutely. There's no question about that. And this is a tracking poll, so we will get new numbers again in 24 hours that will reflect his debate performance.

I'm going to be particularly looking at the female voters of South Carolina when these poll results come out and you look at across that. I'll be in just to see whether or not they have a visceral reaction to Marianne Gingrich's statement, whether or not they view her as a bitter ex-wife or whether they view these accusations as relevant.

But after last night's debate performance, I think men/women in South Carolina, in general, are trending toward Newt's side.

SAMBOLIN: Well, what do you -- what do you make of that comment? That open marriage comment -- how do you think that's going to translate, particularly to that woman voter in South Carolina?

TOEPLITZ: I think some women will look at Marianne Gingrich sitting there, obviously still very emotional about this and maybe even relate a little bit, kind of understand, feel sorry for her. And if they have any kind of inkling of distrust of Newt Gingrich in their head already, I think it will grow because of this.

So, I think if they're already trending against Newt Gingrich, thinking about not voting for him, it probably just pushed him over the edge in that direction. I think people who like Newt Gingrich and that first comment last night just made them love him even more.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Maria, let's switch gears here. A moment the Democrats must have loved last night. John King asked Romney if he would follow in his father's example and release 12 years of his tax returns.

Let's listen to what he said and then we'll talk about it.


KING: When you release yours? Will you follow your father's example?



ROMNEY: You know, I don't know how many years I'll release. I'll take a look at what our documents are. And I'll release multiple years. I don't know how many years. And -- but I'll be happy to do that.


SAMBOLIN: I think it was "The Washington Post," Maria, that called that a flop on Romney's behalf. The tax issue has been dragging him down. Can he recover from that?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think if he would come out today or at least very soon to say that he's going to release not just this year's tax returns but multiple years before, he might be able to. But "The Washington Post" is right.

I think that this has been one of the weakest issues for him. And last night's debate performance on this particular question was awful. And he has not been able to come up with a good answer on this. And it is something that is going to continue to come up.

And the thing is that it's not enough for him, and, frankly, his father was the one who set the high bar -- it's not enough for him to release this year's returns. Why? Because, clearly, he knows that he was running for president. He could accommodate those returns to make sure that they don't -- that they don't reflect anything that's untoward. He needs to release multiple past years to ensure to voters that there is nothing there to hide.

The more that he hesitates on doing that, the more that it seems in voter's minds that there is something in Romney's investments, something within his billionaire status or almost billionaire status that there is something to hide there. And that is not good for Romney. The more he stretches it out, the worse it's going to be for him.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Maria, Shira, Erick, thank you for joining us this morning. We're going to talk to you again, so standby.

Somebody did release their taxes, right? Newt Gingrich?

BANFIELD: During the debate? I was wondering how long they might have been strategizing about that and actually deciding right off the debate and said, no, no, they're online. We just posted it, in fact.

Who better to talk to about taxes and all of those number crunching that finance lady. Poppy Harlow joins us now to talk about it.

Can I tell you something?


BANFIELD: I had no idea he made the kind of money he did.

HARLOW: Right.

BANFIELD: Or paid the amount of taxes.

HARLOW: Newt Gingrich paid a lot in taxes that your question about timing, very strategic in this one, coming upright after the first commercial break, right after the heat of the debate last night.

Let's talk about the money. Newt Gingrich, $3.1 million. That's how much -- almost $3.2 million he made in 2010. But look at his effective tax rate, almost 32 percent. He paid nearly a million bucks in taxes.

So, how does that stack up against other millionaires? It's more, folks. The average for millionaires between $2 million and $5 million a year paid 26 percent in taxes.

And also, understand this, we have to compare this to Romney who has said -- we don't know -- but he has said his effective tax rate is about 15 percent. Well, look at that, 80 percent of Americans, according to the Tax Policy Center, pay an effective tax rate of under 15 percent.

More than 14 million Americans don't pay any federal income tax. So you look at this, this bodes well for Newt Gingrich on the front if you're going to compare taxes to taxes here.

Again, we don't have Romney's forms. He says he's going to release in April. So we don't have the numbers to compare them to.

BANFIELD: You know, people will all say -- I'm guessing that people who are watching right now if they're awake enough are going to say you can do what you want with your taxes. You can make them look any way you want, right?

HARLOW: To an extent, absolutely. To an extent. It depends on what you choose to write off and it depends how much you make off of capital gains.

Let's look at how Newt Gingrich made his money and his deductions in 2010. He made about $2.5 million from his businesses. What are those businesses?

Interestingly, we found out something called Gingrich Productions where he and his wife issue all of their books, et cetera. He gets paid a lot for speaking and consulting, board of director fees, rental property, financial investments, stocks, bonds, et cetera.

Now, here's the thing -- Mitt Romney makes almost al of his money off of capital gains. Stocks, bonds, et cetera.

It is law in this country that the max that those can be taxed at is 15 percent. You may not like that. He may come under fire for that, but that is the law in this country. If he is making more off of his investments than Newt Gingrich is, he is going to pay a different tax rate.

I will say this, though, we should look at how much Romney paid in taxes, the full amount, not just a percent. He very well may have paid more money in taxes in 2010 than Newt Gingrich did.

BANFIELD: I would venture to say with $200 million to his name, he very well may have.

SAMBOLIN: Two very different scenes. Thank you very much, Poppy.


SAMBOLIN: All right. So, we want to bring our political panel back in.

We have Shira Toeplitz, the political politics writer for "Roll Call"; Erick Erickson, editor in chief of; and Maria Cardona, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.

So we've talked about a lot of things. Fidelity is here, we're talking about tax codes trying to break it all down.

But I do -- I do want you all to chime in a little bit on this comparison between the taxes. We haven't yet seen Romney's, but there's a lot of speculation about, you know, what we are going to see. How do you think that is going to weigh, that comparison?

Let's start with you, Erick.

ERICKSON: You know, I don't know how the comparison is going to play, frankly. It depends on what Mitt Romney's taxes say. The worst thing for Mitt Romney is the two little words that have been banded about this week regarding Mitt Romney's finances, and those are Cayman Islands. You know, he's got an account in the Cayman Islands.

People scratch their head over that. They're used to the John Grisham novels where the bad guys have accounts to the Cayman Islands.

He's paid his taxes on it. There's nothing illegal about it. But it's kind of hard to run a man of the people, Main Street campaign when you've got a Cayman Islands bank account. He's going to have to be able to overcome that.

And as Maria said, he's having a real hard time talking about these issues.

Just from a historic perspective, for just one minute, his father set the modern trend for releasing tax returns. It's going to be striking if his son doesn't follow the man who started the trend of presidential candidates releasing income taxes.

SAMBOLIN: Shira, can you chime in on that?

TOEPLITZ: Yes, I think especially because Romney has extolled his father as one of this great political influences. This is a guy who's talked about his dad, former governor of Michigan, a lot on the campaign trail.

Look, by not releasing his tax forms right now, he's doing a disservice to Republican primary voters. He talked last night about only wanting to release them in one fell swoop. Multiple however many that is in April, so general election voters can have their turn and Democrats can take their turn attacking them.

But what about Republican voters -- don't they deserve to see how much he's made and how many taxes he's paid? Especially because he's running for an office that has a heavy influence over tax reform itself.

I personally think he'd be better off strategically just to release them sooner than later. Especially if the only thing that's going to be shown on them, and maybe this isn't the case, but most likely, the only thing we're going to see is that he's a really rich guy. And that's not news.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Maria, I'm going to let you chime in here for a moment. We've got to go.

CARDONA: So I think what it's going to continue, again, underscore in voter's minds, and he said this already, is that if he pays at the 15 percent tax rate, that is going to basically say to voters, oh my God, he's a zillionaire and he pays less taxes than me. That is not an image that you want going into an election where lower middle income blue collar voters are going to be the ones who's vote you need to win.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Standby, we're going to continue talking to you all morning long. And we're not leaving the story for long.

Coming up at 7:00 a.m. Eastern hour, on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien, she is going to sit down with former presidential candidate Herman Cain and get his reaction to last night's debate.

BANFIELD: And make sure you stick around with us here at CNN tomorrow night for our coverage -- 7:00 Eastern, it starts live coverage of the South Carolina primary. And you can bet it's going to be exciting.

SAMBAOLIN: It's 19 minutes past the hour.

Still ahead on EARLY START: new video inside the Italian cruise ship disaster. It was shot right after that ship went aground. It was like a scene from the Titanic. Look at that.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Hi, everybody. Welcome back. It's 22 minutes past 5:00 o'clock.

Some critical new developments this morning with that Italian cruise ship disaster that we've been on almost for a week now. We've got a live picture of the Costa Concordia because it is daylight now in Italy. It kind of looks the same, doesn't it?

However, the search is suspended again because that ship is shifting. And the weather that's coming is not good. Seas are turning rough and the authorities now are really worried about an impending environmental disaster.

Don't forget -- that ship was three hours into its cruise, so it was full of fuel. And right now, it is sitting in about 60 feet of water.

But take a look at that picture. That's really what's going on under water, folks.

SAMBOLIN: It's a great way to explain, Ashleigh, right?

BANFIELD: It is freakish, isn't it?


BANFIELD: So it's kind of just teetering strangely on that reverse mountain. And if it shifts to the right eight feet, if the seas start shifting it to the right, it's a 200 foot drop off. And guess what that means? Yes, it goes down and it's deep water. But the gas tanks that are on board can only withstand the pressure to 60 feet, where it's sitting now. That means if it goes down 200 feet, implosion.


BANFIELD: And there's 500,000 gallons of fuel that could spill into this pristine area.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And there's real concern for mammal life in that area as well, environmental disaster.

So, we have another big development this morning. A mystery woman emerges. Twenty-five-year-old Dominica Cemortan -- I'm not sure how you pronounce her name. She admits having dinner with the captain right before the ship ran aground.

So, Barbie Nadeau, on the line from Giglio Island in Italy, what can you tell us about this latest development? What is this woman saying?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, this really has sort of eclipsed the story in a lot of different ways. We've got the mystery woman from Moldova who was dining with the captain just hours before the ship hit the rocks and went down. Investigators who are investigating this case identified her early on because with their initial interrogation, everyone on the bridge said, oh, there was a young woman, a blond, young woman. So they know the existence of her.

And then some of the press came up with some pictures of her. There was a good picture of her dining with the captain and (INAUDIBLE), those pictures in all of the Italian press.

Now they've identified her. She gave an interview Tuesday on TV in Moldova. And she said the captain was a hero and that he handled everything beautifully and he was -- you know, she was speaking highly of him.

But as investigators look into her -- into why she was there, she wasn't originally on the passenger list. That's one of the things that is obviously a big question. Why was she there? She's not an authorized person up on the bridge. It doesn't make sense.

But she -- it has emerged -- Costa, the cruise line company, says she used to work as a hostess on the ship. She had security clearance, et cetera. But she wasn't on the passenger list, originally, and there was no cabin under her name.

So the controversy is still swirling around. Costa officials now are saying oh, yes, in fact she was on the passenger list. So maybe they've corrected their passenger list that she was there. But investigators are wondering why she's there and what she knows.

BANFIELD: Barbie -- yes, and I'm wondering all the same things. But I'm also wondering about the timeline, because what she says does not fit with the timeline that was given out, essentially, with those transcriptions from the port authority. Because the port authority talks to the captain and he's off the ship, in his own words, he's off the ship. She -- in her interview is saying, oh, no, no, no, he never abandoned the ship with people on board.

So I'm just sort of perplexed about it.

NADEAU: That's right. And you know what? When she was doing an interview on TV in her home country. And when investigators talk to her, it will probably be a different line of questioning.

I think the prosecutor has not confirmed whether they will subpoena her and bring her back to Italy and question her. But it seems very likely. Her name is on the interrogation records right now. She's a known entity to the Italian investigators.

So, it would seem, and of course we don't know for sure, she'd be a likely person they'd want to talk to.

BANFIELD: Dominica Cemortan, is that the name that we're going to have to be on the radar now? My goodness.


NADEAU: Yes, that's right. That's right.

BANFIELD: Excellent, excellent work. Thanks very much.

We're just going to keep, you know, a tab on that to make sure we find any other developments that come out of Italy as it is a shifting story.

SAMBOLIN: And the rescue mission, as well. We're going to go back and check on that.

All right, still ahead, a possible change in the definition of autism. One expert says it could make the epidemic go away. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is following this incredibly important story for us. We will be back with that and much more.


BANFIELD: Thirty minutes past the hour. 5:30 in the east. Good to have you with us. Time to check the top stories of the morning.

SAMBOLIN: The Taliban is claiming responsibility for the crash of a NATO peace-keeping helicopter in Southern Afghanistan. The group says that it shot down the chopper, even though NATO officials say there was no enemy presence in the area when the crash occurred. Six members of the peace-keeping force on board that helicopter were killed.

BANFIELD: Also, the remaining four Republican candidates are back on the stump in South Carolina today after facing off in a real tough debate last night. The contenders clashing on everything, from immigration, to abortion, to conservative credentials, electability, and us, the media. Newt Gingrich claiming second wife's stories that he wanted an open marriage are lies.

SAMBOLIN: And four people associated with the popular media download site, Megaupload, were arrested. Anonymous bragged about the attack on Twitter. In the next hour, we'll hear from members of the group.

BANFIELD: And to that big story, six members of the NATO peace keeping force killed overnight when their helicopter Chinook crashed in Southern Afghanistan. And now, the Taliban conveniently claiming that it was responsible for that, but do we know it's true?

Nick Paton Walsh, our CNN correspondent, is live in Kabul and spends a lot of time there. I'm sure it's a big story there. What is the buzz? What do we know about this, first of all? Who was on board? What kind of troops? And is it true that CNN really got a text message from the Taliban?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's correct. The Taliban claim they shot this helicopter down. This is in Helman (INAUDIBLE) where there are a large number of U.S. marines active. I understand from one ISAF official that the initial reports suggest the dead on board were American. This helicopter, I understand, from ISAF official apparently experiencing mechanical issues and performing a hard landing.

ISAF very clear to contradict the Talibans claim that they shot this helicopter down. The Taliban, of course, regularly coming forward when helicopters here have technical issues and suggesting they shot it down trying to, I think, evoke the whole issue. When the soviets forces were here, they experience an awful lot of helicopter shot down massively hobbling (ph) their force there, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Well, but they also do have some credibility. It feels strange to even say that, but they do have some credibility in the August incident, which was one of the worst incidents -- well, it was the worst incident of the entire war, August 30th -- or rather august, and there were 30 American soldiers who were killed, including two navy seals.

That helicopter was shot down in Eastern Afghanistan. It was also a Chinook. And that was, as I recall, a Taliban responsibility, and it proved to be true, no?

WALSH: It does appear, of course, and that previous instant was down to a Taliban attack, although it's obviously still under investigation. This, I believe, wasn't a Chinook. It was a CH-53 helicopter regularly used by the U.S. marines, heavy load bearing around here.

Although, you know, it very hard really in an instance like this to work out as actually what happened because the ISAF witnesses, many of them are injured or dead. We're left with a situation where two sides and a propaganda war here in Afghanistan have very, very different takes on the situation, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: You know, when you talk about the Taliban, a lot of people in America just think it's sort of this rag tag, if I may use that word, you know, group of folks who just sort of fight out of caves, but the reality is, they're very, very strategic with very small arms. It's not as though they have a ton of RPGs, antiaircraft artillery. They can do this with small arms, can't they? WALSH: Well, that is what they claim, absolutely. And they do have a lot of soviet legacy machine guns, big machine guns, which can have a huge impact for helicopters (INAUDIBLE). This isn't really a very cohesive insurgency. It's not like a corporation, for example, where the CEO tells everybody what to do. The leadership is said to be in Pakistan and across the country.

There are small groups, often 20, 30 insurgents who fight on their own, have their own local problems around local allegiances. But a foreign part of this broader insurgents kind of has a political loyalty, too, (ph) but something like this, taking helicopters down, does require a degree of training and precision, hence, the reason why NATO says this is entirely mechanical issues this time around -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Nick Paton Walsh, you just invoking that name, Mullah Omar. It reminds everybody that he's still out there. We may have been able to track down Osama Bin Laden, but Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban 12 years on the run. Nick, thank you for all of that.

SAMBOLIN: I think it's remarkable that we received it in a text message.

BANFIELD: Tells you the day we live in, doesn't it?

SAMBOLIN: Yes. All right. It's 35 minutes passed the hour here.

Back in U.S. soil, crews battling a fast-moving wild fire near Reno, Nevada. One person is dead, 20 homes have been damaged. Take a look at that. At least 10,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. It's a 12-mile stretch of a major highway that they had to close there. No containment yet. The governor has declared a state of emergency there. We also have no idea how this started.

BANFIELD: Those winds.


Rob Marciano is joining us now with the weekend travel forecast. You have the forecast in that area, because it looks like the winds are kind of ripping in that area -- whipping, excuse me.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Guys, this is the second time this has happened in the last couple of months in advance of the storm, but this storm coming should at least bring them some rain, because this is where it came from. Check out some of the video coming out of Oregon.

The middle of valley near Salem in Albany, there's been some evacuations, even a couple of people have died because of the flooding there. So, a nasty, nasty event. On the radar, we go with rainfall heading across parts of San Francisco. And, finally, yes, potentially into Reno, eventually getting over this year as they desperately, desperately needed the rain. Another storm coming into the pacific northwest tonight and then another one behind that coming in on Sunday. So, rivers already swollen. Flooding is going to continue to be a huge, huge issue, especially in Western Oregon.

All right. Look at the snowfall creeping into Chicago. We've got some coming your way throughout the day today during the rush hour. That's going to snag some traffic. Three to seven inches expected. It's kind of a quick mover, going to have a ton of moisture, but for this winter, you know, it's pretty substantial.

And then, it's going to head towards the northeast. Again, it's not going to be a full on northeaster, but it'll be a quick pulse of moisture tonight. Temperature, for the most part, cold enough for snow. Three to six inches in and around the Tri-State area of New York City expected tonight into tomorrow morning.

So, if you're traveling to Chicago, obviously, that's going to be a problem. San Francisco because of the rain, and in between, we'll see some chillier air. Twenty-three degrees in Chicago, 12 in Minneapolis, and 34 degrees in New York City. And yes, that's cold enough for snow.

BANFIELD: You know Zoraida is a Chicagoan, right? So, when you say if you're traveling through Chicago, watch for the delays, I feel like I hear that more than any other city.


SAMBOLIN: Oh, that's why, because it hits home over here.


SAMBOLIN: Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right, guys.

SAMBOLIN: I'm still removing snow at my house in Chicago.

BANFIELD: Are you?

SAMBOLIN: Isn't that crazy? Yes.

BANFIELD: That's not fair. That's not fair.


BANFIELD: Here is some really, really fascinating news that's coming out about a disease that has somewhat been plaguing parents. Why have so many kids been diagnosed with autism? And a new suggestion that maybe we're getting it wrong and have to change the guidelines. We're going to sort it all out for you in a moment.


BANFIELD: It is 40 minutes past five o'clock in the morning on the east coast, and we're getting an early read on some of that local news that ends up making national headlines, and we've got papers from Dallas. That's from (ph) North Carolina. Let's start in Dallas. It's one of my favorite places.


BANFIELD (voice-over): Rick Perry on his way home and the "Dallas Morning News" blazing the headline because he's dropped out of the race. Coming back to -- Listen, this guy is beloved.


BANFIELD (on-camera): This is the governor of Texas. So, I guess, everybody wants know what's next. Is he going to run again? Where is all of that money going to go? Where his supporters going to go? What went wrong? How did you do what you did --

SAMBOLIN: He has a lot of work to do as governor as well, right?

BANFIELD: Yes. A couple more years in his term. So, this will be a great story to watch in the future, and the pundits will have some of it as well, so we have to watch.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I love this story.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Kind of validates moms who choose day care. Kids enrolled in high quality daycare rip long-lasting benefits. It's a brand new study, and its highlight -- it was highlighted in a "News and Observer" in Raleigh, Durham.

The study actually began in 1972. I love studies like this, when they go over a long period of time. It followed over a hundred kids from birth until their 30s. Half were enrolls in quality early education programs, those kids were four times as likely to earn a college degree, also, more likely to hold steady employment.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): So, here's the deal. What's high-quality daycare, right? You have to define that.


SAMBOLIN: But the good news is because this worried me for low income families, perhaps, that they couldn't get high quality daycare, but we looked it up. And so, if you have your high-quality daycare in your particular state, they do have it for low-income families. You just have to do the research and look and make sure that it follows the degree of some standards.

BANFIELD: The greatest?

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Yes. So, you go and do your homework and make sure that it follows the standard. BANFIELD: So, I was mentioning to Zoraida after the beginning of the show, oh, good, so my guilt complex will be gone for a --


BANFIELD: No. A nanosecond, you get some reprieve from the mommy guilt.

SAMBOLIN: It's tough. It's a tough one.


SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.


SAMBOLIN: We love the music around here. It's catchy, right?


SAMBOLIN: It's 44 minutes passed the hour. Pete is our stage hand here. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The Taliban is claiming responsibility for the crash of a NATO peacekeeping helicopter in Southern Afghanistan. The group says that it shot down the chopper, even though NATO officials say there was no enemy presence in the area when that crash occurred. Six members of the peacekeeping force onboard that helicopter were killed.

BANFIELD (voice-over): We're also following all of the big news from overnight. If you went to sleep, you miss something huge. The 16th Republican presidential debate now one for the history books and maybe the record books, too. Fierce, fierce is a good word for it. The exchanges among the candidates, not amongst each other, but with the moderator.

Newt Gingrich slamming the media for reporting his ex-wife's claim that he wanted an open marriage. Mitt Romney also getting booed by people in the audience after he was challenged on whether he spit up those tax forms, your tax returns, a dozen year's worth like his father did when his father ran for president.

SAMBOLIN: Italian officials are trying to head off an environmental disaster this morning. The search for the victims inside the Costa Concordia cruise ship has been suspended again because the ship actually is shifting. The weather is turning really rough in that area, as well. And the ship is situated just eight feet from a rock ledge.

If it slips off of that ledge, it could plunge 200 feet down, maybe even more. And officials are fearing that that could cause the gas tanks to implode, sending half a million gallons of fuel into the sea. And if you remember, this accident happened right after they started sailing.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): So, they're full. Those fuel tanks are full.

BANFIELD (on-camera): A lot. Yes. A lot. And we're going to keep an eye on it, because again, as Zoraida mentioned, the weather's chancing, so the story could change at any moment. And talk about changes, huge.


BANFIELD Really significant changes if you are concerned about your kids and where they might fit on any kind of autism spectrum or any kind of developmental spectrum for that matter. The "New York Times" is saying that a panel of psychiatric experts is reassessing what the definition of autism is.

And, actually, proposing changes that would make the definition a lot more narrow, sort of take away some of the criteria in order to diagnose things like Asperger's and other things that are on the spectrum. If these, you know, things actually come into play, it could reduce the number of kids who are diagnosed with autism and those kinds of, like, issues.

And I don't have to tell you. In the recent years, last couple of decades, nobody could figure out why the numbers are so high.

SAMBOLIN: No, it's actually one in every one hundred children. So, many children with developmental problems could be denied health education and social services. This is what really concerns me. Senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is in Atlanta.

I'm having a real hard time with this, that they could change the definition of autism and then what happens to all of these kids who need these services? So, can you help explain this? We actually said it would go away. It doesn't really make the spectrum disorders go away.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Let's talk a little bit because, I think, people might think how can you change the definition of a medical disorder. And so, let's talk about the nature of autism. Autism is not like a broken arm. If you have a broken arm, you see it in an x-ray, it's a broken arm.

Autism, sometimes, is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder in this case would be the physician. So, sometimes, it's very clear when a child has autism. Other times, it can get mushier, and doctors might actually disagree and someone might say this child has autism where someone might say oh, you know what, this child has something, but I'm not really necessarily sure it would fit the definition of what I consider autism. So, the American Psychiatric Association is looking at what is the definition of autism. And if they narrow that definition, some of the kids who have more mild forms of autism, say Asperger's syndrome, might not be considered on the autism spectrum anymore. And, as you said, those kids might lose access to services because, relatively speaking, there are quite a few services out there for kids with autism.

Some people would say what we need to do is improve our services in general and give services to all kids who need it, who cares what their diagnosis is.

SAMBOLIN: How likely is it that this will pass, because parents would be in an uproar. Some of them move from one state to another in order to get services for their children.

COHEN: That's right. I think this is going to be politically extremely sensitive. And over the next year or so, as they consider changing this definition, if parents go up in arms, I have seen parents change things. I have seen parents put a stop to this kind of a movement.

And so, I think it will be really interesting over the next year to see if parents, you know, really make themselves clear. Hey, don't change the definition. I want my child to keep getting services.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Elizabeth Cowan, live in Atlanta for us. Thank you for clearing that up.

It is 49 minutes past the hour. When we come back, reaction to the GOP debate. Did you watch it? We have all the highlights for you. Did Gingrich actually score big? Can I call them highlights?

BANFIELD: They're highlights and low lights, depending on where you fall on the side of the debate, right?

SAMBOLIN: So, the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, Amy Kremer, is going to join us to talk about that. You're watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: Look how mad he looks. Wow! Did you see that?


BANFIELD: I think that music, the lights (ph), the mood at the CNN debate last night. (INAUDIBLE)

SAMBOLIN: Yes, but let's get back to politics here. The remaining four presidential candidates squared off in a critical debate ahead of tomorrow's primary in South Carolina. It was number 16 or 17?

BANFIELD: Sixteen.

SAMBOLIN: Sixteen. So, it's tough. Really tense at times. At the start, Gingrich came out swinging branding his wife a liar, suggesting he wanted an open marriage, also slammed the media for covering the allegations.

So, Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express joins us now from Charleston, South Carolina. Nice to see you this morning. So, I'm going to pull a John King moment, and I'm going to address the elephant in the room and we're going to start with that. So, his ex- wife, Gingrich's ex-wife, gave an interview. We're going to play a little bit of it, and then, and I want your response to it.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people who run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.



SAMBOLIN: Is it appalling? Or will he take South Carolina with that moment?

AMY KREMER, CHAIRMAN, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: You know, I mean, we're all human beings. None of us are perfect. And I think a lot of people put these candidates up on pedestals expecting them to be perfect, and we're simply not. But I'm not surprised Newt came out swinging.

You know, I don't know who watched the ABC piece last night. I didn't. I want to hear about what these candidates are going to do to create jobs to get Americans back to work, to create that environment to get Americans back to work. And, so, I think that's what's on American's minds right now.

And, you know, I could be wrong. And I didn't personally read it, but I think this stuff that came out in this interview last night, what came out in the "Esquire Magazine" article a year ago, so, you know, I think Americans are focused on the economy.

SAMBOLIN: Well, but, members of the Tea Party are known for being ultraconservative. So, these allegations are pretty strong from his ex-wife saying that he wanted an open marriage. How are voters, members of the Tea Party, going to respond today? You don't think it will have an effect?

KREMER: Look, the thing about a Tea Party movement is we're focused on the fiscal issues. That is getting the economy turned around. That's fiscal responsibility, you know, free market and limited government. That's what we're focused on. We're not focused on the social issues. We're not focused on foreign policy.

So, at the end of the day, when people cast their votes, you know, as individuals, we have to decide what's important. And I think most people are focused on, as I said, who is going to create that environment to put Americans back to work and to turn this economy around because we are literally on a cliff about to go over.

I, personally, never thought in my lifetime that the United States of America would be on the verge of bankruptcy, and that's where we are. And, so, even with the social conservatives, I think that's what's on their mind right now. And I think that's what they're focused on.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Let's switch gears here a little bit. I think it was yesterday that Herman Cain announced that he is going to drag the response to the "State of the Union" next week on behalf of the Tea Party, but we also know that the governor of Indiana has the official response from the Republican Party. How do you think that's going to be different?

KREMER: Well, you know, we did it last year. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann did the official Tea Party response from the "State of the Union." We did that last year. And, look, you know, people think that we're an arm of the Republican Party, and we're not. What we are focused on is fiscal responsibility. And there are people in the Republican Party that don't adhere to the principles that the Tea Party movement is based upon.

Herman Cain is one of those people that stand on the same principles and values that we do. We're really excited to have him doing this, delivering the official Tea Party response to the "State of the Union." I think he's going to do a fantastic job. He's a businessman. He knows what it's about. And so, we're really excited about this.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Amy Kremer, thanks for getting up nice and early with us this morning. We appreciate it.

KREMER: Thanks for having me.

SAMBOLIN: We're not leaving this story for long this morning, coming up at 7:00 a.m. eastern on "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien, she is going to sit down with Herman Cain and get his reaction to last night's debate.

And be sure to join us tomorrow night at 7:00 eastern for live coverage of the South Carolina primary.

BANFIELD: Sure to be a lot of action there. We also want to get you caught up on headlines as we go into break. There has been an accident or has there been something that wasn't an accident? The chopper went down in Afghanistan and six soldiers are dead. The Taliban says we did it, but did they? You're watching EARLY START.