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Severe Weather In The South; Super Bowl Sequel; Severe Storms Pound The South; Candidates Flocking To Florida; Cruise Ship May Have Unlisted Passengers; Gabrielle Giffords Steps Down; Rescue and Recovery Efforts Continue on Sunk Italian Cruise Ship; Hearing on Mississippi Pardons; New Tornado Warning for Alabama; Steven Tyler's Rendition Of National Anthem

Aired January 23, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you all. This is EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east. So let's get started here.

We have severe weather overnight in the south. Reports of tornadoes, power outages, storms are on the move. Rob Marciano is tracking all of that for us.

BANFIELD: And also the GOP hopefuls are Florida bound, if they're not there already. Mark my words, they're there already. It's only eight days to go until the primary. You know what can happen in just 24 hours. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney already attacking each other and it's getting ugly out there.

SAMBOLIN: Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords says that she will resign this week. She says she needs time to focus on her recovery.

BANFIELD: Also Super Bowl sequel, that's right, folks, Patriots once again against the Giants at this year's Super Bowl. So it should be a fun one. If you were watching football last night, it was a lot of fun.

SAMBOLIN: Nail biter.

BANFIELD: I hear that. I'm not a football fan, but I like to read up on this stuff. And it's looks like this is really creeping for everybody.

SAMBOLIN: I had my kid in the background. He stayed up way too late watching that game.

All right, up first this hour, breaking news, powerful winter storm. It's carving up the southeast. Take a look. It's packing powerful winds. Thousands are without power. BANFIELD: Tornado settings also in Arkansas. Look at the pictures. Just imagine if that's in the middle of your night and you're see that weather come through. Already reports of wide spread damage.

CNN is confirming there's heavy damage in areas north of Tuscaloosa. There is a report of a roof that's torn of a home. Several trees are down and a lot of power outages probably just beginning to hear about that as the storms continue to move east.

SAMBOLIN: Let's go right to Rob Marciano. He's tracking this really fast moving system. What can you tell us, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A couple of more tornado warnings, one particularly dangerous south of Birmingham and Perry County. Computers here in the weather center, a little bit iffy this morning, but I can tell you this, the cells just south of Birmingham certainly looks very strong.

That's in Perry County heading just to the east at 55 to 60 miles an hour. There are numerous tornado warnings out. I can tell you this. We have seen damage north of Tuscaloosa, north of Birmingham, a similar track to the tornados that rolled through there last spring.

Although, likely not as strong but likely injuries, certainly structural damage with this round of storms that is now east and north of Birmingham, but still showing a tornado signature. This red watch box shows a tornado watch in effect until at least 10:00 Central Time.

There's a little bit more stable in Georgia so it might weaken by the time it gets to Georgia. But until then, it's very dangerous and through Alabama with a potent storm. Right now, I'm counting three cells in particular, one south of Birmingham, and one northeast of Birmingham, especially all moving to the east at 55 to 60 miles an hour.

We're getting reports of emergency crews being released and sent out for areas just north of Birmingham, Oak Grove specifically. A subdivision there, particularly hard hit. Again, it's still dark out.

That makes it one dangerous with the storms rolling across the south and, two, difficult to assess the situation in and around the Birmingham area. Obviously this entire system is moving off.

I should also point out we had freezing rain north of the New York City area and tri-state area there so slick travel this morning. Be careful on both of those. We'll keep you posted if you go out. Guys?

BANFIELD: All right, thank you, Rob Marciano for that. We'll continue to touch base on a few on those stories there.

Also, this story, like sun started snowbirds, Republican candidates heading to Florida, flocking there actually, eight days until the primary gets underway in that state. Mitt Romney's already there. You know the commercials are already there.

I'm sorry, Florida, if you're getting battered by it. Mitt, by the way, is promising to release those tax returns tomorrow. It's such a thorn in his side in debates and elsewhere. He's admitting the issue actually might have cost him South Carolina.

I'm sure there might have been some arguments about that as well because Newt Gingrich would say otherwise, maybe his strong debate performance. He also is arriving in the sunshine state today.

A lot of people to talk through this. Washington's Penny Nance is the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, from Austin, Texas, Democratic political consultant, Ed Espinoza and Shira Toeplitz, in Washington, politics writer for "Roll Call."

Let's get right to it. I hate saying it's getting ugly out there, but the truth is it's getting uglier. Already Mitt Romney is looking like he's meeting the jugular attack.

Look what he's saying right now when it comes to Newt Gingrich's background and that pesky little ethics investigation he was sanctioned for. Have a listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He was a leader for four years as speaker of the House. And at the end of four years, it was proven that he was a failed leader and he had to resign in disgrace.


BANFIELD: Ouch. That's nasty. But, you know what, this is something that Newt Gingrich had to know was coming. It's not like this hasn't been a very public affair for Newt Gingrich, as affairs.

And I would like to know what you think about Florida particularly because you're with the Concerned Women for America. Are they going to start chalking up all of these things, the affairs, the other women, that issue, and now the ethics issue getting lumped on to that?

PENNY NANCE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: Well, we said all along, character counts. It is an important issue to discuss. Apparently in South Carolina, they like the bad boy down there and went for Newt Gingrich.

But I think Mitt Romney is going to have a tough time in Florida. He does well with seniors, but we were talking about the Latino vote. Cuban-Americans tend to be very conservative. They don't to be social conservatives.

So I think that both Santorum and Newt Gingrich will do better with that constituency. Social conservative issues are going to still be in the forefront for Republican primary voters. I think that, again, both Santorum and Gingrich have a stronger story to tell than Romney does. So he's got more money.

We know that Rick Scott spent about $40 million to take that state. And it takes a lot of money markets, 10 media markets to compete, but this is a different world. It's a different campaign than we've ever seen before. I think anything can happen.

BANFIELD: Well, and we all know that some of those voting blocs that we're discussing, women, Evangelicals, et cetera, don't always vote as a block. A lot of people are really upset about money and the economy and Christine Romans talks about it all time.

How Florida is a state that's been harmered. The real estate market has been devastated. So it looks like Newt Gingrich is going there. Right out of the gate not only talking ethics, but he's also talking Freddie Mac.

And he's trying to link Newt Gingrich with Freddie Mac work and Freddie Mac he's blaming for all those whoas in Florida for people who has subprime mortgages and saw their housing prices fall. Is this a good strategy?

SHIRA TOEPLITZ, POLITICS WRITER, "ROLL CALL": I think it's the smart as they come in terms of Mitt Romney. What's interesting is to see Romney really go negative on Newt Gingrich with words from his own mouth.

I think the Super PAC frankly did a lot of the dirty work in Iowa and the past surrogates have been really negative. But to see Mitt Romney who kind of has this squeaky clean image be so critical of Newt Gingrich with words out of his own mouth, he's gone on defense.

This is an effective argument. First of all, it cuts at the heart of Newt being a Washington insider. Obviously, Freddie Mac is a Washington Institution. We know it is here in Washington, D.C. up in northwest.

But also it's relevant for Florida voters, as you mentioned, there's a high foreclosure rate in the state. The real estate market was hit especially hard there. I think a lot of Florida voters are angry with Freddie Mac and the banks in general. They aren't going to like that.

BANFIELD: And they may be looking for that kind of scapegoat. We'll have to see how that's playing out in the campaign, for sure. Ed, since you're the Democrat on panel today, I want you to we weigh on this on whole unfavorability thing.

Because there's a poll that we have nationally that shows that Newt Gingrich comes in about 34 percent unfavorable. Ron Paul surprisingly topping at 38 percent, but look at the difference between Newt Gingrich, 34 percent and Mitt Romney's 19 percent.

It kind of makes me wonder what the Democrats are doing when all they do is go after Mitt Romney. Do you think they might change course seeing the momentum that Newt Gingrich has and start saving more of their attacks for that frontrunner now? ED ESPINOZA, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Over the course of this campaign, if we were to put our sights on every front-runner that's been in the Republican lead over the past eight months we would have -- Democrats would have shifted gears six or seven times if point is that Romney has been the perceived frontrunner throughout this crazy primary process.

And regardless of how poorly he may have done in South Carolina, he's still the frontrunner, he still has the money, he still has the organization to go the distance. But this race becomes very different right now.

Florida is a much different state. It's much more diverse state on the Republican side and we talked about Latinos last hour, 11 percent of the vote in Florida is Latino, 60 percent of that in Miami- Dade.

So really interesting to see how these guys can win over the community because Republican Party doesn't have a great record in terms of what they do and what they say with communicating with Latinos.

Florida is going to be a key place for that. Romney really has to overcome some hurdles not only with Latino community, but with the Republican Party base. He's going to continue to have this strength moving forward.

BANFIELD: And it's a bit of a sticky wick get moving forward because it's not that you can suggest that the Latino voters there have immigration on their minds because many of them are Americans.

They're Cuban-Americans or they're Puerto Rican. It's more complicated than we have time for in this conversation, folks. I got to cut it there. Thank you all. Thank you the three of you for hashing it out.

Also I want to let our viewers know that you should stay with us all morning for the best political coverage on TV, 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien.

Her panel of experts is going to breakdown how Newt Gingrich won South Carolina and what it's going to take to pull off on upset if he's going to so in Florida.

SAMBOLIN: It is 10 minutes past the hour. New questions are being raised this morning about whether there were more passengers on board that doomed cruise ship off the coast of Italy than originally was thought.

The authorities think the cruise liner had unregistered passengers on board. Pressure is also growing now to speed up the salvage and rescue operation. How long will that take and authorities are blasting new holes into the side of the ship.

The island's mayor is warning of an ecological time bomb. Death toll is rising. Body of a woman in a life vest was found yesterday. Nineteen people still missing. Two Americans amongst those numbers.

And Dan Rivers is live in Giglio, Italy. Let's start with those unaccounted for. Do we know how many people are unaccounted for who was not on the passenger list?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The simple answer is, no, we don't, Zoraida. It's really getting more confusing if anything, day by day because, as you mentioned, they're now raising the possibility that there may have been some unregistered passengers on this ship.

That's basically because they got a phone call from a young Hungarian woman who said she was on board. She called her parents saying that she was on board during this disaster. But there's no record of a Hungarian woman on the passenger list that fits her description.

So there is a concern that she may have been on board not officially on the passenger list, which raises the question could there have been others as well? So that's one thing.

In terms of the salvage operation, let me step out of the way so you can see what's going on right here. I don't know if you can see way out to sea, beyond the record, a whole load of boats and tubs standing by.

Now there's one ride at the back there, a blue hull and white top, that we believe, is one of the tankers standing by to pump the fuel off, the 2,000 tons of fuel. We still have been given no firm date or time as to when that will happen.

But we believe it's going to be probably, you know, fairly soon, in the next 24 hours. The question is whether they can do that at the same time it's continuing to search for the missing and for any potential survivors.

We've been hearing huge explosions again echoing across the island today. Seven explosions this morning as they continue to knock holes in the boat to open it up to get the divers in.

SAMBOLIN: Dan, we've got to let you go here in a minute. But if you can just tell us, has there been any movement on that ship? I know they were worried about that perhaps moving and sinking even deeper.

RIVERS: There have been little bits of movement overnight. That stopped the divers going in combined with the low visibility and so on. Not massive amounts, we're talking, you know, inches rather than feet.

But it does remain a concern that this boat is not particularly stable where it is. And as you mentioned, the mayor is describing it as an ecological time bomb.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Dan Rivers, live in Giglio, Italy for us. Thank you. BANFIELD: Time to talk business news now. U.S. closing markets mixed. The Dow up less than 1 percent. Nasdaq down just a little bit, nearly flat. S&P 500 almost a little bit flat, too.

SAMBOLIN: So let's bring in Christine Romans. What are you watching for us this morning, Lady?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oil prices this morning because we're expecting a formal announcement later this morning because that the E.U., the European Union is going to ban imports of Iranian oil because of all of this concern about Iran's nuclear program.

We've been telling you to closely watch this for some time and we are this morning. Here's how important Iranian oil is. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are the three largest exporters of oil in the world. So it is a huge player.

Trying to starve it out of the global market so that it will be a better actor, a better friend to the global community and not actually developing a nuclear weapons program. That's what folks are trying to do.

Iran exports 2.2 million barrels of oil every single day. That's 15 percent of its exports go to Europe. So this is a big deal. We're expecting that the European officials are going to phase it in over six months because they don't want to, boom, immediately starve themselves of that oil.

It's 9.3 percent of total world oil reserves. Why isn't the market reacting like crazy this morning? Because, you guys, Saudi Arabia is expected to step in and pump some more oil and fill in that hole.

Iran is likely -- I mean, the biggest customer is China so it has plenty of customers for its oil. But Europe's economy is growing pretty slowly right now, right? But Europe's economy is growing pretty slowly right now, right? So if there's ever been a time when they say we don't want your oil, Iran, it's now because it's not gobbling up --

BANFIELD: Isn't China suggesting it's not in need as of much oil.

ROMANS: China is much, slow growth China is 8.9 percent growing. If we're lucky the U.S. economy grew at three percent in the fourth quarter. So China is growing so quickly. It needs oil and Iran is a big customer.

BANFIELD: BlackBerry and iPhone person?

ROMANS: Both. I'm a BlackBerry Note. I was at the house without my BlackBerry for three hours.

BANFIELD: Did you hear "BlackBerrys"? Of course you have two.

ROMANS: I have one BlackBerry -- crack berry. The stock is up this morning, so if you're a stock owner in Research in Motion, BlackBerry owner, it's up. It's up a little bit because two cofounders stepped aside at the helm of that company after pressure from their board and from other folk as well. One of the guys actually a co-founder in 1994 got a loan from his parents to start this company.

SAMBOLIN: Adorable.

ROMANS: There is he apologizing last year. Remember that big outage they couldn't explain for a week?


ROMANS: People want the Google Android, people want the smart phone. They're growing bigger. Research in Motion still has huge corporate contracts but they faltered over the past year. You can see it in the stock and now these two guys stepping down. I think they stay on the board but there's a coo, insider at the company taking the helm. See if they can get this thing back on track.

BANFIELD: Will you please let me know what happens?

ROMANS: Why, because you can't live without it? So many of us. What other device has a nickname, "CrackBerry"? You look in Washington at a hearing, people in Washington have them, Wall Street, everybody. But a lot of companies are warming to smart phones for corporate uses, too. That's a big concern for Research in Motion.

BANFIELD: I can't type on iPhones. I can't. I don't know.

ROMANS: Get one.


ROMANS: Get one and you will see what happens.

BANFIELD: She's on me all the time for this. Thank you Christine Romans for that terrible news. I do love her though.


BANFIELD: It's 17 minutes past 6:00 in the east. That will be time to get out of bed if you're late. Also time to get your top stories. So here you are, breaking news this morning. Powerful, powerful storms, three of them throughout southern Louisiana, eastern Tennessee, tornado watches around warnings are in places across this region and already reports of damage and power outages overnight.

Amateur radio reporting, quote, "complete destruction in Jefferson County, Alabama."


SAMBOLIN: We could learn today when rescue workers will pump out fuel from the Costa Concordia cruise liner. Meantime, search teams discover a 13th victim. At least 19 people are still unaccounted for.

BANFIELD: And it's the New York Giants and the New England Patriots in the Super bowl less than two weeks from now. The Giants beat the 49ers in overtime Sunday if you missed it, and the Pats beat the Ravens to advance to the big game. It is a rematch of Super bowl 42 which the Giants won 17-14. I want to show you this quickly. It is very rare that the "New York Post" and the "New York Daily News" have the same headline, "Super!" They both did the same thing. "Super!" I love it. I don't know anything about football but it looked like a super headline.

SAMBOLIN: And still ahead here, Gabby Giffords is stepping down.

BANFIELD: She's going to make it official later on this week. And, also, we're watching Mississippi as well, because a judge there could rule on whether some pardons were legal. It's very unusual video we're showing you. That's Gabby Giffords. We're definitely talking both stories. I don't want to confuse you.

SAMBOLIN: There are the pardons.

BANFIELD: These are the four extraordinarily controversial pardons, four murders and a whole bunch of other dangerous folks, too. And a judge could say, not so fast. Back to jail. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: I want to bring you some pictures that have just come into our offices from affiliate WBRC in Birmingham, Alabama. This is a live picture, some of the first pictures of destruction in that area. Apparently there have been reports of damage to the north of town, south of town. And we're also hearing in Birmingham, Alabama, there are tornado warnings all around the city. So again, a live picture from our cameras there. You can see it's hard to make out what it is but you can certainly see it is brick and it is bad. And we're hearing a lot of damage in that area. So we'll keep you posted on that.

SAMBOLIN: I hope people were able to take cover.

BANFIELD: Or get in safe. Get into their underground safety areas.

SAMBOLIN: All right, it is 22 minutes past the hour. An emotional farewell for Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She suffered that near fatal gunshot wound just over a year ago. So a video message her website, Giffords announced she plans to resign from Congress to concentrate on her recovery.


GIFFORDS: I have more work to do on my recovery. So to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Today, in fact, Giffords will meet with some of the people who were at that tragic event in Tucson last year. Senior Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has been following Giffords' recovery, and she's join us from Atlanta. Elizabeth, how hard is it to recover from this kind of brain injury? Just a year ago we saw her taken out on a stretcher and now we hear her sounding great but how long before she makes a greater recovery?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know. It does feel so miraculous and such a blessing that she has done so well over the course of the year. I've been honored to speak with her doctors over the course of a year about her recovery. And what they have said pretty much all along is that the recovery from the cognitive aspects of the injury is going to be more difficult than the recovery from the physical.

And that video you see her walking with her husband. She is really moving quite well. But she has expressive aphasia, which means that she knows what she wants to say, she knows what she wants to get out, but sometimes it's hard to do that. It's hard to find the specific word. But over the course of the year she's went from not being able to speak at all to speaking in one-word sentences and in that video we hear her speaking in three or four-word sentences.

Now, for this kind of injury, the physical recovery is usually relatively complete at the one-year mark, but the cognitive improvements can go on and on for many years. We should expect to see her get even better and better.

SAMBOLIN: She says in that video also that she will return. And I read that her husband said, give her two years. Is that likely?

COHEN: You know, the doctors I've talked to said that that is absolutely possible. I mean, especially with a big chunk of time like two years. I actually spoke to a policeman who had a very similar injury from a bullet wound that she had. And he said that he made leaps and bounds from the one to the two-year mark, two to the three- year mark, that he continued to make improvements. Now, will her speech be what it was before? She was an incredible speaker. Perhaps not. Will she be able to give a speech? H her doctors thinks that is absolutely possible.

SAMBOLIN: Do you think anything about the specific type of recovery or the therapy rather that she has to go through?

COHEN: Typically in this situation you sit with a therapist for, let's say, an hour at a time three times a week, and they give you exercises to help you retrieve those words that you're having trouble with. And we know that she's using music. And that's also a very common thing to do. And then you are supposed to spend, you know, many hours a week on your own working on those exercises. That's kind of standard.

Now, we've been told all along that Gabby Giffords is an over- achiever. And my guess is she's spending more than three hours a week with a therapist. I don't know that for sure, but my guess is she's doing something much more intensive.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. She certainly seems like she's hyper focused on her recovery. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for joining us this morning.

BANFIELD: My friend Bob Woodruff at ABC had a terrible accident in Iraq.

SAMBOLIN: He's doing incredibly well.

BANFIELD: Phenomenal. He has A-team the same thing, he knows what he wants to say but he cannot.

SAMBOLIN: We had somebody here who worked as an intern with him and he would just be frozen to figure out what that world was. But they helped him slowly and his recovery has been miraculous.

BANFIELD: A remarkable guy.

Still ahead if you've been watching a story in Mississippi with the pardons, guess what. A hearing today may reverse what you saw after Haley Barbour granted so many pardons -- but it may not. We'll explain.

SAMBOLIN: And that cruise ship disaster, there are fears of an ecological time bomb. What are they going to do to remove that ship? You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Hey, everybody. Welcome back. It is 30 minutes past the hour. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Welcome back to EARLY START. We are very happy you're joining us this morning. It's time to check stories that are making news this morning.

A dangerous weather system making its way across the Southeast this morning. Reports of several tornados from Illinois to Alabama. CNN is confirming with the Tuscaloosa emergency management there that it has been heavy damage in areas north of Tuscaloosa. An amateur radio recording complete destruction, complete destruction in Jefferson County.

BANFIELD: And looking ahead this week, President Obama has planned for his third State of the Union Address. I know, if you're doing the matt math, should be four but that's the first one he did is technically just an address to Congress. This is number three, folks. And it happens tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Sources say the speech will be the president's blueprint for the economy. It's expected to focus on manufacturing, energy, education, and middle class values.

SAMBOLIN: And our Dan Rivers is reporting that we could learn within the next 24 hours when Italian officials hope to determine if they can begin pumping out half a million gallons of fuel from the capsized cruise ship. The mayor of the island where the cruise ran aground says the situation is now an ecological time bomb.

BANFIELD: Moving on to another big story.

The Mississippi story of pardons. The court there is going to review those controversial pardons that were made by the out-going Governor Haley Barbour. And at issue, whether they were done according to the letter of the law. Several of the people who were released were convicted murders.

State Senator Michael Watson is one of the legislators now looking to change the way pardons are granted in Mississippi. And he's on the phone from Pascagoula.

Senator, thanks so much for getting up early to talk about this with me. Let me just start off the bat by asking you something here.

As I understand it, this hearing today is all about the technicality, that issue where you have to post in the paper 30 days before you're released news that you're going to be released. Let the victims come in and maybe argue their case. And for some of these people, that wasn't done.

But it appears to me this is becoming a political football between the Republicans and the Democrats. It's Republican governor and it's a Democrat A.G. And some are accusing the other at least of not doing their job properly.

Am I'm not getting this right, that this is becoming very political?

MICHAEL WATSON, MISSISSIPPI STATE SENATE (via telephone): Well, unfortunately -- and good morning, thanks for having me. Unfortunately, I think you may be getting it correct. Obviously this notice issue is something that's stated in the constitution so we want to make sure that it happens but there are a few folks who have decided to take a shot maybe at the out-going governor because there's some bad blood there from years past. They just capitalize on an opportunity.

BANFIELD: All right. So, if that's the case, and if it was the A.G., Jim Hood, who took, as you call it, a shot against Haley Barbour, the A.G. is Democrat, and Haley Barbour is a Republican, it sounds like the shots are coming right back at the A.G. because there are accusations that it was the A.G.'s responsibility to actually post those warnings in the paper, those notices in the paper. And that the A.G. slipped up, screwed up, didn't do the posting.

Is that -- is that what I'm hearing now the issue is, that perhaps it's Republican lawmakers backing their former governor saying it's the Democrat A.G.'s fault?

WATSON: I don't think it's just Republican lawmakers. I think you look at the Constitution and understand exactly who was supposed to send out the notice. And end of the day, the judge will make a ruling and determine that was not correct or not.

BANFIELD: What do you think the judge should do in these cases?

WATSON: Well, again, if the letter of the law is followed, the judge obviously is going to make her ruling based on that. I think some of these folks, the question comes down to at this level of the newspaper, something just printed once a week -- you know, the question is, well, they printed every day for 30 days or was it once a week for a full weeks? You get a technicality like that, and it comes down, again, to the judge thinking whether it's enough. And if they didn't, we need to look at this.

BANFIELD: Well, the judge might have a couple of options. And one of those options, throw them right back in the slammer. Do you think that should happen?

WATSON: That's an option. And then for those folks who are violent criminals, maybe shouldn't have received a pardon in the first place, and I hope he does exercises that.

BANFIELD: And I know that you're one of the lawmakers that's drafting a bill to block violent offenders from getting involved in that whole trustee program at the governor's mansion to start with, which for many it seemed was the pathway to getting the pardon.

But I got to ask you this -- regardless of what happens today, regardless of whether the technicalities were broken in releasing these people, the pardons were signed and there were nearly 200 of them. And this is your former Governor Haley Barbour who is defending what he did.

And let me just play a quick piece of his interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" about how he defended his move.


GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, sure, we could have done it better because we had no idea that the reporting of it and particularly some of the misstatements by political opponents would let the public think we're letting 200 some people out of the penitentiary. We let 26 out of the penitentiary. And we should mention, half of them for health reasons.


BANFIELD: I have to say, Senator, for a lot of people, that's just going to sound like a real bad excuse because I don't care whether it's 26 or if it's two, they are killers -- one of them on the loose right now who they can't find.

My question to you, sir, if Haley Barbour says he will stump for you or endorse you if you decide to run again for politics, would you like that? Would you have him endorsed you?

WATSON: I would. Haley Barbour is one of the best governors of Mississippi. We have ever had and probably will ever have. And this is a decision that a lot of us are kind of scratching our heads and wondering, hey, what were you thinking?

But to have a decision like this on his record, you understand the guy still did a lot of good things for Mississippi.

BANFIELD: Would you want him to endorse you?

WATSON: You know, I think I would allow Haley to do that. I would obviously have an issue with his pardons and I disagree with several of them. And as we were going to correct that through our actions.

BANFIELD: Senator Watson, it's good of you to get up with us. And thanks for addressing these concerns head on with me. I appreciate it.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-six minutes past the hour here.

We have breaking news.

New tornado warnings have just been issued. Rob Marciano is tracking the latest developments.

Folks on Facebook are really worried about how fast these storms are moving.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. This time of year, when they do develop, they develop quickly and they move quickly, powered from a strong jet stream. As you mentioned, a new tornado warning now issued, this one south and east of Birmingham. And it's in Talladega and Shelby Counties and Clay County as well.

That's this cell right here. It is moving towards Talladega proper at about 50 miles an hour. And this other cell that's about to cross Interstate 65 near Clanton, this one has got a strong signature. It's had reports of doing some damage to the West.

So, two cells that likely are doing damage, this one for sure has a tornado on it. But it's a tornado that's rolled through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. Remember, we got reports of structural damage, in some cases, the subdivisions potentially wiped out, injuries reported in some areas and even some reports of people that are trapped in their homes.

So there's been some serious structural damage with these cells. That cell that moved through Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and off towards off and east, there it is right now. That has weakened somewhat. There is some stable air in Georgia.

So, as these move across the border, they should weaken. But these two storms in Talladega and this one down to the south towards Clanton, those are two dangerous storms moving rapidly to the east. And it is still dark in this area. So, folks who live in those areas obviously need to take cover now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Rob.

We're going to take quick break and we'll be right back.


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

We have a little segment called "Front Page Faces." And what we do is talk to the folks behind the stories that are making headlines.

This morning, we're remembering Joe Paterno. Paterno died Sunday from complications from lung cancer. He was 85 years old. And while we can question what national legacy he will leave, there is no doubt that State College community, that community adored him. Still does. Despite the scandal that ended his coaching career.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No matter what anybody else said, it wasn't Joe's fault. We're still going to love Joe Paterno forever and ever, period.


SAMBOLIN: And on the phone is Neil Rudel, the managing editor and face of the "Altoona Mirror Newspaper" in Pennsylvania -- and a Penn State grad, I understand. Is that correct?

NEIL RUDEL, ALTOONA MIRROR NEWSPAPER (via telephone): Yes, 1978.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So maybe you can talk about this outpouring of emotion. A lot of people are having a hard time wrapping their brain around this because of the Sandusky scandal. How do you reconcile that?

RUDEL: Well, I mean, clearly no one ever thought -- people were concerned that Joe's career would not end the way people liked to see legends end, carried off the field with a championship say, a number of years ago. No one ever saw anything like this coming.

So I think in a lot of ways it's a tragic end, not only to his life but to his career.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people, you know, knew that he had lung cancer but they're surprised that he died so quickly. Do you think that it was the additional stress that caused that to happen? Is the family saying anything?

RUDEL: The family hasn't confirmed beyond the lung cancer diagnosis around in early November, about nine days after he was fired. Everybody wondered what Joe was going to do with life after football.

I think his health had been really eroding for a couple years. You saw noticeable changes in his physical characteristics. I think he had been in the hospital a number of times before the lung cancer.

But there was no doubt that he didn't have anything else in his life. He always joked that, what do you want me to do, retire? What am I going to do, cut grass? He never wanted to face life without football.

He said as recently as five or six years ago that even going through difficult times, and losing seasons, that football keeps -- he didn't want to retire because he thought he might die. Football keeps him alive. He was afraid -- Bear Bryant only lived about a month after his last game.

So, there was always a question of what life without football would be for Joe.

SAMBOLIN: You know, a lot of people who attended the university and who live in the community talked about this man's character. But you know, he did an interview before he died. And I'm going to quote what he said here, as it related to the Sandusky scandal.

"I never heard of rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."

I know that he really wanted his legacy to be the work that he's done there. But how does this play out? You know? How is it that folks can reconcile this particular -- the fact that he diplomat do anything about the scandal?

RUDEL: Yes, he did tell his superiors. But clearly he didn't do enough. I mean, they all feel that way.

And I think it is telling that the day of that interview, he then went in the hospital where he lived another 10 weeks -- 10 days and died. So he obviously wanted to get that much out.

But I think he died clearly with so much regret. And I think that, you know, history will help -- you know, when this case proceeds, it will help, you know, further determine his ultimate legacy relative to that case.

But most of the people in central Pennsylvania feel that, despite that, the terrible case and the way his career ended, that his ultimate body of work will clearly overshadow and everything that he has meant to Penn State and to Penn State football and to the whole region.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Neil Rudel, managing editor and face of "The Altoona Mirror" newspaper in Pennsylvania. Thanks for being with us.

And at 7:00 a.m., Soledad talks to Bryan Scott, safety for the Buffalo Bills. He played for Penn State under Coach Paterno.

BANFIELD: And still to come on EARLY START, we're keeping an eye on some severe weather in the southeast part of the country. A couple of states are being hammered by winds and rain. Take a look at some of the first pictures of damage.

We're going to get you some info on Talladega. They're under a warning right now. Tuscaloosa had (ph) heavy damage. Look at that radar. Red, not good. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: I want to show you some radar photos right now with some severe weather that's marching across the southeast. You're looking at Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. And Alabama is getting hammered right now with terrible weather. We've got tornado warnings in effect for the next 25 minutes for folks who are in the area of Talladega. So, take cover.

Get to your shelter and make sure you have supplies on hand. Birmingham already got hit. We've got reports of wide spread damage in Tuscaloosa as well, and our Rob Marciano is hard at work, tracking all of this. He's going to have more for us on a complete forecast at the top of the hour.

SAMBOLIN: Very scary pictures there. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what's ahead on "Starting Point." Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey, guys. Good morning, too. You know, Tuscaloosa was hit so hard the last time. It was at back in April. What a mess. They still haven't cleaned up from that. We wish them the best of luck.

"Starting Point" is about 10 minutes away. With us this morning as we start heading to Florida, wrapping up South Carolina, we're going to talk to two of Newt Gingrich's biggest supporters, Rick Tyler is the senior adviser at one of Gingrich's PACs. Bob McEwen is a former Ohio congressman. We will also talk to Congressman Rooney who is backing Mitt Romney this morning.

Plus, David Frum will join us. He's run a piece in "Newsweek" that takes issue with last week's cover story that called President Obama's critics dumb. It was written by Andrew Sullivan. We'll ask him why he thinks Andrew Sullivan is wrong.

Then, the story of one Texas school district. They have decided the way to fix their failing school is to ban sports. We'll take a look at whether or not that's a good idea. That's all straight ahead this morning as "Starting Point" gets under way in just about ten minutes. We'll see you then.


SAMBOLIN: So, this is one of our producers' favorite stories in the newsroom this morning. Aerosmith front man and "American Idol" judge, Steven Tyler, is getting blasted for his rendition of the national anthem before yesterday's Patriots/Ravens game. Ashleigh is upset about this.

BANFIELD: I am upset.

SAMBOLIN: Tyler is from Boston.

BANFIELD: Was it bad enough to get him booted from his own show, this performance?

SAMBOLIN: They're saying screech, mangle, butcher. Those are some of the words used to describe his performance. You be the judge.


(SINGING) And the rockets red glare as bomb bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.


SAMBOLIN: It was the rockets red glare that got me. So, here's another reaction on Twitter. "Extremely disappointed. Tyler didn't call an audible and go with, dude looks like a brady (ph)."

BANFIELD: I read that.

SAMBOLIN: Tyler held for questioning and its death (ph). And Ashleigh, --

BANFIELD: This is all I got to say. The dude's a rocker. Give him a break. He's great. That's all I'm saying.

SAMBOLIN: Even there on the show? I got to tell you, that's tough to listen to in the morning, though.

BANFIELD: In the morning, sure, but this was nighttime. A lot of people were drinking.


BANFIELD: Dude looks like a rocker to me. And you know, Rick Ward (ph), our supervisor producer down in Atlanta, I think he agrees with me on this one. I know Michael Palkot (ph) does as well, another producer in the biz. And I know that one of our --

SAMBOLIN: You're on an island girl. You're on an island with very few people.

BANFIELD: Jay, one of our stage managers is going to be all over this, too. He loves Aerosmith. I still think it was good. I'm sorry.

SAMBOLIN: He's an "American Idol" judge.



BANFIELD: But you know what, have you ever tried to sing that line?


SAMBOLIN: I never would.

BANFIELD: I loved it. Tyler, I am with you, dude. I'm with you. It was great.

SAMBOLIN: It's about seven o'clock. You're watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: Thanks for being with us. Stick around.


BANFIELD: We're still deep in debate in the studio over Steven Tyler's rendition of "The National Anthem."

SAMBOLIN: Oh, we're not in debate.


BANFIELD: Yes, we are.


BANFIELD: I am not going to give up on this one.

Folk, it's great to have you here with us. Thanks so much for being with us through EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're very happy you're joining staying with us. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien is coming up next. Good morning to you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Hey, ladies. Good morning to both of you. Good morning, everybody.