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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

The Battle For Florida; Sparks Fly Over Immigration; Files Missing On Pardoned Killers; Gabrielle Giffords Resigns from Congress; World Economic Forum; Florida Housing Crisis; John Goodman: Oscar Bait?

Aired January 27, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

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

BANFIELD: It is final few days before the big showdown in Florida and the fireworks were on last night at the debate. CNN debate things got real heated. It is a very tight race. So which one of these four scored the knockout. We'll tell you.

SAMBOLIN: There is new outrage in Mississippi. The governor files for 10 pardoned criminals including the four murderers in there. Well, they have gone suddenly missing. How convenient, strange, or accidental? Not sure which.

BANFIELD: Or all of the above. And talk about being a top banana, John Goodman running the hot streak everybody.

SAMBOLIN: A kumquat.

BANFIELD: A top kumquat. You know, it's just Friday. It's the Friday word of the day, what do you know? He's in two movies that are nominated for best picture. How would you like to be in two movies nominated best picture? He's going to stop by and talk to us about that.

SAMBOLIN: He's actually in London.

Here's a video that you've got to see. A snowmobiler falls 120 feet at the ice games. We're showing it to you so you know that he's OK. Wait until you hear what he did right after that crash. EARLY START starts right now.

BANFIELD: I still can't breathe because it looks like he lands right on his head. Spoiler alert, he's OK otherwise we wouldn't be having this much fun.

All right, so up first, the GOP debate last night. How much fun can you have watching TV, folks? If you're watching that a lot, the fighting started from the get go.

Everything from immigration, Mexican border, moon colonies. It was CNN's big Florida debate last night. It's just four days to go before until they go to the polls and actually vote in that primary.

And you know what? These two are in dead even heat. So, right of the bat, they went at each other. Romney responding to Gingrich's claim that he is the most anti-immigration candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive.

Don't use a term like that. You can say we disagree on certain policies. But to say that enforcing the U.S. law to protect our borders, to welcome people here legally, to expand legal immigration as I approve that that is somehow anti-immigrant is simply the kind of over the top rhetoric that is characterized American politics too long.

I'm glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I'm glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it and I think recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labelling people with highly charged epitaphs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So live in Jacksonville, CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser. That was pretty rapid fire and you wrote to me, Romney had game.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, Romney definitely brought his game last night. Listen, Zoraida, he had a good debate on Monday, but this I think was maybe his strongest debate of all 19 maybe. I don't know that's that far to reach there.

And you know that? In the spin room afterwards, of course they're going to say great things about their candidate, but the Romney camp, the top advisers were really, really happy. Here's an interesting moment.

Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, our Wolf Blitzer, you know, "THE SITUATION ROOM." You've seen that show. Romney was able to respond pretty quickly. Yes, it was about this ad that during the immigration debate Romney didn't know anything about.

It was a Romney ad in which the Romney campaign calls Gingrich -- uses Gingrich language as calling maybe Spanish a ghetto language. Take a listen how it played out. Romney really responded well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": We just double- checked. It was one of your ads. It's running here in Florida, on the radio and at the end you say I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this ad, so it is here.

ROMNEY: Let me ask you a question. Let me -- let me ask the speaker a question. Did you say what the ad says or not, I don't know?

GINGRICH: It's taken totally out of context.

ROMNEY: He said it.

GINGRICH: No, I did not say it about Spanish. I said in general about all languages we are better for children to learn English in general, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: You know that could have been a tough moment for Romney, but he was able to turn the tables. Zoraida, you know, listen, Latinos, Hispanics so crucial here in Florida. About one out of every 10 Republican voters are Latinos and Hispanics. If it's a close contest, they could be the determining factor.

SAMBOLIN: You know, we talk about immigration a lot and whether or not that's really important issue. It's number six on the agenda for Latinos according to the Pew Hispanic Research.

But when you talk about the language and the language you speak at home, that maybe a bigger issue so we'll see how that plays out. We appreciate you having you there. Thank you so much.

At 7:00 a.m. Eastern, on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien, Republican Congressman David Rivera, the only Latino member of Congress in Florida who is endorsing Newt Gingrich.

Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lihtinen of Florida, foreign policy adviser to the Romney presidential campaign will join Soledad.

Join Wolf, Erin, Anderson, Candy and John for live coverage of the Florida primary Tuesday night at 6:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

BANFIELD: We're keeping a pretty close eye on this story out of Mississippi, the developments here now with those convicted killers who were pardoned by that state's Governor Haley Barbour on his way out of office.

Well, he may be out of office, but he may have still some more explaining to do about what is going on. The files on these four killers and a couple other ex-cons just happen to be missing now.

The state attorney general says they were supposed to be turned over by the governor's office, but they're not. Of course, this is an issue because the state A.G. wants to take this whole issue to task and maybe reverse all these decisions.

Our CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the phone now from Tupelo, Mississippi. All right, Ed, how important are these files to start with, and then I'll get you to weigh in on where the heck they are? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Right, what I think the state attorney general's office was hoping for is that there some sort of explanation or a smoking gun in there that might explain how these pardons came to be.

There are 10 files out of 203 files that they say were missing, weren't turned over when they were subpoenaed by the AG's office. The governor's office had filed in a brief in court we read the explanation was that these files included four of the murderers' files that these guys were the ones we've been focusing so much on, worked as trustees on the governor's mansion grounds.

The governor's office said, look, they weren't necessarily filed. There weren't any pardoned files that we kept on these guys and to quote the court filings, they were living files. These were people that they saw up close every day for a year and that spoke much more clearly and loudly than any pardon files.

BANFIELD: Let me go back and for the on that, Ed. They may go back and forth on whether there were or not files that existed on these pardons and on their behavior.

What could be in those files that could make a difference because the AG says he wants to fight these pardons, take it to court, may be find a loophole that they announced that they were being pardoned in the newspaper? Can't you just go ahead in that case without these files?

LAVANDERA: I think that's exactly watts going to end up happening here. This is all pointing towards next week when everyone ends up back to court in front of the judge who will decide whether or not these pardons will stand.

Everyone here fully expects and all this will eventually, regardless of which way the judge rules. All of this will somehow end up before the Supreme Court here in the state of Mississippi.

I think people here anticipating regardless of what's in his files, it's going to take several more weeks to resolve.

BANFIELD: So listen, normally these files contain things like letters of support. Things that would help parole officers decide on paroles or perhaps even pardons.

Back-up documents to tell us what kind of guy this is that we're about to let go. Is there some suggestion other than from the AG who is a Democratic, Haley Barbour is a Republican and they not get on.

Is there any suggestion that these files are missing because there might have been something might be in them to suggest that these people who were let go should never have been let go?

LAVANDERA: Exactly, some information that perhaps Haley Barbour went against the recommendations of the parole board. If there were files that said, look, under no circumstances should these guys have been pardoned. Obviously that would be -- and Haley Barbour had the right or the prerogative to do that if he wanted to. As former governor, the pardon power gives the governor the ability to do, but it would definitely be one of those situations that would leave even more people scratching their heads.

If Haley Barbour was told in these file or somewhere along the line, don't pardon these guys no matter what you do, be aware of that and Haley Barbour went against that, yes, that would be one of those situation where's people would look at it and continue to scratch their heads even more as to why he reached this decision.

BANFIELD: Or, Ed, could be one of those legacy breakers. Who is to say. Ed Lavandera, great work. Thanks very much for that from Mississippi. See you.

SAMBOLIN: It's 6:09 in the east. Still to come, Poppy Harlow talks to AOL CEO, Tim Armstrong. She is live at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

BANFIELD: Make no mistake. It's no vacation for her.

SAMBOLIN: Maybe she got a little skiing in, maybe.

BANFIELD: It may be beautiful, but she's hard at work breaking news for us. And you know who else is breaking news for us is our friend, Soledad O'Brien. She's talking to Mark Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords about Gabrielle's recovery and the possible return down the road to public service.

SAMBOLIN: But first, rob has the quick check of today's travel forecast. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. The severe weather from yesterday is rolling into Florida. No severe right now, but could be later on today. Some of the rains stretching into Tampa, Fort Myers maybe getting to the space coast as well and this is stretching up across the east coast into the northeast where some of it is turning into the wintry precip.

Northern New England could see a few inches of wet snow with some ice up there especially near the Canadian border, four to eight inches in parts. There's your storm number one getting out of here. Major cities stay warm.

Next system coming into Chicago. This one will have snow with it. It will bring some cold air for a couple of days until we warm up yet again. Speaking of warm or at least windy, temperatures are going to be a little bit warmer than normal.

But the winds are going to be kicking up across Southern California. Santa Anas the next several days. That's a quick check on weather. EARLY START is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Hi, everybody. Welcome back. It is 14 minutes past the hour here on EARLY START, which is a great time to get you caught up on your headlines this morning so here we go.

Republican candidates mixing it up, battling each other, facing off on all those sports analogies I can think of at this hour of the morning. It all went down to CNN debate last night, a Florida primary debate.

Two frontrunners really taking center stage and sucking up all of the air in that auditorium. The polls are showing that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat in the sunshine state. Boy, could you feel it in the air last night.

Also, big news. Freed hostages, American Jessica Buchanan and Danish citizen, Paul Fested, are now back at a military base in Sicily. They're undergoing something called a reintegration process. It's happening at an Italian hospital. That, of course, after they've been in captivity for three months. And we are so happy to be able too bring you that story.

Also another great story we brought you, the emotional week for Gabrielle Giffords. Remember watching her?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my gosh.

BANFIELD: She's resigning. I get goose bumps when I talk about her and what she's gone through.

She came to Capitol Hill to say good-bye to her friends and colleagues. This as she resigned her seat in Congress to focus on her recovery from that near-fatal gunshot wound and the assassination attack last year. And her husband there on the right. Retired astronaut, Mark Kelly, said that Gabby made the right decision. And he spoke with our Soledad O'Brien about Gabby's future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK KELLY, GABRIELLE GIFFORDS' HUSBAND: You know, her goal is to recover to the point where she can get back to public service.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: She wants to go back to elected office?

KELLY: Well, I don't know if it's going to be elected office, but you know -- you know, Gabby's mom and her sister, you know, at the time has told me that Gabby was born a public servant. Even as a kid, she wanted to help people. And I'm confident that she'll be helping people in some fashion some day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: You're going to see much more of Soledad's interview with Mark Kelly. It's coming up right after our program in the 8:00 hour on her program called "STARTING POINT." I read -- he said that she'll be back in two years. Just watch.

SAMBOLIN: Two years. BANFIELD: In two she will be back.

SAMBOLIN: I hope so.

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: It is 60 minutes past the hour. Titans of businesses, world leaders gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. CNN's Poppy Harlow going one-on-one with AOL's CEO Tim Armstrong.

Good morning to you, Poppy. Do we have a preview of that?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, as well. We do, we have him here live, Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL. And the reason we want to bring you him live is to get a real sense of what all these CEOs do on the ground here.

So, Tim, let's start with that. Why is it important to be here in Davos? What are you guys talking about here that's going to affect Americans at home?

TIM ARMSTRONG, AOL, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER: Sure. I think it's -- first of all, Davos is an important event because it's one chance you get all year to see people, global leaders, both government and business, not for profit leaders, and really get a sense of the global economy.

And I think the themes this year, which are really important, is I think the U.S. has had a, you know, slight recovery from where we were a couple of years ago. Europe is now facing that. And I -- it's very -- I think it's very concise way you can come here for a couple of days and really get a sense of how you think investments going forward, how you think about economy and jobs.

HARLOW: And we just had Tim Geithner speaking with Fareed Zakaria here. You came out of a meeting with Tim Geithner and a number of CEOs. What's interesting to me here is that relatively speaking the U.S. looks pretty darn good. We still have a massive jobs crisis but what is your read on the recovery in the U.S. and for everyone watching looking for jobs? What is this you're going to look like for them?

ARMSTRONG: Sure, so I think, you know, overall the global economy could grow 2 or 3 percent, which is great. And I think, you know, the U.S. is doing better. I think you have to be careful. You know, we'd love to be doing better than what we projected to do. So I think on the jobs standpoint, you're going to see the key industries where there is growth, probably a double-down on job creation and job growth.

HARLOW: Yes.

ARMSTRONG: And I think in the areas that have been hit hard in the economy there's probably going to be slower growth overall. HARLOW: Let's talk finally about reaction to the president's State of the Union. What we're hearing here the message from Tim Geithner. I think that there's some concern here that we don't have a clear economic strategy going forward. Is that the sense?

ARMSTRONG: Yes, I think, you know, CEOs are concerned that the United States needs a very clear economic policy and strategy. I think if you look at China and Russia and other big countries they tend to have a very clear economic strategy. I think we as CEOs here would like to see that.

HARLOW: Right.

ARMSTRONG: Number one. And then number two is, you know, we really want to see -- the government obviously needs to produce revenue and, you know, take down the cost structure. So I think really we're looking for a very clear pathway to understand where investments are going.

HARLOW: Sure.

ARMSTRONG: And how they're going.

HARLOW: Thank you, Tim. We're going to continue this conversation. You will be on "CNN MONEY."

But, guys, last point, why that is so important, the CEOs here tell me, if things don't change in the United States, we don't have a more clear economic strategy, we're going to take our business elsewhere. That means jobs going elsewhere, not in this country.

I'll throw it back to you guys in New York.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Poppy Harlow, live for us in Switzerland. You know, when I said that she had a preview, I had no idea that she --

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: She's fantastic.

BANFIELD: Thank you, poppy. Nice work as usual.

And this was the night to say, oh, snap, or, no, you didn't. Over and over and over again. These two frontrunners going at it at the CNN Republican debate last night. But did one of them win? And what about the other two? Did they make noise at all?

Gingrich and Romney have very different cures for the the housing crisis. Christine Romans is going to come back with us. She's going to break this all down.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin, along with Ashleigh Banfield. It is 6:22 in the East.

The housing crisis has hit American homeowners hard, especially in states like Florida. Up to half of the homes in the state are under water. They are worth less than the loans the homeowners took out on them.

BANFIELD: And that is not a good place to be for anybody who's in the housing market.

Our Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business" from Jacksonville today. She's down in Florida hanging with the Election Express, we like to say. But listen, let's talk about the housing crisis in Florida because the voters there and other swing states like Nevada are probably thinking that's up there among the top issues on their minds when they're thinking about who they want to elect, right?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, HOST, "YOUR BOTTOM LINE": Oh, yes. Absolutely. You look -- I mean you look at what's happened in this state. It went big in the housing boom and it went big in the housing crash. And this is something that every single person here is thinking about and talking about. There is not a conversation about the economy or politics in this state that does haven't to do with housing at the same time.

I want you to listen real quickly to somebody we talked to yesterday who is an attorney who represents people who are fighting foreclosure. He puts it in very stark terms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jacksonville is a beautiful vibrant city. And it is being attacked by a cancer from within. House by house. And what we see in these neighborhoods, established neighborhoods and new neighborhoods, you start to see vacant house, decaying lawns, you really lose a sense of community when your neighbors all of a sudden have gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: There's also an awful lot of anger at the banks, quite frankly, because people like him and others say they've been fighting and fighting with conflicting information from banks about, you know, how to get out of -- out of their mess.

I want to show you just what the foreclosures look like in the -- in this state. About half of all the homes are under water, meaning people owe more on the home than it's worth. And you look that there are one in every 360 homes in Florida last month got a foreclosure notice. I mean that's really remarkable when you think about how big that is.

I also want to show you how much the housing prices are down. Here in this area, they're down about 40 percent so here in Jacksonville down 40 percent, that translates to about $80,000 on the average home but it's worse in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. So you've got people who are really struggling here. And of course it mean -- it means, of course, that the tax -- a lot of the school funding, school funding has been tied to real estate transaction taxes so the schools scrambling for funding. So whether you're a parent or a homeowner or the neighbor of someone who's not paying their bills anymore, this is issue number one in Florida, guys.

BANFIELD: And that's -- you're right. I mean even if you're good on mortgage it means your guy next door is ruining the price of your home just from the comp sales. When they come through appraisals. It's a brutal story.

ROMANS: Yes.

BANFIELD: Christine, good job down there. Thank you for that.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: And ahead on EARLY START, potential new scandal in Mississippi. Critical pardon files suddenly missing from the governor's office.

BANFIELD: And then to do a total turn right there, this guy, John Goodman, he is a good man. He may be Walter from "The Big Lebowski" to you but he is big in two best picture nominated movies this year for the Oscars and he's going to join us live because you are here to watch it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It's 28 minutes past 6:00, which is an excellent time, just an excellent time to get you caught up on top stories, at least that's my Friday assessment of it all.

Let's talk BP, shall we? We haven't in a while. But they definitely lost another round in court. A federal judge has ruled that BP is responsible for all of the economic damages that were caused by that awful Deep Water Horizon big rig explosion back in 2010 in New Orleans.

You know, New Orleans is actually saying that BP could still actually have to deal with other issues as well but that Transocean, Transocean is the owner of the rig. It may have to deal with other civil penalties. So Transocean may not be off the hook completely, but for BP to hear they're responsible for all the economic damages is not a good thing.

You'll remember that it was more serious than just messy. There were 11 people who were killed.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: And it was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama wraps up his post-State of the Union tour today. That's happening in Michigan. The president will deliver a speech at the University of Michigan talking about his plans to keep college affordable. Americans now carry more tuition debt than credit card debt.

BANFIELD: And here is a strange one for you. In New York City, you've seen drug busts before, right? And look at all that coke. Here's the story behind this seizure. It was made at the U.N., the United Nations. Officials say the drugs were placed in a white bag in an attempt to try to disguise them as an official diplomatic shipment. You know those diplomatic pouches that don't get searched? Yes, not this time.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

BANFIELD: It raised suspicions because it was stamped with a logo. Apparently it was a really bad version of the U.N. logo. So if you're going to go to the trouble to get a white pouch to make it look like a diplomatic missions pouch, maybe get the stamp accurate or you're doing to get busted.

SAMBOLIN: Boy, that's incredible.

BANFIELD: That's something else?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is.

All right. Something else causing a lot of controversy, in just four days the Sunshine State could just decide the nominee for president. And right now, Romney and Gingrich in a dead heat.

We're going to break down the debate. Did anyone land a deciding blow there?

So, from Miami, we have Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist with "The Washington Post" writers group, and from Chicago, Lenny McAllister, conservative commentator.

Thanks for joining us, gentlemen.

All right. So, Lenny, I'm going to start with you. Lots of debate last night on immigration. Romney and Gingrich actually went after each other. So, let's listen and chat about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR (speaking Spanish): And Reagan definitely would have never offended us, Hispanics, as Gingrich did by saying that Spanish is the language of the ghetto. Now, searching for votes, Gingrich wants to change history, but the facts speak for themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Not really what we wanted to listen to there, Lenny. But we are talking about all of these ads, you know, these candidates going after each other, but probably one of the critical moments last night was Romney's moment, right, on the way that he attacked Gingrich. What did you make of that? Do you think he came out the winner?

LENNY MCALLISTER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He came out the winner with that for two big reasons. Number one, Newt Gingrich did not reply to that. He basically was thrown underneath the bus.

You've got to remember, this is a candidate that had issues about an ethics violation charge. So what did Romney do? He basically attacked his character and after all these ethics violations charges and reminders from 15 years ago coming out, now, Mitt Romney tying it in there effectively and Newt did not have a way to respond to that.

On top of that, Wolf's response in saying, Mr. Governor, was this actually your ad, Romney tried to separate himself and say, I don't know if that's my ad or not that threw Gingrich underneath the bus. If Wolf was able to come back and say, yes, that was your ad and Newt was able to tie into that sooner, it would not have been as much of a win for Romney as it was.

But truth of the matter was, the way it played out, Romney won the debate there and was able to carry the momentum from there. He may carry it until Tuesday.

And considering that Newt is not on the ballot in Virginia, he could take a huge lead between Virginia and Florida if he wins Tuesday night.

SAMBOLIN: Ruben, I want you to chime in here because earlier when you were talking to Ashleigh, you said that both of these candidates are out of touch with Latino voters. And you were speaking specifically to the debate on immigration. But when we look at that ad and we look at the fact that they're going back actually to a statement that Gingrich made about Spanish being a ghetto language, because that was -- there was a reference in there, do you think that that is going to resonate more with Latinos than the immigration issue?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, USA TODAY BOARD OF CONTRIBUTORS: Here's the back story on that. I wrote a column about that particular flap when Gingrich made those comments. He didn't say explicitly Spanish but it's clear from the context of the paragraph, Spanish was what he was talking about.

So, I think it was very ticklish moment for Mitt Romney because you see the problem here. Mitt Romney wanted to attack in Spanish Newt Gingrich for appearing to be anti-Hispanic by sort of slamming the Spanish language. Fine.

But in the audience, which is mostly made up of white conservative Republicans, they applauded Gingrich for that line. So it's really a tough stop for Romney to have it both ways. In Spanish, they want one message going after Gingrich for saying that it's important to learn English, but then having to defend it in an audience like that.

It points to the pickle that Republicans are in, having to, you know, give one message in one state to one group of voters, and then changing and pivoting when they get to another state and speak to another group of voters.

SAMBOLIN: What do you think the message is that would be clear too to Latino voters then?

NAVARRETTE: You know, message is very simple. You know, Latinos have been here for a long time. We're one in six Americans, 50 million people are Latino, the speak English and Spanish. They are part of the American fabric. The country is better for having them here.

People ought to come here legally. Illegal immigration can't be tolerated. But at the same time, stop putting like us and them and pitting one group against the other as if somehow my family having been here as long or longer than Mitt Romney's isn't a bunch of real Americans. We are and need to be incorporated into the system and the rhetoric needs to reflect that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Lenny, I want to talk about Santorum because, you know, we haven't talked about him a lot lately. He did pretty well in last night's debate. As a matter of fact, "Politico," I think, said Santorum's got game. Let's listen in and then chat about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the top-down model that both of these gentlemen say they're now against but they've been for and it does not provide the contrast we need with Barack Obama if we're going to take on that most important issue. We cannot give the issue of health care away in this election. It is too foundational for us to win this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Of course, he has little chance of winning Florida. It's a winner-take-all state. And I think he's at 18 percent in the polls.

Folks are wondering does he stay in, does he bow out. What do you think?

MCALLISTER: He absolutely stays in because he's not running to win Florida right now. He's running to win the "anybody but Romney" competition right now. It used to be Newt Gingrich.

We see the establishment absolutely coming out against Newt. Therefore, if Newt is forced to get out of this race, they're not going to have a late front-runner come in. They're not going to be able to pull in Mitch Daniels or somebody like that.

Why not acquiesce behind Rick Santorum? He's already won Iowa. He's already confronted Mitt Romney on stage extremely well in several debates. If it becomes a two-person race and Newt gets out, it's going to be Santorum and he would still be position well to possibly even get the nomination if that anybody but Romney vote, that 65 percent that's still undecided ends up getting closely behind Santorum. It's a good move by Rick Santorum in this standpoint.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Lenny and Ruben, thanks for joining us this morning.

MCALLISTER: Thanks a lot.

BANFIELD: Coming up, another big -- I caught you off, boys. Sorry.

Another big problem brewing in Mississippi about those pardoned killers. Their files, a lot of them, are missing. Including some incorporating this fellow and others who are pardoned criminals, ex- cons, killers.

We're going to talk to one of the victims of these killers next. He was injured by one of the killers. Probably got a lot to say about the politicking that's going on over these pardons.

Coming up on EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: There's one story that has a lot of people's blood boiling, the Mississippi pardons.

SAMBOLIN: They're going on for a while.

BANFIELD: Going on for a while. The killers are out there. They're free to go.

And they're trying to sort ring it all back and the A.G. in that state try to sort of get it all back into the tube, that's not going so well though because there's apparently a whole bunch of files that are missing on killers and ex-cons. Not a good thing when you're trying to actually fix the problem legally speaking.

One of the people who is a victim of one of these killers is Randy Walker. He was sitting on an couch with his friend when David Gatlin walked into the room and point-blank shot that friend dead as she held her baby and then tried to shoot him, too. Shot but didn't kill him.

And he joins us now live on the phone from Richland, Mississippi.

Can you hear me, Randy?

RANDY WALKER, VICTIM (via telephone): Yes. Good morning.

BANFIELD: I just heard that you were in the courtroom during a hearing on Monday when the A.G. and their team were trying to sort of fix this problem and assess whether these pardoned killers can actually be pardoned after all. And you faced David Gatlin in that room.

How was that?

WALKER: It was a little bit unnerving. It was the first time I had seen David in about 17 1/2 years. And he didn't make any eye contact with me. He just walked in straight ahead and went to the dependent's table.

BANFIELD: How are you doing knowing that he is a free man -- he and others of his ilk out there roaming the streets with y'all?

WALKER: Well, we're, you know, we're on high alert. Being very cautious. Watching everything we do, try not to gather in the same direction twice, just being as cautious as we possibly can.

BANFIELD: And then you hear that the former governor who is really at the root of all of this because he signed those pardons just on his way out of office. And had this to say about the killers in particular who were pardoned and what kind of people he thought they were before he signed their pardons.

Have a listen and I'll ask you about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: I've let my grandchildren play with these fine men. I've let them ride their tricycles out on the driveway with them watching out for them. I have no question in my mind that these five guys are not a threat to society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Randy, the governor says they're not a threat to society. Do you have something you want to say to the governor?

WALKER: Yes. I think -- I think he's wrong. The governor lives in Yazoo, Mississippi. I would like to see if he would let them play with his kids now while he's not heavily protected by the state troopers and all the security that there were at the mansion.

BANFIELD: Do you think there's something afoot with these missing files? Do you think there's something suspicious that some of these files are missing as they try to fix this problem or do you think it's just an accident?

WALKER: I definitely don't believe it's an accident. I believe it's malicious. I believe they're beginning a cover-up in some of this.

If I was going to try to hide that, I would get rid of the other 14 or 15 files as well to try to mislead some of the people looking for these files.

BANFIELD: Well, you know what, Randy? We're thinking about you and your recovery because it is never something you get over. And we wish you the best and all the other victims of many of these criminals as well. And we thank you for your time this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Tough story.

Forty-three minutes past the hour here. Time to check stories making news this morning.

Police in Roy, Utah, arresting two high school students who they say planned to set off bombs during a school assembly and make their get- away in a plane. One of the suspects was reportedly fascinated be with the Columbine killings. BANFIELD: Transocean, remember them? Apparently they don't have to pay any of the $40 billion in clean-up costs, and all those economic damages that were caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion back in 2010. Federal judge said, yes, that would be BP that needs to pay all of those costs. Transocean could still face civil costs, so they may not be out of the woods yet.

SAMBOLIN: The Super Bowl is just over a week away, but fans of the New York Giants and New England Patriots are having a hard time finding officially licensed team gear. A shift in suppliers from Nike to Reebok after 10 years has meant a shortage of team jerseys and a lot of other merchandise as well.

BANFIELD: Oh, I bet I know where you can get it -- China.

SAMBOLIN: They do all sorts of team gear.

BANFIELD: It looks real official.

Soledad O'Brien is coming up next, and she's going to join us right now with a look at what she's got on STARTING POINT.

Hi, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. Good morning.

OK. The day after the debate, we are talking about how it went, who were the winners and losers, and some of the issues that were brought to the forefront. We're going to talk this morning with actor and former senator, Fred Thompson. You know, he's backing Newt Gingrich. He is convinced that the former speaker can go all the way. We're going to ask him why he believes that.

Also, college costs seem to be spiraling out of control and, in fact, college is no longer affordable for many Americans. So this morning we'll talk to Education Secretary Arne Duncan about a proposal to revese that trend.

And we told you this story about the East Haven mayor and the tacos comment. We covered that a lot yesterday. Well, guess what, hundreds of tacos were delivered -- yes, there they are -- hundreds of tacos were delivered to the East Haven mayor and they've had -- they tell people, if you text us, we will deliver more tacos to the mayor. We'll tell you what's happening there and how he is responding to that this morning.

That and much more ahead as we begin at 7:00 a.m. on "Starting Point" in 10 minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to EARLY START. This guy is a familiar face on television and in the movies, in fact. John Goodman may be one of the most recognizable and most accomplished actors of our time. And it just so happens two of the movies that he is now in have both been nominated for a best picture Oscar. The remarkable black and white silent film "The Artist," and then, there is the emotional 9/11 drama, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Here's a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN GOODMAN, ACTOR: What do you need these for?

THOMAS HORN, ACTOR: A project on the census. Lie number four.

GOODMAN: Why aren't you in school?

HORN: They said I know too much already.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Well, Golden Globe winner, veteran of stage and screen, John Goodman joins us now live from London. Nice to see you.

GOODMAN: Nice to be seen. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: You know what? I got really excited this morning because, on my notes, it says you that were coming into the studio, and I thought, oh, my gosh, I get to meet him. And there you are in London for us this morning. So, it's nice to have you, but I'm still going to invite you over here to New York when you're in town to join us.

GOODMAN: Swell (ph).

SAMBOLIN: So, congratulations to you. Were you surprised when you heard the nominations?

GOODMAN: I was very pleased. I was working over here. And I think I looked it up on my iPad, and it was really nice. It was really -- yes, very pleased.

SAMBOLIN: I would think that your phone would have been ringing off the hook. Let's start with the film "The Artist." Almost entirely a silent film. And the last time there was a silent film nominated for an Oscar was 83 years ago. Why do you think --

GOODMAN: I was in that, too.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Seriously --

GOODMAN: I was one of the "Little Rascals."

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Yes. You know, why do you think it's touching so many people, John?

GOODMAN: I think it's just a basic story that works on many levels. It's a love story. It's -- the classic "a star is born," and it's also an indication of how very easily any of us can be replaced.

SAMBOLIN: What was it like being in a silent film?

GOODMAN: It was -- you know, it was wonderful. For one thing, we got to shoot in Hollywood, which is rare anymore. The whole thing, I think, was in old Hollywood in Los Angeles. And it was this great ensemble that they put together. I think we were 68 of us, and we had to improvise and pay very close attention to what we were doing.

And the show was very good with the actors. When I was improvising with Jean, he spoke no English at the time and I speak no French. So, we were really paying attention.

SAMBOLIN: Was that one of your greatest challenges in shooting the film?

GOODMAN: Well, it was offset by the fact that I didn't have to learn any lines.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: I would imagine that's an added bonus. So, let's switch gears here to your other movie here, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." You're a friend to the little boy in that film, the young kid who loses his dad in the September 11th attacks. Tell us about that relationship.

GOODMAN: He's -- I think he and everybody else in the building realizes that Oscar is a very special kid. And, they developed friendship in their own way. There was a really great connection with Thomas Horn who plays the child Oscar. He's really remarkable kid.

SAMBOLIN: Where were you during 9/11?

GOODMAN: I was in Sydney, Australia, doing a film. And someone said that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I lived in New York during the 1970s and 1980s and I remember thinking maybe it was one of those little Cessnas (ph) or something that flies up the Hudson. And then, CNN was on in a hotel room that they had across the street. And I remember just thinking first and foremost that the world has just changed.

SAMBOLIN: Did it affect your performance at all, do you think?

GOODMAN: Well, yes, it just reminder of what happened on that day and in watching the horror unfold on television and wondering what was next.

SAMBOLIN: You know, Ashleigh was sitting here, we were taking a look at your picture when you first popped up here, and she said, um, I wonder what he's working on. It looks like he has a look going there. What are you working on right now?

GOODMAN: It's a piece for the BBC. A series called "Dancing on the Edge." And I play a wealthy American industrialist, like 1931, 1932.

SAMBOLIN: You definitely look the part.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Listen --

GOODMAN: I look like Mr. Belvedere.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: No, you look like a Vanderbilt. You look like Anderson Cooper's grandfather. How about that?

(LAUGHTER)

GOODMAN: OK. Cool. Give me a book (ph).

SAMBOLIN: And what about "Monsters Inc." I hear something brewing there.

BANFIELD: Please. You know, the newsroom lit up, I have to tell you. They went ahh! It's one of my favorite movies.

GOODMAN: They lit up literally? Are they smoking?

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Not that kind of lighting up.

SAMBOLIN: That's Goodman for you, right?

(LAUGHTER)

GOODMAN: It's -- it's -- it's well. It's really well written, and funny and, man, is it a pleasure to work for Pixar. They're great people.

SAMBOLIN: All right. John Goodman, thank you for joining us. Live from London. We appreciate it.

GOODMAN: You bet. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: And good luck to you. Congratulations again.

It is 6:53 in the east. EARLY START will be back right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Aspen is not only beautiful at this time of year, but it is very, very exciting. That's for sure. And Rob Marciano has some video from the X games that will prove what I just had to say.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: From the X games, but --

SAMBOLIN: Scary.

MARCIANO: I want to talk about Sean White. I'm not sure this video we're about to show you it's from his practice run which is what happened yesterday. He actually got hurt, sprained his ankle.

BANFIELD: He did?

MARCIANO: Yes.

BANFIELD: I thought he got --

MARCIANO: Good gamesmanship. I think this is video from maybe the Olympic or last year's X games. Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Look at that.

MARCIANO: He's won 11 gold medals at the X games. He's going for a five peat on the super pipe. So, I'm thinking the sprained ankle is not going to get in the way. Competition today, slope side in the afternoon, and then, the super pipe will be tonight for the X games.

All right. Last night X games competition, Colton Moore (ph) freestyle on the sled. You take a snowmobile out and you just want to kind of cruise through the wilderness. These guys --

BANFIELD: Ow, ow.

MARCIANO: That had to hurt.

BANFIELD: Oh, oh, another angle.

SAMBOLIN: Not only hurt. But, of course, you're worried about the head, right?

MARCIANO: Yes. Well, he just bounces right back. This was during a semifinal run. You know they get to do it twice, maybe three times.

BANFIELD: He tucked his neck in just in time, Rob. He tucked his neck in just in time. This could have been a very different story.

MARCIANO: Well, after this ,he has a future as a stunt man. He went on to win it, guys. In the finals, he must have --

SAMBOLIN: How do you win it when you fall?

MARCIANO: You get a couple of tries each run. So, obviously, the second go around, he nailed the landing.

BANFIELD: And I love, Rob, can I just say from a Canadian to you when you said sled, you are the coolest man alive because a lot of people call them snowmobiles.

SAMBOLIN: I do, yes.

BANFIELD: To the inner people here, they're sleds. So --

MARCIANO: Tomorrow, I'll put my tuke on.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: You had me at hello.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: You need to translate for me.

BANFIELD: The tuke is a wool hat in Canada. You wear your tuke when you're sitting on the chesterfield. That's a sofa.

(LAUGHTER)

MARCIANO: That's right.

BANFIELD: Rob, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I love him when we end on an education, so thank you, both. Appreciate that.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: That's the news from A to Z. It's been fun having you with us all week long, but we got to sign off. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien is next. Did I get the that right for you?

O'BRIEN: You're still mad about that, aren't you? I apologize.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Yes, it was perfect. It was perfect. Good morning, ladies.